Frantic Gnarly Still
violin and percussion
duration: 15 minutes
Frantic Gnarly Still was commissioned and premiered by Jeanine Markley, violin, and Neeraj Mehta, percussion, at the University of Michigan on April 1, 2007.
I grew up in Santa Cruz, California. My house was in a redwood forest, three miles from the beach and a day’s drive from Yosemite. It was pretty idyllic. Yet I learned quickly that almost everything beautiful in California, even in the small town of Santa Cruz (which is officially both a nuclear-free and hate-free zone), was hiding something. My parents taught me that the undertow at the beaches could drown you in half a second. My hippie (or rather children-of-hippie) classmates taught me that California’s agricultural bounty was largely due to the tireless labor of the same immigrant farm workers that our government was now trying to deport. I learned about traffic in San Francisco, smog in L.A., fertilizer run-off in the Central Valley, the excessive shopping habits of my private school classmates and the strange fact that the palm trees, movie houses and glitz of L.A. are all built on a desert. The city keeps itself alive only by sucking half of the water in the western United States into its parched mouth.
As I was writing Frantic Gnarly Still I found myself thinking more and more about California, and beneath the piece’s sometimes garish, sometimes beautiful surface, something strange and dark seemed to be hiding. Frantic begins with a meditation, or rather an attempted meditation. It is a cool, early summer day. In the background the wind plays with chimes (bought from the local “World Goods” store with a label on them that said “scale: exotic/Indonesia”). For all of its surface chill and its appeals to eastern mysticism, California has never seemed to me like an inwardly calm place and the introductory meditation is cut short, interrupted by frantic, whirlwind life. The rest of the movement tries to return to that fragile point of meditation but only manages to do so right at the end of the movement, after an exhausted climax.
The second movement, Still, takes us to a beach at night. Nighttime beaches are a place for me to clear my mind. Everything is space and nothing is concrete. Rational thinking here is difficult—thoughts dissipate too easily. Instead there are only fleeting memories and incomplete gestures. At the end of the movement something lurking, either in the subconscious or in the ocean, rears its head for a moment.
The final movement, Gnarly, is all about attitude. It’s the sort of hand-in-your-face attitude that people get when they imagine themselves starring in their own music videos. It’s the kind of ballsy attitude that allows developers to pave over a meadow, stick a shopping mall on it and then call it “Valley Faire” or “Deer Park.” The piece ends with a little bit of the violin’s opening ‘meditation’ melody. This time it is aggressive and spirals out of control.
Frantic Gnarly Still was made possible largely by Jeanine Markley and Neeraj Mehta whose hard work and suggestions were a central part of my compositional process.