Gradient Descent

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A new piece following the similar path of inquiry that I’ve traveled before and that fully maintains my interest, if all the while still eluding my understanding. That being, the malleable nature of time and how we perceive and latch onto different durations, events, whether they are given to us, or if they are purely subjective. In parallel to the multiple planes of temporal activity, that we experience in daily life, from checking our phones every 5 minutes, to the slowpoke of a transit transport, to the seemly slow solitude of a remote jungle sanctuary, which in turn has it’s frenetic high-paced anxious activity.

The piece is called Gradient Descent.

Listen to it HERE

And please take a look at the score, even if you don’t read music, it’s as pretty as a tide-pool, HERE.

Have a wonderful day.


Electric donations

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Any purchases, of any of my music, from my site/bandcamp (low prices but you are able to pay more if inclined) will have 30% of the the sum diverted to a Vietnamese charity for children. A close friend’s spouse works for ‘Humanitarian Services for Children of Vietnam’, so I have chosen this organization, because they are local, feet on the ground, and I have personal contact and know they are doing good work. ( All proceeds will be officially documented and verified for the donor.

I have a record of soft moody piano music coming soon, as well as an ambient album of electronic textures, also soon to be finished in the next few months. But you can also by singles from my bandcamp store.

In the meantime, here is Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint (1987) for lots of guitars.

Henry Cowell and bus rides, and a new piece of music.

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New Musical Resources by Henry Cowell is one of my favourite books. I remember circling paragraph after paragraph, jotting notes and ideas wherever I could find free space, the ideas seemed to spring out of nowhere simply from reading this small old classic. I wrote all through that book, most likely in a lovely pencil manufactured by the Lee Valley company of Great Britain, that I had purchased from a bookbinder I had worked with. She knew all the cool tools. I still have a few of those Lee Valleys left.

Most of that scribbling was done on the public transport of Montreal to and from the University of Concordia. Bundled in winter-wear, I began, reading that book, to feel the beautiful bumps and valleys that arise out of the layering of sound units who occupy different temporal realms. It seemed more natural, in the sense that related actually to nature, quite more so intact than the human being constructed  marches and waltzs and boom-baps, and 4s to the floor. The resulting ‘chaos’ of overlapping time units seemed much more in accordance with birds flying over trees, who in turn are surrounded by bushes, who then underneath have a line of ants parading their way to achieve some task.

That book was the greatest to me at the time. Henry Cowell was a pretty cool guy, who helped other cool guys like John Cage become cool. I like that.

Here’s a new piece most definitely indebted to those cramped pencil handed bus and metro rides through the province of Quebec, when some ideas came.

Listen to it HERE

Check out the score HERE

A Boat On Stilts

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I know a woman who is phobic of boats. Not travelling on them, nor the sight of them. In fact, she quite enjoys the pleasures and nature of nautical travel. Her fear  was unique, it came from being in proximity to a dry docked vessel. Specifically the hull, and especially when it was raised, as is common for many sailboats to be placed during the stormy quarters of the year. What lurked behind this phobia? From personal experience, as a severe arachnophobic myself, I am quite aware at the difficulties in articulating the irrational nature of a phobia, to others, as well as to myself. The optics of raising, removing a boat from water, to be retired is a strange sensation. Most likely, very few of us have seen this, yet we have seen the before and after. The former, the natural ease with which a ship sits in water, floats and sways, masts gently signposting the waters temperament, moving in lateral rhythm, is a natural vision, cognitively sound, and so common-place that it often barely induces a break in our consciousness or stream of thought. A boat in the water. What could be more normal? The latter however, a boat on land, conjures a sensation, I’m sure it varies in degrees for different individuals, but its more uncommon circumstance surely stimulates at least some intellectual or emotional activity in the mind. The most common, and obvious analogy is that of a fish out of water. Our most likely image of this in our mind, is of the fish flapping helplessly on the deck, as its last few seconds of life wind down. It is a strange sensation to see this at first. One year in my youth, I worked as a deckhand on a commercial fishing vessel, The Serenade, doing the Salmon run in northern British Columbia. I had to become, very quickly, mentally equipped to smacking the animals, and watching, or as it eventually turned out, ignoring, their dying moments. With a boat however, we do not watch it die. Most of us at least. Yet many of us see a retired watercraft, and contemplate the life it may of had. There seems to be a peacefulness in the communication happening between our imagination and a retired, rusty old ship. In contrast to a crashed aircraft, a boat on land has been placed there, and has transformed into a place of memory, a giant wooden, vehicular diary. It is no wonder that the term ghost ship, is such an often used and evocative label.

I know of another woman, who has a boat on her property, it is small and covered in a blue tarpaulin, surrounded by lush Pacific Northwest greenery. Its owner has passed away, and the boat sits, alone, on stilts. A ghost ship, helping to liaise  with the ghosts.

Here is a new piece of music 

Here is the score:


Frances Adair Mckenzie

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There is a friend, one of those friends who secretly has inspired you since you met them. You want to touch their mind because you find it so delicious, and it really must feel soft and complexly textured. You like the way they walk, the way they talk, and their attitude seems imported directly express delivery from cools-ville. Yet effortless and genuine. That is my friend Frances. Her work is plentiful, and her art defies linguistic explanation, the more I try, the more I simply fall into the dream word she inhabits.

Here is a little short she made for google cardboard, I made some sound for it. Check here website here

The Crash Is Coming

By | Film Music, New Pieces | No Comments

Recently, there has been a couple of films, subject matter both grim, that had as a supporting roll, the boundless North American rural landscape. I am of course talking about The Revenant and The Hateful Eight. What is it about vast grand, empty visual space that can evoke both, contrasting, sensations of freedom, awe and a sense of impending doom? Does space/silence in music contain similar affecting qualities?

I am lucky to often travel the AC 7 flight, leaving Vancouver for Hong Kong at 12:10PM, where it then heads north along the coast of Canada up towards the Bering Straight, where it curves, and comes down along the coast of Asia. The redeeming quality of this prolonged bout of air travel, is that it remains in daylight for the entirety of the journey. While the cabin lights get turned off, and the window shades dropped, I can’t help but lift the shade up for a peak every five minutes, often being hypnotized and starring out to the most spectacular, remote, daunting, yet pleasing, visions of the enormity of our planet. Or conversely, the minute nature of our person. In particular, once passed the Bering Straight, and heading due south, the view becomes an otherworldly almost interstellar landscape that only few (those who take a specific flight, departing at a specific time, with optimal no-clouds weather conditions) will ever witness.

Yesterday, I discussed with some friends, the good-old conundrum of the finite-infinite debate of the Universe. I mentioned how as a young boy, the thought of infinite space scared the hell out of me, yet again, filled me with excitement and energy without compare.

So, again, does musical space contain the characteristics of free-falling joy and relative insignificance?

This piece, while intimate, and scored for small ensemble, meditates on some of these ideas.

The Crash Is Coming, for Piano, Violin, Viola, Cello, Clarinet, Crotales, and Glock. If you would like to read along with the score, click HERE.

And is dedicated to my dear friend Cheng Pui Mei.

Listen to it HERE

Set Juleus

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As mentioned in a previous post, I bought Native Instruments’ Maschine hardware/software combo. I’m having a blast. Although I think I’m trying to squeeze out of it different things than it’s primary directive, I do love every knob, dial and pad.

I was searching for some sound-wise, left-field add-ons to it (which there are a plethora), and I came across the company Sound DustI bought some wonderful samples from them, and struck up a conversation with a fella whom I presume is the owner and main workhorse behind the products. His name is Pendle Poucher and is a great music man himself. Check him out. Great chats ensued, and he asked if I would l beta-test one of his soon to be released virtual instruments. Of course!! I was thrilled.

I have, for a while (and I am not alone in this by any means) found a wonderful correlation in the perception and experience of pre-tonal era music, and that of psychedelic and ambient music. A little while ago I began trying to strip down the canons and complexities that can arise in some pre-tonal era vocal music. Not by any sophisticated means mind you, simply by way of augmentation of time, so that as notes would hold longer, the mechanisms of the talented Renaissance composers influencing me would become, less evident. Essentially, I wanted to write a meandering piece. To hell with narrative and purpose. How great it is to meander sometimes with no intent. I intended this to be for a collection of string instruments, but as the gracious offer from Sound Dust presented itself, I took on the task of using only this virtual instrument.

Set Juleus. And check out Sound Dust. The guy works super hard, has a great ear and taste, and produces super cool stuff. Go support!

Not for the ADD set, but maybe created by one.

The Mirror at Midnight

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There is a woman I admire greatly. Her name is Kaitlin. She is a poet, writer and runs an independent publishing company called Ajar press. Check it out.
She once gave me a book of her poems. Over a small retreat to visit my family in Canada, I wrote a little choral piece. The piece happens to be dedicated to another woman, Frances Mckenzie, who I also greatly admire and think is absolutely fabulous. A prolific artist who’s creations of twisting internal fantasy correlated to the words Kaitlin had written. Check her website here.

you can listen to a synthetic version, a la Ex Machina, and read along with the score if you wish.

the mirror at midnight – Full Score


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There’s been enough written about him, but if you haven’t heard of Satoshi Kon (1963-2010), you probably aren’t alone. The world of Manga, or Anime, the Japanese art of picture-literature and animation, aside from its often-presented cutesy side, has in parallel, always maintained an experimental aspect, having long been full of mind stretching improbabilities and existential elasticity. It fascinated 80’s and 90’s youth in the West, predominantly teenage boys with a taste for the stylistic sensation, teenage detachment, and most predominantly, in the seminal work Akira, the surreal. The violence and sci-fi never hurt either. I was one of those kids. But as the grunge-era youth rose into adulthood, it sometimes occurred, and panged with slivers of nostalgia, that I had left my fascination with Anime behind, with a whimsically disappointing feeling that it had not grown with the youth who embraced it. It’s nice to be wrong.
Satoshi Kon elevated the game. I just wasn’t onboard his train at the time. Fortunately I now have a sleeper cabin aboard his locomotive.
His manipulation of time, creative use of edits and visual aesthetic, the plunging into, and unabashed exploration of dreams and a total disrespect for convention, yet at the same time possessing a master craftsman’s skills, his films dove deep into the subconscious, and well…messed around, tinkered and essentially had a field day in the realm of the un-waking life. The interpretation is yours. For what it’s worth, I went to a late night showing of Perfect Blue on it’s premiere, at the Cinema de Parc in Montreal circa the blizzard suffering winter of the inaugural millennium year. My friend and I walked away, a little bitter and confused that we didn’t ‘get it’. Ridiculing the film for taking us deeper into the abstract alleyways of our 22 year-old minds, farther than we were likely prepared to hike at the time.

Here is a small video detailing some of his work with reference to the Hollywood-famous directors he influenced, and his ridiculously fabulous creativity with editing. Check the carbon-copy scenes in Inception and Requiem For A Dream.

I was very lucky to meet Connie Luk, a fellow PhD candidate at the University I work at. Her thesis explores piano pedagogy for small hands. She has small hands. She is a brilliant and inspiring pianist, her taste and touch spellbinds me. I closed my eyes when she performed it for me in rehearsal as we were going over notes, and it felt like it was her’s. Like myself, she is exhubertly full of energy, but oddly, meditative on the inside. Like the films of Kon. So I wrote a piece for her. And it was in memory of Satoshi.

If you would like to look at the score click here

Thanks to Mr. Kwok Yat Wai and Madam Kwok Chung Bo Fun and the Graduate School Development Fund.

© Alex Formosa