Learning to See

Program note

Like several of my chamber works, Learning to See is a response to visual art—in this case, to the work of four
twentieth-century painters and sculptors. I think of the piece as a translation of my visual experiences into sound:
in the process of composing I “tried on” the artists’ formal preoccupations and mused on the evolution and
unfolding of their individual aesthetic attitudes. The music is quite diverse in many respects, but at the same time
all six movements tend toward simplicity, economy and brevity. The even-numbered movements, which are

modeled on a series of sculptures by a single artist, make up a set of progressively leaner variations, while the odd-
numbered ones present contrasting sonic objects, including a musical machine featuring “junk percussion” and a

formalist fabrication of tangled lines and sharp points. The fifth movement, “ . . . things the mind already knows,”
is built entirely out of brief citations from pre-existing music, including a bit of my own. Learning to See was
commissioned by Boston Musica Viva and was recorded by the New Millennium Ensemble for my CD
Apocryphal Stories (Albany, 2004).

1. From the Meta-matic Junk Heap [after Jean Tinguely]
2. Bird [after Constantin Brancusi]
3. Irregular Metronomy [after Eva Hesse]
4. Bird [after Constantin Brancusi]
5. “ . . . things the mind already knows” [after Jasper Johns]
6. Bird [after Constantin Brancusi]


Year of composition

Last performances