BABEL, for string quartet, performed by the Daedalus Quartet as part of their “Music and Migration” program at Kelly Writers House at University of Pennsylvania.

BABEL was my PhD dissertation composition, completed in 2015 and significantly revised in 2019. It is an homage to language through music: each of the five movements is based on a different language or linguistic feature. Some movements were inspired by the meaning of a text or poem, while others are based exclusively on the acoustic properties of speech. While composing this piece, I made frequent use of spectral analysis software to analyze the minute details of the timbres and rhythms of speech, and “zoom in” on interesting acoustic features of language. I then orchestrated these features through the string quartet in many different ways. This piece would not have been possible without the extensive help and technical support from my phonologist brother, Leandro Bolaños.

  • I. Spanish: this movement is a love song, based on a female and a male reading the poem “Amo, Amas” by Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío. The final section is a fusion of the female and male voices.
  • II. Nuxálk: an endangered language spoken in British Columbia. Nuxalk contains extreme consonant clusters (strings of consonants without vowels in between). I analyzed these consonant clusters, extracting certain frequency ranges, and orchestrated them in the quartet.
  • III. English + Chinantecan: Whispering in English (in the violins and viola) is paired with a cello melody modeled on a Mexican whistling language used to communicate across vast distances.
  • IV. Greenlandic: this movement is based on readings of a poem by Greenlandic poet Jessie Kleemann. Extremely short linguistic gestures (ie: the micro-timing between certain vowels and consonants) are proportionally expanded and orchestrated at the phrase level.
  • V. Vowel Harmony: this is the process by which one vowel becomes similar to another vowel elsewhere in a word or phrase. This movement is based on harmonies from the previous four movements that have been spectrally distorted to resemble other harmonies.

Los minúsculos is an homage to the over 300 400 victims who have been killed by the Nicaraguan government since April, and to all my fellow Nicaraguans who have suffered under Daniel Ortega’s regime.

The first lady and vice president disparagingly calls protesters “minúsculos grupos alentadores del odio” (minuscule groups inciting hatred). As a reaction, hundreds of thousands of self-proclaimed minúsculos have repeatedly taken to the streets in protest, demanding justice for the victims of oppression.

This piece, for bassoon and electronics, was written in close collaboration with Dana Jessen and performed at SPLICE institute. It is an examination of collective movement and growth, a study on how multiple small things can converge, grow and develop into a larger, cohesive, even uncontrollable whole. Many thanks to Dana for the brilliant performance and a fruitful collaboration, and to SPLICE institute for a great week of electronic music

Star-mango for clarinet in b-flat, bassoon, trombone, violin, cello, balloons and electronics. Recorded in Austin, Texas as part of Keep Composers Weird. 2016.

Sonora for flute and clarinet in b-flat. Performed by Zach Sheets and Vicente Alexim. 2015

Anónimo for soprano and ensemble. Performed by Tony Arnold and the Empyrean Ensemble, with text by Juilo Valle Castillo. 2015

Greenlandic and Vowel Harmony for string quartet. Greenlandic performed by Daedalus Quartet, Vowel Harmony performed by the Empyrean Ensemble. 2014

Ecosystem for Pierrot + percussion. Performed by the Atlantic Music Festival Contemporary Ensemble. 2014

A Trip Down Market Street for flute, clarinet/bass clarinet, violin, viola cello, piano, percussion and silent film. Performed by the Empyrean Ensemble. 2013

Ouroboros Miniatures Six miniatures for steel-string guitar duo. In this piece I explore the 3rd Mode of Limited Transposition steeped in a more popular style, idiomatic of the steel-string guitar. Dedicated to Kelsey Osgood. 2008

Nic Quetza Tohuehueh, Nonantzin Ihcuac and Tixiutototl, for soprano soloist, tenor soloist, SATB choir and electronics. 2014

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