In …empty spun-sugar shibboleth… the unique, identity crafting, physical system of the performer and the, web-like relationships existing between the embodied mind, mechanical instrument, notation and dynamic environment coalesce to form a singular “meta-performer”; an unstable multiplicity no longer driven by a quantitative, measuring consciousness and performative absolutes, but rather a reflexive, indeterminate, haptic, qualitative feedback loop where gesture, and its raw material, physical movement, and the natural responsive modification of felt physical states are used as the primary expressive and formal devices respectively.

This work uses graphic notation to present the performers with grandiose, physically impossible tasks. The performer’s mind, mouth, tongue, fingers, vocal cords, appendages and throat are de-coupled and pitted against each other culminating in an informational overload where the only possible outcome is "system failure". The formal and temporal aspects of this work hinge on this idea of inevitable failure. Often times the information presented to the performer is physically impossible or uncomfortable, resulting in a very strained, fragile sound. Other times the physical tasks notated have no audible effect on the sonic result but rather influence the psychology of the performer. All of these complex, paradoxical, physical gestures are writhing under the skin but all fold into each other and presented through a single voice.


The impossibility found in the music runs parallel to the impossibility and failure of communication best explained by the late David Foster Wallace:


You already know the difference between the size and speed of everything that flashes through you and the tiny inadequate bit of it all you can ever let anyone know. As though inside you is this enormous room full of what seems like everything in the universe at one time or another and yet the only parts that get out have to somehow squeeze out through one of those tiny keyholes you see under the knob in older doors. As if we are all trying to see each other through these tiny keyholes.”

Dedicated to David Foster Wallace and John McDonald


...empty spun-sugar shibboleth... (2019)

for soprano, bass flute, tenor saxophone, viola, cello

Premiered by: Rose Hegele, Orlando Cela, Philipp Stäudlin, Anna Griffis, & Emmanuel Feldman