Christopher Trapani: Horizontal Drift

, composer


Composer and Rome Prize winner Christopher Trapani releases Horizontal Drift, a collection of six works written for custom instruments that explore rich corners of microtonal tuning, timbre, and electronic processing. Featuring performers Maximilian Haft, Daniel Lippel, Amy Advocat, Marilyn Nonken, and Marco Fusi in music for vioara cu goarna ("violin with horn"), quarter-tone guitar, Bohlen-Pierce clarinet, piano scordatura, Midi-controlled Fokker organ, and viola d'amore, Trapani revels in sound worlds that challenge listener expectations and reveal new expressive possibilities.


One of the consistent strains in Christopher Trapani’s work is his attraction to what one might call the archeology of sonic exploration. His interest in diverse music cultures as fertile territory to explore microtonality, timbre, and rhythm frees his music to pursue an essential expression beyond the conventional confines of concert composition. The works on Horizontal Drift zero in on this component of Trapani’s work, focusing on music he has written for unconventional instruments, some custom-made, others part of folkloric traditions typically found away from the concert stage. With the unique characteristics of these instruments as a frame, Trapani delves into a variety of tuning systems, from alternate fixed temperaments to just intonation, as well as a range of applications for electronics.

The opening work on the recording, Tārgul, is composed for the vioara cu goarna (“violin with horn” in Romanian), an instrument modeled after the stroh violin which was designed to help string instruments project for early recording technology. The vioara cu goarna has an edgy, brash sound; Trapani leans into its characteristic its clarion call, peppering Tārgul with unsettling short glissandi, sighing gestures, dry pizzicati, and angular riffs. The electronics are played through megaphones at the sides of the stage, imitating the brittle timbral quality of the instrument.

The title track is written for quarter-tone guitar and a Max module called the LoopSculptor which allows real-time manipulation of passages across several parameters. Trapani writes that the work was inspired by his hometown of New Orleans – indeed its languorous quality evokes the heavy, humid heat of the Delta and the paradox between the city’s timeless inertia and its constantly shifting topography. Trapani deconstructs some characteristic Delta blues guitar gestures – particularly grace note slides and hammer ons – to construct an otherworldly meditation enhanced by the quarter-tone pitch language and wafting electronic loops.

Linear A was written for a clarinet tuned to the Bohlen-Pierce scale, a microtonal system that repeats at the twelfth instead of the octave. Like the title track, the electronics are oriented around loops that manipulate the material played by the live performer. The instrumental material in Linear A exhibits a wide range from subdued to virtuosic, inward to extroverted. The flexibility of Trapani’s live electronics patch allows him to animate a soundscape with voices that create the illusion of independence, despite being generated from the same live sound source. This veneer of independence stands out even more so in relief when the final passage of the piece emerges, a four voice chorale harmonizing a wistful melody.

Lost Time Triptych was written as a companion piece to Gérard Grisey’s Vortex Temporum for piano scordatura, in which four pitches are detuned by a quarter-tone. The three movements of the piece, each with subtitles borrowed from Bob Dylan, examine three different temporal relationships in music that Grisey termed “the subjective layers of time.” The first is compressed, containing angular, stabbing chords. The second unfolds in “real” time, echoing the motivic play heard in Horizontal Drift, and ending abruptly. The third and final movement is spacious and resonant, inviting the listener to journey inside the exotic sonorities resultant from the detuned pitches.

Forty-Nine, Forty-Nine is the only work on the recording not performed by a human, though it is not strictly an electronic piece either. Instead, it’s a player organ piece, the 31 equal tempered Fokker organ to be specific, as controlled by a program called Open Music sending marching orders via Midi. Forty Nine, Forty Nine takes the deepest dive into microtonal theory on the album, organizing the work around highlighting the just intervals that the 31 EDO tuning system best approximates. The piece is dramatic and bracing, and evokes Nancarrow in its mechanical virtuosity.

Tessaræ returns to the bowed string sound world of Tārgul, this time featuring the viola d’amore, a unique instrument in the Western concert tradition due to its sympathetic strings. Trapani explores connections with bowed string instruments with sympathetic strings in other cultures in a work that engages with traditional music more than the other music on the album. Though no specific stylistic restrictions are adhered to, we hear allusions to the drone textures and unfolding melodic exploration of Indian music as well as Turkish music, and a general restrained gestural vocabulary that conjures ritual music’s patient pace of development.

– Dan Lippel

Produced by Christopher Trapani

Engineer: Ryan Streber (track 2) / Paul Geluso (tracks 4-6) / Camille Giuglaris (track 8) / Christopher Trapani (tracks 1, 3, 7)

Târgul recorded March 11, 2019 (Austin, TX)

Horizontal Drift recorded October 29, 2020 at Oktaven Audio (Mount Vernon, NY)

Linear A recorded May 14, 2021 (Providence, RI)

Lost Time Triptych recorded November 1, 2020 at James Dolan Music Recording Studio, NYU (New York, NY)

Forty-Nine, Forty-Nine recorded September 2, 2012 at Muziekgebouw aan ’t IJ (Amsterdam, NL) Tesseræ recorded March 29-30, 2018 at CIRM (Nice, France)

Support for this CD has been graciously provided by the Alice M. Ditson Fund, a YoungArts Microgrant, and by the generous supporters of a Kickstarter campaign. 

Thanks to: Ryan Streber, Daniel Lippel, Juuso Nieminen, François Paris, Camille Giuglaris, Ross Daly, Joël Bons, Diemo Schwarz, Sander Germanus, Jackie Delamatre, Ben Cooper, Maximilian Haft, Serge Vuille, David Poissonnier, Giuliano Bracci, Jean Bresson, Daniele Ghisi, Andrea Agostini, Marco Fusi, Rick Whitaker, Marilyn Nonken, Turgut Erçetin, Esin Pektaş

CD design and layout by Chazwald Jones (New Orleans, LA)

All photos © Christopher Trapani, 2022 except page 2 photo by Katerina Duda

Christopher Trapani

Winner of the 2016-17 Luciano Berio Rome Prize, Christopher Trapani is a composer with a genuine international trajectory. He maintains an active career in the United States, in the UK, and in Continental Europe. Commissions have come from the BBC, the JACK Quartet, Ensemble Modern, and Radio France, and his works have been heard at Carnegie Hall, the Venice Biennale, Southbank Centre, Ruhrtriennale, IRCAM, Ravenna Festival, and Wigmore Hall.

Christopher’s music weaves American and European stylistic strands into an organic personal aesthetic that defies easy classification. Snippets of Delta Blues, dance band foxtrots, Appalachian folk, and Turkish makam can be heard alongside spectral swells and meandering canons. As in Christopher’s hometown of New Orleans, diverse traditions coexist and intermingle, swirled into a rich melting pot.

Christopher Trapani was born in New Orleans, Louisiana (USA). He earned a Bachelor’s degree from Harvard, then spent most of his twenties overseas: a year in London, working on a Master’s degree at the Royal College of Music with Julian Anderson; a year in Istanbul, studying microtonality in Ottoman music on a Fulbright grant; and seven years in Paris, where he studied with Philippe Leroux and worked at IRCAM with Yan Maresz. Since 2010, Christopher has lived in New York City, where he earned a doctorate at Columbia University, working with Tristan Murail, George Lewis, Georg Friedrich Haas, and Fred Lerdahl.

Christopher is the winner of the 2007 Gaudeamus Prize, as well as awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, ASCAP, and BMI, along with fellowships from Schloss Solitude and the Camargo Foundation. His scores have been performed by ICTUS, Yarn/Wire, ZWERM, Ekmeles, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, and the Spektral Quartet, amongst others.

Maximilian Haft

Belgian-American violinist Maximilian Haft resides in Geneva, Switzerland and has lived in Europe since 2009. A multifaceted musician, Max specializes in contemporary repertoire and improvisation. He has performed across Europe, North America, South America, and the Middle East in formal concert settings, theatrical contexts, and spatial installations. As a soloist, Max has performed and premiered contemporary violin concertos with the North Netherlands Symphony Orchestra, The Geneva Chamber Orchestra, Collegium Novum Zurich, and the Kiev Symphony Orchestra. In Switzerland, Max has held the position of violin solo with Ensemble Contrechamps since 2015 and is a founding member of Ensemble Proton Bern. Max has a Bachelor’s in Violin Performance from the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston where he studied with Masuko Ushioda†, and a Master’s degree cum laude from the Royal Conservatory of The Hague, having studied there with Vera Beths. He is a native of Sacramento California, where he returns in the summer to teach chamber music to young aspiring musicians of his former youth symphony and as a performer with the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music Orchestra in Santa Cruz.

Daniel Lippel

Guitarist Dan Lippel, called a "modern guitar polymath (Guitar Review)" and an "exciting soloist" (NY Times) is active as a soloist, chamber musician, and recording artist. He has been the guitarist for the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) since 2005 and new music quartet Flexible Music since 2003. Recent performance highlights include recitals at Sinus Ton Festival (Germany), University of Texas at San Antonio, MOCA Cleveland, Center for New Music in San Francisco, and chamber performances at the Macau Music Festival (China), Sibelius Academy (Finland), Cologne's Acht Brücken Festival (Germany), and the Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center. He has appeared as a guest with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and New York New Music Ensemble, among others, and recorded for Kairos, Bridge, Albany, Starkland, Centaur, and Fat Cat.

Amy Advocat

Sought out for her “dazzling” (Boston Globe) performances with “extreme control and beauty” (The Clarinet Journal), Dr. Amy Advocat has performed with Alarm Will Sound, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Sound Icon, Guerilla Opera, Firebird Ensemble, Callithumpian Consort, Collage New Music, Dinosaur Annex, and The New Fromm Players. She is a founding member of the duo Transient Canvas, who have released three critically acclaimed albums on New Focus and have toured internationally, including performances at New Music Gathering, Red Note Festival, Alba Music Festival. Their second album, Wired, was praised as “an eloquent testament to the versatile imagination they both display and inspire in others” by the San Francisco Chronicle, and their third, Right now, in a second was named a top local album of 2020 by the Boston Globe. Dr. Advocat is a proud endorsing artist with Conn-Semer and Henri Selmer Paris.

Marilyn Nonken

Marilyn Nonken is one of the most celebrated champions of the modern repertoire of her generation, known for performances that explore transcendent virtuosity and extremes of musical expression. Upon her 1993 New York debut, she was heralded as "a determined protector of important music" (New York Times). Recognized a "one of the greatest interpreters of new music" (American Record Guide), she has been named "Best of the Year" by some of the nation's leading critics.

Marilyn Nonken's performances have been presented at such venues as Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Miller Theatre, the Guggenheim Museum, (Le) Poisson Rouge, IRCAM and the Théâtre Bouffe du Nord (Paris), the ABC (Melbourne), Instituto-Norteamericano (Santiago), the Music Gallery (Toronto), the Phillips Collection, and the Menil Collection, as well as conservatories and universities around the world. Festival appearances include Résonances and the Festival d'Automne 4both, Paris) and When Morty Met John, Making Music, and Works and Process (all, New York), American Sublime (Philadelphia), The Festival of New American Music (Sacramento), Musica Nova (Helsinki), Aspects des Musiques d'Aujourd-hui (Caen), Messiaen 2008 (Birmingham, UK), New Music Days (Ostrava), Musikhøst (Odense), Music on the Edge (Pittsburgh), Piano Festival Northwest (Portland), and the William Kapell International Piano Festival and Competition. Highlights of recent seasons have included performances of Hugues Dufourt's Erlkönig, Morton Feldman'sTriadic Memories,Tristan Murai's complete piano music, and Olivier Messiae's "Visions de'l Amen" with Sarah Rothenberg. Composers who have written for her include Milton Babbitt, Drew Baker, Pascal Dusapin, Jason Eckardt, Michael Finnissy, Joshua Fineberg, Liza Lim, and Tristan Murail.

She has recorded for New World Records, Mode, Lovely Music, Albany, Metier, Divine Art, Innova, CRI, BMOP Sound, New Focus, Cairos, Tzadik, and Bridge. Her solo discs include "American Spiritual," a CD of works written for her, “Morton Feldman: Triadic Memories,” “Tristan Murail: The Complete Piano Music,” “Stress Position: The Complete Piano Music of Drew Baker," and "Voix Voilees," music of Joshua Fineberg and Hugues Dufourt. She appears as concerto soloist in David Rakowski's Piano Concerto (Gil Rose and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project), Roger Reynolds's “The Angel of Death (Magnus Martensson and the Slee Sinfonietta), and Jason Eckardt's "Trespass" (Timothy Weiss and the Oberlin Contemporary Music Ensemble).

A student of David Burge at the Eastman School, Marilyn Nonken received a Ph.D. degree in musicology from Columbia University. Her writings on music have been published in Tempo, Perspectives of New Music, Contemporary Music Review, Agni, Current Musicology, Ecological Psychology, and the Journal of the Institute for Studies in American Music. She has contributed chapters to “Perspectives on French Piano Music” and “Messiaen Perspectives 2: Techniques, Influence, and Reception” (both, Ashgate) and is currently writing a monograph on spectral piano music for Cambridge University Press. Director of Piano Studies at New York University's Steinhardt School, Marilyn Nonken is a Steinway Artist.

Marco Fusi

Marco Fusi is a violinist/violist, and a passionate advocate for the music of our time. Among many collaborations with emerging and established composers, he has premiered works by Billone, Sciarrino, Eötvös, Cendo and Ferneyhough. Marco has performed with Pierre Boulez, Lorin Maazel, Alan Gilbert, Beat Furrer, David Robertson, and frequently plays with leading contemporary ensembles including Klangforum Wien, MusikFabrik, Meitar Ensemble, Mivos Quartet, Ensemble Linea, Interface (Frankfurt), Phoenix (Basel) and Handwerk (Köln); Marco has recorded several solo albums, published by Kairos, Stradivarius, Col Legno, Da Vinci, Geiger Grammofon. Marco also plays viola d’amore, commissioning new pieces and collaborating with composers to promote and expand existing repertoire for the instrument. A strong advocate and educator of contemporary music, Marco teaches Contemporary Chamber Music at the Milano conservatory “G. Verdi” and is currently Researcher in Performance at the Royal Conservatoire of Antwerp.



Avant Music News

For the six works on his album Horizontal Drift, composer Christopher Trapani chose an unusual array of instruments capable of producing a soundworld of microtones and extended timbres.

The album opens with a piece for Romanian horn-violin (played by Maximilian Haft), a violin with a metal resonator, and horn used for amplification. Its sound is tinny and thin, like an early 20th-century recording of a violin. Trapani’s writing for it consists of contemporary gestures, but even with the electronics that augment the instrument’s naturally unnatural voice, the piece conserves an echo of the folk milieu in which the horn-violin is usually encountered. Bookending the album is a second piece for bowed string instrument—Tesserae, written for the viola d’amore, a Baroque-era viola notable for its array of sympathetic strings. Trapani eschews an obvious, quasi-Baroque sound for a melody that incorporates gliding ornaments reminiscent of Hindustani vocal music. It’s sensitively played by Marco Fusi.

Three pieces were composed for unconventionally tuned instruments. Linear A, named for the still-undeciphered ancient Minoan script and performed by Amy Advocat, is for clarinet tuned to the 13-step Bohlen-Pierce scale, and live loops—a mechanism that sets in motion a swooping counterpoint of self-replicating melody. The tryptich Lost Time, for scordatura piano (played by Marilyn Nonken) is a kind of dialogue between Bob Dylan, whose lyrics provide the movements’ subtitles and hence emotional overtones, and spectralist composer Gerard Grisey, whose idea of the varieties of subjective ways of experiencing time in music set the agenda for the textural loading of each individual movement. Forty-Nine, Forty-Nine, for player organ tuned to a 31-step scale, keeps itself just this side of total harmonic chaos. For the title track, featuring guitarist Daniel Lippel on quarter-tone guitar, Trapani creates an intricately spatialized, electronically augmented sonic atmosphere built up of delayed and overlaid single-notes and harmonic fragments, which give the piece an undulating and beautifully unsettling, harp-like quality.

— Daniel Barbiero, 4.21.2022


Vital Weekly

Christopher Trapani is a USAmerican composer originally hailing from New Orleans. He has studied music, including a doctorate, at USAmerican universities and spent considerable time studying abroad (France) and composing and performing commissioned works in France, the UK, Germany, and Italy. His interests lie in string instruments - his website cites mandolines and microtones, folk music elements, and the concept of 'time'.

As it is not immediately audible, something that gets lost on the recordings is the mixing of instruments played live with electronic processing. Track 1 'Targul' is dedicated to the Romanian 'violin with horn', similar to the Stroh violin, able to amplify and project the violin sound. The piece plays with folk music elements, looping and repeating the live sound through speakers and a snippet of a marching band towards the end. The layering and movement of sound make for interesting listening, and you could not say whether this was composed or improvised. 'Horizontal Drift' uses a similar approach with a soloist guitar playing in quarter tones 'against' a backdrop of slowed loops. Unfortunately, this hardly kept my attention, sounding more like a noodling exercise.

What intrigued me was the centre Triptych piano piece 'Lost Time'. 3 'movements' with titles picked from Bob Dylan's songs show some wit, both in the compositions (music and length, the 'Time is a jet plane' fittingly only lasting 32 seconds) and the choice of titles. You could call the style somewhere between Impressionism and Expressionism, Debussy and Ravel. 'Linear A' (interestingly reading 'Linear A.mp3' on disk) is a wind instrument piece, as is 'Forty-Nine', and the final track 'Tesserae' returns to the violin. All of them are supported/complemented by electronics and exploring harmonics and the
essence of sound. The electronics are not recognisable as they are used to live-process the instrument sound - which, again, demonstrates some wit in handling 'sound'. Audio-wise I would say this is a release that is quite close to 'industrial' and 'electronic' approaches, thus building more of a bridge between the two (or three?) worlds than many other 'contemporary classical' releases.

— Robert Steinberger, 4.19.2022

Related Albums