Curtis K. Hughes: Tulpa

, composer


Curtis K. Hughes' Tulpa is a collection of his rhythmically incisive music heard in solo, duo, and ensemble settings, and culminating in the title work for ten players and guest soprano. The Boston based Hughes writes from a deep collaborative connection with his performers, crafting pieces that balance harmonic adventure with stylistic diversity, and political subtext with sardonic humor.


# Audio Title/Composer(s) Performer(s) Time
Total Time 58:35
Aaron Trant, snare drum3:40
Boston Percussion Group, Matt Sharrock, Brian Calhoon, Greg Simonds, Aaron Trant13:49
03lesson plan
lesson plan
Amy Advocat, bass clarinet2:30
Sentient Robots, Bri Tagliaferro, cello, Ben Baker, cello7:29


Amy Advocat, bass clarinet, Yoko Hagino, piano
05i. (with giddy ferocity)
i. (with giddy ferocity)
Amy Advocat, bass clarinet, Yoko Hagino, piano4:55
06ii. (freely, expectant)
ii. (freely, expectant)
Amy Advocat, bass clarinet, Yoko Hagino, piano8:17
07it was not raining
it was not raining
Matt Sharrock, marimba2:42


Alexis Lanz, clarinet, Amy Advocat, bass clarinet, Jensen Ling, bassoon, Aaron Trant, percussion, Brian Calhoon, vibraphone, Greg Simonds, marimba, Lilit Hartunian, violin, Bri Tagliaferro, cello, Ben Baker, cello, Matt Sharrock, conductor, Rose Hegele, soprano (track 10), Sarah Bob, piano
08i. telophase
i. telophase
Alexis Lanz, clarinet, Amy Advocat, bass clarinet, Jensen Ling, bassoon, Aaron Trant, percussion, Brian Calhoon, vibraphone, Greg Simonds, marimba, Lilit Hartunian, violin, Bri Tagliaferro, cello, Ben Baker, cello, Matt Sharrock, conductor, Rose Hegele, soprano (track 10), Sarah Bob, piano4:35
09ii. manufactured (for a purpose)
ii. manufactured (for a purpose)
Alexis Lanz, clarinet, Amy Advocat, bass clarinet, Jensen Ling, bassoon, Aaron Trant, percussion, Brian Calhoon, vibraphone, Greg Simonds, marimba, Lilit Hartunian, violin, Bri Tagliaferro, cello, Ben Baker, cello, Matt Sharrock, conductor, Rose Hegele, soprano (track 10), Sarah Bob, piano4:04
10iii. “un amour inconnu...”
iii. “un amour inconnu...”
Alexis Lanz, clarinet, Amy Advocat, bass clarinet, Jensen Ling, bassoon, Aaron Trant, percussion, Brian Calhoon, vibraphone, Greg Simonds, marimba, Lilit Hartunian, violin, Bri Tagliaferro, cello, Ben Baker, cello, Matt Sharrock, conductor, Rose Hegele, soprano (track 10), Sarah Bob, piano3:29
11iv. the number of completion
iv. the number of completion
Alexis Lanz, clarinet, Amy Advocat, bass clarinet, Jensen Ling, bassoon, Aaron Trant, percussion, Brian Calhoon, vibraphone, Greg Simonds, marimba, Lilit Hartunian, violin, Bri Tagliaferro, cello, Ben Baker, cello, Matt Sharrock, conductor, Rose Hegele, soprano (track 10), Sarah Bob, piano3:05

Tulpa is a fascinating retrospective of twenty-two years of Curtis K. Hughes’s creative work, ranging from a brief marimba solo to a major work for large ensemble. Elegant in form, restless, and expressively rich, these seven works performed by some of Boston’s most outstanding artists, reveal Hughes to be an imaginative and deeply talented composer.

Aaron Trant is the snare drum soloist in flagrant, bringing formidable technique to this idiosyncratic piece. Starting with insectoid language, the score develops by introducing new sounds and more resonance, creating the illusion of multiple voices. The effect is like a black-and-white photograph suffusing with color. The piece brings plenty of invention and surprise to fill its three minutes and 40 seconds.

antechamber is a tour de force, written for the Boston Percussion Group. The piece sets a slow pace, taking time to introduce new, abstract gestures, but then quickly transforms into a wicked clockwork of complex, insistent rhythms. Moving among the themes, sometimes Hughes makes a clean break, other times he lingers in an elasticated in-between space, letting the music breathe. The music is delightfully diverse, even letting it ride through fine, cool sections of fusion.

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lesson plan was a gift for Hughes’s teacher Lee Hyla. Wistful, perfectly-articulated arguments, often humorous, stand among elegiac moments (this also describes much of Hyla’s music); he quotes Hyla’s works as well as a piece he studied with Hyla, Beethoven’s Op. 90. Bass clarinetist Amy Advocat scampers through the instrument’s range.

merger for two cellos describes the union of two entities struggling to find an exactly-right fit. The piece opens with a buzzing, electric fury of double-stops. Multiple strategies of engagement are explored — imitation, invitation, touch-and-go contrasts. The hocket of a simple melody is unexpectedly affecting, as is a recurring organum-like texture, delicate as moths’ wings.

In wingtones, clarinetist and pianist live through complications — sometimes antagonizing or destabilizing the other’s energetic flights, other times existing through simple melodies-on-a-walk. The second movement begins with long-limbed solos for each instrument, finally coming together, building energy through a dialogue. Earlier ideas emerge and gain traction toward an ending, but not a resolution.

it was not raining is the earliest work on the disc. Hughes deploys silence in between gestures, asking us to hear each on its own terms along with the larger whole. The piece was inspired by Beckett’s darkest fiction, particularly the bitingly bleak play The Unnameable. The music’s feel of suspension and unreality is well matched by Beckett, in which characters may or may not exist, or are figments of the narrator’s imagination. The weight of the piece balances on a slow, steady accelerando near its midpoint, which places the terseness of the surrounding music into higher relief.

Unreality is also one of the themes of tulpa. A tulpa is, plainly, a being created by pure thought. Hughes’s work is a response to David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, particularly the 18-hour film version. He doesn’t so much depict the film as interact with it, live within it and send letters back.

telophase begins with the introduction of a disjointed, staggering piano line, which, quickly proliferating, becomes a sensation rather than a theme. Beyond the breaking point the espressivo low end provides “get serious” exhortations and rocking, gently threatening textures. These repeating start-proliferate-break gestures provide the momentum for the music. It ends enigmatically, as if reality simply slipped away.

manufactured (for a purpose) starts in an atmosphere of gently swirling keyboard instruments, a sonic dreamworld. A spell wrought by clarinet and sinister strings ignites a hard groove from the bottom register, a vicious and uninvited guest. It spreads up and through the range, taking over everything it touches. Resistance is futile, but listen at 2:40 for a perfectly placed glissando.

“Un amour inconnu” is the centerpiece of the work, formally and expressively. This has to do with the chill bump-inducing soprano Rose Hegele, bringing a message from Proust. She sings from Swann’s Way, about a man’s obsession with a musical phrase that seems to be a living thing. More simply textured than the other movements, the work renders space for Hegele’s luminous, limber instrument. Pushing the ensemble’s dissonances with her own deft slides of microtonality, she convincingly owns the text and the time of this movement.

the number of completion begins with a lyrical bassoon, quickly threatened by aggressive, rough-hewn phrases from the ensemble. The vibe is suspenseful and roiling, and Hughes combines the ten musicians playfully, a nod to Lynch’s own numeric fascinations.

The music of Curtis K. Hughes is performed both nationally and internationally. He has been a professor of composition at the Boston Conservatory since 2008. This album features the Boston Percussion Group, Sentient Robots, and several of Boston’s finest new-music specialists, bringing an unforgettable vivacity and precision to the works.

– Kyle Bartlett

Recorded June 12-13, 2019 & October 27, 2020 (wingtones) at WGBH’s Fraser Performance Studio, Boston MA

Recording engineer: Chris Anderson

Audio mastering: Antonio Oliart

Producer: Curtis K. Hughes

Production assistant: Ariana X. Hughes

Cover: “7-1954 abstract” (oil on linen - 1954) by Rosemarie Beck.

Back Cover: “Aphrodite and Artemis” (oil on linen - 2002) by Rosemarie Beck

Artwork photography by Cary Whittier,

Images used by permission of the Rosemarie Beck Foundation,

Still frames from the Tulpa music video (2021), directed by Ariana X. Hughes, used by permission

Design & layout: Marc Wolf,

All works published by Feverish Nightmare Productions (ASCAP) except flagrant which is published by Bachovich Music (ASCAP)

Curtis K. Hughes

The music of Curtis K. Hughes (b. 1974) is characterized by its rhythmic restlessness, its harmonic adventurousness and its often volatile mix of diverse stylistic elements and political subtexts. It has been described as "fiery" in the New York Times, "well crafted" in the Phoenix, and "colorfully scored" in the Boston Globe. A professor of composition at the Boston Conservatory since 2008, Curtis was a student of composers Lee Hyla and Evan Ziporyn. Curtis's most recent endeavors have included new commissions for the New Gallery Concert Series, for Transient Canvas and for Boston Musica Viva, as well as "RareBit," a surreal chamber opera for Guerilla Opera, in a production that was rated the "moxt exhilarating premiere" of 2014 by the Boston Classical Review. Curtis's music has been performed across the US and internationally, from Los Angeles to Berlin, from Vermont's Yellow Barn to Bulgaria's Here/Now New Music Festival. He was a 2005 fellow at Tanglewood, and has served as composer-in-residence for Collage New Music and the Radius Ensemble. Recordings of his music for the Albany, GM, and Cauchemar labels are available at all major online music retailers.

Aaron Trant

Aaron Trant is a renowned composer/percussionist/improviser whose recent compositions have been played by Lisa Saffer, Mark Gould, and the University of Massachusetts at Lowell Percussion Ensemble. He has collaborated with filmmaker Yu-Wen Wu and has performed and composed music for silent film with After Quartet and as a soloist, including the Chris Marker film La Jetée and the 1922 Manfred Noa film Nathan der Weise, funded by the New England Foundation for the Arts/Meet the Composer to mark a ten year memorial to 9/11 at the Coolidge Corner Theater. Aaron’s playing can be heard on the Tzadik, Mode, New World, Red Chook, and BMOP/Sound labels.

Boston Percussion Group

Described as “audacious and impressive” by The Boston Globe, Boston Percussion Group (BPeG) is part new music group and part rock band. With repertoire ranging from Steve Reich and Frank Zappa to Tan Dun and Sufjan Stevens, BPeG presents high-energy performances whether in a concert hall, museum or public park, and has shared their music at festivals and universities throughout New England.

Matt Sharrock

Hailed as one of “Boston’s best percussionists” by I Care if You Listen, Matt Sharrock is a versatile marimbist, percussionist, and conductor who tirelessly champions the music of living composers. They are a founding member of Equilibrium, Hinge, and the duo Transient Canvas, which has premiered over 80 pieces while touring in the United States and abroad. A resident with the Chameleon Arts Ensemble, Matt has also performed with Lydian String Quartet, Boston Musica Viva, Sound Icon, the Lorelei Ensemble, Dinosaur Annex, New Hampshire Music Festival Orchestra, the Orchestra of Indian Hill, and the Grammy-winning Boston Modern Orchestra Project. They have recorded on the Beauport Classical, BMOP/sound, Innova, Navona, New Focus, and Ravello labels. A teacher at the Boston Conservatory at Berklee and Bunker Hill Community College, Matt proudly endorses Marimba One and Encore Mallets.

Brian Calhoon

Percussionist and vocalist Brian Calhoon has presented his unique repertoire in concert and masterclasses around the world, including appearances in Taipei, Beijing, Interlochen, Washington D.C., San Francisco and Boston. He created Marimba Cabaret with Greg Jukes, combining a love of theater, singing and story-telling, winning the 2017 PortFringe Theater Festival Critic’s Choice Award. A San Francisco area native, Brian resides in Massachusetts and has premiered works by composers Thomas Oboe Lee, John Murphree, Nathaniel Stookey and Mark Warhol and has worked with Steve Reich, Lyle Mays, Borromeo String Quartet and Nancy Zeltsman, among many others. A graduate of the San Francisco Conservatory and The Boston Conservatory, Brian is a Marimba One Discovery Artist.

Greg Simonds

Percussionist Gregory Simonds enjoys a diverse career performing and teaching in the New England area. A member of the Portland (ME) Symphony Orchestra since 2010 as Section Percussionist, he has performed with Opera North, Orchestra of Indian Hill, Boston Lyric Opera and Boston Ballet. Mr. Simonds teaches around New England, including at Bates College, Fay School and the Wellesley Public School. A native of Troy, New York, Mr. Simonds recently earned his Doctorate of Musical Arts from Boston University.

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.

Sentient Robots

Sentient Robots is an avant-garde cello duo formed in Boston in 2018 who have premiered works by Avik Chari, Christa Duggan and many more, incorporating improvisation, electronics and experimental music into performances at venues such as Arts at the Armory, in Somerville MA.

Bri Tagliaferro

Cellist Bri Tagliaferro’s musical endeavors have brought her to destinations around the world including to the Toronto Creative Music Lab, to Schwaz and Innsbruck, Austria to work with members of the Ensemble Modern and perform at the Klangspuren Schwaz Festival for New Music, and to New York City to perform at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and (Le) Poisson Rouge. A graduate of the Boston Conservatory at Berklee where she studied with Rhonda Rider, Bri is especially passionate about working with composers whose identities have not historically been represented in western classical music, and in giving voice to their music.

Ben Baker

Cellist Ben Baker has worked with Steve Reich, Evan Ziporyn, Michael Gordon, and Louis Andriessen and has regularly performed at renowned home of folk music Club Passim, working with John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin and collaborating with many others, including a recent appearance on Louis Cole's album Time

Yoko Hagino

Pianist Yoko Hagino was born and raised in Japan, and toured internationally as a child, performing her own compositions, later winning top prizes in the All Japan Mozart Competition and the Steinway Society Piano Competition. Earning degrees from Tokyo National University, Longy School of Music, and Boston Conservatory, she studied with Victor Rosenbaum, Michael Lewin and Seymour Lipkin. She has been heard in Boston’s Jordan Hall, William Kapell Music Festival, at Steinway and Sons in Kamen, Germany, and live on Suisse Romande Radio in Switzerland. A passionate interpreter of contemporary music, she has performed with Fromm Players at Harvard, The Boston Conservatory New Music Festival, Goethe-Institut Boston, Brandeis University New Music Festival, and the Summer Institute of Contemporary Performance Practice at New England Conservatory, premiering hundreds of works by living composers.

Alexis Lanz

Born in Nyon, Switzerland, Alexis Lanz currently resides in Providence, RI where he maintains a multi-faceted performing career. Lauded by the Boston Musical Intelligencer for his “astonishing fluidity”, he has been principal clarinetist of the Boston Ballet Orchestra since 2011. He has also performed with the Boston Pops Orchestra, A Far Cry, Opera NH, Collage New Music, and Symphony New Hampshire. He completed his studies at the New England Conservatory, where he received Bachelor of Music and Master of Music degrees. His teachers include National Symphony clarinetist Edward Cabarga, and Thomas Martin of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

Jensen Ling

Originally from Boca Raton, Florida, bassoonist Jensen Ling is a keen interpreter of a broad expanse of repertoire, from the Bach canon to Gubaidulina and Sciarrino. He frequently appears around Boston with the Orchestra of Emmanuel Music, Cantata Singers, the Boston Ballet Orchestra, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Odyssey Opera, Back Bay Chorale Boston Lyric Opera, and the Ludovico Ensemble. He has appeared at the Rockport Chamber Festival and under conductors Ludovic Morlot, Joseph Silverstein, Robert Spano, Gunther Schuller, Maxim Shostakovich, and John Harbison. Jensen studied with bassoonists Gregg Henegar, Richard Ranti and Michael Ellert, and at New England Conservatory and Boston University. Currently, he makes his home in the great Boston neighborhood of Lower Allston, where he lives with his wife Anna, a violist, and their cat, Pig.

Lilit Hartunian

Praised for her “Paganiniesque virtuosity” and “captivating and luxurious tone” by the Boston Musical Intelligencer, violinist Lilit Hartunian can be heard on Mode Records, BMOP Sound, Innova Recording, Ravello Records, SEAMUS records, New Focus Recordings, and on self-released albums by Ludovico Ensemble and Kirsten Volness. Ms. Hartunian has appeared as soloist in the SEAMUS, SCI, NYCEMF, Electroacoustic Barn Dance, Open Sound, Third Practice, and SICPP festivals. Described as “brilliantly rhapsodic” by the Harvard Crimson, Ms. Hartunian performs at the forefront of contemporary music innovation, and is regularly heard on stage premiering works written for her by leading composers, including a recent world premiere commission from Guggenheim Fellow Marti Epstein and the release of a duo album with pianist John McDonald of music by Ryan Vigil for Mode Records. Lilit Hartunian performs frequently as recitalist championing new music, including at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, where she was artistic director of Vellumsound, her year- long chamber music residency, in which she curated and performed a season of chamber music paired with visual art in the museum’s collection. Other collaborations of note have ranged from the Boston Symphony Orchestra Insights Series—in which she performed contemporary works on Symphony Hall stage—to frequent performances with contemporary ensembles including Boston Modern Orchestra Project (with which she appears in a Grammy- nominated album), Sound Icon, Callithumpian Consort, Guerilla Opera, and Ludovico Ensemble, as well as guest appearances with A Far Cry.

Rose Hegele

Canadian soprano Rose Hegele facilitates artistically rigorous performance experiences that explore the extremes of human vocal and artistic expression in 20th and 21st century art music. Working across disciplines including experimental theatre, silent film, chamber music, improvisation and choral singing, Ms. Hegele is passionate about curating performance experiences that foster creative musical practice, innovative collaborations, and service to the larger community. Highlights include performing the world premiere of Andy Vores’s Chrononhotonthologos with Guerilla Opera and leading ensemble performances in Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire and music by Kian Khalilian at Clark University as an Artist-in-Residence. She has also performed at Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art, Jordan Hall, The Castro Theatre, Carnegie Hall, and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

Sarah Bob

Pianist Sarah Bob, hailed as “sumptuous and eloquent” by the Boston Globe, is an active soloist and chamber musician noted for her charismatic performances, colorful playing, and diverse programming. She is founding director of the New Gallery Concert Series, a series that combines new music and new visual art along with their creators, and The Nasty Cooperative, numerous dialogue driven artistic events created to build community and help raise funds for organizations in need. Her most recent solo album, ...nobody move..., received international acclaim and, like all of her artistic endeavors, aims to introduce music in a loving, inclusive, and intoxicating way.



The WholeNote

Curtis K. Hughes’ music is redolent of mystery, wit and adventure, set in a world that is both concrete and abstract. Its harmolodic and rhythmic architecture is expressive, and because it is inspired by the humanity around him (real and imagined) it is never still and dances in graceful movements that are often not simply balletic, but also dizzying.

The repertoire on Tulpa adds another exciting layer to the character of Hughes’ musical oeuvre, being as it is, evocative of a kind of otherworldly erudition. The title of every work represented here comes not only with an aura of rhythmic mystery but always leads the listener to a luminous musical world, often dappled with many-splendoured tone-textures.

Beginning with the solitary majesty of flagrant, we soon find ourselves surrounded by a whole battery of percussion colourists nestling cheek by jowl in antechamber. But Hughes, being a ubiquitous master of surprise, constantly switches tonal and structural gears in the music that follows.

Percussion instruments give way to the gravitas of the bass clarinet and moaning cellos; back again to the rich woody tones of the clarinet and piano before he turns his attention – and most definitely ours as well – to a large, grander palette in the four-part suite, tulpa. Through this, the album’s apogee, Hughes demonstrates an uncommon character which is inward looking and outward bound, woven together with melodic, harmonic and rhythmical elements, and unexpected colours and patterns sweeping through everything musical.

— Raul da Gama, 6.29.2021



Curtis K. Hughes is Professor of Composition at Boston Conservatory. Tulpa is his second portrait CD and the programmed works span from 1995 to 2017. There is a consistency from the earliest to most recent works, with the principle change being an ever more assured compositional voice and a major work in Tulpa, a 2017 piece for ensemble.

The program is designed with several miniatures between the larger works, serving as interludes. Flagrant (2008) is a snare drum solo. Despite the reduced means at his disposal, Hughes imaginatively deploys various techniques and an overall approach to strikes on the drum that bring out a number of colors in zesty gestures. This segues nicely into the percussion ensemble piece Antechamber (2015). Played by the Boston Percussion Group, the piece is both colorful and varied in gestural profile. Some parts adopt fulsome grooves, while others are pointillist, with seamless transitions between demeanors.

Lesson Plan (2007) is a piece for bass clarinet dedicated to Lee Hyla on his departure from Boston for Chicago. Since the composer’s untimely passing, it serves as an affectionate homage through various quotes and a buffo blues cast. Merger (2016), for two cellos, is one of the finest pieces here in terms of construction. Angular counterpoint and hockets between the instruments are offset by piquant harmonies.

Wingtones (2009) for clarinet and piano, is cast in two movements. The first is a loose rondo. After a potboiler introduction, there is a Hindemithian fugue opener that is gradually discarded for a swing section. A slower paced fantasy ensues that once again returns to the swing section followed by a coda with flutter tongue and unison melodies. The second movement is more reflective, a fantasy that part way through speeds up and interpolates the swing from the previous movement. Despite occasional interjections of fast music, cascades of arpeggios and altissimo clarinet playing are reasserted. The piece closes with lush harmonies and tremolandos.

It Was Not Raining (1995) is the final interlude, a piece for solo marimba that features rhythmic canons and multi-mallet technique. This is followed by the title work, a piece for large ensemble cast in four movements. The first movement, “i. telophase,” features pitched percussion and piano creating a swath of disjunct melodies. The other instruments join in a contrasting lyrical section. Gradually the two strands merge in a propulsive stream now buoyed by ostinatos. A brash unison melody provides the first climactic passage of the piece. Things go sideways in “ii. (manufactured for a purpose),” with a section for low winds followed by a tantalizing brief violin solo interrupted by a cadenza for piano and percussion. Winds and percussion cohere into a fast-shifting section of glinting harmonies. The strings, led by two low cellos, are then added to the proceedings, providing a syncopated backdrop for a more straightforward ostinato by clarinet, percussion, and piano. Gradually, their disparate grids combine into a fulsome workout, which leads directly into “iii. ‘un amour inconnu…’,” an evocative setting of a short passage from Proust’s Swann’s Way, sung with impressive microtonal inflections by soprano Rose Hegele. The final movement, “iv. the number of completion,” begins with a bassoon solo that is quickly succeeded by vibrant percussion, into which it reinserts itself,both gradually taking up a unison theme before the entire ensemble takes up disjunct fast lines that are passed from instrument to instrument. The piece concludes with a ferocious pileup of thick chords in repeated eighth notes. Tulpa is engaging throughout, and seems to be a culmination of the other, smaller, compositions on the CD. Whether for soloists or writ large, Hughes writes compelling music that is artfully crafted and energetically appealing.

— Christian Carey, 4.13.2021


Take Effect

A collection of work that spans over two decades of Curtis K. Hughes’s creative output, there’s solo, duo and much larger situations present, as some of Boston’s finest musicians help cultivate rich textures, sparse beauty and plenty of unpredictable song craft that illuminate Hughes’s inimitable vision.

“flagrant” starts the listen with just snare drum from Aaron Trant that’s both bare and playful, and “antechamber” follows with the Boston Percussion Group displaying their dynamic and skilled noisemakers blending in a dizzying display of abstract rhythm.

Further down the line, “wingtones I. (with giddy ferocity)” radiates with Amy Advocat’s clarinet and Yoko Hagino’s piano as both elegance and firmness are showcased amid their inner dialog, while “it was not raining”, one of the album’s best, illustrates Matt Sharrock’s marimba prowess in a subdued, dreamy climate.

The album exits on 4 chapters of “tulpa”, where vibraphone, violin, clarinets, cello, bassoon and many other instruments inject a chamber, orchestral and classical hybrid that’s flowing with innovation and an unparalleled execution.

A very diverse listen that embraces atypical harmony and a skill set that includes both forceful and soothing musicianship, there isn’t a moment to be found here that isn’t exhilarating.

— Tom Haugen, 4.22.2021



The intent is variety of both effect and instrumentation on a New Focus Recordings release of music written over a 22-year time period by Curtis K. Hughes (born 1974). This too is in some ways a collaborative venture, with Hughes working closely with the performers who bring his works to life; and this too is a variegated recording, because the seven works offered on it not only date to different time periods but also use very different instrumental complements. The sound of the instruments seems itself to be the main point that Hughes makes in many of these pieces, as in the opening snare-drum solo, Flagrant, which is an intriguing concept piece that highlights more sounds than the snare drum usually produces – but which wears out its welcome well before the end of its three-and-a-half-minute time frame. Rhythmic variation as much as sonic differentiation is at the heart of Antechamber, which is played by the Boston Percussion Group (Matt Sharrock, Brian Calhoon, Greg Simonds, and Aaron Trant) and which, again, shows Hughes’ command of writing for differing sonic combinations but which, also again, continues longer than its content can justify (nearly 14 minutes in this case). Next on the CD is Lesson Plan for solo bass clarinet (Amy Advocat), and this is a pleasant miniature that nicely contrasts more-lyrical and more-pointed material. It is followed by Merger for two cellos (played by “Sentient Robots”: Bri Tagliaferro and Ben Baker). This is one of those competition-plus-cooperation pieces in which the cello’s inherent warmth and exceptional range play second fiddle (so to speak) to special effects and extended performance techniques. The work structurally somewhat resembles the duet that appears next on the CD, Wingtones for clarinet (Advocat again) and piano (Yuko Hagino). This is a two-movement piece in which the instruments’ contrasting sounds are used mainly for purposes of destabilization rather than emotional or tonal consonance. As in Merger, the focus is more on technique than on expressive communication. Next on the disc is the short marimba solo, It Was Not Raining, played by Sharrock and based on Samuel Beckett’s bleak and self-referential novel The Unnamable – whose interior-monologue style it does not, however, reflect in any significant way. The final work on this disc, and the longest, is the four-movement Tulpa, for soprano (Rose Hegele) and a 10-piece chamber ensemble conducted by Sharrock. Instead of a response of sorts to a novel of sorts, Tulpa is Hughes’ response to a film: David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. It is impossible to get the full flavor of Hughes’ work without being familiar with the 18-hour version of Lynch’s film, and without that familiarity, listeners are left simply with four oddly titled movements characterized mainly by contrasts between brief lyricism and strident dissonance – plus, in the third movement, a soprano quoting Proust’s Swann’s Way. The movement titles, all non-capitalized, are telophase, manufactured (for a purpose), “un amour inconnu…” (with ellipsis), and the number of completion – the last of which focuses on combinations of all 10 performers. There is a good deal of intriguing sound in Tulpa; the title word refers to the concept in mysticism of a being created through pure mental or spiritual power. But the whole piece is so much a personal expression and reaction by Hughes to a very personal film by a frequently deliberately obscure director that Tulpa feels as if it was written as a kind of intimate conversation between two auteurs who care little for anything beyond their own egos. Indeed, all the Hughes music on this disc seems written mainly for the composer himself, secondarily for the performers, and in only a tertiary way for anyone else.


Midwest Record

Once you move off the main playing field, it’s easy for things to exist in their own time zones. You could say that the Steve Reich's of tomorrow have to come from somewhere but this set is a 22 year retrospective. Drumming on things, and not at all in the way you might expect, this is art for art’s sake but there’s nothing boring about it. A collection of challenging works for the listener than doesn’t want to take things lightly, the crew on board here is going to take your mind for a ride.

— Chris Spector, 3.26.2021



There has not been much of Curtus K. Hughes’s music featured in the Fanfare Archive, so it is good to hear a full disc of his music. A composer who revels in the connection with the performers who take on his music, Hughes writes music that is not just highly imaginative, it also contains something that much contemporary music misses—wit.

The first piece is flagrant (Hughes displays a predilection for the lower case in his titles), scored for solo snare drum and written in 2008. The performer here, Aaron Trant, also gave the premiere. In context here it acts as a brief percussion fanfare to what follows, and actually it also hints at an aspect of Hughes’s writing that becomes far clearer in the succeeding percussion ensemble piece antechamber: a real lightness of touch and step, an infectious dance-like quality that is most appealing. The idea is of interlocking cycles that seem to be chaotic but move from, in the composer’s words, “a scattered comedy of errors” to “something more precisely focused.” There’s more than a hint of modern, free jazz about this, and highly enjoyable it is too.

Written for bass clarinet solo and executed with a real nimble touch by Amy Advocat, lesson plan was a going-away present for the composer Lee Hyla. It offers a kaleidoscope of impressions, from Beethoven’s op. 90 to recordings by the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Rather different was the basis for the next piece, merger, which via two cellos ruminates on the merger of two institutions, Boston Conservatory and Berklee College of Music. The duo Sentient Robots (Bri Tagliaferro and Ben Baker), both members of which are graduates from the Conservatory, fully convey the warmth of affection in the music.

There is a more pronounced sense of two individuals in dialogue in wingtones for clarinet and piano, here Amy Advocat and Yoko Hagino. It is the calmness of the more reflective sections that is most memorable, however; the second movement in particular implies some sort of departure, perhaps hard won. And, as the composer himself points out, The brief it was not raining for solo marimba was originally part of a larger trio; here it acts as a sort of sonicially beautiful interlude before the larger-scale tulpa for mixed ensemble. Interestingly, Hughes identifies the Theosophist aspect of Tibetan tulpas for his piece: they are effectively sentient thought-forms. The idea of consciousness projection is translated musically as taking a musical idea and manufacturing variants thereof; simultaneously, the piece is Hughes’s tribute to the drama Twin Peaks, in particular Twin Peaks, The Return. The music is veiled, takes us down myriad blind alleyways, while the third (vocal) movement takes a text from Proust’s Swann’s Way, rather cleverly allowing a phrase to take on an almost tulpa-like sense of autonomy. Rose Hegele initially sings with a sort of white-voiced objectivity (presumably instructed to do so) before the music branches out in myriad directions. The finale opens with a wailing bassoon that sets off a sequence of manic gestures, like initiating the fall of so many dominoes.

This is fascinating music; the imagination, the wit, and the depth are all to be admired here. Performances and recording are uniformly excellent. Recommended.

— Colin Clarke, 7.17.2021


Sequenza 21

Curtis K. Hughes’s second portrait CD was released this year on New Focus; the programmed works span from 1995 to 2017. There is craft-filled consistency from the earliest to most recent works, with the principle change being an ever more assured compositional voice and a major work in Tulpa, a 2017 piece for ensemble. Tulpa is engaging throughout, and seems to be a culmination of the other, smaller, compositions on the CD. Whether for soloists or writ large, Hughes writes compelling music that is artfully crafted and energetically appealing.

— Christian Carey, 12.22.2021

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