for Solo Piano

These five studies of cognitive dissonance came about when I was purposely attempting to write upbeat music, but kept finding myself mixing in darker undercurrents. Finally, I decided follow this instinct and let the struggle fight it out in the music itself.

Recorded and performed by Hsing-ay Hsu
Selected for performance on Colorado Public Radio, 2017


Mariana Trench

for Solo Flute and iPad

Mariana Trench is the deepest part of the ocean known to man. This work explores the increasingly alien world starting from the surface and working down to the bottom of the Challenger Deep, at almost seven miles below sea level.


for Solo Flute

Chaco Canyon is a sometimes barren, but always beautiful spot in the desert southwest. The Chacoan people lived for three hundred years starting in the ninth century, during which time they built great multiple-story stone buildings, witnessed a supernova in the year 1054, built hundreds of kilometers of roads, and were the center of culture and trade. And then they disappeared.



for Clarinet and effects processor

The TANK Center for Sonic Arts in Western Colorado is a truly magical place. This large water tank, located in Granby, has been converted to an acoustic space with a reverb of over 20 seconds, which is more than heard in the Taj Mahal. My visit was a transformational experience; it made me reconsider the nature of music and start listening the beautiful intricacies within sound itself. Shortly after my visit, I wrote a piece for solo clarinet and improvised live electronics which was an attempt to capture the feeling of this space. In the piece, the clarinet arpeggiates between extremes that fall within the harmonic spectrum inherent to the instrument itself.

The piece can be heard on two levels. In the first, you can hear the performer frantically navigating the technically demanding runs. In the second, a large spacious reverb muddies these individual notes into a sonic cloud that manifests and evolves at a much slower pace.


Surveillance State

for Alto Saxophone and Live Electronics

Well before Edward Snowden’s revelations, the National Security Agency (NSA) sent an agent of propaganda to my engineering school to proselytize the idea of a dire need for the government to be able to decrypt private communications; doing so would help our nation’s ability to fight crime and increase security. After all, only criminals and terrorists would use encryption. The average citizen with nothing to hide should have nothing to fear. Half a lifetime later, and this visit still haunts my thoughts.

This piece delves into the ideas of surveillance by the state versus free will and rights of its citizens. Public domain recordings of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama are used along with texts from FBI Director James Comey, Chief of Detectives for the Chicago Police Department John J. Escalante, and Adolf Hitler. These public statements advocating the need for surveillance are contrasted by the live saxophone performance, which is very open and improvised. The live electronics listen to the saxophone and respond. As the piece
progresses, the originally obfuscated ideas are “decrypted,” becoming clearer.

Note that as part of the audience, you are being recorded, and anything you say may become part of the performance.


Devils in the Shallow Lives of Men

for Solo Horn with Piano

There are two worlds: the substantive world, and a model of the world that we create in our minds.

This perceived world does not rely on our direct senses, but instead relies on a vast pipeline of information that we heartily invite into our lives. We have accustomed ourselves to a constant connection to this pipeline. We tell ourselves that we are more knowledgeable, worldlier, and better informed with this plethora of data sources. We take this collection of information as a surrogate of the real world.

However, this pipeline is corrupted. The sources of data are not pure, not without their own motivations and biases. They seek to influence and manipulate our perceptions, desires and fears.

Constant messages of consumerism instill the vital and urgent need for products and lifestyles into us; we cannot be complete without the new and improved. We substitute real interaction with fake plastic snapshots of people s best-staged moments on social media. Look how happy they are all the time, while we sit alone, mired in disquiet and unease. Violent crime is down, but we hear about it exponentially more. Vivid images of distant atrocities permeate our daily lives. We were not directly affected, but we could have been. Things like that should not happen in the world, but what can we do? We better check the news again to stay abreast of the latest developments. Maybe posting a selfie with a $5 cup of coffee will fulfill us while we wait for the inevitable apocalypse.

Sunlight. Blue sky. The pure sensation of warmth on our skin. For just a moment in time, we are brought back to the actual world in which we exist. It is all suddenly so clear. We tell ourselves we will stay here forever. But eventually we cannot help but feed the habit. Just one more look.