As a Saxophonist


As a saxophonist, I have been influenced greatly by Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Roscoe Mitchell and Evan Parker, among many others. Each of these players has such a powerfully distinctive sound, in terms of their tone, technique, and overall aesthetic daring. Each has an approach to rhythm that has interested me greatly. The way they each articulate musical gestures and textures, particularly in the music of Coltrane (his so called “sheets of sound”), has been important to me.

Roscoe Mitchell

Evan Parker
As a Composer


As a composer, I have way too many influences to list, but to begin with, Iannis Xenakis, Luigi Nono, John Cage and Morton Feldman are composers that had a great affect on me early on, and continue to influence my work. The use of repetition in Feldman’s music always interests me, as does the way he permutates instrumental sonorities. I find the visceral directness of Xenakis’ work very compelling. The austerity of Nono’s music, and the inventive economy of Cage’s music, particularly in the domain of extended techniques (the prepared piano, etc.) and silence, has been quite influential to my own musical thoughts.

I later became very interested in the music of Gerard Grisey, Salvatore Sciarrino and Helmut Lachenmann, for their innovative use of instrumentation and the beautiful ways in which they combine sounds to create unique sonorities. I also like very much how these composers are able to balance novelty with familiarity, allowing the listener to experience familiar sounds freshly, and new sounds as if they were inevitable. Most recently I have been interested in the music of Mathias Spahlinger, Peter Ablinger and Beat Furrer. They each make special use of texture and repetition (gloriously monotonous redundancy even) enveloped in either complex or excruciatingly simple forms. 

Iannis Xenakis
Salvatore Sciarrino
Helmut Lachenmann
Peter Ablinger
Mathias Spahlinger




Visual Artists

I have also been very influenced by visual artists such as Ellsworth Kelly for his use of color, form and scale; Jean Tinguely and his wonderfully playful and terrifying kinetic sculptures; Gerhard Richter for his ability to deal with many types of representation/abstraction, often using radically different methods, both novel and highly idiomatic; and Clyfford Still, for what I can best describe in his paintings as a refined rawness, simultaneously clear and mysterious.

Jean Tinguely
Biggest Influences

Perhaps my biggest influences have been my teachers and colleagues. I studied with Tristan Murail, Fred Lerdahl and George Lewis at Columbia University and think it was by far the most important time in my musical development. It was an environment in which many differing musical perspectives came into my view and were allowed to coexist and intersect, largely as a reflection of the Columbia musical community itself.

Lerdahl was always open to, and curious about what I was working on, very generous with his time, and helpful even with issues pertaining to broader aspects of life as a musician. He told me something that has really stuck with me. To paraphrase, he said:

“You must write music that has undeniable quality; music that has no flaws, at least according to your own aesthetic principals and in combination with the internal logic you establish in the piece itself. At this point you have no excuse to ever do otherwise.”

Tristan Murail also pushed me. He once looked at a piano piece I was writing while I was his student and asked why I was writing it.

“Someone asked me to,” I said.

“Do you have something to say, or are you just writing it because you were asked?”

“Is it that bad?” I said.

“No, it’s not that bad,” he said, “but there must be something extra, something special. There are already too many pieces for piano that are exceptional, so why add something to the pile that is less than that, why bother? What you are showing me is less than exceptional, and I know you can write a special piece…”

I had never had someone so honestly tell me I needed to do better and that I could do better. I started over and am still working on that piano piece nearly 6 years later!

George Lewis got me to really reconsider my views on musical representation and meaning in music. I was at a lecture where he stated the following (again, paraphrased):

“If John Cage was correct and a sound is just a sound, then we wouldn’t know the difference between art and a rattlesnake or a pit-bull…”

George Lewis
Tristan Murail
Fred Lerdahl
Teachers Colleagues

Finally, my colleagues in the Wet Ink Ensemble (Kate Soper, Sam Pluta, Eric Wubbels, Josh Modney, Erin Lesser and Ian Antonio) continue to inspire me. I have written more than a few works for all of these musicians now and plan to keep doing so well into the future. The process of collaborating with these folks always stretches both my knowledge and imagination and the resulting performances are never anything less than amazing. Getting to perform pieces by the other composers in the group is also always a rewarding learning experience. They’re the best!