D is for Denney

Unfortunately, yesterday was an incredibly busy day so I will be posting both D and E today to catch up!  so keep any eye out for letter E later today.

Today’s composer is Maxwell Denney! I met Max earlier this year at CalArts. He is currently working on his MFA in the Composer-Performer program at CalArts. In addition to being a wonderful composer Max is also a fantastic guitarist, performing both his own works and the works of other composers. One of my favorite things about Max is the extreme diversity in music he listens to and plays. This is a trait I have found to be common among guitarists and percussionists (probably in part due to being exposed early on to rock and jazz and prominence of the rhythm section in those ensembles). Max and I have talked about everything from the works of John Luther Adams to Fred Frith to Mostly Other People do the Killing (who I had not heard of at the time. They are a great ensemble).

Max is an incredibly inventive composer. Exploration is at the center of his work. I have had the pleasure of performing one of his pieces, Cycles and will be premiering a new vibraphone solo on his Mid-Residency Masters recital next Saturday.

The pieces from the collection Cycles are guided improvisations. What I enjoy most about these pieces is, rather that supplying performance instructions that are instrumental or musical jargon they are instead poetic images and abstract concepts the performers then interpret into a sound or series of sounds. My favorite of these is pieces is Forest:


  1. Approach the tree line of a large forest; Greens and browns, fading into darker shades
  2. Slowly walk in, paying attention to the space; The gaps between trees
    The wind rustling the leaves
    The sudden, unexpected stillnesses
  3. Walk as deep into the forest as you can, until no more light comes through the trees
  4. Find a place to rest
  5. When you’re ready, walk out of the forest

The imagery in these instructions is so effective. The biggest issue I have come across when performing this piece is that I find myself sitting and listening and thinking about the imagery and before I know it I realize I haven’t made any sound! This seems to be a personal issue that stems out of the fact that the imagery is so well written and vivid I often become happily distracted. I am very excited to hear Max’s recital and to bring a new piece of his to life.


Recommended Listening/Viewing:

Cycles for Ensemble

A Handbook for Building Gods vol. 1 

Terrain Studies (there are several terrain study pieces all of the ones I have seen are great)

Mani/Mano for Voice and Ensemble


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