News, Thoughts, Soapboxes, and/or Essays

Opportunities for Personal Growth

My parents and I watch a lot of procedural crime dramas. Law and Orders of all varieties, NCIS, CSI, The Closer, and recently CK and I discovered Crossing Lines on Netflix. But my parents are obsessed with Criminal Minds. It’s basically all they watch. They’re either watching Criminal Minds or going to Menards.

In episode 8 of season 3, shortly after Gideon is replaced by Rossi, Morgan and Rossi are having a conversation in which both of them, at some point, utter the phrase “I was giving you an opportunity for personal growth”. This has become part of the Vanderburg lexicon, usually said in some sort of sarcastic way. Or, whenever dealing with things is hard.

I’m writing this percussion and saxophone piece. As it turns out, writing for multi-percussion is really hard, in really stupid ways. Despite having a basic background in percussion (go PBHS Drumline!), picking instruments was impossible. Where do I start? In an instrument group that includes basically anything I can imagine (and some things I can’t), how do I narrow down the number of instruments to something that is both engaging and logistical?

A second issue deals with the difficulty of the music. If I usually write rhythmic music, and percussionists are all about rhythm, then I need to up my rhythm game and write something nigh-impossible, right? Right?

The piece started out as a groove piece–like so much of my recent pieces (see also: Earmarks, Austerity, Joyride…). How do I keep from making this whole piece a groove piece? Or should it be?

Also, relying on computer playback for things like “swirled superball mallet” isn’t really a thing.

Most of these problems are mental–It’s seemed like I’ve been trying to drink from a firehose. Some of the problems have gone away by introducing boundaries. It’s like Stravinsky said, “The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one’s self. And the arbitrariness of the constraint serves only to obtain precision of execution.” This was often expressed in my graduate lessons as “Give me limitations and I’ll give you the world”.

Some of these problems are solved by research–Steven Schick’s lecture “On the Bridge” helped tremendously, as did just listening to percussion things on YouTube.

Some of these problems are being solved by technology. Recording samples that I want to use, then dropping them into Pro Tools instead of using Sibelius, and then notating them later.

Overall, it’s a fun project–and an opportunity for personal growth.

August, September, and October Project Updates

The past three months have been full of change–and thankfully, writing. I've been adjusting to North Dakota (brr!), adjusting to NDSU (go bison!), adjusting to marriage (!!!), and finally finishing the saxophone piece. And playing more bassoon.>


This semester I'm teaching Music Entrepreneurship and Instrumental Arranging at NDSU, which has been fantastic! It's the perfect blend of classes I enjoy teaching and student engagement. Unfortunately, I was hired a little too close to the beginning of the semester to have a composition studio, but there is a healthy culture of creativity going on already (it reminds me a lot of Drury), so there's a lot of composing going on under the radar. Now I just have to tap into that.>

Oh and I'm playing bassoon in Wind Symphony. It's good to be playing again, even if all our music for the December concert is all fast Czech stuff that requires lots of practice.>

Saxophone Piece – Austerity>

It's finished, it's finished, it's finally finished! I think I learned more about how to write (or not write) in that piece than I have for a few years. There's no reason it should have taken that long. It's been shipped off to Andrew Allen at Midwestern State University, and hopefully we'll have it performed at NASA this spring.>


October was full of travel, starting out with the Christian Fellowship of Art Music Composers conference at Fresno Pacific University (which was terrifically fun and edifying and I hope I'll be back next year), and moving on to the NDSU Wind Symphony Tour of North Dakota (Jamestown, Mandan, Beulah, Bismarck, Minot, Bottineau, and Grand Forks), and then immediately to the last few days of the College Music Society national conference in San Antonio.>

Creativity November>

…is in full swing, with this year's piece (tentatively) titled The Earth shall soon dissolve like snow. More on that later.>

Website Version 16>

This will be fun. It's coming soon!>

May, June, and July Updates

After starting out the year doing a decent job of blog updating, I disappeared for like three months. Here's what happened:

Most of the beginning of May was spent grading. Three classes, 100 students, concert reports and final papers. There was lots of reading. After that, it was getting ready for a road trip with Cassie, driving Oklahoma->North Dakota->Montana->Missouri->Oklahoma->North Dakota. Part of this time was spent finalizing my move from Norman to Fargo. Part of this time was spent getting engaged.

Back in Fargo, Cassie and I moved all her stuff to our new apartment while preparing for the North Ambassadors of Music trip to Europe. Long days of band music, long nights of putting things away.

Then we went to Europe with 400 band kids. London, Paris, Crans-Montana Switzerland, Seefeld Austria, Rothenburg ob der Tauber Germany. I recorded a bunch of sounds, some of which are making an appearance in the Saxophone piece.

After returning to the US, Cassie flew down to Orlando for ICA, and I drove to Norman to pack all my things and get them to Fargo. By the first of August, everything was in the apartment at least, if not put away.

So, unfortunately, not a great deal of composing this summer–that is, until we get to August. But we have a few days before I give you the August updates.

Summer 2017 Hiatus Over

It's been an eventful summer-I'll post more to the blog later. I have a bunch of field recordings to post, and with some luck, more creativity updates.

Hello world

This, like many things, is an experiment. And because it's my experiment, it has a silly name. Maybe it'll change later, or maybe it won't.

I've been reading Austin Cleon's book Show Your Work (the sequel to his book Steal like an Artist), and I've been intrigued with the idea of opening my creative process and having a stream-of-consciousness repository that I can reference.

Last year, I read Eric Abrahamson's and David H. Freedman's A Perfect Mess, which tackles “the hidden benefits of disorder”. Connections between ideas are made when ideas are accessible, and organizing those ideas into too strict of a system can prevent some valuable connections from being made.

While news, substantial updates, and new pieces will be announced on the regular blog, OpenKyle will be a mess by design. Works in progress, Ideas for pieces or piece titles, programming code, current listening/reading, and oddball thoughts will find their way here. I've made it as easy as possible to integrate this system with my workflow, so I'll probably be posting often.

Welcome to my mess.

February/March Projects Update: Travel and Saxophones

Since February flew right by and I forgot to post an update, I'll just cover both months right here. How's that? Fine? Fine.


The Norton Lecture and the Oklahoma Student Composers Workshop keynote were both well-received, with the creativity-based Norton lecture generating a lot of comments. I'm planning on turning that lecture into CMS presentation or journal article (or both!), and there's still a lot of ground to cover. Composition Pedagogy and Creativity in Music kind of lie at an intersection of Music, Psychology, and Philosophy, which translates into a lot of reading to figure out how I want to tackle it. 

Saxophone and Fixed Media Piece

I totally gave up on this piece. At least, I gave up on what I had. Don't worry, it's not a total loss, that music will probably show up in another piece someday. But it won't be in this piece. This piece has all new music to it, and I've finally moved away from the Writer's Block stage of the piece. I'll post a more substantial update when I have more substantial music, but I really like the direction this one is going. Lots of notes.

New IMPROV! Century Ensemble

Business as usual. We'll be presenting some new works at the inner sOUndscapes series concert on April 15. I may or may not be playing melodica.

Past and Upcoming Performances

The theme for February and March was performances, which is spilling out into April. Most of these I've gotten to attend, thankfully. It started with the premiere of Joyride by the Boreas Ensemble at North Dakota State University in February, and a repeat performance of that piece at the North American Saxophone Alliance (NASA) regional conference at South Dakota State University in March. My new work Tempest in a Teakettle received its premiere at OU's Faculty Composers Recital a few weeks ago and received some great comments. I spent part of last week at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas for the south central regional conference of the College Music Society. The fixed media piece Remnants of Creation was presented at the first concert, and the clarinet quartet version of Caffeination received its premiere by a talented and fun group of students (Anthony Clark, Megan Hearn, Ashlynn Kegley, and John Platt) led by Dr. Steven Becraft on the second concert. They're repeating their performance on Wednesday, and I would love to go but there's no good way to get from Norman to Arkadelphia.

Coming up soon is the inner sOUndscapes concert, where I'll be trying out Cloud Music for the first time, assuming that it's working. And of course NYCEMF in June.

Meanwhile, it's back to grading, composing, and coding (though not in that order)


January Projects Update: Clouds and Lectures

The new semester is off to a great start, and thanks to a bunch of work I put in this winter to streamline my lesson planning, I'm finding more time for creative projects. In an attempt to update the blog more, I'm planning on doing a monthly review of the projects I'm working on. So let's get started!

New IMPROV! Century Ensemble

After an 18-month hiatus, OU has chosen to re-launch the New Improv Century Ensemble (N!CE) with equal focus on established improv repertoire, new works by OU composers, and laptop ensemble experimentation. We've had a healthy showing so far, and our fearless leader Joshua Tomlinson has plans for us to play Cage's Imaginary Landscape No. 4, if only we can find enough radios. 

As part of that ensemble, I'm writing a piece for audience participation and computing cloud, creatively titled CloudMusic. I'm still finessing the details and the interface, but what I envsion is that the audience will create “clouds” by selecting variables in a web interface, and a performance computer running Max 7 will poll the computing cloud to render those “clouds”shortly after. The performance interface in Max is adorable:


Saxophone and Fixed Media Piece

I have a commission sitting on my desk for Andrew Allen at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas, that I spent a lot of work on last semester. Unfortunately I'm not terribly happy with the interaction between the saxophone and fixed media, so I'll be doing substantial work to that piece in February.

Norton Lecture Series: Inspiration/Perspiration: Exploring the Creative Process

As part of OU's Norton Lecture Series, I'm working on a presentation on the creative process and how we teach the creative process, especially as it relates to Music Composition. It's been simmering for six months, and I'm in the process of writing it as we speak, or at least I should be writing it but I'm updating the blog… February 22: 5pm at OU-Catlett Music Center 131.

Oklahoma Student Composers Workshop: A Keynote I Need To Title and Write.

The composition students at OU are working on creating a statewide student composers workshop, a statewide forum for composition students to get together and discuss their music and issues in their field and in Oklahoma specifically. I've been asked to give the keynote speech, which will likely involve composer marketing. February 18: 10am at OU-Catlett Music Center Pitman Recital Hall.

That's it for right now…off to work!

Creativity November: Tempest in a Teakettle

November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and for the past three years or so I've used that as an excuse to cofound “Creativity November” among my friends in Norman. The rules are simple: Like NaNoWriMo, during the month of November you must start and complete a creative work of your choosing. The planning can occur before November, but the actual work has to take place during the month. If the work is completed by the time we meet for our annual December Third meal, you win. If you don't finish, you owe the rest of the participants a cake. 

My project this year was a piece I created the title first (Tempest in a Teakettle), and recorded my stove for an abnormally long time. And my teakettle. I already had a good number of water and storm noises from across the country, and the bulk of the work was just whipping fairly tame storms into an epic tempest. And then I ran a storm siren through a granular sampler and annoyed my neighbors. The resulting eight-minute piece is my first in four-channel surround, and I'm pretty happy with it.

Of course, like many of my recent pieces, I asked Walter Jordan for a program note, and he delivered a beautiful one. 

‘Tempest in a Teakettle’ uses a common household scene to explore the universal feeling of watching small problems grow. As the title suggests, we often minimize these problems, and are left watching and waiting as they compound silently within us. ‘Waiting’ is explored in several ways throughout, and uses the medium to augment these daily dramas until we will allow ourselves to view them center-stage.
As the piece begins, we listen to the ritual of a kettle being filled and placed on a stove. The ring of metal and the hiss of the burner are stretched into storm winds as the listener is drawn down into the kettle. Where we were waiting for the kettle to boil, we are now waiting for the approaching rain. 

Pressure builds, and a palette of familiar storm sounds beat against the sonic space, ushered in by the tornado siren which will haunt the background. The tempest is in full force, even though it is built of milder layers: light rains and distant thunder recorded across the United States layered on top of one another until they slosh from one side of the space to the other. A feeling as familiar on the plains as on the coast, we are now waiting for the storm to pass.

The siren, which has since been drowned out in the wind and rain, reasserts itself. The wail is distorted and layered into shifting harmonies, striking a balance between a lull and a claxon. Through these elements, we explore the sense of obsession that comes from being kept constantly on alert. Fears become disassociated and aimless, until only the waiting itself remains. We are waiting—now that the storm is over—for whatever comes next.

In perfect time to interrupt the cycle, the tea kettle set to boil at the start begins to whistle. The pinging inside as it is removed from the heat echoes that of rain on a tin roof, heard earlier. Just like the sonic manipulations alter and extend the soundscape of the piece, the unease of waiting blurs the sense of scale between the tempest and the teakettle. 

And the abbreviated note:

The title suggests the small problems we consider on a daily basis, waiting as they build within us. ‘Waiting’ is explored in several ways throughout, and uses the medium to augment these daily dramas until we will allow ourselves to view them center-stage.

After being introduced to the teakettle in which we’ll be experiencing the storm, the noise of rain and wind quickly begin to fill the sonic space. Soft rains and distant thunder churn over one another in a tempest, finally giving way to cautious harmonies fashioned from the wail of a storm siren. Through these elements, we explore the sense of obsession that comes from being kept constantly on alert. We wait for the storm, wait for it to pass, and are waiting for what comes next.

Just as soon, the sirens fade, and a full kettle has come to boil while we were preoccupied. As the sonic manipulations alter and extend the soundscape of the piece, the unease of waiting blurs the sense of scale between the tempest and the teakettle.

Program notes by Walter Jordan

Summer Update

Hey everyone!


A lot has happened in the *cough*several*cough* months since I've updated the blog. Here's what's new in my world:


  1. I completed a couple of works in short order for some competitions, including Reactions for stereo fixed media and Mnemosyne for SATB choir and piano.
  2. Reactions was selected for Musinfo's Art & Science Days in Bourges, France in June.
  3. Cassie and I took a massive 25-state road trip from Oklahoma to Montana by way of Maine.
  4. Remnants of Creation was presented at the New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival (NYCEMF).
  5. Caffeination was presented at the Great Plains Saxophone Workshop at OU in July.
  6. Reverie of Solitude was presented at the Australasian Computer Music Association's Sonic Environments conference in Brisbane, Australia.
  7. Reverie of Solitude was selected for performance on Radiophrenia (87.9 FM) in Glasgow, Scotland.
  8. Automation and Autonomy was selected for performance at the NoiseGate Festival in NYC in September, which is a joint effort of, among others, NYU and the UN Global Arts Initiative.
  9. Creatures from the Black Bassoon was selected for performance at the Diffrazioni Festival in Florence, Italy in October.

Meanwhile, I've written absolutely no music since June, and I'm starting to get antsy. So I have to go do that (and teach)

Spring Cleaning

In the spirit of spring cleaning, I've taken several older and less popular compositions down on the Music page. Some are just early works that I don't need to advertise, and others just need some work. I'm also working on getting new recordings for some of the works, and of course better program notes all around (which is a work in progress).