Clair Tappaan Lodge

A never-ending trail

I don’t usually celebrate when I finish working on a composition, but this time I am. Having spent the last year dreaming about, planning for, walking, and finally spending too much time sitting alone in a room composing music about the Pacific Crest Trail, I am done with my string quartet for Friction Quartet. It was a privilege to be inspired by such a magnificent landscape. I am grateful that this project allowed me to further explore the complex paradox that the natural world presents and that music embodies. I have discovered absolutely nothing new, but I learned much; the glorious, vexing multitude of sounds made by the common raven (a piece waiting to be written); ants are gods who command respect; the land is alive and vigorous and will be forever; that if I find myself at a road crossing in the Mojave Desert, strangers might be waiting there with ripe peaches, cinnamon rolls, and mango drinks. How do these thoughts play out musically? I don’t know. All is possible.

So, to celebrate the conclusion of my compositional adventure I have decided to return to the PCT…on snowshoes! I’m headed out today to spend a few days in the back—country at a ski hut the Sierra Club maintains just north of the Clair Tappaan Lodge near Donner Pass. The hut happens to be right off the PCT and I remember checking it out last August, so hopefully I’ll be able to re-locate it easily. Clair Tappaan was one of my favorite pit stops last summer on the PCT and I’m hoping to make visiting here a personal tradition, especially in the winter.

Thanks so much for reading — happy holidays!


Back in the lab w/ string quartet & a new recording.

Having concluded my Socal to Norcal hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, I’ve dived into working on my trail-inspired piece for San Francisco’s Friction Quartet.

I’m setting the piece in 4 movements (surprise, surprise), and each of the 4 movements will somehow reflect one epitome-like place in each of California’s four (broad) mountain regions; the desert, the south Sierras, the north Sierras, and the southern end of the Cascades in Northern California. There are many beautiful places on the PCT, and sometimes when they are exceptionally beautiful, they simply overwhelm ones senses and emotions. In these moments one might simply stop and gaze, maybe shed a tear of happiness that such places exist. Those places are friends of ones memory, places easily and joyfully recalled. Each movement is about a place like that.

So far my working titles for the movements are:

Traverse of the Desert Sun
Sky Islands
The Rebirth of Lake Owens
Mokelumne Crossroads

I’ve got the first movement more or less done, and large chunks of the 3 other movements pretty well sketched out. I’m looking forward to bringing all this material into a lesson I scheduled with the always insightful and philosophical Dan Becker. I’m also really looking forward to finishing the piece over the next 2 months, and then sitting on it for at least another month before giving it another look. I find that having a true second look at a piece before sending it off reveals many obvious things I may have missed during the initial creative process.


I’m also happy to report that saxophonist/vocalist Kendra Emery’s new album Beautiful Mess features a new composition of mine called Black Pine written especially for her. It’s equal parts nature vibe and 808 bass…Check it out below!

Wall of granite

Pacific Crest Trail – High Sierra

Mt. Whitney fangs

Mt. Whitney fangs

The Sierra. The Range of Light. The High Country. Mt. Whitney, Owens Valley, Mono Lake, Rae Lakes, The Palisades, Evolution Basin, The “Golden Staircase”, Lyell Glacier, Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite Valley, Sonora Pass, Lake Tahoe. Central California is a landscape of epitomes. A single region of a single state contains the highest peak in the lower 48, the largest alpine lake in North America, and the largest tree in the world, which is also 100 miles due west of the oldest tree on the planet. All of which describes none of the beauty and power of this landscape. While walking this section of the PCT I often found myself muttering, “having walked here my life experience is now complete.” Which, upon reflection, is merely a partial, egotistical comprehension of what this land really is. It is bigger than all the life it supports (L.A, S.F., Central Valley farms, millions of migratory birds, not to mention all the other wildlife that lives in the Sierra) and it will always exist in accordance with its own intrinsic energy. This land reminds me that I simply traverse it with no claims, and to always thank the sky for sun, rain and snow. I am only a dirty hiker, but if I may be graceful I will ride the wave, go with the flow, and hike my own hike!


Pacific Crest Trail – SoCal part one

For the last 3 weeks I’ve been hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail through southern California from the border town of Campo to my current layover town, Big Bear Lake. I’ve hiked through several different desert habitats (Colorado, upper and lower Sonoran), over a few mountain ranges (Laguna, San Jacinto), and passed though two biomes (arid desert, Mediterranean). The scenery has been dramatic, to say the least (for example – losing 8,000 feet of elevation over 15 miles coming down off San Jacinto Peak into the San Gorgonio river plain, while passing through at least 4 discernible forest types) . I’ve met and befriended an amazing number of fellow travelers – Avocado, Glide, Gizmo, Bluesman, the Saint, Monique, Tidy Sarah, Slo-Mo, Dirt Nap, Dune…only to name the very few I can recall now as I sit in the Big Bear library writing this. The most amazing aspect of the trail so far has to be the Trail Angels, though. These are people who live near the trail who donate rides to and from trail-heads, offer up their kitchens, bathrooms, living rooms, backyards, wifi, water, soda, and sometimes even beer to us weary, obscenely smelly hikers. Their generosity is truly inspiring and continues to expand my view of humaneness and community. A special shout out is most definitely due to Glide On, Ziggy and The Bear, Papa Smurf and Mt.Mama. Thanks A MILLION y’all. So far I’ve managed only to write a dozen bars of music for Friction Quartet, but I have been brain-storming their piece for many hours, and I can feel the the spirit and scope of the piece every time I imagine it. I’m still hoping to find my composing groove though. I initially thought I could compose on my rest days in town, but those have mostly turned into much appreciated social events with fellow hikers, gear repair sessions, frenzied food shopping, and sheer face-stuffing contests at whatever wonderful dinner table we find ourselves at (which reminds me of my least proud moment on the trail so far – eating 4 double cheeseburgers from Burger King, which to be fair was the only game in town at a certain point). I think I’m going to start composing in my tent at camp. That seems the best bet for wood-shedding. In any case, I’m SO DANG excited about this piece for Friction Quartet. It’s going to be a blast when I really start putting notes down. Thanks for reading y’all, and all the best to you and yours!

Max (aka Medicine Man)

wicked game

Wicked Game trap–ballad cover

Odessa Chen and I just finished recording this cover of Chris Isaak’s early 90’s classic Wicked Game, recorded especially for Andrew Kippen who generously donated to our album fundraiser last spring. The bass music fan in me has always wanted to put some 808’s under Odessa’s voice, and this cover somehow became a vehicle towards that end. When that 808 kick hits on the choruses, with Odessa’s voice flying way high over it, I’m just super happy about it!


Review: The Act of Loving You

TALY review (2)

My composer friend from Austin, Andrew Sigler, recently reviewed The Act of Loving You and 2 other new albums for his blog on New Music Box. I’ve always enjoyed reading Andy’s reviews for their wit, insight, and cogent musings – plus he always writes about hip shit that I’m predisposed to being into! Check him out:

Review: Sounds Heard

images (2)

Giant Sequoia

I’m writing a new piece for amplified violin virtuoso Todd Reynolds, and this image keeps coming to mind every time I sit down to compose – the view looking straight up the trunk of a giant Redwood tree from its base, up into sunlight filtered through evenly dispersed branches, springy beds of fallen needles underneath my feet. I’m trying to use long, slow comb-filter sweeps and cyclical harmonies to suggest a similar feeling of quiet majesty, although I recognize–as John Steinbeck did-that “the feeling they produce is not transferable. From them comes silence and awe. It’s not only their unbelievable stature, nor the color which seems to shift and vary under your eyes, no, they are not like any trees we know, they are ambassadors from another time.” Musical imaginings aside, I am super pumped to be writing for Todd, which is truly both a pleasure and a privilege. Kinda like standing underneath Sequoioideae now that I think about it.


Bun B/Gardens & Villa mashup

About a week ago I was going through Banglewood withdrawal, missing all my friends and their rolling creative outbursts, and I was itching for something fun to do. I was also obsessing over this band Gardens & Villa (the best band to come out of Santa Barbara ever?), and somehow a Devin the Dude track was also bouncing around in my brain. Anyways, these two songs collided in my inner ear, and this mashup is what was heard in the minor glory of that moment.


Live recording of my newest piece

Music inspired by the tallest oak tree on the North American continent — the Henley Oak — and the general epic-ness of the place it calls home, the Round Valley of Mendocino County in Nor-Cal.

Performed by the following bad-asses:

Charlie Magnone — piano
Brendon Randall–Myers — Guitar
Ted Babcock — vibes, percussion
Lucie Grugier — cello
Pat Swoboda — bass
Chuck Furlong — bass clarinet


Bang On A Can Summer Music Institute 2013


Lemme tell you about this picture of me and all my composer pals from the Bang On A Can Summer Music Institute 2013. We all spent 3 weeks living a composers dream of being surrounded by a small army of stunningly talented performers who were all hungry to shred the shit out of our assorted tunes. I worked with some of the best musicians I’ve ever met, and their outlooks and personalities are in my heart, and their sounds are resonating in my soul. I loved every minute of my time spent among these beautiful people who wrote, performed, partied and thought like maniacs. I am forever changed, which sounds kind of melodramatic but is simply true. I’m so jacked with ideas right now it’s just amazing to me. Banglewood brings fire!