Transpersonal Suite

The Transpersonal Suite is a series of compositions that I have been working on for several years. I have performed them with a number of different ensembles, but they have acquired a particular focus in recent performances by Tin/Bag, my longstanding duo with New York guitarist Mike Baggetta. During the more than five years I have been performing with Tin/Bag we have developed a musical rapport that has enabled the ongoing creation and performance of these very special compositions. The inspiration for these works may lie in the world of books and ideas, but the music itself is the product of years of exploration and dedication to the project of uncovering a very personal, intuitive, and compelling musical language for creative improvisation.

In these single-page compositions the compositional objective is to compress as much potential recombinatorial value into as few notes as possible, creating a melodic contour which can function as a theme in the traditional sense but can also be expanded systemically by the improvising performer. The individual pitch and rhythmic elements may be divided, reorganized, repeated, rerouted (via jumping repeat zones), reversed, condensed, aggregated to create distinct chords or harmonic centers, and/or otherwise elaborated upon. The outer simplicity of the composition is such that each performer may immediately and effectively grasp the basic materials, though the internal compositional logics will ultimately yield an array of possible connections.

Each of these compositions has been named in honor of a writer, philosopher, or spiritual thinker whose work has motivated the kind of intuitive and integrated processes that inform and enrich my aesthetic world: Sri Aurobindo, Abraham Maslow, Hazrat Inayat Khan, Osho, and Lama Anagarika Govinda. Within each composition I have embedded certain distinctive systemic relationships that embody some dimension of the philosophical world view of each writer.

The Transpersonal Suite (consisting of the first five compositions in this series) was recorded by Tin/Bag in New York City in January of 2010 with the support of a Subito grant from the American Composers Forum. That recording was released in 2011 as the CD Bridges on the MabNotesMusic label, and is available via the embed below:

The first composition from this series to be completed was “Aurobindo”. This composition was recorded by the Empty Cage Quartet in July, 2006 and released in 2007 on the CD Stratostrophic (Clean Feed Records CF103) – that recording is embedded below. It consists of flugelhorn, alto saxophone, and contrabass working from the written melodic material, with electronically processed percussion improvising on the rhythmic relationships:

“Maslow” is the next composition in the series. Embedded below is a video recording from a live performance by Tin/Bag in Boston during the Fall of 2007. The audio quality is not ideal, but it should provide an adequate representation of how these compositions work:


This performance begins with solo trumpet playing the theme, at first unadorned, then gradually expanding and improvising upon some of the repeated areas before the guitar enters with a chordal accompaniment based on pitch aggregations derived from the various melodic fragments. Both instruments then engage in a bit of free melodic counterpoint alternating with sustained tones and guitar harmonics. This opens up into a more improvisational middle section, which eventually settles back into the melodic material of the third and fourth staves. Trumpet then drops out as solo guitar meditates for a moment on the theme. When the trumpet re-enters, the pace slows dramatically, and we end by focusing on the last six written notes of the theme (G-Ab-F-G-G-F).

In this particular case the only decision that was agreed upon beforehand was that we would begin with a trumpet solo. Every other performance decision is made in the moment, with regard to the flow of the music and the information that is contained within the piece.

In 2009 I received a Subito Quick Advancement Grant from the Los Angeles/SF Bay Area chapters of the American Composers Forum to fund the recording of the full Transpersonal Suite with Tin/Bag at Systems Two studios in Brooklyn. I wrote about that session and the brief Northeast tour that preceded it in this post. Here is the audio from the master recording of “Maslow”, recorded on January 16, 2010:

Following are the remaining three compositions in the series in their order of completion: “Inayat Khan”, “Osho”, and “Govinda”.

Click on a thumbnail image to view the larger version:

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