Author Archives: Alex Temple

Willingly (Louisville, 11.10.17)

The final concert of the University of Louisville New Music Festival is a late-night restaurant show called “Music to End the Night.” The program includes my piece Willingly. 10 PM Friday, November 10, 2017 Decca 812 East Market St, Louisville, KY

TMWHE (Los Angeles, 11.18.17)

The LA Phil is organizing an all-day new-music festival called Noon to Midnight, featuring performers such as Steven Schick, gnarwhallaby, and wild Up. The latter’s set includes The Man Who Hated Everything, which I wrote for them in 2015. Also on the program: music by Pauline Oliveros, Gérard Pesson, Andrew Tholl, Scott Walker and Du […]

tiny bun and tiny kitten

title: tiny bun and tiny kitten instrumentation: voice, electronics duration: 13 seconds written in: 2016–17 text: Cat Picardat & Lucy Hadman The day after the 2016 election I felt like I was walking underwater. I also wrote this theme song for an imaginary cartoon show, with text by two members of my polycule, and I […]

Second Moon (Chicago, 11.19.17)

Kayleigh Butcher and Christopher Narloch are performing Arnold Schoenberg’s Book of the Hanging Gardens, and they’ve also commissioned 15 composers to write minute-long pieces in response to each song in the cycle. My contribution, “Second Moon,” gives a new flavor to the opening melody of “Als wir hinter dem beblümten tore,” with a splash of […]

Sheer Frost Orchestra (Chicago, 12.3.17)

This December brings the Second Sexing Sound Symposium, a festival-conference dedicated to exploring the topic of gender in the sonic arts. The first second concert includes a performance of Marina Rosenfeld‘s Sheer Frost Orchestra (1993) for women playing electric guitars with nail polish bottles. I’ll be playing in it, along with Jessica Aszodi, Amanda Bailey, […]

Thick Line (WA/OR/CA, 1.30.18 – 2.8.18)

Memphis-based wind quintet The City of Tomorrow is touring the West Coast as part of the Spontaneous Combustion New Music Festival, and their program includes my open-instrumentation piece Thick Line. The festival also includes performances by Ashley Bathgate, Orlando Cela, Hotel Elefant, Hub New Music, Quince Contemporary Vocal Ensemble and Sandbox Percussion. Performance dates and […]

Out of You

title: Out of You instrumentation: electronic duration: 4:04 written in: 2016 A sequel to 2015’s Out of Style. This time I used an mp3 to MIDI converter to turn Ariana Grande’s “Into You” into raw MIDI data, and then resynthesized it using a variety of timbres and effects (plus a few surprise samples). The result […]

Zip Code Memoir

title: Zip Code Memoir medium: text written in: 2014 – present Zip Code Memoir is an autobiographical Twitter art project, consisting of one tweet for every ZIP code I’d been in before my 30th birthday (August 26, 2013). Read Tweets by @zipcodememoir

Out of Style

title: Out of Style instrumentation: electronic duration: 3:51 written in: 2015 A stupidly formalist remix/rearrangement of a top-ten hit. If you’re curious, here’s what I did: I cut up the song at the transients, which gave me 1,165 tiny samples. Then I arranged those samples from shortest to longest, creating a very gradual deceleration. Finally […]


title: Insides medium: sound + scent + design + interactive performance created in: 2015 created with: Katie C. Doyle Insides is a performance piece that uses technology, sound and audience interaction to explore issues of patience, consent, intimacy and #wreckage. Katie Doyle and I performed it three times in total: at Comfort Station in the […]

The Man Who Hated Everything

title: The Man Who Hated Everything instrumentation: flute, sax, trombone, piano, electric guitar, vibraphone, drum set, 2 violins, cello duration: 12 minutes written in: 2015 text: Alex Temple “A total blazing hoot.” —George Wallace In The Man Who Hated Everything, I pay tribute to Frank Zappa, particularly his early work with the Mothers of Invention. […]

Behind the Wallpaper

title: Behind the Wallpaper instrumentation: amplified voice (range: F3 to C#5), string quartet duration: 35 min. written in: 2013–15 text: Alex Temple “[A] dizzying collage of dreamlike impressions … somewhere between avant-garde composition, mysterious artifact, and sci-fi thriller.” —Lindsey Rhoades Behind the Wallpaper is a story about someone undergoing a mysterious transformation. At first her […]

Shiny Object Syndrome

title: Shiny Object Syndrome instrumentation: electronic duration: 1:17 written in: 2015 Shiny Object Syndrome consists of a single note or chord for each of the 128 General MIDI instruments, in order. I wrote it for Parlour Tapes+’s MINI MIDI MIXTAPE, which you can get either as a digital download or as a set of eight […]


title: Lola instrumentation: electronic duration: 1:56 written in: 2014 In 2014, Marc Perlish photographed an antiquarian bookstore that had just closed. Now he’s published the resulting photos in an e-book entitled What Will I Find?, and each picture in the book is illustrated by a short piece of music. My piece, Lola, accompanies this image […]

NewMusicBox articles

Part of the reason I haven’t written here in a while is that in January I wrote a series of articles for NewMusicBox. You might be interested in them: 1. What Counts as Borrowed Material? 2. How to be Culturally Relevant 3. The Appropriation Problem 4. History of the World

Parlour Tapes+ trailers

title: Parlour Tapes+ trailers medium: video written in: 2013–14 Part cassette label and part theater collective, Parlour Tapes+ is one of my favorite artistic organizations in Chicago. I’ve made a couple of unnerving trailers for them. On May 3, 2014, the label threw a dance party / masquerade ball called Parlour Pagananza, conceived as a […]

Viola Joke

title: Viola Joke instrumentation: two vaudevillian violists + electronic studio audience duration: 9 minutes written in: 2013–14 text: Alex Temple Viola Joke is a comedy routine that takes place in an apocalyptic nightmare world. And yes, there is a laugh track.   Watch   Doyle Armbrust & Chris Fisher-Lochhead, voices and violists Live at Galvin […]

O Superfood

title: O Superfood instrumentation: electronic duration: 8:05 written in: 2014 O Superfood is a mashup of 43 different tracks that cover a wide variety of stylistic ground: rock, pop, jazz, hip-hop, EDM, country, doo-wop, gamelan music, Baroque music, minimalism, German Romanticism and mid-century modernism. Unlike Nineteen, there’s no overarching concept; the connections between samples are […]

Things That Are Dead

THINGS THAT ARE DEAD: Classical music (source: BBC) Rock and roll (source: Huffington Post) Pop (source: Radiohead) Hip-hop (source: Nas) Poetry (source: The Daily Beast) Cinema (source: J. Hoberman) Theatre (source: The Age) The American novel (source: Lee Siegel) Originality (source: Zach Hannigan) The author (source: Roland Barthes) Liberalism (source: The American Spectator) Conservatism (source: […]

Switch: A Science-Fiction Micro-Opera

title: Switch: A Science-Fiction Micro-Opera instrumentation: singing cellist (range: Gb3 to D5), flute, violin, percussion, electronics duration: 18 minutes written in: 2013 text: Alex Temple In June of 2013, engineer Sylvia Wald and I completed work on an experimental device that could capture audio signals from parallel universes. By some extraordinary luck, the first thing […]

Let’s Record Everything!

1 You’ve just been to a concert by a new-music ensemble.  You really liked one of the pieces they played, and you’re excited to hear it again. Good luck with that. Will the ensemble repeat the program?  Very unlikely — even if they’ve spent months preparing for it.  Will they play that one piece again?  […]

John Adams Rolls His Eyes at “Kids These Days”

John Adams had some pretty nasty things to say about young composers in a recent New York Times article: “We seem to have gone from the era of fearsome dissonance and complexity — from the period of high modernism and Babbitt and Carter — and gone to suddenly these just extremely simplistic, user-friendly, lightweight, sort […]

It’s hard even to say it.

title: It’s hard even to say it. instrumentation: electronic duration: 6:02 written in: 2013 written with: Jenny Olivia Johnson This past December, Chicago cassette label, composer/performer collective and theatrical-event producer Parlour Tapes+ released their second album, *AND. Each track on it is a collaboration between an artist who lives in Chicago and one who lives […]

I’m a Trans Composer. What the Hell Does That Mean?

In the last few months, there have been a number of highly-circulated articles about women and contemporary classical music. There was Amy Beth Kirsten at NewMusicBox, arguing that the term “woman composer” is anachronistic; Kristin Kuster in the New York Times challenging that idea on the grounds that a composer’s success is never “all about […]

In Defense of Nostalgia, Again

Last month I wrote a couple of things about nostalgia in a discussion on NewMusicBox. Today I was looking back at them wistfully, and I missed the good old days of June 2013 so much that I thought I’d reproduce what I wrote here.   First, in response to Isaac Schankler’s remark that “there’s also […]

The Problem With 4’33”

1. Making Ideas Clearly Manifest A few months ago, I participated in a ludicrously enormous Facebook thread about the relationships between composers and listeners. Somewhere in the middle of it, I wrote this: “I actually think a lot of composers don’t care enough about the audience. But I don’t mean that they aren’t writing the […]


title: Nineteen instrumentation: electronic duration: 9:32 written in: 2013 Nineteen is a mashup of 100 pieces by 100 different composers — one for every year from 1900 to 1999. They enter in chronological order, although the samples are different lengths and often overlap considerably. (The densest moment comes at the beginning of Part 3, where […]


title: Willingly instrumentation: flute, piano, electronics duration: 8 minutes written in: 2012-13 text: composite (see below) Willingly is one of the most spare, spacious pieces I’ve written in a long time. It’s based on the recorded voices of friends, colleagues, former students and family members talking about unanticipated changes in their lives — some of […]

Willingly update

As some of you know, I’m working on a piece called Willingly, for David Chavannes and the most appropriately named flutist ever, Lily Floeter. The piece is based on samples of people saying “If you had told me ten years ago that some day I would willingly _____, I wouldn’t have believed you,” where what […]

How to Live With Both Irony and Sincerity

Replacing One Extreme With Another Last week, a bunch of my Facebook friends linked to a New York Times editorial by Christy Wampole called “How to Live Without Irony.” In every case, they had nothing but praise for the article. Not surprising, I guess — bashing hipsters is practically a national pastime at this point. […]

Liebeslied Gets Political

Last Saturday, Liebeslied got its third performance, courtesy of Jenna Lyle and the Chicago Composers Orchestra. Turns out the piece changed its meaning while I wasn’t looking. When Mellissa Hughes premiered it last fall, she emphasized the glamorous side of the 1950s pop songs that it pays tribute to and critiques, and Jenna’s first performance […]

Discovering Your Taste

“Sometimes I feel like discovering what art you like — as opposed to what art you wish you liked — is a life-long process.” I wrote that on Twitter, so I had to be brief, but I’d like to expand on it here. Two months ago, when I was at Fresh Inc, Stacy Garrop asked […]


instrumentation: two keyboards and percussion duration: 10 minutes written in: 2012 World plays with musical styles that are culturally associated with the marimba. If you’ve ever wished that Bartók had done the theme music for the ten o’clock news thirty years after his death… if you like your cheesiness with a side of metahistorical commentary… […]

Two Metaphors in the Politics of Musical Style

A lot of talk about the new-music scene is based on a metaphor in which the people who write and listen to “difficult” music are the elitist aristocracy, and the people who write and listen to “accessible” music are the downtrodden average joes.  There’s also a lot of talk about the new-music scene which is […]

Theatre of War

This graphic has been going around Facebook lately: It is, of course, a huge oversimplification. In particular, correct pitch and rhythm are much more important than the graphic suggests. Sure, if a group plays a bunch of wrong pitches and rhythms, very few people in the audience will have any idea; if it’s a premiere, […]


One of these days I’m going to add a page to this site about my performances of other people’s music. In the meantime, go listen to my bangy piano playing on Ben Hjertmann’s Driftwood.

The White-Walled Room

New piece in the music section! Or rather, new version of an old piece: The White-Walled Room, which I wrote three years ago but was never really happy with until I revised it in preparation for Soapbox. Read more about it and take a listen: The White-Walled Room While I was revising the piece, I […]

Party at the Last Resort

title: Party at the Last Resort instrumentation: flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, bassoon, piano, violin, viola, cello, bass duration: 6 1/2 minutes written in: 2012 Picture this: you’re driving along some godforsaken desert highway in California, when you come across a sign for a hotel, all pink and blue neon. Curious, you take the turnoff. You […]

Thick Line

title: Thick Line instrumentation: three or more wind/brass instruments duration: 4 minutes written in: 2012 Thick Line was originally written for Eclipse Wind Trio to play at the 2012 Fresh Inc Festival, but it can be performed by any number of wind or brass instruments. All the musicians read from the same score, which specifies […]

Support Group

title: Support Group instrumentation: electronic duration: 3 1/2 minutes written in: 2012 text: composite (see below) Support Group will eventually be part of a piece called End, which is an opera in the form of an interview podcast. It depicts a therapy group for people who were traumatized by TV production company closing logos when […]

Julie’s Dream

title: Julie’s Dream instrumentation: electronic duration: 4 minutes written in: 2011 text: Alex Temple Julie’s Dream will eventually be part of a piece called End, which is an opera in the form of an interview podcast. It depicts a dream that indirectly sets the protagonist, Julie, on the path to a terrifying and incomprehensible discovery […]

New Music’s Image Problem (Part 2)

Last week I made a post in which I noted that people who are into experimental film, theater, literature and visual art don’t tend to listen to contemporary classical music, and suggested that this might be because the way contemporary classical music is presented to audiences makes it seem “uncool.” Since then I’ve spent a […]

Program Notes and New Music’s Image Problem

If there’s one thing composers love to do, it’s complain about program notes. There are two kind that tend to come under particularly intense fire. Let’s call them the Play-by-Play: Repossessions begins with a fluffy, scurrying motif in the contrabass clarinet. Soon it is joined by irritable pulsations in the high strings, and the music […]

Liebeslied Afterglow

The Liebeslied premiere went extremely well! Mellissa was great as always, and ACO was wonderful to work with; they put the piece together incredibly quickly, and when they had to rewrite my first-person bio in third person, they were careful to avoid gender-specific pronouns. (If you’re reading this and don’t know why I want to […]

Daniel J. Kushner interview

Huffington Post critic Daniel J. Kushner recently interviewed me about my recent piece Liebeslied, which is being premiered this Friday. The interview is up now, so you can read about the impetus behind the piece, and about my thoughts on popular representations of love in general, here.


title: Liebeslied instrumentation: amplified voice (range: F#3 to E5), live electronics and chamber orchestra duration: 8 minutes written in: 2011 text: Alex Temple “Nightmarish… It’s like a Buñuel film in miniature, and it achieves perfection.” –Alex Ross The love songs of the 1940s and 50s are pleasant and light-hearted on the surface, but a closer […]


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Big Heads

title: Big Heads instrumentation: voice (range: F#3 to C5), tenor sax, synthesizer, bass and drums duration: 3 minutes written in: 2011 text: Sara Madison Björk Hernández & Alex Temple One day, a friend’s kid was building a scarecrow out of random objects in my apartment, and while she was putting a hat on top of […]

title: Emperor Norton Makes a Proclamation instrumentation: two voices (ranges: A#3 to E5, Eb3 to C5), electronics duration: 4 minutes written in: 2010, r. 2016 text: Joshua Abraham Norton In 1859, Joshua Abraham Norton of San Francisco declared himself Emperor of the United States. Despite having no actual political power, he wore a regal uniform, […]

A Presentation to the Board

title: A Presentation to the Board instrumentation: speaking voice and video duration: 6 minutes written in: 2010 text: Alex Temple A Presentation to the Board is based on a 1957 promo film by Redbook Magazine. I cut up, rearranged and rescored it, and then added a live speaking part, turning what had been a cheerful […]

The White-Walled Room

title: The White-Walled Room instrumentation: voice, electronics duration: 8 minutes written in: 2009, revised 2012 text: Alex Temple The White-Walled Room is about someone beginning to remember a traumatic event that happened five years earlier.  The precise nature of the incident is never revealed, but it’s consistently associated with slow motion, the color white, and […]

Slightly Less Awkward People

title: Slightly Less Awkward People instrumentation: bass clarinet, electric guitar and electronics duration: 7 minutes written in: 2007-8 Slightly Less Awkward People is a sequel to a piece I wrote in college called Slightly Awkward People. Back then I was just getting into Shudder to Think’s bizarre masterpiece Pony Express Record, and I was fascinated […]

The Travels of E.C. Dumonde

title: The Travels of E.C. Dumonde instrumentation: voice and electronics duration: 29 minutes written in: 2007-8 text: Alex Temple “It’s like ‘This American Life’ on acid.” -an audience member When I was 24, I moved to New York, eager for a break from academia. At the time my head was swimming with ideas and images […]


title: Inland instrumentation: melodica and piano (one player) duration: 4 minutes written in: 2007 The melodica is a silly-looking instrument, but it can be used to make serious music. I wrote Inland not long after seeing David Lynch’s enormous, brilliant, terrifying film Inland Empire. The piece wasn’t meant to be referential at first, but something […]

Whitman Songs

title: Whitman Songs instrumentation: amplified voice and piano duration: 4 minutes written in: 2006 text: Walt Whitman I’ve never been entirely comfortable setting preexisting poetry to music. Composers tend to pick poems that are dense and abstract, poems that only reveal themselves after several readings. Turning them into songs adds yet more information, and prevents […]

Three Creatures

title: Three Creatures instrumentation: electric guitar and electronics duration: 9 minutes written in: 2002-6 Three Creatures gathers together three pieces that I wrote on separate occasions for composer-guitarist Mark Dancigers. More Pockmark is a quiet, gentle piece, inspired by experimental improviser Derek Bailey’s oddball take on jazz standards. 3 Arms and 17 1/2 Legs is […]

Grass Stem Behaviors

title: Grass Stem Behaviors instrumentation: piano duration: 7 1/2 minutes written in: 2005-6 Grass Stem Behaviors is a free-associative take on the traditional piano repertoire. There are clear references to particular eras, composers and pieces, but they always contain small melodic and rhythmic seeds that grow into something very different: a vintage 1740s cadential figure […]

This Changes Everything!

title: This Changes Everything! instrumentation: original version: electronic sax version: soprano sax + electronics duration: 6 minutes written in: original version: 2005, revised 2008 sax version: 2006, revised 2014 “I felt like I was under a huge fluorescent light.” –Kirsten Volness on the slow middle section I was working on a cello duo, and I […]