pansonority/luminance: music of Ezra Sims and Daniel Rothman

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untitled (sense/absence)

Daniel Rothman’s quartet, Untitled (sense absence) is a work with some notable ancestors, among them a quartet by Ben Franklin (ye$, that Ben Franklin!), John Cage, Ben Johnston and assorted others. On the surface, it is a quartet comprised almost entirely of very upper level harmonics, produced from subtly altered string tunings. There is rhythm and ensemble, but always informed by the notion that time/rhythm has meaning only when there is sound – that music, rhythm and sound exist only when the material presence of the sound emerges from the action of bow or finger against string. There is an installation, built in collaboration with the artist Paul Tzanetopoulos.

“...In some respects it can perhaps be described as what a Rothko painting might be to architecture, and then the feeling of sound in such a space – its quality of light and air; the architecture of the piece, should be evocative without quite divulging anything” (DR, on the quartet)

Daniel Rothman’s musical and visual preoccupations wander beyond the concert hall into eccentric spaces and timescales both smaller and larger than life, such as the miniature The Dandelion Clock (with Andrea Loselle, Ted Mook, and Daniel Tiffany), the immense Sense Absence (with Paul Tzanetopoulos and the Quatuor Bozzini), the pedestrian The Garden Party (with Zebra), or the virtual Cézanne’s Doubt (with Elliot Anderson, Jim Campbell, Tom Buckner, Kent Clelland, Ted Mook, David Smeyers, and Wadada Leo Smith). Among these, Yes, Philip, Androids Dream Electric Sheep makes contingent its acoustic life form, with a music incarnated through acoustic feedback tapping the ecology of biofeedback as a clarinet-organism manifests its environment: an aria for the man-machine.

His works for the clarinet, his own instrument, also include I Am Thyrsis of Etna, blessed with a tuneful voice, transcribed from a mockingbird, which is also the basis of Ende Gut, Frage., combined with that text by sound poet Michael Lentz. Both works explore the ambiguity between the nature of culture (i.e. music and language) and the culture of nature (i.e. biological necessity), but decidedly favors the former in Un Coup de Dés/Après Coup, a radiophonic work commissioned by the Südwestrundfunk (Baden-Baden) for its New Jazz Meeting 2003, created in collaboration with poet Yoko Tawada and an ensemble that included Kent Clelland, John Edwards, Gerry Hemingway, Radu Malfatti, and David Smeyers. Two Figures in Dense Violet Light is available on the Zeitklang label by clarinetists David Smeyers and Beate Zelinsky, for whom it was composed.

Rothman’s piano music is recorded by Eric Huebner for Albany Records (Troy 967), and is also played by pianists Jeanne Golan and Bernhard Wambach. Phyllis Bryn-Julson has recorded his …Abanico para los toros with Theater Chamber Players of Kennedy Center and Ensemble Avance; Tom Buckner has performed and recorded Cézanne’s Doubt (New World Records); and Mary Nessinger recorded The Rape of Ophelia (Albany Records). His music is frequently heard in the US and Europe, and has been produced by the Dansk Radio, Hessischer Rundfunk, Osterrischischen Rundfunks Graz and Wien, Radio Bremen, Radio France, Südwestrundfunk, Westdeutcherrundfunk, and Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie. His work has been supported by commissions and residencies at the Dansk Institut fur Elektroakustiks Muzik (Aarhus), ExperimentalStudio Des Südwestrundfunks/Heinrich-Strobel-Stiftung (Freiburg), Institut für Electronische Musik und Akustiks (Graz), Ircam (Paris), and Mills College Center for Contemporary Music (Oakland). He has received grants from, among others, the Argosy Contemporary Music Fund, the Fondation d’Art de La Napoule, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Rockefeller Foundation; between 1994 and 2006 he taught at California Institute of the Arts, and at the Darmstadt Internationales Ferienkurse 1996. Prior to establishing Los Angeles River Records in 2000, he founded and directed Wires Center for New & Experimental Music (Los Angeles, 1991 to 2000), which presented concerts and festivals of new music.


Ezra Sims' quintet for clarinet and string quartet was written at the suggestion of clarinetist, Ian Greitzer, who first played it with Dinosaur Annex in March 1988. It took its character from the cool elegance of his playing - the first aural image I had of the piece was his sleek sound sailing out over bustling strings. The four movements are played without pause (the third and fourth are connected by a measured silence). Each of the first three movements, after having achieved its climax, is diverted into the next movement until the last, after a sort of pause for reflection, provides a serene conclusion, for the whole. The fundamental material for the whole work is a sequence of keys relating as harmonies 1, 3, 15, 7, 9 & 11, which are presented in the first eight measures and variously developed thereafter. The piece's sectional structure is, I think, sufficiently clear that I nee not take up space describing it here. And its emotional qualities are, I hope, sufficiently compelling that I need not attempt the impossible task of translating them into the inappropriate medium of words.


The String Quartet #5 (2001) was commissioned by the Arizona Friends of Chamber Music, to be performed by the Pacifica Quartet. It was written in part at Camargo Foundation, in Cassis, France.

Ezra Sims is known mainly as a composer of microtonal music.  He made his professional debut  (with his earlier twelve-note music) on a Composers Forum program, in New York, in 1959.  In 1960, he found himself compelled by his ear to begin writing microtonal music, which he has done almost exclusively since then — aside from several years  when he made tape music for  dancers, musicians at the time being generally even more afraid of microtones than they  are now.  His music has  been performed from Tokyo to Salzburg.   He has received various awards — Guggenheim Fellowship, Koussevitzky commission, American Academy of Arts and Letters Award, etc.  He has lectured on his music in the US and abroad, most notably at the Hambürger Musikgespräch, 1994; the second Naturton Symposium in Heidelberg, 1992; and the 3rd and 4th Symposium, Mikrotöne und Ekmelische Musik, at the Hochschüle für Musik und Darstelilende Kunst Mozarteum, Salzburg, in 1989 & 1991.  In 1992-93, he was guest lecturer in the Richter Herf Institut für Musikalische Grundlagenforschung in the Mozarteum.   He has published articles on his technique in Computer Music Journal, Mikrotöne III,  Mikrotöne IV, Perspectives of New Music, and Ex Tempore.   With Ted Mook, he designed a font, for use with computer printing programs, for his set of accidentals sufficient for 72-note music that has been widely adopted in the field (   He was co-founder -- with Rodney Lister and Scott Wheeler -- of Dinosaur Annex Music Ensemble, of which he was President from 1977-1981, and on its Board of Directors  from that time to 2003.   His music is published by Frog Peak Music ( and Diapason Press (Corpus Microtonale) and is available from New World Records on CRI LP 186 and CD 578, 643, and 784.