AJ McCaffrey

Notes from the Composer

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Stop is the new Go 

Performed by the Avion Saxopohone Quartet.

Stop is the new Go was written for the Avion Saxophone Quartet in the summer of 2007. I was interested in trying to translate some ideas from film and cinema into music. I was thinking of a narrative in which, for some reason, the story kept getting turned off suddenly, and the viewer or listener then had to piece together what was happening from the fragments they did hear or see.  The title refers to the idea that even in the absence of typical or traditional development, a kind of momentum can still be felt throughout the work.


A Long Hard Look at a Good Swift Kick

Performed by the USC Thornton Symphony, conducted by Donald Crockett.

Ever since I had a series of weird dreams a few years ago after participating in a particularly intense string quartet marathon at a summer festival, I’ve been playing around with an idea for a piece, which goes something like this:

You’re in a car, and all of the presets on your car radio are tuned to stations that are playing different versions of the same piece of music; and for whatever reason, the radio is constantly jumping back and forth between the stations.  I thought that if you ever were held hostage by your car radio in that way, you wouldn’t so much be listening to a composition as floating around the edge of it, looking at it from different angles, and maybe lingering on – or even obsessing over and taking apart – those spots that caught your attention or moved you.

I began working on A Long Hard Look at a Good Swift Kick to explore some of these ideas about musical perspective.  Two factors of note: to convey the mechanical dissonance of the radios, the orchestra is split into three smaller groups that are slightly out of tune with each other; and to work with some radio-friendly material that could be taken apart obsessively, I chose some familiar music by a composer who obsessively took things apart.  


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Comments [25]

Liz from New York, NY

Like Jennifer below, I enjoyed the shift from "aggressive tension" to wind instruments. I first heard A.J.'s work a few summers ago in Tanglewood, and I am so impressed by his progression, musically and professionally. Go A.J. go!

Jul. 06 2010 04:07 PM
Jennifer from New York, NY

An exciting piece by a talented young composer. I loved the aggressive tension of the beginning, and how it changed to something slower, more melodic with more wind instruments.

Jul. 06 2010 02:17 PM
Juhi Bansal

A.J.'s music is always quirky and interesting, innovative and original. I'm sure anything he would write would be unique and refreshing, as well as extremely well written. He'd be a fantastic choice for the project!

Jul. 06 2010 01:39 PM
Susan Francies from Susan from Tampa

A.J.'s music gets my vote!

Jun. 30 2010 08:14 PM
Saad from LA

The first time I heard "A Long Hard Look at a Good Swift Kick" I thought, what is A.J. trying to prove with this title? Once I listened to the piece for the first time at a master class I was completely mesmerized and once again after listening to it again on this website. Bravo!

Not only is A.J. a magnificent composer, he is also a very articulate and extremely helpful and dedicated mentor.

Jun. 28 2010 11:30 AM
elizabeth steen from boston

Please excuse, I wrongly attributed the performance of Stop is the New Go to Orpheus-- I should have said the Avion Saxophone Quartet.

Jun. 27 2010 03:15 PM
elizabeth steen from boston ma

Wonderful textural contrasts in this work. Anyone who knows A.J. knows he's very funny and witty, and this piece is both, but when I was fortunate enough to play piano on a couple of his tunes, I discovered his unique, plaintive and beautiful harmonic language, which is also on display here. The performance by Orpheus is absolutely superb as well.

Jun. 27 2010 03:09 PM
Lois from KY

While not formally trained in music, I know what I like and can relate to. Stop is the new Go felt like my work week, frenzied at the beginning with pulsatile stops and starts and slowing and drained, ready to collapse at the end of it. Bravo to this exciting young composer.

Jun. 25 2010 06:53 PM
Laura Kramer

Both works are creative and well put together- AJ would be a great choice!

Jun. 25 2010 01:53 PM
Sarah Gibson

Very creative and driving music, I'm always inspired by how you find new and creative ways to use the great tunes you come up with!

Jun. 25 2010 09:46 AM
Yotam H. from Brooklyn

A Long Hard Look is tremendous!! Wow, what great orchestral writing....

Jun. 25 2010 08:27 AM

Brilliantly conceived and controlled. Congrats!

Jun. 24 2010 06:34 PM
Kate from Lexington, KY

A wonderfully innovative piece by an incredible young artist. We need to keep an eye on this one, destined to go far.

Jun. 24 2010 04:56 PM
Stephanie from San Francisco, CA

Having read the composer's description before I listened to A Long Hard Look at a Good Swift Kick, I wondered how accessible the piece would actually be, given what he'd written. I was so pleased to find out that it challenged me as a listener, but still told a story that resonated with me. Great, compelling work!

Jun. 24 2010 12:07 PM
Julia from New York, NY

I have been following AJ's career for decades, since his first string quartet debut in Newton, MA to performances in Boston, Tanglewood and LA. His compositions are inventive, personal, and poetic, sort of like short stories set to music. These are the most interesting yet - fabulous!

Jun. 24 2010 09:44 AM
keith lockhart from Boston. MA

thank you AJ for a wonderful ride......"A Long Hard Look......" was a wonderful kick in the pants.......no reading the program, no chewing gum, no talking to your partner, no scratching your bum......no, just sitting on the edge of your seat wondering, where are are we going, where is he taking me, wondering how it will all come out.... a wonderful ride, thank you!

Jun. 23 2010 10:37 PM
scotty10 from Boston. MA

most saxophone pieces rely on the player to convey the same smooth sax tone.......jazz, classical, pop...it is the same "voice" controlled by the player....instead, in AJ McCaffrey's pieces the composer determines the voice, and the player has to follow....the result is richer, more original, more thematic, more testament to what the composer intended.........but not constricted, just directed, so the player has a map but can take his own route.....but nevertheless the composer puts his stamp on the piece, so that wherever you go you hear AJ's sound.....this is what creative art is all about..... solid craftsmanship that allows multiple constituencies (players) to create their own interpretations while paying homage to the core value of the the piece.....thank you AJ for taking non-conformist risks that enlarge our listening experience

Jun. 23 2010 10:14 PM
Judy from Newton, MA

Contemporary music, as we know it today, was never part of my early cultural experience; however, I love the way AJ's music provides a way to enter a piece. The slower, more gentle reflective sections can be savored on their own while giving us a structure for regarding the more demanding, quicker passages. There is an intrinsic dramatic arc to his work, which always engages me as a listener.

Jun. 23 2010 06:04 PM
David Lapin from Boston, MA

AJ was Community Music Center of Boston's resident composer and theory guru before his migration to California. "Stop is the New Go" shows the same dedication to craft and sense of whimsy that his earlier "Boston" pieces often displayed--albeit now with greater skill and maturity. Way to go, AJ!

Jun. 23 2010 09:37 AM
Ty from Nashville

"Stop is the new Go" is an innovative, intriguing piece by a gifted young composer. The rapid pulsating adrenaline driven beat on the one hand contrasted with the soft, gentle, slow, almost soporific poem on the other hand has both exciting and relaxing effects. Wow!

Jun. 22 2010 11:41 PM
Phillip Charles Golub from Pacific Palisades, CA

I've known AJ for about a year now, as a teacher/instructor. He is wonderfully articulate about music and his compositions are excellent. I attended his doctoral concert and very much enjoyed pieces ranging across instrumentations, lengths, styles, etc.

Jun. 22 2010 06:49 PM
Clare from Los Angeles, CA

both require more than one listen! Intriguing and mesmerizing.

Jun. 22 2010 05:35 PM
Carolyn from Los Angeles

I really enjoyed 'A Long Hard Look at a Good Swift Kick' - bravo!

Jun. 22 2010 04:42 PM
Charley from Greater Boston

I like Adam's comments. Also beer.

AJ's last name is "McCaffrey."

Jun. 21 2010 11:02 PM
Adam from DC

I listened to the "Stop is the new Go" before reading the composer's description, and have to say I think he certainly nailed the feel he was going for.

The initial quick pace and jarring staccato started a cartoon narrative running in my head, but the moments when it transitioned to the smoother and calmer tones that cartoon disappeared and was replaced with soft and warm colors.

It was as if I was watching movies at the park and the film kept on falling off the reel, stopping the show. I didn't mind though, because instead of being in a cold dark theater, I was outside enjoying a pretty sunset with a beer and a pretty lady.

Jun. 21 2010 05:53 PM

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