Category Archives: Metal


Part I (2016).
Composed by Nick Vasallo.

Travis Andrews – guitar, vocals
Andy Meyerson – drums

John McCowen – clarinets

Gleb Kanasevich – clarinets

Studio guests:
Weston Olencki – trombone

Mobius Trio – gang vocals

Nick Vasallo – guitar, vocals

Audio recorded and mixed by Zack Ohren
Sharkbite Studios, Oakland, CA
March 10, 2016

Video filmed by Taylor Joseph Rankin, Gabriel Pena-Ramos, and Martin Azevedo

Logo by Adam Pierce

Program Notes
For The Living Earth Show’s 2016-17 season, the ensemble commissioned Nick Vasallo to create Surrounding The Earth, integrating classical experimentalism and doom metal to create a maximal music that exists in a space of euphoric or utopian excess. The project will exist in the form of a full-length recording and a staged production presented in spaces not traditionally friendly to classical music: the punk and metal clubs in which Vasallo originally spawned his musical language.

Composed from February 13th-21st 2016. Originally titled East-West Doom Test as a project involving The Living Earth Show and virtuoso clarinetists from each coast: Gleb Kanesevich from the East Coast and John McCowen from the West. Both well versed in the art of extreme metal. The clarinetists would each interpret the music in their own way on their respective coasts and come together for a studio recording. Surrounding the Earth is an homage to the beautiful simplicity of early sludge and doom metal. Simple materials and complex sonic results; deep, heavy, and permeating.

Released on No Clean Singing:

The Doorway (2015) for Ignition Duo

The Doorway” composed by Nick Vasallo.
Performed by IGNITION DUO:
Ramon Fermin and David Gonzales, guitars

Recorded August 7th-8th and September 10th, 2015 at
the Atomic Garden, East Palo Alto, CA
Engineered by Jack Shirley
Produced by Ignition Duo

Director: Prabakaran
Cinematographer: Sadha Sivam
Editing: Gopikrishnan
Sound Design: Arunkumar

Composed in 2013 and 2015. “There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception.” ― Aldous Huxley

Pages from The Doorway 1

The Doorway (2015)
for two electric guitars
Full Score (Digital)

Dark Matter II. the formation of galaxies (2014) for Mobius Trio

Dark Matter II. the formation of galaxies (2014)
Composed by Nick Vasallo
Electronic beat arranged by Michael A. Wagner

Performed by Mobius Trio:
Mason Fish, Matthew Linder, and Robert Nance
with guest Sean Hunter

Recorded at DVC Viking Studio on November 6, 2015
Engineered by Guy Lento
Audio and Video produced, mixed, and edited by Nick Vasallo

Filmed by John Archuleta and Daniella Hill

Program Notes
Composed on November 17th 2014. After the violent explosive birth of time, matter coalesced and galaxies formed; bursting with life. Beyond beautiful; beyond words. Some people feel frightened or insignificant when they learn about the universe. I feel excitement.

The Moment Before Death Stretches on Forever, Like an Ocean of Time… (2015) for Wild Rumpus

The Moment Before Death Stretches on Forever, Like an Ocean of Time… (2015) 8 min. 15 seconds
for Wild Rumpus

Performed by Wild Rumpus
Bethanne Walker – flute, Sophie Huet – bass clarinet, David Waugh – bari saxophone, Weston Olencki – trombone, Mckenzie Camp – percussion, Margaret Halbig – piano, Dan VanHassel – electric guitar, Vanessa Langer – soprano, Mia Nardi-Huffman – violin, Joanne de Mars – cello, Eugene Theriault – contrabass

Video recording by Taylor Joshua Rankin
Audio recording by Zach Miley
Recorded at Montclair Presbyterian Church in Oakland, CA on May 8, 2015


Composed from February 22nd-March 18th 2015 using an Excel spreadsheet. There are no measures, downbeats, or barlines. The structure isn’t delegated by melodic, harmonic, or rhythmic elements. Just absolute time. I am constantly searching for different ways of saying what I want to say.

the title for thiS piece is taken and modified from a line in a movie.
I wanted to write something that sounded pulsating with energY;
eterNal and evolving.
the universE doesn’t draw in straight lines.
I am beginning to not feel the organicism in neatly oRganized
teleoloGical music.
I want to communicate with our primal side psychoacousticallY.

Pages from Nick Vasallo - the moment before death stretches on forever, like an ocean of time... (FULL SCORE) 1

The Moment Before Death Stretches on Forever, Like an Ocean of Time… (2015)
for flute, bass clarinet, bari saxophone, trombone, percussion, piano, electric guitar, soprano, violin, cello, contrabass
Full Score w/ Parts(Digital)

Inches Away from Freedom (2015) for The Living Earth Show, John McCowen, Gleb Kanesevich, Ore

Performed by:

The Living Earth Show: Travis Andrews – guitar, Andrew Meyerson – drums

Gleb Kanesevich – bass clarinet

John McCowen – contrabass clarinet

ORE: Sam Underwood – tuba

All of the performers recorded themselves
*with the exception of drums recorded by Dino Alikadich (
Audio mixed by Nick Vasallo. Video edited by Nick Vasallo.

Imagine five separate forces from different origins converging at the same time. It is a balance between synergy and anarchy. Each performer has a specific set of written instructions. They aren’t playing music in reaction to each other, but performing individual interpretations of a narrative I have laid out.

More info here:

Ozymandias (2014) for The Living Earth Show and Friction Quartet

Ozymandias (2014)
10 min.

Travis Andrews – guitar
Andrew Meyerson – percussion

Otis Harriel, Kevin Rogers – violins
Taija Warbelow – viola
Doug Machiz – cello

Singing Bowl – Emily Orum

Filmed by Taylor Joshua Rankin. Edited by Nick Vasallo.
Short film “Elefante” written & Directed by Pablo Larcuen.

Audio recorded and mixed by Zack Ohren at Sharkbite Studios in Oakland, CA. Additional recording by Zach Miley at San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and Travis Andrews April 26-27th 2014.

Composed from December 2013 to January 2014. A tone poem based on Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ozymandias”. The rise and fall of empires; in the end only their art withstands the brutality of time. Broad strokes…

I met a traveller from an antique land Who said: `Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand, Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed. And on the pedestal these words appear –“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare The lone and level sands stretch far away.’
–Percy Bysshe Shelley

Video premiere:

Sometimes to Destroy, One Must First Create Part 1 (2014) for Mobius Trio

Sometimes to Destroy, One Must First Create Part 1 (2014) 9 min.
for three electric guitars. Composed by Nick Vasallo.

Performed at Cal Poly Pomona Recital Hall, March 14, 2014.
Audio recorded by William Wright-Hooks.
Video Directed by Gabriel Zuniga.

Performed by Mobius Trio
Robert Nance, Mason Fish, and Matthew Holmes-Linder.

Program Notes
Composed from January 30th-February 2nd 2014. In this piece I wanted to dissect and destroy recent motifs that have appeared in my writing.

Dark Matter I. Time Began with an Explosion (2010) for Mobius Trio

Dark Matter
I. Time Began with an Explosion (2010)
 5 min.
for three electric guitars.

Performed at Cal Poly Pomona Recital Hall, March 14, 2014.
Audio recorded by William Wright-Hooks.
Video Directed by Gabriel Zuniga.

Performed by Mobius Trio
Robert Nance, Mason Fish, and Matthew Holmes-Linder.

Program Notes
The birth of the universe. Dark matter is undetectable, but whose presence can be inferred from gravitational effects on visible matter. I thought of writing this piece when I learned the Japanese concept of ma, which means “the silence between the sounds.”

Black Swan Events (2011) for electric guitar, drums, and orchestra

Black Swan Events (2011) 16 min.
Thrash Metal concerto for electric guitar and orchestra

*This piece has not yet been performed in public.

I. Allusions
II. Disorders of Sense and Motion
III. Nebulous
IV. Conquest and Reign

Directed by Brandon Hunt and Taylor Rankin.
Filmed at The Crowden Music Center in Berkeley, CA on August 17, 2013

Edited by Brandon Hunt (
Electric guitar cadenza was composed in collaboration with Victor Dods.
Produced and recorded by Nick Vasallo.
Mixed and mastered by Zack Ohren.

Electric Guitar – Victor Dods
Drumset – Luis Martinez
Flute – Toni Chimienti
Oboe – Paul Perazzo*
Clarinet – Philip Halseth*, Beth Ratay
Bassoon – Robert Alfaro
Horn – Amberle Mitchell
Trumpet – Todd Minson
Bass Trombone – Israel Santiago*
Percussion – Taylor Rankin
Violin, Viola – Otis Harriel*, Nicholas Morales
Cello – Douglas Machiz*, Austin Graham
Bass – Aaron Shael
Conductor – David Waugh

*Not in video

I seldom name a work before composing it but the discovery of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s concept of the “black swan” inspired me to structure the entire work around this central idea. Based upon Taleb’s criteria, a “black swan event” is a surprise to the observer, has a major impact, and is rationalized in hindsight – as if it could have been expected (e.g., the relevant data [was] available but not accounted for).

 One of my primary goals with Black Swan Events was to create an environment where two worlds collide and become one. I wanted to treat the appearance of Heavy Metal (“metal”) as a surprising event that has a major impact upon the structure of the work. By the end of Black Swan Events, the world of “metal” – represented by the electric guitar and drums –becomes so prevalent and enmeshed within the orchestra that its initial arrival, in hindsight, no longer seems surprising. The relationship between these two worlds – metal and western art music – transforms from instability to resolution and synthesis.

 Composers strive to find their own distinct voices and most of these composers, consciously or unconsciously, want their voices to ‘speak’ through their music. The unifying principle in Black Swan Events takes this idea literally. Using experimental software to analyze the spectrum of my extreme metal scream, I developed chords that modeled the scream’s spectrum. I wanted a conceptual relationship to exist between my voice and all of the musical materials in Black Swan Events so that every note is, conceptually, a remnant of my scream. Essentially, I used a spectral-matching orchestrational tool to duplicate the spectrum of my scream and with this solution I built a chord. The primary motivic materials of the piece were built from the collection abstracted from the original spectral data. I also collaborated heavily with Victor Dods, the original guitarist for this work, and incorporated his musical input into the collection of motifs. These motifs play an essential unifying role in Black Swan Events.

 While metal is the first and primary black swan event, the piece incorporates several others. I will demonstrate how polystylist and eclecticist philosophies interact in Black Swan Events to produce a highly pluralistic yet unified work, creating a music both alluding to and drawing upon the experience of other genres – born out of personal practice. References and allusions to Neurosis, George Crumb, J.S. Bach, Kanye West, Eddie Van Halen, Stravinksy, Ligeti, Beethoven, and spectralism abound in Black Swan Events. It is my intention to illustrate how my own style functions within the ongoing dialogue of these disparate sources of music.

op74 Dissertation cover_Page_01

Black Swan Events (2011)
for electric guitar, drums, and orchestra
Full Score (Digital)

Canon 1 in E minor (2012) for 3 electric guitars and bass

Canon 1 in E minor (2012)
for 3 electric guitars and bass

Performed by
Nick Vasallo – guitar
Ben Orum – bass
Ted O’Neill – guitar
Victor Dods – guitar

Canon 1 in E minor is a conscious effort to bridge the worlds of Metal and Classical music. A canon is a compositional technique that requires strict repetition in all musical voices. This is also an example of triple counterpoint–a very old contrapuntal device that is rarely (if ever) used in modern popular music, especially anything branching from rock and roll. There are essentially three different lines: the middle guitar (Alto) begins, then the high guitar (Soprano) answers, and finally the low guitar and bass enter (Tenor and Bass). All voices play the same line in 3 different positions so that the melody exists as the top voice, middle voice, and bottom voice. The trick is getting all the voices to work melodically, harmonically, and functionally.

Oblivion (2012) for choir and metal ensemble

Oblivion (2012) 8 min.
for choir and metal ensemble

Performed by the Ariose Singers and Oblivion

If there is one thing that I want to contribute to art music – it is the acknowledgement of Heavy Metal as a viable and meaningful art form. A substantial amount of my work within and outside academia encompasses the sound of a distorted electric guitar. There are several different worlds and ideas that come together in this piece. The most obvious being Choral music set against Metal music. A more subtle interplay is the rhythmic dissonance which occurs between the two worlds and within themselves. I created a long range harmonic polyrhythm that cycles every sixty bars within the metal ensemble and an independent polyphonic structure with the choir. The unifying feature between the two worlds is the scale – an ancient Byzantine mode (Tone 4 chromatic), each world uses the same scale a perfect fifth apart. To me, this creates a hypnotic and mesmerizing soundscape. It sounds endless. Limitless. Oblivion is also the name of the band I am in, for whom I intended this piece. Oblivion is a word most people misuse – it means “the condition or state of being forgotten or unknown.”