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:

Only One Survives (2013) for cello, piano, and percussion.

Only One Survives (2013)

Performed by:
Doug Machiz – cello
Emily Tian – piano
Jack Van Geem – percussion

Recorded at San Francisco Conservatory of Music on April 26, 2014. Audio by Zach Miley. Video by Taylor Joshua Rankin.

Program Notes
Composed from October 17, 2012 to January 15, 2013. The inspiration for this piece came from M. Night Shyamalan’s movie ‘Unbreakable.’ The antagonist in the movie waited until he heard this powerful line: “There is a sole survivor…” I began imagining a climactic musical narrative involving several characters. During the course of story the various characters evolve and collide. In the end–only one survives. The various characters (material) in the story come from an eclectic array of influences: post-metal, progressive death metal, Balinese gamelan, and 20th century art music.

Pages from Nick Vasallo - Only One Survives 1

Only One Survives (2013)
for cello, piano, and percussion
Full Score (Digital)

Thalassophobia (2007, 2009) for MIDI Ensemble

I. Emergence of the Kraken (2007)
II. Sea of Anger (2009)

Performed by members of the Cal Poly Pomona MIDI Ensemble
Alexandria Fusriboon
Anthony Crespo
Nina Zhang
Monica Estrella

Conducted by Nick Vasallo

Video shot and edited by Gabriel Zuniga
Audio recorded by HongJin Kim

Program Notes:
I. Emergence of the Kraken – My biggest fear is the deep, dark, open water. This is a tone poem based on Alfred Tennyson’s “The Kraken”: a study in color, spatial modulation, and counterpoint.

II. Sea of Anger – One word to describe this piece: struggle. This is also a tone poem but of Jodi Clark’s “Sea of Anger” and exhibits amplified techniques I used in “Emergence of the Kraken.” The poem itself is about the struggle of a crew as their ship is engulfed by the violent ocean and they are forced to jump into the unknown dark open water. Ironically, while composing this piece I was also struggling with issues in my personal life which prevented me from finishing it. I picked up this piece one year later and finally completed it. The theme within the music is still very clear and encompasses the struggles in both Jodi Clark’s poem and my personal life during 2008.

When the War Began (2013) for clarinet, piano, violin, and cello

When the War Began (2013) 9 min.
for clarinet, piano, violin, and cello
Premiere: May 23, 2013. CSU East Bay, Hayward
Commissioned by Redshift Ensemble

I. The Enduring Moments Before Disaster 00:21
II. Falling from the Sky 02:45
III. Into the Storm 06:18

Performed by REDSHIFT ensemble
Jeff Anderle – clarinet, bass clarinet
Andie Springer – violin
Kate Campbell – piano
Michelle Kwon – cello

May 23, 2013 at Cal State University, East Bay in Hayward, CA.

Program Notes
Composed from January 26th to February 15th 2013. The three movements (I. The Enduring Moments Before Disaster, II. Falling from the Sky, III. Into the Storm) all represent events and images that are associated with the horrors of war. I gave myself a simple narrative akin to a movie script and used this as a model for form. For example, in the first movement a small family waits as they hear the impending sound of war as it nears their door. There is nothing they can do to escape the terror. The handful of simple musical ideas and instruments become complex and surprising characters that can exist in reality or imagination. Extended techniques are used to emulate the sounds of electronic music and sound effects.

Pages from Nick Vasallo - When the War Began 1

When the War Began (2013)
for clarinet, piano, violin, and cello
Full Score (Digital)

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.”

ELEMENTS OF METAL: I. Collapsing Obsidian Sun (2009) for string quartet

ELEMENTS OF METAL: I. Collapsing Obsidian Sun (2009) 7 min.
for string quartet

Performed by Friction Quartet
Kevin Rogers – violin
Otis Harriel – violin
Clio Tilton – viola
Doug Machiz – cello

Filmed and edited by Taylor Rankin.
Audio recording by Zach Miley.

Recorded at San Francisco Conservatory of Music September 1, 2013.

Program Notes:
Coming from a Metal background I tend to gravitate towards aural effects that evoke the same sensations I feel when listening to it. I knew that the three string players that were going to perform this piece are virtuosos and this is what inspired me to write something that “shreds.” At the same time, I wanted to pay tribute to the three Metal bands that I am closest to: Antagony, All Shall Perish and Hacksaw to the Throat. I found three distinct musical trademarks from each band and used recombinant techniques to form the piece. The title comes from the opening lines to Hacksaw to the Throat’s “Cascading Down.” I listened to the song repeatedly when I composed “Collapsing Obsidian Sun,” and my friend (fellow UCSC graduate student [in Math] who composed it) even showed me how to play it on guitar. Its a musical setting to lyrics about what would happen to the Earth if the Sun became a supernova.

Pages from Vasallo - Elements of Metal p1

Elements of Metal (2009)
for string quartet
Full Score (Digital)

ELEMENTS OF METAL: II. Omnes Perituri (2011) for string quartet

ELEMENTS OF METAL: II. Omnes Perituri (2011) 6 min.
for string quartet

Performed by Friction Quartet
Kevin Rogers – violin
Otis Harriel – violin
Clio Tilton – viola
Doug Machiz – cello

Filmed and edited by Taylor Rankin.
Audio recording by Zach Miley.
Recorded at San Francisco Conservatory of Music September 1, 2013.

Program Notes
I have never written a purely string ensemble or string quartet piece. Though after requests from the resident ensembles at SUNY and UCSC I began to hear the same requests: “Make it fun to play and Metal.” Knowing that I was in Death Metal band since a teenager and all of my music in some sense has strong Metal aesthetics, they weren’t asking me to go out on a limb. My goal with this piece was to satisfy their requests but also create a work that was challenging to listen to (despite it not being technically demanding). “Omnes Perituri” translates to “All Shall Perish” – a prominent band in the extreme metal scene for whom this work was originally written.

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)

The Prophecy (2008, 2013) for SATB choir

The Prophecy (2008, 2013) 11 min.
for SATB, baritone, and organ.
Premiere: November 15, 2013 at Washington State University, Bryan Hall Theatre.

I. Judicabo Te
II. Et Non Parcet

Performed by
WSU Concert Choir with soloist Rodrigo Cortes and organist Juliana Witt

Conducted by Dr. Lori Wiest

Program Notes
A setting of two passages from The Book of Ezekiel (7:3-7:4). Here is a final message of doom upon the whole land; the judgment is inevitable and close at hand; social relations will be broken up; preparations will be of no avail; wealth misused for idolatry and luxury will become the spoil of the heathen; priests, prophets, king and nobles will be helpless to deliver; the Temple will be profaned, and the remnant shall be overwhelmed with sorrow. Each movement was composed 5 years apart.

I. Judicabo Te (2008)
Ezekiel 7:3 – Nunc finis super te, et immittam furorem meum in te: et judicabo te juxta vias tuas, et ponam contra te omnes abominationes tuas. “The end is now upon you, and I will unleash my anger against you: “I will judge you according to your ways, and bring all your abominations upon you.”

II. Et non parcet (2013)
Ezekiel 7:4 – Et non parcet oculus meus super te, et non miserebor: sed vias tuas ponam super te, et abominationes tuæ in medio tui erunt: et scietis quia ego Dominus. “I will not look on you with pity; I will not spare you. I will surely repay you for your conduct and for the detestable practices among you. “‘Then you will know that I am the LORD.’”

Pages from Nick Vasallo - The Prophecy 1

The Prophecy (2008, 2013)
for SATB, baritone, and organ
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.

Antares Rising (2010) for wind ensemble w/ taiko group

Antares Rising (2010) 8 min.
for wind ensemble w/ taiko group
Premiere: May 15, 2010. University of California, Santa Cruz
2011 Truman State University/MACRO Composition Award

World Premiere performance by
The UCSC Wind Ensemble
Directed by Rob Klevan
Watsonville Taiko
Directed by Ikuyo Conant

May 15, 2010
UC Santa Cruz

Taiko is very open-minded when it comes to collaborating with other styles of music, and a good example of this occurred with my own experience playing with Watsonville Taiko. I joined Watsonville Taiko in 2009 as a passionate supporter of its art form. Eventually, Taeko D’Andrea, their business manager and also performer, discovered that I was also a composer and was researching Taiko as part of my doctoral studies. She showed some of my compositions to Ikuyo Conant, Watsonville Taiko’s sensei, and they invited me to collaborate. I was delighted and immediately thought of a joint-collaboration with the UCSC Wind Ensemble — since Rob Klevan had previously expressed interest in commissioning a new piece from me. I asked Taeko if I could adopt “Asayake,” one of Watsonville Taiko’s signature pieces, as a basis for my new piece. Ikuyo, the composer of the piece agreed.

I spoke at great lengths with the composer of “Asayake,” Ikuyo Sensei, about what the piece means to hear and how she would like it to be represented. She began explaining what the word meant in Japanese and how there is a duality in taiko, and the challenge for me — was to recognize that duality and find the third aspect. I studied the piece for weeks before writing anything. I transcribed it digitally and laid out the entire form including all of the repeats. I pondered on the idea of duality, of yin and yang; two extremes that meet and compliment each other in a mutually beneficial way. Around this time I was studying the music of the 20th century composer, Gyorgy Ligeti, and one of his statements seem to fit into my process of enlightenment: “one often arrives at something qualitatively new by unifying two already known but separate domains.” Ligeti’s statement instantly conjured the idea of two separate domains: Earth and Wind — Membranophone and Aerophone — Taiko and Wind Ensemble. In our practice drills, Ikuyo constantly reminds us to “stay grounded” and send our energy to the Earth. Taiko is a much “grounded” type of energy. However, a Wind Ensemble is the exact opposite. All of the sounds dance in the air and point up — the energy is ascending. I created textures of contrast between the two ensembles: the taiko sextet would provide a stable, grounded sort of texture while the Wind Ensemble would provide a sense of eternal ascension. When the two extreme culminate, there is an explosion of both upward and downward motion: the third element is combustion. When two energies are pulling each other in different directions and neither is giving way — there will be a rupture.

“Asayake” translates to “morning glow” or “sunrise colors.” The synesthetic implications of the piece instantly spoke to me. I began imagining the landscape of the piece, the image of the sun rising soon became something much larger. I began picturing a Red Giant star rising…then a Red Supergiant star! Imagine witnessing the grandeur and frightening power…I chose as the subject for this star to be Antares, known as the heart of the Scorpio constellation. Antares glows bright red and has been often mistaken for Mars, the planet of war, hence, Antares ancient Greek name which means, “against Mars.” Antares glows 10,000 times brighter than our Sun and is 500 times its size. Many of the old Egyptian temples are oriented so that the light of Antares plays a role in the ceremonies performed there. Antares is so massive that someday it will develop an iron core and eventually explode as a brilliant supernova, which musically occurs near the end of “Antares Rising.”

Pages from Nick Vasallo - Antares Rising (2010) 1

Antares Rising (2010)
for wind ensemble w/ taiko group
Full Score (Digital)

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.”

Explosions in the Sky (2009) for horn, piano, violin, viola, cello

Explosions in the Sky (2009) 7 min.
for horn, piano, violin, viola, cello
Premiere: April 19, 2009. University of California, Santa Cruz
2009 April in Santa Cruz official selection
2011 Indiana State University CMF Music Now Winner

Performed by
Monika Warchol – horn
Alisa Rose – violin
Kate Smith – viola
Adaiha Macadam-Somer – cello
Hillary Nordwell – piano
Camille Chitwood – percussion

Pacific Rim Festival 2010
UC Santa Cruz
April 22, 2010

Program Notes
This piece takes as its title the name of an instrumental post-rock band from Texas. The instrumentation of this band is very standard (2 guitars, bass, and drums) yet their sound is so captivating. The heavy use of delay, loop, and reverb pedals create layers of overlapping patterns; resulting in a hypnotic wall of sound. It’s this effect that I wanted to achieve in my piece: bringing post-rock into a chamber music setting. Although the actual music (notes) I wrote sound nothing like what the band would have written, I did inherit the basic aesthetics of what they create within their music. There are sections in this piece when the music is very hypnotic and will make you feel like you are floating; if you focus you can latch onto several different pulses simultaneously. I also wanted to pay tribute to Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No.5 in which the harpsichordist breaks free from the ensemble and performs a flamboyantly deviant display of virtuosity in the cadenza.

In my piece the pianist attempts to break free at the outset but is overtaken by the incessant patterns in the strings. Eventually the pianist detaches from the ensemble and performs a cadenza that starts off as a Bachian/Ligeti invention but evolves into a post-romantic technical display of passion. Bach’s revolutionary idea of musicians being independent artistic individuals is reflected in the essential idea behind rock n’ roll: rebellion. Overall in this piece I used two complimentary pitch collections (each with its own theme) that have contrasting colors. Musical explosions and sectional pitch collections create the form but eventually collide at climatic moments. There are golden sections within golden sections throughout and the material is very teleological: you are constantly propelled forward. (I wanted the piece to “rock”.)

Shred (2012) for string orchestra

Shred (2012) 9 min.
for string orchestra
I. Multiverse
II. Long Deaf Hate
Premiere: June 7, 2012. California State University, East Bay
Commissioned by CSUEB String Orchestra

Philip Santos – violin
Julia Adams – viola
Joseph Hébert – cello
Aaron Shaul – bass

Program Notes
Composed from April 6-10th 2012. Shred is my first attempt at representing the sound, the feel, and the attitude of thrash metal into a concert music setting. The first movement—Multiverse—explores several important thrash metal guitar techniques such as pedal tones, tremolos, and highly syncopated rhythmic lines. Long Deaf Hate, the second movement, utilizes the same techniques as the first yet there is a more direct emulation of a thrash band. In this movement one can perceive layers of guitar, drums and vocals. In addition, the intervallic content used to compose a majority of the movement comes from a famous song from the seminal thrash band Slayer. A quotation of this song appears near the end; the movement builds up to this moment of parody.

Pages from Shred (complete) p1

Shred (2012)
for string orchestra
Full Score (Digital)

Expand the Hive (2008) for orchestra

Expand the Hive (2008) 5 min.
for orchestra
Premiere: November, 21, 2008. University of California, Santa Cruz
2008 UCSC Student Orchestral Competition winner

Nicole Paiement conducts the UCSC Orchestra on this world premiere performance November 21, 2008 @ UC Santa Cruz

When I moved to Santa Cruz in the Summer of 2007, I became obsessed with a certain trichord. It was constantly lingering in my head. I eventually decided to compose an exercise exploiting allthe transpositional and inversional possibilities along with its natural motivic aspects. While the construction of the compositional space was quite systematic, the actual composition and “fleshing out” of the material was an act of proclivity; strictly intuituve. This piece is a giant expansion of the cell. I composed the introduction separately from the bulk of the material…I felt thatthe beginning must sound like a powerful force, slowly starting up and eventually engulfing everything in its path. The title has to do with the swarming effect of particular ideas, and the expansion or spreading out of the cell. Despite the chromaticism and use of every pitch set resultant of the trichord, this piece sounds tonal because it functions within itself.

Pages from expand the hive (web) p1

Expand the Hive (2008)
for orchestra
Full Score (Digital)

De civitatibus (2007) for SATB choir

De civitatibus (2007) 4 min.
for SATB
Premiere: June 13, 2009. St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, San Francisco
2009 San Francisco Choral Artists New Voices Competition winner

Performed by San Francisco Choral Artists at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church San Francisco June 13, 2009

Directed by Magen Solomon

I didn’t hear the name Carlo Gesualdo until my last year as an undergraduate music major. Upon my first hearing I felt a strange affinity and familiarity with his music. After studying several of his motets and madrigals, I composed this piece over the course of a single weekend just in time to honor CSU East Bay’s Professor Emeritus David Stein (who introduced me to Gesualdo) for his retirement ceremony. [JOB 24:12 De civitatibus fecerunt viros gemere, et anima vulneratorum clamavit: et Deus inultum abire non patitur. “The groans of the dying rise from the city, and the souls of the wounded cry out for help. But God charges no one with wrongdoing.”].