Category Archives: Chamber

then, in oblivion… (2017) Performed by ELEVATE ENSEMBLE

then, in oblivion… (2017)
I. Machaut
II. Bach 2:27
III. O’Neill 6:00
Composed by Nick Vasallo

Mia Nardi-Huffman – violin
Christina Jarvis Simpson – viola
Charly Akert – cello
Jonathan Szin – bass clarinet

Conducted by Chad Goodman

Produced by Nick Vasallo
Video by Dylan Powell
Audio recorded by Guy Lento
Recorded at Viking Studios, Diablo Valley College, Pleasant Hill, CA on March 15, 2017

Composed from January 2nd – January 21st 2017. This work marks a cessation of my compositional activity for the unforeseeable future (in regards to concert music). How appropriate that I go backwards for inspiration. Each of the three movements uses a theme from a different composer. The first composer, Guillaume de Machaut, is most known for his chanson “Puis qu’en oubli”. Google translate interpreted this phrase (wrongly) as “then in oblivion.” Hence, the title of the piece. The second movement is based on J.S. Bach’s theme from Art of Fugue. And the last movement is a guitar riff written by Ted O’Neill, my friend and bandmate in Oblivion. Ted is one of the few remaining authentic thrash metalheads from the 1980s. In all of these movements, I warp the stylistic tendencies of each composer and their material while injecting my own musical decisions. In the end, we hear music from the Middle Ages, Baroque, and modern era fused and distorted as one.


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)

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:

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)

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.

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”.)