One of my old composition professors, John Stewart, told me repeatedly that sometimes composers must “grope about in the underbrush” for an idea—any idea—that they could then turn into a composition.
In the Underbrush (2018) was written as just that: my groping about for an idea to write a melody, in this case by doing lots of math. The saxophone solo line is governed entirely by a twelve-tone matrix derived from a single trichord (014). The first and second half of the row are each a hexatonic scale, and when the row is played in retrograde (a fancy way of saying “backwards”) and transposed down a whole step, it starts with the exact same first six notes in the exact same order as the original row.
Again… lots of math.
I then wrote the melody without ever listening to it, trusting the matrix to do its work. If I had created a good matrix and followed my academic instincts, the final result should, hypothetically, be a great melody. When the melody was finally written—and after one or two tweaks here and there—all I needed was the accompaniment.
The electronic track underneath, which has an “80s Terminator” aesthetic to it, is littered with fragments of the original matrix—the “underbrush” I groped about in for my idea. At no point in the accompaniment, save at the climax, do you ever hear a concrete and thematically sound melody. Instead, you catch glimpses of all the source material of the saxophone melody: statements of the original trichord, impassionate statements of the original row, quick arpeggiations of chords derived from the row, and, finally at the climax, a statement of the main theme you hear at the very start of the work. The groping about finally had its rewards!