Small Talk (A Portrait of Social Skepticism)

for drum set and live electronics

Work completed: November 2018

Duration: 7’

Small Talk, subtitled (A Portrait of Social Skepticism), is a programmatic rumination on the discomfort that may arise from mundane, surface-level social interactions. The performer is portrayed as a removed observer of their own thoughts and experiences (represented by the electronics).

Structured in three major sections, the work opens with the performer’s attempt to adapt to a constantly-shifting, mocking social environment. Laughter, idle chatter, club music, and gossip pervade the performer’s efforts to fit in and understand. In a cynical tantrum, they surrender.

Suddenly stripped down, we venture into the drummer’s head through sparse remnants of the scenes we’ve already witnessed. Characterized by bare-hands drumming, this middle section is a meditative attempt to reconcile with frustration.

Finally, the music builds and explodes into a sarcastic outrage. The performer lashes out with complete disdain at the superficiality of their social environment. Musical material from the first section is revisited, distorted, and bent out of shape entirely.

Stylistically and programmatically, I was most directly influenced by the drumming of Antonio Sánchez on the soundtrack for Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s 2014 film, “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”. I found myself fascinated by the drum set’s role as a provider of social commentary and its seamless integration with the plot of the film. The decision to add a subtitle to Small Talk was also a nod to this film.

Special thanks to Jeffrey Hass and Russell Wharton for their invaluable musical insight; to my friends Eli, Ryn, and Leigha for lending their voices to the electronic layer; and to everyone who’s taught me to look deeper than the surface in people.

Premiered on December 2, 2018; Matt Ridge, drum set.