Photo by Jenna Jadin

Stephen Lilly is a DC-based composer, performer, audio engineer, and sound artist. Theatricality, language, and abstraction are themes that continually resurface in his creative work, the majority of which is scored for chamber ensembles, incorporating signal processing and computer generated sounds.  Stephen has written works for the DMC (Devil May Care) Duo, saxophonist Steven Leffue, soprano Stacey Mastrian and has worked closely with a collective of composer-performers he helped found, the Bay Players Experimental Music Collective. His writings on contemporary experimental music have been published in Organised Sound, Perspectives of New Music, and Computer Music Journal. Recordings he has engineered have been released on Navona and Albany Records. For more information please visit



PDF score

Edgeplay is a guided improvisation for saxophone and live signal processing (MaxMSP). As the title implies, the piece explores boundaries, thresholds, and extremes. The saxophonist is instructed to push technique beyond the limits of control and investigate timbre as a delineator of sound: differentiating registers, distinguishing tone from breath and focused pitch from bands of noise. The score is a hybrid of text and graphics, left intentionally vague to suggest rather than dictate the performer’s investigation. The electronics (primarily spectral manipulations of the live saxophone) react to extremes, dynamic and durational, and adjust to the performer over the course of the piece. The sonic result is a mapping, albeit partial, of the sonic transformations idiomatic to the saxophone when in the capable hands of a trained performer.

Deus est machina

Ideally, audio technology would be transparent; microphones would capture sound with pure fidelity that playback systems would then faithfully reproduce. The coloration caused by transducers, transistors, and analog-to-digital translation, however, has more control over the resulting sonic world than the acoustic phenomena we are trying to recreate. Accordingly, Deus est machina has very little to do with the “natural sound” of the electric bass. The piece is a play for bass, two performers, two amplifiers, and a digital signal processor (MaxMSP) where amplification, equalization, and signal processing are the principle players. While one performer manipulates the bass, as one would expect of a more traditional concert, the other performer plays the settings of the electronic equipment: the bass amplifier, MaxMSP (which relies on both the bass amplifier and a stage microphone for source material), and an additional amplifier responsible for boosting the MaxMSP output. The first act of this play establishes the setting – the noise generated by all the equipment. The second act introduces the sounds of the electric bass and more drastic signal processing from MaxMSP. For the third and final act, all the characters exit.

statics: congruent

Playing time: 6:20

statics is a non-standard sound synthesis program that uses functional iteration to both generate sound events and organize them temporally. Since statics was designed by a composer with musical goals in mind, the program is itself is a collection of compositional decisions. Furthermore, the unique timbres and structures created by statics are a direct result of these decisions.

statics creates sonic events by working abstractly with the digital sample (the basic unit of computer sound)—generating and organizing individual samples algorithmically through the iteration of a nonlinear map, i.e. functional iteration. All sonic events (which range from pitched material to percussive impulses), perceived gestures, and even the very structure of the piece emerge from the concatenation of samples as determined by functional iteration. Composition is thus redefined as software design and the selection musically viable renderings from the program’s output.

The title “congruent” refers to the fact that this particular piece was constructed from multiple layers unified by a single constant value – this is the only value in the non-linear map that does not change from iteration to iteration. Therefore, all the layers have the same attractor, which in this case means the sounds congregate around fifteen values. The layers are differentiated by individualized sets of initial seed values, which translate into parameter settings such as the duration and overall level. This means that although two different layers may articulate the same set of points, they will do so with different sounds.

Transportation Frame

Technology has made music portable, allowing us to listen while in transit, whether we walk, ride, or fly. Most consumers are willing to sacrifice quality for this convenience, trading hi-fi for earbuds and a cheap set of speakers. Even if we spend thousands on noise-cancelling headphones and a luxury car with the quietest of interiors, unwanted noises still intrude and mask. We either rely on memory to fill-in the parts we lose or risk hearing damage trying to overpower the outside world. The more demanding the listening experience, the more frustrated we become. My Frame series seeks to incorporate the local environment rather than replace it. In Transportation Frame, ambient sounds taken from flights, drives, subway rides, and walks are superimposed and juxtaposed with the intention of serendipitously interacting with the listener’s surroundings. The piece was composed outside of the studio using headphones and consumer-grade speakers. Except for some dynamic shaping and mild-EQ, the field recordings were not processed, and while the sounds in the piece are fixed, where and how the piece is heard can radically change its perception. In a quiet auditorium, the work can highlight the sounds of the audience or the HVAC system, even creating confusion as to what belongs to the piece and what belongs to the hall. On a subway car, one hears an unpredictable interplay between the two sonic worlds: moments where the train masks the piece, moments where the piece masks the train, and still other moments where the two worlds blend, giving rise to unique sonic experiences.