I am so glad that I get to perform this piece. It is intensely challenging, full of bravura passages of blindingly fast handwork that can whip your audience into a frenzy of virtuostic/nostalgic delight; by the time the piece ends though, you’re not sure what to think, and it isn’t what you expected. Having performed it many times I can tell you that it never gets old or boring. That’s a good sign with a contemporary work – that there are always going to be more things to figure out, and new things to see.

You have to memorize this piece to perform it. The movements and their phrases follow logical patterns, which makes it easier, but there are enough subtle shifts to make it precarious. I had to spend time just practising mnemonics within each pattern, so that i would know instinctively what pattern was next with each triggering event.  In movement one and two, you don’t have time to think about it – it is just too fast.

The last movement is tricky too – the patterns are less similar and the text keeps appending or excising elements in its repetition. Sometimes I think it is a beautiful movement about friendship, other times it feels ironic or bittersweetly wistful. I love the way time just slows down, and the physicality tells the ear how to listen.

The third movement is improvised.

Like all of Griffin’s music that I’ve seen or worked on, this piece requires sensitivity to the theatrical act of performance. For another example, check out “Adieu, notre petite table!“, a piece I would write a review of, except I’m too chicken to perform it. In the tradition of Kagel, Globokar and Aperghis, Griffin isn’t much interested in writing sonatas. He loves opera and absurdist spectacle, and it shows. While initial readings of his scores can be confusing or uninspiring, he really is a brilliant composer. My experiences with his works will be carried with me for my entire life.

A word to those who are interested in performing this work – Griffin’s score is a documentation of his work, but the performance is always developed in consultation with the performer(s). If you perform the work exactly as written, even with corrections to the notation errors, you probably won’t be realizing his piece accurately. This oral tradition can be frustrating (I find it intriguing), but just be forewarned that some communication with the composer and/or the original performers is a good idea.

Notes to the Performer:

  • Movement 1 – don’t go too fast off the bat. When it double times, it goes FAST!
  • Consistency of physical gesture is important – also between the two performers. Try to imagine the physical paths of your hands for each movement, if you find that you are misstriking.
  • If you need to get a sequence faster, shorten your movements, and make your paths more efficient.
  • The best video to study, if you can’t talk to Aiyun or Sean, is the first one posted. Unfortunately, it is incomplete.
  • It is worth it to video yourselves as a part of your rehearsing. You will learn a lot of things – you don’t want others to see some of them.

Title:   Pattycake – for 2 people (from Open House)

Composer:  Sean Griffin

Country:  USA

Duration: 11 min

Date of Composition:  2002


Purchase Link: email Sean Griffin



Premiere: Aiyun Huang and Greg Stuart, UCSD, San Diego, CA

Performance History:  (fill in as many as possible. Incompletes ok. Include yourself!)

  • ensemble chronophonie, 11 January 2008, Alte Patrone, Mainz, Germany
  • University of Toronto Chainsaw Ensemble, 2011, Music Gallery, Toronto, ON
  • Aiyun Huang and Gregory Oh, 30 April 2011, Open Ears Festival, Kitchener, ON
  • Julia Aplin and Gregory Oh, 30 July 2011, Ottawa Chamberfest, Ottawa, ON
  • Gregory Oh and Courtney Lancaster, 4 October 2014, Soulpepper, Toronto, ON
  • Aiyun Huang and Gregory Oh, 22 June 2016, Maureen Forrester Hall, Waterloo, ON

Discography:  (optional. Include yourself!)

  • Bulleted discography
  • Hyperlinks and/or small thumbnails here if you’re comfortable or just a link or just text

from Sean Griffin:

I believe there are unique participatory value judgements that symmetry necessarily activates. When you see passages of compelling personae engaging in long-duration unison, a different kind of agogic experience occurs. With enough concentration, the symbolist mirror is evoked, the mirror-stage engaged, and an ideological, barely-visible language emerges to shape the abstraction of the tasks. That secret language is a system of helping, failing and re-covering, catching up to this invisible form that is spelled out, and does not stop, no matter what happens Lay one intense bright field of blue next to an over-bright orange and a charged energy field emerges from their proximity; like two magnets repelling each other. This secret language takes place in the eyes, between the two performers. For us, it is the shimmering and very electric phenomenon of live rhythmic movement.

Native Los Angeles composer and director Sean Griffin’s performance and musical works are animated by dense rhythmic structuring and improvisation. They range from instrumental works to immersive operas, extended choral techniques, installation, rhythmic games and devised movement patterns. His performance compositions often feature the unique talents of the instrumentalists and performers with whom he collaborates extensively. Creatively recombining ethnographic, archival and historical research with critical artistic inquiry to pursue a multidimensional dramaturgy, his work as an opera director has been noted for its expansive inclusion of diverse media and integration of movement, community engagement, technology and museum objects into vivid, complex spectacles. Recent works have engaged resonances of transiency, exile, eugenics archives, abduction, the Spanish Enlightenment, class struggle, Hollywood tabloid reporting, improvisation, and competing political cultures.

Griffin is a long-time collaborator with many artists including Catherine Sullivan, Charles Gaines, percussionist Aiyun Huang and vocal artist Juliana Snapper. In addition to recording and performing as a pianist, harpist, conductor and arranger, he is the Director of Opera Povera, an interdisciplinary consortium devoted to the creation and performance of new operatic and interdisciplinary performance and exhibition projects for which he received a grant from the Center for Cultural Innovation in 2011. In 2014, he was a Mellon Fellow for Arts Practice & Scholarship at the University of Chicago’s Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry.

Griffin has received numerous residencies including at Yaddo, MacDowell, and three research and production-based residencies at EMPAC who then commissioned his large-scale, intermedia opera Cold Spring in 2010. His collaborative works have been presented internationally at venues including June in Buffalo, MATA Festival, Berlin’s VolksbĂĽhne, Secession Vienna, London’s Royal Academy and the Tate Modern, Taipei City Arts Festival, Walker Art Center, Festival B:OM 2010 in Seoul, Korea, MoMA in New York, LACMA, Armand Hammer Museum, the MAK Center for Art and Architecture, REDCAT at the Disney Hall in Los Angeles, and EMPAC in Troy, NY. He received an MFA from CalArts, studying with Mel Powell, and a Ph.D. from the University of California, San Diego where he worked with George Lewis and Chaya Czernowin.

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