Senior recital 'Food for Thought' features experimental music from composer Chris Wiley

Written by: 
Malia Diaz

Chris Wiley, a senior in music from Oregon, showcased his own original compositions in a recital without performing any of them himself on May 9. Music majors and professors performed each of his compositions, which ranged from Brazilian batucada to electronic and experimental voice.

Wiley said Dr. Daniel Bradshaw, department chair, encouraged him to play in as few pieces as possible, so he decided to sit back and watch his music come to life. “I had lots of friends willing to play in them for me. It was really nice not having to play and just being able to watch. I’m super grateful for the performers and the preparation that was put into it with no pay other than pizza,” said Wiley.

The planning took place for over a year, said Wiley. “We started talking about it a year ago, and from then on we [have been] planning, which consists of composing and working on different things.”

When asked how he gets his inspiration, Wiley said most of it is purely experimental. “It’s not my ideal process, but most of the songs I wrote came before any meaning or inspiration arrived. That’s been one of the main aspects for my undergrad work–experimenting with limitations and extremities. Things got more wild than I had thought.”

One of Wiley’s pieces, titled “Phones,” featured 11 vocalists on a dark stage with red lighting who looked at their smartphones. The singers wore headphones and stared at their screens, following the musical prompts of a video Wiley created.

“The concept was [to] get a choir to sing really difficult things that they wouldn’t be able to sing otherwise. This piece is my commentary on the information age. There’s this idea that excessive information is just as good as a big pot of sludge,” said Wiley while laughing.

Camilla Saylor, a music freshman from Texas and sister-in-law to Wiley, said “Phones” was a very original piece. One of the vocalists in the piece, Saylor said, “At first I was very intrigued and wasn’t sure I wanted to do it. But I thought it went really well. It was very different.

“Chris came and asked me if I would be able to be an extra singer in his recital. It was totally different than I expected. He sent me a file with random phrases scrolling down the screen. We watched it while we sang. The bottom half of the screen were notes so we could hear the right pitch and instructions to speed up or slow down, loud or soft.”

Overall, Saylor said the recital was awesome, “I was really impressed with what Chris put together. I’ve seen a little bit behind the scenes.” She said when her husband and her visited Wiley’s apartment, he was usually back in his room composing.

Wiley said the musical genres he chose were very eclectic, and he loves to mix lots of different styles of music. “I’m trying to be a musical chameleon. I know I am in a much better position if I am able to write any style,” he said.

Wiley said he wants to do film scoring as a career, a dream he decided to pursue while in high school. “I love music too much not to do it for the rest of my life and make a career of it. Film scoring is a feasible career. The score is the ability producers have to make or break a movie and to help the audience empathize. It adds a whole other layer of esthetic,” he said.

The jazz piece “Quiet Eyes” was inspired by his wife, Lizzy Wiley, and her “angelic beauty peacefulness of sleeping. I have a lot of late nights writing music. I write in our bedroom in TVA and I’ll be so stressed. Then I’ll look over at my wife sleeping and she’s so peaceful and it makes me feel better. I couldn’t have done this without her.

“Her contribution was more than [the recital], it’s been the past year and more with me composing and things getting crazy and busy. She’s been super supportive and patient with me when I have to pull all-nighters, especially these last few months. It was super hard because my performers had to have the music so I had to write it quickly,” he said.

Kris Krisanalome, a percussion performance junior from Thailand, said the performance was amazing. “I’m so fortunate to have such a great composer as a friend. Honestly, he is the best one I know in this age. I have a lot of composition friends and he is definitely the best.

“I love how he named his performance ‘Food for Thought.’ I was filled with healthy musical food. I often find my mind filled with negativity, but his music drove my negative attitude away and replaced them with healthy thoughts. It was beautiful, tasty, and delicious.”

Wiley’s jazz composition professor, Dr. Daniel Henderson, said he was able to work with Chris on a few of the pieces performed at the recital. “Music is not what’s on the page. It’s what you hear. Up to this point, the music has just been an idea and now here it is. It’s been born and now full of life. That’s the most rewarding part–when it finally comes to life.”

Henderson explained how proud he was of Wiley’s compositions. “Chris is a very adventurous composer. He really explored a lot of musical territory. [His work] is constantly interesting and surprising.” Henderson was one of the musicians performing in several of the pieces. “In jazz pieces, the performances are mostly improv, so we had a personal responsibility for the outcome. Classical music is a lot of executing ideas with precision. In jazz, we are the contributing ideas.”

Henderson read the instructions on his sheet music, which said, “Expressing the triumph of turning outward and loving those around you in times of personal trial.’” He said, “I’m not only responsible for the notes I play, but to achieve his overall vision.”

Kristie Lam, a political science senior from Canada and Wiley’s cousin, said, “Chris is very creative and his composition is truly an art form. The way it ended made me think. We are all very excited for him,” Lam said.

“He has lots of talent and I know he will go on to do more great music. People should really consider the composition major. I really love the Music Department. The professors are really great. They are truly a blessing and I’ve seen them work with Jacob and Chris,” said Lam.

Tim Saylor, a political science sophomore from Michigan and Wiley’s brother-in-law, said, “The whole thing had an ‘Alfred Hitchcock’ feel. He’s the guy who produced movies like ‘Psycho’ and ‘Birds.’ Chris told me a lot of his films inspired him.

“During the performances, I would close my eyes and imagine a scene in a movie. It was very atmospheric; everyone was intently watching the musicians. No eyes wandered. It was very grasping and moving.”

In August, Wiley will attend Pulse College in Dublin, Ireland to do a year-long graduate school program in scoring. He plans to compose scores for video games, commercials, movies, and television shows.

Wiley said he’s going to post the footage of the recital on Facebook and wants to have a QR code for students to download/access his compositions.

Date Published: 
Thursday, May 25, 2017
Last Edited: 
Thursday, May 25, 2017