Christopher Mayo

Large Chamber (9+)

Beast (for Hugo Ball)

2017 | 8'  

Commissioned by Alarm Will Sound
for 16 players and electronics

1(=picc).1(=ca).2(II=bcl).1(=cbsn) - - 2 perc - pno -


Beast (for Hugo Ball) is a setting of a sound poem of the same name by Canadian poet bpNichol (1944-1988) which was originally released on cassette in 1971. The poem is a tribute to German poet Hugo Ball (1886-1927), author of the Dada Manifesto, co-founder of the Cabaret Voltaire and, as bpNichol so eloquently puts it, “more or less the daddy of sound poetry”.

bpNichol’s work appears courtesy of Eleanor Nichol.

Streets Become Liars

2015 | 19'  

Commissioned by Crash Ensemble
for 10 players and electronics

1(=picc).0.1(=bcl).0 - - perc - pno - egtr - 


Streets Become Liars is about two men in Kentucky who, from January 1967 until September 1968, had a brief but intense friendship.

Ralph Eugene Meatyard was an optician by trade who spent much of his spare time with his Rolleiflex medium-format camera. He created intricately posed scenes in the derelict buildings around Lexington Kentucky. He used his family as subjects but more often than not covered their faces in a variety of cheap halloween masks that became the signature of his work.

You don’t know the difference between the mask and what’s underneath it. You recognize it as being a mask but it’s on top of something else. Whatever else that’s underneath could be your mother or your father or me or anybody else in the world and you wouldn’t know the difference for sure. You might think you knew, but you wouldn’t know for sure who was under there. 

- Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Interview with Nathalie Andrews, 25 February, 1970

Thomas Merton was an American Trappist Monk, and prolific author of more than 70 books. He was a complicated man whose Catholicism and monasticism were constantly battling against his deep interest in eastern religions and philosophies, jazz music, and his love for Margie Smith, a nurse who cared for him after a surgical procedure in 1966.

While Meatyard was interested in literally masking his subjects, Merton was interested in the mask as a metaphor for one’s internal spiritual life:

We have the choice of two identities: the external mask which seems to be real and which lives by a shadowy autonomy for the brief moment of earthly existence, and the hidden, inner person who seems to us to be nothing, but who can give himself eternally to the truth in whom he subsists. 

- Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation

This piece draws on audio recordings as its primary material: a small excerpt of an interview with Meatyard where he discusses his use of masks, and a recording which Merton made of himself singing the Cistercian Mass for the eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost.

The title is a quote from Merton’s posthumously published novel, My Argument with the Gestapo in which the semi-autobiographical narrator describes his disillusionment with wartime London:

Until, suddenly, sometime, not for everybody, and never for the innocent, the masks fall off the houses, and the streets become liars and the squares becomes thieves and the buildings become murderers.

- Thomas Merton, My Argument with the Gestapo

Streets Become Liars was commissioned with funds from the Canada Council for the Arts

Of Trees & Fields & Men

2011 | 12'  

Commissioned by Music at the Anthology (MATA) for their 2011 Festival of New Music
for 12 players asax - - 2 perc - pno - acc -


Of Trees & Fields & Men was commissioned by Music at the Anthology (MATA) for their 2011 Festival of New Music. It was first performed May 10, 2011 at Le Poisson Rouge by ACME and L’arsenale conducted by Filippo Perocco.

The title is drawn from a poem by Kenneth Patchen from his 1971 collection Wonderings.

O "listen" is like an elephant
Who stalks the woods at night
& with his mole-soft & curling trunk
Touches all the stars with light
& written on his nobly gentle sides
Are the names of trees & fields & men
Of where we shall got tomorrow
And of what it will be like then

- Kenneth Patchen, Wonderings (1971)

Of Trees & Fields & Men” (2011), by Christopher Mayo, a Canadian, was inspired by a verse in the poet Kenneth Patchen’s “Wonderings” that begins with an odd simile: “O ‘listen’ is like an elephant/ Who stalks the woods at night.” The elephant’s weight and gait are captured in the rhythm, texture and vaguely South Asian spirit of this mildly exotic work for large ensemble. Hints of trumpeting and steady, muted cymbal crashes reinforce the image. But Mr. Mayo moves on: toward the end of the work the steady stomp gives way to a lovely, Neo-Romantic violin solo that morphs slowly into a chordal, rhythmic ensemble exploration.

Binding the quiet

2010 | 10'  

Commissioned by Ensemble contemporain de Montréal +
for 10 players

1(=picc).0.1(=bcl).1 - - perc - pno - egtr -


Binding the quiet was commissioned by Ensemble contemporain de Montréal + for their 2010 Génération project and tour. It was first performed November 5, 2010 at The Banff Centre by ECM+ conducted by Véronique Lacroix. Binding the quiet was awarded the Prix du public Génération 2010.

The title is taken from the first line of a poem by Kenneth Patchen from his 1971 collection Wonderings.

Binding the quiet into chalky sheaves
I do not forget to pack spirit-moss
And lonely isles of hasty leaves
Into these "boxes" which will toss
Upon the sea until next Wednesday
When some good soul knowing them mine
Shall bring them back without a word—
And inside I'll find sixteen baby foxes
Sleeping at the breast of a great milk-white bird

- Kenneth Patchen, Wonderings (1971)

Christopher Mayo’s Binding the quiet starts out in a brushed, pitchless soundscape of airy sounds and rustled paper. As it gradually accumulates more concrete surface detail, all derived from the same simple melodic line, rhythmic patterns begin to dominate, and the transformation is quick, total and delirious.
— Elissa Poole, The Globe and Mail
Quant à Christopher Mayo, il fait une musique robuste, vive, spirituelle, colorée mais jamais légère : son portrait tout craché.
— Nicolas Gilbert,
La virtuosité d’une certaine jeune musique anglaise se mâtine chez Mayo (Binding the quiet) d’une attention toute particulière à l’exploration timbrale, particulièrement sensible en début de parcours, et la directionnalité formelle de cette quasi-toccate, dont on pressent assez rapidement l’objectif ultime, suit pourtant vers son apogée un chemin habilement sinueux et varié.
— Michel Gonneville, cette ville étrange
Christopher Mayo’s Binding the quiet initially seemed to evoke natural soundscapes such as shifting wind-like sounds, with few pitch references. The rustle of crumpled paper emerged time and time again throughout the piece sounding subtly through the thickening instrumental textures. A constantly varied melody eventually emerged from the sonic mesh, gained rhythmic distinction, and then faded. The surprisingly rich sounds of crumpled paper...echoed in my mind.
— Andrew Timar, The WholeNote Blog
À la fin du spectacle, l’heure du vote a sonné. Le vainqueur de la tournée remporte le prix du public Génération 2010, assorti d’une bourse de 1 000 $ et d’une commande des Jeunesses Musicales du Canada. Cette année, c’est Christopher Mayo qui a été choisi par près de 700 spectateurs pour son œuvre Binding the quiet. Une distinction de plus pour un jeune virtuose canadien.
— Elodie Crézé, L'Express du Pacifique

Clean Room Design: sous les mers

2010 | 15'  

Commissioned by Nouvel Ensemble Moderne
for 15 players

1.1.2(I=bcl.II=bcl).1 - - perc - pno -


Clean Room Design: sous les mers was commissioned by Nouvel Ensemble Moderne. It was first performed August 20, 2010 at Domaine Forget by NEM conducted by Lorraine Vaillancourt.

Clean room design is a type of reverse engineering which is used to copy and recreate a design without infringing on the copyright or trade secrets associated with the original. CleanRoom Design: sous les mers is a fictionalized attempt to recreate the soundtrack of a Spanish cartoon version of Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea using only a tiny fragment of the original audio source. 

Recouping or Recouping

2006 | 7'  

Written for the New Perspectives Ensemble
for 22 players

1.1.2(II=bcl).2(II=cbsn) - - 2 perc -


The 1980’s saw an enormous increase in the number of educational videos put out by various government bodies and private organisations with the goal of steering children clear of the diverse pitfalls of childhood. While most of these focused on the most immediate and perilous threats – A.I.D.S., talking to strangers, and any number of variations on “This is your brain, this is your brain on drugs” – some aimed to help children with the more day-to-day problems of growing up.

In the educational (and motivational) video “Be Somebody or Be Somebody’s Fool” Mr. T— in his role as Dr. T— helps children determine what to do to recoup their losses in embarrassing and “absoludicrous” situations. Recouping or Recouping is about making the best out of a bad situation. One out of one Dr. T’s recommend it.