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Mike Vargas’ 86 Aspects of Composition card deck
a tool for open-ended creative research

Adapted from the MV article in Contact Quarterly magazine Vol 28.2, “Looking at Composition is Like Painting the Golden Gate Bridge: 86 Aspects of Composition,” this deck of 90 cards is designed to support the process of organizing materials, perceptions, and decisions related to sound, movement, or any other artistic medium.

The 86 aspects can be used as lenses to evaluate and analyze art, but they can also focus our attention on the composition of nature and the environment. There is a single aspect on each card, and on the back is a corresponding question related to the aspect.

Mike Vargas works internationally as a freelance composer performing, teaching, recording, and improvising. Primarily a solo artist and a pianist, Vargas also specializes in percussion and electronic music. He regularly presents performances of his work, usually involving dancers, sometimes collaborating with other musicians and artists, often in relatively small ensembles.

86 aspects card deck

Vargas has released 10 CDs of his music and has published two articles in Contact Quarterly magazine, one in 2003 entitled, “Looking at Composition is like Painting the Golden Gate Bridge: 86 Aspects of Composition, ” and one in 2013, “Notice and Contribute: Collaborative Negotiations Between Music and Dance.” He began playing music in 1959. His love of adventure and collaboration have led him through many contexts and cultures, from cocktail lounges in Indonesia to New York’s Lower East Side, from cancer wards to the Kennedy Center, from New Music America to Playback Theatre. A lifetime of improvising landed Vargas in the dance world, where he collaborates almost daily with moving bodies in space. He started specializing in music for dance in 1978, composing over 100 commissioned scores for choreographers. For over 20 years, he taught and performed around the world with dancer Nancy Stark Smith. With a voracious curiosity and a hunger for variety, Vargas has gobbled up styles of music, learning, listening, imitating and inventing. He trained as a classical pianist in the 60’s, moved through rock and jazz-rock in the 70’s, free jazz and world music, electronic and found sound in the 80’s, then studied late-20th century dissonance and came back to the piano in the 90’s. More recently exploring samples, loops, iPods and digital drums during the last decade, a broad palette of sonic options has always been a hallmark of Vargas’ music. His current passion is philosophy. He was faculty in the dance department at Smith College. He has a daughter, Gray, and lives in Florence, Massachusetts.

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