When Muhly composes, the last thing he thinks about is the actual notes that musicians will play. He begins with books and documents, YouTube videos and illuminated manuscripts. He meditates on this material, digesting its ironies and appreciating its aesthetics. Meanwhile, he devises an emotional scheme for the piece-the journey on which he intends to lead his listener. Muhly believes that some composers of new music rely too heavily on program notes to give their work a coherence that it might lack in the actual listening. “This stupid conceptual stuff where it’s, like, ‘I was really inspired by, like, Morse Code and the AIDS crisis,’” he says.