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Interview: Mary Kouyoumdjian

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Could you describe the program you are presenting with Kronos Quartet and Hotel Elefant on Tuesday, May 12?

As an Armenian-American composer whose family went through the Armenian Genocide, a tragic event that led to the mass extermination of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Turks and was the first genocide of the 20th century, I felt an undeniable need to discuss this through my music and to dedicate this concert to the genocide’s 100th anniversary.

The program will include the U.S. premiere of a new multi-media work written for the Kronos Quartet entitled Silent Cranes, written specifically to commemorate the genocide centennial, with projection design by Laurie Olinder, poetry by Alternative Radio host and journalist David Barsamian, recorded testimonies of survivors, and folk songs recorded between 1912-1916.

Hotel Elefant will also perform works including This Should Feel Like Home (commissioned by Carnegie Hall for the ensemble) – a self-portrait of what it was like to visit Armenia for the first time, sampling field recordings from the city to villages; Dzov Yerku Kooynov [Sea of Two Colors] (commissioned by the American Composers Forum/JFund for Hotel Elefant) – a portrait of composer Komitas Vardapet, who survived the Armenian Genocide and suffered through 20 years of post-traumatic stress disorder; and a new work entitled Everlastingness, with lyrics by dear friend and librettist Royce Vavrek and special guest baritone Jeffrey Gavett – a portrait of painter Arshile Gorky, who survived the Armenian Genocide and lived through a series of tragic events upon his displacement to the States.

It’s a pretty heavy program, but genocide is also a severely heavy topic. I’m hoping the audience will be open to connecting with the topic and hearing why I feel it’s so important to talk about this moment of history a century later.

This Should Feel Like Home samples field recordings from Armenia “from the city to villages”. Could you describe how these recordings were collected and used as a compositional element in the piece?

In the summer of 2012, I visited Armenia for the first time. Much like tourists snap hundreds of photos on their trips, I did the same by gathering as many sonic memories and field recordings as possible. I brought a little handheld recorder with me everywhere and recorded moments, such as my first duduk (an Armenian double reed instrument) lesson in the Vernisage marketplace, a marching band going through the Republic Square, a thunderstorm at Noravank while exploring graves, people drinking holy water at Gerard, church bells and the choir at Etchmiadzin, conversations, a singing villager, folk musicians, the national anthem being sung, etc. These recordings comprise the electronic backing track that intertwines with the live ensemble, often in their raw form, and often processed, distorted, and manipulated. In a way, I’m presenting a sonic slideshow of my trip to the audience (though I hope the experience is a little more interesting)!

Both Dzov Yerku Kooynov [Sea of Two Colors] and Everlastingness are portraits of artists who survived the Armenian Genocide and faced subsequent challenges in their lives. Could you tell us more about their work? What drew you to these artists?

Dzov Yerku Kooynov [Sea of Two Colors] is a portrait of the priest and composer Komitas Vardapet, who was sort of like the Armenian Bartók in that he gathered and transcribed many of the Armenian folk songs that we still have today, in addition to contributing his own. One of the first intellectuals captured during the Armenian Genocide, he survived and then suffered the remaining years of his life with post-traumatic stress disorder, hopping from one psychiatric hospital to the next.

Everlastingness is a portrait of painter Arshile Gorky, who also went through the genocide, fled to the U.S., and then experienced a series of tragic events from marital troubles, temporary paralysis, his studio catching on fire, and ultimately his suicide. What fascinates me about these two is that they each went through unimaginable horrors, and, upon their survival, their lives continued to deconstruct in the aftermath of their unfathomable experiences. It may seem like an obvious observation that trauma would continue to haunt them even in safety, but their stories relate to why, even after 100 years, this event in history continues to have traumatic repercussions on the families of those affected.

The Armenian Genocide is a tragic and confounding event, yet – nearly one hundred years later – its formal recognition is still a controversial topic. Could you please contextualize the event for our readers? How does Silent Cranes address the centennial of the Armenian Genocide?

As an Armenian with family that went through the genocide, it’s difficult to understand why recognition of any crime against humanity is a controversial topic at all, but calling it a “genocide” has been an issue ever since Rafael Lempkin coined the word to describe these specific massacres. Currently over twenty countries and forty-three U.S. States have formally recognized the Armenian Genocide, but the U.S. as a nation and modern-day Turkey have yet to do so – Turkey even threatens imprisonment to those who push the topic within their borders. It’s a tragic event that most historians have agreed upon as an undeniable fact, but politicians are hesitant to label in order to keep ties with Turkey, who has become increasingly important as an ally in the Middle East and has been increasingly verbal about cutting off ties with nations who formally acknowledge the genocide as such.

Silent Cranes addresses the centennial by saying that, without resolution, these horrific occurrences to the Armenian people are just as fresh as they were 100 years ago. Until we can acknowledge the events that happened and have an open dialogue about it, how can we ever expect to prevent further genocides from happening?

“Kouyoumdjian is a firm believer that approaching such controversial topics through the Arts opens opportunities for a conversation with audiences when words become too difficult to say or hear.”

What is your compositional process? How do you approach writing music – often wordlessly — that explores such controversial topics?

I’m fascinated by the idea of music as documentary, and right now, I’m most interested in sharing the stories of real people who have experienced something that needs to be heard. I’m not actively seeking out controversial topics to explore for the sake of being controversial, but with my parents and brother having lived in Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War, and with my grandparents/great grandparents having lived in Turkey during the Armenian Genocide, topics that stem from war and conflict naturally resonate with me. I enjoy gathering field recordings, because it connects me to the land and space I am in, and I enjoy gathering interviews and testimonies, because it connects me to people, and ultimately what I enjoy most about music is connecting with others.

Your work seems interested in exploring and reconciling notions of identity. Could you tell us about your background? What drew you to composition?

I grew up playing classical piano and electone organ, and it wasn’t until I started taking jazz piano lessons in high school when I became interested in composition. I had just watched the movie Rudy and fell in love with Jerry Goldsmith’s score, after which my jazz teacher blew my mind by saying that one could actually grow up and be a film composer! So, I pursued composition by getting a wonderfully zany and experimental education at UC San Diego, then a film scoring degree at NYU, moved to LA for a few years to dive into “the industry,” realized I wasn’t as crazy about the industry as I dreamed I would be, missed writing concert music terribly, and moved back to NYC where a new wave of new music had sprouted with an incredibly supportive and open-minded community of musicians that I continue to be happy to be a part of.

As far as “identity,” there’s a really great quote by composer Tigran Mansurian: “You bring things from your roots that you can be honest with.” I think this is so true, and it was the moment when I started writing about concepts that were a little closer to home that I felt my music spoke with the most integrity.

Interview: MV Carbon


Interdisciplinary artist and composer MV Carbon presents Long Range-Order and the Telekinesisyth as part of her Spring 2015 Residency from the Jerome Foundation at Roulette on Wednesday, May 13th

Could you please describe the program you will be presenting at Roulette?

Long Range-Order and the Telekinesisynth is a program made up of two acts that playfully investigate varying forms of transmission and the exchange of thought and emotion.  It comments on the physicality, form and effect of both antiquated and modern technological communication devices, as well as metaphysical forms of communication such as telepathy and telekinesis.

What is your background as a composer, sound artist, and visual artist?

As a child, I studied flute and learned to read music.  We had a piano at the house to play with.  My brother gave me guitar lessons and we would occasionally write songs together.  The idea of being a performer seemed natural to me from a very early age.  I still have many of the “scores” I wrote for voice and performance from that time.

As a teenager growing up in rural Pennsylvania, I was lucky to be exposed to music beyond the mainstream.  My friends and I would drive to Pittsburgh to see shows and to go record shopping at Eides when it was just a very small store.  I felt transformed by the beauty and strangeness of sound and performance and knew that I would pursue these forms of expression.  I started painting and doing installation art in Pittsburgh and regularly exhibited and performed there at venues like The Birmingham Loft, Pittsburgh Center for the Arts and the Turmoil Room.  There was a lot going on.

I moved to Chicago in my early 20’s, which was a mecca for artistic exploration.  The music scene was rich and inspiring.  The music I found exhilarating had an Avant Garde edge to it and was laced with Post-Punk, Rock, New Wave, Grunge, and Jazz influences.  I was involved in the formation of two bands: Metalux (Hanson, LOAD Records) and Bride of No No (Atavistic).  Metalux is still together and touring abroad this spring.  I studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Art and Technology program with a focus on sound, and spent a lot of time in recording studios with the bands.  We worked with Jim O’Rourke, who produced one of Bride of No No’s albums.  I learned a lot about the technological aspect of music production and sound recording at this time.  I was going to shows, performing, making films, or at band practice most of my time in Chicago.

When I first moved to New York City, I only knew a few people here, but was soon presented with many opportunities to perform and exhibit sound and time-based work.  I have 2 solo LPs that came out within the past few years and am working on new recordings this spring at EMS in Stockholm.  Roulette, Clocktower Gallery, PS1, Knockdown Center, and many DIY spaces in New York have invited me to create new site-specific work.  Suzanne Fiol and Issue Project Room were very supportive, early on with several invitations to create new works and to compose a larger scale orchestration for the String Orchestra of Brooklyn.  I continually collaborate with other artists, which is inspiring and provoking.  My graduate studies at NYU’s ITP program allowed me to experiment with sensor based technology, physical computing and animation.  Technology is a big part of my life and work and I sometimes find myself hooked up to a computer for days.  I try to create a balance between the technological and physical/dexterous relationship with music production.

What was your compositional approach to The Telekinetic Grip and Speed Dial and the Cellar Door?

Imagining, experimenting, researching, dreaming, drawing, playing, writing.

Speed Dial and the Cellar Door is about friendship, reliving, connections, memorization, and communication.  I am using these concepts to create a mood in the music.  I have been thinking about childhood friendships, memorized phone numbers and rotary phones.  I have been working to translate this impression into sound.  There will be live interaction between myself, and Emily Manzo, who is playing the piano piece in this act.  I will record what she plays and process it through tape machines, pedals, and electronics.  I also have put together some special props.

In the Telekinetic Grip, there is a holographic character that is playing the cello part.  That score is being created offsite and will be embedded in Violet Raid’s presence.  I will play a duo with VR.

Your piece The Telekinetic Grip is described as “a mediated experience which intersects the virtual and the actual.”  How so?

The piece comments on the duality and interconnectedness between our physical identity and our virtually simulated presence via networked, electronic devices.

Violet Raid exists on a hard drive and emulates the cello parts that were pre-recorded.  VR can travel on the Internet, be downloaded, rerouted through projected light, and animated through movement and sound.  VR is a digital immortal, born through an extension of thought, light, and sound.

As a Jerome resident, are there themes unique or specific to your program at Roulette?  Are the pieces written with the space in mind?

When I was invited to be a Jerome Resident, the ideas for Long-Range Order and the Telekinesisynth came to me the following week.  It was imagined specifically for the show at Roulette, but will be able to be performed in other spaces in the future.  The space at Roulette is large and theatrical.  I am excited and honored to have the opportunity to create new work for it.

The space definitely has contributed to my choice of using a piano and various forms of projection for the piece.   

What is a holographic cello?

The holographic cello is the instrument that Violet Raid performs with in the virtual realm.  It will be seen and heard beyond the constraints of a computer interface at the performance.  I am working on creating a holographic projection for the show.

Interview: Briggan Krauss


What can we expect from your performance with H-Alpha on April 20?

I honestly don’t know. If I knew what to expect I wouldn’t want to do it. I am interested in putting different combinations of improvisers together and seeing what happens. I don’t know if Kato and Jim have played together or if Brandon and Ikue have played together either. What I do know is that I am always gathering people with strong and unique voices together to play and I completely trust that the music that comes from these combinations will be interesting and happening.

This performance marks eight years of H-Alpha. Could you tell us the history of the group?

The history of H-alpha? Well Jim and I met in Seattle while I was still in college around 1990 and have been friends ever since.  Jim has always been one of my heroes whom I’ve always looked up to and I feel lucky every chance I get to play with him. Ikue and I met when Eyvind Kang put the three of us together for a gig at The Stone around 2005 I think. I’ve always been a huge fan of Ikue’s work and I thought that she and Jim would have a great connection together so I asked if they’d be into playing and thus the band was born. We’ve released a single CD on Skirl Records called Red Sphere which came out in 2007. I feel that the music of H-alpha has evolved a lot over the years and I have also been more and more interested in playing guitar as well as saxophone so I am very excited about the direction the music is heading. I think that we are long overdue for another recording and I wish I could make that happen soon.

What is your approach to improvisation?

Maybe like if you’ve ever seen video of sea lions playing in the kelp forests off the California coast. They swim around together sometimes alone sometimes in groups playing tag or just looking around…being….no single creature is the leader….sometimes moving fast or slow through patches of light or darkness. For me, improvised music is somewhat like this kind of extended organism of shape, color and time. What happens in that field is up to everyone present (not just the musicians) to create and then let end.  It makes a single unique moment never to happen again.

H-Alpha will be joined by Brandon Seabrook and Kato Hideki, what can we expect from this collaboration? Has H-Alpha collaborated with these artists before?

This will be the first time that Brandon and Kato will join us. Again, I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen but I know it will be incredibly fascinating and fun to find out.

Interview: Ab Baars, tenor saxophone, and Thomas Heberer, trumpet, of ICP Orchestra

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The world-renowned Amsterdam-based Instant Composers Pool (ICP) Orchestra celebrates the release of its recent CD East of the Sun with a 13-date US tour including three dates at Roulette on May 6, May 7, and May 8.

Please tell us about ICP Orchestra’s upcoming program at Roulette

Ab Baars: Besides working as ICP Orchestra, we thought it might be fun and interesting to invite friends and have a ‘different take’ on ICP material.

Thomas Heberer: We always decide on the night of the concert what to play. A mix of improv pieces played by sub-groups from within the orchestra and tunes from the repertoire of over 100 pieces.

Could you describe the ‘ICP method’?

Thomas Heberer: Put together a bunch of experienced musicians from different musical paths, all with different temperaments that nevertheless enjoy each other’s company and see what happens.

Ab Baars: There is no such thing as the ‘ICP method’. There is perhaps something like a language we all try to speak, with different accents, dialects if you want. But we all love to play and listen and change ideas. We trust each other and….there’s no leader. In order to get things done you have to join the ‘conversation’. Strange words, misunderstandings; we love them, they can even become the improvisation.  There’s no rules, just big ears, creative thinking and pleasure in making things together.

In addition to improvisations, ICP Orchestra is also known for its “surprisingly coherent arrangements”. I was curious if you could tell us about the compositional approach to these arrangements? 

Ab Baars: I think that’s part of the ‘Misha school’; he is a master in writing very coherent ideas. Some of them short, some of them longer. His compositions present clear (catchy) ideas. They give enough (and inviting) information to work with. It’s open material. It can be looked at in many ways. I think that filters through in the work of composing ICP members (and in the improvisations).

Thomas Heberer: Misha Mengelberg’s approach is different than Han Bennink’s than Michael Moore’s than Ab Baars’ than Toby Delius’ than Wolter Wierbos’ than Thomas Heberer’s than Guus Jansen’s than Mary Oliver’s than Tristan Honsinger’s than Ernst Glerum’s.


Interview: Vicky Chow, Jennifer Choi, and Danielle Eva Schwob

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Vicky Chow, Jennifer Choi, and Michael Nicolas, some of New York’s most sought after musicians in the new music scene team together to perform new solos and trios by two dynamic composers, Danielle Eva Schwob and John Zorn. Premiering tonight are Danielle’s Three Self Portraits inspired by the art work of David Hockney, Lucian Freud, and Francis Bacon alongside John Zorn’s first and latest piano trios, Amour Fou and The Aristos – ten metaphysical ambiguities for violin, cello, and piano in what will be an intense and enchanting evening of chamber and solo music at Roulette on Sunday, April 19

Could you tell us about your upcoming program at Roulette?  

Vicky Chow: The upcoming program at Roulette is one that features two really diverse New York artists/composers: John Zorn and Danielle Eva Schwob. Being from different backgrounds and generations, each are familiar and comfortable in multiple musical genres from writing music for the concert hall to music for film and everything in between. And when you get to work with composers who have so many musical influences, the outcome is always one that is unpredictable and undoubtedly colorful and rich.

Are there parallels between Schwob’s Three Self Portaits and Zorn’s Amour Fou and The Artistos?

Jennifer Choi: The three self portraits are a suite of solo pieces written for each of us. Usually when a pre-formed chamber music group plays, the music on the program will be for the entire group. In this case, we thought it would be nice to showcase each of us in our solo work in Schwob’s pieces and then come together for Zorn’s trios.

Vicky Chow: It is interesting to me that both of these composers are writing music that is programmatic in nature. Schwob’s solos are each based on a different artist (mine in particular drew inspiration from Lucian Freud, a German-born British painter), and Zorn’s Amour Fou and The Artistos draws inspiration from its title.

Danielle Eva Schwob: Yes, I think one interesting parallel is that both pieces draw on source material that’s concerned with identity, individuality and authenticity.  Fowles book The Aristos, from which Zorn’s piece takes its title, is actually subtitled “A Self Portrait in Ideas” – an interesting coincidence given that mine is literally based on three self-portraits.  Judging from what I’ve read about his trio, it seems focused on how an individual relates to the external world and its pressures to conform as well as about freedom of expression.  In contrast, mine is quieter, more internal and more introspective.  It’s about looking in the mirror (which these artists probably did in order to paint themselves) and reconciling with what you see.

What brought the three of you together for this performance?

Jennifer Choi: It was the summer of 2014 when John Zorn had the idea of getting the three of us in contact with each other to try out this trio formation with the idea of writing The Aristos for us.

Vicky Chow: It is all Zorn’s fault! (just kidding). Yes, as Jenny said, John Zorn had the idea of writing a piano trio for the three of us and this resulted in The Aristos. We have all individually known of each others work for some time and it’s really an honor to collaborate with people you respect, admire and equally as passionate about music as you are.

You are presenting two world premieres. Were these pieces written for you specifically?

Jennifer Choi: And around that same time, Danielle was looking for a trio group to perform her set of solos.  Danielle and I had worked together on some other occasions before, so she called me up and asked if I had a trio, and it just so happened that Vicky, Mike, and I were about to start playing together.

Vicky Chow: I think depending on each composer, works are sometimes written specifically with the players in mind and sometimes not. These in particular are a bit of both in my humble opinion. I feel that the music is so clear and present when the pieces were conceived that they may not necessary be written with our individual sounds in mind but rather for our personalities and what we can bring to it in live performance.

Danielle Eva Schwob: I’d agree with that.  I started the pieces before I knew who’d be playing them and so the initial musical kernels were certainly conceived in a vacuum.  I did, however, write a considerable amount of material afterwards once I knew that Jenny, Vicky and Mike would perform them.  By this stage the music already had a clear direction but I definitely wrote with the three of them in mind as live performers.  They’re such frighteningly good, expressive musicians and it’s great fun writing for players of their caliber.

Interview: Odeya Nini and Gelsey Bell

Odeya _ Gelsey - Roulette

Odeya, could you tell us about your album, Vougheauxyice, and where we can find it?

ON: Vougheauxyice, pronounced Voice, is an album I released a year ago of composition and improvisations for solo voice. My music is extremely experiential with a strong performative element, so it took a long time to figure out the best way to capture this work on a recording. I was searching for locations that had natural resonant acoustics so most of the pieces were recorded in a house in Joshua Tree and one in an aqueduct. There is also no editing, added effects or panning on the album, everything you hear is the space, the voice against the microphone and the movement of the body in the room. In this album I really try to show the range of vocal expression, unabridged. It is best experienced listening to it from beginning to end laying on the ground with your eyes closed and allowing yourself to journey with it. Vougheauxyice can be found on iTunes and Amazon as well as on my Bandcamp page.

What led both of you to collaborate for this performance?

GB: I organized a concert back in 2011 where Odeya, myself, and Maria Stankova all did solo sets. From then on, I’ve been an Odeya superfan, wishing on multiple occasions that she lived in New York so that we could work on projects together. Often when I become enamored with someone’s voice and musicality, my first instinct is that I want to sing with them – just listening is not enough! So when Odeya invited me to join her for this show, I jumped at the opportunity. I had originally conceived of Spent Horizons, which is the only duet we’ll do together, over a year ago for me and another player but had never taken the time to formalize the idea. When Odeya mentioned this performance, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to finally perform the piece.

Your program concluded with the duo premiere of Bell’s Spent Horizons, are there any plans for future duo collaborations?

GB: No plans. But plenty of dreams. We’ve talked about touring together. And I’ll be in southern California this summer for a show I’m a part of, Dave Malloy’s Ghost Quartet, so we’re starting to talk about putting something together then.

Odeya, could you describe the compositional process behind A Solo Voice? You describe the piece as “aiming to disassociate the voice from its traditional attributes and create a new logic of song that is not only heard but seen through movement,” can you tell us more about the work’s “new logic of song” and its relationship to traditional musical conceptions of song?

ON: A Solo Voice is a series of several pieces woven together. It is always in flux depending on the performance and the space. The pieces have road maps, points of arrival along an arc, certain techniques, moods and concepts I use, but within that map there is much improvisation on the theme. I am interested in an organic flow of the work, where I embody my ideas and present it in a fluid manner. That fluidity gathers everything that I premeditated on, but also what I feel in the moment, which leaves it always open to change.

When we think of a song we usually think of a verse and chorus, we think of lyrics, melody, rhythm and sometimes harmony. In my work I don’t think of structure in that way. Rhythm for me is not something I ever want to count, its something I feel. I let my breath and my body dictate my phrasing and timing. I use sounds that are textures and atypical to the voice. My body is used to generate various sounds by shifting in different ways and letting it lead me on the path of emotional expression, feeling integration. Movement is not used as representation, it is the moving force of the sound. When I perform I really see the sound moving around me, I have strong visualizations of its energy through space and the physicality allows the audience to see it too. This kind of disorientation, with things sounding, moving, changing, allows for a “new logic of song.” There is an arc, and attention to composition, but the approach is different, leaving the  individual needing to reorganize the song they hear for themselves.

Gelsey, could you also describe your compositional approach? Could you further describe a music constituted by “foraging for songs in an overgrown jungle of vocal quirks and oddities”? Are there aesthetic precedents that informed the work?

GB: Since I knew Odeya would be singing her A Solo Voice, I decided to write some music for the solo voice to match that tone, something I have actually only done a little bit of in the past. Though I have a lot of solo music, I almost always have a particular instrument or spatial arrangement that I am reacting to. For instance, despite the fact that my song cycle Bathroom Songs is for the instrumentation of a solo voice, so much of that music is about reacting to the architecture of the bathroom, and so it ends up being a very different kind of compositional experience. For this concert setting, the challenge has been to not have particular spatial or instrumental considerations to react to. Instead the music comes from the repertoire of vocal gestures that I carry with me. I find that I am reacting to the impulses of my body and the dynamics of energetic force (for lack of a better term) in a particular kind of concentrated focus. (For the duet Spent Horizons, a great deal of the piece is about the two of us reacting to each other and then continuing to perform the music we create together beyond that interaction.) As a singer that has explored and works in various genres, extended techniques, and compositional structures, my repertoire can feel like a kind of jungle… at least for me. There are so many aesthetic precedents for how I sing and how I hear, I wouldn’t know where to start – from Joan La Barbara’s solo vocal work to the melodies of traditional British folk songs to noisy electronic pop music from the last few decades to Pauline Oliveros’s deep listening practices. The solo songs that I’m performing are a stab at bringing some coherence to all these different paths – not as a self-conscious pastiche, but as a kind of music that feels authentic to all of my musical experiences. This makes it feel like a kind of journey, the action of foraging, at least for me. They also draw on other things that I’ve been working on recently. For instance, I just finished working on a radio piece with Gregory Whitehead about American torture practices that will air in Australia in May. For that piece, I generated a great deal of improvised material that has not necessarily found its way into the final piece, so I’ve been using some of it for these pieces instead.

Interview: Experiments in Opera


The intrepid Experiments in Opera presents Story Binge, an ambitious two-night program featuring seven new operas by seven composers at Roulette on April 1 & 2.

Experiments in Opera spoke with Roulette about the curatorial process behind Story Binge, and composers Sam Hillmer, Nick Hallett, Matthew Welch, Gelsey Bell, Jason Cady, Aaron Siegel, and Faith No More’s Roddy Bottum shared insight into their respective operas and on the art form in the 21st century.

Experiments in Opera

How was Story Binge curated? Is there a specific theme to the festival?

The name Story Binge refers to the current culture of binged consumption, as in TV binges, food binges, etc. Experiments in Opera’s analogy presents 7 ambitious projects in one big production, and at the same time, provide a wide variety of new approaches to the genre of opera. The works, though all created by composer-performers, do not share a theme other than to explore singularly each’s own conception of mise en scène. The outcome of the two evenings we hope that through our presenting a varied and evocative community of opera makers to an intersecting audience, we can foster more dialogue of ideas on opera and edify a sense of community.

We are drawn to work that can re-invigorate the relevance of opera to today’s culture. We encounter work that grows from a number of music circles, stretching what is possible to call opera, beyond its ancestry of classical music and theatre. Broadening our criteria as to what is opera, we find that the basic potency between music, text and portrayal with a convivial collaboration could produce a progressive approach to opera regardless of musical style alone. We expose the explorative impulse.

Story Binge presents operas by Sam Hillmer, Nick Hallett, Matthew Welch, Gelsey Bell, Jason Cady, Aaron Siegel, and Faith No More’s Roddy Bottum. What drew Experiments in Opera to these seven composers? 

Premiering and/or commissioning a composer’s first opera is a curatorial impulse of ours that embraces the discoveries made by this encounter with a new genre, and also the unique approach as birthed from their overall musical style. We are presenting Roddy Bottum’s Sasquatch, the Opera. Bottum has composed for film, concert and is in the band Faith No More. Sasquatch, the Opera is his first foray into opera. Sam Hillmer’s work fuses rock, composition, improvisation and multi-media, and is known for his work in the band Zs. Hillmer’s this is soon, and that was the web this is going to be brings his multi-disciplinary work to explore spoken text and interiority – a fresh look at a crucial cog in the mechanism of opera: the flexibility of the sound of the voice either in depiction of acted or thought words.

Nick Hallett and Gelsey Bell as singers and composers both work exceptionally with the voice and are innovative musical story-tellers. Their work intersects Experiments in Opera’s community rather pervasively, so it is natural to extend the scope of their unique formal, textual, musical and topical approaches to opera. Hallett’s To Music portrays a composer’s scandalous affair via social media and the realities of contemporary composing such as a copyright misstep. Bell’s tellingly-titled Rolodex, spawns a fractured story of webbed relationships and investigates and “re-files” a core element of musical drama as being driven by character.

The Experiments in Opera co-founders find it necessary to bring their own aesthetic proposals and solutions to the table in our productions to complement our curatorial guest composers work. We and our guests receive each other as both being vital to the intellectual support and collaborative effort required to make opera. The approach in our works for Story Binge has been for each of us to expand and refine the nuance of our topics and how they may redefine what types of stories and sounds can be combined. Through this we aim to create more personal and harder to categorize works of art that could fit within a playfully “what-if” and aesthetically broader conception of the genre of opera. Welch’s And Here We Are explores family memoirs of a concentration camp, in Cady’s The Captives, returns to his interest in Science-Fiction and Siegel’s Laughing examines a biblical metaphor based on the story of Abraham and Isaac. All three portray alienation and being trapped. Each of the three explores fresh instrumentation for opera and which are essential for their dramatic wholeness and musical character.

What is opera, and where is the art form now in 2015?

Tackling the question: “What is opera?” is exactly what Experiments in Opera aims to test. Opera has gone through many different guises, objectives and social circles throughout history, during which the conventions gradually changed along with. The dedication to past repertoire at perceived height of the art is what many know as opera, and shadows the visibility of newer work. Works that organically have changed along the times with musical culture remain obscure due to this, yet a smaller, more facile sub-culture of smaller scale project-makers has been gaining momentum as an alternative. The magical world accessible in opera can be created with a multitude of new and efficient performance conceptions neither reliant on large orchestras and large casts, nor any sound world handed down to them. Opera is now in a proliferating phase as a survival response that is working. An opera can present a small or large world at the composers discretion, and this is its potent principle that can allow it to explore any size of an idea and abandon any, often grandiose, baggage. A clever new story acted and sung and supported by a rock band score could be considered an opera. Operas are now at a point where they can be confidently molded into their own unique shapes less and less reliant on older models, and can receive, absorb, use and/or reject the creative tools that become available through multi-disciplinary interaction in search of ever-newer ideas. Opera is in its Renaissance.

The composers

What is opera, and where is the art form now in 2015?
What attracted you to writing in this genre, and how did you approach composing within that context?

Matthew Welch
Opera of course is the plural of opus – meaning works. This to me implies not necessarily the magnitude of scale commonly thought of as requisite of opera, but more the exploitation of the interactivity and “sum is greater than the parts” effect in juxtaposing often separate modes of creative thought and production. Opera now is experiencing a new life – as the aesthetic inertia and conservativeness of large institutional opera and the impracticalities of funding linger or worsen, composers now have resolved to make the work happen in a more practical way and musically and topically relevant to today’s culture.

My interest in opera as a listener started with contemporary opera, and gradually I’ve come to appreciate the developmental history of classical opera. What text and staging add to what is considered mostly as a musical genre creates a complete package of expression and idea. Concepts expressed in absolute music that don’t require words or fail to translate to literal meaning can be enhanced by these other more literal or corporeal disciplines to create a type of complex layering of thoughts. What drew me to composing opera was stimulated by study of non-Western types of musical theatre, such as Indonesian musical theatre with gamelan, dance and singing or shadow puppetry. The efficacy with which these idioms communicate with and solidify a cultural community inspired me to compose opera from a different angle that tries to absorb some of these differing purposes. Often the more things change, the more they stay the same – so they say… for me, I think the ability to be innovative in this genre is to simultaneously look very forward to times when conventions undoubtedly will have changed and look far back on the ritualistic and inter-disciplinary aspects from where the combinations of music, story and visual movement begin – millennia before the term opera came to be, communities came together to create rituals – this is some of the primacy I aim to capture.

Nick Hallett
The definition of opera that has become most useful to me in recent years is—art for composers.  In 2015, the form is wide open, but its history is no longer enough to sustain the practice, which has caused both major companies to shutter, composers to shift their focus away from its typical spectacle, and venues not traditionally sympathetic—such as art museums and experimental performance institutions—to open their doors to new kinds of opera experiences.

My attraction to opera comes from my training as a vocalist—singing the classic repertoire, feeling it inside my body.  When I began wanting to tell stories and creating artistic experiences using music, I go back to that muscle memory.  How might the voice be able to embody not only human emotions, but the psychology of the culture we live in?     My operas try to answer that question.

Gelsey Bell
Opera is one of the few art forms that we have to keep stating definitions of! (Maybe that’s actually part of its charm…) My definition of opera is a theatrical performance where musical listening is paramount to experiencing the work. Opera also comes with a particular kind of historical baggage and economic framework that is unique within individual territorial regions (for instance, the American relationship to this term is different than say the Chinese or German one). I don’t think opera requires a particular kind of vocal technique or musical genre. Rather than wondering if a work qualifies to be called an opera because of a specific set of qualities, sometimes it is interesting to see what kinds of qualities defining a work as opera lends itself to the performance.

I think we’re at a very exciting moment in opera right now in New York. There is a resurgence in chamber works, a great deal of interest in the voice and the inherent theatricality of musical performance, and a vibrant community of composers and performers naturally being drawn to making work that turns out to be opera. I think we’re on the precipice of tearing down some of the fences between opera and musical theatre (and really it’s about time) and I think it’s very exciting to see folks from both the theatre-end-of-things and the music-ends-of-things working closer and learning to speak each other’s languages.

The ideas behind Rolodex, as a work exploring the functions of character and story within individual meaning-making, necessitated the operatic form. It seemed like simply the best way to explore the concept. I needed a structure large enough to play around with all these ideas in this way – a single song didn’t seem like enough. I am trying to use the expectations of character, story, epic-ness attached to the form of opera to facilitate my exploration of these ideas… Also, as someone who has spent a great deal of time working in opera – or  shall I more specifically say “new opera”? – both as a performer and as a performance creator, it’s not much of a stretch for me to end up writing in this form.

Aaron Siegel
My take on opera is that it is a vision realized through music.  It is exciting that there are as many different visions out there as there are people who want to call their work opera.

I am really interested in working with texts, characters, and stories that are complicated, funny, odd and real.  Questions are my starting point for a new project.  The work is an exploration of what the questions are asking.

Jason Cady
One of the things I like about opera is dialogue since other types of vocal music generally don’t have dialogue. When I compose opera I generally focus on dialogue, but in The Captives I wanted to try something different, just for the sake of doing something different. So I wrote a story told from the perspectives of two characters and each character delivers a spoken monologue before each song, which makes the form distinct from the opera-as-a-play model. The story is about a couple in a captive breeding program that alien zoologists initiated to try to conserve the human race from extinction.

To compose the music I began by outlining the form: 6 songs with the 2nd song being 10% faster than the first, the 3rd song 20% faster and so on, until the last song is 50% faster than the first song. Then I composed the bass lines and sang and wrote down the vocal parts. I added the pedal steel and keyboard parts later and I made the synth patch after finishing the score.

Roddy Bottum
Opera to me is simply stories told through music and language.  The art form seems currently all over the map. There seems to be no need to limit the art form to the history of the genre.  The more progressive the direction of opera, to me, the better.

I was really into Tommy as a kid and it was billed always as a modern rock opera.  That piqued my interest. With my current work I tried to combine a classical use of timpani and trumpets with the use of drum machine and synthesizers to create a somewhat unorthodox tone.  For casting I tried to push the envelope a little bit and base my roles on real life performers, like drag queens and circus folk, whose work didn’t necessarily cater to the opera genre. I was more interested in the personality of the performers than i was the traditional musical chops.

Sam Hillmer
In the imploded cultural landscape of 2015 Opera is primarily a socio economic construct.  A reason to drink sparkling wine and debate recondite facts about the aesthetics of former times, all of which is an elaborate and chivalrous method of articulating class categories.  As the bird articulates territory with song, so do we.  The historicity of operatic practice is of course profound and at times stunning and transcendent in it’s current manifestation, but as income inequality deepens, as the planet fades, and war rages on around us unremittingly, the code aspect of the ornament, of aesthetic and performance practice, gets louder and more utilitarian.  Forms like opera, the symphony orchestra, the string quartet, and social spaces like the concert hall, become more about what is not happening inside of them, and less about what is happening.  Opera is, without a doubt, a part of that right now.

To paraphrase Boulez, ‘when the dog is on the outside of the house it barks, when it is on the inside of the house it bites’

Interview: Tyshawn Sorey



Composer and percussionist Tyshawn Sorey’s Koan II performs at Roulette on Wednesday, March 11th

Your trio record, Koan, is – beautifully – distinct in its stillness and minimalism. Koan II sees that trio expanded to a quartet. Could you please tell us more about Koan II and trace the evolution of the ensemble? 

This project is essentially a logical extension of the work done in 2008/2009 by the original trio of Todd Neufeld (guitar), Thomas Morgan (bass), and myself. It should really be called Koan III… In 2010, at the old Roulette, Koan II had its initial run with the trio plus the addition of Christopher Tordini (bass) and Ben Gerstein (trombone). I have since had a very deep affinity for the viola, and especially for Mat Maneri’s contributions in music. But I also wanted to play a bit with Mat in other configurations before doing a project of my own with him (we’ve only played several concerts together already), and I feel that this seems a good direction… I also decided to do this project without two basses as originally planned. For one, the lack of availability was such that I didn’t want to simply do the performance with two other bassists – I felt that the material we had performed at the old Roulette had an identity of its own. That music has not been performed since.

The music for this particular concert will be all improvised. The original trio has moved on to deal with the improvisational language that we have developed together. And naturally, both Gerstein (with whom I’ve developed a beautiful rapport during the past ten years) and Maneri are the perfect fit for this group… We all have shared affinities and connections to a multitude of scenes and art worlds. And Todd Neufeld, who I’ve also worked with for a very long time, sounds like no other guitar player I have ever heard – totally original, and he is a hard worker who is always in search of something greater and developed his own sound and language on the instrument. The music here, I think, will retain the intensity and intimacy found in “Koan” and its variations, but I also know that it will be radically different in other ways… I look forward to it!

Musically and extramusically, what are some of the influences that inform Koan II?

Writings on Zen, and various Japanese koans, everyday life (i.e., nature), the aural nature of sound – how it travels… The films of Stan Brakhage, John Cassavetes, and Andrei Tarkovsky…in particular. Also, the music of Christian Wolff, Paul motian, John Stevens, the AACM, Morton Feldman, of course, my colleagues…all music, really. The list goes on.

Also, — and this is a friendly question from our staff, who are big fans of your work, — could you tell us about your ‘stage hat’?

I don’t know, actually. It’s for comfort, I guess…? It’s clothing – I don’t know… [laughs] For one, it protects my hearing a little, without having to wear earplugs, which I absolutely despise.



Ha-Yang Kim is New + Adventurous



What is your favorite Roulette memory?

My most memorable Roulette experience was not because it was exactly the most “pleasant,” but because the context was extraordinary.

It was September 21, 2001 I believe…10 days after 9/11. I was scheduled to play a concert with my cello-percussion duo, Odd Appetite, at the West Broadway location/Jim’s loft in Tribeca.  The entire area was closed off with barricades, in the thick of the aftermath of the fallen towers.  Thick layers of debris, ash and smoke filled the streets and sky. Other than police, firemen and authorized personnel, there was nobody else on the streets in that area.  It was like a spooky bombed-out war-zone, ghost town.

At the time, I didn’t know if it was entirely appropriate or inappropriate for the concert to go on, and if so, would anybody show up, would anybody bother coming to hear new music, especially so close to Ground Zero?

I spoke with Jim, and he said, “If you’re feeling ok to play, then yes, let’s do it.  Who knows if anybody will come, but let’s at least offer this to folks, the community, the city.”  So, that was it really.  We’d play for the hearts and spirits of everyone who was hurting, grieving, aching, and mourning.  We’d play to send out energy of healing, harmony, inspiration, and courage.

We were police escorted with all of our instruments and gear through the barricades, a surreal experience of moving through blocks of ash covered buildings, debris and papers everywhere on the streets, the strong smell of burnt rubble, ash…and that seemingly never-ending black smoke spiraling from Ground Zero which just burned and burned for so long, so intensely.

That night, people did come and they stayed.  Actually, they stayed for a while after the concert was over too.  People were smiling, eager to connect, to communicate, to listen and share.  Maybe we just needed to be together in a room for a few hours that night, feeling safe and just so incredibly grateful to be alive, to be sharing some new music.  Something so simple, so life-affirming and essential like that.

NYC-based Korean-American Ha-Yang Kim creates new music as a composer and cellist, regularly collaborating with ensembles and artists at festivals and diverse performance venues throughout the world.  She just punctuated a residency at Roulette with her performance “Terminals”, a full-length meditative audiovisual work on the peripatetic quality of contemporary life.

Roulette is a New York institution, central to the experimental art community.  A Roulette Membership brings you to the heart of that community, with tickets to special events and the chance to see as many New + Adventurous performances as you can.

Sign up today at by the end of today and receive a t-shirt like that one Ha-Yang is wearing.

Dave Ruder is New + Adventurous



What is your favorite Roulette memory?

“I think playing in Gelsey Bell’s Our Defensive Measurements was a favorite Roulette moment for me. This was in early 2013. Gelsey did a great job of thinking about the space and how to move people around it. There’s just so many little details in the current Roulette space- I’m still finding new things every time I go- and Gelsey’s piece really explored all the little weird corners. This kind of exploration had initially been Varispeed’s goal when we did John Cage’s Empty Words at Roulette in the summer of 2012, but we ended up spending a lot of time on the lower tier of the stage and sending our collaborators off to explore the space. It was great to get to explore as a performer myself, including during one song having the audience huddled around the five performers in the house left corner of the balcony, everyone touching something soft. The stage was still lit, so it was like we were all up there together, packed in, pointing towards this empty thing. I can’t imagine many spaces in NYC where that works.”

Dave Ruder is a Brooklyn-based vocalist, clarinetist, guitarist, electronicist, composer, songwriter, writer/librettist, interdisciplinary collaborator, etc.  He will be premiering his commissioned piece for five vocalists and five instrumentalists, The Gentleman Rests, tonight at 8PM.

A Roulette Membership helps Roulette continue to New + Adventurous artists like Dave.  Become a Roulette Member today and you will also receive a t-shirt like the one Dave is wearing!

Interview: Ha-Yang Kim


Composer and cellist Ha-Yang Kim‘s TERMINALS is a full-length meditative audiovisual work on the peripatetic quality of contemporary life; arrival and departure points, the constant states of flux both in exterior locations and interior realms, sojourns through dense cosmopolitan urbania to vast natural landscapes, the extreme degrees of human connection-communion-discord-solitude. Through contrasting seamless sections of sonic and abstracted visual environments, TERMINALS is a contemplation upon the transitory fleeting nature of time, motion and stillness; illuminating the rich moments experienced in between the larger overlapping arc points, thus, the simultaneous vast and intimate spaces which comprise the journey itself. The work is composed specifically for frequent music collaborator Hahn Rowe, and video artist Ursula Scherrer.

Ha-Yang Kim presents TERMINALS at Roulette on Sunday, March 8th.

Your work TERMINALS addresses the “peripatetic quality of contemporary life”. Given the artistic and philosophical precedents addressing this concept, I was curious if there are certain visual, musical, and literary works that informed you and the piece? Are there personal experiences that informed TERMINALS? 

I think that the seeds for this piece, the desire to make it, developed over a period of time in which I was extremely itinerant, literally living out of my suitcase for more than a year. During that time, I was focusing intensely on my internal landscapes, observing what was continuous, innate, all the while living, transitioning and adapting to my outside life, which if placed on a map, would be all over the place!

I became interested in the co-existence of these two parallel spaces; the one internal, shifting yet continuous, and the other external, various systems, various realities, undertones and rhythms – all of it laying on top of each other, overlapping, dropping in and out. These opposing poles became my point of departure and in between them I wanted to explore sound, texture and scale.

I am fascinated by contemporary landscapes; the surfaces of our realities, the ease with which we can and do travel such great distances.

To that end, I don’t think that there have been specific conscious influences for this piece, but I undoubtedly have been influenced by all of my surroundings, travels and collective sharing, which makes this piece especially apropos in its theme.  It is a ‘local’ composition, but local in the contemporary sense of the global village.

In terms of musical influences for this piece, I recognize that I’ve been listening to a lot of indigenous music from all over; North African desert music to aboriginal pygmies, Siberian jaw harps to Khaen mouth organs from Laos.  Even visually, it is the archaic forms that emerge from individual and collective experiences in indigenous arts, that seem to confirm in an odd way, what I’ve been feeling from ‘terminal’ to ‘terminal’ in my contemporary life.

Could you describe the piece for us? What is the instrumentation?

My feeling from the get go was that I wanted the music to emerge organically, based around specific sound structures and themes, but I felt that beyond that, I was looking for something more alchemic, like maybe one experiences when oil painting, with color for example. This led me literally to the field, recording natural sounds that could be transformed, manipulated and combined to create synthetically organic atmospheres where we could lose a sense of boundary.

Thus digital fragmentation, musicality out of fuzz, myself with the cello, other string instruments like guitar, violin/viola, some percussion, synths, and my collaboration with the polymorphous Hahn Rowe all somehow are ingredients of what is the final instrumentation.

You are working with video artist Ursula Scherrer, who will be providing video projection for TERMINALS. Can you tell us more about the visual element of the piece?

The visual elements that Ursula brings to the table have been very influential. I have long admired her body of work and many of her existing pieces seem to fit in well with the sensibilities of this project.

Like the field recordings that I have taken and worked with, based on simple elements and then abstracted, she too will be using films that capture fragments of her surroundings, both natural and mechanical.

We decided that we wanted to show mostly works in black and white, projected on black curtains to emphasize contrast and give the added element of depth. This underlines in part the simplistic elements and forms inherent and also helps merge alchemically (somehow) the images with the soundscapes.

What was your compositional approach to TERMINALS?

In terms of composition for this piece, I consciously wanted to break away from some of the more ‘difficult’ notations that I’ve been working with in the past. Instead I really wanted to let this piece emerge from within, trusting that my meditations and focus have been sculpting this piece unconsciously for months. I wanted to explore thematic field recordings and from them feel out textures and zones that I could then compose with and/or from.

Another key element to conceptualizing this piece was the trust and respect I have for my collaborators. Over this specific period of time, we’ve been touching bases synchronistically, sharing and empathetically feeling these unique transitional points in each of our lives, rooted in emotion and yes, a lot of travel. It is a somewhat naked piece in that sense, as our foundation, along with the compositional structure is literally based on an unspoken, cathartic understanding and transformation.

So Terminals is in many ways also about these points of human connection, the points of invisible solidarity that come together when and where they must.

I have been working with Hahn for example for years now and once he was committed to the project, I began sculpting the piece leaving specific parts undefined where I knew that he would bring his own colors from his palette to fill in, from what I knew he was experiencing in parallel.

Your influences as a composer and cellist are quite diverse. I was curious if you could elaborate on the “sense of space and emptiness” you draw from East Asian music. There is something about the flux you mention in your description of TERMINALS that seems to parallel these musical characteristics. 

On space and emptiness, I am at this point yes, very influenced from diverse sources, East Asian aesthetics being one of them. Beyond the music, it is also cultural, so a tad bit hard to describe.

Parallels may exist in the music I am creating here, but my attention more simply is with creating a ‘living’ contemporary piece.  Death is a part of that.  So is the ephemeral. In the midst of all of everything, this traveling and this nonstop etc… I am interested in just being in touch with the simplicity of something / music becomes the carrier – the frequency of experiences – bare bones if you like.

Emptiness, snow blowing, wind swirls, density – as if we were the same. Or maybe an emptiness we leave behind when we’re on the go, leaving something, going to something else. Or on an airplane for 8 hours, 500mph, with nowhere else to go

What is essential

Shelley Hirsch is New + Adventurous



What is your favorite Roulette memory?

“It’s not easy to choose one memory. I began performing at Roulette in 1983 and have attended more than 100 performances there, but one thing that stands out is a performance by the late great Jerry Hunt in 1986 (?). It was one of the greatest performances I’ve ever seen/heard anywhere. Everyone in the jam packed audience was completely mesmerized. I was fortunate to perform on the same bill with him many times in the following years. He passed away in 1993. I found out that I was written in his will as someone who he would like to have access to, and perform with his work. I spent three years presenting homages to/virtual duets with him.”

Shelley Hirsch is an award winning, critically-acclaimed vocalist, composer, and storyteller whose mostly solo compositions, staged multimedia works, improvisations, radio plays, installations and collaborations have been produced and presented in concert halls, clubs, festivals, theaters, museums, galleries and on radio, film and television on 5 continents.  She has been on Roulette’s Board of Directors since 1988.

A Roulette Membership helps Roulette continue to nurture and support New + Adventurous artists as it has since its founding in 1978.  Become a Roulette Member today and you will also receive a t-shirt like the one Shelley is wearing!

Darius Jones is New + Adventurous


“Roulette is a haven for great artistic beings. I have always felt I can express all of me within those walls.” Darius Jones

Darius Jones is an alto saxophonist and composer who Roulette has had the privilege to present for many bold and inspiring performances. We are pleased to announce our Members-Only Event for the Spring 2015 Season: an exclusive performance of excerpts from The Over-Soul Manual by his Elizabeth-Caroline Unit followed by an artist talk on Tuesday, April 7th.

Darius premiered the Over-Soul Manual, a collection of etudes written for a the vocal quartet called Elizabeth-Caroline Unit, at Roulette last March as part of a Jerome Foundation Residency.  The etudes are vehicles to teach each vocalist the linguistic and sonic vocabulary of an alien birthing ritual, and are built using familiar musical elements based in an alien world so the syntax and speech patterns are different from ours.

 for your ticket to this exclusive performance and discounts on all of Roulette’s New + Adventurous programming.

New Members will also receive a t-shirt like the one Darius is wearing!

Interview: Dave Ruder


Composer, vocalist, and clarinetist Dave Ruder presents The Gentleman Rests, a new work for five vocalists and five instrumentalists, at Roulette on Tuesday, March 3rd.

Please tell us more about your piece The Gentleman Rests. What is the instrumentation? Who are the performers?

The piece is for five vocalists who speak, sing, and everything in between – Michele Kennedy, Anaïs Maviel, Kyra Sims, Brian McCorkle, and Paul Pinto – as well as Sam Morrison (Rhodes), Jen Baker (trombone), Karen Waltuch (viola), and Brandon Lopez (bass).  It’s a mix of folks I’ve worked with for years and some folks who I’m very happy to work with for the first time.  Everybody’s got really different backgrounds (and really different voices!), which is always appealing to me as well.

 “…one of the most quietly dramatic events in recent American history–the joint session of Congress held on January 6th, 2001 to certify the election of George W. Bush as president, which was presided over by losing candidate, and still vice president, Al Gore. The mundanity and repetitiveness of normally unnoticed electoral formalities is interrupted by the airing of frustration from Congressional Democrats, while Gore tries to move the proceedings along and ensure a smooth transition of power.”

You describe the joint session of Congress on which The Gentleman Rests is based as “one of the most quietly dramatic events in recent American history”.  Could you elaborate on this?

I’ve never worked from “true events” as a template for a narrative piece before.  I guess I like this event because it’s kind of a drone situation in a few ways.  You know the outcome of the session (W becomes president), but you have to get through it for that to be true.  The language of the state certificates to affirm the election results is really beautiful & archaic & clumsy and they just keep going on and on (I’ve compartmentalized them to the beginning & end of the piece).  They’re not dramatic, they’re lulling.  What is dramatic is the efforts of the Congressional Black Caucus to try however they can to stop the results of an election that smelled funny for all kinds of different reasons – Florida alone had thousands of African-Americans turned away from polls, ballot (and ballot counting) irregularities that changed or nullified votes, seemingly arbitrary court-imposed deadlines, fishy political connections behind the scenes, etc.  Gore on the one hand seems heroic for ensuring the peaceful transfer of power, but on the other hand he just seems like an empty suit when you watch the footage, he’s an office and not a person.  Nothing surprising happened that day but something for better or worse very American happened.  The shape of it interests me.  I like the words of the CBC and Gore’s repetition.  It was suggestive of music to me I suppose.  I’m not staging this performance in any way but I can imagine interesting ways you could.

 As a Jerome commission, The Gentleman Rests is a composition presumably conceived with Roulette in mind. In terms of compositional process, did you write the piece specifically for this acoustic space? How so?

You know I was gonna play with this in staging but I’ve really focused on the sound alone for now.  The vocalizing is mostly pretty quiet, but there’s something really lovely about hearing amplified quiet sounds in a big space.  I kind of want people to have to lean in and that doesn’t work as well in a small space, Roulette’s perfect for it though.  My initial idea involved a lot of people moving up and down the aisles and using the tiers of the stage like tiers in a chamber of Congress, very site-specific.  But it made more sense to me to have five vocalists switching who they are all the time than having a single Gore on the dais and the CBC on the floor.  That said, the decisions I’ve made, I’d have to change them a lot to put this on in another space, and I feel like it’s gonna fit just right in Roulette.

You worked extensively with Robert Ashley, premiering both Crash and World War III: Just the Highlights, and are involved in quite a number of varied creative projects. What is your background as a composer and musician?

I was a pre-teen sax player who was pretty good at that, then turned into a teenaged rocker guitarist who didn’t really stand out, tried jazz and didn’t cut it too well, and then found experimental music at age 19.  A bunch of grad students brought me into the fold when I was an undergrad at Wesleyan (I hosted a radio show that they all took turns doing stuff on) and I realized for the first time I was pretty good at thinking in this realm.  I became a composer.  I’d always wanted to be a songwriter since I was 14 but I never wrote a song til I was 25.  I always wanted someone to ask me to be in their band but it never happened.  So I got good at weirder or conceptual stuff, at pieces.  It served me well.  I moved to Brooklyn after college (this was ten years ago), was humbled by my lack of chops on the clarinet (picked up at 20, largely self-taught), eventually joined a big band drone group led by Andrew Lafkas which I think got me a good track being a musician in NYC.  A little later, I met Aliza Simons, and we started playing songs we wrote together, which got me a great track, finally writing songs and working that way.  I went to grad school, met some lovely people at Brooklyn College, and then things changed in all the right ways when I staged an ad hoc reading of Robert Ashley’s Perfect Lives in June 2011.

This piece had been the ne plus ultra to me for years.  It was the most amazing work of art I ever encountered, still is.  My simple idea was to stage it all in one day at the seven different locations and seven times specified in the piece.  I was and am really into site-specific art that surprises you and then goes on its way.  Long story short, Robert Ashley ending up attending this ad hoc performance and he loved it.  This was huge for me, even if nothing else would’ve come from that.  I had his appreciation.  He then invited me and my cohorts in what was later named Varispeed (who’d done the ad hoc performance and have done it more times since) to participate in a series of his pieces, culminating in him writing his final piece, Crash (which happens at Roulette in April!) for us.  He’s a major figure in my artistic life, having opened doors for me musically and then professionally.  A lot of the folks I’ve gotten to work with in the last four years can be traced back to that first performance he saw.

That said, in my work with Varispeed and thingNY, and writing The Gentleman Rests, it’s been hard to come out from behind his shadow some times.  We’re all very indebted to his work, particularly in the realm of musical speech.  I mostly write music with words (that’s what I greatly prefer as an audience member), and I don’t really care for traditional operatic voices.  I’m in bands but I’ve also always been a slightly awkward fit in rock scenes.  This particular kind of speech-y music is really my wheelhouse.
It’s not really novel as you can find examples of it everywhere, but to present it the way me and my compatriots do, with the baggage of being 21st Century American art music weirdos, I’ve found in writing this piece that there’s so many accidental references to his music, to Now Eleanor’s Idea or Concrete or Improvement.  It’s pretty thrilling for me to get to continue to do Ashley’s music, there’s just so much there every time you come back, and at the same time to be part of the work of folks like Paul Pinto, Gelsey Bell, Brian McCorkle, Aaron Siegel, etc who are appreciating this legacy and trying to deal with it in their own way just as I am.  There’s nothing like having a community of people with which to work through ideas!

I’m also really happy these days when I get to play songs (rather than pieces).  I’ve been playing in my friend Ellen’s band ellen o since last summer, these days I’m playing synth and singing, and that’s really the kind of music I’m thrilled to be making.  I was in bands in high school but haven’t been in many since.  It’s funny to be in your 30s and getting to serious about being in bands for the first time (I tried to book a mini-tour last year, though it didn’t work… the longest tour I’ve ever been on is two days), but in a lot of ways it’s a more satisfying framework for me than composing or playing pieces these days.  I’m really proud of the last album released by my band Why Lie? (with Aliza Simons) and on the second half of the evening at Roulette on 3/3 will be a new project with Jeff Tobias, Cory Bracken, Andrew Livingston, and Dave Kadden that’s playing very repetitive material in a rock-band-ish format.  I’m excited to see where we take this.

I’ve got my hands in a lot of cookie jars – I play a bunch of instruments in a bunch of styles, I run a little label, I used to curate a lot of shows, I work a day job in a musical administrative capacity – but there’s something about composing for me.  It was the first kind of music hat I felt I wore really well, and while I recognize it’s not how I want to be predominantly known, it’s wonderful for me to have the chance to stretch out and write a big piece.  Having this commission is a great excuse to check in with my most basic musical sensibilities and see what comes out when you turn on the faucet.  I didn’t know what it would be like.  It’s more about harmony than I ever expected (the knock on my in grad school was that I didn’t care what notes anybody played, and that was really true).  There’s something about layers of speech and singing and instruments that I’m working towards in a lot of formats.  I feel like if I were to start again today with a blank slate for this commission, I’d write something that would sound like songs for Dionne Warwick to sing with an enormous orchestra behind her, but the orchestra would loop 2-4 bars of music without variation for like 10 minutes at a time, and then she’d sing a verse, then a chorus, then 10 minute loop, chorus, verse, bridge, loop, etc.  I didn’t know that before, but I think that’s where I’m headed.

Jason Kao Hwang is New + Adventurous

What is your favorite Roulette memory?

My Burning Bridge concert at Roulette in the Vision Festival was quite memorable. The sound system was superb for both the band and our listeners. The performance of this music reached a new height and we were gratified by an enthused audience response. This was an inspirational experience. Thank you Roulette!



Jason Hwang


Jason Kao Hwang is a composer, violinist and violist who has created works ranging from jazz, “new” and world music.  He recently performed at Roulette with his groups AMYGDALA and SING HOUSE, and will be performing as part of Andrew Drury’s Content Provider next Tuesday, February 17.

Roulette’s support of artists has shaped the history of experimental art by presenting artists like Jason. Our Membership program directly funds artists from all experimental genres, and by becoming a Roulette Member you help keep Roulette at the center of innovative new music and performance.

Be part of the first 50 new Members this month and get a Roulette t-shirt like the one Jason is wearing!

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Interview: Matt Mehlan


In the annals of electronic music performance – movement, lighting, and video have been often given supporting roles. Occasionally the gimmick, the visual representation of a new bit of technology or newly imagined way to interface with a computer, even merely a side effect of the music being created. Yet as we further approach the total ubiquity of personal technologies, artists are finding new spaces to experiment with these mediums, where the interaction between them is often where the substance lies.

Curated by Matt Mehlan, Mixology 2015 presents a selection of artists working in these grey areas: choreographer Dana Bell’s live dancers mirrored in video projections and vice versa, Doron Sadja and his immersive color and light explorations, the YAMS collective traversing multitudes of mediums through the voices of 38 artists, Uumans dance/video/POV explorations, and Mark Fell’s monolithic deconstruction of “dance” music and live performance.

February 18th, 2015: Dana Bell // Doron Sadja
February 20th, 2015: Mark Fell // Uumans

There have been over fifteen Mixology festivals at Roulette, each exploring in Artistic Director Jim Staley’s words the “uses and abuses of new and old technology”. This is the second Mixology festival you have curated. How have your curatorial ideas developed?

David Behrman said in his Roulette TV interview (and I’m very much paraphrasing and taking liberty) that at some point the computer became so intertwined with kind of inane, kind of stressful, day-to-day activities that it lost some of it’s excitement as a tool for art, and made acoustic instruments seem more precious. I think this could be said for everyone’s experience with computers at certain point – and that’s had a huge impact on people’s perception of electronic art… When Mixology started, laptop performance was a fairly novel/cutting-edge concept (as a reference point: a quick search shows Cycling ‘74, the company that makes Max/MSP, was founded in 1997…) and it has more recently become less so… So there was some energy toward retiring the Mixology idea at Roulette… but I thought that there was still some fertile territory in the idea of “uses and abuses of technology” if we could focus in on some conceptual specifics. Last year the concept was Post-PC electronic music, imagining a future where the computer is not the main vehicle for music making, but the means of creation still very electronic and/or computer-esque. This year, light and movement is the focus.

Can you tell us more about “grey area” you discuss below?

In the annals of electronic music performance – movement, lighting, and video have been often given supporting roles. Occasionally the gimmick, the visual representation of a new bit of technology or newly imagined way to interface with a computer, even merely a side effect of the music being created. Yet as we further approach the total ubiquity of personal technologies, artists are finding new spaces to experiment with these mediums, where the interaction between them is often where the substance lies.

Basically what I’m talking about here is that computers and software (as tools) are no longer inherently exciting. There used to be all kinds of performances where (and I might catch some flak for saying this) someone would get up on stage and sit behind a computer, and then a flute player would play into a mic and would come out garbled and we’d be impressed by the sounds – and wowed by the composer/computer operator’s ability to manipulate the sound with the computer. Or there’d be a live video of a dancer whose body would be pixilated on screen, and then… un-pixilated, in response to the music – and it seemed fresh and magical. You don’t see that much anymore because these effects etc have all entered the general understanding of sound and image – and been co-opted by various mainstream media makers – so as an audience we’ve all become a little more savvy, and expect more from these kinds of art-making. Sometimes it’s more conceptual content, and often it’s more context (Ken Goldsmith says “Context is the new creation”). This has pushed some artists into theatre, which is interesting. I also think is why so many composers are interested in making opera. There are many avenues for this kind discussion and I’m sure some evidence to contradict it… but it’s an impression I’ve had.

For Mixology 2015, I wanted to look at artists who are not making “dance” or “electronic music” or “video” or “sound art” – but whose practices are completely about a hybrid medium. Dana is a choreographer but video is integral, Doron is a sound artist but his performances are basically light shows, Mark Fell is finding visual representations of his very precise aural creations that take it to a whole other level…

I heard the artist Frances Whitehead give a talk recently and she mentioned “expertise in crisis”, and you see this everywhere right now – the “death of the artist”, the death of the genius, and rise of the versatile multitasker. I think it’s all a bit hyped as everything is, but the grey area is where everyone now exists. HOWDOYOUSAYYAMINAFRICAN? is a perfect example – a collective, visual artists, poets, musicians all coming together. The solitary artist/expert feels a little stiff and old fashioned by comparison.

However, the dominant narratives still push the myth of the troubled solitary genius and try to keep the romance alive, because it sells really well and is easy to describe…

Do you feel these artists have elevated these forms to primary roles as means to explore their interactions with music or as a means to integrate them with music?

I think it has to do with music not begin enough to satisfy the pursuits of these artists. In the same way that the ubiquity of computers make computers less exciting, music alone is a difficult means to being heard (pardon the pun) in such a noisy, and music saturated, universe.

In terms of the evolution of electronic music, where do you feel the idiom is headed? Perhaps sound, lighting, and video will ultimately just all exist without distinction under one art form?

As a term, I think “electronic music” is starting to be pretty meaningless. A look at any festival or music venues programming will probably have a significant “electronic music” quotient. Specifically defining any kind of art today, has so much more to do with either the tools of its creation, or the art’s context and purpose. I see it less as sound, light, movement, video becoming one “Art” form – and more that artists are now self-selecting what kind of context they want to exist in, and using whichever medium they have available.

How has movement been affected by the ubiquity of personal technologies?

One way is that we all measure our movements with GPS and health applications – but also everything is always documented, so maybe we have expectations or fear of our movements being caught on “tape” – we even consider everything performative…

In the case of capital M – Movement, the “Art” – I’m not sure yet. Certainly it’s easier now to make a video of yourself moving, critique and learn from it, than ever before, and all on a handheld device.

In addition to curating Mixology 2015, you will also be performing as Uumans. How does Uumans explore this “grey area”?

The entire UUMANS project is about grey areas: personality vs. anonymity, dance vs. Dance, video art vs. music video vs. advertisement, Art vs. arts and crafts, consumption vs. consumerism, sports.

Do you fear a future where personal technologies become sentient artistic technologies?

My favorite thing about the (what is called) “post-internet art” is how artists are using poetic digital malfunctions as the basis for some profound and modern critiques. It’s similar to what I was going for with this year’s festival, but with a different intent. Music at it’s base is a social practice, and it’s interesting how personal technologies and the networks of the internet continue to shape the way we’re social, and the way we try to communicate via a medium like music.

What’s really interesting about your question is that these technologies probably will reach the capabilities you’re talking about. We often forget when talking about AI, etc., that technology reflects the culture of the people who design and program it. So, whatever sentient artistic technologies are on their way – I hope that forward thinking and thoughtful artists have a hand in their design, and are given a fair share for their contribution.

Do personal technologies have souls?

Well, I think so – imbedded by their capital-C Creators.

What is a soul?

An aura of being.

What is a god?

Something worth having faith in.

Oliver Lake is New + Adventurous

What is your favorite Roulette memory?

I have only great memories of performing in the all of the Roulette spaces. Roulette has always been there supporting all of my projects over the last 20 plus years. Roulette is there for the creative artist, thanks to Jim Staley and staff.



Oliver Lake


Oliver Lake is a preeminent saxophonist in the progressive jazz scene, a position he has long held during his long and brilliant career.  He has performed at Roulette many times over the years; most recently in a Flowing Constancies with Jin Hi Kim and Samir Chatterjee, a performance that brought together these three improvising composers from distinct world music cultures with soloistic virtuosity and a unified group empathy.

Roulette’s support of artists has shaped the history of experimental art by presenting artists like Oliver. Our Membership program directly funds artists from all experimental genres, and by becoming a Roulette Member you help keep Roulette at the center of innovative new music and performance.

This month we’ve aimed to reach 50 new Members! As a reward, we’re giving subscribers a Roulette T-shirt like the one Oliver is wearing.

Be New + Adventurous. Join today at 

Are you New + Adventurous?

What is your favorite Roulette memory?

Around 1989 long before I moved to NYC my girlfriend (now wife, Alissa) took me to this strange, cool loft in Tribeca. We walked in through someone’s (now friend, Jim Staley) kitchen and living space and I just thought how art and life intermingled in New York was so hard core, so cool. Then we watched George Lewis (now husband of my colleague Miya Masaoka) perform solo trombone with interactive improvising video. I recently learned the show was produced by Catherine Pavlov (now friend).  This was 1989–before email was common, before the web… I had never seen anything like that. The whole thing made me think what an amazing world and city. Art was essential to survival. And Roulette was at the center of it. Roulette has become close to family.


Andrew Drury for web


Andrew Drury is a composer, improviser, percussionist, and educator.  See him at Roulette this and for the release of his 2 new CDs, The Drum  and Content Provider on Tuesday, February 17.

Roulette’s support of artists has shaped the history of experimental art. Our Membership program directly funds artists from all experimental genres, and by becoming a Roulette Member you help keep Roulette at the center of innovative new music and performance.

This month we’ve aimed to reach 50 new Members! As a reward, we’re giving subscribers a Roulette T-shirt like the one Andrew is wearing.

Be New + Adventurous. Join today at 

Be New + Adventurous

What is your favorite Roulette memory?

A memory in two parts: In 2011 I attended the first event to take place in Roulette’s new space – the inaugural John Cage MUSICIRCUS marathon. A massive tidal cacophony of sound and music spilled, roared and reverberated from every stairwell, event space, and length of balconies (gorgeous chaos everywhere).

Then, a year later – stepping onto the hushed Roulette stage with a silence you could hear a pin drop into and starting to dance.


Cassie Tunick is a performer, writer, teacher and long-time friend of Roulette whose physical improvisations have been seen on stages across the US and in Germany, France, the Netherlands, and Estonia.  You may have seen her most recently at Roulette last Spring, when she performed her work Second Nature with Heather Harpham and Danny Tunick.

Roulette’s support of artists has shaped the history of experimental art. Our Membership program directly funds artists from all experimental genres, and by becoming a Roulette Member you help keep Roulette at the center of innovative new music and performance.

This month we’ve aimed to reach 50 new Members! As a reward, we’re giving subscribers a Roulette T-shirt like the one Cassie is wearing.

Be New + Adventurous. Join today at 



Interview: Andrew Drury

Andrew Drury's Content Provider by Reuben Radding

Composer, improviser, percussionist, and educator Andrew Drury celebrates the release of two long-awaited records, Content Provider, the eponymous debut of Drury’s quartet featuring Briggan Krauss, Ingrid Laubrock, and Brandon Seabrook, and The Drum, a collection of solo floor tom and percussion improvisations, at Roulette on Tuesday, February 17th. 

The program you are presenting at Roulette features two projects and celebrates their respective releases. Is there a complementary relationship between these two records?

“Complimentary” does seem like the right word. They express two apparently very different directions in my musical output. Content Provider comes right out of my jazz origins, playing drum set in all kinds of bands, composing for a band, and being part of the social organism known as a band. The Drum is a solo project coming from my involvement in sound oriented approaches to free improvisation that don’t have much surface resemblance to jazz or the kind of drumming I have done most of my life—it can sound more like classical, electronic, noise, or a movie soundtrack than what gets called jazz. On The Drum I use a single floor tom and a small number of other objects that employ extended wind and friction techniques I’ve developed over the last decade or so. But both express my fundamental love and fascination with drumming, improvisation, composition, and some kind of visceral or primal approach to performance.

Often the people who hear my jazz work don’t know about my extended technique work—or even about how lyrical or compelling other uses of improvisation might be to them. And the more “experimental,” “free improvisation” oriented folks think the more conventional approaches are passé or not as sophisticated. I want to both to be confronted with both. Music, creativity, and expertise are timeless (ancient and “as new as tomorrow”) and take many forms, so that’s what I’m striving for. These two projects are two sides of one coin and I think hearing one will make people hear the other in a different way.

Your program consists of four parts (ContenTrio, Content Provider, solo, and Content Provider + Special Guests). Are there specific musical ideas each group seeks to explore?

The core concept of the group, the quartet, is asking what can this group do given the abilities, resources, and imaginations of these three particular individuals: Brandon Seabrook, Briggan Krauss, and Ingrid Laubrock. They all have a lot of facility and their own voice on their particular instrument, they make magic happen when they play, and I dig ‘em as people too.

For the solo project it’s about zeroing in on certain sounds and techniques I’ve found through my free improvisation/extended techniques area of work and giving full attention and space to those, allowing them to form the basis for entire pieces or passages. There are a fair number of sounds I’ve gotten into that I think people should hear but it’s not always possible in group situations.

As a composer, improviser, and percussionist, can you tell us about your musical background and process?

I’m a drummer. I never received training on other instruments. I taught myself how to get around on the piano when I was a teenager. This background gives me certain abilities and limitations that I try to use to my advantage. Drumming has been central to my musical development and this affects how I conceive melody, phrasing, intervals, harmony, pattern, rhythm (of course), and the shaping of energy.  I’m grateful actually that I wasn’t burdened with compositional training because my independence from that allowed me to make music in a way that was very direct and personal to me.

Another part of my process, or background, is my non-musical or extra-musical aesthetic experiences. My experience of the landscapes of the Pacific Northwest and the Pacific Ocean. Poetry. Certain encounters with theater, dance, and performance art.  Lots of visual art. Travel. I feel like all these things give one a taste of something powerful—beauty maybe—that one wants to re-experience or replicate or communicate to others. And the medium I’ve been blessed or cursed with during my time on the planet is music so for me to convey or commune with this aesthetic stuff on the deepest level I have to engage in acts of musical creation. That’s the medium I’m best at. In another life it might have been mountain climbing, carpentry, who knows…

Anyway this background material is like magma under the crust of the earth and given some pressure and some fissures, it kind of erupts when I start playing around on the piano, singing into a recorder, or writing in a journal. And what comes out becomes the composition.

Part four of your set concludes with your piece, “The Band Is a Drum Set”. Does this title perhaps suggest something about your approach?

This particular piece I wrote in 1989 as an experiment for myself to see what would happen if a band with some horns played the kind of melodic figures that a drummer plays. (One of the musicians who played it on its premiere was Wadada Leo Smith!). The melody uses three pitches (analogous to snare drum, small tom, and floor tom) and phrases them in a way that I thought was characteristic of a Max Roach or Ed Blackwell solo. The piece was a success and I subsequently expanded and explored this idea in other pieces, i.e. imposing drum-like material on non-drum instruments more and realized there was something to it. It provides a slightly different algorithm for how a band can function, and a slightly different sound result. Plus the drums are an ancient instrument, a primal instrument that has been used for ritual and altering consciousness and perception, altering one’s sense of existence in space and time. I found that what I was also doing was trying to use a band to do that. Ingrid protested though—she wants me to write “The Drum Set Is a Saxophone”.