Panel #1: 20th-Century Composers
Short Film Presentation
Panel #2: Workshop, “Sonic Vibrancy in the City”
Panel #3: American Communities
Panel #4: Displacements and Disintegrations
Joseph Finkel (Arizona State University): “The End of the Faustian Man and the Limits of Progress: John Cage’s United States Bicentennial Compositions and His Environmental Thought”
In January 1969, John Cage sat on a UNESCO environmental panel with biologists and social scientists and made the following comment: “I once went to a Quaker meeting – with silence – and found myself thinking of what I should say – that is, how to dominate the meeting (Faustian!) – I realized that was not the point – not to dominate, but to listen.” The Faustian man who intends to dominate his environment was contrary to Cage’s beliefs, which are persuasively reflected in his compositional aesthetics in the 1970s.
In this period of social and political upheaval, Cage was concerned about environmental degradation, read environmental literature by Henry D. Thoreau and Charles Reich among others, and upon receiving commissions from the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) and the National Endowment for the Arts to celebrate of U.S. Bicentennial (1976), he arguably wrote two of his most eco-critical works: Lecture on the Weather for twelve narrators, tape, and film and Renga with Apartment House 1776 for four voices, seventy-eight musicians and quartets.
Drawing on archival material at the CBC, the New York Public Library, and C.F. Peters and on writings by scholars such as Bock, Feisst, Ingram, Patterson, Piekut, and Shultis, I seek to critically examine and compare Cage’s two Bicentennial works in the context of environmental politics. I will explore how he confronted environmental issues in this music and what role nature plays in both of these compositions. I will elaborate on the stark differences between Cage’s Canadian and U.S. American responses.
About Joseph: Joseph Finkel earned his master’s degree in musicology at Arizona State University in 2015. His research interests center on 20th and 21st-century music with a focus on experimental works. In his Masters thesis, he explored Cage’s creative responses to American politics and environmentalism in the 1960s and 1970s. He has recently given papers on John Luther Adams, John Cage and Alvin Curran at regional, national and international musicology conferences. He is the recipient of several scholarships and awards, including the Joan Frazer Memorial Award for Judaism and the Arts.
Elizabeth Martignetti (The Graduate Center, City University of New York): “Des canyons dans les canyons: Sounding Territory”
Messiaen’s concert-work Des Canyons aux étoiles takes its inspiration from, and makes explicit reference to, the unique landforms in Utah’s Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks. In October 2015, I took my horn to these parks to play the solo movement “Appel interstellaire,” hoping to hear as Messiaen might have when he visited these places over 40 years ago. Rather than solitary contemplation in geographic isolation, however, my resituated sounding of this “interstellar call” was heard by the many visitors to these parks, rendering each sonic gesture a public performance.
Typical concert halls provide bounded environments for an idealized containment of sound and bodies attuned to listening. In this ethnographic essay presentation and performance, I consider the implications of my soundings in these rather impromptu concert halls. Drawing on powerful interactions with my auditor-interlocutors understood through the lens of Deleuze and Guattari’s “territorialization,” I consider that these performances proposed alternative assemblages of sound and bodies, a becoming-community emerging from the rendering sonorous of the canyon walls. Territorialization, Elizabeth Grosz explains, functions through “a proprietal relation to a piece of earth and a qualitative relation to properties unleashed” (2008:48). In processes of de- and reterritorialization, I was not playing Messiaen; rather, I was sounding the canyon and proposing a new sensate relationship to, and a new community upon, the earth.
The presentation will be followed with a performance of the “Appel interstellaire,” enhanced with the sympathetic resonance of the open-pedal piano as a way of recreating this experience of sited listening.
About Elizabeth: M. Elizabeth Martignetti is a New York-based chamber musician and orchestral hornist, performing throughout the northeast in a variety of contexts and styles. She has taught music at Southern Connecticut State University and horn at the University of Bridgeport and Yale College, and has presented at regional workshops of the International Horn Society. Martignetti is currently pursuing the Doctor of Musical Arts degree at The Graduate Center, City University of New York, where she is a Graduate Center and Humanities Fellow. Her current research interests include 20th and 21st century repertoires and performance practices, embodiment, ethnography and practice-based research.
Lars Helgert (Catholic University): “The “Horst Wessel Lied” as Nazi Imagery and Displacement in Two Later Works by Lukas Foss”
German-Jewish composer Lukas Foss fled his native Berlin in 1933 after the Nazis’ rise to power. Foss was later successful as a composer in the United States, but this success did not erase the effects of his forced emigration. Foss’s use of the “Horst Wessel Lied,” the official anthem of the Nazi party, in two of his later works (Curriculum Vitae, 1977, for accordion; and Elegy for Anne Frank, for piano and orchestra, 1989) shows that the experience of displacement had a major effect on his life and work. In this paper I will demonstrate how Foss uses the “Horst Wessel” melody in autobiographical and programmatic contexts, which are means of expressing the childhood trauma and identity issues of his forced displacement. The autobiographical references in Curriculum Vitae range from the title and instrumentation to the choice of preexistent music, where “Horst Wessel” appears alongside excerpts from works by Brahms and Mozart that Foss learned in childhood. Foss’s special treatment of “Horst Wessel” in this piece (the melody is marked in the manuscript and texturally emphasized) is a profound statement on the importance of displacement to his artistic origin. In Elegy for Anne Frank, Foss uses “Horst Wessel” as part of a dramatic rendition in music of its protagonist’s life and death. The prominence and orchestration that Foss gives to the Nazi anthem overwhelms a childlike melody that represents Frank, a conception that can also be related to the less extreme effects of the Nazis on Foss’s own childhood.
About Lars: Lars Helgert is a graduate of George Washington University (BM in classical guitar and BA in history) and Catholic University(MM in classical guitar and PhD in musicology). He has contributed to the Grove Dictionary of American Music, Journal of Musicological Research, American Music, American Music Research Center Journal, and other publications. He has presented papers at the annual meetings of the American Musicological Society, the Society for American Music, and internationally in Italy and New Zealand. He has taught music history, music theory, and/or classical guitar at Georgetown University, the Peabody Conservatory, Catholic University, and several other tertiary institutions.
Leah Stein (Leah Stein Dance)
This film documents a performance integrating sound and movement, created and performed in an urban industrial building in Philadelphia. The work is a personal homage to loss and transformation. The performance begins with one person lying on the floor with gravel on her torso. With her breath, the gravel rolls off her body sounding in an irregular pattern as each piece hits the floor. Gravel dust floats up into the light like smoke. Sounds of the surroundings mingle with the sound of breath, gravel, a metal bucket, violin and industrial parts.
Sound comes from different places in the room – the space acts as an amplifier of sounds created by the performers. Through the open windows, sounds of voices on the street below, dogs barking, and the distant subway are all part of the heard experience in the room. The goal is to be present to what is happening in the moment and at the same time, be transported through attention to a myriad of changing images and layered sounds. The role of trains, the dislocation of Jewish people, the absence of home, the tension to find connection through dislocation, and the metaphoric sounds of industrial landscape all are part of this work on film.
About Leah: Leah Stein is Artistic Director of Leah Stein Dance Company (LSDC) and creates site-inspired movement based collaborative performance works. Her work invokes and illuminates the living histories of built and natural spaces. Her site-specific dances have been performed throughout the United States, in Canada, Scotland, Japan, Romania, Poland and Indonesia in diverse locations. She has received numerous commissions and initiated major collaborative works including TURBINE at the Fairmount Water Works in collaboration with composer Byron Au Yong and Alan Harler of the Mendelssohn Club Chorus, GATE at Eastern State Penitentiary National Historic Site, battle hymns at the 23rd Street Armory with composer David Lang and Mendelssohn Club Chorus, Urban Echo with co-commissioned score by composer Pauline Oliveros. She was movement consultant and choreographer for the premiere of Julia Wolfe’s Anthracite Fields in Philadelphia with the Mendelssohn Club Chorus. Her work has been supported by Leeway Foundation, the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts including three Fellowships in Choreography, New Music America, Trust for Mutual Understanding, National Endowment for the Arts, Independence Foundation Choreographic Fellowship, a Herald Angel Award at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland among others including several grants from the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage. “A Lily Lilies”, a collaborative book of Josey Foo’s poems and Stein’s notes on dance was published in 2011. In 2014, LSDC engaged in a yearlong research project guided by composer Pauline Oliveros; An inquiry into forging an improvisational, compositional practice for voice and movement. She has taught extensively at Swarthmore College, Bryn Mawr College and held a full-time Guest Artist Visiting Professor position at Drexel University in 2014.
Steven Kemper and Wendy Hsu
How do we connect the sensory and data dimensions of the experience of a city’s sounds? How do we grapple with the social, ecological, and policy contexts of urban sounds while each renders the sonic experience so differently? LA Listens formed to offer a participatory research platform to re-listen to the sound of vibrancy in Los Angeles’ neighborhoods.
This workshop will guide participants through the hybrid methodology developed for LA Listens, which combines approaches from music technology, ethnomusicology, and acoustic ecology. Our methodology foregrounds community-sourced location recordings as a means to investigate the sensory experience of a city’s acoustic publics. Using computational methods including Music Information Retrieval (MIR) and sonographic data analysis, we extend our listening to uncover underlying patterns including periodicity of sound events in field recordings.
In this workshop, the participants will engage hands-on with our hybrid methodology with a focus on processing and interpreting environmental sounds. Using local field recordings captured prior to the workshop (participants would be invited to join us for this optional sound and field recording walk), we will take participants through our process of 1) sonographic analysis using Raven Interactive Sound Analysis software, and 2) extracting musical information as MIDI data from field recordings. By introducing these data-informed analytic techniques, we hope to offer new ways to re-listen to environmental sound recordings and discover potential musical qualities in urban soundscape. No previous experience with computational sound analysis is required for this workshop.
About Steven: Steven Kemper is a composer of acoustic and electroacoustic music and a music technologist who focuses on interactive technologies and robotics. His compositions have been performed at SMC, ICMC, SEAMUS, SIGCHI, 12 Nights, Third Practice Festival, Pixilerations, and the Seoul International Computer Music Festival. Steven’s research has been presented at NIME, ICMC and KEAMSAC, and published in Organized Sound. He is a co-founder of Expressive Machines Musical Instruments, a musical robotics collective, and co-designer of Movable Party, a bicycle-powered system for interactive electroacoustic music. Steven is currently Assistant Professor of Music Technology and Composition at the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University.
About Wendy: Wendy Hsu is a researcher, strategist, and educator who engages with hybrid research and organizing agendas for equality in arts, technology, and civic participation. She received her PhD in the Critical and Comparative Studies in Music program at the University of Virginia and has published on digital ethnography, sound-based pedagogy, public humanities, open access publishing, and Asian American indie rock. Hsu recently completed the ACLS Public Fellowship providing research and strategy for the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs. Hsu currently serves on the Society of Ethnomusicology Council.
Sharon Mirchandani (Westminster Choir College of Rider University): “Ordinariness, Ongoingness: American Community in Musical Works by Brenda Hutchinson and Maria Panayotova”
This paper will explore American community, ordinariness, and ongoingness in musical works by American composer Brenda Hutchinson and Bulgarian-American composer Maria Panayotova. Works to be examined by Hutchinson include her 2006 Bell Project (an interactive 2 month sound-performance journey), her 2008 Daily Bell Project (in which she rings a bell every day at sunrise and sunset for a year), and her Interlude from Voices of Reason (1985) (which uses recordings made over two years at the Bronx State Psychiatric Hospital). Works to be examined by Panayotova include her sound installation In the Forest (2006) (which combines film of the northwestern Pennsylvania woods, music, and recordings of seashells, rainsticks, and cicadas) and SunWaterSkyMoon (2001) for female voices (an interactive folk-inspired work). I argue that these works are widely appealing due to their focus on everyday experiences and their improvisational interactions with people and nature in American society. These works challenge conventional understandings of what music is. Looking at the works as extensions of a line of thought inspired by American transcendentalism, I will show that the works’ purposes of exchange and delight in everyday experiences bring about a healthy engagement with the environment and community.
About Sharon: Sharon Mirchandani is Professor of Music History and Theory at Westminster Choir College of Rider University where she teaches a wide variety of courses including American Music, American Identity; Music, Humor, and Ambiguity; Optimism in American Musical Theater, and Music and Gender. Dr. Mirchandani is the author of the biography Marga Richter. She has also written entries in Women of Influence in Contemporary Music, Women and Music in America Since 1900, The Grove Dictionary of American Music 2nd ed., Choral Journal, New Historical Anthology of Music by Women, The Hymn, and Journal for the International Alliance for Women in Music.
Matthew DelCiampo (Florida State University): “So Percussion, Princeton University, and Performing Where (we) Live”
Sō Percussion’s connections to Princeton University increase each year. Sō is currently Princeton’s Edward T. Cone Ensemble-in-Residence and has held its annual Sō Percussion Summer Institute (SōSI) there since 2009. Quite beyond Sō’s professional affiliation to the university, however, the group makes a concerted effort to engage with the adjacent community, support local businesses, and carry out neighborhood service projects. Sō strives to make SōSI a place where young percussionists and composers learn to interact with each other and their surroundings. Sō’s 2012 work, Where (we) Live, musically reflects the same interest in homemaking and community-building. In Where (we) Live the members of Sō recollect their childhood homes and invite other musicians, choreographers, and artists to perform with them. While composing the show they read the work of urban planner Jane Jacobs, whose ideas regarding neighborhood heterogeneity and collaboration were especially influential. Following recent musicological studies that consider the reciprocal relationship of music and place, this paper considers Sō Percussion’s link to the Princeton community and its metaphoric exploration of the idea of home. Drawing upon ethnographic research and interviews with Sō as well as music and textual analysis, I analyze how the members of Sō reify their individual and collective experiences on stage and through sound. Sō’s performance of Where (we) Live embodies its emphasis on place and commitment to community development. Where (we) Live is an assemblage, a prism that simultaneously reflects and refracts Sō’s (and its members’) personal pasts, professional present, and projected futures.
About Matthew: Matthew DelCiampo is a PhD Candidate in Musicology at Florida State University. His dissertation examines the reciprocal relationship between music and place. It chronicles how four current popular musicians interpret, celebrate and sometimes contest important places—specifically their homes—in their music.
Robert Fallon (Carnegie Mellon University): “Mining Politics for Humanity: Strategies of Musical Environmentalism in Julia Wolfe’s Anthracite Fields”
Buried beneath six hill-strewn counties in eastern Pennsylvania were the world’s richest seams of anthracite, some twenty billion tons of dense, pure, and relatively clean-burning coal, in contrast to the far more common and dirty bituminous coal. At peak productivity between 1820 and 1950, the anthracite industry became an historical flash point for labor strife when in 1902 the new United Mine Workers of America forced Theodore Roosevelt to broker a compromise with J.P.Morgan that turned largely in favor of the striking miners and more liberal labor laws.
Though anthracite is now remembered for its role in U.S. labor and energy industry history, composer Julia Wolfe won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Music for her large- scale cantata Anthracite Fields, a work that celebrates not the political history of the industry, but simply its human history. While its central movement quotes United Mine Workers leader John Lewis, Anthracite Fields focuses on the personal stories of miners and their local culture; she relocates the story of anthracite from the pages of capitalism to those of humanity. For example, in the first movement, she turns a mineshaft into a gravesite of miners by conflating eerily echoic, dark chambers with the imitative counterpoint of a litany for the dead. Using both local song and subtle irony, Wolfe, herself a native Pennsylvanian, redefines the Coal Region less for political purposes, than for honoring the humanity of families whose livelihood was imbricated with the ecology of the hills in which they both worked and lived.
About Robert: Robert Fallon is Assistant Professor of Musicology at Carnegie Mellon University. With Christopher Dingle, he edited and contributed to two volumes of essays entitled Messiaen Perspectives (Ashgate 2013). His work on Messiaen has also appeared in the Journal of the American Musicological Society, the Journal of Musicology, and the New Grove Dictionary of American Music. He co-founded the Ecocriticism Study Group of the American Musicological Society and currently serves as its Secretary-Treasurer. His previous work on music and geology concerns Utah’s Mount Messiaen. He is currently writing an ecocritical and geocritical book about American classical composers’ representations of Appalachia.
Katheryn Lawson (University of Iowa): “Canaries, Chirps, and Thrushes: Closer Hearings of the Jazz Aviary”
References to “canaries,” female singers who decorated swing-era dance bands in the United States, were ubiquitous among jazz publications in the 1930s through 1960s. Today, jazz histories pepper their accounts with presumptive asides to these “chirps.” What seems, at first glance, a clever avian turn of phrase becomes literal in the body of the animal in contemporary swing-era newspapers; such an investigation reveals a vibrant culture previously overlooked by scholars, that of the sale and competition of exotic imported birds. Beyond the jazz stage lay a rhetorical and ideological exchange between the avian and the musical, combining art and the songbird industry.
Scholarship of swing-era “girl” singers contextualizes canary references in pin-up culture: songstresses were often featured in magazines including Down Beat in full-body glamour shots; printed descriptions emphasized their physical looks while ignoring their singing abilities. This paper, however, approaches jazz “canaries” from a musicological ecofeminist perspective, investigating the exotic bird industry’s discussions of musical and visual appeal and their bearing on dance band “chirps.”
Mid-century bird shows utilized a rating system predicated on a strict aesthetic hierarchy, in which “operatic” canary singers were preferred over show birds with impressive plumage but with lesser, “crooning” singing voices. The rhetorical framing of birds’ intelligence, talent, and artistry, when transcribed onto the racialized female singing body, renegotiates and complicates female singers’ value and agency. Adopting a bird’s-eye view of jazz singers, this paper constitutes an eco-centered approach for understanding contemporary jazz critics’ articulations of originality and talent.
About Katheryn: Katheryn Lawson is a Master’s student in Library and Information Science at the University of Iowa and previously studied musicology at McGill University and the University of Iowa. She has presented papers and chaired panels at the Society for American Music and in London, UK for The Music of War: 1914–1918. Her primary research investigates music and childhood in early twentieth-century America, with special emphasis on Girl Scouts and birdsong. Katheryn will be published in the encyclopedia Youth Cultures in America and also contributed an essay on American bird songs for children for the forthcoming collection Childhood and Pethood.
Brandon Masterman (New York University): “Feeling Disintegrated: A Queer Ecology of Harsh Noise Music and the Becoming-Queer Body”
What does it mean to seriously consider that sound can make a body queer? If queerness is the process by which a body becomes queer, not simply the site of queer subject formation, how might an encounter with sound actualize a queer body through discomfort? How can a body’s encounter with sound materially disrupt the discourse of neoliberal comfort, especially when these dissonant sonic encounters generate erotic desire? Examining the “harsh noise” collective Black Leather Jesus, I theorize the genre’s potentiality as a site of queer sonic materiality. These performances produce a sonic environment that literally pummels its listeners’ bodies. Further, the sonic aesthetic of “harsh noise” eschews typical notions of musical form, resulting in a sonic field capable of unpredictable affective and material power over the body of listeners. As such, sound becomes another body among bodies in this intense affective encounter. Faced with the loss of their bodily sovereignty, the listener is entered into a sonic environment akin to what Timothy Morton refers to as a “queer ecology,” where the potential for negativity in the power of our environment is accounted for as much as the more typically affirmative philosophical ideals of Nature. Yet, this queer ecological encounter with sound does not deter people from attending performances. Thus, considering the history of discomfort as a central aspect of queerness, I suggest that harsh noise offers an aesthetics from which a new queer body can emerge from its discomfiting encounter with sound in the queer ecology of harsh noise.
About Brandon: Brandon Peter Masterman is currently a doctoral candidate in the Department of Performance Studies at New York University. His dissertation Feeling Annihilated: Sonic Materiality, Discomfort, and the Becoming-Queer Body theorizes the potential for a body to be made queer through a discomfiting encounter with sound, and the various manifestations such a process might take. Brandon’s work draws on a wide variety of theoretical discourses including queer theory, sound studies, affect theory, Marxism, and “new materialist” philosophies. In his spare time, Brandon rides and repairs bicycles.
Saesha Senger (University of Kentucky): Place, Space and Time in MC Solaar’s American Francophone
Murray Forman states that “place defines the immediate locale of human interaction in the particular, whereas space is the expanse of mobile trajectories through which subjects pass in their circulation between or among distinct and varied places.” This reflects Doreen Massey’s observation that “one view of a place is as a particular articulation” of the spatial, such that place, space, and time are interconnected. In much hip-hop scholarship, these observations have shaped perceptions of rap, facilitating discussions on the confluence of global and local, past and present.
These concepts illuminate French rapper MC Solaar’s negotiation of such factors in his songs “Lève-toi et rap” and “Nouveau Western.” In “Lève-toi et rap,” Solaar connects to hip-hop lineage with strategically placed American rap samples and the use of a funk bassline from 1974, as he recounts his personal history in verlan-infused French. The date and ordering of these samples and the relative antiquity of the bassline, combined with the Solaar’s linear story, demonstrate the simultaneity of past and present, global and local also found in “Nouveau Western.” Here, Solaar tells a story of a man who benefits and suffers at different places and times because of American domination. Backed by a sampled accompaniment from “Bonnie et Clyde,” an American cowboy is transported to a modern-day Paris that has little regard for the individual.
In these two narratives, dynamic place and space are given meaning by the use of musical samples, by the manner of Solaar’s storytelling, and by the stories themselves.
About Saesha: Saesha Senger earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Flute Performance from Boise State University, a Master of Music in Flute Performance from the University of Washington, and a Master of Music in Music History from West Virginia University. She is currently a PhD student in musicology at the University of Kentucky. She has presented on topics ranging from hermeneutical analyses of blues performances to space, place, and time in French hip-hop.