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For a few different takes on reality, you ought to go check out FIVE POINTS, a collaboration between PULSE Composers Collective and TAKE dance: “a true marriage of contemporary dance and music inspired by the senses and synesthesia.”

Five composers, five pieces, five dances!


Joseph C. Phillips Jr. founded the composer federation Pulse in 2004 with composers who shared a desire to create and perform music that has no rigid divisions or categories, and I was lucky enough to ask him a few questions about FIVE POINTS, the second collaboration between these two groups:


1) When you write for a choreographer, do you have dancers and movement in mind, or are you just leaving it up to the dancers to work with the sound world you create? 

Since much of my music is quite rhythmic, movement is often directly linked to it, whether for dance or not. Some of my best pieces begin with me dancing or moving as I am composing it and I often imagine people groovin’ to something I have written. When writing specifically for dance, I do imagine what types of motion or movement might be appropriate for the music, but don’t usually suggest this to the choreographer. I have worked with three different dance companies and four choreographers over the years and each experience is a bit different but I am always surprised, however, when I see the actual choreography and how differently the movement is to what I thought it might be, but also how well it works with the music.

2) Along that line, how much involvement did you have with the Kile Hotchkiss? Did you know that the dance would be for six female dancers and did the choreographer have any particular requests for you?

For last year’s project, Take and I randomly picked composers and choreographers to work together. This year we just assigned people, so I knew what Kile was capable of from last year’s wonderful piece with Darcy James Argue. I wanted to have a contrast with my composition from last year, which was a slower, more contemplative work with Take choreographing, but also something a little different musically from what Kile worked with last year. So starting this summer Kile and I mostly emailed back and forth, I told him my broaden thoughts on synesthesia (actualized sound through movement, as representative from the disco era) and he shared his (Cymatics, the visual representation of sound either in wave patterns or material substances). We talked a little about how the piece would “feel” and from there it was straight-forward: I would send sound file sketches, he would offer feedback on how the choreography might work with music, I would keep going or make changes (sometimes I would resist certain changes on musical grounds, in which we would compromise a solution). In the process, Kile mention the dance was all-female (which was helpful to know and visualize as I was creating) and did have a few specific request about certain sections of the music (a little too “cheery” here, maybe more “fierce” there, can the ending be extended slightly), but overall the process was smooth and very collaborative.

3) After the music and choreography were finished, was there much dialog and revision based on the visions of composer v. choreographer? 

Since we were communicating throughout the composing/early choreographing phases, any revisions and editing happened before the piece was fully finished so it already matched our conception once completed.

4) The whole program has a “synesthesia” theme: Do you have synesthesia, and if so, what kind? 

No, I am not officially a synesthete. Although like many people, I have experienced aspects of synesthesia.

 5) And-your piece, “The Substance of Things Unseen,” is said to create “adventitious synesthesia.” Can you speak a little bit about what this is and how the music and dance work together to create this experience? 

Adventitious synesthesia is when the heighten perceptional experiences are artificially induced rather than produced by genetic causes. My composition, which is actually titled “Unlimited” (the dance is “The Substance of Things Unseen”), was inspired by both my thoughts and feelings about a particular passage on disco in the 1995 PBS/BBC documentary “Rock and Roll” and Kile’s research into cymatics. The movement Kile created for “The Substance of Things Unseen” is very dynamic and exciting and while he does not take my disco concept literally, the joy in motion and movement of one’s body, which I associate with the disco era, is certainly present. The music is constantly driving and pushing and Kile creates movement that is just as forceful and energetic. I thought about dance as visualized sound and how for dancers particular sounds might mean particular gestures (how one’s “head and neck do things it didn’t know it could do” based on hearing a groove or rhythm) or how being on the dance floor might induce a specific heighten feeling, and I wanted to create music that reflected those thoughts.

6) How do you feel all the pieces interact together? Is there one cohesive narrative through the evening or will the audience experience vignettes? 

While there is no overall narrative in FIVE POINTS, there is a good sense of balance in the program, with all of the pieces bringing together different perspectives on synesthesia; there are large ensemble pieces, a quirky and humorous one, and quieter emotive pieces. Each piece is a world unto itself like a collection of short stories on a overriding subject, with the composers and choreographers creating some fascinating images and sounds. Pulse and TAKE Dance work quite well together (and as a composer it is so stimulating to see your music danced to) and hopefully there will be a TAKE DANCE + Pulse: Part 3!


For TAKE DANCE + Pulse Part 2, head on over to Merce Cunningham Dance Studios, 55 Bethune Street

DEC 15-16 @ 9:00PM, DEC 17th @ 8:00PM



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The BAM Next Wave Festival is upon us right now. There are a ton of exciting things lined up, including what appears to be a thrilling multi-media extravaganza from violinist DBR. Behold: Symphony for the Dance Floor!


Known for bringing audiences to their feet with sonic collages of classical, pop and hip-hop sounds, DBR ushers the concert hall and dance club into the theater with Symphony for the Dance Floor.  In an attempt to homogenize all art forms on one stage, it combines exhilarating music, soulful dance, and photographic artistry, all within a theatrical setting, most notably, in the use of on-stage seating.  “Symphony for the Dance Floor speaks to an equality between concert hall and dance club traditions,” explains DBR.  “Growing up in South Florida, I went to school, I played in the orchestra, I danced in clubs.  It was part of the culture   and of the times.  So to me,  they’re all equal.” Centered around the shrieking, singing, and seduction of DBR’s violin playing, the production is augmented with masterful collaborations including: raw, uncompromising photography and video by Jonathan Mannion (best known for his soul bearing portraits of hip-hop icons  Jay-Z, Lauryn Hill, Mos Def and Eminem); choreography by Millicent Johnnie (former resident choreographer of Urban Bush Women); ebullient live dancing; bombastic laptop/turntable soundscapes; emceeing by actor/rapper Lord Jamar (best known for his role    on HBO’s Oz); and the direction of D.J. Mendel. “We’ve created a lovely environment  for the music, dancing, and audience to all coexist in,” explains  DBR.  “A composer, a DJ and dancers can have a  conversation all under the watchful eye of a photographer.  In my world, the last bastion of democracy just might be the concert stage.”

I was lucky enough to ask DBR a few questions about the project:

Symphony for the Dance Floor is a commission from the BAM Next Wave Festival. What did the festival ask you to create, and how do you feel this project contributes to the “next wave” of art to come?

DBR: The festival did not ask me to create anything, specifically, rather I was asked to simply present an idea for a full-evening work. This is the third commission from BAM, and the brilliant and ever-supportive, Joe Melillo, and we have a very gracious and trusting relationship. When I told him my idea for this work, we were both excited by what it could mean for our work, my music, and his audiences. I’m sure how my work contributes to any ideas on art, other than to say, I’m fortunate to have developed a loyal and supportive audience for my work, and a small community of artists to help me develop, perform, and express it.

Symphony for the Dance Floor is about an event during which the concert hall and the dance hall collide. Is there a specific audience you hope the show will reach?

DBR: I think this work is designed for both classical and club audiences. It’s chamber music and chamber dancing. There are wonderful photographs and video installations, and provocative lighting design and costumes. The score is fully reflective of my interests at this time, and include works for violin and electronics, and songs for voice, piano, and violin. I think in today’s climate and ways of communicating, audiences are diverse and highly varied. And they’re also savvy about where they go and what they listen to. My audience, I think, has an age-range of 7-70 years-old, and it seems that many artists have similarly diverse audiences with sophisticated, broad tastes.

This project is about music’s relationship with photography, film, choreography, and lights. All of these things scream Theater! Can you talk a little bit about your love of theatrics?

DBR: I do love the theater, but I wouldn’t label that a love of theatrics. Laurie Anderson’s work has had as much of an influence on my work as  The Wooster Group. I spent nearly a decade working closely with Bill T. Jones, and as his Music Director, I was fortunate enough to be privy to his process of creation, much of which is a brilliant use of the theater, well beyond dance and choreographic elements. Tim Fain, the violinist, recently produced a work called Portals, and it’s a stunning work that uses film, dance, and technology in a very sincere, honest, and fluid way. As a musician, I think Tim is a far more accomplished violinist than I am, but as performance artists, we both have something unique and relevant to offer our audiences, in our individual use of technology. In this, more artists will be able to express the depths of their creativity, in more varied and resourceful ways, using technology to give new perspectives on the old ideas of self-expression.

What are the inspirations for the music in this show? Is the music originating more from the classical spectrum or more from the club?

DBR: I don’t really separate or think about music in that way. One of the works in the piece, called Solo, is for solo violin. It was composed as a dance work for the choreographer/dancer Emily Berry. Other than modest amplification, it’s a work that exists on record, on-line, in the dance world, and now in Symphony for the Dance Floor. As a composer, I generally create the best music that I can for the instruments that I have, and then decide the context of their presentation. Nico Muhly raised the many problems associated with using recorded works by orchestras and other large ensembles, and he was right in that, generally speaking, as an industry, we are limiting the scope and reach of our work as composers by not allowing a more full use of those, dreaded, “archival recordings”. I had hoped to be able to include actual samples of my orchestra work in this piece, but alas, I couldn’t get the licenses for their use. We are in talks to have the Symphony for the Dance Floor score transcribed for performances with chamber orchestras, and I’ll be re-imagining some of the purely electronic works for acoustic instruments. There are so many artists and ensembles doing this, it’s become common-hand for the work of composers. But there’s an entire new field of work waiting for composers where we can use recordings of our music in performance.

Going to a concert is generally about sitting and being entertained. This project, however, is about music that “wants to dance” and “wants to move.” Do you want the audience to be enraptured from their seats or do you want them to feel so inspired they get up and dance?

DBR: Well, some of the concerts I go to don’t have seats! But I understand your point. We have audiences sitting on the stage, and some of them have begun to dance [with me!] during the show. We had a technical glitch in Arizona, and in having to buy some time for the crew to fix it, I invited anyone to dance on stage with me. A young woman took of her shoes, and started a duet with me, that quickly grew to a trio when her friend decided to join us. They weren’t professional dancers, just dedicated members of the audience that night. And we danced, and we danced for everyone there as they fixed that glitch. It was only a few minutes, but in many ways, that moment was emblematic of what I’m wanting to achieve in this work. That the dance floor, the concert hall, becomes the last bastion of democracy where all of us, composers, dancers, and audience, are all equal, are all seen and heard, and share in a moment of grace, humility, and humanity. I’d like the audience to determine whatever it is they need to feel. Just feel something. I remind myself to just feel something everyday.

Check it out and get your groove on!

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ETHEL, acclaimed as America’s premier postclassical string quartet, will be giving a great show at Le Poisson Rouge tomorrow night. The concert is part of the Meet the Composer’s 3 CITY DASH FESTIVAL, and it features music from composers from San Francisco. Below is an email Q+A with Ralph Farris, ETHEL’s magnificent violist.

S21 Q + A w/ ETHEL:

ETHEL focuses on the repertoire of the the past four decades. While all of that music is classified as “contemporary,” it is extremely diverse compositionally. Is there any particularly style you prefer personally or as a group and enjoy working on?

We do love tunes that groove! If there is some infectious rhythmic element in a piece, it’s probably going to spark something with us.

We particularly enjoy working in person with composers. Having the experience of being together with a composer as the music comes to life is very special.

And of course, we are always thrilled to present the work of young composers!

Despite the extreme variety in contemporary classical music, do you have one sort of goal you hope to communicate generally with all the music you play?

Music is a language, a profound connector of cultures and ideas.

With our work, we aim to link people together in a shared experience, to inspire and celebrate our common humanity.

Along that line, when you receive a new work by a composer, likely something you’ve never heard or seen before, do you approach each piece differently, or with a sort of rehearsal routine?

We endeavor to learn as much as we can about a composer before we read their work, in an effort to open our ears, minds and hearts.

On the nuts-and-bolts side, we prefer to receive both a score and parts. And a MIDI file or recording is always helpful.

As to rehearsal routine, there are some tried-and-true techniques that we advocate:

•           If there’s a measure that is giving us trouble, we’ll put an imaginary repeat sign around it and loop it until the physical feel of it is locked.

•           Slow practice is invaluable, of course, but we also spend good amounts of time at medium speed, galvanizing ensemble and overall feel.

•           Once a piece is almost feeling solid, but just needs a little push, we may turn ourselves away from each other for a run or two, in an effort to feel each others’ lines and intentions. Pretty tough exercise, but it has helped us greatly.

Do you approach pieces primarily with a sort of ETHEL quartet style? The group is notoriously charismatic– how do you translate that into an extremely minimalistic piece, for instance?

LOL. We are four people having a great time making music together. I would hope that this translates through any music that we approach.

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