2015 Festival

Kate Soper

"Ipse Dixit" (literally "he himself said it") is a lawyerly term used to describe an unproven statement whose validation is demanded solely on the premise of the speaker's presumed expertise. Ipsa Dixit ("she herself said it") is an ongoing exploration of the intersections of art and language via a skeptical investigation of the role of the singer as gatekeeper of meaning, sentiment, and expressivity. This piece is made possible due to the fascinating texts by its half-dozen or so authors, to Aristotle (who tends to tie it all together even in brutally abridged form), and to the dedication and jaw-dropping talents of my fellow Wet Ink members Ian Antonio, Erin Lesser, and Josh Modney. Stay tuned for the whole shebang in 2016! —Kate Soper

Lucy Shelton

My repertoire tonight includes both memorabilia and fresh connections, and opens with a tiny, playful excerpt from my very first New York City recital:  in January of 1979, I was the first to perform in Abraham Goodman House (later named Merkin Hall) for a concert that included the premiere of a solo monodrama, “Sounds of Desolation and Joy” by James Yannatos. His setting of the Dickinson text inspired tonight’s title, “Soul Perching”, and gave me a bird theme with singing “that never stops at all” (which I recognize as quite unrealistic) along with a thoughtful soul search. 

The array of short premieres by new and old friends—Richard Festinger, Icli Zitella, Susan Botti, and Eric Nathan—offers meditative, adamant, and chirping responses that are interspersed with the two occasional works by Elliott Carter and Tom Flaherty. (The former was a surprise gift for a concert of Baudelaire settings performed at Brown University in 2007, and the latter served as my acceptance speech for an honorary doctorate at Pomona College in 2003.)  And for me, the past is carried into the future with haunting echoes in John Chowning’s evocation of ancient ritual incantation through voice and interactive computer: “Voices.”   Indeed, long may Resonant Bodies thrive! —Lucy Shelton

“Hope is the thing with feathers” is from Sounds of Desolation and Joy, a 20-minute monodrama based on a collage of various well-known texts.  Percussion and percussive sounds are used to compliment the voice and highlight the drama.

Cummings Settings: It’s a true pleasure to work musically within the unique presence inhabiting the words, thoughts, sounds, rhythms and sensibilities of E. E. Cummings’ language, and the indelible love of life strewn in such profusion throughout his work. Two salient themes emerge continually in his poems: meditations on the natural world, and love poems.  In my three settings a central blossoming of love is surrounded by bird imagery, initially cautious in the face of change, and finally exalting in the pure joy of flight.  —RF

La Musique, for solo voice, is a short commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the publication of Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal in 1857, and is taken from that book of poems.  The piece is a small addition to the recital Lucy Shelton was to give of settings of Baudelaire for that occasion and is dedicated to her.  —EC, 8/1/07 

Animalia is a short litany in memory of three bird species exterminated by man: the Cuban Macaw, the Dodo and the Passenger Pigeon. The lyrics combine their Latin scientific names with quotes from the Psalms, the Rosary and the Requiem Mass. The piece is an expression of apology for the ecological damage that mankind has caused to the life in this planet.  —IZ

When Time Was Young: When Lucy Shelton received an honorary doctorate from Pomona College, rather than give the traditional “thank you” speech, she elected to do what she has done ever since graduating from Pomona: she decided to sing her gratitude.  Among several poems that Lucy sent me to consider setting was a poem by her Pomona English professor, Edward Weismiller. Its final line, “Let us sing our lives away” seemed strikingly appropriate and uplifting advice to a graduating class in a commencement ceremony, especially coming from someone who has followed that very advice all her life.  —TF 

Six of Rabindranath Tagore’s poems from Stray Birds are the texts for my Bird Songs, composed for Lucy Shelton (one of which is being performed tonight). The “nest of percussion” is a collection of instruments I’ve either made or have gathered on my journeys (in true bird-like fashion).  —SB

Voices: For at least a thousand years, oracles held a place of prominence in ancient Greece. The most important was the Pythia of Delphi whose voice was that of Apollo, divining the future when possessed by his spirit. A typical form of the oracular ritual consisted of preparation and tribute, entry into the sacred chamber, the reaching of an ecstatic state or trance and the oracular utterance. The associations are rich and varied: first Gaia, bronze tripods, cauldrons, caves and chasms and echoes that would seem to be spontaneously generated from cave openings and the rock walls within, surely mystifying, if not at times terrifying, to prehistoric and ancient people. The computer responds to the soprano’s voice, synthesizing all of the sounds at the instant, allowing her to control the overall pace of Voices.  —JC

Soul Perching is at its heart a musical response to Emily Dickinson’s poem, “Hope is the thing with feathers.” The piece is also a personal reflection on the feeling of “hope,” and on how nuanced and complex the feelings associated with this single word can be. “Hope” can be felt under many guises – through a sense of excitement, but also anxiety, as it leads us inexorably forward toward a goal; or through the tranquility created in the present as we long for something imagined and not yet realized in the future; or through hope’s flighty nature, as it leaves us only to return to its perch time and time again, always optimistic as it comforts us, yet also gently toys with us. Soul Perching was composed for, and is dedicated to, soprano Lucy Shelton.  —EN

Tony Arnold

Memory plays a central role for us as musicians, as humans—we spend much of our lives cultivating and perfecting it. But in our ordinary understanding of memory we fail to realize that its flipside is perhaps its most important feature; for without forgetting, the ‘aha’ moment would be diminished, the joy of the momentary recapture of youth and vitality would be neutralized, or the sweetness of nostalgia would be crushed by the cacophony (and monotony) of total awareness. Forgetting is essential to being, in that it provides peace, rest, solace. It is also deeply disturbing. Beat Furrer’s setting of José Ángel Valente’s Lotofagos captures something of both the terror and ecstasy of forgetting. 

Furrer is connected in a lineage to Anton Webern both by nationality and aesthetic—crystalline, economical, and sensual. Webern’s world is central to the century of music that has followed, particularly as reflected in the sharply etched miniatures that form the core of György Kurtág’s output. The raw emotion of Kurtág’s music is tempered by brevity, which demands of the performer, at least in part, that she forget her previous state in order that the present emotional world may arise, fully formed, in an instant. Jason Eckardt takes this notion to its extreme in Dithyramb, a vivid depiction of glossolalia, or “speaking in tongues,” in which the energy of one moment simply cannot be held before another bursts through like a bolt of lightning. 

In this voltaic manner, the power of Webern’s music forever changed the course of Eckardt’s creative life the moment he first encountered it. Webern is one of the most important progenitors of what I like to call our ‘new music eco-system’, which I am thankful to be part of, and continually astonished by its diversity, integrity, depth, and beauty. I owe a debt of gratitude to the many, many composers and performers in this rich, golden era of musical invention whose work I have been honored to take part in, and regret that I cannot bring all that worthy music to you tonight. That being said, these songs (or not-songs) written for me by David Liptak, Fredrick Gifford, and George Crumb represent three distinct musical perspectives, and each unique sound-world is a delight to inhabit.

To invest in, embody, and completely inhabit a musical world with your whole being is one of the great rewards of life as a singing artist. It is a healing, an integration of all that envelops us with all that wells up within us, at once heartbreaking and exhilarating. Embodiment is the requisite foundation for living well, free to both express and receive the fullness that is available moment by moment. Thomas Adès’s setting of Tennessee Williams’s Life Story offers an opportunity to embody—not only to indulge, but to enjoy—the flipside of our human nature, in all its messiness, absurdity, futile yearning, and nostalgia. Some nights we want to forget…yet it feels so good to remember. —Tony Arnold

Jeff Gavett

Ampelos, for voice and pre-recorded voices, is an extension of my earlier vocal quintet, hamadryads, and, like that earlier piece, makes use in the generation of its pitch material of Josquin’s Déploration on the death of Johannes Ockeghem, Nymphes des bois. It follows Karya (2011) for Disklavier, Syke (2013) for marimba and accordion, Balanos (2013) for organ and fixed media, Ptelea (2014) for bass clarinet, and Morea (2014) for violoncello in a series of pieces taking Josquin’s lament as a starting point, each based on a particular ‘reading’ of the source text and taking the title of one of the eight types of hamadryad named in the Greek mythological tradition. As well as being the names of the hamadryade bonded to vines, Ampelos was also the name of a satyr beloved of Dionysius. On his death, Dionysius transformed the youth into the vine, making wine from his blood. Ampelos was written for Jeffrey Gavett and lasts a little over twelve minutes.  —Martin Iddon

"Esė apie vandenis" is Lithuanian and is called “Essay on the waters.” In each of my vocal works I try a different approach to the relationship between text and music. In this case, I asked the writer Anja Kampmann for a poem of a certain length, but not with a substantive requirement. In 2014, she gave me the poem “Versuch über das Meer.” Thus, the content was given: sea and water. I used this text in a linear way and at the same time polyphonically with the translation into English (by Wieland Hoban), “About the sea.” At the same time I calculated the time relationships of Anja Kampmann's reading aloud the texts on the total length of 13 minutes. So I got sufficient time between the text sections for: a) the (multiple) speaking of the word “water” in 50 languages; b) the madrigalesque mise-en-musique of the meaning of the text; c) the onomatopoeic conversion of sea and water into musical sound. So I deal with the text and its meaning on five levels that intertwine. The piece is written for the American singer Jeffrey Gavett who sings baritone, also using falsetto. In this respect, I use about three octaves. —Claus-Steffen Mahnkopf

Rachel Calloway - Duo Cortona (with Ari Streisfeld)

The text for If only after you then me is compiled from works by: William S. Burroughs, Jean Genet, George Bataille, Antonin Artaud. My interest in the literature of Burroughs, Genet, and Artaud (leading me to the philosophy of “base materialism” propagated by Georges Bataille) stems from a fascination and love for transgressive thought, critiques of accepted norms, and expressive forms of immediacy and contact. I place considerable import on first reactions and initial experiences, through which further exploration can take place. The text for Litanies, as the title implies, is merely a list, collated from different pieces of literature. What begin as symptoms of either drug use or dope sickness become a list of stream-of-consciousness words beginning with the letter “e,” perhaps in the mind of the addict who is swiftly moving towards transcendence/oblivion. —Amadeus Regucera

The Canticle Variations were written for Ari Streisfeld and Rachel Calloway, while teaching with them at the Cortona Sessions for New Music in Tuscany. Love—for the landscape, for the quiet woods of Umbria, for new friends—and a timely day trip to St. Francis' hermitage set the piece in motion. Composed on manuscript paper purchased from the central square of Assisi, using a tiny pocket edition of the canticle, the work showed up as eight variations on gratitude, each one treating the subject of one of Francis' stanzas on nature. The movements are themselves evolving and interwoven variations on each other—motives, gestures, and allegiances melting into a concluding theme, composed after the fact. That theme, of course, is Love. —Forrest Pierce

Amanda DeBoer Bartlett - Hasco Duo (with Jesse Langen)

Hasco Duo, Jesse Langen (guitar) and Amanda DeBoer Bartlett (soprano), started working together in 2013. Mixing improvised music with contemporary chamber works, they are proud to call composers Ray Evanoff, Morgan Krauss, Jonathan Sokol, Max Grafe, Marcos Balter, Eliza Brown, Chris Fisher-Lochhead, Ravi Kittappa, and Fredrick Gifford their collaborators. They have been featured on several concert series including Oscillations (Chicago) and (Un)Familiar Music (Chicago), and will appear on the Option Series (Chicago) and Holland Stages Festival (Omaha) this Fall. There first album was released in August 2015.

Amanda DeBoer Bartlett is an experimental singer based in Omaha, Nebraska. She is a member of Ensemble Dal Niente and Quince Contemporary Vocal Ensemble. As a soloist, DeBoer has appeared with Contempo (Chicago), East Coast Contemporary Ensemble (New York), Ensemble Pamplemousse (New York), Opera Omaha, The New Philharmonic (Omaha), Red Note New Music Festival, Northwestern New Music Ensemble, ANODE (New Orleans), and more. She also organizes a contemporary performance festival called Omaha Under the Radar, which features musicians, dancers, and performers from around the country.

2014 Festival

Christie Finn

I found out about Nicola LeFanu’s gorgeous little gem of a piece thanks to soprano Judith Kellock. What could be a better invitation for the listener to engage in three nights of vocal music than the intimate words and warm vocalisms of this self-proclaimed aubade (or dawn love song), which begins with, “Now, to be with you...”

German composer Helmut Lachenmann’s Got Lost is…a little less warm. The theme of this “song cycle,” as the title makes clear, is Verlust, or loss: losing one’s way, losing one’s love, losing one’s…laundry basket. And, for the singer, this means first losing the meaning of words, then the differences between languages, then language altogether, and finally the voice itself. A defining moment of Got Lost is the singer’s cadenza, a time when the singer usually has a chance to “show off” with vocal fireworks—and here Lachenmann removes the voice from the situation altogether, its loss both comic and startling. From the profound warnings of Nietzsche, to the tongue-in-cheek words of Portuguese poet Álvaro de Campos, to the banal and absurd note found in an elevator, Got Lost is a tour de force for both performer and listener: a catalogue of what contemporary composers, in today’s vocal music, have both lost—and found.
—Christie Finn

Mellissa Hughes

I first heard Kurtág’s Kafka Fragments in 2005, when a colleague handed me the CD and told me, “You really need to learn these.” I was immediately struck by their in-your-face virtuosity. Nearly ten years later, after living inside Kurtág’s sound world, I’ve also grown to love the incredible array of colors, emotions, and timbres Kurtág creates with just violin and voice.

There is a sense of longing, loss, and of mental dissonance that seeks to reconcile itself not only in the musical writing, but also in Kafka’s texts—bits from letters and diaries that were published posthumously by Kafka’s literary executor against the wishes of his estate. —Mellissa Hughes

Gelsey Bell

“Cradle” is a lullaby nestled within the song cycle Our Defensive Measurements (commissioned by Roulette and the Jerome Foundation), which investigates social interactions by shifting the rules and boundaries between audience and performer. “The Scientists Say” is from the song cycle SCALING, which orbited around a singer’s inhabitation of the piano as both topography and musical instrument.

Composer Robert Ashley, a revolutionary reinventor of operatic form, performed “Love is a Good Example” many times in the last quarter of his life. I was honored to perform in the premiere of Ashley’s last opera, CRASH, at the Whitney Biennial in April 2014, and arranged and performed his Perfect Lives with Varispeed. The nuanced vocal style Ashley created in his performances and the masterful way he collaborated with other vocalists throughout his career stands as both a beacon for future innovation and a roadmap for vocalists interested in developing a virtuosity of subtlety.

“The Photograph” is an excerpt of the new song cycle, Ghost Quartet, written by Dave Malloy and arranged and performed by the Ghost Quartet. A collaborator of mine for many years, Malloy carefully crafted “The Photograph” with consummate knowledge of the quirks and individuality of my voice.

And finally, “Odysseus” is the concluding song in Kate Soper’s opera Here Be Sirens. Revolving around the sirens myth, the opera dramatizes three sirens on their island in the moments between crashing ships, pondering their origins and luring sailors to their deaths. Stripped of its dramaturgical content, this song acts as another example of a singing composer and a performer working together to mold a song for their individual voices. —Gelsey Bell

Jane Sheldon

This program displays vocal writing that treats the voice as a textural animal, rather than a melodic or purely expository one. This is most explicit in the three Scelsi works featured, presented cumulatively: first a work for solo voice, then a duet, then a quartet. Each of these relatively simple pieces is built on invented abstract phonetic fragments whose content is solely timbral, and whose articulation serves to punctuate, often with considerable drama, Scelsi's shimmering fabric of pitches.

Furrer's Invocation VI is not without expository purpose, telling of a lover's abandonment, but the text of Juan de la Cruz's beautiful poem is fragmented and colored by an exploration of the timbral possibilities of breath, an exploration extended by Furrer's choice of bass flute as the second instrument. Historically, in sung Western music, breath is something that is not supposed to call attention to itself, but to my delight it's an element that's increasingly interesting to composers.  —Jane Sheldon

Ben Hjertmann / Grant Wallace Band

Grant Wallace Band is a trio of composer-performers weaving a diaphanous sound from threads of new music, modern jazz, and old-time folk styles. Composing through a uniquely collaborative process, Ben Hjertmann (voice/mandolin), Chris Fisher-Lochhead (viola), and Luke Gullickson (piano/guitar) also draw inspiration from outsider artists including the band’s namesake. Grant Wallace Band's recent projects include Fo'c's'le, a maritime mini-musical created in collaboration with members of Ensemble Dal Niente. 

Sharon Harms

This set seeks to find the tenderness in tragedy by way of sound, text, color, and emotion. Maria de Castro's languishing sentiments are at the center of Golijov's “Lúa Descolorida.” Jones' los niños, with texts by Frederico Garcia Lorca, confronts the composer's own fear of death by water: the cycle finds a way to give comfort in the midst of the horrible tragedy of departed children. Helgeson's A Long While deconstructs the text of Hermione from Shakespeare's A Winter's Tale—here is a woman who has been sentenced to death but maintains her grace and strength. While these pieces as a whole explore tragedy, they also reveal how to remain tender despite life's cruelties. —Sharon Harms

Dennis Sullivan

Your Fox's A Dirty Gold is an interactive performance piece for a singer with motion sensors, electric guitar, live-electronics and lights. It’s what you could describe as a modern pop song (a love song actually). It incorporates elements of contemporary and experimental electronic music in the domain of pop music. The concept is to link all involved elements to the movement and gestures of the performer. This allows the singer to control, trigger and shape in time all technical and musical parts of the composition in real time. The software program MAX/MSP controls the live electronics and the DMX lights, which in turn are driven by the upper body movement of the singer and the electric guitar interface. The aim of this technical concept is to establish an embodiment of the involved electronic apexes of the piece in order to make it perceivable and controllable like a regular acoustic instrument.  —Dennis Sullivan

Megan Schubert

SoundCloud Vocal Music Group

The Resonant Bodies SoundCloud Vocal Music Group is a place to discover new sounds. This moderated group is regularly updated with new tracks submitted to Resonant Bodies through an open, ongoing call for submissions.

Singers, composers, and ensembles are invited to upload one vocal track to the Resonant Bodies Vocal Music Group for consideration. Selected tracks will be posted to the group's page on a regular basis.

Resonant Bodies is interested in discovering new vocal music, promoting singers and composers, and being a source of information and inspiration for audiences, performers, and creators.