Tag: Spotlight On

Spotlight on Anaïs Maviel by Gelsey Bell

For her first Van Lier Fellowship concert at Roulette, vocalist and composer Anaïs Maviel premieres who is this ritual for and from? featuring collaborations with pianist and composer Sam Yulsman and choreographer Daria Faïn on February 5th.

The first time I heard Anaïs Maviel sing still echoes in my memory, infused with a June breeze, her drum beat, and sunshine spilling into a Brooklyn backyard. We were playing on a bill together for one of Mara Mayer’s Home Audio concerts (along with another Roulette favorite Gabrielle Herbst) that Mara had smilingly named Three Sirens. This was back in 2013 before Anaïs moved to New York from France, and her music wrapped into me like a fishing line, a siren song that continues to delight and inspire me. Now after five years in New York City, Anaïs has become an integral part of music and interdisciplinary art-making in the city.

— Gelsey Bell

Anaïs Maviel: who is this ritual for and from?

Tell us about what you’re planning for your shows in the spring at Roulette.

I’ve been thinking about a way I could take the February 5th show as a passage ritual for my solo practice, wrapping together my inside and outside, earthly and cosmic, past and future processes—an occasion for me to assess how my language and ability to relate have developed hand in hand, and to share cohesively intimate and common finds, blurring lines between self and other. What has come up so far is a fluid spiritual and bodily relation with acoustic and vibratory phenomenons I’ve come to approach as healing, as oneness. Some ways to access “otherness,” digging inward, seem to reveal collective stakes in performance, and its function in society. I’m interested in the witnessing experience being performative and the performing experience being meditative. I’m exploring gaps between meditative and cathartic practices, and the mediation of articulate language between these realms, in order to transform shared reality with continued intent through vibration. I’ll try to touch on some of this, as well as the collaborative processes that nurtured these inquiries: With choreographer Daria Faïn—who, alongside Robert Kocik (the Prosodic Body), has helped me realize every sounding body is already moving, that every moving sound contains language—and with pianist and composer Sam Yulsman, whose understanding of the symbolic undercurrents of my music has helped me unfold a compositional language.

The piece I’m performing at Roulette in Summer 2019 will be a continuation of my recent collaboration with Swedish visual artist, activist, and instrument-maker Jonatan Malm, with whom I’ve explored the resonances between ancient (trans-generational, diasporic wisdom) and future (immediate, urban cyborg) spaces of sound and their politics. Between music that comes from Northern forest lakes entities and Southern mangrove spirits, there are many conversations to have to address our current globalized ideological crises. We’re looking at this critical human dependency on the environment, and the sacredness of the realm of so-called nature, informing every step of human emancipation and collapse. From there, I dreamed a piece involving several synthesizers and wooden percussion instruments, played by vocalists and multi-instrumentalists—mediators between ancient and future relations to sound in space. This will be a toe-dip into some kind of an opera pointing at different layers of current reality and including my recent work around subconscious song-writing, micro-tonal and multi-modal harmonic systems.

We’re also doing a show together! Joined by Amirtha Kidambi and Megan Schubert, we will have a night where each vocalist-composer makes a piece for vocal quartet. Can you tell us a little bit about what you’re planning for that and what you get out of collaborating with other vocalist-composers?

It is very exciting for me to get to write for such powerhouses. I’ve been feeling strongly about writing for voice, and I am absolutely thrilled to be involved in such an endeavor. Being part of each of your process as an interpret, at the same time as I write for each of you – what a dream way to be creative with other voices! I feel like it opens up possibilities, in terms of texture, range, and language. I hope I can honor each specific talent of yours and hopefully contribute to a collective expansion.

My piece starts from formlessness, soundscapes that fill our ears as we live our lives, that give flavor to each moment we experience, the light buzz and the cat’s walk, the blowing wind and the plane growl. Time shifts that move a sound shape to another, the extraordinary alignment of poly-rhythms between street work, breeze, pedestrian paths, crickets and bird jams, and their amazing harmony. Sometimes these epiphanies happen in long cycles, sometimes they are immediate, and they all speak to me as a language of interdependency between realms. Although some sounds have a certain opacity to my ear because I don’t understand their function, they still have a certain transparency as they intertwine with my reality and impact my way to be present to it. And ultimately, my body forms around these sounds to create language.

As far as content, I’m invoking the symbolics of a divine feminine shifting paradigm, the intuitive and practical Pallas-Athena—as other than the old-school sassy Venus. I experience womanhood as a critical point of view on current societal shifts. While these transformations impact society and human evolution as a whole at different paces, I experience their correspondences with interest. Like rivers whose streams are slow and take years to reach the ocean, while other streams are almost ubiquitous. I’m wondering about the role of femininity in this transformation, as I am concerned by the state of our species, our relation to each other across genre, age and culture, and to all forms of life in a strange race to destruction.

Your music often involves a mix of singing and drumming. How do those two activities interact in your work and compositional / improvisational process? Do they feed each other?

To sing and drum is at the root of my experience as a musician. I believe music, as a form of communication prior to articulate language, is fundamental to human experience. Pre-language in music is really interesting to me, a lot of my research focuses on the gestation process of expression, the alignment of pre-language with post-language music somehow. Music interests me to the extent that it carries the potential to (re)-organize our brains, as a prelude to the way we imprint our imagination onto reality.

Voice and drum offer direct access to the intuitive perception of vibration, as a laboratory for sonic alchemy. As a teen, I was lucky to be involved with sacred Shona music (from Zimbabwe); Realizing then that the entrancing function of rhythm in relationship to singing was key for transcendental experiences really hooked me on music for good. In Shona music, when you’ve sung for hours and the air is thick with woven vibrations, the magic of overtones takes hold, and the durational interaction of metallic buzzes and whirling calabash seeds sound like divine voices. Trance is key to bliss, accessing various states of consciousness, and collective transformation—voice and rhythm being its prime triggers. These principles are found in most traditional music which I find fascinating because it comes down to human coexistence transcending cultural differences, through the shared experience of hearing and sonic interaction.

Since connecting these dots, I’ve been obsessed with dimensional shifts, when repetition becomes a canvas for more harmonics and polyrhythms to reveal themselves, the ones that are already present on our surroundings and that, as musicians, we excavate or allow to appear—depending on the method. Also, percussion instruments, as well as voices, challenge dominant ideas of pitch. I love the whole percussive tonal world, how it refines the ear to over and undertones and how it impacts the way I sing. One would think a percussion instrument has only a couple notes, but the surdo, singing bowls, bells, and gongs have been for me infinite wells multiplying melodic paths I can explore vocally. Tuning my ear to percussion-impulsed shifting and bending intervals has impacted my harmonic perception, and how I approach rhythm and harmony together. As a composer, I’ve been exploring minimal, cyclical possibilities of drumming as a trigger to multi-modal, polyrhythmic explorations and odd textures combining voice and percussion. Personality splits have also been interesting finds, as the drum has this very conversational quality to it. I experience language shifts when I express myself with drums, or voice, or when both communicate under their own physical terms. All these are related to shamanism, which is inherent to such practice.

In what way do you see the place of politics in your work?

It is core and shell, although I want to be very careful about my work proving any point. Politics are ethics and aesthetics combined. I believe that as an artist, my function is to catalyze new political thoughts. As a utopian, I mean to open up possibilities for realities ahead. As a love warrior, I intend to deconstruct ideologies and to liberate hearts, minds, and bodies.


Gelsey Bell is a New York City-based critically acclaimed singer, songwriter, and scholar. She has released multiple albums, including most recently This is Not a Land of Kings, and Ciphony with John King. She received a 2017 Music/Sound Award from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, has had work included in PS1’s Greater New York exhibit, and has had both a residency and a commission from Roulette. She is a core member of thingNY, Varispeed, and the Chutneys. Performance highlights include Dave Malloy’s Natasha, Pierre, & the Great Comet of 1812 (on Broadway) and Ghost Quartet, Robert Ashley’s Crash, Matthew Barney and Jonathan Bepler’s River of Fundament, John King’s Micro-Operas, Yasuko Yokoshi’s BELL, Kate Soper’s Here Be Sirens, and Gregory Whitehead’s On the Shore Dimly Seen.

Nick Dunston in Conversation with Darius Jones

On January 30 2019, in his first Van Lier Fellow performance, composer/bassist Nick Dunston presents his quintet, Atlantic Extraction, completed by Louna Dekker-Vargas on flutes, Ledah Finck on violin, Tal Yahalom on guitar, and Stephen Boegehold on drums, along with the world premiere of The Floor is Lava!—a work written for five double basses featuring the diverse talents of Kanoa Mendenhall, Almog Sharvit, Eva Lawitts, and Lisa Hoppe.

Nick Dunston: Atlantic Extraction/The Floor is Lava!

Darius Jones: Who is the Brooklyn-based composer, bassist, and scholar named Nick Dunston?

Nick Dunston: Well, I grew up in New York City—I was born in DC and moved here when I was four. I started off as a cellist. I guess my start in music wasn’t really for any “good reason;” my mom made me play cello, and the first time I switched to electric bass was because I just wanted to be cool. That’s really what it came down to. It took me a while to develop a sense of discipline in working hard at anything, really. My parents stressed the importance of at least working hard in school from an early age. My mom is Puerto Rican, and my dad is African-American, so they really stressed the importance of making sure you represent yourself in the best way possible—fighting the social odds against you. Even still, in music, I wasn’t super disciplined at first, and I had to develop that as I got into high school. As I spent more time actually practicing, motivating myself, and forcing myself to see things that was hard to do when I was younger—that’s really what contributed to my love for music: working harder and seeing that work actually pay off. So yeah, that’s how I got started with the actual discipline of it. I spent a lot of time as a kid not really hanging out with a lot of other kids my age. I really just daydreamed all day. I didn’t do much; I kind of would play ridiculous, fantastical scenarios in my head.

DJ:  Like what?

ND: I was into superheroes. I would spend time imagining superheroes or fantasy worlds—nerdy stuff like that. I played some video games, but I really just liked imagining creatures or people. And it’s not like I had a bleak childhood, I mean I was living in Brooklyn—it was all cool. But yeah, whenever I was walking around or doing anything, my mind was going-on with ridiculous, otherworldly thoughts and images and scenarios. I think that’s what allowed me to constantly churn out new music as a composer: there’s really no shortage of ideas and stuff that I see as valid. I’m so used to always re-imagining and re-imagining things and going back to things that I imagined years ago and developing those in my head. When I realized that I could be a composer, that mindset manifested into music.

DJ: When did you become aware that you could be a composer?

ND: It started in the beginning of high school. I played in a rock band before that in middle school. The band wrote songs together, and I would make up my own bass lines. I don’t know why, but at the time, I never thought of that as composition; I thought of it as just playing the bass. I think I realized it when I went to high school—I went to an art school. I would be sitting in the library and because I’m constantly playing stuff in my head, I would transcribe it onto manuscript paper. I don’t think of it this way now, but back then I was thinking, “oh, because I’m writing this down, that makes me a composer,” in a traditional sense. So since then, I’ve been working to deconstruct that idea because I was still pretty ingrained with a mainstream, eurocentric idea of what it meant to be a composer at that time.

DJ: So what is your compositional and instrumental process? How do you feel your process as a composer and instrumentalist leak?

ND: So, as a composer, it can start a number of ways, but typically I’ll solidify a really basic idea, whether it’s something as vague as a rhythm or a series of pitches or even just a really general sound. I’ll take between one and three of those and solidify them either by recording it into my iPhone or singing it or writing it on paper—or writing the idea of it. Then I try to work with as few materials as I can  to try to see how much I expand each one. Once I’ve sort of developed or brainstormed on a certain idea, I’ll try to make up a large-scale form. I’ve spent a long time doing that and really working out the form and basic order of events. At that point, it’s kind of just filling in blanks and seeing what makes sense. When I’m actually sitting down and composing, I try to take advantage of the one thing that I don’t usually do when I’m improvising and set up a goal and destination. That way I can pace myself and work my way towards those. That’s what I’d say my general process is as a composer.

As an instrumentalist, I used to start by warming up on the bass, making sure that the physicality of it is already there, but I’m starting to drift away from that. I’m finding it’s better for me if I start on the bass with a more musical approach, then blend it with the physicality of warming up. I think that the first thing I do on the instrument needs to be something more than just a physical approach. The physical approach is super demanding and super taxing. There are new things I’m doing like yoga to help me with that. But I think when I actually have the instrument, I need to start with an artistic kind of statement. Oftentimes, I’ll improvise for a stream of five to twenty minutes.

DJ: What are you trying to communicate with your ensemble Atlantic Extraction?

ND: Atlantic Extraction is the first band I’m leading as the sole leader. At first I was thinking about what kind of band I wanted in a general sense—a large or small group—before eventually settling on a quintet. It forced me to be really inventive with the way I compose for improvisers because not everyone in the group comes from the same idiom of improvising. Half the band members are classical musicians who have different ways of approaching improvisation. At first, we didn’t really know each other that well, so it has been about developing a personal relationship, as much as a musical one. That was something I did on purpose—I wanted to grow a band instead of finding one. It’s easy to find a band in our community, but I really wanted to build something from the ground up. We’re never going to escape our models or influences—and I’m not trying to reinvent anything, necessarily—but I find that by growing this band from the ground up, I don’t have a full vision of what we will be, but I’m realizing that it’s becoming clearer to me as we progress. There are things that are really surprising me about this band—there are definitely more curveballs than I had originally thought. I think the vision is also changing as the band grows. Whereas, if I started the group knowing what it would sound like or having any really strong expectations, I feel the whole process would be more about fulfilling that expectation rather than allowing for growth and evolution. So far it’s going great. It’s felt very trusting, very open, very vulnerable, and I’ve been surprised so many times with the music that we make. I think that’s because I freed myself from expectations.

DJ: Why did you choose the instrumentation for Atlantic Extraction?

ND: Well, some parts were functional, and other parts of it actually didn’t have to do with the instruments, at first. For functional reasons, I knew I wanted to do drums[Stephen Boegehold] and guitar [Tal Yahalom]—there are lack of pianos in New York—and really I’m very happy with letting that dictate some of my forms. I met Louna Dekker-Vargas who plays flute and Ledah Finck, a violinist and violist, a couple of years ago at the Imani Winds Chamber Music Festival. I was there as a composer, and they were there for another project. I knew that I wanted to play music with them in some kind of capacity and  Atlantic Extraction made sense because they don’t play rhythm section instruments, in the conventional sense. That was the only functional requirement that I was looking for to fill rest the band. I’d always been interested in classical music and chamber music which is where I heard these instruments first, so I think that elevated the idea that it was kind of an unconventional instrumentation. It didn’t really register to me as that at first, but now that I look back on it it makes sense where it came from.

DJ: It’s a cool front line—flute and violin—it’s really cool. Essentially, as you said, you have this conventional rhythm section that we’ve seen before, but then this front line that is really unique.

ND: Yeah, I know a ton of saxophonists who double on flute and who play really good flute, but it’s not the same. It’s also interesting writing something where flute is the only possible option. It gives me puzzles to work on.

DJ: I can hear that in the music. The fact that you are saying, “I have to write for flute; I have to write for violin,” seems to be influencing the whole compositional process.

ND: Very much so. I really like puzzles and so in some ways it’s a balance of being really strategic and a game-maker. But another part of me is really into the idea of giving myself a slab of work and then working my way through it and treating everything like puzzle.

DJ: What’s the compositional approach to the ensemble?

ND: There isn’t any single approach, but as of recently, a bit for this ensemble and for another new group,I’m dealing with some timer stuff—stopwatch stuff—and gestural stuff. I’m experimenting with this notational approach where I’ll have between one to three simple themes. I’ll have those kind of off to the side – theme one, theme two, theme three. The rest of the notation is gestural – giving just information that is needed to execute the general realm of what I’m hearing while making room for the improvisers. It’ll look like, bass one and bass two play theme one and then there will be another part that says go down then they’ll go on. Then it’ll say sax one play long tones against this and I’ll be as specific as that. It’s this unfolding of people doing really basic tasks, but they to commit it and as they hear what’s going on against it they’ll naturally gravitate towards playing together.

DJ: How much do your personal aesthetics inform your decisions at this point in your career?

ND: I’m finding that it seems like my decisions are informing my aesthetics. I’m recently finding that I’m more into quirky, fucked-up stuff than I thought I was, but I only came across that by composing what felt right. I don’t really feel like my aesthetics, when it comes to composition, is predetermined. It feels more like I compose and then I’m like oh, okay.

DJ: Do you feel like the things you are aesthetically attracted in your work are being reflected in your choices and in the decisions that you’re making at this point?

ND: In terms of my life around music, yes. Over the past year I’ve been particularly introspective and doing weekly therapy sessions to kind of figure out myself and work through stuff that I haven’t really worked through in my life. I’m finding that by putting my work at the center of my life and focusing on that, everything else falls into place around it, particularly as it relates to my direct community and really investing in those relationships with people whether it relates to music or not. I’m working on finding a marriage between my personal life and musical life. Recently I have been placing a lot of importance on  my relationships with people and that approach has heightened my understanding of who they are as musicians and I think has refined and increased my own awareness of who I am as a musician, whether it be as a composer, as a leader, or as side person.

DJ: What are a few things that influence your work besides music?

ND: I really like movement-based activities. That could be dance but even stuff that is found more in everyday life, like looking at the way people walk. My mom would always tell me to make sure I sway my arms when I walk. When she saw me walking with my arms straight down, she would always say, “walk with your arms in movement.” She was always nagging me about that, and my posture, and generally the way I present myself. She was teaching me about body awareness and now, body alignment is always on my mind. I’m fascinated by it. Whether it be in dance, the way people walk, the people’s posture, or body language really interests me.

DJ: Do you have a code that you live by?

ND: I never thought of it in that specific word, code, but I would say that yes—always believing in myself with one hundred percent conviction and commitment and really doing things on my own terms. I’m still learning about other traditions and other systems, but ultimately not letting any hierarchies or ways of making music dictate my work or who I am as a person. I’m creating my own standards and my own terms, and how I present myself as a person.

DJ: Now that we’ve reached the end, are there any questions you wished I would have asked?

ND: I mean I still have, you know, tons of anxiety about the way I declare myself as an artist and the person getting solidified. I thought you would ask more questions, but I’m glad you didn’t, haha.

DJ: No no, it’s because—well, how old are you?

ND: Twenty-two.

DJ: Yeah, man, I didn’t know what the hell I was trying do at twenty-two. I had an idea, for sure, but you know—at forty thinking about the kid at twenty-two, man. It’s light years. I would say, you are in a very different place than I was, but it’s great that you’re letting it flow, and I think that’s the right way to be at twenty-two.

ND: Yeah, I’m trying to work hard and be kind to myself and follow my interests.

DJ: One question I would like to ask you end it—there seems to be a large group of young, really interested, really talented players with vast perspectives on making work coming up right now. I mean you guys are kind the early twenties crew of cats that are in the interesting position of not being bogged down to any type of style or path. It seems you can do whatever really truly interests you. How do you feel about that?

ND: It’s exciting, but more so, a huge responsibility. I think it’s partially because of the huge open lines of communication and, arguably, lack of privacy. There’s just so much communication, such fast communication—and tons of people in the generation or two above us who are generous with their time and their thoughts, like yourself. We have so many resources, so it’s exciting to see what people are doing with these things, but it’s also a huge responsibility because it’s like, Okay you have all this stuff. We’re laying out all these ideas and influences here for you—here you go. Get to work. What are you going to do with them?

DJ: Exactly. Get to work. I like that.


Darius Jones is a critically acclaimed alto saxophonist and composer. In 2008, Jones was awarded the Van Lier Fellowship by Roulette, which he used to launch his chamber ensemble, the Elizabeth-Caroline Unit, a project dedicated to new works for voice. Roulette continued their support for Jones’s work through a Jerome Foundation Commission, awarding Jones an Artist-in-Residence opportunity for the Elizabeth-Caroline Unit to premiere his vocal composition, The Oversoul Manual, in spring 2014. Following that performance, Jones made his compositional debut at Carnegie Hall with The Oversoul Manual in October 2014. Jones has collaborated with Gerald Cleaver’s Black Host, Oliver Lake Big Band, Eric Revis Quartet, Nasheet Waits Quartet, Trevor Dunn’s Proof Readers, Matthew Shipp, Branford Marsalis, Jason Moran, and more.

Spotlight on Kelly Moran

by s. karabush


On Friday, September 7th, Kelly Moran premieres a selection of electro-acoustic keyboard works for her first Van Lier Fellowship concert at Roulette.

Tell me a little bit about your upcoming album.

On November 2nd, my album Ultraviolet will be coming out on Warp Records. I’m really excited because I’ve been a huge fan of Warp since I was a teenager. Many of the artists on Warp are why I got into making electronic music in the first place—Aphex Twin, Squarepusher, Boards of Canada, etc. These musicians have been hugely influential to me in so many ways. To be part of that legacy is really affirming to me as an artist, especially since I’ve faced so much rejection for not fitting within an easily categorizable musical genre. It felt so amazing to be accepted by a label *because* I’m such a weirdo! This record feels like a culmination of what I’ve been working towards for the past few years; it’s all prepared piano, but I designed a lot of detailed sound-worlds around the piano using different synths and electronic textures, so it sounds very lush and dreamy. It’s also more improvisatory than my past records—all of the pieces began as improvisations that I recorded and later refined, so I sound really untethered and free on the album. Writing and working on the piano parts for this album really changed the way I play, and I feel like I’ve discovered a new way of playing my instrument that is idiosyncratic to my personal musical tendencies.

You were the sole engineer and producer of your last five solo albums. Why do it yourself?

I’m a control freak! Haha. But really, I studied recording engineering and production in college because I really wanted to be able to make music without relying on other people to record or produce it for me. I was naturally interested in it to begin with, and I always felt that working alone forced me to come up with creative solutions to any roadblocks I’d encounter. And of course, another reason is the fact that I’ve always been hyper-aware of the fact that the production world is very male-dominated, and I feared that letting someone else produce my music meant that they would end up getting all the credit for it. I wanted to show that I was capable of doing it without anyone’s help to make sure people knew I was the mastermind behind all the intricacies in my music. Now that I’m a bit older and have established myself by making a few records all on my own, I feel more relaxed about working with other people. Ultraviolet is the first record I let someone else produce with me, and it was really thrilling to get a different perspective on my music for the first time.

How has your creative voice developed since BLOODROOT, and through your work with Oneotrix Point Never?

My entire creative process has changed since Bloodroot, and it made me really excited that I was able to shift gears so radically for Ultraviolet and create a sound that was completely new for me. Bloodroot sounds just a little bit stiff and academic to me to me at times; while writing it, I was sitting at the piano with staff paper tediously writing these awkward, little melodies with weird, angular harmonies that were sort of uncomfortable—physically—for my hands. Most of the songs on that record were so short simply because the music was challenging for me to write, and I’d get exhausted and want to move on to something new! It’s not the most enjoyable music for me to play either because of some of the positions and patterns. But Ultraviolet is rooted in improvisation to a greater degree, and I really just let myself go wild without overthinking chord changes or harmonic structures. I stopped intellectualizing things so much and forgot about theory. So much of it was about the physical response I would have to the piano while improvising patterns and playing around with stretching and compressing rhythmic phrasing in new ways.

Working with Dan (Oneohtrix Point Never) has also opened my eyes to new creative possibilities. I am really grateful to be part of his MYRIAD performances because he has such an incredible vision that is executed beautifully on every level: from the lights, to the video work, to the stage design, to the giant trash bag inflatables that slowly and menacingly inflate during the performance beside us. He really thought about how to create a multi-sensory experience for the audience on every level, and that’s definitely something I see myself striving for in the future. I don’t want to just play a concert; I want to give the audience an experience that delivers both sonically and visually, so it’s fully immersive. I want people to feel like they’ve slipped into another dimension for an hour.  

Tell me about the dialogue between musical traditions (New Music, Metal, Minimalism) that we hear in your music. What’s in there that’s hidden? That we might not catch at first listen?

There are a lot more similarities between these genres than meets the eye, I think. When I started getting into black metal, my first thought was that it reminded me exactly of minimalism: both genres rely heavily on repeated notes/tremolos, a steady pulse, and a commitment to tonality. I’ve transcribed black metal songs on piano, and they legit sound like they could be Philip Glass piano etudes. A lot of black metal is actually pretty compositional if you ignore the terrifying banshee vocals—especially 2nd wave black metal, which to me is very catchy and melodic. Someday, I’d love to transcribe a metal piece for a chamber ensemble just to prove how similar it can be to contemporary New Music since they have really similar foundations.

Tell me about the role experimentation plays in your work.

There was a point in high school when I was in a practice room playing piano, and I heard someone down the hall playing the same exact piece, only way better. It was sort of a eureka moment for me because I realized I was striving to do something that a lot of other people could do way better than me, and it suddenly didn’t feel exciting to me anymore. I obviously love playing piano and learning music, but I personally don’t find satisfaction from playing pieces that every pianist has played. I wanted to seek out the weird, unexplored repertoire that was shunned by academia and discover new ways of playing piano. The piano department at my college didn’t want to give me academic credit for learning how to play prepared piano or contemporary music, which only made me want to do it more. For me, it’s not just about being different for the sake of being unique, but I genuinely love discovering new timbral combinations that feel wholly unique to my creative voice. When I made Bloodroot, I wanted to make a record that was comprised entirely of piano timbres, and I experimented with generating sounds from the piano in so many different ways. It challenged me and really opened me up to new sonic combinations I wouldn’t have discovered otherwise. I am always going to be pushing myself to find uniquely different techniques of playing piano and new ways of combining it with other timbres to make it sound fresh and new.

What are the hardest material restraints you’ve faced as an artist?

That’s easy: not having the money or resources to make the music I want to make. Since I was never able to afford studio time, there are bird chirps and weird environmental artifacts on all of my records because I was always recording on my piano at my parent’s house. It’s been a huge blessing to receive the Van Lier Fellowship from Roulette in that it’s opened up so many possibilities I’ve never had before. When I first moved to NYC, I was freelancing as an accompanist, and I didn’t have a lot of extra funds to spend on things that weren’t food, rent, or a metrocard. Now I’m able to buy equipment and gear that I’ve wanted for a long time. The Van Lier Fellowship has also allowed me to work with other artists on my projects and actually pay them for their work when I wasn’t able to do that before. I’ve wanted to collaborate with video artists for so, so long, and I’ve been using part of my fellowship to work with with a designer to make projections for my upcoming performances. I’ve been dabbling in video art myself for a few years, but I’m by no means an expert and have really limited production capabilities in that realm. I’m really thrilled that now I am able to work with someone who can elevate the visual aspect of my performances to a higher level.

One last question… I was checking out your Twitter account and there’s a lot of figure skating. Are you really into figure skating? Has anyone ever skated to your music? What’s up with figure skating?

Yes, I am really, really into figure skating, both as a spectator and participant. I just love that it’s such a beautiful, expressive sport that’s also dangerous as hell. It looks so easy, but it’s SO hard. And it’s inextricably tied to musical expression! You won’t be considered a great skater if you don’t have a strong grasp of conveying the emotions behind the music you’re skating to. A lot of skaters I’ve met are also musicians, actually. I’m also really into the idea of a sport being so extreme that you willingly hurl yourself into the air at high speeds and land on ice with hundreds of pounds per square inch of force. That is absolutely wild to me. I love it. And it’s been great having a hobby that challenges me in similar ways music does – like music, skating requires a ton of discipline and practice. So much of skating is repeating the same movements over and over again, and I get a really big thrill from mastering the smallest maneuvers. As of now, no one has ever skated to my music but I would absolutely die of happiness if someone did, especially if they were Russian and prodigious. (No country is dominating figure skating like Russia is right now.)

CONTRIBUTOR: s. karabush

susan/snooze karabush is a musician who writes and dances. He has worked at Roulette since 2013, currently as Director of Operations.

Spotlight on G. Lucas Crane

[RESIDENCY] G Lucas Crane: Time Boiler
Tuesday, June 19, 2018 @ 8:00 pm

Tell us about yourself and what you do.

I’m a sound artist, musician, and performer, born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. I collage together sound steeped in magnetic tape aesthetics, and I use sounds on the common cassette tape as my instrument. I’m a tape DJ. An ancient and future sounds DJ.

I say “sound artist” here because through my sound practice, the process that I use to compose sound artwork is a spiritual, conceptual exploration of where I stand on the contemporary cyborg continuum,  and I’m exploring those concepts in sound. As we externalize our nervous systems into increasingly sophisticated devices, synthesizers, samplers, sequencers; what is making the music at any given time? Making artwork today that uses recorded media as its source material, I feel like the contemporary information warfare zeitgeist we live in makes it important to be constantly critical about where your media is coming from and how much  “integrity” it has as it relates to the self. I’m not a luddite or an analogue / digital purist by any means, I just want to know what’s going on, you know? Viscerally, physically, in the making of artwork. There’s something comforting about my media mostly coming from piles at my feet. I’m trying to remake recorded material from my life, and contemporary sensory life is replete with slick attention hijacking almost at every moment. So my work is kind of like performing anti-brainwashing rituals for myself. I have to admit I fail most of the time. Still, I can have the freedom to consider, in the time-bound folds of a tape loop, that time and life is not just for endlessly rushing forward consuming till death, I can create a space for revisiting the past, the ever cut-up present, and help divine the future through these musical processes. So that’s what sound art means to me, currently. Using attention to the sonic environment to fight the brainwashing.

I put “musician” here because regardless as to why I do anything with sound, I try to humbly situate myself amongst the world-spanning musical tradition, in that music as a craft is a pillar of human expression and the output of the daily plying of this trade has a relatable impact on all humans. So seeing oneself as a musician is in some way to try to recognize sonic impact over sonic intent and realize that “music” as a sound practice is located in the web of interconnected social fabric that exists between people making and listening to sounds as music. It’s really about something you do that someone else hears and the recognition of sound as a nonverbal communication medium, as well as an extremely intimate form of communication between practitioners. I really enjoy and get a lot out of this tradition of world walking bards, heads, jammers, tapers, nerds, weirdos, and citizen-musicologists, and I’m trying to ultimately make something that people listen to and get something out of (as opposed to, say, the conceptual motivations).

Lastly, I put “performer” here because the different mindsets that come with studio composition and live performance is important to my work, and I try to do a percentage of sonic decision making in a ‘live’ context. Non-live composition, especially for collage based media work I’m making, then becomes developing systems of sound relationships that have different probabilities of success or failure, and have these systems and decisions play out in a live setting. Performance is important to me as both a composition tool and social ritual. It’s a really potent human tradition.

Describe the project you are developing for Roulette.

I’m working on bringing something new for Roulette. New for me anyway. It’s called Time Boiler. Where I boil down some time. It’s an expansion of writing and music I’ve been making on the subject of time travel and ethics. Treating time travel and the mindset it requires as real and then working backwards from there to come up with how I remain an ethical human in all of that. How I remain myself. And how the time traveling mindset can reference and illuminate today’s society and the tyrannical control we are asserting over our reality and the reality of others. I think the practice and craft of music keeps one moral and honest, but that’s just me. For the past year I’ve been trying to expand my mind on the subject of time itself, which is sort of an outgrowth of my music practice in general. My music is made up of bits of sound from other times, and when I put them all together in real time, in a particular now, I feel the intense compression of time going into that moment, since my samples are frequently years old, mixed with things I just recorded. Music, as a medium ripped free of its mode as purely “personal expression,” is ultimately a “time binding” art form, where we fuse intent with what I consider a probing, a testing of reality via the body. Even when I don’t know who made a piece of music, I can hear it’s time-specific qualities, it’s made with machines and at a fidelity and style that correspond with a particular moment in time. Music is so hyper technological these days, that you can hear the time something is from via the the aesthetic qualities of the tech they are using. Even a recording of, say, a solo violin piece feels futuristic to me when recorded and reproduced in intense modern hi fidelity. if you reverse that consideration, it’s “a way to tell time” or to explore time. especially, I believe, right now! The act of making music is so time expansive, that during the act itself time does really weird stuff, shrinks down to where I’m exploring fractions of a second at the same time as focusing on an hour. This is almost a horrible insult to music in a way, as I’ve been speaking about music as collections of time and not how it sounds, but this is the most basic way I can try to understand what’s going on, since the sounds themselves are the things that conscripts my soul and makes for a compelling thing to listen to for others. There’s what you mix and then a how you mix it, and in my process the what, the actual sounds, grips me in the moment, leaving the how to be a more conceptual exploration of time, through how I make, organize, and relate to the tapes that I mix. I’ve just, lately, been thinking about what sound does to me and that leads to considering when it comes from, what it is, where every piece of the sound has an origin in thought or in time. I’ve been making sound work about this experience, which I feel like leads nicely to the recursive nature of my work in general; time chunked up and remixed, about time, in a time. So this new piece Time Boiler is my attempt at synthesizing these concepts into a performance.

And speaking about the performance, it’s important for me to use this opportunity at Roulette to attempt something that could only happen here, this being about time there has to be a trail aspect to the performance, so I’m setting up a few precarious musical feats I have to pull off and there’s no guarantee I’ll succeed. I mean I can practice, but there has to be this aspect of “even a failure will be specific to this time here.” I’m “racing against the clock” like we all are if we let ourselves. And the good thing is that any failure will just be another piece of music to the listener. No ones dying on a table if I can’t pull this piece off.

Another idea I’m exploring in Time Boiler is that of the rarified time object. Since I work with cassette tapes to hold my samples, there’s this solid touchstone aspect to sound that over the years of playing various samples I start to get really attached to specific tapes. Like I fetishize them to an unhealthy degree. So for this piece, I’m exploring making the tapes super crazy to the point where they could be treated like holy objects. There are only one of these tapes, and that weird sacred quality will then extend to the sounds that I put on these tapes, and these qualities will extend into affecting how I situate these samples into the overall composition and performance. I like relating to each sample as a physical object. I find it to be a mentally healthy consideration to have with sound. I get really angry sometimes at all the samples I have on my computer, like “what are you even doing in there in that dumb place.” Just numbered files sitting in a list in a simulacra of a folder in a box. Putting them on tapes frees me to really play with them, juggle them, get a physical grip on them. And making them increasingly crazy looking then effects how I come to feel about them and subsequently how I play the sounds contained therein in a piece of music. I’m trying to unite all the different factors of what truly goes into my musical performance moment to moment.

What is it like living and working in New York City?

Well I’m from here, from right here on 3rd Avenue! So it’s like home to me always, and I have to constantly remind myself to not feel too at home too much of the time because the reality of New York City as a place people move to to work on their lives is starkly different. I want to be able to put myself in people’s shoes. That’s the advantage of living in this city — people and their lives are all around you and you have a better opportunity to learn about people and experiences that are different from yours. The sheer scale of this quality is mind-boggling and unlike anywhere else. New York City, it’s got SHEER SCALE, with everything, the bad and the good. I’m pretty into people and what they do, I’m anti-misanthropic, and so this city is great and curious to me. You also have the opportunity to experience first hand how shitty a city can be to its people and how shitty people can be to each other, and that’s a different learning experience. This scale of human potential and depravity is deeply spiritually educational, and it’s a stark experience. When I go other places these realities are muted and more hidden in their locally specific ways, and I get pissed off and bored. I’m sort of a city rat, a creature of New York. In that way I’m kind of naïve and spoiled. I find any other place than New York City to be deeply exotic. “Oh so your clean trains turn off at night? Huh, wow. Crazy.”

What are you really excited about right now?

My dreams are crazy right now. Like full on sci-fi wonderland dreams with sequels and reboots. It’s making me question my memory and my waking life. My memory of these dreams is so intense, but it always comes with the feeling that these memories can only ever be half the story, or a third of the story. Are my dreams lies? Mis-remembered? Are they nonsense? Are they deeper truth? How could a labyrinth made of creosote logs that is also a submarine lit with jars filled with fireflies have some deeper truth? Or are the stories that affect me like what happens in my waking life? I’m psyched about this — its going to take me the rest of my life to figure out. I suppose it’s something we all have to reckon with, but I’m excited about it. I’m probably going to make some sort of…card game?…out of my dreams. Not sure. It’s going to sound funny but I’m really excited about how the human mindset is reacting to contemporary technology and how its going to require this intense criticality about what kind of information we take in to even survive with a sense of self, it’s already happening and these last few years has really shown that the casual violence of human communication can be harnessed into a psychic environment that conscripts us all. So that usual background notion of achieving or living in some type of “freedom” is going to be harder and harder to find without a new generation of intense criticality about what we take in and how. I have hope it’s going to lead to actual resources for leading a healthy life, because we all know how good the internet is for getting the same old poison into our psychic systems. So I would like to focus on and promote the good tools, not the bad. And I’m excited that it will be harder and harder to ignore the bad parts of human society. It’s all coming out now. The masks are slipping.

What’s your absolute favorite place in the city to be and why?

Wandering, just wandering around everywhere. The places I really like are the connective tissue of the city. I just like sitting on a random bench somewhere. I like going into a places I’ve never been. Rejecting what the phone tells me.

How did your interest in your work begin?

For me, there is a strong mental relationship between sound and narrative. Successions of sounds are sentences; a song is a paragraph. Sound as text. I started off when I was younger in love with words and what they do, their limits and advantages. Every sound I work with evokes some sort of story to me, but this is distinctly related without using words. It’s incredible that smashing sounds together can do this through the medium of the human brain, and my work is an attempt to plumb the depths of this relationship. Articulation can achieve clarity but kill innovation; saying something well trumps saying something of substance, etc. sound is a medium of different possible meanings existing in the same moment in time. Articulation with words fixes its nature, collapsing meaning back into an either/or realm that we are trained for. Even recording sound onto media fixes its nature and allows it to be remixed, further collapsing its potential meaning. I’m interested in sound recordings as texts of my memory and fragments of my own story, but I’m trying to discover associations that will lead me into my own future by cutting up and collaging my past. I’m extremely interested in forging a path through sonic art despite my training being firmly outside musical tradition and training. I think there’s a way to approach sound art as story making, and even if I sound like an idiot along the way, I’m interested in the outcomes of working deeply with these tools and concepts.

What is influencing your work right now?

Time travel and the chasing down of what it means to be an at a particular moment in time, and how we go about relating to our past and future selves, who we can only experience in the present. Trying to expand my consciousness through complex performance rituals and the time-specific concepts of hope vs. truth in time and as it relates to how we live half on and half off the Internet now, where time is compressed. To do something even if you can see into the future, is to have hope, to have an audacity, a type of insanity. The truth of things might be hopelessly cynical and rational and risk-averse, being right on the Internet now stands in for action or community, but hope for a better world and the values that hope requires still are important, even if you have a time machine and have tried and failed a hundred times to change the past, or see the future that might be inevitable. You still have to try, un-cynically. I might never make the nicest, most palatable music manhandling my sound memories on tape, but I can exemplify the seeking values of wonder by experimenting. 

Spotlight On: Anna Wray

Anna Wray

Resist x Improvise: An Evening for Roscoe Mitchell
Tuesday, June 5, 2018 @ 8:00 pm

Tell us about yourself and what you do.

I am a percussionist living in Bushwick, Brooklyn. I perform avant-garde jazz and new classical music and am starting to learn more about Brazilian and Cuban rhythms. Some of my favorite artists in New York right now are So Percussion, Roomful of Teeth, and Zeena Parkins. I currently study with Josh Quillen.

I was born in 1991 in Park Slope and went to the children’s YWCA program next door to Roulette. When I was five, my family, who had lived in a huge Fort Greene brownstone for nearly twenty years, moved to an old house in Sleepy Hollow, NY. I began studying music when I was six, first piano and then percussion, in private studios. The public schools also had great music programs with jazz ensembles, orchestras and musicals. I remain close to the directors at Sleepy Hollow’s Junior and High schools, offering workshops and participating in the music honor society.

After high school, I spent a number of years on the West Coast, first in Oakland, CA to attend Mills College where I pursued percussion performance, studying with percussionist William Winant and improvisation with Roscoe Mitchell. I continued my musical studies at CalArts in Los Angeles, receiving an MFA in percussion performance, studying Brazilian, Indonesian, Electronics, African, and North Indian music with percussionists, Randy Gloss, Amy Knoles, and David Johnson. After my masters, I taught full time as a general music teacher at an elementary school in Compton, Los Angeles. It was one of the most rewarding experiences in my life. I’m still in touch with my students. I returned to New York in 2017 to live closer to my family. I missed seeing my niece and nephew grow up and I really missed the New York Yankees. Also, New York City is the city where many artistic collaborations are happening.

Describe the project you are developing for Roulette.

I wrote Roscoe Mitchell in 2016, asking if he would consider writing a new work for vibraphone. He agreed, as I saved up money at my cafe job for his commission. A few months rolled by and I wanted to make more music with my good friends, Marilu Donovan and Christopher Foss, so I asked Roscoe if he could create a new work for vibraphone, harp and bassoon. In response, he told me that he had a baritone piece he wrote for Thomas Buckner and piano, that might work well with this new orchestration. We contacted my colleague, and Roscoe’s former student, Daniel Steffey to orchestra the virtuosic piano part for vibraphone, harp and bassoon. I then asked my dear friend Michael Lofton to join us as our baritone voice for the quartet. I’ve wanted to work with Michael my whole life, so I’m excited for our first performance together. One of my first memories of seing Michael perform was in the NYC Opera production of Carmen. (Unfortunately, I was crying as the curtain went up, rather than when Carmen dies, because my mother made me kill my pet Tamagotchi when she discovered it in my pocket. I hadn’t considered the noise it could make during the performance. You couldn’t turn off a Tamagotchi, without killing it. But it had become a level 4 frog from a tadpole! I must have fed the Tamagotchi in the middle of the night for weeks. However, seeing Michael in a blonde wig made everything okay.)

As the program develops, I have invited more of my colleagues to join the program, such as Brian Adler’s Human Time Machine. Through discussions with Brian Adler and Michael Lofton, we decide to focus this evening’s performance on African American social justice and equality.

What is your favorite place to eat or drink near Roulette?

Bedouin Tent, which is around the corner of Atlantic Avenue and Bond Street (Cash only!)

What is your favorite record?
The Harder They Come soundtrack (Jimmy Cliff! Toots!), Live at Roseland, NYC by Portishead, David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, and Metamorphosis by Philip Glass. Some of these albums I grew up with, while others were introduced to me at significant times in my life. I constantly return to them, listening to the album in entirety. Each time, I find new musical elements and textures, as well as new meanings from the lyrics.

What is influencing your work right now?
Brian Adler’s Human Time Machine. Brian has taken the time to meet with me and explore more ways to approach rhythm. Such as, focusing on syncopation as a downbeat, seamlessly switching from a triplet feel to a sixteenth note feel, and developing patterns in 5. Performing in the Human Time Machine is helping me develop my voice as an improviser.

What artists are you interested in right now?
I’m interested in The Knife and MIA. Their ability to create dance songs that include a powerful political message blows me away. I love that these two artists have a sound that is so distinct, and clearly their own. I find that empowering and I hope to one day find my own.

Describe Roulette in three words.
Safe, encouraging, loving

Spotlight On: Gabrielle Herbst

Photo: Tom Saccenti courtesy New Sounds 

[RESIDENCY] Gabrielle Herbst: Vulnerability
Thursday, May 31, 2018 @ 8:00 pm

Tell us about yourself and what you do.

I am a composer and vocalist currently living in Brooklyn. I went to Bard College in upstate New York and am originally from the Berkshires in Massachusetts.

I compose from a very intuitive place – not starting from a set of compositional rules, but rather from a place of openness, improvisation, and spontaneity. I’m interested in creating spatialized architectural sound that engulfs the listeners and transports them into a different state through color and texture. I compose for all instruments with the mindset of writing for the human voice: I imagine clarinets, cellos, and timpani singing. Vocal music has healing qualities that I think our culture is deeply in need of right now –returning to the source, the breath, the heartbeat. My music is very much seeking a return to the body – exploring sensuality and sensory perception, while clearing the busyness of the mind.

I am interested in experimenting with electronics and live processing in performance because I think it embodies our socio-technological environment, and I’m intrigued with digital sounds creating organic, beautiful sonic spaces.

I’ve been exploring two sides of my musical self – one as GABI and the other as Gabrielle Herbst. As GABI I compose short form songs for my own voice and small instrumental ensembles as well as electronics. Sometimes I perform solo, and much of GABI has been developed in the studio and taken on tour.

Under my full name, I compose operas and varied configurations of instrumental and vocal music in a more classical vein. The two intersect in many ways and influence each other, feeling like two characters of my personality – GABI being more raw and emotional, Gabrielle Herbst a little more orchestral, calculated and structured, utilizing standard notation. For GABI music, I often do not use standard notation and develop songs more on intuition, composing by ear and improvisation. In both projects, I am influenced by opera singing, vocal traditions from many world cultures, and pop singing, creating my own take on contemporary vocal and instrumental music.

Describe the project you are developing for Roulette.

Written for two voices and two loop pedals, electronics, harp, violin, cello, flute, piano and clarinet, the opera I’m composing for this Roulette Residency explores themes of personal and collective vulnerability, anxiety, fear and struggle – investigating self-care and interpersonal relationships within our current sociopolitical climate. Progressing through dreamlike non-narrative tableaux, with close harmonization, textural rhythms, melismatic vocals, electronics and cross-genre pollination, this opera looks at inward struggles and connecting outwards. It will be performed by the Nouveau Classical Project, joined by Marilu Donovan on Harp as well as myself and Charlotte Mundy as the vocalists.

What is your first musical memory?

My dad singing. He is an amazing singer and used to sing to me as a baby.

How did you become involved with Roulette?

When I first moved to NYC after college in 2009 I set up a meeting with Jim and he was so incredibly supportive. I instantly become involved in the Roulette community, first as a sound intern, then working in the box office, and then as an artist. I’m forever grateful.

What is it like living and working in New York City?

Difficult but so fulfilling. I find the struggle of keeping up, both financially and artistically really beneficial to my work.

Describe your performance at Roulette in three words.

Vulnerable. Vocal. Raw.

Describe Roulette in three words.

Beautiful. Open. Unexpected.

Spotlight On: Ka Baird

Photo: Cameron Kelly courtesy ISSUE Project Room

[RESIDENCY] Ka Baird: centers: 4 channels
Sunday, May 13, 2018 @ 8:00 pm

Tell us about yourself and what you do.

I am a composer and performer living and working in NYC. I am one of the founding and continuing members of the experimental outfit Spires That In The Sunset Rise, founded in Chicago in September 2001. Since relocating to NYC in November 2014, I have set off in numerous directions apart from Spires with new collaborations, as well as honing in on my solo work. My current work explores piano, electroacoustic interventions, extended vocal techniques, physical movement, and the electronic manipulation of the flute. I am interested specifically in performance  /sound as a means to break recurring thought patterns and create passages into pure energy potential. I also co-run the label and concert organizer Perfect Wave with Camilla Padgitt-Coles.

I have toured both nationally and internationally with performances at the Museum of Contemporary Art (Chicago), MoMA PS1 (Brooklyn), Roulette Intermedium (Brooklyn), Issue Project Room (Brooklyn), Fridman Gallery, Cafe OTO (London), and numerous festival appearances with Spires including TUSK (Newcastle, UK), Incubate (Tilburg, Netherlands), and Festival Of Endless Gratitude (Copenhagen, DK).

Describe the project you are developing for Roulette.

I will premiere Centers: 4 Channels, two new pieces incorporating 4-channel synthesis with spatialized light and movement.  The first piece is titled piano:vivification exercises and the second piece is titled voices: visceral illocality.

What is your first musical memory?

Listening to cicadas.

What is influencing your work right now?

Immediacy & energy, rhythm & breath.

What’s your absolute favorite place in the city to be and why?

On the top open deck of the ferry going under the bridges at full speed.

What artists are you interested in right now?

Carolee Schneemann, Julius Eastman, Cecil Taylor, Raul de Nieves, Alvin Lucier, Moor Mother, Jon Mueller, MSHR, Maryanne Amacher, Maya Angelou, Ursula Le Guin.

What are you really excited about right now?

Hieroglyphics, binaural beats, bioluminescence, emergent systems, polyrhythms, chladni patterns.

Spotlight On: Che Chen

Che Chen with Talice Lee and Patrick Holmes
Wednesday, May 9, 2018 @ 8:00 pm

Interview with David Weinstein, Roulette Director of Special Projects

What is your first musical memory?

It’s not exactly musical, but when I was 7 or 8 I was waiting for the school bus one day and an older kid walked up munching on a cookie. He was chewing and breathing through his mouth at the same time and I could hear these hissing/crunching noises being filtered as his mouth changed shape. I didn’t  understand it then the way I just described it, but for some reason that really stuck with me and I tried making my own mouth sounds after that. Then I studied piano briefly and badly, but by the time I was 12 or so I’d saved up enough lawn mowing money to buy an electric bass out of the local paper’s classified section. I had a eureka moment when I discovered that instead of trying to learn the changes to my favorite songs, I could sound one of the open strings over and over again and make up stuff against it, which is basically what I still love doing the most: improvising against a drone.

Describe the project you are developing for Roulette.

I wanted to go deeper into some ideas that we’ve touched upon in 75 Dollar Bill, my band with Rick Brown, but that haven’t been the main focus. Microtonality, sustained tones, extreme slowness, a more nuanced modal concept. I’ve been constructing my own tunings and modes for this piece. Indian music, Arabic Maqam, and Mauritanian music have always been fascinating and elusive to me and I’ve taken certain ideas from these traditions, but I’ve tried not to take too much of their “sound.” I’m more interested in the deep structural logic of how melodies and tunings are constructed. The piece will be performed by a trio with Patrick Holmes on clarinet, Talice Lee on violin and myself on bass recorder and electric organ. Everyone also sings. It has composed elements–melodic cells and unison lines–but most of the performance will be the musicians taking turns improvising on the modes while being supported by the other two players, with everything framed within these microtonal organ chords.

All the profiles of you mention the Mauritanian encounter. What is the whole story? How has that influenced you?

No way to put the whole story in words, but I went to the Islamic Republic of Mauritania (in West Africa) in 2013 and took guitar lessons with a phenomenal musician named Jeich ould Chigaly. I should really say I took lessons with his whole family, because I also got schooled by his wife, the incredible singer and ardin player, Noura mint Seymali, and even his then 5-year old son, Mohammed, as well as other relatives and friends passing thru their house. In the Moorish modal system there are five main modes, each with a “black” and “white” form. Jeich showed me one form each day so it couldn’t have been anything but the briefest introduction, but it still completely reconfigured my approach to playing guitar and really threw me into the deep end with a lot of the things I was thinking about. It was also incredibly eye opening just to be in that part of the world and to get a glimpse into how music functions in a society that is so different from America. I was there for less than two weeks but I am still digesting the experience.

Your use of electronics tends to be cassette players, radios, even toy instruments. Are you averse to high-tech or is there a special magic to the lo-fi tools?

In general I prefer the directness of instruments but when I use electronics that kind of physical relationship to the sound is still something that I look for. That’s what makes it musical to me. Magnetic tape is great for that. I think if I was a little younger it might be a different story, but I understand how to hack analog technologies in a way that I don’t with digital technology at all.

Talk about quarter-tone tuning, microtonal music, your interest in overtones. These clearly enter into your guitar and violin playing and even with sax and keyboards.

My first day in Mauritania my Jeich took me to a dirt floored workshop in Nouakchott where a guy refretted the cheap guitar I had brought with me in quarter-tones. He used a hack saw, a file, pliers, a pair of calipers that looked about 200 years old and some super glue. It took him less than an hour. The traditional Moorish instruments are all fretless for playing untempered intervals, so to make use of guitars, they put a new fret in between every two of the guitar’s normal frets. The result is a kind of 24-tone equal tempered fretboard (rather than the usual 12), but they use a lot of intervals related to the 11th harmonic, which are very close to quarter-tones, so it sort of works out. Going to Mauritania was great because I got to see the music in context. I think a lot of microtonal music here is very theoretical or academic but this was wedding music–people were partying to this stuff! That was another thing I took away from it. My interest in other kinds of tuning really just comes from listening to sounds, the harmonic series, etc. I don’t have a problem with equal temperament, on the contrary I think it made a whole new kind of music possible that was never possible before. But if you are playing melodically against a pedal tone, especially if you are playing slowly, equal temperament really becomes a handicap. It limits you to a small set of intervals, most of which are quite out of tune. When you start looking at untempered intervals there so many other colors, which are both more vivid and more harmonious.

Assess the current New York music scene, especially the newer projects that you have encountered. Who inspires you? Where do you go to find them? And don’t be shy to mention the downside or challenges that you’ve observed.

I’ve been in the city for about 15 years at this point and feel like I really grew up here musically. It’s great to see a lot the people that I’ve known for years really starting to crush it now. Some are more out in public while others are privately plugging away, but I feel like many of my peers are really starting to speak in their own voices now, which is inspiring. It’s a slow growth thing. It’s also incredible that people like Phill Niblock, Henry Flynt or Yoshi Wada are still around town going about their business, and they are pretty easy to find if you want to. Or that Mamady Kouyate runs a west African guitar band that plays every week in Brooklyn. As for difficulties, it seems harder than ever for non-institutional, underground music spaces to exist. Without places to experiment and incubate ideas, let alone just to congregate, the community can’t really stay viable. Despite a pretty hostile real estate environment, there are some real gems out there, like the Sunview Luncheonette in Greenpoint or the Outpost in Ridgewood, where I’ve been running a monthly series for the past year or so.  

Spotlight On: Cecilia Lopez

Cecilia Lopez: machinic fantasies
Tuesday, May 8, 2018 @ 8:00 pm

Tell us about yourself and what you do.

I am a composer, musician and multimedia artist from Buenos Aires, Argentina. I’ve been living around. New York for the past three years, studying and working on different music and installation projects. My work often explores the physical and perceptual matters of sound through a variety of mediums like composition, objects, video or combinations of them. I also play piano and different synthesizers. I sometimes write songs. I sometimes sing. I used to play in a band, which is called Vigilante Margarita. I am the third of three siblings. I have a black cat named Igor that lives in Buenos Aires.

Describe the project you are developing for Roulette.

The project is based on past explorations that I did around a revolving sound sculpture that functions as a live “mediation machine.” I think of it as a performative installation because it’s presented as a composed space where certain multichannel video and sound techniques are used to play with concepts like immersion, meditation and synchronicity, but it’s also a musical work composed to follow a timeline. The objects in question are like artisanal filter machines made with revolving oil drums. The barrels have a speaker inside that plays music or sound, which is filtered by their spinning as the sculpture is moved by hand. This explanation might sound very complicated but in fact the perceptual principles behind the piece are very simple. I am interested in questioning ideas of content, transmission and the oppositions between object/subject and form/structure. I would say that it’s sort of an industrial or lo-fi science fiction fantasy (à la Raymond Roussel) that plays with very primitive principles of sound an image.

What is your first musical memory?

I can’t really say what my first musical memory was, but I can say that I spent endless hours the first seven years of my life on a swing that my parents have installed in our house’s attic, listening to the radio and singing along with an old cassette player.

What is influencing your work right now?

I work a lot with processes for filtering either sound or visual content. In that way my work is very

permeable. Many things that have been influential for me have ended up becoming material for some of my works. That goes for music, sound recordings from specific places, literature, the world that surrounds me, etc. What is interesting to me about this way of working is that abstract ideas about our perception of sound can be put in conversation or in opposition with more narrative or conceptual ideas that I feel are important.

What is your favorite place to buy records?

Despite the current trend, I really don’t buy records. I don’t own a record player and

in the last few years, my nomadic life has caused me to avoid accumulating stuff… So I am totally out of the vinyl fetishist loop. That said, I can answer the question by describing my extremely modest record collection: Eliane Radigue, Feedback Works; Wendy Carlos, Switch-on Brandenburgs; Anthony Braxton Duets with Muhal Richard Abrams, and a Spanish-language soundtrack from the TV show “Speed Racer.”

What’s your absolute favorite place in the city to be and why?

Phill Niblock’s Experimental Intermedia. You know, there is something about that place… also that was my first connection with New York since I met Phill before coming here. It’s been one of the most interesting, familiar and friendly places that I can think of in this hectic landscape.

Describe your performance at Roulette in three words.

Precarious augmented reality



Spotlight On: María Grand

María Grand: Revés/Rêves: Dreams of a Departed Maestra // Magdalena Album Release Show
Tuesday, May 1, 2018 @ 7:30 pm

Tell us about yourself and what you do.

I’m a professional liver. I live for a living. When I’m on stage playing music, when I’m rehearsing, teaching, practicing, composing, serving my own vision or someone else’s, I feel very much alive. I feel excited. Sometimes I want to pinch myself – am I really doing this for a living? Can life be this good? Some of my favorite moments on stage are listening to my colleagues. Whenever I hear music something happens inside me. I’ve always been very drawn to it, but recently it’s becoming pure joy and I’m very much excited about the prospect of dedicating this life to being a sound vehicle.

I love cats; I’m a pretty lovey dubby person. I’m really into my family and my friends, especially my mother; I like to hang out with people.

I study communication and take a course that’s called human validation; it’s basically like radical group therapy. I’m interested in everything that makes this world a better place and connects us to ourselves and each other. It’s amazing how much better you can understand other people when you learn about how we communicate. This is all tied into music, because music is just another language; another expression; another possibility to convey love and all the other emotions.

Describe the project you are developing for Roulette.

My beloved dance teacher Noemí Lapzeson passed away a few weeks ago. She was my first female mentor. She was a master at her craft, and studying with her really made me understand how far you can go with an art form. I met her when I was a very young child, and I connected with her because she was an Argentinian woman living in Switzerland, and I was born in Switzerland from an Argentinian father. She was a treasure, a world of expression, just a gigantic jewel. When she died I was heartbroken and my vocalist friend Ganavya Doraiswamy started researching her art, trying to find ways to create meaning out of what was happening. She found a piece that’s entitled Combines, and that features Noemí, my teacher, and Celeste Dandekar, an Indian and British dancer. We both felt drawn to this. Then Ganavya had the idea to do a project around that piece, to pay homage to Noemi. I said yes; she gave me permission to use the idea for this commission at Roulette. So I started creating this multimedia work that’s loosely based on Noemí’s dancing, and that will be a musical tribute to her movement quest.

The people working with me are Ganavya Doraiswamy; Joel Ross, a vibraphonist; and Rajna Swaminathan, a mridangam artist. I’ve known them separately for many years, and now we get to express something together. With them I know I can go anywhere, they’ll follow me fearlessly. And so, we are expanding our art, to welcome the spirit of Noemí.

The second part of the evening will be my album release. The album is called Magdalena; it talks about the feminine, what was hidden during years of patriarchal dominance, and the beautiful mystery that remains under the layers of misunderstanding. This will feature my band DiaTribe, with David Bryant on piano, Rashaan Carter on bass, and Jeremy Dutton on drums. I am very excited to be bringing all these things out of my ears and into the world.

What is your first musical memory?

My father playing an Argentinian song called Tonada Del Viejo Amor, it made me cry so much. And then, singing with my parents at a concert on the lake in Geneva. I kept wondering why they repeated this one section of a bolero so many times; I’m sure it made sense, but at the time I couldn’t figure out why we were repeating it, and I was upset; it stuck with me because I really cared about music even at that early age, and I wanted to understand what was happening. One of my strongest early musical memories is playing in the street with my father. Music was everywhere. I used to ask my mother to play a Billie Holiday record to put me to sleep, and it made me cry sweet tears every time. Also, singing late in the night in my room, before going to sleep. When I stopped my father would come to the room and ask me to keep singing.

What is your favorite Roulette memory?

I took my crush, years ago, to hear Muhal Richard Abrahams. It was wonderful. The musicians were reading aloud from newspapers during the show. Everything was very new to me. I didn’t know you could write music like that.

What is the best way to spend an afternoon in New York City?

I like going to the Cloisters or to the Russian Baths. But there’s also the Met — the section on Egypt is my favorite, and behind the museum there’s an actual obelisk. You can go see it and feel it, it’s called Cleopatra’s Needle.

What is influencing your work right now?

These days I think a lot about the marriage of listening and playing; offense and defense; the inner and outer worlds. I’ve come to the conclusion (so far) that they’re all the same. When I speak and when I listen I’m basically doing the same thing because deep inside there’s the witness that sees it all. But then the witness has a lot of humor and so maybe it’s active? I’m not sure. I’m looking for an underlying principle that is beyond active and passive. That’s what I try to think about when I’m creating music because at some point I discovered that a lot of times I was lacking deep listening – and when I started listening to myself, quite a few times I didn’t like what I heard. When I put more energy on listening than playing while I’m actually producing sounds, I find that things come out better, because it brings me a kind of detachment that actually allows for things to flow.

What are you really excited about right now?

I’m really excited about so many things every day. Life is exciting. I love creating new projects and having the freedom to imagine things and making them real. Lately a very exciting thing in my life has been working with Alicia Hall Moran. Watching her creative process and participating in it is some of the most rewarding work I’ve done. I did a short run with her and the band Harriet Tubman, and I learned so much. I really appreciate the opportunity to learn from anyone who is more experienced than me and who has paved the way in this music for lots of other people to walk through. It’s a very special thing. So one thing that I’m really excited about is paying tribute to my elders; to my community; and of course, the very first elder Mother we all are in debt with is Mother Earth.

Maria Grand’s performance at Roulette is made possible by the Jerome Foundation and the Selvage Fund of the East Bay Community Foundation