Author: Rachel Lyngholm

Our 2019–2020 Resident + Commissioned Artists

Roulette is proud to announce the Resident and Commissioned Artists for our 2019–2020 season. Trumpeter and composer Jaimie Branch; saxophonist Aaron Burnett; composer, producer, and pianist Kelly Moran; bassist Brandon Lopez; and interdisciplinary artist, composer, and pianist Mary Prescott have been selected for year-long residencies. Commissioned artists include multi-instrumentalist and composer Morgan Guerin, sound artist Val Jeanty, bassist and composer Max Johnson, interdisciplinary performance maker Muyassar Kurdi, and composer Cassie Wieland.

Each artist will present new work at Roulette in 2019–2020.

Roulette operates a Commissioning Program and an Artist Residency Program, supported by funds from the Jerome Foundation and New York State Council on the Arts. These programs accelerate the careers of talented musical creators, giving them the financial and technical resources to create signature work in our state-of-the-art theater.

2020 Roulette Residents

A mainstay of the Chicago jazz scene and recent active addition to the New York scene, Jaimie Branch is an avant-garde trumpeter known for her “ghostly sounds” (The New York Times) and for “sucker punching” crowds straight from the jump (Time Out). Her classical training and “unique voice capable of transforming every ensemble of which she is a part” (Jazz Right Now) has contributed to a wide range of projects not only in jazz but also punk, noise, indie rock, electronic and hip-hop. Branch’s prolific and as-of-yet underexposed work as a composer and a producer, as well as a sideman for the likes of William Parker, Matana Roberts, TV on the Radio and Spoon, is all on display in her debut record Fly or Die – a dynamic 35-minute ride that dares listeners to open their minds to music that knows no genre, no gender, no limits.

Aaron Burnett began to study classical saxophone at age 11. After attending University of North Carolina at Greensboro for Classical and Jazz Performance (1999-2001), he relocated to Berklee College of Music for Classical Composition (2005–2008), graduating with a degree in Professional Music. Burnett has always stressed the importance of establishing a unique sound for himself, studying classical Baroque composition techniques, advance harmony, world music, and atonal composition. He has performed with renowned musicians such as Vijay Iyer, Teri Lyne Carrington, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Michelle Rosewoman, Jeff Tain Watts, and Kim Thompson, and toured with three-time Grammy winner Esperanza Spalding in her 2012 world tour with Radio Music Society. Burnett retains what he feels is the true nature of jazz in his music and his playing, always searching for new ways of interpretation.

Aaron Burnett: Compound Gravity

Brandon Lopez’s work has been praised as “brutal” (Chicago Reader) and “relentless” (The New York Times). He has worked beside many experimental music’s luminaries; Jooklo Trio, Nate Wooley, Sun Ra Arkestra, Ashley Fure, Okkyung Lee, Gerald Cleaver, Ingrid Laubrock, Tony Malaby, Tyshawn Sorey, Bill Nace, Tom Rainey, Steve Baczkwoski, Chris Corsano, and many others. He was the 2018 Artist in Residence at Issue Project Room and a Van Lier Fellow at Roulette Intermedium. In September 2018 he was featured soloist with the New York Philharmonic.

Kelly Moran is a composer, producer, and pianist from Long Island, New York. As the sole engineer and producer of her five solo albums, her intricately arranged electro-acoustic compositions have been described as accomplishing “the rare feat of making the work of a single individual sound like the artistic output of a veritable creative army.” (Zoe Camp, Revolver.) Moran specializes in works that employ extended techniques and prepared piano. Her album Bloodroot was released by Telegraph Harp Records in March 2017 and received critical praise. She’s the lead keyboardist for Oneohtrix Point Never’s first live touring ensemble and collaborates with pianist Margaret Leng-Tan, The Manhattan Choral Ensemble, and Yarn/Wire. In 2010, Moran received a fellowship for the MFA program in Integrated Composition, Improvisation, and Technology at the University of California-Irvine. She is a former 2018 Roulette Van Lier Fellow.

Mary Prescott is a Thai-American interdisciplinary artist, composer, and pianist who explores the foundations and facets of identity and social conditions through experiential performance. Her output includes music-theater, improvised music, an immersive chamber opera, a 365-day sound journal, and a film score for Salzburg Experimental Academy of Dance, as well as solo and chamber concert works. Prescott is a 2019-21 American Opera Projects Composers and the Voice Fellow. She has held residencies at Hudson Hall, Areté Venue and Gallery, Avaloch Farm Music Institute and Arts Letters and Numbers. In 2019, she was awarded a Roulette Jerome Foundation Commission; and a National Performance Network Creation and Development Fund Award, co-commissioned by Public Functionary (Minneapolis) and Living Arts (Tulsa).

2020 Roulette Commissions

Multi-instrumentalist, composer and audio engineer, Morgan Guerin grew up in Baton Rouge and New Orleans and was raised in Atlanta. With his mother being a pianist and his father being a bassist, Morgan began playing drums, piano, and bass early on in addition to sax and EWI (electronic wind instrument) later on. Currently residing in New York City now at age 21, Morgan performs regularly with Terri Lyne Carrington and Social Science, Esperanza Spalding, Amina Figarova Sextet and Tyshawn Sorey. His debut record The Saga was released in 2016 followed by The Saga II in 2017.

Haitian electronic music composer Val Jeanty creates esoteric sounds that tantalize the subconscious while creating a healing/cosmic frequency. By synergistically combining acoustics with electronics and the archaic with postmodern, Jeanty incorporates her African Haitian musical traditions into the present and beyond. Her AfroElectronica installations have been showcased in New York City at the Whitney Museum of American Art, Museum of Modern Art, The Brooklyn Academy of Music, and The Village Vanguard. She is also recognized internationally and has performed at The SaalFelden Musical Festival in Austria, Stanser Musiktage in Switzerland, Jazz à la Villette in France, and the Biennale Di Venezia Museum in Italy.

Val Jeanty and Risha Rox: Ritual Merging

Creating complex worlds of sound, bassist and composer Max Johnson challenges his listeners to engage deeply and be rewarded with a complete musical experience that is always jubilantly crafted with love, care, and clarity. “Johnson is an intrepid composer, architect of sound and beast of the bass…” (Brad Cohan, New York City Jazz Record). With 9 albums, and over fifteen hundred concerts under his belt with artists like John Zorn, Mivos Quartet, Chris Thile, Anthony Braxton, Mary Halvorson, among others, Johnson has proven to be an unparalleled force on the bass, and a unique, exhilarating voice as a composer.

Muyassar Kurdi is a New York City-based interdisciplinary artist. Her work encompasses sound art, extended vocal technique, performance art, movement, analog photography, and film. She has toured extensively in the U.S. and throughout Europe. She currently focuses her attention on interweaving homemade electronic instruments into her vocal and dance performances, stirring a plethora of emotions from her audience members through vicious noise, ritualistic chants, and meditative movements.

Cassie Wieland‘s music takes roots of expression and finds new paths of communication through them. In that vein, she often draws from source materials that relate to the human voice and works to replicate them through another musical medium. Experimenting with timbre and texture, specifically exploring intimate and fragile sounds, is also a large contributing factor to Wieland’s work. Processes such as removing sounds from their original environments and repurposing them into musical ones help her achieve the “hand-made” sound she is often looking for: imperfect, but intentional. Through her music, Wieland aims to show that vulnerability and intimacy can be synonymous with strength and power.

Roulette’s Residency and Commissioning programs are guided by the underlying question to artists: What would you like to do, and how can we help? The programs are intended to identify and support young artists whose work promises significant contributions to music, to accelerate the careers of talented artists, give them financial and technical resources as they create signature work, clarify their artistic direction, and build their confidence in their ability to pursue their art.

Artistic Director Jim Staley receives nominations for Jerome recipients from artists and recommendations from members of Roulette’s 16-person Artistic Advisory Committee, many of whom are former Roulette Jerome Awardees. Roulette Jerome Commissions are awarded to emerging artists, and are nominated by a panel of artists committed to the next generation of creativity. Roulette Jerome Residencies are awarded to early to mid-career artists, many of whom have performed at Roulette, and whose work will benefit from further resources for development.

Cecilia Lopez on Folly Systems: Embracing Contradictions

by David Weinstein

Cecilia Lopez with her installation RED at Roulette, 2019

The sound and installation artist Cecilia Lopez was invited by Outpost Artists Resources to curate a festival that the Queens-based media arts center is co-presenting with Roulette on November 13 and 14, 2019 (11 artists, 2 days). Lopez spoke by telephone from Buenos Aires with Roulette Director of Special Projects David Weinstein to discuss what inspired her to take on the project.

What is the concept and context of the festival within the current art and technology scene?

When I was approached with the idea, the question was to curate a new media or a real time media festival that involved technology with live performances. All these terms raise questions, right? This is mostly what I do in my own work and I like the intersection of these things. That said, I find that there’s usually a little bit of an arms race aspect to it, in how people relate to technology and how its uses are imposed.

For me, technology is never neutral and lots of things are in play in the use of it. So I thought about who is using technology with a subject-based idea, like identity or experience or even simply what does technology mean? You know, it doesn’t matter how technical it gets. The question is more, what technology means for us, and what even constitutes technology? A piano is technology. Some people in the festival use very technical stuff and some do very artisanal things.

How did you select the work? Talk about a few of the artists and how their technology and approach fit the project.

I’m interested in concepts of precariousness and the organic even with electronics. Limitations are very freeing. So I’m trying to give a perspective on these questions. I chose work thinking about all this, which led to a wide range of people, which is interesting for me too. I was like, okay, this is cool. This works. For example, Amanda Gutierrez uses VR, and it’s a walk through a neighborhood with people that narrate their experience there so it’s not removed from our reality. It’s not abstract. The concept is at the service of something else. So, what’s that something else and how does that service happen? It’s about that interaction.

I’m interested in the complication of the subjective experience through mediation, layers; sort of like how we perceive our surroundings. I use the word mediation when there’s a distance, not removal, but a layer influencing the actual experience. Nao Nishihara builds machines but they’re very rudimentary and it’s old-fashioned in a way. So he’s less technological in terms of technique but the performance aspect creates a poetic interplay between the body and the mechanical. Ragnhild May builds clusters of wind instruments and wears them as an outfit and the visual/theatrical/sonic elements intersect with super technological stuff like algorithms and Arduino.

Image result for ragnhild may
Danish visual artist and composer Ragnhild May with her self-designed instrument: a one-woman recorder orchestra consisting of 132 recorders, a Nilfisk vacuum cleaner, and 5 air mattress pumps.

Aki Onda’s work addresses musicality and time and performance in a very particular way with simple means like glass bells and lightbulbs and projections. So again, it’s the layers between objects and actions that generate an augmented perception. Gil Arno will present an amplified customized projection machine that he’s built that generates pulsating images on an offstage screen, but watching him work is part of the experience.

What will the audience encounter that may surprise them?

The theater won’t be fixed in a typical auditorium format. There are things that require someone moving through the space. There are things that are more screen-based. It’s a traditional theater, and you can’t change the way it looks. But I feel like you can also use that dissonance in your favor to make it even weirder, you know? It sets up a contradiction, kind of like nonsense, which I’m interested in.

What do you hope emerges as the most valuable lesson or message from the festival?

Given the world we live in, I feel like being critical about the use of technology is sort of crucial and perhaps a way of questioning the system. I think a lot about these non-neutral aspects of technology and how the non-mechanical amplifies these questions. When things are not so normalized or not so standardized it brings them back to who made it, how did they make it, where…there’s lots of meaning in that for me.

Co-presented by Outpost Artists Resources and Roulette, Folly Systems comes to Brooklyn as a two-night festival presenting the work of a wide group of artists working at the intersection of performance and media art. Featuring artists Amanda Gutiérrez, Art Jones, Shelley Hirsch, Ragnhild May, Aki Onda, Gill Arno, Forbes Graham, Jean Carla Rodea, Nao Nishihara, Ian Kornfeld, and Ying Liu.

Folly Systems: A Real-Time Media Festival

Spotlight on Val Jeanty

On November 22nd, sound artist Val Jeanty and performance artist Risha Rox—two Caribbean American artists whose work explores the diaspora, death, ritual, the ancient past and an envisioned future—present a live art show in which they create a ritual, merging Jeanty’s soundscape and projection work with Rox’s live painting of human canvases. Ritual Emerging uses the black body as focal site of breath work, movement, projection, sound and visuals.

Tell us about yourself and what you do.

My name is Val Jeanty; I am a Vodou-Electronic Music composer. Being born and raised in Haiti until the age of 12 exposed me to a merging in sound structures and left an impression on the way I hear and create musical compositions. Living and creating in New York City for over a decade has granted me access to advanced study and knowledge of electronic sound composition. This knowledge in sound merging and design inspired me to create a new genre called Afro-Electronica, which is the incorporation of Haitian traditional ritual music with electronic instruments, the past and the future.

Who would you ideally like to collaborate with?

Diamanda Galas, Shelley Hirsch, Pamela Z, Sun Ra, John Cage, Phillip Glass. These great minds inspire me.

What is influencing your work right now?

Voudou Culture and the current state of the world.

What is your first musical memory?

Listening to my heartbeat.

What is the best advice you’ve ever been given?

Be humble.

Val Jeanty and Risha Rox: Ritual Merging premieres Friday, November 22 at 8pm.

This piece was commissioned by Roulette and made possible with funds from the New York State Council on the Arts and New Music USA.

CityFM: Jim Staley in Conversation on the Evolution of Experimental Music in NYC

In this podcast, Roulette Artistic Director and co-founder Jim Staley speaks with CityFM about the evolution of experimental music in NYC.

A strange thing happened to jazz and classical music in New York amidst the countless pronouncements that they were getting old, losing audiences and cultural relevance: at their experimental and progressive core, they’ve experienced an aesthetic union. Some of the best (and best-known) of the city’s contemporary classical and jazz musicians play both, improvising, composing, and discard genre preconceptions. If there is a name for it, they call it “new music” and “creative music.” CityFM’s episode about this jazz/classical/creative music makes clear, it too has roots in a previous New York music culture of the 1970s.

Featuring Vijay Iyer, Brandee Younger, Jim Staley (of Roulette) & Ben Ratliff

And music from Vijay Iyer, Brandee Younger, Eli Keszler, Esperanza Spalding, Mary Halvorson, Kelly Moran, Caroline Shaw, Butch Morris & Nublu Orchestra, George Lewis, Onyx Collective, Arthur Russel, Philip Glass and Ravi Shankar, and Jigmastas.

Roulette Archive Awarded $20K grant from the GRAMMY Museum®

The Roulette Archive recently received a $20K grant from the GRAMMY Museum® to professionally preserve and digitize concert recordings made here between 1985 and 2004.

GRAMMY Museum® Grant Program

LOS ANGELES (JULY 10, 2019)—The GRAMMY Museum® Grant Program announced today that $200,000 in grants will be awarded to 15 recipients in the United States to help facilitate a range of research on a variety of subjects, as well as support a number of archiving and preservation programs. Research projects include work on musical anhedonia, musical training’s relationship to complex memories, and the relationship between cognitive function and singing accuracy. Preservation projects include the archiving of uncirculated John Hartford jam tapes, 960 audio reels of Cajun and zydeco artists, and 221 rare interview recordings with African-American actors, performers, composers, musicians, and scholars, among many other preservation projects.

“The GRAMMY Museum Grant Program to date has awarded more than $7.5 million to more than 400 grantees,” said Michael Sticka, Executive Director of the GRAMMY Museum. “The work we help fund includes an impressive array of projects that are at the forefront of exploring music’s beneficial intersection with science, and that maintain our musical legacy for future generations. The initiatives announced today exemplify the Museum’s mission to uphold music’s value in our lives and shared culture.”

Generously funded by the Recording Academy, the GRAMMY Museum Grant Program provides funding annually to organizations and individuals to support efforts that advance the archiving and preservation of the recorded sound heritage of the Americas for future generations, in addition to research projects related to the impact of music on the human condition. In 2008, the Grant Program expanded its categories to include assistance grants for individuals and small to mid-sized organizations to aid collections held by individuals and organizations that may not have access to the expertise needed to create a preservation plan. The assistance planning process, which may include inventorying and stabilizing a collection, articulates the steps to be taken to ultimately archive recorded sound materials for future generations.

Scientific Research Grantees

Royal Institution for the Advancement of Learning—McGill University—Montreal

Awarded: $20,000

Caroline Palmer, Signy Sheldon, and Rebecca Scheurich of McGill University will test people’s memories for rich auditory detail in real-world events. Brain activity of musically trained and untrained individuals will be measured as they recall complex events. Findings will address the link between musical training, imagery, and autobiographical memory.

Northeastern University—Boston

Awarded: $20,000

Music is a rewarding social activity across human cultures, but recent studies have identified a special population of people with musical anhedonia, who feel no reward in response to music. This project will identify the incidence and neural substrates of musical anhedonia, and test the relationship between musical reward sensitivity and difficulties with social bonding, which is characteristic in people with autism spectrum disorders.

University at Buffalo—Buffalo, New York

Awarded: $20,000

Recent studies have found correlations between singing accuracy and measures of general cognitive functioning: individuals’ ability to form auditory images and auditory short‐term memory capacity. This project consists of two training studies designed to test whether there is an actual causal relationship: Can improved imagery and/or memory lead to more accurate singing, and can improved singing accuracy enhance imagery and/or memory capacity?

Preservation Assistance Grantees

The Kitchen Sisters Productions—San Francisco

Awarded: $5,000

The goal of this project is to create a plan to inventory, archive, preserve, and make publicly available the Kitchen Sisters Collection, which includes some 7,000 hours of recordings of nearly 40 years of interviews, oral histories, music and sound for the NPR series, podcasts, projects, and stories. Funds will be used to hire a professional to develop a catalog, plan for digitization, long-term storage, back-up, and accessibility.

Percussive Arts Society—Indianapolis

Awarded: $5,000

The Percussive Arts Society (PAS) plans to inventory and assess approximately 150 hours of music on 78s from the Edwin Gerhardt Marimba Xylophone Collection in preparation for its subsequent preservation, digitization and dissemination. Support will allow PAS to engage an expert to help inventory this extensive collection of recordings and prioritize items for preservation.

The House Foundation for the Arts, Inc—New York

Awarded: $5,000

As a steward of Meredith Monk’s legacy, the House will embark on the Lineage Project to preserve, enhance, and maintain the integrity of Monk’s artistic works and make such works available for the benefit of the public. The House will publish an online database cataloging 50-plus years of previously unavailable photographs, video, audio, and objects. This resource will act as a centralized location for her archive and support ongoing digitization and preservation efforts, providing students, artists, curators, and the general public access to this rich history.

Armenian Studies Program, California State University, Fresno—Fresno, California

Awarded: $5,000

This project will focus on the inventory and cataloging of nearly 1,500 recordings on 78-rpm discs from the Armenian-American diaspora. The locally produced records document the early history of Armenians in the United States. The collection represents the voices of musicians whose social, economic, and political status forced them out of their homeland. It was thus only in the emerging cosmopolitan American music scene that most of these artists were first able to be heard.

Bluegrass Country Foundation—Washington, D.C.

Awarded: $5,000

The Bluegrass Country Foundation will identify, index and preserve recordings of bluegrass music shows broadcast over the last 50 years at WAMU-FM in Washington, D.C.  These include programs featuring rare and out-of-print recordings as well as interviews, concerts, and live studio performances.

Preservation Implementation

San Francisco Symphony—San Francisco

Awarded: $12,000

The San Francisco Symphony will transfer to a digital format 118 live recordings conducted by music director Michael Tilson Thomas, who will be stepping down from his post in 2020. This comprehensive digital collection will preserve the historic contributions Thomas made to the modern orchestral repertoire during his exceptional 25-year tenure with the San Francisco Symphony.

Center for Popular Music at Middle Tennessee State University—Murfreesboro, Tennessee

Awarded: $19,963

This project will digitize and catalog 573 cassettes of jam performances from the John Hartford audio collection. A hit songwriter and “newgrass” pioneer, Hartford obsessively documented his activities at the epicenter of Nashville’s music scene. These unique and uncirculated recordings capture some of the most important bluegrass, country, and folk musicians of the late-20th century in rare and informal settings.

Smithsonian Folkways Recordings—Washington, D.C,

Awarded: $20,000

This project will digitize roughly 960 audio reels and corresponding materials—related to recordings of Cajun and zydeco artists—for preservation, rights research, and online access.

Boston Symphony Orchestra, Inc.—Boston

Awarded: $11,518.50

The Boston Symphony Orchestra intends to transfer and preserve endangered audio from 282 DATs that correspond to 273 Boston Pops concerts held at Symphony Hall from 1992–2002. Project deliverables include preservation master files, access copies on CD for public use in the Archives Reading Room, MP3 files of the full concerts for internal and individually approved remote reference, and an Encoded Archival Description finding aid.

The City College of New York Libraries—New York

Awarded: $20,000

The City College of New York Libraries (CCNY Libraries) will digitize and preserve more than 221 rare interview recordings—conducted mainly between 1970 and 1974—with African-American actors, performers, composers, musicians and scholars. Digital copies will be preserved in CCNY’s trusted digital repository and access copies will be made available onsite at the CCNY Archives & Special Collections as well as remotely accessible at CCNY and four partner institutions.

Roulette Intermedium, Inc.—Brooklyn, New York

Awarded: $20,000

The Roulette Archive is an initiative to preserve, restore, digitize, and distribute 1,100 audio recordings on threatened PCM-F1 and DAT tapes recorded between 1986-2002. These quality recordings are part of a 4,000-plus historic collection capturing significant achievements in contemporary music dating back to 1980 and continuing to this day. The concerts took place in Roulette’s loft venue in New York City during a fertile period of experimentation and discovery.

Tulane University—New Orleans

Awarded: $11,518.50

The Hogan Jazz Archive, part of Tulane University Special Collections, will digitize and preserve 25 unique recordings from Vernon Winslow, the first black disc jockey in New Orleans. The recordings offer a rare chance to hear 1940s and 1950s radio continuity, including local advertisements and conversations with local and itinerant musicians, and provide insight into the dawn of segregated radio in the city. Once digitized, they will be accessible to the public online.

about the grammy museum

Established in 2008, the GRAMMY Museum is a nonprofit organization dedicated to cultivating a greater understanding of the history and significance of music. Paying tribute to our collective musical heritage, the Museum explores and celebrates all aspects of the art form—from the technology of the recording process to the legends who’ve made lasting marks on our cultural identity. In 2017, the Museum integrated with its sister organization, the GRAMMY Foundation®, to broaden the reach of its music education and preservation initiatives. As a unified organization, today, the GRAMMY Museum fulfills its mission of making music a valued and indelible part of our society through exhibits, education, grants, and public programming.

A Call to Curiosity with Meredith Monk

Our friend Meredith Monk recently sat down with Roulette TV in her home, and we loved what she had to say: that art is an antidote to the predictability of daily life and consumer culture.

We couldn’t agree more.

Art gets us out into the world and defines, expands, and challenges who we are. It asks us to take the right kind of risks and pushes us towards who we might become. Roulette is literally named after a game of chance, precisely because we celebrate the risk and adventurousness that define experimental performance, the people who make it, and the people who love it.

We all deserve what Roulette has to offer: a place to come together around delightfully weird live art; to have a beer in our renovated 1928 art-deco theater; to engage with extraordinary work and talk face-to-face about it; to be unapologetically curious together.

We need these values. And Roulette needs you.

Help Roulette protect this creative space we’ve built over the last 40 years — join us in creating a more curious, more connected, more open world.

Relive a Lost, Rarely Documented Era in New York Music History…and Discover a New One at the Roulette Archive

by Alan Young originally published on New York Music Daily

If you ran a club, would you record everything ever played there? Among venues around the world, never mind New York, Roulette probably holds the record for owning the most exhaustive archive of concert performances. Smalls has been documenting their own scene since the zeros, but Roulette goes back over two decades before then. What’s most astonishing is the wealth of material in the Roulette archive. Sure – virtually everyone who ever played a gig anywhere in the world where there’s an internet connection has been documented on youtube. But Roulette’s archive goes back to 1980, long before most people even had video cameras. It got a gala, mid-February relaunch, with a characteristically celestial, rippling performance by inventor, composer and one-man electric gamelan Pat Spadine a.k.a. Ashcan Orchestra.

Although Roulette has deep roots as a spot for free jazz, practically since the beginning they’ve been programming music and multidisciplinary work that few other venues would touch. The archive validates founder and trombonistJim Staley’s vision of how crucial that stubborn commitment to music at the furthest, most adventurous fringes would become. Staley originated the Roulette brand in the late 70s. As a New York venue, it opened as a jazz loft on West Broadway in 1980, eventually migrated to Wooster Street and now sits across from the site of another storied New York music hotspot that was forced to move, Hank’s, on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn.

Looking back, it’s astonishing to see how many artists who would become iconic, not only in the free jazz or avant garde demimondes, were part of the 80s Roulette scene. Shows from early in the decade featured a characteristically diverse cast: John Zorn, big band revivalist Jim McNeely and doomed polymath/indie classical pioneer Julius Eastman each played solo piano here. A young Ned Rothenberg led several ensembles, as did Butch Morris, refining his signature conduction in front of a relatively small (for him) improvisational ensemble.

Pauline Oliveros made her Roulette debut in 1984, Elliott Sharp and Bill Frisellthe following year. The earliest performance currently available online dates from 1985: the late Jerry Hunt building a swirl of insistent, astringent analog loops behind what must have been a spectacularly physical, outlandish performance. As the archive describes it, he was “Wearing his ubiquitous jacket and tie, with his equipment suitcase that doubled as a performance seat and percussion instrument, button controllers made from Bakelite dishes, optical sensors triggering video disks, fetish objects including shakers, sticks, and rattles made by David McManaway, and convincing all in attendance that they were watching a ceremonial magician.”

The next one is from October, 1986: Tenko and Kamura singing over skronky guitar and snapping, distorted bass, with Zeena Parkins on both her usual harp and also piano. Later that month the venue booked a night of all women improvisers: once again, Roulette was way ahead of its time.

From later in the decade, you can hear Tom Johnson’s 1978 composition Chord Catalogue, comprising the 8,178 chords that can be made using the notes in a single octave. ”The audio recording is interrupted briefly at the 74 minute point as the original recording media capacity was reached and the tape was changed.” Another rare treat is Frisell playing solo on March 13, 1989: “Solo guitar: electric, acoustic and banjo covering Thelonious Monk, Nino Rota, Disney soundtrack tunes, plus originals.”

The past twenty years are also represented: here’s a random, envelopingly ambient clip of sound sculptor and singer Lesley Flanigan from 2015. The venue also has the Roulette TV series up online, including both live performances and studio footage of artists they’ve championed recently.

These days Roulette keeps programming weird and often rapturously good stuff. Multimedia is big, but they still have regular free jazz, ambient and new orchestral and chamber music. In the past few years, they’ve also become a Brooklyn home for Robert Browning Associates’ annual slate of amazing performers playing traditional music from around the world. One such is this Friday, March 12 at 8 PM, a rare NYC concert of Indian veena music by virtuoso Jayanthi Kumaresh. You can get in for thirty bucks in advance.

Spotlight On jaimie branch

On May 4th, ghostly avant-garde trumpeter jaimie branch presents her 2019 commissioned work: May the 4th Be With You.

Tell us about yourself and what you’re planning for Roulette.

My name is jaime branch; I am a trumpetist, composer, and improvisor from Chicago, based in Brooklyn. I wrote a multimedia piece for this Roulette performance for my electronic duo Anteloper with Jason Nazary and Chicago-based video artist Kim Alpert. In this work, we will be exploring the visuality of sonic spectrums, turning the audible into the visual. The second set is a rare NYC set with Fly or Die—my quartet featuring Lester St. Louis on cello, Jason Ajemian on bass, and Chad Taylor on drums and Mbira.

What is your first musical memory?

My first musical memory is probably watching my older brother Russell practice piano — he was ten years older than me and played the shit out of some Billy Joel. I was pretty much hooked from the jump wanting to play music from the time I can remember. There’s also a picture of me in a bunny suit playing some keys circa 1986, but that one’s less of a memory and more of a feeling.

What is influencing your work right now?

So many things are constantly influencing my work, but it’s mostly my surroundings, the people I play with, the cities I find myself in… I’m interested in art that is fully saturated — this is not to be confused with density or volume, although it could be both of those things. Potent music. I’ve come to find that music is an ether—sometimes it swirls just out of reach, but it’s always in the air. Sometimes we choose to tune in and sometimes we don’t. But music doesn’t go anywhere one note played one time echoes throughout eternity. I’m trying to tune in to the hidden music of the universe, ya know? 

What is the most vivid dream you’ve ever had?

I had a REALLY vivid dream on the plane just the other day — I thought I had leaned over and hit a bowl ON THE PLANE. Just a one hitter (I’m not that fancy, even in my dreams) and even though I was holding in the smoke like a champ, some got out and another passenger noticed and started fussing. I then jerked awake only to find that I was in a plastic box, then I fought through the confusion and actually woke up. I straight up thought we had landed. I’m all, “Why isn’t anyone getting off the plane?” Twenty minutes later, they announced we were beginning our descent into Knoxville. Pretty cool blue dream.

Spotlight On Mary Prescott

For her Roulette commission, interdisciplinary artist, composer, and pianist Mary Prescott presents Songs Between Life and Death—a performative song cycle integrating music, word, movement, physical theater, and installation—on Tuesday, April 30th.

Tell us about yourself and what you do.

I’m a Thai-American interdisciplinary artist, composer, and pianist from Minneapolis. I trained exclusively as a classical pianist for most of my life, but “converted” to experimental generative work within the past couple of years for the same reason my sister converted to Catholicism in her early 20s. (Who converts to Catholicism??) She said she had been searching for something for a long time, and then when she encountered Catholicism, she felt fulfilled. Well, that’s exactly how I feel about my practice, and even though technically art is not a religion, maybe IT IS. It’s the place where I get closest to understanding myself and the world, and the place where I feel like I can begin to untangle some of life’s bigger questions.

My experiments started with piano music, probably because I felt “safe” with a medium that was already attached to my identity. But now I allow myself to create with whatever seems best, whether I know that medium well or not—although just about everything is performance-based. So I might project a film I made, or do a choreographed movement, or install a set piece that bears some significance to the rest of the work. And those things will interact within a performance and play off each other to more deeply express an overarching concept. One of the big hangups of classical training is that everything is expected to be perfectly executed according to a holy manuscript, and there’s a lot of prior experience and skill that one must develop to attempt it. But I think that’s a very limiting way to approach art-making, and actually, pretty exclusive, too. As hard as it was at first (and still is), I’ve tried to let go of that mindset, and I feel like it’s allowed my practice to grow in ways I never could have anticipated. 

Describe the project you are developing for Roulette.

I’m creating a performative song-cycle called Songs Between Life and Death for chamber ensemble. It’s about the conscious spiritual experience unattached from the physical body. Although I don’t intend for it to be morbid at all, I do acknowledge that it could go there for some people. For me, it’s more objective, maybe. About the first-person experience of what happens emotionally and psychologically when our spirit has disconnected from the physical world as we know it, but can look back in on it. I think the fear of this unknown has had a pretty heavy impact on cultural and social development, and I’m really interested to examine that dynamic a little more closely. And it’s also something I just want to spend more time with in focused contemplation…hash it out for myself, so to speak.

What is influencing your work right now?

So, this may seem sort of silly, but I recently moved into a place that overlooks the construction site of a new residential development, and watching these huge glass buildings go up gradually but actually really quickly has been kind of amazing. I’m seeing the foundational pieces go into the ground itself: enormous cranes hoisting gigantic slabs of material, locked into the sides of the building for support, the gnarly innards of the floors and walls, and then all the fine details of the interiors. The scale of each of those things is so extreme, the power and intricacies of movement. It’s mundane, but fascinating to watch workers systematically bust up the entire block of sidewalk with heavy machinery one day; and the next day, they are very carefully painting the corner edge of a living room or squeegeeing the fingerprints off the floor-to-ceiling windows with perfection and care. Seeing a project like that in all it’s enormity and detail, with all the steps it takes on so many planes, and with such a spectacular result…a year ago that was just an overgrown vacant lot. It is strangely really inspiring in a very beautiful, dirty, dusty way. 

How did your interest in your work begin?

As I mentioned before, I was trained as a classical pianist for most of my life, and even though I always had an interest in improvising, it seemed elusive for me to take on. Or maybe because I didn’t have training in it, I felt like I couldn’t or shouldn’t do it. It occured to me that I was only going to be able to improvise if I just did it. That seems really obvious, but I think it’s actually one of the more difficult concepts to wrap one’s head around. 

Anyway, a handful of years ago, my friend Jesse Stacken, a really great fellow Minnesotan pianist and one with a mainly jazz background, had just finished up a project where he recorded an improvisation every day for a year and put the results online. I thought, “that seems like a good way to hold myself accountable.” So without a moment to think twice about what I was getting into, I started Where We Go When, which became my daily blog to do the same thing as Jesse, but from the keyboard of a non-improviser. Without getting into too many details, I’ll just say, that project was hands down one of the most important learning experiences of my life. It’s still up on my website, and I still think about it and mull over some of the same questions I had when I was in the thick of it.

Where We Go When was really the very beginning of my generative work. Even though my practice has expanded a lot since then, it gave me a bit of courage and a really solid foundation for experimentation and trust for the process.

What artists are you interested in right now?

I am really into Pina Bausch right now. I saw her work for the first time at BAM just a year and a half ago, and it changed my life. This was right on the cusp of when I started interdisciplinary work, and is probably one of the main reasons I went in that direction at all. Her work really cut to my heart, and gave me that rapturous sense of cathartic understanding that I am always searching for. I really love the way she pulled seemingly ordinary and unrelated concepts and gestures together to express something so vulnerable and raw. And she could address really difficult social disparities head on without drama or propaganda. She just put the work out there. She wasn’t telling you how to feel or react. Through an utterly marvelous and totally genius set of physical expressions, she made available some truth of humanity. All the good and bad and ugly and beautiful. All the unfairness and injustice, longing and loneliness. You feel it all at once with her. Really powerful, potent stuff. 

Mary Prescott: Songs Between Life and Death takes place on Tuesday, April 30th 2019 at 8pm with performers: pianist Mary Prescott, violinist Ilmar Gavilán, trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson, bassist Nick Dunston, and vocalists: Nina Dante, Ariadne Greif, and Sara Serpa.

Spotlight On Alex Weiser

On Tuesday, June 18th, composer Alex Weiser presents the first act of his opera State of the Jews as part of his Roulette 2019 residency. Born and raised in New York City, Weiser creates acutely cosmopolitan music combining a deeply felt historical perspective with a vibrant forward-looking creativity.

Alex Weiser and the performers of his May 2017 commissioned work “And All The Days Were Purple” onstage at Roulette. Photos by Steven Pisano for Feast of Music.


Tell us about yourself and what you do.

I’m a composer, concert curator, and event producer. I was born and raised in New York City. I write music drawing inspiration from literary sources, ideas or inter-textual relationships from the history of classical music, and often from my fascination with and personal connection to Jewish culture. I helped run the MATA Festival for about 5 years and founded and continue to direct the new music series, Kettle Corn New Music.

Describe the project you are developing for Roulette.

I’m working on a historical-drama opera about Theodor Herzl (1860-1904), an Austro-Hungarian Jewish writer who, in response to rising antisemitism around the turn of the 20th century, ignited a movement supporting the idea of a Jewish homeland. The opera, which I’m writing with librettist Ben Kaplan, explores some of the little known details of the politics of that time and also interweaves the story of Theodor’s relationship with his wife, Julie, and the toll that his political work took on their marriage. Julie provides a stark, contrasting response to the same set of historical circumstances, exposing the complex and in many ways still un-resolved challenges of that moment. One of the things that really fascinates me about this story is that even with the benefit of hindsight, its meaning in history still remains fraught and contested.

Image result for Ben Kaplan and alex weiser

What is your favorite album?

Steve Reich’s 1980 “Octet • Music For A Large Ensemble • Violin Phase” is a long time favorite of mine that I return to often. I love how its surface bubbles with ecstatic energy, while underneath there is a broader sense of meditative stillness, and on yet another level, all of this is flowing in an always unfolding developmental arc. Besides, it’s just totally beautiful music.

What is influencing your work right now?

For the past three years I have been the Director of Public Programs at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research where I have curated and produced programs exploring and celebrating the rich history and culture of the Jewish people (with a particular focus on Yiddish speaking Jewry and their diaspora). YIVO has been a thought-provoking and inspiring home base for my work, and some of the stories, music, and literature that I have encountered there have made their way into my work as a composer.

What is your favorite Roulette memory?

I was at a concert at Roulette in December 2012 which featured John King’s Astral Epitaphs performed by TILT Brass and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus. The piece had this incredible urgency and visceral power. John had the chorus surrounding the audience on the balconies, and there was this moment where they suddenly entered, with their sound enveloping everyone from all sides. I was really blown away by the experience and I loved the way the physical space and directionality of the sound became a part of the composition.


Alex Weiser: State of the Jews takes place on Tuesday, June 18th 2019 at 8pm with  vocalists: baritone Mario Diaz-Moresco, mezzo-soprano Augusta Caso, tenor Chad Kranak, bass-baritone Adrian Rosas, and the Os Ensemble choir directed by Raquel Acevedo Klein and musicians: pianist Marika Bournaik, cellist Julian Schwarz, violinist Avi Nagin, and clarinetist Bixby Kennedy.