Lesley Mok and Aliya Ultan: a bird in its chest

Tuesday, March 22, 2022. 8:00 pm
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Lesley Mok and Aliya Ultan: a bird in its chest

Tuesday, March 22, 2022. 8:00 pm

Commissioned artist Lesley Mok returns to Roulette with the world premiere of new work for ensemble.

In collaboration with cellist-composer Aliya Ultan and aerialists Teddy Ment, Eleanor Getz, and Copper Santiago, a bird in its chest is a reflection on love: young, unrequited, unconditional, enduring, and self-love. Shaped by ideas of supernatural grace, phantom wishes, ephemeral passions, and crazed disillusionment, this collaboration has emerged out of a desire to understand the expansiveness of love beyond its familiar expressions.

They are joined by musicians Joanna Mattrey, Cleek Schrey, David Leon, and Yuma Uesaka.

This performance is made possible with support from Payomet Performing Arts Center.

crowded hearts

You, a child born part gnostic,
part street fighter
A staunch no-sayer, dare accost she
the truth-holders.
Claw, beguile, deceive,
You trap them in the box that was meant for you
Sharp-left, turn, backwards, and now again.
A creative survival begets resilience

do by any means necessary:

To whom are you loyal?

This is what I have to remember when I lose sight.

Reciprocal refuge, tired attempts
at finding a resonance through the thicket that
obscures your passion and assumes my innocence.

Memory makes you itch;
poised, manicured hands belie your darting mind,
which once dreamt the life of a
puppeteer, its silken threads

almost invisible to the shimmering sunlight. Voodoo child; undesirable thing.

I bury the debt.

I am trapped now—

A box of darkness with a bird in its chest.
Wrapped entanglement, burnt abandonment.
I cut the lock that ties pride to resilience.

My turn this time.
Sharp-left, turn, backwards, and out.
I soar above the cage which once enclosed me,
seeking a love not measured by sacrifice.

Lesley Mok is a drummer, composer, and improviser based in Brooklyn, NY. From a young age, Lesley has been immersed in a variety of creative environments, often painting, singing, and dancing as a way to express herself and learn about the world around her. At age four, Lesley began formal instruction on classical piano, before discovering a love for the drums in middle school. She quickly felt a kinship with the expressive qualities of the instrument, and was immediately drawn to jazz and improvisation after hearing the music of Ella Fitzgerald and Nancy Wilson.

Interested in the ways social conditions shape our beings, Lesley’s work focuses on transposing, augmenting, and overacting humanness to explore ideas about normalcy, alienness, and privilege. She explores this by writing in a way that subverts traditional instrumental roles, often utilizing extreme ranges and unconventional timbres, while creating a context that allows for simultaneously different musical perspectives. By maintaining an agile and improvisatory approach, Lesley creates fantastical and evocative sound worlds through the use of dissonance.

Collaborating with artists such as Jen Shyu, Cory Smythe, and Tomeka Reid, Lesley has honed a unique voice as a drummer and percussionist by employing a dynamic range of timbres and orchestrations. She is deeply inspired by the Cuban rumba tradition, often playing in sparse counterpoint to others in an ensemble and choosing to highlight choice moments in the music. Her ongoing explorations with composition and improvisation are most notably documented in her nine-piece improvising chamber ensemble, The Living Collection.

Lesley’s work has been recognized by the ASCAP Foundation and the Asian American Arts Alliance, and has been performed by International Contemporary Ensemble, Metropolis Ensemble, and JACK Quartet.

Lesley values the opportunity to develop intimate musical connections with her peers both in the U.S. and abroad. As a member of the inaugural cohort of Mutual Mentorship for Musicians (M³) and an alumnus of the Banff Program for Jazz & Creative Music and the Berklee Global Jazz Institute, she recognizes artists’ international codependency for a thriving creative environment and hopes to build understanding through mutual support.

Lesley holds a B.A. and M.A. in Contemporary Performance from Berklee College of Music, where she studied with Danilo Perez, Joe Lovano, Terri Lyne Carrington, Ben Street, and Bob Gullotti.

Aliya Ultan (b. 1996) is a composer/improviser, cellist, and vocalist from Brooklyn, NY. Born into a family of artists and musicians, Ultan was immersed in a variety of creative mediums and environments. Ultan grew up, periodically homeless with her mother and sister, traveling across the U.S. and Canada performing music on the guitar and fiddle for money. At age 12, Ultan fell in love with the cello turning it into her way out of poverty. Emerging from a unique yet challenging childhood, Ultan participated in the New York Philharmonic’s Very Young Composer’s Program where her music was both workshopped and performed at the Lincoln Center. Throughout her classical training, Ultan maintained an interdisciplinary approach to creating art which has led to performances with artists such as Douglas Ewart (Chicago Art Ensemble) and Katinka Kleijn of the International Contemporary Music Ensemble, among others.

Ultan primarily performs as a singer-cellist, using both instruments to contort pitch centers and embrace a kind of noise-based maximalism within the constraints of a purely acoustic set-up. This approach has led to the development of techniques such as particular ways of detuning the cello to expand its range, allowing it to cross instrumental bounds. In addition to her sound-focused research, Ultan has created works for film that involve breaking cellos, burying them, and submerging them underwater. These performance pieces aim to detail a new perspective on the anatomy of the cello via physical decomposition.

While studying Cello Performance and Composition at the Oberlin Conservatory, Ultan often performed with Aaron Dilloway of Wolf Eyes as well as other local noise artists in Ohio. While living in the midwest, Ultan founded a circus group (Les Filles Circus) with her sister Taiga Ultan, in collaboration with the Heart of the Beast Puppet Theater and Minneapolis Institute of Art. With a passion for physical theater, circus arts, and opera, Ultan has won numerous awards for transmedial works including From the Top’s Jack Kent Cooke Award, YoungArts, and XARTS.

Ultan holds a BM in Composition from the Oberlin Conservatory and a Masters in Composition with Dr. Tyshawn Sorey at Wesleyan University.

Gabrielle Teddy Ment started circus in 2007 as a youth troupe member in the Amazing Grace Circus. In 2012 she started studying at the New England Center for Circus Arts (NECCA) and their Intensive Professional Training Program. She went on to earn a BA in Dance and Environmental Studies from Oberlin College. She has been the winner of numerous awards and grants including launchU’s ignition fund, X-ARTS grant, Helen Ward Memorial Prize. When not hanging upside-down from her toes, Teddy enjoys hiking, gardening, surfing and being in the great outdoors.

Eleanor Getz studied dance/figure skating throughout her youth going on to earn her BFA in Dance/Choreography from Virginia Commonwealth University. Eleanor completed the FFP Aerial Dance Professional Program and the Intensive and Professional Track programs at NECCA. Eleanor loves sharing her love of circus through teaching and performing.

Copper Santiago is a native New Yorker currently living in Philadelphia. She has been doing circus since the age of 12, and has performed on both sides of the atlantic. Also passionate about fiber arts, Copper is in her last semester of a BFA at Goddard College.

Joanna Mattrey is a NYC violist and composer active in both the new music and free improvisation communities who’s playing often incorporates textural gestures, preparations, and electronic alterations. She is searching for moments of ceremony and ritual in a modern soundscape. As a 2021 ISSUE project room artist-in-residence, she presented her new works THRUM, a staged film performance piece with poet No Land, POV: Simulation, a synesthesia collaboration with physicist Dr. Graham Walker, and New Compositions for Improvisor, a performance of 5 world premieres written for Mattrey’s unique playing style, featuring works by Nick Dunston, Leila Bordreuil, Lucie Vitkova, Weasel Walter, an a new piece for improvisor and installation by Mattrey.

Described by the Irish Times as “a musician at one with his instrument and his music,” Cleek Schrey is a fiddler, composer, and filmmaker from Virginia, now based in NYC. He plays a range of instruments including the hardanger d’amore, a violin with sympathetic strings, and the daxophone, a wooden idiophone designed by Hans Reichel. Recent engagements include the Big Ears Festival (TN), the Kilkenny Arts Festival (IR), SuperSense Festival of the Ecstatic (Aus) and Issue Project Room (NYC). Frequent collaborators include electronic music pioneer David Behrman, the viol da gamba player Liam Byrne, traditional fiddle icon Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, and composer Alvin Lucier. The journal Sound Post has noted that Schrey “possesses a rare combination of traits: deep respect for traditional music and the people who make it, and an unbounded curiosity about new directions for sound.” He was a 2021 Pioneer Works Sound Artist-in-Residence on Governors Island and is currently a Resident Artist at Roulette.

David Leon is a Cuban-American saxophonist, woodwinds player, and composer/improviser living in Brooklyn, New York. His diverse musical output is guided by an exploration of nuance: in timbre by creatively manipulating saxophone technique, in pitch by tampering with equal temperament and employing microtonality, and in texture possibility through orchestration and improvisation. As the winner of the 2017 ASCAP Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composer’s Award, David debuted a new quartet at the Newport Jazz Festival in August of that year. In November 2018, he performed alongside pianist Kris Davis as part of The Jazz Gallery’s Mentoring Series. Most recently, David was selected by New Music USA’s 2021 Creator Development Fund to further develop his ensemble Bird’s Eye – a trio with Doyeon Kim on kayageum and Lesley Mok on percussion. Other solo endeavors include Aire De Agua – a quartet which will release it’s debut recording in August 2021 on Out Of Your Head Records, the Current Obsession series – which documents improvisations with current collaborators, Trio, and the co-led chamber project Sound Underground. An active sideperson, David has collaborated with artists including Ingrid Laubrock, Francisco Mela, Kris Davis, Justin Vernon, Brian Lynch, Adam O’Farrill, Cory Smythe, Brandon Seabrook, Dafnis Prieto, Jim Black, Chris Pitsiokos, Arturo O’Farrill, Tomas Fujiwara, Michael Formanek, Matt Mitchell, Henry Fraser, Michael Attias, Tom Rainey, and others.

A boundary-pushing saxophonist and clarinetist, Yuma Uesaka is known for his work in modern creative jazz, avant-garde, and new classical music. Uesaka has been active in New York City since 2014 and came to wider attention with Ocelot, the eponymous debut from his collaborative trio with Colin Hinton and Cat Toren. In 2021, he released Streams, a critically acclaimed duo recording in collaboration with pianist Marilyn Crispell. Born in 1991 in London, Uesaka lived in Nagoya, Japan before moving with his family to Michigan at the age of eight. There, he started on the saxophone at age ten and added clarinet two years later. After high school, he attended the University of Michigan, and he earned bachelor’s degrees in both Jazz Studies and Computer Science Engineering. He also studied at the prestigious Banff Jazz and Creative Music Workshop, where he worked with performers like Vijay Iyer, Nicole Mitchell, and Tyshawn Sorey. Based in New York City, Uesaka has performed with a bevy of forward-thinking artists, including Anna Webber, Adam O’Farrill, Jeff Lederer, Nick Dunston, among others. He regularly performs at venues such as The Jazz Gallery, Roulette, and National Sawdust.