Category: Blogcast

Dispatch: David First

Roulette TV catches up with composer David First. First discusses his work Choir Practice, his ensemble The Western Enisphere, and distance learning and teaching in the time of COVID-19.

DAVID FIRST has always been fascinated by opposites and extremes. At 20 he played guitar with renowned avant-jazz pianist Cecil Taylor in a legendary Carnegie Hall concert. Two years after that he was creating electronic music at Princeton University (recently released on Dais records) and leading a Mummerʼs String Band in Philadelphia parades. He has played in raucous drunken bar bands, semi-legal DIY basements and in pin-drop quiet concert halls with classical ensembles. As a composer First has created everything from finely crafted pop songs to long, severely minimalist droneworks. His opera, The Manhattan Book of the Dead, was staged at LaMama’s Annex Theater (NYC) in 1995 and in Potsdam, Germany in 1996. His 2011 song and video, We Are (with vocals by TV on the Radio’s Kyp Malone), was released to much acclaim in the Occupy Movement and was officially released on the compilation Occupy This Album which also featured tracks by Patti Smith, Jackson Browne, Willie Nelson, Yo La Tengo, Yoko Ono a.o. First’s performances often find him sitting trance-like without seeming to move a muscle, unless he is playing with his psychedelic punk band, Notekillers, at which time he is a whirling blur of hyperactive energy. He has been called “a fascinating artist with a singular technique” in the NYTimes, and “a bizarre cross between Hendrix and La Monte Young” in the Village Voice. A 45 single released in 1980, The Zipper, by Notekillers, was cited by Sonic Youthʼs Thurston Moore as one of the songs he played for the rest of the band when they were starting out. Moore called it a “mind-blowing instrumental single” in the British rock magazine Mojo and “a big influence” in the Philadelphia Inquirer. He has had music released on Ecstatic Peace, Prophase, Phill Niblock’s XI, Dais, Razor and Tie, Ants, Jajaguar, CRI, Homestead, and OODiscs. Recent projects include SWATi (Spherical Waveform Audio Trance Induction) – a collaboration with acupuncturist Isobeau Trybula at Worksong Chinese Medicine in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. SWATi is an outgrowth of his Operation:Kracpot which was an internet collaboration with geophysicist Dr. Davis Sentman of the University of Alaska (Fairbanks). Both involve the sonification of the atmospheric phenomena known as the Schumann Resonances and human brainwaves. Other projects include The Western Enisphere an audio/visual exploration of just intonation psycho-phenomena, and the AM Radio Band, which incorporates the repurposing of vintage signal generators, audio oscillators and transistor radios (a recording of which will have a spring release on Robert & Leopold). He is also the proprietor of Dave’s Waves – A Sonic Restaurant installation that has been presented in Lier, Belgium (2002), Berlin (as part of Sonambiente in 2006), Leeuwarden, the Netherlands (2013), Moscow (2018), and Brooklyn (2018-19). First was the recent recipient of the Herb Alpert/Ragdale Award for Music Composition for 2019 and a 2019 NYFA/NYSCA Fellowship. He has also received a Grant to Artists from the Foundation of Contemporary Arts, as well as grants and commissions from the NEA, the Copland Foundation, the Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust and the Meet the Composer Commissioning USA program. He has written articles for New Music Box and Leonardo Music Journal, receiving the Leonardo Award for Excellence Honorable Mention for his article, The Music of the Sphere: An Investigation into Asymptotic Harmonics, Brainwave Entrainment, and the Earth as a Giant Bell.

As part of our Roulette at Home digital initiative, Dispatches is a set of brief communications or small collections of new work from artists, sent directly to our community—a way to remain connected and engaged in a time marked by distance and isolation caused by COVID-19.

Dispatch: Jaap Blonk

Dutch avant-garde composer and performance artist Jaap Blonk performs an iteration of a recent piece at home in the Netherlands. His absurd multimedia work YappiScope with live visual accompaniment was originally included in Roulette’s 2020 spring season and has been postponed. Blonk’s latest recordings can be heard here and here.

As a vocalist, the self-taught Dutch composer, performer, and sound poet Jaap Blonk is unique for his powerful stage presence and keen grasp of structure, even in free improvisation. He has performed around the world, on all continents. With the use of live electronics, and sometimes projection of visuals, the scope and range of his concerts has acquired a considerable extension. Blonk has been performing since the early 70s and has worked with The Ex, Mats Gustafsson, Joan La Barbara, Michael Zerang, John Tchicai, Tristan Honsinger and many others. At the start, Blonk’s unfinished studies in mathematics and musicology mainly created a penchant for activities in a Dada vein, as did several unsuccessful jobs in offices and other well-organized systems. In the last decade, his renewed interest in mathematics made him start a research of the possibilities of algorithmic composition for the creation of music, visual animation, and poetry.

As part of our Roulette at Home digital initiative, Dispatches is a set of brief communications or small collections of new work from artists, sent directly to our community—a way to remain connected and engaged in a time marked by distance and isolation caused by COVID-19.

Highlight: Pulitzer-winning Roulette Artist Anthony Davis

Seth Colter Walls of The New York Times speaks to Pulitzer-winning artist Anthony Davis and reflects on his experience attending a Roulette performance of improvisations of Davis’s Pulitzer award-winning opera, The Central Park Five. The article contains a recording of the performance, which he describes: “it is a joy to hear in this performance at Roulette how blissfully unencumbered Davis sounds when readapting his own music.”

Anthony Davis, who won a Pulitzer Prize this month for his opera “The Central Park Five,” at Roulette in December 2018. Photo: Joe Carrotta for The New York Times

On May 4, when the composer and pianist Anthony Davis won a Pulitzer Prize for his opera “The Central Park Five,” I rejoiced, as a fan of his work. (The award should augur well for new productions, after lockdowns are lifted.) I also recalled a 2018 concert presented by the Interpretations series at Roulette in Brooklyn. Toward the end of that show, a quartet led by Davis improvised on material from his opera; speaking from the piano, Davis described the enduring influence of Charles Mingus, an artist whose presence could be keenly felt during what followed.

Earlier this month, I spoke with Davis on the phone. “I develop a lot of musical material, doing things for my small ensembles, or piano music,” he said. “I might incorporate it into an opera,” he added, saying that the reverse is true, as well: “I think it’s a philosophical thing for me. Sometimes musical themes have their own identity that travels from piece to piece. In a way they’re signifiers for the connection of the music to the past.”

That approach doesn’t just connect Davis’s operas to his other writing. It also connects “The Central Park Five” to Duke Ellington (particularly when the word “Harlem” enters the libretto). Before the Central Park Five are arrested, there is also a boisterous passage that skates close to Parliament’s “Give Up the Funk.” One aspect of the opera’s genius resides in the way Davis gradually curtails this initial breadth of musical reference, as liberty is curtailed for his characters. Though, outside the context of that narrative, it is a joy to hear in this performance at Roulette how blissfully unencumbered Davis sounds when readapting his own music.

This article appeared in The New York Times on May 14, 2020: Music, Theater and More to Experience at Home This Weekend

Dispatch: Simon Hanes

Simon Hanes from Roulette Intermedium on Vimeo.

Roulette TV catches up with composer Simon Hanes, whose performance was originally scheduled for June, via video chat. Hanes talks about working virtually and finding new ways to make art that transfers the impression of proximity with collaborators that are apart.

Tredici Bacci — a 14-piece group of musicians all under the age of 30 — sounds, to the thoughtful listener, like a celebration. A celebration not of a genre of music, but rather of an era, and, more specifically, the aspects of an era which perhaps have been glossed over by conventional history. To that end, Tredici Bacci celebrates the strange, somewhat seedy, schmaltzy and smooth aspects of 1960s-70s popular culture. The songs are cries in honor to the many artifacts which seem now to be the strange leavings of a recently liberated nation — the sensuous oddities leftover from an entirely different world.

Over the last few years, young musician and composer Simon Hanes has worked tirelessly to channel his deep love and infatuation with 1960s / 1970s soundtrack music into his own personal vision and homage to the style through dedicated songwriting, and the integration of the totality of his musical influences. After graduating from New England Conservatory and spending time playing bass in the then-Boston-based No(ise) Wave unit Guerilla Toss, Hanes adopted the “Luxardo” persona as an arranger, composer, conductor, and guitarist, and went on to assemble a band of epic orchestral proportions. Consisting of close friends and fellow classically-trained musicians, the resulting band is the ambitiously sizable 14-piece Tredici Bacci. The band’s first full-length album, Amore Per Tutti, was released by NNA Tapes in November 2016.

As part of our Roulette at Home digital initiative, Dispatches is a set of brief communications or small collections of new work from artists, sent directly to our community—a way to remain connected and engaged in a time marked by distance and isolation caused by COVID-19.

Dispatch: Muyassar Kurdi

Muyassar Kurdi is a New York City-based interdisciplinary artist working across sound, performance, movement, visual arts, and film. Kurdi’s 2020 Roulette Commission Vast Geographiesa performance with bassist Luke Stewart based in ritual exploring ecology, movement in stillness, walking, embodiment, and sound as liquid architecture—originally set for April 22, 2020 has been postponed due to the pandemic.

Kurdi shares a series of paintings done in the midst of total isolation in NYC since mid-March. Kurdi notes, “I feel painting has been my main activity during quarantine because it’s meditative and deepens my exploration in color. Color has been really healing.”

All painting from April 2020. 35mm film photo by Maren Celeste.

As part of our Roulette at Home digital initiative, Dispatches is set of brief communications or small collections of new work from artists, sent directly to our community—a way to remain connected and engaged in a time marked by distance and isolation.






Roulette at Home

As we adapt to this challenging and unparalleled moment presented by COVID-19, our greatest priority is to keep everyone safe and healthy. As a result, Roulette has suspended its live programming for the time being. We hope to resume our Spring Season and welcome you back to our venue in mid-May (or as soon as officials and health experts advise that it is safe to gather). Read our official statement here.

In the meantime, we are excited to introduce Roulette at Home — a way for us to stay connected through special digital content in our newsletters and social media channels. We hope you will join us in the discovery and exploration of concert recordings, video, podcasts, Roulette TV, archival photographs, writing, and interviews from Roulette’s 40-year history delivered to you at a social distance.

We believe in the importance of art in difficult times and we remain committed to supporting and nourishing our artists and community. We will see you online, and hopefully in-person very soon.

Subscribe to our Mailing List to keep in touch!


Roulette has suspended its live programs

In an effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and keep our artists, staff, and larger community safe and healthy, Roulette has suspended live programming for the time being. We hope to resume programming as soon as officials and health experts advise that it is safe to gather. 

We will continue to stay alert to information and guidelines offered by city, state, and federal officials, as well as the Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and we will update this space as any new developments affect our operational decisions. 

If you purchased tickets to a Roulette performance originally scheduled between March 13 and June 30, please contact us at for an exchange or refund. Alternatively, if you are in a position to convert your ticket purchase into a tax-deductible donation or make a tax-deductible gift to Roulette, please know that your support would mean so much to us and the community of artists that we serve. 

We believe in the importance of art in difficult times and we remain committed to supporting and nourishing our artists and community. While live programming is suspended, we invite you to subscribe to Roulette’s newsletter for special digital content drawing on our archive, community news and resources, and the most up to date information on our programming.

We wish you all good health!


Our 2020 Van Lier Fellows

Roulette is proud to present our 2020 Van Lier Fellows: composer and audio technologist Anastasia Clarke and composer, musician, and multidisciplinary artist Anjna Swaminathan.

A longtime partnership with the Edward and Sally Van Lier Fund of the New York Community Trust has enabled Roulette to offer year-long fellowships to a number of outstanding young artists to create, rehearse, experiment, and investigate new directions in their craft. Past Roulette Van Lier Fellows include Matthew Welch, Matana Roberts, Tyshawn Sorey, Ha Yang Kim, Paula Matthusen, Darius Jones, Maria Chavez, Mary Halvorson, Brandon Lopez, and Kelly Moran.

Anastasia Clarke is a New York-based composer, performer, and audio technologist working in live embodied electronic music performance. Her sprawling custom instrument-interfaces and deliberately confusing sound performing systems make theatre out of human-instrument interaction; therapy out of earnest sound exploration; and jokes out of the impossibility of ever understanding exactly what is going on. In addition to custom electronics, monologues, movement, and the destruction and repurposing of sound-generating materials figure heavily into Anastasia’s whimsical sonic textures, guiding performers and audiences into complex plays of attention without any hand-holding.

Clarke’s work is performed in galleries, concert halls, DIY venues and unsuspecting community spaces across the United States. Clarke has also engaged audiences through speaking and pedagogy, most recently at Cycling ’74’s Expo ’74, NIME 2018, The School for Poetic Computation, and various colleges and universities.  Clarke earned an MFA in Electronic Music and Recording Media from Mills College in 2018, and has received support for subsequent work and research from the Queens Arts Fund, EMS (Stockholm), CCRMA, and a 2020 Van Lier Fellowship at Roulette.

Anjna Swaminathan is a queer multidisciplinary artist, composer, violinist, vocalist, writer, theatre artist, educator, and dramaturg. As an artist with a passion for sociopolitical work, community building, and critical consciousness, Swaminathan’s artistic practice is an extension of her activist spirit. Informed by her rigorous training in the Carnatic and Hindustani music traditions of India, Anjna creates in New York’s vibrant creative music and improvisatory scene, in hybrid classical compositional work, and in her own multidisciplinary projects. Since 2018, Anjna has been under the compositional mentorship of Gabriela Lena Frank and continues her training in Hindustani music with Samarth Nagarkar. Swaminathan holds a BA in Theatre from the University of Maryland, College Park.

Oren Barnoy: future erasure

The prayer is the physicalization of an intention to have something to revisit every morning. Both building upon and executing over and over as it becomes part of the musculature of the body, it becomes a semi-automatic experience. A sequence of movements that can be done in small spaces and large depending on location. From this prayer or movement sequence we amplify it in our own ways. — Oren Barnoy

On February 5-7, 2020, Roulette will present New York-based choreographer and dancer Oren Barnoy’s newest work, future erasure. After a rehearsal in the final days of 2019, the three dancers for whom Barnoy created future erasure joined him in conversation with Roulette Director of Communications Caitlin Gleason to discuss working collaboratively, embodiment and individual expression, and the role of sound in the piece.

Caitlin Gleason: Tell me about the piece you are presenting in February at Roulette.

Oren Barnoy: We have been working on it for at least three years. The priority has always been the creation of movement and material, which is difficult to do in New York because of the lack of resources to rehearse. Additionally, it takes a while to make material that doesn’t reference ballet or other modern forms [of dance] because of the training that resides in our bodies. In my work, I recognize how the past lives in our bodies. I try to figure out what to embrace and what movements have an ideal ideology and which ones I don’t exactly feel as in line with. That work has been a dialogue between us. In the case of this show, it’s a little bit different because we’ve been working for a little while, so now I feel like we’re crafting it, working on the compositional elements of it a little more.

CG: What is the role of sound and music in this piece?

OB: I’m excited to work with [sound designer James Lo] because he is who he is, and also because he’s not me [laughter] and can offer a different perspective. I’m not going to be thinking of what sounds right, I’m coming from a place of an urban kind of soulful house music, hip hop sounds, and so on. James has his history and his life and his music and his interests, and so far it seems like what’s happening is I’m able to see the material more with the sounds that he’s making. We’re asking the same questions. What is this sound doing and why?

And the work is that question. James mentioned that a lot of that work consists of trying to see the movement as it really is and trying to imagine the different ways that the movement could be seen.

Paul Hamilton: That really resonates– just based on how we first started working with the material…when we did it at Gibney and we had house music and we started off with the prayer. Which was, for me, kind of a weird house flashback because back in the day when you would go dancing with friends you would say, we’re going to go to church, you know?

And so we started off with this stepping idea about the prayer and the house music, but now, as the piece continues, the music and movement have evolved, but far more interesting is how the movement is executed and how it lives in my body differently based on the different soundscapes that it exists in. It’s been really interesting to see what James has brought in and how it has affected the movement. It has reshaped and reformed, or been reborn in my body. The soundscape is very different.

CG: Oren, you mentioned that this work is more of a collaboration, rather than a choreographed piece for a group of dancers. How so?

OB: That’s right. Although, I don’t think it’s a historically-defined collaboration. It’s not a standard choreographer-to-dancer relationship either. It’s not a collaboration but it is people coming together to make a work.

Candace Tabbs: Oren, you’ve used the word “practitioner” before, like we are practitioners in this work, and I think that speaks to how we exist in the making of it. That it’s about how the movement is starting to live in our bodies. This kind of kneading it, like dough, letting it settle and then thinking of how we can expand it and stretch it to see what opens up and what evolves in the movement and the different shared phrases that we have in our group. Like the prayer, it’s kind of common ground where we explore. So “practitioners” kind of always stuck for me.

Molly Lieber:  Yeah because there is really detailed movement work happening. I wasn’t with Oren and Paul when this movement started, we [Candace and Molly] came in a little bit later. As a group we started really pulling apart movements and found if you stretch apart something, you can see it in a different way and get different things out of it. That’s what I feel like we do. The movement has been really stretched out so you could extract it and you can change it. I feel like there’s a vocabulary that we all understand and practice.

CG: That’s interesting too. I’m thinking about the relationship to music and scores and how that kind of functions in the same way.

PH: Yeah, I mean, all of us work with choreographers and I think all of us work in situations where we are in collaboration with choreographers. But there is something about the intimate nature of the style of this movement or the fracturing of the prayer in each person’s body because we’re kind of taking a source material and all doing it in our own way, which then kind of personalizes it in a very particular way. It gives us each a certain amount of agency over how we are interpreting the movement. There is of ownership over your own interpretation what you’re doing.

OB: When you say ownership, that’s so clear. That material is really that person’s material.

PH: And it would look very different if someone else was doing it and it would then become theirs.

OB: When you look at them you can see that they’re the same movements. But that is the work we’re doing, the movement becomes embodied differently in each dancer because we’re trying to amplify it and amplifying it means something slightly different for each person. Each person it expresses the movement a little differently but it’s the same. It’s an expression of them. We’re dancing from all sides.

I personally think that if the dancer has the interest or the willingness and the space inside to express themselves, that they’ll feel empowered and then hopefully as a group we would feel empowered, and that’s ideal. It’s part of my plan to find ways to express empowerment.

CG: In the winter of 2019, you presented work as part of Roulette’s New Movement Series, organized by Molly and Eleanor Smith. Did future erasure grow out of that work? Are they related?

OB: It’s a clear continuation.

CG: In what way? What elements are moving forward?

OB: The material itself. We are developing some new core physical movement material and there’s some material from the work’s previous iteration that is part of it. Often, I think that performances do not necessarily happen exactly when you’ve finished the piece. So at this point, it doesn’t feel like a finishing. It feels like such an infinite kind of experience and that last year’s work and February’s performance are one whole piece.

CG: Do you have any non-dance influences such as text, music, or artists that contribute to your process?

ML: Honestly, a lot of conversation in the room influences what’s happening. I feel like that’s something that’s hard to grasp in a performance, but I do feel like the whole nature of the vocabulary of the work, like saying again, it came from a shared vocabulary of open steps. Everybody knows each step, but then what’s shown is a version of those steps that comes from stretching it out and finding something that each person’s body can relate to. I think when you’re seeing it in performance, you’re seeing something that is hard to grasp. A lot of times people have seen this work and said to me “oh were you improvising the whole time?” No, each person knows what they’re doing the entire time. But it has the feel of improvisation, where you are doing something that’s a little hard to grasp. Yet we’re getting somewhere, and the fact that we’ve been doing it for so long and it’s still hard to grasp, speaks to the intrinsic nature of this vocabulary.

I think another influence is what we’ve been talking about in the room because there is community when you meet with the same people over a period of time – I’ve gone from being pregnant to having a two-year-old, Candace has gone through her journey, Paul has gone through his, and Oren has gone through his. I think that all shows up in the performance.

CG: I like that very much.

PH: I feel like the first time we presented this work, the title was a group of lines, a symbol.*

OB: Yes, it’s a big difference.

PH: Not that I’m holding on to that but in a way, for me, the symbol represented a lot of the inner-outer workings of the piece and in some sense represents how I feel about the matriarchal work in that it’s constantly moving, constantly overlapping, folding in on itself, opening out. I know we’ve gone on and different elements are being introduced, but I still do see the symbol as a frame. It’s like an eight-headed monster. There’s so much going on, there’s a space, then that, then this, then bodies moving in, and out and down and up. That’s my experience in it.

CG: I think that’s interesting that you bring up the symbol and then thinking about this transition to a written title. It seems like it follows the evolution of the piece.

PH: Yes. A symbol moving into words.

CG: Could you talk about working at Roulette? Is there anything that stands out about working in that space?

OB: There’s just a nice feeling about it overall. I feel a sense of freedom there and also the sound quality is so amazing. It feels like at Roulette you can blast it if you want, you can really feel the bass. I love that – I love the sound. And working with everybody there is really cool and they work with you to support your vision. It seems to be really about the work, zero drama.

PH: We’re excited. When I found out this was happening I was like, that’s really awesome. Roulette, Brooklyn, exciting space and we have a history of working there and I feel very good about presenting work there.

OB: I also like that it’s different than Danspace Project or similar historically dance-presenting spaces. Roulette has a different history. It’s an honor to show your work at a space that started out as a platform for avant-garde music and has expanded. It feels a little different than working in a purely dance-based space, in a good way! We’re excited.

*In May 2019, Oren Barnoy presented at Roulette. Titled with a symbol, the piece was performed by Barnoy along with Hamilton, Lieber, and Tabbs.

Make a Difference for Artists Like Mary Halvorson

Everything we present at Roulette is underscored by two questions: “What do you want to do, and how can we help?” To us, this question will always be fundamental for the healthy longevity of art and—most importantly—for the wonderful people who make and enjoy it.

One of these extraordinary artists, 2019 MacArthur Award Winner Mary Halvorson, shares just how broadly your support has strengthened the lives of so many, including her own:

I have been going to shows at Roulette since 1999, when it was located in Jim Staley’s loft in TriBeca. For these 20 years, Roulette has been going strong—supporting and encouraging creative and experimental artists in all stages of their careers.

Roulette was one of the first organizations to award me a commission in my twenties. This commission was hugely important to me and was the push I needed to form my longstanding quintet. Since then, Roulette has invited me to present diverse projects of my choosing, allowing me complete artistic freedom to experiment and explore.

I am also a member, and enjoy attending concerts. There is a real feeling that Roulette is 100% a platform for artists, run by artists. They always have terrific programming. Within any given season, it’s particularly exciting to see Roulette nurture and support emerging artists, alongside many of my musical heroes.

Roulette would be nothing without the people—like Mary, like you—who have come together in curiosity with us over the past 41 years. As long as we’re here, Roulette will never stop supporting artists, will never stop shining as a beacon for the underground, and will never stop needing the amazing community of people who make this work possible.

2019 MacArthur Genius Mary Halvorson is a guitarist, ensemble leader, and composer who is pushing against established musical categories with a singular sound on her instrument and an aesthetic that evolves with each new album and configuration of bandmates. She melds her jazz roots with elements of experimental rock, folk, and other musical traditions, reflecting a wide range of stylistic influences. One of New York City’s most in-demand guitarists, over the past decade Halvorson has worked with such diverse musicians as Tim Berne, Anthony Braxton, Taylor Ho Bynum, John Dieterich, Trevor Dunn, Bill Frisell, Ingrid Laubrock, Jason Moran, Joe Morris, Tom Rainey, Jessica Pavone, Tomeka Reid, Marc Ribot and John Zorn.