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Week 2 (and a bit) in NYC

I've been desperately editing an orchestral piece and starting a ballet, which has made me worry I've not been getting out enough. But looking at my diary I can see that I've experienced quite a lot since I last posted. I've also been shortlisted for a British Composer Award for my electronic work with Crewdson which feels relevant to this last week, as some of my favourite events were sonic art.

I got to witness American Halloween, too! Grown adults casually riding the subway with axes in their heads, it was brilliant. I watched the 1919 Expressionist film The Cabinet of Dr Caligari with live music at National Sawdust. The mechanised grand piano in the venue was suitably spooky...

I enjoyed the Stonewall Chorale's Halloween concert, complete with costume and hearty food, such a great community. If only all concerts could have that combination... The conductor, Cynthia Powell, also leads the Melodia Women's Choir who are bringing my music to life in this month's concerts.

I was kindly invited to the Fall party of Chamber Music America, which included some poignant speeches about the importance of art in the wake of recent devastating national news. It reminded me of a composer who I'd met a few days earlier who'd encountered a comment along the lines of 'art won't stop a bullet', and who argued that that wasn't the point (which I support). This is a bigger subject than that of a weekly travel diary, so I'll come back to it.

Spotted on the High Line, Manhattan

If it makes anyone feel better, Brexit is not on anyone's mind over here. The mid-term elections are taking place at present, and our pompous little island is of no interest. I encountered something similar when I went to the Met Opera Guild seminar on 'The Future of Opera'. A member of the audience asked about the influence of contemporary European opera, and responses were that American composers were priority for their support. They do have a great choice of composers after all, though few make it to the Met. The Guild had even made a timeline of opera from 1900 until now which made me a little sad, not only because many contemporary composers from Europe were missing, but also because it listed Peter Maxwell Davies as still with us, which I wish were true.

I went to two events last night which welcomed communities from all sorts of places. At Baruch Performing Arts Centre I saw Words On The Street, the posthumous work of Matt Marks who passed away unexpectedly this year. His friends and colleagues completed his hybrid opera/theatre work, bringing their own style, and it was realised by performers from Broadway to visual art. Matt Marks obviously meant a great deal to his friends, and they created a pledge in his memory:

From Baruch, I went to Le Poisson Rouge, where I met Dina Gregory, a writer whose work I admired during my shows at Grimeborn Festival, Arcola Theatre London, this year. She invited me to hear her friends' music with HELIX!, a resident ensemble at Rutgers University. The programme suited my eclectic tastes, and the venue provided a refreshing setting for contemporary music (once again, I am won by the combination of music with food). Please could someone open a venue like this in Soho, London? An opening scene of an opera was followed by a Buddhist 'transgression for a bee', and the whole thing closed with an electrifying clarinet concerto by Dutch composer Michel Van der Aa: Hysteresis.

The tight expressive electronics of that piece are still on my mind. I've been thinking about how to approach my commission from the Birmingham Royal Ballet in a way which can respond to their desire to include electronics, and also suit their tight touring schedule.

I think the sentiments that have stayed with me most are those I heard at The Kitchen a few days ago. Christoph Cox discussed the metaphysics of sound and art with Aura Satz before a performance from Maria Chavez. The 'haptic'-style vibrations and process of splitting and layering vinyl demonstrated their point that sound is physical, and we experience it with more than our ears.

image from Tempo by Jibade-Khalil Huffman, The Kitchen

I am going to catch up with Cox's writings on Pierre Schaeffer and think more about my role in the ongoing sonic composition that is daily life. I'm looking forward to an artist residency with my Pinch Punch collaborators Seta White and Ziazan where I'm going to use sound installations to find the environment of a story we're expanding from Grimeborn Festival.

I'll end this week by returning to art and activism. These movements may not be one and the same, but, if desired, they can work alongside each other, obliquely or directly. I think of the legacy of Zitkala-Sa, whose words inspired my first US commission which has brought me here. She was subversive and expressive in art, but also enacted social change in politics by founding the National Council of American Indians in 1926, campaigning for the rights of women and Native Americans, and advising the U.S. government’s Meriam Commission which led to reform. Here's a snapshot of her report printed for members of Congress which I find, tragically, still relevant:

"Now the time is at hand when the American Indian shall have his day in court through the help of the women of America. The stain upon America's fair name is to be removed, and the remnant of the Indian nation, suffering from malnutrition, is to number among the invited invisible guests at your dinner tables.

In this undertaking there must be cooperation of head, heart and hand.


Wardship is no substitute for American citizenship, therefore we seek his enfranchisement. The many treaties made in good faith with the Indian by our government we would like to see equitably settled. By a constructive program we hope to do away with the "piecemeal legislation" affecting Indians here and there which has proven an exceedingly expensive and disappointing method.

Do you know what your Bureau of Indian Affairs, in Washington, D.C., really is? How it is organized and how it deals with wards of the nation? This is our first study. Let us be informed of facts and then we may formulate our opinions.

In the remaining space allowed me I shall quote from the report of the Bureau of Municipal Research, in their investigation of the Indian Bureau, published by them in the September issue, 1915, No. 65, "Municipal Research," 261 Broadway, New York City. This report is just as good for our use today as when it was first made, for very little, if any, change has been made in the administration of Indian Affairs since then."

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