Move Over, Mozart! 7 Experimental Emerging Composers For Curious Novice Ears

Eartheater (image by Felix Cooper for Office Magazine)

Eartheater (image by Felix Cooper for Office Magazine)

Co-Founder’s Note: Why hello there, dearest of beloved Filthy Dreams readers! What’s that? Yes, Filthy Dreams has managed to corral a new contributor Jessica Caroline. Why she even requested to write for us-we’re honored! So let’s welcome Jessica to the Erotica-era of her life as she teaches us about the cutting-edge of transgressive experimental composers:

Here is a non-definitive list of experimental emerging composers cutting it up in New York, making departures from tradition and leading us down tainted détournements of sound. This semi-competent list is made for those of you, like me, that consider yourselves utter rookies who may have tried playing the recorder for a hot half-second in school before giving up. You might know next to nothing about reading music, but nonetheless intuit how to appreciate provocative music. These are the musical genius freaks and cool geeks that didn’t give up as easy as we did, persisting to aplomb…

1. Eartheater

Under the pseudonym ‘Eartheater,’ Alexandra Drewchin is an experimental multi-instrumentalist and vocalist based in Queens, New York. A blend of futurism and folkology, her body becomes a vessel of aural and visual arousal as her undulating vocal explorations flux with each contortion and lingering backbend. According to an article in Spin, she grew up on a farm and was homeschooled, taking up the violin at the age of three. Music offered a kind of catharsis from the social anxieties and neglect she experienced in her youth. While also part of the psych act Guardian Alien with Greg Fox, she has been touring this year with Arcade Fire’s Sarah Neufeld, and recently performed at Pioneer Works in Brooklyn alongside other renowned composers such as Daniel Menche. Her versatile vocal and instrumental oeuvre channel the likes of Björk, Cat Power, Cocteau Twins, Aphex Twin, Grimes, Portishead, and then some. Her music videos are equally pastiche and surreal, summoning Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Holy Mountain, Madonna and Matthew Barney.

2. Anna Thorvaldsdottir

Perhaps it is the cooler climate and epic landscapes from whence she came that gives Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir the natural penchant for frost-bitten, unsettling sonic structures. Her uber-brooding tunes keep you teetering on the edge, think Debussy or Stravinsky meets Hans Otte meets Nadia Sirota meets Jonny Greenwood meets David Lynch’s Polish Night Music collaboration with Marek Zebrowski. Her eerie ensemble In the Light of Air from 2014 at the Atlas Performing Arts Center is staged with pulsating lightbulbs ignited by the caresses and curdlings of cello, harp, viola, piano and percussion. Listening to such compositions is like a spider weaving a delicate web for us to awake entangled.

3. Wang Lu

Composer and pianist Wang Lu was born in Xi’an, the ancient capital of China. Raised in a musical family with strong Chinese opera and folk music traditions, her subtle and intricate compositions are a hybrid of Eastern and Western instrumental techniques. Her compositions capture fleeting forms of energy and spirituality, wavering between tender and voracious, quivering flutes and darting strings, and above all, a most playful temperament. Lost Dialect sounds like Tom Waits on twinkle toes, ebbing and flowing between trumpet, strings and percussion. It’s a bewitching and woozy experience. Rather than focusing solely on form and harmony, her piece Urban Inventory, performed at the MATA Festival last year, incorporated unconventional samples of audio recordings, popular music, propaganda ballet and a peasant rapper.

4. Jonathan Finlayson

Jazz fan alert! Trumpeter and composer Jonathan Finlayson is a disciple of the saxophonist and composer Steve Coleman. Finlayson played the recorder for four days before returning to his innate love for the trumpet, earning his own at 10 years of age. With intricate entwinements of Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Thad Jones, Art Farmer and Yesterday’s New Quintet, you could imagine stumbling in on him oozing tunes in a random swanky bar late at night as you drift with your sorrows over whisky in sensual solitude. That, or ease a hangover with your first cup of coffee on a Sunday morning with his album Moment and the Message. His collaboration with avant-garde jazz guitarist Mary Halvorson in Illusionary Sea is a revival of George Benson-style grooves with Finlayson’s distinctively quirky trumpet swank, a sassy soundtrack for navigating around the chaos of NYC.

Installation view: Ben Vida, [Smile on.] . . . [Pause.] . . . [Smile off.], Lisa Cooley, New York, 2016 (Image courtesy the artist and Lisa Cooley, New York)

Installation view: Ben Vida, [Smile on.] . . . [Pause.] . . . [Smile off.], Lisa Cooley, New York, 2016 (Image courtesy the artist and Lisa Cooley, New York)

5. Ben Vida

Ben Vida produces generative electronic compositions that utilize analog and digital technologies, with a focus on aural phenomena and sound localization. His compositions manifest through live performance, text, image and video. While not as abrasive and more inviting than other noise artists, Vida makes for challenging, complex listening. His slippery, sonic correlations are connected to experiences in psychoacoustics, which means the study of physiological and perceptual effects of sound on the body. This year, he held a solo exhibition at Lisa Cooley in New York, presenting a video work in which gestures of smiling and blinking generate repetitive synthetic sounds, inducing strange sensory inversions in the viewer. He also produced text-based proposals for duo vocal performances, in which rhythms of speech obfuscate linguistic interpretation. Think Samuel Beckett meets Dirty Projectors meets Matmos meets Micachu & the Shapes meets mirror neurons.

6. Angélica Negrón

Brooklyn-based Angélica Negrón was educated at the Conservatory of Music of Puerto Rico where she studied piano and violin and later, composition under acclaimed composer Alfonso Fuentes before relocating to New York. Angélica is a founding member of the electro-acoustic pop outfit Balún where she sings and plays the accordion and violin. With her project Arturo en el Barco, she focuses on lo-fi ambient compositions that are energetic and idiosyncratic. If you like Björk and/or Joanna Newsom, her work will strike your fancy for sure. Start by sampling her 2011 composition Bubblegum Grass / Peppermint Field, where she blends conventional chamber instruments with an electric gamelan. It’s a vivaciously textured amalgam of traditional and progressive sound. My personal fave is Volumen, a live accordion and vocal performance with subtle drum machine beats, performed at the DiMenna Center for Classical Music. She also frequently collaborates with the experimental theater company from Puerto Rico Y No Había Luz, writing music for their plays, which often incorporate puppetry, masks and unusual objects.

7. David Louis Zuckerman

David Louis Zuckerman is a composer, artist and director working in experimental opera, theater and film. His compositions are an evocative derivé from the likes of Alban Berg, Pierre Boulez, John Cage and Luc Ferrari. His theatrical work in collaboration with playwright Marianna Ellenberg The Harmers was presented at New York’s David Lewis Gallery and Los Angeles’ JOAN, in which an assorted triage of neurotic women dial in on an obnoxious radio show host à la Howard Stern. The music is curiously demented, hyperbolic and jarring, as are the ensemble of characters. Zuckerman also collaborates with performance artist Ei Arakawa on various projects, including a creative reimagining of the avant-garde Gutai Art Association and its founder Jiro Yoshihara, which incorporated a large-scale anthropomorphic light installation where art and artificial intelligence interact. Also check out his operatic anthropocene parable The Augur, based on the true story of an ice fisherman who drowned in Lake Michigan, simultaneously morbid and amusing.

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