“It’s in the blood.”

“One can become an artist, but one must be born a griot.” – balafonist Fodé Lassana Diabaté

The members of Malian group Trio da Kali have known each other “like family” all their lives, but they hadn’t played together in a formal group until collaborating with Kronos Quartet for last year’s phenomenal album “Ladilikan.” The trio is currently touring the US, and making its Boston debut tonight in a solo show. I talked to Lassana Diabaté about griot families, religion and griots, and how Islamist extremist activity in Mali has impacted musical life.

Read over at the Globe!


Five Questions to Leah Barclay


It has become increasingly clear that we rapidly need new ways to communicate the current state of our environment. Fortunately most of the world now agrees climate change is one of the most critical issues we are facing. Yet there has been limited success in inspiring people to make significant changes. The Paris Agreement achieved at COP21 was just the first step in what needs to be a global cultural shift in how people think and act. In our visually dominant society, listening to the state of the environment can reconnect us with nature. Sound can transport us to a place and time and elicit an empathetic response that can be extremely powerful in climate action. We need to inspire people to change deeply ingrained unsustainable lifestyles and make conscious choices. Positive and motivating experiences are much more productive than overwhelming and depressing climate graphs. While I am not suggesting my music has this capacity, I have no doubt music and creativity has incredible agency in social change.

My practice has evolved from writing music inspired by the environment to developing large-scale participatory projects where my compositions are a catalyst for people to engage with conservation in new ways. What began as an exploration of the value of sound in climate change has evolved into a web of projects harnessing music and acoustic ecology to raise cultural and environmental awareness. At the core of these projects is community engagement and accessibility. My compositions have become part of a multi-layered process designed to inspire others to engage in practices of listening, field recording and composition.

Read the rest over at I Care if you Listen!

Five Questions to Evan Ziporyn

When I heard that Evan Ziporyn had last-minute thrown together an orchestra to play Philip Glass’s David Bowie symphonies as a tribute to the late great, I just had to pick his brain. Luckily, I Care If You Listen was interested in that too…



It was one of the above-mentioned conversations, with Richard Guerin, who runs Philip Glass’ record label.  He said “I wish someone would program these Symphonies – it’s at least something classical musicians could do.”   I just blurted out, “OK, but I want to conduct” – and then immediately began emailing.  I felt strongly that it should be a benefit for cancer research, that this would give us all a chance to do something positive with these feelings, channel the grief into something of value, even if only on a small scale.

You normally can’t put something like this together in that amount of time, but for me it was about doing something while in the midst of these feelings – the larger gestures can come later.  But to be honest I assumed some kind of roadblock would appear – no hall availability, not being able to get the music in time, or not enough musicians having time or being available.  But between Richard, the MIT Concert Office, and the overwhelmingly positive response from Boston-area musicians, it all fell into place.  I started by contacting the best musicians I know, people I had worked with or simply knew about, they started telling their friends, and pretty soon we had to start turning players away.  So the orchestra is mainly made up of really first-rate free lance musicians, many of the same people you’d hear at a BMOP concert, kick-ass conservatory students (of which Boston has plenty), etc.  It’s all very moving actually – not only because of Bowie or cancer research, but because it feels genuinely collective and empowering – something we are all doing together.

Don’t get me wrong, this is only possible because MIT – a large and supportive institution – is watching my back, in an amazing way.  But everyone got on board – not just the musicians, but also Campus Activities, copy services, the MIT Police, the parking office, you name it…so I’m grateful for that too.

All that aside, just a simple matter of learning two giant scores in a couple of days, scheduling rehearsals, and now playing the music…business as usual!

read the rest over at I Care If You Listen!

Interview: Tian Yoon Teh

Written as an assignment in early December

It was late November, and 21-year-old composer Tian Yoon Teh was feeling the Ohio cold. She
unwrapped herself from multiple layers, including a marshmallow-esque blue
jacket and many scarves, before she sat down, grinning wide.

first annual freshman composers’ concert is not usually an event people feel
they missed out on should they not attend. It’s lengthy, it’s typically at a
busy time, and each piece must be for one instrument. Recently, the new class
presented works for violin, guitar, cello, and bells, among other things –
another year, another first module.

No one expected to be plunged into
another plane of existence, but Tian took us there. Last on the long program,
she performed Manifested Silence, her
work for “human body“ incorporating vocalization, movement, and body
percussion. The house lights dimmed. Dressed in a simple white tank top and
black leggings, she crouched with her back to the audience, arms raised and
pointed at the ceiling, exploring the reaches of her voice as she slowly turned
around. Just as she faced us full on, something snapped and she fell to
the ground over and over again, letting the sound of her own body’s impact echo
through the room. Her clear, sweet voice was in constant flux, from prayer-like
chants to guttural drags to high yelps and all the spaces in between. Though it
was the longest work on the program, it seemed to be over in a flash. It was
raw, original, and self-aware on a level rarely breached in the work of veteran
composers, let alone first year undergraduates.

Tian shook her head when asked how
her work is so far advanced from those of her fellow first years, chalking it
up to more time on the earth and therefore more time to study. (She attended a
local college in her native Malaysia for composition and voice before starting
at Oberlin; she continues to sing here as a member of Collegium Musicum.) “I have taught, and took a gap
year to work as an admin in a music school, and I was also involved in theater
productions,” she explained. “As for why I came here, there aren’t many places
that offer a college as well as a conservatory. I was looking for music within
a university and I only found that in the USA. Everything else is straight to
professional track.”

The professional track’s loss is Oberlin’s gain. Tian defines
herself as a “jack of all trades and a master of jack,” but the thought she
puts into her compositions and performances shows otherwise. Her previous
projects include a solo recital about seven facades of a person, the last of
those being “the emptiness and nothingness that allows creation to happen.”

And she has some big plans. “I do believe that when we get
different people and talents together, something can work out. We’re fighting
against TV, which is multi-stimulus,” she said. “I’m looking into a project
revolving around veils and voices, especially those that aren’t always heard.
Veils would be incorporated through dance, through art – veils can be concrete
but also abstract, the covers under which everyone hides. I see that sometimes
a composer’s role can be to provide the platform, the canvas and outline to bring
different people together.”

As personal influences, she cites Mongol, Tibetan, and
Chinese music, and Sanskrit chants. “I am by no means a representation of the
tribes themselves, or the culture, or where they come from. It’s a
re-contextualization,” she said. “I take penmanship: I don’t take ownership of
my work.”

“Ideally, I would sit down and
compose at the same time every day,” she said when asked about her work
process. “But I am not the only one at work here, and I rely on the messages of
what I tune into in my environment to know where to go and what to manifest.
Sometimes an idea will come and I’ll just drop everything and follow it.” She
laughed. “Last time that happened I staged an hour and a half show in two
months. I’m not sure I want to do that again.”

Tian’s next creation will be
performed at Oberlin on December 13th.