Spektral Quartet: Theatre of War

Theatre of War

The Spektral Quartet

My hubby is awesome, and talented, and handsome.  I normally wouldn’t use my blog/site to gush over him, but I am so impressed and proud of his upcoming project, Theatre of War, that I felt so inclined.  The topic is one of great importance, that of passive acknowledgement of war in our modern society.  Theatre of War is not aiming to take a side, preach, or act as any kind of political protest but rather to serve as a tool to bring the wars to our active attention.  I, for one, did not pay much attention to any of our wars until my own brother was stationed in one of the most active zones in Afghanistan.  This was a direct daily assault on me and made me realize how important it is for each of us to educate ourselves on global policies and actions.  I hope you’ll be as impressed as I was with their preview trailer and make it out to the Spektral Quartet’s Theatre of War.


Intuition Vs. Algorithm essays

Intuition Vs. Algorithm





Victoria Morris

When I accepted the assignment to make a piece for this show, I was quite thrilled by the push and pull duality inherent in the phrase “Intuition/Algorithm”. After all, intuition is the deepest, rawest instinct of the human mind and we think of algorithms, when we think of them all, as the refined product of the right brained, never to be grasped easily except as part of an advanced degree. Except… we mention the latest algorithms so casually, designers wrapping them in friendly GUI to hide the bitterness of math, and make them sweet like music. They hide it when we ask our friends to “Google it” or in the marvel of a newborn learning to use his parent’s iPad, the trajectory of an angry bird. Design is increasingly the art of masking algorithm in intuition.

If the concept of the program was exciting, I was not so thrilled by Sarah’s request that I select a contemporary artist who exemplified this concept and write about them. Which is why I’m giving a speech: I dragged my heels so long that I didn’t get it printed in the program. Oops! Sorry. The difficulty wasn’t in selecting an artist. I very quickly decided that I wanted to speak about Jenny Holzer. For me, she exemplifies the theme of our show. Hers is work that can only exist in this digital era of signboard and computer typography and projection yet speaks with a loud clear voice about things we know to be true but are afraid to admit to ourselves, let alone one another. Intuition. Algorithm.

The trouble that I faced was in selecting a single piece by Holzer to discuss. Her entire body of work centers on these ideas, but I finally had to choose and I chose  “Installation for Neue Nationalgallerie” in Berlin. This marriage of art, technology and architecture was debuted in 2001 and consists of thirteen scrolling LED tickertape displays in amber installed upon exposed beams in the roof of the building. The text of the piece was written by Holzer herself, and describes a mother as she observes the changing body of her adolescent daughter.



The words scroll on and on across the ceiling in a never ending loop from adulthood to the decision to keep a child, without end. The hard, unforgiving orange light industrializes a text that memorializes the sentiments of motherhood.

Spencer Hutchinson

The Photo-Programitism* of Laszlo Moholy-Nagy

I have selected, not one piece of art, but selections from the body of work of Laszlo Moholy-Nagy who’s experimentation with light as a medium used directly for the purpose image sets a visual precedent for the abstract machine inspired aesthetic and whose process is greatly aligned with the working methodology of musique-concrete and electronic sound manipulation.  While no concrete algorithms are used in the process of his work per-se, the dependence on the technology at his disposal does necessitate the mindset and approach to art-making that one is beholden to when confronted with the technological programs and limitations of electronic and mechanical media.  The photograms, collages, and photographs of Nagy when observed as a whole present the astute observer with a unique personalized aesthetic that goes beyond what was achievable by way of conventional plastic media used by other more notable artists who aligned themselves with cubism and constructivism.   By infusing, at the onset of creation, a purely intuitive placement of objects to be not represented, but rather RE-presented as mysterious entities whose embedded alien aesthetic is revealed through the impersonal photographic process, Nagy has created the first true synthesis of man/machine collaboration which has left on enduring legacy on the discipline of technological art.

*Photo-Programmitism: is a term that I invented for the purpose of talking about Nagy’s work in particular since his creative output was not limited to photography, but was rather beholden to an aesthetic that necessitated multiple approaches to image-making where the process of creation is depenedent on the use of light as a medium.

-Spencer Hutchinson, January 27, 2012

End the Silence

Since last June, I have not been incredibly active. You might say I’ve been in a creative depression, unable to get that spark ignited and unmotivated to do anything about it.  Lucky for me, people won’t let me just wither away into logic and maths.  Thanks to a few entities out there like Absence of Wax, The International Beethoven Project, and a few friends forcefully nudging me to compose and perform (I have to give my husband alot of credit here), I can say that I am coming out of my lull.


The first act of celebration is the release of my first solo album by netlabel Pan Y Rosas Discos!  It is a free download as part of the Creative Commons community to be shared freely for non-commercial purposes.  I hope you get a chance to listen and enjoy it as much as I loved making it!

Sarah J. Ritch: String Theory



Chicago Scratch Orchestra

Sometime a week or so ago, I was introduced to the idea of  a “scratch orchestra.”  For those of you who are, like me, new to the concept, below is a nice short description courtesy of Wikipedia:


The Scratch Orchestra was an experimental musical ensemble founded in the spring of 1969 by Cornelius Cardew, Michael Parsons and Howard Skempton.

The Orchestra reflected Cardew’s musical philosophy at that time. This meant that anyone could join, graphic scores were used (rather than traditional sheet music), and there was an emphasis on improvisation. The Scratch Orchestra arose from Cardew’s ‘Experimental Music’ class at Morley College, London, which served as a venue for extra rehearsals for Scratch Orchestra concerts, but Scratch Orchestra rehearsals were also held separately.

The first meeting of the Scratch Orchestra was at St. Katharine’s Dock, 1 July 1969. It was announced by means of a ‘Draft Constitution’, published in “The Musical Times” in June 1969. The Draft Constitution set out categories of musical activity: Improvisation Rites, Popular Classics, Compositions, and Research Projects. Cardew also proposed that the responsibility of programming of concerts be assigned in reverse seniority, so that the first concert, on 1 November 1969 at Hampstead Town Hall, was designed by Christopher Hobbs, an eighteen-year-old student of Cardew’s at the Royal Academy of Music.

Despite the emphasis on free improvisation, the varying experience of the members, and the ‘do your own thing’ free aesthetic of the time, the Scratch Orchestra was a disciplined ensemble. Eventually the strains of Cardew’s “reverse seniority”, tensions between musically-trained and non-musically-trained members, and an increasing interest in political aesthetics led to a gradual change in the activities, and then the outlook of the ensemble. It was effectively inoperative by 1974.


When asked if I’d be interested in joining the Chicago Scratch Orchestra for this year’s Chicago Calling Arts Festival, I read Cardew’s Draft Constitution and knew it was something I’d been waiting for!  The best part (for me, as I don’t know how well I’ll be appreciated by the other members OR the audience) is that I can pick my instrumentation….and I picked cello and/or laptop.  This is an instrumentation I’ve been experimenting with in my band, Sound Collision Alliance.  I have been pretty excited with the results while working with 2 others who I have years of experience performing with and I can’t wait to be thrown in the mix of people I’ve never even met.  If you are intrigued or frightened, I suggest you check out my Upcoming Events page for details on performances and how you can attend (or avoid).

If you are interested in the cello and/or laptop instrumentation, check out this recent Sound Collision Alliance recording with members of NU Directions Chamber Brass: http://www.samkrahn.com/links/sca.html


Absence of Wax: are NetLabels the new thing?

I was recently approached by Devin Sarno, who runs a cool thing called “Absence of Wax“.  I have never heard of such a thing, but apparently this is something called a netlabel.  It’s a place online where you can listen to and download music from artists represented by the label, all for free!  I think this is a great idea! Why fight the free downloading of your music? Why not encourage it?!  The point of making music is to share it, right?  You can check out my contribution and those of the other Absence of Wax artists here:


June was a BUSY month!

While incredibly strenuous, June was very kind to me.  Not only did I have 3 new pieces premiered but I had the opportunity to work with fantastic Chicago groups like the Chicago Composers Orchestra, Singers On New Ground, and with Anaphora founding member (and my patient husband!) Aurelien Pederzoli.

For the Mute was commissioned by CCO and gave me an opportunity to rework an orchestra piece I had sketched during my Undergrad.  It was wonderful to have such a large work realized and to such a gracious audience!  The piece is a 1 movement work in 10 minutes.

Sonata de Kinor was first previewed by Aurelien earlier in the year at an Anaphora concert where he performed the 1st movement.  Since then, he has played the 1st movement on WFMT , given the full premiere in Chicago and the Las Vegas premiere in my hometown for a hugely successful benefit concert.  Sonata de Kinor is a work for solo violin in 2 movements:

1. Cantor

2. Danzon

Songs about Love was commissioned by a great group in Chicago called Singers On New Ground (SONG). I had never worked with vocals before (outside a school setting) and was both excited and concerned. Excited for a new genre to work in and concerned because I write THE WORST lyrics ever. Luckily, they paired me with a trained writer, Cora Vasseur.  Cora had been trained as a comedy writer by Second City and had some experience in the song writing world previously.  We both were very happy with the result of our collaboration and with the quality of the performances.  There are currently 2 songs in the set with a third in the making:

1. The World is Better (When You’re in Love)

2. Thank You for Making Out Next to Me

All three pieces are now on my Sounds page. Cora also blogs and wrote a very nice reflection of the experience as well:  Cora Vasseur’s Blog



Sensing a change in Season

Fall is my favorite season. Always has been. I don’t know if its the squashes, apples,

sudden burst of color just before death, or if its the feeling of big change in general.

The air is crisp but not cold and the geese come back. I may be a little premature with all this Fall talk,

but lately I feel a big change coming. It brings Fall to mind.

Some Recent Press I Forgot to Mention….

  • The Chicagoist

What The Fluxus? Interview With Composer Sarah Ritch

Photo by Brent Faklis

This weekend local music collective Anaphora will put on the Interdisciplinary Arts Festival, a series of concerts on Thursday, Friday, and Sunday featuring music, sound installations, and other works inspired by the Fluxus art movement (a full schedule can be found here). Fluxus pieces, which make up the bulk of the festival, are usually just one or two sentence directives that produce strange displays; for example, Fulcrum Point’s concert last week contained a Fluxus work where a drummer played on the head of a helmet-wearing fellow musician. The resulting art is meant to be ridiculous and often laughter-provoking.

The festival is the brainchild of composer Sarah Ritch, the curator of Anaphora’s Contemporary Series and one of Anaphora’s four founders. The group, which also has a Classical Series headed up by two other original members, Ritch’s husband Aurelien Pederzoli and clarinetist Cory Tiffin (the fourth founder is Tiffin’s fiancée Lisa Dell, who handles publicity and booking), has been putting on innovative, entertaining, and affordable concerts since the group’s inception two years ago. We recently chatted with Ritch about the Interdisciplinary Arts Festival, its origins, and the importance of silliness.

Chicagoist: What is Fluxus?

Sarah Ritch: At its most basic, Fluxus is an interdisciplinary art movement developed in the 1960s. It crossed all boundaries, from painting to sculpture to music and performance art. It was closely tied to Dada and both were movements of anti-art and anti-bourgeois, intellectual, commercialized art forms, “anti-art” of course being more a statement than a reality. There were many pieces which called to attention to the absurdity of academia and intellectualism and some that were just focused on absurdity itself.

C: What was the driving force that got it going? Was it reacting to something in particular?

SR: Well, of course, but that’s a complicated question. You could say it was a reaction to abstract art and “serious” art, in general. Whenever a movement reaches its height and becomes too complicated, a counter movement always emerges. To me what’s important is that, I feel, this was the one movement that really incorporated all mediums of expression, and required you not to take yourself too seriously.

C: So that matters to you much more than being “against” any of the abstract or self-serious art?

SR: Of course. There is some fantastic serious music, paintings, artists, composers. For instance, I love Beethoven and Rothko. I just am not Beethoven or Rothko, so the Fluxus and Dada philosophies are what’s true for me.

C: Say more about how those philosophies are true for you.

SR: Well, maybe it’s a personality defect, but I incorporate humor in everything, sometimes in very subtle ways, if only as inside jokes for myself. I can’t take myself too seriously. I don’t think anyone should, really. Although it is an honor to be respected by others. One thing that made me very sad during my stay in musical academia was seeing the joy for music sucked out of conservatory students. Everything gets so serious and life-threatening: how you play this note, how you approach and leave it, is it appropriate for the style, the composer, the tonal system, etc. I found myself unable to casually listen to music anymore. I was always analyzing and finding the flaws! And I had to stop playing classically because of the pressure.

C: How does Fluxus differ from Dada?

SR: Dada was more focused on visual arts and was more politically charged. It also came about 40 years earlier. It laid the foundation for Fluxus. Dada was more assertively anti-war and anti-art where Fluxus is tongue-in-cheek.

C: How did you choose the Fluxus pieces – “pieces” probably isn’t the right word, is it? – for the festival?

SR: “Piece” is a good word. Well, I have a small group of friends who I ran wild with during my undergrad studies at CCPA [Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University]. We had a ton of fun and got into a bit of trouble. Rules for performance were even altered because of us.

C: Dare I ask what you did?

SR: Well, there was one piece we did that was a “piano concerto” [written by Darren Bartolo, who is also taking part in the festival] that featured electric viola, guitar, and myself on the tambourine. I had seven music stands for my extremely complicated part. It wasn’t considered appropriate. A pair of my friends also choreographed an ’80s-inspired dance routine in short shorts and using rainbow streamers to a Scissor Sisters song. There was also “Trouser-geist,” a character developed by my good friend Sam Krahn. He wore pants on his arms and wore a paper bag over his face. We did these performances on the student composition recitals.

C: That sounds pretty Fluxus-ish.

SR: Yeah, mostly improvised late at night in the practice rooms. We made a spaceship from boxes we found once!

C: Did it work?

SR: For us. Anyways, I decided to do this festival with them and we picked the pieces we liked best, essentially.

C: But not all of the festival is Fluxus, correct?

SR: Nope. The piece [“Your Reaction to this Work”] we are premiering of Ryan Ingebritsen‘s is more a serious sound installation. We thought it would be fun to see what would happen when live musicians had to interact with the environment. My piece “Stutter” is actually more a performance piece in the vein of “watch this person suffer” style. And Spencer [Hutchinson], our closing act, is an electronic music performer and video artist.

C: Tell me about “Stutter.”

SR: Well, there is a soundtrack of a speech therapy lesson over which I read 20 pages of tongue twisters. Or until I stutter uncontrollably. This is a piece that is actually a reverse humor relationship. It is funny on the outside, but actually fairly personal as I went through a lot of speech therapy as a kid for my own speech problems.

C: Did that play in the genesis of the piece?

SR: Yes, I was interested in exposing myself. Well, getting out of my safe zone and making myself fuck up. Deconstruction.

C: What do you mean by “deconstruction”?

SR: Deconstruction of the process of eliminating your flaws. Letting them out.

C: How did the festival come into being?

SR: Well, I’ve always wanted to do this type of show. One of the reasons I joined in on the Anaphora party when it was in its conception. I felt we couldn’t just jump right into this type of thing, because I truly want to blend “serious” music with the Fluxus idea, to show that we can be friends. So I planned my concerts with a little edge each time, leading into this, I suppose. Basically, I don’t hate serious music, I hate the line between what’s considered serious music and pop or art or performance, etc.

C: I noticed Saul Garcia is playing a central role, hosting each of the three events. Tell me about him.

SR: [Ritch initially responded by directing me to the Wikipedia page for Marcel Duchamp’s alter ego Rrose Sélavy.] Saul Garcia is a very important character for me. He helps me cope with my insecurities and makes me laugh. I thought this was the perfect event to introduce him to Chicago formally. I used him as a pen name previously.

C: Will Sarah Ritch be at any of the festival’s events?

SR: Only through “Stutter.”

C: Do you know what the video work [that will accompany Hutchinson’s music] will be?

SR: I have no idea. I like surprises!

New Tunes!!! And more to come…

The concert on July 29th of this year was great! Anaphora worked incredibly hard and gave heartfelt and powerful performances of some of my favorite stuff. I’ve posted the ENTIRE concert to the SOUNDS page of this site….check it out.

Of the performances, I have to say the most touching was that of my husband, Aurelien Pederzoli. He had been asking me for his “own” sonata for the past 3 years. It took me this long to finally put pencil to paper…frankly because I had to. He could only be so patient…as I finished pieces for other people in the meantime. I finally stood up to the pressure and wrote him Sonata de Kinor in 2 movements, Cantor and Danzon. On the SOUNDS page, you’ll find the 1st movement alone-funny story:

While it took 3 years to prepare myself to write this piece, I procrastinated and battled with writer’s block up to 3 days before the concert. Aurelien was amazing to put together the 1st movement so beautifully…but the 2nd movement caused a bit of a controversy in my house.

Aurelien-“Here you’ve written the hardest thing for violin (wouldn’t give myself so much credit)…its GREAT! And you’ve given me 3 DAYS to prepare it?!”

You can only get away with this type of delinquency with your husband.

So….expect to see the ENTIRE Sonata de Kinor premiered this season. But I hope you enjoy the 1st movement along with Polar, Tarot, Septet, and the Duo for Solo Cello.