The Price Paid for Interactivity in Live Performance by Ellen Fishman

While at the Peabody Conservatory for my doctoral studies in music composition, I studied computer music and took a C ++ programming class. While I decided to end my programming studies after that class, I had no idea that immersing myself in loops and variables would help shape my professional career.

Read More

Marie Begins Update! by Ellen Fishman

It has been a whirlwind since receiving the Discovery Grant for Female Composers from Opera America just over a year ago. Since that time, we went into production in November of 2017, then Tri-Cities Opera presented a workshop performance at the Opera America New Works Forum in New York in January, 2018, and the online pilot was released in March, 2018. I am trying to finish a piano work before completing the opera this summer since we have a full workshop performance by Lyric Opera Theater at Arizona State University in September. It's going to be a busy summer but I am thrilled with the reception and interest in this interactive opera. Stay tuned for information about the premiere of the live version and if you haven't seen the pilot, take a look!

Interactivity and musical form by Ellen Fishman

In the way a script is driven by conflict, a storyworld is propelled by discovery.           Lance Weiler

As I have worked toward creating interactive musical works, I have come across many great resources that I thought I would share.  This research has led me to non-linear story forms that I am using as the basis for Marie Begins, an interactive opera.   

I had this diagram of Inception on my bulletin board for years before I began this research.  The quote above has become very important to me since musical form is tied to a tradition similar to that of storytelling.  So what changes in musical form when introducing audience interaction and an experience that is "propelled by discovery?" 

I met Lance Weiler a number of years back when he brought DIY Days to Philadelphia.  There were innovators of all kinds at this workshop and many were creating new ways to use the Internet to tell stories.  Lance is now the Director of Experiential Learning and Applied Creativity at Columbia University.  He launched Sherlock Holmes and the Internet of Things which is a fascinating global storytelling project that I had the opportunity to take part in.   There have been global music making projects as well like Eric Whitacre's Virtual Choir series, but Lance's model gathers people in the act of collaboration. 

I began to feel as if an interactive opera would be possible after finding which is now Eko.  They provide an engine to create interactive stories. Check out some of their work here.  There are other resources now but they were one of the first.  My favorite was a piece for LogoTV

Lance also told me of a new form of documentary which has been developed with a faster Internet. Here are a few examples of interactive documentary:

The Silent History

Immigrant Nation

The Last Hijack

More Soon!

Gérard Grisey (a reposting) by Ellen Fishman

In Memoriam: Gérard Grisey

Posted on March 31, 2012 by efjcomposer


Last year when asked to write a piece for the University of Delaware Percussion ensemble , I felt I was finally ready to write a piece in memory of my mentor, Gérard Grisey.  I studied with him at UC Berkeley as a graduate student and then at the Fontainebleau Conservatory in France for a summer in the late ’80’s.  In my two years with him, Mr. Grisey questioned all I had learned and encouraged me to cast off all that didn’t fit my musical aesthetic.  This was not an easy process and I remember being frustrated when he told me that I was “too young to be so conservative.”  However, I also remember how rewarding it was to witness his reaction to a movement I wrote while at Fontainebleau at the moment he realized that I “got it.”  One problem with assimilating his lessons and deciding on my direction was that I floundered as a composer for longer than I should have.  While I didn’t adopt the “spectral” techniques of Grisey, I was incredibly influenced by his ideas about musical form,orchestration and process.   He wrote, that “music transfigures Time” and while the blank slate of Time is a pretty daunting canvas, he helped me understand that when planning the progression of a work over time, one could plan for and set up a moment that could shape a psychological response in a listener.

In this piece for six percussionists and video, I start with the gesture Grisey used at the end of Partiels.  At this moment, the audience waits in anticipation as the sound dissipates and a percussionist with hand cymbals slowly prepares to crash two cymbals together.  The crash never comes and the piece ends.  This gesture was the basis for this movement for finger cymbals as the video leads a “ballet” of circular movement choreographed for the percussionists who are lined up at the edge of the stage.

The second movement was inspired by a conversation I had with Grisey after spending an afternoon at the Pompidou Center in Paris.  I was taken by a piece by François Rouan, a contemporary of Grisey’s and a painter he knew.  We discussed pattern and the intricacies of Rouan’s work.  This piece is a concept piece and the ensemble pantomimes their own performance on the screen.  Notes were selected for performance that bring new meaning to the “pattern,” which is a popular funk rhythm.

I used a short motive from my favorite Grisey piece, L’Icone Parodoxale in the third movement.  This motive is placed in a way that won’t be recognized but is the glue for the architecture of the piece.  There is always a sublime moment in Grisey’s pieces when you realize that you are hearing something that goes beyond beauty to truth.  I remember him stating more than asking, “who cares about your emotions?”  He was referring to the obvious intent of my motives and at the time, I didn’t understand what this meant since I always felt an emotional connection to his music.  However now I realize that he accessed the audience’s emotions in a honest manner, not by obvious placement of a melody but by leading the audience to the moment when all elements, including motives, come together.  Musical architecture was his vehicle for this and the structuring of Time was very important to him as it became for me as well. The video for this movement was inspired by artist Julie Mehretu whose work often starts with a underlying grid.

The final movement is meant to be fun as the percussionists quickly rotate through the instruments and the video and percussionists lead the audience in the asymmetrical beat pattern.  Like his teacher, Olivier Messiaen, Grisey referred to non-Western music often in his lessons, and it was because of him that I became a student of rhythmic practices after studying with him.  As the process for writing and producing the video for this piece comes to an end, I would like to thank Harvey Price and the University of Delaware Percussion Ensemble for their openness to this project.  This piece allowed me time to reflect on my journey as a composer and student of music, and provided an opportunity to share the ideas of a truly innovative composer.