New Voices Project Co-Winner: Ben Zucker

Mar 14, 2017

Godfrey-from Inegales March 17Ben Zucker is the First Prize co-winner of the San Francisco Choral Artists New Voices Project in 2017, for his setting of “Eurydice” by H.D. His composition receives its premiere performances as part of Witches, Saints, and Mothers: Music By and About Women in March 2017.

Zucker, who is also a singer with SFCA, shared his insights on the piece, and his perspectives as a creative musician:

A few years ago, in the process of preparing to create music for a production of Sarah Ruhl’s play Eurydice while studying at Wesleyan University, I came across the HD poem and composed in order to get me into the mood of the myth and its various strains of feeling and perspective. I think that as a singer, I write the sort of vocal music I’d like to sing and be surrounded by in the act of performance. What that music is like is very different now than when it was when I wrote this work, but the building clusters and extended suspended tonalities do point to trends that have continued to appear in my recent writing, even as I take steps to distance myself from straightforward text setting and notation. Increasingly, I have become interested in fragmentation, juxtaposition, and ambiguity as structuring principles of my music-making, and perhaps this text spoke to me on those grounds, even if then I didn’t have the skill yet to make those present in the structure itself.

The way that this piece features both thick, expansive sonorities (the men’s “I am dead” chords, the women’s climactic cluster) and single fleeting lines speaks to my interest in exploring the interstices of various forms of musical ‘beauty’, or other transcendent reactions. My favorites artists work in this manner, who in each work creates a very particular set of point of referents (in the form of rules, sounds, or devices) and yet accesses the whole world of felt experiences. I see this in the work of a variety of creators in the previous decades, perhaps with a special nod to my postgraduate instructors, Christopher Fox and Jennifer Walshe, as well as the composers of the Wandelweiser collective who I’ve studied intensely, and contemporary artists who work in relational and installation modes, say, Thomas Hirschorn or Trisha Donnelly.

In that sense, what I am really interested in with regards to new music is how composers are increasingly taking the whole of music, art, and everyday life into their work, and having the permission, resources, and communities to facilitate these more holistic performances and visions. Obviously this is overly generalized, and cannot overlook the conceptual and social exclusions that take place in these circles, but I hope that with more of this engagement, imbalances and inequities amongst creative communities can be addressed. That is why I’m particularly grateful to be premiering Eurydice with a group that I’m a member of; working on the piece from within the Choral Artists strengths both my understanding of the piece on musical terms, and helps catalyze my role in the group and its ongoing development. Having grown despondent at the detached process of calls for scores and applications that are pivotal to many compositional careers, this has been a welcome, warming process, and one that I hope to repeat with new works, new groups, and in new exciting situations.

In late 2016, Zucker released an album of improvised instrumental music. He is featured on this release playing trumpet, vibraphone, marimba, drums, percussion, and piano.

You can also enjoy his writing for string quartet, here performed by New York City’s Mivos Quartet.

Ben Zucker is a composer, improviser, sound designer, and multi-instrumentalist. Recent phrases he has begun using in describing his work include “object relations”, “situation creation”, and “human algorithms”. Said work includes elements of chamber music, improvisation, electronica, songwriting, and performance art, and has been performed by the Mivos Quartet, Apartment House, New York Virtuoso Singers, Distractfold Ensemble, Tre Voci, and the Bienen Contemporary Vocal Ensemble, among many others. He has also collaborated with numerous creative individuals in over a dozen films, plays, and dances, including music for the world premiere of The Last Days Of The Old Wild Boy by Rinde Eckert, and multi-media “vocal theatre” with the Analema Group at the Roundhouse and Baltic Art Form. Wherever he can, Ben likes to perform as a percussionist, pianist, singer, and brass player, which has lead to performances as a founding member of The Improvisers Choir, Don Froot, Arcadio, and Ensemble Apres-Garde, and with Matana Roberts, Luciano Chessa, the Vocal Constructivists, Entropy Ensemble, Notes Inegales, and solo at the Audio Branding Academy Congress, Bowery Electric, and University of Kent, most recently documented on a new solo album “Confluere” released on Not Art Records. Ben received a BA in music and critical theory at Wesleyan University, where he studied composition with Anthony Braxton, David Behrman, Paula Matthusen, and Neely Bruce, and vibraphone with Jay Hoggard, and received the Leavell Memorial Prize for “outstanding work in music”. He recently received an MA in Experimental Music from Brunel University London, where he studied with Jennifer Walshe and Christopher Fox. Currently, he resides and teaches in California.