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Composer Kate Soper Releases Portrait Album, THE UNDERSTANDING OF ALL THINGS On New Focus Recordings


Featuring Soper on vocals, piano, and electronics in three original works, plus two new improvisations with Sam Pluta on live electronics.

Composer Kate Soper Releases Portrait Album, THE UNDERSTANDING OF ALL THINGS On New Focus Recordings

Pulitzer Prize-nominated composer, performer, and writer Kate Soper releases The Understanding of All Things, a portrait album featuring frequent Wet Ink Ensemble collaborator Sam Pluta, on Friday, March 4, 2022 on New Focus Recordings.

The Understanding of All Things features Soper performing as vocalist, pianist, and electronics composer in three of her works: the title track for voice and fixed media; The Fragments of Parmenides for voice, piano, and fixed media; and So Dawn Chromatically Descends to Day for voice and piano. These works are interleaved with two improvisations with Sam Pluta on live electronics: Dialogue I for voice and live electronics and Dialogue II for voice, piano, and live electronics. Drew Daniel of experimental electronic music duo Matmos contributes an introductory essay in the booklet, and the cover features a work by Providence-based artist Toby Sisson.

Soper sets poetic and philosophical texts by Franz Kafka, George Berkeley, Parmenides, William Butler Yeats, Robert Frost, and herself to "challenge our faith in our own sensory perceptions" (Drew Daniel). Soper says, "You can't go through life without occasionally indulging in that most basic of inquiries: what does it all mean? That's where music can come in handy: by lifting a corner of the fabric of reality, by giving us a peek at a world of non-verbal, non-corporeal contemplation. I love using music to work out ideas, but I also love leaping off the plane of rational thought into free-wheeling improvisation (especially with a duet partner as versatile and imaginative as Sam Pluta). Still, it's hard to get all the way to the bottom of things. You search for answers and find yourself going in circles - like the shimmering wheel of fifths that closes the first track on this album, or the chromatic scales that run inexorably throughout the last, or the simple song that comes back to haunt us in The Fragments of Parmenides. At the end of the day, it probably isn't very logical or efficient to use music to investigate the true nature of being and the human condition. But it sure is fun to try."

The album's opening title track, The Understanding of All Things, sets Kafka's parable of a philosopher watching children at play. Daniel says, "Wild sprays of resynthesis and signal processing swallow and disperse a voice that gasps, sighs, coos, and dissolves as it offers tantalizingly incomplete snippets of Kafka's prose... Over time, the relation of the voice to its processed shadow grows closer and closer; by the last minute of the first piece this tight congruity seems to sonically imply the capacity of knowledge to be adequate to its objects, but we cannot quite bring the top-like agitation of the mind in motion to arrive at rest, ending instead on a lingering question: 'once the smallest detail is truly known, are all things known?' That restless questioning continues throughout the other four works."

In Dialogue I, Enlightenment-era philosopher George Berkeley's "Three Dialogues Between Philonous and Hylas" serves as a jumping off point for Soper's voice and Pluta's live electronics, a musico-philosophical investigation that becomes increasingly chaotic with wild sideswipes of digital manipulation. Daniel writes, "Rewiring the links between textual cause and musical effect at the speed of thought, the immediacy of this improvisation constitutes a methodological rebuke to...Berkeley's philosophical dialogue. Trading the seminar room for a demolition derby, the wayward deviations and comings together of real time musical interaction upstages the schematic stiffness of the exchanges between Berkeley's straight man and his sage."

At the center of the album is The Fragments of Parmenides for voice, piano, and fixed media, which juxtaposes one of the world's oldest metaphysical texts with a flirtatious Yeats poem, "For Anne Gregory." Daniel explains, "Primed by Soper's juxtaposition, the disarming surface sweetness of Yeats' text is shown to conceal a kernel of philosophical doubt about the material basis of appearance that eerily echoes Parmenidean themes in parlor song form... Telescoping backwards, we start with Yeats before arriving at Parmenides, and Soper's athletic piano playing moves from delicately lyrical passage-work to Cecil-Taylor-esque tonal clusters that bang across the lower octaves like thunder. Form becomes experience. Experience becomes argument. Assembling fragments within a widening space of separation, the difference sings."

Daniel continues, "Dialogue II enters a chaotic space of high energy freely improvised music... The sizzle of high end processing, dragging start and end times within live-captured vocal loops, produces a sense of realtime musique-concrete in which Soper's extended technique and Pluta's post-glitch sonics explore the textural antipodes beyond and between pitch. More fracas than banter, it's also a pitched battle. Unlike the rigged dialogues of Yeats and Berkeley, this is a dialogue in which two rival idiolects fight for dominance, squabble and chase each other down, only to ultimately fuse in the final second of encounter."

The album's closing track, So Dawn Chromatically Descends to Day, was written for Fred Lerdahl, Soper's dissertation advisor at Columbia, and sets an excerpt from Lerdahl's essay "Two Ways in Which Music Relates to the World" alongside a well-known Robert Frost poem cited within that essay, "Nothing Gold Can Stay." Daniel describes, "Leaping past the public piety of a festschrift, Soper recites Lerdahl's prose utterances in the cheerfully alert tone of a public service announcement... as if she were pinning butterflies in place on a specimen tray... [yielding] to a stunningly beautiful setting of a text that seems to dare us to refuse its charms. At once unexpected and yet also inevitable, the album closes its interrogations of truth, knowledge, and reality in the aching fact of inevitable change."

Kate Soper is a composer, performer, and writer whose work explores the integration of drama and rhetoric into musical structure, the slippery continuums of expressivity, intelligibility and sense, and the wonderfully treacherous landscape of the human voice. A Pulitzer Prize finalist, Soper has received awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Koussevitzky Foundation, and has been commissioned by ensembles including the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the American Composers Orchestra, and Yarn/Wire. She has received residencies and fellowships from the Civitella Ranieri Foundation, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, the Camargo Foundation, the Macdowell Colony, Tanglewood, and Royaumont, among others.

Soper performs frequently as a new music soprano. She has been featured as a composer/vocalist on the New York City-based MATA festival and Miller Theatre Composer Portraits series, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's MusicNOW series, and the LA Philharmonic's Green Umbrella Series. As a non-fiction and creative writer, she has been published by McSweeney's Quarterly, PAJ, the Massachusetts Review, Theory and Practice, and the Journal of Interdisciplinary Voice Studies.

Soper is a co-director and performer for the Wet Ink Ensemble, a New York-based new music ensemble dedicated to seeking out adventurous music across aesthetic boundaries. Learn more at

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