STAGE TUBE: ETHEL's Documerica Returns to BAM, 10/2

Acclaimed nationwide for eclectic programming and virtuoso performances, string quartet ETHEL returns to the BAM Next Wave Festival to premiere its largest and most ambitious undertaking to date,Documerica. Inspired by the Environmental Protection Agency's Project Documerica-a massive "snapshot" of America showcased in an astonishing archive of images captured during the recession-plagued, tumultuous 1970s-this multimedia meditation interweaves over 3,000 vintage photographs with commissioned contemporary music for a landmark work.

Coined as an "avatar of 'post-classical' music" (The New Yorker), ETHEL invigorates contemporary concert music with exuberance, intensity, imaginative programming, and exceptional artistry. The New York City-based quartet comprises Ralph Farris (viola), Dorothy Lawson (cello), Kip Jones (violin) and Tema Watstein (violin). Previous ETHEL appearances at BAM include Everywhere (2005 Next Wave) and TruckStop: The Beginning (2008 Next Wave).

In Documerica, the group pairs its dynamic playing with the evocative imagery of the EPA's Project Documerica in a synthesis of score and projections that explores Americans' connection to their environment. "ETHEL's Documerica is a transcendent reflection on our nation, the state of its environment, its people and its collective soul," says Dorothy Lawson (cello). "We invite audiences to contemplate and respond to the environmental and social challenges that are revealed in this piece. It's dramatic and beautiful and very exciting."

ETHEL commissioned the acclaimed composer Mary Ellen Childs, Grammy Award-winning jazz drummer Ulysses Owens, Jr., Chickasaw Nation's Jerod Impichchaachaaha' Tate, and West Point commissionee James Kimo Williams -- to create new music inspired by the EPA's images. Coupled with ETHEL's own original works, the music explores a range of American styles, genres and techniques-blues, jazz, Native American traditional, bluegrass, and old-time string band-filtered through a distinctly 21st-century lens. "We're trying to deliver four disparate perspectives through the same lens - adialogue between the visual presentation and our performance as an ensemble," explains Kip Jones (violin).

Performing live right alongside ETHEL are manipulated, layered, panoramic video projections by renowned artist Deborah Johnson (Planetarium, 2013 Winter/Spring Season). The program's music is in constant dialogue with the projections in an arc that is by turns urban, rural, pastoral, and gritty. Extrapolated from the archive's 22,000+ images are stunning references to strip mining, political protest, car culture, pollution, unemployment, inflation, fashion trends, recreational pastimes, natural beauty, and urban decline, bringing an era fraught with social upheaval into dialogue with the present.

Dedicated to creating connections and communities through profound musical experiences, ETHEL augments its BAM performance with an off-stage, online nationwide Instagram/Twitter photo contest. By encouraging the general public to photograph the adverse effects of modern life on America and its environment (including social issues, culture, politics and race) by tagging #mydocumerica, ETHEL hopes to compile a "Documerica" visual archive that depicts today's America and subsequently ignites a conversation about environmental and societal change. Photos will be on display during the BAM run in the lobby of the Harvey Theater.

About EPA's Project Documerica

In 1972, the newly created Environmental Protection Agency began Project Documerica, an initiative that sent nearly 100 photographers across America to document the adverse effects of modern life on the environment (including social issues, culture, politics and race). Over the next seven years, these artists submitted 80,000 images that capture an era of both industrial pollution and aspirational environmental legislation and conservation. About one-quarter of the photographs were shown in public exhibitions but then filed away and largely forgotten until the archive's recent digitization. The collection has been unearthed in time for its 40th anniversary. More than 15,000 images have been digitized and posted at the National Archives Web site, and a selection is also available on Flickr.


Described as "indefatigable and eclectic" (The New York Times) and "vital and brilliant" (The New Yorker), string quartet ETHEL is "one of the most exciting quartets around" (Strad Magazine). At the heart of ETHEL is a collaborative ethos - a quest for a common creative expression that is forged in the celebration of community. As cultural and musical "pollinators," the quartet brings its collaborative discoveries to audiences through multi-dimensional musical repertoire and community engagement. ETHEL performs adventurous music by celebrated contemporary composers such as Philip Glass, Julia Wolfe, Phil Kline, Andy Akiho, David Lang, John King, Raz Mesinai, John Zorn, Steve Reich, Anna Clyne, Kenji Bunch, JacobTV, Don Byron, Marcelo Zarvos, Evan Ziporyn, Judd Greenstein, Terry Riley, Mary Ellen Childs and Son Lux.

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