Ted Hearne's 'Place,' Out April 3 On New Amsterdam
On Friday, April 3, New Amsterdam Records will release composer Ted Hearne's Place, a 72-minute work created in collaboration with renowned poet Saul Williams as "a fiery meditation on gentrification and displacement," in Williams' words.
The LA Phil New Music Group will present the West Coast premiere of Place on Tuesday, March 24 (8 pm) in a new staged production at Walt Disney Concert Hall. Hearne will conduct the ensemble and sing, joined by vocal soloists Steven Bradshaw, Sophia Byrd, Josephine Lee, Isaiah Robinson, Sol Ruiz, and Ayanna Woods. The production, directed by Patricia McGregor, was designed by noted artist Sanford Biggers in collaboration with video artist Tim Brown.
The performance is part of Los Angeles Philharmonic's Power to the People! festival, curated by Herbie Hancock and devoted to the role artists have played and continue to play in advancing social change, civil rights, and humanitarian causes. Tickets are available at laphil.com.
Confrontational and questioning, Hearne once again holds a mirror to our anxieties and incongruities with Place. Armed with an all-too-keen awareness of his own identity, and a desire to contend with his own finite scope of understanding as the white male protagonist, Hearne created this project in a dialectical collaboration with Williams (details below).
"The process of considering my own role in gentrification, in displacement, became startlingly personal, as I realized I couldn't speak to the invisible boundaries I felt navigating my neighborhood without confronting my own personal boundaries," says Hearne. "This lead to asking: If some people don't have the privilege of keeping their political identities out of their personal lives, what right do I have? And: how is whiteness a learned performance? I am grateful to have created this music with Saul Williams, who has for decades been confronting issues of gentrification, corporatization and racism through his own incredible work."
Says Williams of the project: "Place provided one for me to expand upon ideas, feelings, and observations surrounding the connected realities of gentrification. I chose to connect dots, neighborhoods, and worlds through a steady probing of Ted's original text (Part 1) working to pinpoint theoretical and historical origins while confronting the staggering monopoly of soft-voiced 'I's with eyes and visibility to explore how the positioning of even the well-meaning and self-aware white male tenant in the theatrical imagination places a heavy price on a would be democracy and conditions the proscenium as an occupied space."
T H E...M U S I C...O F...P L A C E
Ideas of location and community are as vital to Place's music as to its texts. Hearne wrote the work to be sung by specific people he grew up singing with in Chicago - Josephine Lee, Isaiah Robinson - and by individuals he encountered in different musical contexts later in life - Ayanna Woods, Steven Bradshaw, Sol Ruiz. In effect, music formed a map of its own that cut through boundaries he might otherwise not have crossed.
The eighteen instrumentalists on the album come from diverse places as well. To mention only a few, RC Williams (keyboards) and Braylon Lacy (electric bass) play with Erykah Badu, among other R&B and Hip-hop artists; Philip White (mixer feedback) performs avant-garde solo noise sets; Matt Barbier (tenor trombone) and Diana Wade (viola) perform with Wild Up and other orchestras and chamber groups. The adjacency and overlay of these players' individual relationships to music forms another kind of interconnected map - a common space with vividly drawn borders. Says Hearne, "The music is all about collage and layering. But the various types of performers, sound sources, styles, production techniques aren't smoothed out... There's no melting pot. The edges remain sharp." Place was produced by Hearne with Nick Tipp, who also engineered and mixed the album.
With Place, Hearne advances compositional strategies he developed in works like Katrina Ballads, The Source, and Sound from the Bench, for which he was named a Finalist for the 2018 Pulitzer Prize. As in the earlier pieces, Hearne wrenches familiar sounds from their original contexts, twists them into disquieting shapes, and extracts new meanings through juxtaposition. Zachary Woolfe of The New York Times described Place as "an explosive, restless, fragment-laden score. There's R&B, chant, gospel, string chamber music and rock - sometimes all within a few seconds. Dizzying drums meet electronically processed voices, the sepulchral contrabass clarinet and shards of pop samples, a confident yet jittery mix of styles similar to The Source."
In Place, musical continuity gives way to disruption, just as in the libretto, conventional wisdom is challenged through radical questioning and merciless introspection. The effect can be dizzying, but Hearne maintains a firm grip on his larger design and overall narrative. Whether experienced onstage or in the new recording, Place is unsettling, provocative, and utterly compelling.
Place was co-commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, The Barbican Centre, and Beth Morrison Projects.
Hearne and Williams developed Place through a call-and-response process, setting up a dialogue in three interconnected parts.
Part 1 (album tracks 1 - 6) features text and music by Ted Hearne, and prompts the exchange of ideas with an internal excavation of his own thoughts about gentrification, addressing the intersections of privilege and appropriation in his own life and work, and weighing his personal sense of place and space in the most immediate family relationships against the inherited and generational.
Part 2 (tracks 7 - 18) is Saul Williams' response to Part 1 - complicating, expanding, implicating, addressing and redressing Hearne's narrow view, considering experiences across the street, across the globe and across time. Hearne processed Williams' words by setting them to music. Notes Woolfe, "[Williams'] poems form the work's second part, a stylized reply to the earnestly self-questioning Hearne double of the first. Mr. Williams, in effect, transforms a soliloquy into a democracy."
Part 3 (track 19) was written after Hearne and Williams came together in person to make the piece, in the same space with musicians, designers, and director Patricia McGregor. The result is a probing work that melds a collage of musical styles and production techniques, all speaking to distinct but overlapping senses of place.