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sop, cl, perc, va, vc

Recorded and mastered by Stephen Bailey, January 2016
Performed by Nebula Ensemble
Artwork by Katie Caron and Martha Russo, underwritten by the Denver Art Museum. Photos by Jeff Wells.

Video animation by Aswut Maxcy and Katie Caron.


Sometimes a piece of contemporary art just speaks to you on a gut level, and it can be hard to explain your feelings to someone else. This song is my attempt to capture my reaction to a massive ceramic art installation called apoptosis by artists Katie Caron and Martha Russo, which the artists named for a biological process of cell death that paves the way for new growth.


Throughout the song, I use three different types of music to represent the three main features of the art work: scrambling percussive sounds mirror the installation's organic sea-creature-like forms. Luminous, pulsating harmonic areas illustrate the glowing orbs at the top of the installation. An energetic syncopated melody represents the installation's interwoven industrial power lines.


...At rock bottom, though, Reconstructing Apoptosis is really just a weird 13-minute pop song about a great piece of contemporary art!


I am extremely grateful to Katie and Martha for not only responding to my outreach to them as I began writing this music, but also being incredibly supportive of my project - meeting with me to discuss their art work, allowing me to use their photos and artists' statements about the work (which was no longer on display by the time I wrote my song), letting me borrow actual ceramic pieces from the artwork itself to use as percussive instruments in this recording (yes, really!), and ultimately creating the music video above for a special performance at the Denver Art Museum. 


A most
A most
A most
A most
A most generous
A most
A most
A most generous death [of individual cells] cells

Self [a self-activated process] will come to life
A most awkward growth [and in the growth of tumors]

Of beauty and lightness.
A most tangled glow [of the nucleus and cytoplasm]

Of energy and chaos
Of grace and gravity.

A most dangerous tension

Of membranes

And electric lines

A most dangerous tension.

A most complex organism

Of parasitic

X-ray screens

A most wondrous space

Of concealment

And unfolding
A most dangerous tension

Of suspended,



A most awkward growth.

Self will come to life,

Even in the slaying of self [a self-activated process].

Con-fusion and conflict,
[The piece seems to have two contrasting elements: water and fire]
[The beams of wood make me think either of a cross or driftwood]
[The whole piece seems very grotesque to me, in a very organic way]
[Sorry, that’s a horrible analysis, but those are my impressions]

Living cells versus inanimate objects,
[One of the first things it made me think of was the ocean,
where things such as ships get covered in barnacles and other sea life]
[My next thought was that it looked very cellular]
[like I was looking inside some alien creature where all those little parts are cells]
[and then the light is kind of the heart/heartbeat]

Disorienting luminosity.

Self [a self-activated process] will come to life

[chance words chosen by soprano]

Even in the slaying of self [a self-activated process],

[chance words chosen by soprano]

But something truer

And deeper

Than it
Will emerge

At last.

A most generous death [of individual cells]
A most generous
A most

Text by Katie Caron and Martha Russo, George MacDonald, Sarah Perske, Kyle Hughes, Phillip Strom, and the Oxford English Dictionary. Compiled by Sarah Perske.

The song's text is a mishmash of the artists' written statements about the installation, the performers' reactions to seeing photos of the installation, my own reaction, the dictionary definition of apoptosis, and an obscure quote by author George MacDonald that happened to fit both the biological topic and the alliterative word play I was interested in ("Self will come to life, even in the slaying of self...").

Performers: Kornel Thomas (conductor), Emily Gradowski (soprano), Phillip Strom (clarinet), Kyle Hughes (percussion), Andrew Grishaw (viola), Joe Engel (cello)

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