SONiC Composer Spotlight – Angélica Negrón

Angélica Negrón is a Brooklyn-based composer whose music has been described as “wistfully idiosyncratic and contemplative” (WQXR/Q2) and “mesmerizing and affecting” (Feast of Music). She was the 2014-15 Van Lier Fellow and worked closely with ACO, participating in planning educational activities and performances, serving as liaison with student composers. She was also commissioned to write a piece for ACO. Me He Perdido (I’ve Gotten Lost) for orchestra and a “mechanical percussion ensemble” will receive it’s world premiere on Friday, October 16, at ACO: New York Stories at the Winter Garden at Brookfield Place, presented by Arts Brookfield and WNYC New Sounds Live, as part of ACO’s SONiC Festival.

Composer and multi-instrumentalist Angélica Negrón

Angélica was kind enough to answer a few questions about the piece.

American Composers Orchestra: Talking about your commission last spring, you said you were “interested in exploring the possibilities of integrating robotics into orchestral performance.” Can you talk about what possibilities you explored, what worked, and what didn’t?
Angélica Negrón: It was an interesting experiment as I originally conceived the mechanical ensemble as an extension of the percussion section of the orchestra and although that approach was still a part of the compositional process of the piece, the robotic instruments gradually revealed a dynamic life of their own that changed the way I wrote for them. I started realizing the spatial potential of the robotic instruments and how, given their placement amongst the audience, they could be more direct in their immediacy because of their proximity to the listeners. Besides proximity, I also considered the physicality of the instruments and how this action traveled through the space. Originally I had thought I would write something that was perfectly synchronized with the orchestra but I soon realized that it would be really challenging to stay together without a click track particularly because of the distance between the orchestra and the mechanical instruments so I decided to treat the material mostly as cascading gestures that echo the orchestra or vice versa. This technical consideration definitely informed the general atmosphere of the piece and the instrumental writing for the large ensemble. The melodic material of the piece was also greatly informed by the tuning of the gamelan instruments in the mechanical ensemble.

ACO: New York Stories takes place at Brookfield Place’s large and reverberant Winter Garden. Did knowing that inform how you wrote your piece?
AN: Definitely. As soon as I heard the piece I was writing for ACO was going to be premiered at Brookfield Place’s Winter Garden I knew I wanted to incorporate some kind of installation based instruments that could somehow connect the orchestra with the audience in an immersive and engaging way. I talked to Nick Yulman, the instrument builder, about having the instruments in a level that would be between the seating audience and the stage where the orchestra will be performing in so that the instruments serve as a kind of bridge between the two. It’s a bit of a risky idea because I’ve only seen or heard it inside my head and I won’t be able to know if it actually works until the day of the performance during the dress rehearsal but I’m hopeful it will translate in the performance space and will result in an interesting experience for the listeners. The instrumental writing of the piece was also highly influenced by the space’s reverberation so there’s a lot of echoing gestures and resonant chords that will hopefully benefit from the natural acoustics of the space.

ACO: Aside from New York Stories of course, which SONiC Festival concert are you most looking forward to?
AN: There’s many exciting concerts for SONiC this year! I’m particularly looking forward to Machine Music: Acoustic and Robotic Instruments for obvious reasons but also because there’s a couple of collaborators and friends that I really admire that are part of this concert. I’m also looking forward to Roomful of Teeth‘s and Alarm Will Sound‘s shows as both are incredible ensembles that I’ve been following for a long time and that always bring something new and refreshing to their performances.

Watch Nick Yulman’s “mechanical percussion ensemble” in action

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