ICElab: Carla Kihlstedt + Phyllis Chen
New music drawn from dreams and nostalgia.
“I have this recurring dream where my teeth fall out and I spit them into my hand in this really casual, disturbing way,” says soft-spoken Carla Kihlstedt over the phone from her home on Cape Cod. “It’s pretty weird.” The experimental violinist and composer describes music as “the perfect vehicle for the alchemy of thoughts,” so it’s little surprise that she transformed her subconscious dental drama into art. The dream ended up triggering ideas for “Rocks and Concrete,” one of eight works in her new dream-based song cycle, At Night We Walk in Circles and Are Consumed by Fire.
After asking her Facebook fan group to post its memories of poignant dreams and compiling the most compelling nocturnal reveries of members of the International Contemporary Ensemble—which commissioned the project as part of its ongoing ICElab series—Kihlstedt hunkered down and began translating the dreams into soundscapes for chamber ensemble.
“Sharing dreams is such a personal thing, I wasn’t sure how it would go at first,” confides the Tin Hat ensemble founder. “I wasn’t only asking people to share intimate stories, but putting them through my own creative process. Many details ended up lost in translation and editorialized.” ICE’s Claire Chase, a MacArthur-winning flutist who spends much of her REM time suspended in flight, inspired one of Kihlstedt’s favorites, “Grand and Tiny World.” “At the beginning of the process Claire said her dreams weren’t worthy of sharing,” remembers Kihlstedt. “Then she ended up giving me the greatest stories!”
Kihlstedt shares the bill with Phyllis Chen, a founding member of ICE and toy-piano trailblazer, whose delicate and dynamic chamber cycle, Chimers, explores the lingering power of nostalgia through the use of electronics, video, toy instruments, flute and clarinet. Both composers join ICE onstage as featured performers. “It’s going to be a fun night,” Kihlstedt says. “I haven’t heard Phyllis’s piece yet, but she said it’s not lyrical at all. Since my piece is very lyrical and harmonically lush, there’s gonna be some good chemistry!”