As part of The Whitney Museum of American Art‘s Performance Program, Chicago–born, New York City–based sound experimentalist Matana Roberts is currently engaging in a series of open-ended public explorations within the Whitney’s galleries and performance spaces, now through August 9th, as part of an extended research residency. These actions will culminate in the creation of a large-scale project that, for her, questions the perplexities of what it means to be American in the twenty-first century. She has titled this series of research-based sound excavations: i call america, building off of the Whitney’s inaugural exhibition America Is Hard to See.
Beginning with a live improvisation on June 4, which engaged No Title (1969) by Eva Hesse as part of the 99 Objects series, Roberts revisited the Whitney’s galleries on July 19 for three focused, improvisatory happenings. Over the course of a five-day open studio residency in the theater, Roberts will explore and experiment with new material combining sound, video, and visual scores that culminate in a final project this winter.
An internationally renowned composer, band leader, saxophonist, sound experimentalist and
mixed-media practitioner; the New York City- based Roberts holds two degrees in music performance and works in many contexts and mediums, including improvisation, dance, poetry, and theater. Her innovative work has forged new conceptual approaches to considering narrativity, history, and political expression within improvisatory structures. past member of the BRC: Black Rock Coalition and the AACM: Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians.
Born in Chicago, Illinois, Roberts was raised on the city’s South Side and studied classical clarinet during her youth. She formed a trio, Sticks and Stones, with bassist Josh Abrams and drummer Chad Taylor, with whom she regularly performed at the Velvet Lounge. In 2002, Roberts moved to New York, initially busking in subways and publishing a zine, Fat Ragged, about her experiences.
Roberts is the composer of Coin Coin, a multi-chapter musical work-in-progress (now three chapters in) exploring themes of history, memory and ancestry. Roberts has also performed at the London Jazz Festival in 2007 and through Central Control, released The Chicago Project in 2008. The album, produced by Vijay Iyer, includes performances by members of Prefuse 73 and Tortoise along with AACM saxophonist Fred Anderson.
In January 2010, Roberts was the guest curator at The Stone (a not-for-profit experimental music performance space, founded in April 2005 by John Zorn who serves as its artistic director, located in the Alphabet City neighborhood in New York City). Roberts has been chosen by Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel to perform at the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival that he curated in March 2012 in Minehead, England. Roberts received a 2013 Foundation for Contemporary Arts Grants to Artists Award. In addition, Roberts was a recipient of both the Herb Alpert Award in the Arts and the Doris Duke Impact Award in 2014.
She will be taking her highly acclaimed Coin Coin Chapter Three: river run thee project (listen to sample here) to European venues in solo performance this October 6-20, with stops in London, Madrid, Budapest, Vienna, Berlin, Copenhagen, Malmo (SE), Aarhus (DK) and Barreiro (PT). Roberts will combine voice, saxophone, field recordings, sampling and effects – along with archival video montage of her own creation – to convey her self-described “fever dream” of Coin Coin Chapter Three.
Say Roberts,”Coin Coin Chapter Three: river run thee signals yet another highly adventurous and socially engaged definition of what Jazz can mean in this day and age, and a fascinating extension of the Coin Coin cycle, where rather than surfacing and reactivating through the group dynamics of a musical ensemble, history is inhaled and exhaled through a solitary practice seeking to evoke and echo its tangled thicket of febrile strands.” At once intimate, raw, abstract, historiographic, literal, poetic and profoundly human, these performances defy genre and are not to be missed.
Pitchfork magazine wrote: “Something of a one-woman opera, these 12 tracks plow through harsh noise passages and spring into sudden refrains, drift through halcyon field recordings and float through harrowing spoken-word passages… Late into ‘river run thee’, during one of the album’s more placid moments, Roberts declares, “I like to tell stories.” The admission might suggest an easy key to the world that Roberts is building with COIN COIN. But it seems too reductive, really, not unlike calling her a mere musician. She collects stories, analyzes them, and then transmogrifies them, aggregating bits of material until anecdotes become open-ended, elliptical histories. Roberts knows that any story, just like jazz, is only an initial approach to something much more broad and important. Three albums into COIN COIN, it’s now clear that Roberts isn’t just a storyteller, musician, ethnographer, historian, bandleader, arranger, improviser, or activist. She plays all of those roles, yes; collectively, they power one of the most provocative ongoing bodies of work by any American musician.”
Matana Roberts: i call america is organized by Jay Sanders, Curator and Curator of Performance, and Greta Hartenstein, Curatorial Assistant. Visitors are welcome during Museum hours. Walk-ins are welcome. Please note: On Saturday, August 8, the galleries close at 6 pm for Member Night; members are welcome after 6 pm. (Major support for the Whitney’s Performance Program is provided by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Generous support is also provided by the Performance Committee of the Whitney Museum of American Art.)