Elements is a four-part, transdisciplinary series which seeks to explore the physical, environmental, cultural, and philosophical significance of the four classical elements (water, air, fire, earth), and the specific ways they have shaped Philadelphia and its culture throughout its history.

part i - rivers

RIVERS - Teaser

Mvt. II - Where Bright Angel Feet Have Trod

Interlude I

Mvt. IV - Scar, Slag, & Culm. (Filmed aboard the SS United States, docked at Pier 82 on the Delaware River.)

A six-movement work written for prepared piano, prepared cello (The Brooks-Delaney Duo), dance (Lea Fulton, Gabrielle Revlock, Megan Wilson Stern), and film (Ben Stamper), RIVERS explores the ideas above through the lens of the Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers, and the dramatic impact that they have had on a city recognized as the cradle of liberty and the birthplace of America: Philadelphia.

The piece, like the subject of its inspiration, is an exploration of disparate qualities that somehow exist comfortably in tandem: change and constancy, pattern and irregularity, danger and whimsy. Each element — music, dance, film — relates to the other in startling ways. Dancers affect the music with preparations of bolts, wine corks, tin-foil, and thread; sweeps of cinematic images anticipate, mirror, and echo gestures occurring on stage; musicians and dancers interact with their own “reflections” on screen. The roles of dance, film, and music are shifted, tumbled, turned around, and blurred; like river currents crashing into one another, or collections of small stones orbiting in an eddy; like the millions of human impacts and adjustments that daily define a city.

In September 2014, RIVERS was featured in the Emmy award-winning PBS documentary series State of the Arts. To view, click here.


part ii - 'mid the steep sky's commotion

'mid the steep sky's commotion - documentary

Mvt. VI - fists

(excerpt from “drapes a silent earth” mvt.I mesostic – created from texts harvested in Manayunk, Philadelphia, March 6, 2017)

(excerpt from “drapes a silent earth” mvt.I mesostic – created from texts harvested in Manayunk, Philadelphia, March 6, 2017)

A six-movement work written for Grammy-winning chamber choir The Crossing, under the direction of Donald Nally, with projections and installation by artist Caroline Santa, ‘mid the steep sky’s commotion explores the enigmatic and impenetrable quality of wind, its singular and intimate relationship to the detritus of a city, and what this relationship suggests about language, time, and transience. 

Featuring a found-text libretto culled from the streets of Philadelphia, each movement of ‘mid the steep sky’s commotion documents a different journey through the city. Texts harvested from weathered gas receipts, discarded church bulletins, candy wrappers, concert flyers, and matchbooks are separated, combined, and recombined, and order and disorder are generated on both horizontal and vertical axes.

As The Crossing gives voice to intricate and dynamic poetic structures, visual artist Caroline Santa interprets the libretto through massive hanging organza pieces, suspended like disjointed flags or sails, combined with stories-wide undulating projections to transform the blankness of Philadelphia's Icebox Project Space, creating the physical suggestion of wind, sky, cloud, storm, and hush. Rich and dynamic contrapuntal tapestries emerge between the human voice, textile, space, and light.




Image by Lisa Abaya

Image by Lisa Abaya

We are bound to fire: for warmth, food, transportation, electricity, medicine. Our survival and flourishing depend on it, but our relationship to fire is contradictory. We use it to shape brick, forge iron, clear land, transform sand into glass, and also to destroy the very things that fire helped to create: buildings, communities, civilization. Around fire people gather to share stories but also to burn books. Fire pretends no loyalty, seizing and stinging whatever ventures too close, yet it lends comfort and guidance in dark, unknown spaces. We bring it into the center of our homes, knowing that it is not tame.

Through a dialogue between architecture and music, a thing that can ignite can go (hereafter ignite) examines the paradoxical phenomenon of fire in the city of Philadelphia, exploring themes of construction and combustion, stasis and movement, memory and forgetting. ignite will culminate in a substantial new work for string quartet (The Daedalus Quartet) and percussion sextet (Mantra Percussion), to be performed in conjunction with immersive renderings of a new architecture (Billie Faircloth).

The history of fire in Philadelphia is complicated. William Penn’s blueprint for Philadelphia was a forceful rebuke of the ruin wrought by the Great Fire of London of 1666. A congested labyrinth of narrow streets had dashed any hope of containing the flames that razed London, so Penn committed to a grid plan with wide streets and ample greenspace, resolving that his new city would “never be burnt”.

In the second half of the 18th century, uncombusted fire was discovered and dug from the earth surrounding Philadelphia. The city was thrust into the forefront of the Industrial Revolution as the principle hub through which Pennsylvania’s expansive anthracite coal reserves flowed to the rest of the nation — potential energy that built automobiles, ships, cities.

A century and a half later, fire rained from the sky above Philadelphia in the MOVE bombing tragedy, claiming eleven lives and turning 65 homes to ash, illuminating racial ruptures that had plagued the city since its founding.

Governing, fueling, ravaging: fire is both a destructive fact and a constructive force. ignite examines fire and its physical, philosophical, and cultural manifestations in Philadelphia, revealing a new understanding of city, of systems, of energy.

Currently in development.