Video Premiere: “Birdsong” from Paola Prestini’s Sensorium Ex

Today’s video premiere features Lucy Dhegrae and Jeffrey Zeigler performing an excerpt from the work-in-progress opera Sensorium Ex by composer Paola Prestini and librettist Brenda Shaughnessy.

Sensorium Ex explores the relationship between artificial intelligence and disability through two main characters: Mem, a scientist, and Kitsune, her nonverbal son. With the central idea that disability signifies humanness, the opera crafts a unique compositional language rich with electronics to represent characters that do not communicate in neurotypical ways. Commissioned by Atlanta Opera and Beth Morrison ProjectsSensorium Ex is scheduled to premiere in 2022 at Atlanta Opera and 2023 at PROTOTYPE Festival.

Here’s what Paola had to say about “Birdsong” from Sensorium Ex:

“Birdsong” is a tableau for the language I want to use in my upcoming opera, Sensorium Ex. This excerpt is Mem singing to Kitsune towards the beginning of the opera. The electronics (created in collaboration with Sxip Shirey) contain the sounds of Cal, the son of our librettist who I am recording to create the language for our main character. Part of the challenge and opportunity is to create a language for a nonverbal character who is principal to a story that centers on the importance of all beings having a voice. The process has involved hours of recording and time spent with Brenda and Cal; I’ve also been fortunate to work with EnactLab, an amazing knowledge lab based in Copenhagen, to incorporate the lived experience of people with disabilities and to create a knowledge frame and process around the opera as we are creating it.

For more from Paola Prestini, check out the Digital Discovery Festival on Live@NationalSawdust, with upcoming livestreams from Alicia Hall Moran featuring Jason Moran, Ashley Bathgate, Vijay Iyer, Conrad Tao, Rafiq Bhatia, Lucy Dhegrae, and more.

About Paola Prestini

Through an illustrious career being equal parts creator and connector, composer Paola Prestini is known both for her “otherworldly…outright gorgeous” music (The New York Times), as well as the “visionary-in-chief” (Time Out New York) and Co-Founder/Artistic Director of the non-profit music organization National Sawdust. As the Wall Street Journal says, many recognize Prestini for “pushing the boundaries of classical music through collaborations.” Over 25 large scale artistic works are the result of Prestini joining forces with conservationists, poets, virtual reality film directors, astrophysicists, and puppeteers. Her independent streak was forged by creating her own multimedia visions during her early days with VisionIntoArt, the collective she co-founded while at the Juilliard School. Now, she balances co-creating independent dream projects with a stream of unique commissions completing her mission to keep her curiosity and learning a constant and evolving force. The values and processes in her daily work as an artist are at the heart of the regenerative systems she has put in place at National Sawdust.

About Lucy Dhegrae

Lucy Dhegrae is a singer committed to changing and challenging how vocal music is perceived, performed and programmed. Hailed as an “adventurous mezzo-soprano” and “raconteur” (The New Yorker) known for her “vocal versatility and an omnivorous curiosity” (The New York Times), she moves easily between a broad variety of styles, and can be found “everywhere new music is being sung” (New York Classical Review). Dhegrae is also the founder and director of the boundary-pushing Resonant Bodies Festival, which was praised by The New York Times as “an annual highlight [that] gives some of the world’s most adventurous vocal artists full freedom.”

About Jeffrey Zeigler

Jeffrey Zeigler is one of the most innovative and versatile cellists of our time. He has been described as “fiery”, and a player who performs “with unforced simplicity and beauty of tone” by the New York Times. Acclaimed for his independent streak, Zeigler has commissioned dozens of works, and is admired as a potent collaborator and unique improviser. Zeigler is the recipient of the Avery Fisher Prize, the Polar Music Prize, the President’s Merit Award from the National Academy of Recorded Arts (Grammy’s), the Chamber Music America National Service Award and The Asia Society’s Cultural Achievement Award.