ListN Up: Mary Prescott (February 19, 2021)

ListN Up is a series of weekly artist-curated playlists. Born from a desire to keep artists sharing and connected during times of isolation, ListN Up offers an intimate sonic portrait of contemporary artists by showcasing the diverse and stylistically varied music that influences their creative practice. 

Mary Prescott is a Thai-American interdisciplinary artist, composer, and pianist who explores the foundations and facets of identity and social conditions through experiential performance. She has received numerous awards, including the National Performance Network Creation Fund, a New Music USA Project Grant and an ACF Create Commission. Mary is The Washington Post’s pick for “21 for ‘21: Composers and performers who sound like tomorrow,”  her work described as “uncompromising… masterfully envisioned,” and “a bright light cast forward.”

Hi, My name is Mary Prescott, and I am an interdisciplinary artist, composer, pianist and performer. A couple of years ago I began an informal project that I called “Hardcopy Library Listening” where I went through the CD stacks of the public library and pulled albums of all kinds off the shelves to listen to for the next few weeks. Every day I treated myself to an entirely different album, and it became a wonderful ritual and way to discover new music, as well as remember nostalgic music that I hadn’t heard in a while. A lot of the albums and artists I listened to during that project became inspirations for the music that I write. So this playlist is a collection of some of the most memorable and impactful albums I heard, as well as a couple tracks of my own that were inspired in some way from the “Hardcopy Library Listening” sessions and artists. I hope you enjoy it, and I hope this adds some inspiration to your week!

Libation for Mr. Brown: Bid Em In​.​.​. from Coin Coin Chapter One: Gens de Couleur Libres by Matana Roberts

When I popped this CD into the tray, I was completely unprepared for what I was about to experience. Matana’s music speaks deep and devastating truth through conviction and beauty. I wept as I listened.

Sarah Was Ninety Years Old from Miserere by Arvo Pärt, performed by Christopher Bowers-Broadbent, John Potter, Pierre Favre, Rogers Covey-Crump, and Sarah Leonard

I ended up loving this whole album so much that, after checking it out from the library multiple times, I scoured the internet for a used copy and bought it off of eBay the instant I found it. This piece, Sarah Was Ninety Years Old, struck me in particular. With a sense of ancient space and grounding, it fills me with calm and timelessness each time I hear it.

At Least There Was Nothing from Only Sky by David Torn

Like most of the CDs I heard during my “Hardcopy Library Listening,” I had no idea what to expect when I grabbed this one. I knew David played in groups with other musicians whose work I enjoyed, but nothing could’ve prepared me for how much I would dig this album. I instantly knew I wanted to work with him, and invited him to be a part of my next project, Loup Lunaire. Lucky for me, he obliged. As I told his son after the fact, David was the only person I wanted for that project, and if he wouldn’t have agreed to do it, I never would have made it at all.

Salty from Man’ish Boy (A Raw & Beautiful Thing) by Darius Jones Trio

This was one of the first albums I featured on my “Hardcopy Library Listening” IG stories, and a great one by Darius Jones. After I posted it, I got a message from Darius saying how deep it was that I encountered his record this way. When he was younger, hanging out in the library was one of his own methods for finding new music and artists. So the fact that someone else did that with his music years later brought everything full-circle for him.

Egoes War from Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds by Nicole Mitchell, performed by Black Earth Ensemble

There are some sounds that just knock your socks off, plain and simple. When I first heard this album, I almost couldn’t believe it. It is a both fun and fraught sound world that I wish I could live inside of, and then when I listen, I actually do. The textures and tastes of this album make me feel like I am physically some place else… ancient outer space, maybe.

“Plasat Vai” from Thailand: The Music of Chieng Mai (Smithsonian Folkways Recordings), performed by Vat Nantaram Monastery Ritual Orchestra

Despite finding this album in the “World Music” section of my library and my strong distaste for that label and categorization, I was very glad that this record was available, and I ended up loving it. A track of children singing a folk song at school was my absolute favorite, but it’s impossible to find online. So the few tracks available on YouTube (which are great, too) will have to suffice for now… until I can get back to the library in person!

Still Something by Mary Prescott

This is a solo piano improvisation that I recorded in the midst of my “Hardcopy Library Listening” project. I can’t help but think that every part of my music-making, including my improvisations, were being subconsciously influenced and nuanced by all of the amazing new stuff I’d been hearing.

“Moon” from Tida by Mary Prescott

From my interdisciplinary performance about my Thai maternal lineage and cross-cultural identity, “Moon” is a meditation on my mother’s name, and the still, silent transformation of changing and passing through time. Even though this doesn’t sound distinctly like any of the other artists on this list, it certainly seems to point to seeds of inspiration from them.


I CARE IF YOU LISTEN is an editorially-independent program of the American Composers Forum, funded with generous donor and institutional support. Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and may not represent the views of ICIYL or ACF. 

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