ListN Up: Emily Koh (August 20, 2021)

ListN Up is a weekly series of artist-curated playlists that offer an intimate sonic portrait of contemporary artists by showcasing the diverse and stylistically varied music that influences their creative practice. 

Emily Koh (she/her) is a Singaporean composer and double bassist based in Atlanta, Georgia. Her music reimagines everyday experiences by sonically expounding tiny oft-forgotten details, and is characterized by inventive explorations of the intricacies of sound. Her work explores binary states such as extremes x boundaries, distinguished x ignored, and activity x stagnation, through her unique Teochew and Peranakan Singaporean lens. An amateur multi-disciplinary artist herself, she enjoys collaborating with creatives of other specializations. Her album [word]plays – microtonal works for saxophone(s) was recently released on innova Recordings. Emily teaches composition at the University of Georgia, and is composition mentor with the Atlanta-based ensemble vim.

Hi there! I’m Emily Koh. I’m a composer, double bassist, and artist from the sunny island of Singapore. This ListN Up playlist I curated is guided by some of my musical interests such as microtonality, mash-ups, intercultural transfers, and lots and lots of music for double bass — and also ends with a work of mine own called zetsu which is performed by my trio, the Subaerial Collective. I hope you enjoy these works, and if you’re looking for more, my album [word]plays just came out on the innova label. Go check it out!

Fanfare in 19-note Equal Tuning, Op.28a by Easley Blackwood

Easley Blackwood’s Fanfare, composed in 1981 for the 30th anniversary of Chicago fine arts radio station WFMT, is such a wonderful opener in so many ways. It is a fanfare that shocks! Firstly, it is not a brass or even instrumental fanfare, but an electronic music fanfare. Then, it is microtonal and equally divided, but it in 19EDO, so we can’t even crutch on our familiarity of 12EDO and its subdivisions like 24EDO quartertonality!

Suite for Quarter-Tone Piano No.6 by Alois Hába (arr. David Fiuczynski), performed by Planet MicroJam

I love microtonal works and know Hába’s Suite for Quarter-Tone Piano No. 6 (1956/1959) well, but this version for Planet Microjam, arranged by David Fiuczynski just adds so much color, groove, space, and personality to a work that is already so musically intricate! What a mashup!

Grisey Z’s 99 problèmes pour franchir le seuil by Lil Geti

Continuing the mashup thread from the Hába/Fiuczynski, this is an awesome one of Jay Z’s “99 Problems” and Gérard Grisey’s Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil. Words cannot express this work adequately, so just go listen.


Now this is a very different kind of mashup — that of a traditional Chinese instrument with Western orchestra by a Korean-German composer. I have always admired Unsuk Chin’s orchestral works for her orchestrational finesse, and this takes it further by blending instruments of different traditions and histories together in the same setting.

Iris dévoilée by Chen Qigang, performed by Orchestre National de France (Muhai Tang, conductor)

This work by Chen Qigang also combines Chinese instruments and a Beijing opera vocalist with the Western (grand!) orchestra and different styles of operatic singers — both lyric and coloratura, but in a very different way. Instead of a blended voice like in Chin’s work, the Chinese traditional and Western concert styles retain their identities and take turns to shine through in Chen’s unveiling of the different faces of the mysterious woman, Iris.

Etude No. 12 “Reconstruction” by Xavier Foley

I am fascinated by how Xavier Foley stretches bass playing styles for us bass folks that are classically-trained, and with such ease! These etudes are all notated, and every single etude of Foley’s is amazing. I hope to be able to play some of these with enough practice!

Bass Folk Song by Stanley Clarke

Since we are now in the bass zone, another of my favorite bassists is Stanley Clarke (who is also a film composer!) We think of Clarke as one who normalized using electric bass in jazz, but here he is at the Newport Jazz Festival playing and improvising on the bass like a guitar!

Improvisation on a theme of Adrian Beaumont by Jeanne Demessieux

I highly regard classically-trained performers who also improvise and improvise well, since that part of musical training seemed to be less common after the 20th century. Here is Jeanne Demessieux, an incredible French organist and composer improvising on a theme given to her by Adrian Beaumont (Bristol University music professor) in a live broadcast.

zetsu by Emily Koh, performed by Subaerial Collective

The last piece on this playlist is one of mine, zetsu, performed by Subaerial Collective, which is made up of all three of us composition faculty at the University of Georgia — Adrian Childs (piano), Peter Van Zandt Lane (bassoon), and myself on double bass. Enjoy!


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