Spectrum Reopens at The Brooklyn Waterfront Artists Coalition

The Brooklyn Waterfront Artists Coalition (BWAC) sits on the Red Hook waterfront under the Statue of Liberty’s watch. Since 1978, the Lady has seen BWAC grow into Brooklyn’s largest artist-run organization, and on February 26, 2022, the exhibit space welcomed avant-garde music organization Spectrum as its newest artistic partner. Spectrum’s launch party transformed a massive venue into an intimate affair: couches and plush high-backed chairs were tucked into the corner overlooking the waterfront, lights were strung in the exposed rafters, and banners streaked with color and glitter hung behind the plywood stage. The evening’s atmosphere was unpretentious and amiable: each of the four ensembles had an hour to both set up and perform, allowing the 40 people in attendance ample time to chat, grab drinks at the bar, and admire art in the other half of the floor.

Spectrum was celebrating not only its new venue, but its tenth anniversary of presenting innovative sonic arts concerts in New York City. Director Glenn Cornett started Spectrum in a Manhattan loft in 2012 and settled in a garage across the street from the Brooklyn Navy Yard five years later. Spectrum lost that lease to the pandemic, but Manager Gabriel Zucker randomly discovered a stage in BWAC’s 25,000-square-foot warehouse and thus found a new home perfectly matched to Spectrum’s communal aesthetic.

Lester St. Louis, Chris Williams, and Shahzad Ismaily--Photo by Glenn Cornett for Spectrum

Lester St. Louis, Chris Williams, and Shahzad Ismaily–Photo by Glenn Cornett for Spectrum

The evening’s varied program included haunting vocal improvisation, looped electronics, and Cuban-inspired music performed on a Korean gayageum, but it was united by stellar improvisational skill and warm rapport between the performers and audience. Cellist and improviser Lester St. Louis and trumpeter Chris Williams began the evening by layering their instruments with electronics, and created a thick, relaxed texture with multi-instrumentalist Shahzad Ismaily’s contributions on electric guitar, piano, and percussion. After a satisfying switch from acoustic instruments to a rhythmic electronic thrum, the trio evolved again into something like jazz with a drum kit, muted horn, extended cello techniques, and electronics. Later in the evening, pianist Gabriel Zucker also incorporated jazz piano into a set of songs from his record Confession. The grainy sound and reverb of his set worked for indie-rock songwriting with a splash of cabaret. With Henry Mermer on drums, Zucker mixed synth, piano, and solo vocals for cathartic expressions of joy, angst, and arrival.

David Leon and his trio Bird’s Eye took the most formal approach to negotiating the boundaries between improvisation and composition. The new ensemble, supported by New Music USA’s 2021 Creator Development Fund, was the only group to utilize scores while presenting several of Leon’s compositions: “Expressive Jargon III,” “Constant Friendship Boulevard,” and an untitled premiere in honor of Spectrum’s new venue. (Zucker had used what appeared to be lead sheets for vocals.) Despite their focus on notation, the trio maintained an easy and fluid connection when the music seemed to go off the rails. Lesley Mok on percussion effortlessly augmented Leon’s flute and saxophone solos and punctuated the texture without overpowering DoYeon Kim, who shredded so hard on the kayageum that she had to actually reassemble her instrument before the set was over.

Matteo Libertore and Amirtha Kidambi--Photo by Glenn Cornett for Spectrum

Matteo Libertore and Amirtha Kidambi–Photo by Glenn Cornett for Spectrum

Perhaps the most mesmerizing part of the night was the performance by vocalist Amirtha Kidambi and guitarist Matteo Liberatore. The two crafted an elegant, slow-burn call and response that was both delicate and devastating. Liberatore’s resonant guitar was often more lyrical than the voice: Kidambi’s unbelievable vocal dexterity transformed her voice into a flock of birds, a distorted machine, and the most primal of human energies. Her sounds, coupled with trailing tendrils of guitar, created space for introspection that was especially timely and necessary: people were following live Twitter updates on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine during the concert, and anxious speculation cut through the happy hour chatter. Spectrum’s return, with its particular emphasis on community and creative freedom, felt necessary for New York City and potently underscored the power of live performance.


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. 

A gift to ACF helps support the work of ICIYL. For more on ACF, visit the “At ACF” section or composersforum.org.