Brittany J. Green and Nnux (Ana E. López) Receive 2023 Matt Marks Impact Fund

The modern chamber music band Alarm Will Sound is dedicated to exploring new and experimental music through genre-bending and multimedia programming. In line with that mission, the ensemble created the Matt Marks Impact Fund in 2019 to pay tribute to horn player and founding member Marks (1980 – 2018) and carry on his legacy of fearless experimentation. The Fund offers daring composers and artists the opportunity and resources to create ambitious new work for Alarm Will Sound. This year’s recipients, Brittany J. Green and Nnux (Ana E. López), will have their works premiered during the 2024-25 season.

Green is a North Carolina-based composer, creative, and educator. Her project Glitch will explore concepts of power, censorship, and systems of control. Green has explored similar themes in Against/Sharp (2020) for chamber orchestra, r_upTure (2021) for chamber orchestra and electronics, and garden on greene street (2023) for saxophone and live electronics — all great entry points to her music.

If you’ve ever attended an orchestra concert, you are probably aware of a few power dynamics at play in the concert hall. The players read sheet music (those extant folio artifacts of — usually — long ago), the conductor gesticulates and makes facial expressions (to shape the orchestra’s performance), the audience quietly experiences the music from their seats, and nobody is permitted to disrupt this system. Not the audience, not the players, nobody.

Brittany J. Green -- Photo by Shanita Dixon

Brittany J. Green — Photo by Shanita Dixon

With Glitch, Green will challenge the function of the immutable score and the role of the conductor-as-leader, who, in this case, will be rendered invisible. In place of printed sheet music, performers will interpret musical prompts sent in real time by a computer running a Max/MSP patch. “I’m interested in investigating these lines between choice, coercion, and control,” Green told me in an interview. “In doing so, the experience of the performers blurs those lines.”

The music for Glitch will be notated in a variety of ways (including text prompts and conventional notation) and will draw from a smattering of genres, including New Orleans brass band, Afrobeat, and a handful of contemporary classical aesthetics. In responding to these prompts, the musicians of Alarm Will Sound will have an unusual amount of freedom. “At a certain point in the piece,” Green says, “performers can either continue to follow what the computer is telling them to do, or choose to opt out and improvise instead. Or they can improvise with the hopes of that improvisation influencing what the computer tells the other performers to do.”

Glitch will give the performers greater agency than a typical large ensemble work — but just how much agency they are given and how their decisions will play out is entirely unpredictable. Will the players unknowingly all cooperate with the dictated musical prompts? Will improvised material slowly take over the work like a virus? Or perhaps the players will organize and start a revolution? Alongside the ensemble, Green will perform a live narration. She describes the text as a sort of allegory for what the performers are experiencing on stage, of “trying to navigate this kind of controlling system… and [their] internal pull or push towards following that or setting [their] own path.”

Alarm Will Sound -- Photo by Wojciech Wandzel

Alarm Will Sound — Photo by Wojciech Wandzel

Glitch is a kind of microcosm of Green’s broader interest in our relationship with technology, power dynamics, and invisible systems of control. “As a Black woman, I am interested in imagining worlds where the systems that we’re forced under, now, don’t exist,” she explains. “What would a musical landscape look like if this very rigid musical system exists but then is completely subverted through timbre or texture, rhythm, harmony?”

Nnux (Ana E. López) is a composer, producer, synth player, and vocalist originally from Mexico City. Her programmatic piece for Alarm Will Sound will juxtapose creation myths with scientific theory about the beginning of the universe through the use of multimedia elements such as live electronics, 3D projections, and recorded narration.

While exploring the scientific angle is new for López, her fascination with myth has played a role in her compositional practice for a while. In her string quartet Ausencias, López explores the relationship between the living and the dead in Mexican culture; in her forthcoming album Metamorfosis, she explores different aspects of femininity through the story of a mythological deity. “I did a lot of research on representations of female goddesses to create this new character; it’s not a specific goddess but takes elements from different ones,” she says.

Nnux (Ana E. López) -- Photo by Gabino Palacios

Nnux (Ana E. López) — Photo by Gabino Palacios

While conducting research for her Matt Marks Impact Fund project, López discovered striking similarities in how we use science and myth to make sense of our world. “These creation myths come from looking up and wondering where we come from, and trying to make sense of the world around us. Science does the same thing.” Many creation myths, she elaborates, say that we were created from the body of a deity, usually a goddess that breaks down; the world we know is created from these fragments. From a scientific perspective, our universe is matter synthesized from exploded stars. We are quite literally made of stardust. To convey this dazzling imagery in her work, Lopez enlisted the help of artist Oswaldo Erreve, who will create onstage 3D projections with a system of layered and translucent screens.

For López, juxtaposing creation myths with scientific theory is not about finding answers or solutions, but about evoking a shared sense of wonder. “It’s really fascinating to me how humans have tried to make sense of the world around them — and how we’re still trying to,” she says. In rooting this work to our contemporary world, López draws connections between the destruction of female deities in creation myths and the epidemic of domestic violence against women in Mexico City, and beyond. In exploring these themes symbolically, López finds a hopeful message: in the aftermath of great destruction, amidst the infinite fragments of what was lost, we have the power to transform our realities through reconstruction.


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