Play Your Vegetables: Angélica Negrón’s Unusual Music
On July 4, in the upstate town of Amsterdam, New York, Angélica Negrón, a D.M.A. candidate in the Music program at the Graduate Center, premiered her latest composition: a 30-minute orchestral piece commissioned by the Albany Symphony as part of its “Water Music” project celebrating the bicentennial of the Erie Canal.
Negrón, who is known for her unusual compositions — she has written music for robotic instruments, toys, and vegetables — wrote and performed a five-movement piece called “Mapping.” In several of the movements, she played a “water synth” she built specifically for the piece. A visually captivating contraption, it comprises an Ototo, a small synthesizer that can turn any conductive object into a musical instrument (watch an introduction to the ototo); six acrylic vases filled with colored water; and Negrón’s laptop, which contained samples of sounds she’d recorded during her visits to Amsterdam.
Touching the water’s surface produced the effect she desired: “dreamy liquid textures that reminded me of water,” Negrón said.
Her piece was one of seven commissioned by the Albany Orchestra, all of which were inspired by various towns along the Erie Canal’s route. The pieces were collaborative, with each composer partnering with their designated local community. Negrón met with Amsterdam’s town historian to learn more about the former industrial city’s history, and worked with an Amsterdam children’s chorus and the River Valley Ringers hand-bell choir.
Because of time constraints, Negrón hadn’t originally planned to write music for the bell choir. “When I visited their rehearsal, I fell in love with them, and decided I needed to include them in the piece,” she said. She found the collaborative nature of the project particularly rewarding. “They were all really excited that someone was writing something specific for them, especially the kids,” she said. “Before I wrote one note, I had workshops with everyone, and we tried different sounds and had a lot of fun together.”
The performance drew a large crowd, with hundreds of Amsterdam residents in attendance. One concertgoer told The New York Times, which published a feature on the Erie Canal performances, “It was beautiful. Especially the kids. There is something about the innocence of the kids’ voices that is really inspiring.”
Negrón’s work has been performed at the 2016 New York Philharmonic Biennial, the Bang on a Can Marathon, and the Ecstatic Music Festival (for which she earned praise from the Times). She is currently working on creative composition projects with children through the New York Philharmonic’s Very Young Composers program and through Lincoln Center Education.
Negrón, who grew up in Puerto Rico, came to the GC to study with Professor Tania León, who became her composition teacher for three years. These days, Negrón mostly plays the accordion and sings, but she has been fascinated by toy instruments and nontraditional sound makers for as long as she can remember.
“I started collecting music boxes when I was young, and as I started to compose music involving electronics, exploring other unconventional sound makers came as a natural next step,” she said. “I’m interested in unexpected yet familiar sounds, and in discovering their secret lives.”
Listen to Negrón's music on Soundcloud.
Photo Credit (top image): Gary Gold Photography
Submitted on: SEP 6, 2017
Category: General GC News | Music Ph.D. - D.M.A | Student News