Sputter Box, an instrumental trio comprising voice, percussion, and clarinet formed by classically trained musicians. Stony Brook University graduate students, Clarinetist Kathryn Vetter, Soprano Alina Tamborini and Percussionist Peter White created the group in Fall 2018. PHOTO CREDIT: FELIX REYES

Performance art ensemble Sputter Box will stage its second full-length concert on Thursday, Oct. 10, at Areté Venue and Gallery in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The concert program, entitled “Music for 8×11 Rug,” will feature premieres by composers Alan Hankers, Joe Krycia and Christopher Lucius Newman. The performance kicks off an exciting season of artistic collaborations for the ensemble.


Sputter Box — a versatile instrumental trio comprising voice, percussion and clarinet—explores innovative approaches to musical performance, often inspired by conceptual modes of artistic interpretation. Formed in fall 2018 by classically trained musicians and Stony Brook University graduate students, Clarinetist Kathryn Vetter, Soprano Alina Tamborini and Percussionist Peter White, Sputter Box presents imaginative programming that encourages audience members to experience and think about music in creative ways. The trio first performed together in three presentations of Georges Aperghis’s 1979 multi-part work entitled “Sept crimes de l’amour”, or “Seven Crimes of Love”. The work served as a catalyst for Sputter Box’s continued collaboration.

White said, “[‘Sept crimes de l’amour’] is unique in that it’s half-theater, half-music—which is what Aperghis is known for. So that was already a big step for all of us.” Building upon the theatrical elements explored in that piece, Sputter Box’s repertory to date integrates improvisation, extended instrumental techniques, and novel approaches to text and singing.

Given the small volume of existing compositions written for Sputter Box’s instrumentation, Vetter said that through commissioning new works, the group is “exploring those different sounds and sound combinations” that are unique to the ensemble.

Movement also features into Sputter Box’s interdisciplinary interpretive experimentation.
As Vetter said, Sputter Box commits to “making sure that each element of [the ensemble’s performance art work] is necessary and has a purpose.” She clarifies, “We don’t just want to include movement in a piece where it doesn’t really fit, or it doesn’t add anything to the piece. [Music and movement] really are in dialogue with each other.”

Sputter Box explores open-instrumentation works as well. Last April, the ensemble’s first recital featured Ph.D. composition student Joseph Bohigian’s “+-+-+-+-++++-+-+-+-+-+-+-+–+-” or “Plus-Minus” for short and Pauline Oliveros’s “The Witness”. Tamborini recalls Oliveros’s text-based work, “It’s a piece that tunes into listening and expectations and attention.”

The recital also included “Museum Pieces” by Jordan Nobles, which draws sonic inspiration from paintings of Mark Rothko and Pablo Picasso, sculptures of Alberto Giacometti, and other visual works.

This past summer Sputter Box spent two weeks in residency at Avaloch Farm Music Institute, working alongside choreographer Neil Parsons and the composers whose works will premiere this Thursday.

Ph.D. student Hankers, whose composition “INHALE//EXHALE” will be performed Oct. 10, said, “Lately I’ve been really interested in pieces of music that utilize unorthodox playing styles, or maybe [challenging] the conventions of what a performer does with their instrument. For example, this piece is for soprano voice, bass clarinet and percussion, but in a lot of ways the vocalist and the clarinetist are taking on the roles of percussionists as well by playing found objects [such as paper, chains, and keys].”

Hankers considers Areté Venue and Gallery’s intimate space an ideal aural setting for the composition, which sets up an “urban landscape with singing as its centerpiece.”

Hankers adds that “INHALE//EXHALE” “challenges what it even means to write and perform a piece of music kind of challenging the frame that we usually put a piece of music in. When you hear a violin, a violinist playing, the first thing you think is music, right? Whereas, if you hear an airplane, you don’t think ‘music.’ So I’m using sort of the concert stage as a way to frame ordinary actions to create a musical landscape from them.”

Regarding the process of integrating movement into the score, Hankers explains, “I’m approaching it from the sound first, after the sections of the piece have been written, we get together with Neil, and he workshops different movements or ways of either drawing attention to the movement, or using movement to draw attention to the sound.”

Sputter Box’s 2019-20 season will include a collaboration with the Millenium Composers Initiative and a concert in February 2020. The latter will feature a world premiere by composer and Ph.D. student Niloufar Nourbakhsh. Nourbakhsh shares, “When [Sputter Box] mentioned that they also do a lot of theater and action-involved pieces with movement, and they’re going to have a choreographer, that’s something that was really exciting to me.”

Nourbakhsh’s powerful new composition for Sputter Box, called “Responsibility,” will combine movement, staging, and sung text written by the composer. A selection of Nourbakhsh’s music, including works for chamber ensemble and solo piano, will also be featured in a special portrait concert, part of Spectrum’s Female Composers Festival, curated by Shiau-Uen Ding on March 2020 in Brooklyn.

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