never twice the same // an audiovisual recital

September 29, 2017
Conner Singh VanderBeek

UPDATE: Check out videos from the live performance

An acute sense of belonging nowhere
9 pieces for piano and electronics

never twice the same is a performance created in collaboration with LA-based filmmaker Lynn Hong, Berkeley/St. Louis-based poet David Alejandro Hernandez, and Vancouver/Ann Arbor–based new-media artist Kiran Bhumber. The program explores traumatic memory and where to go from it, and it includes writings by David, Lynn, my older brother Jordan, and me, along with performed pieces for playback audio, vibraphone (feat. AJ Covey), harmonium, and piano. (See poster below.)

The impetus for this recital was an episode of depression that disrupted research projects I was conducting this summer in England and India. In England, I was working on the musical points of entry of British-Punjabis to their self- or community-constructed sense of ethnicity. On a day of pronounced anxiety, I filmed clouds passing and overlaid that footage with non-descript urban scenes.

I split my time in India between Calcutta, Mumbai, and Delhi, and passed it in conjunction with performances and research on urban Indian experimental and electronic artists arranged by Kiran Bhumber for CWPS ( I used my spare time during those three weeks to film B-roll, including a sunset flight from Mumbai to Delhi that I used for the third movement of the work on the second half of the program, 9 pieces for piano and electronics.

I used the process of manipulating video to mitigate the crushing weight of this depressive episode. I had been here before; a job I held in Delhi in 2015 ended abruptly because managing my mental health was beyond my capacity. I went home and recuperated for six months, and I was determined to not go through that ordeal a second time. So I created.

All of the music on this program is material I had previously written. “Overnight” was a poem David provided for an online musical/narrative mental illness project I directed titled Let’s talk about our feelings., which ran for two volumes ( “break(it)down” was produced in collaboration with Lynn in 2013, whose extremely frantic visual cuts wonderfully match the obsessive splices I made in the audio ( 9 pieces for piano and electronics was the centerpiece of my senior recital, and I decided to revive the work with video in light of my recent health issues.

Music is how I process my life...

Music is how I process my life, and through sharing projects like these I believe I can generate a discursive space that elucidates the struggles and processes of mental illness: one that neither glorifies nor silences the pain, but uses performance as an opportunity to come together in solidarity. This summer was an indescribably frightening time for me and those closest to me, and this performance is my chance to show that something positive can come from even the darkest of times.

—Conner Singh VanderBeek

Conner Singh VanderBeek is a second-year PhD in Ethnomusicology whose research focuses on diasporic Punjabi artists and their negotiations of race, gender, and belonging; and experimental and electronic artists in urban India. He also works on celebrity culture and music in the US, and on the orthodox and identity politics of contemporary Sikhism.