never twice the same // an audiovisual recital

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.



Innovation and Improvisation in São Paulo, Brazil

This July and August, I spent time in São Paulo, Brazil conducting follow-up research for my dissertation, “São Paulo Underground: Musical Innovation and Independent Cultural Production in Urban Brazilian Experimental Music Practice.” The project investigates an independently organized scene of experimentally oriented musicians from a variety of styles, ranging from hardcore punk to free improvisation to electroacoustic composition. Concerts principally feature live, collaborative improvisation (see photos below). Because of the participants’ diverse stylistic backgrounds, this results in an unpredictable, ever-changing series of sounds and performances on a day-to-day basis. This time around, the bulk of my field work consisted of speaking with musicians, conducting follow-up interviews, attending concerts, and seeing how the scene had developed since my primary research period in 2015–16. The real pleasure, however, came in simply spending time with the musicians for the first time in over a year. Much has changed in the Brazilian cultural and political spheres over the past 12 months, but it was good to see the scene going strong.

Márcio Gibson, Thiago Salas Gomes, Mariana Oliveira, and Alex Dias perform at the venue Ibrasotope.
Márcio Gibson, Thiago Salas Gomes, Mariana Oliveira, and Alex Dias perform at the venue Ibrasotope.
Rodrigo Brandão, Rogério Martins, Guilherme Granado, and Tulipa Ruiz perform at the venue Estúdio Fita Crepe. 
Rodrigo Brandão, Rogério Martins, Guilherme Granado, and Tulipa Ruiz perform at the venue Estúdio Fita Crepe.
Carla Boregas and Anelena Toku, members of the duo Fronte Violeta, perform a set at the venue Shuffle Bar. 
Carla Boregas and Anelena Toku, members of the duo Fronte Violeta, perform a set at the venue Shuffle Bar.

– James McNally

James McNally is a sixth-year PhD Candidate in Ethnomusicology. His research investigates the musical cultures of Brazil and the United States, with theoretical focuses on issues of cultural production, race and ethnicity, improvisation, urban studies, and gender and sexuality.  

Re-approaching a Hollywood Film Musical through 1950s Hong Kong Newspaper Advertisements

In early June this summer, I visited the Special Collections of the Hong Kong University Main Library, conducting archival research on the reception of particular Hollywood musical films and their Cantonese remakes through studying Hong Kong newspaper advertisements (in Chinese and English) from the 1950s. I was working on one of my three dissertation chapters on The Sorrowful Lute (Pipa yuan, 1957), a Cantonese remake of Love Me or Leave Me (1955), and I wanted to know more about how the remake made a cultural critique of the original by further moralizing the social status of cabaret singer.

A comparison between the Chinese and English advertisements of Love Me or Leave Me shows how the relationship between Ruth Etting (played by Doris Day) and Martin Snyder (played by James Cagney) is described with reference to different moral understandings of cabaret singers. The Chinese version includes notable elaboration (photo 1, lower half) on what Snyder has done for Etting, how Etting is unfaithful to Snyder, and why Snyder should be sympathized with, whereas the English version focuses on Snyder being exploitative toward Etting, which is best manifested in the caption “SHE WAS A NOBODY—HE WAS ‘MR. BIG’” (photo 2, upper middle), as well as in the depiction of Snyder holding Etting’s neck (photo 2, lower left). This provides some clues as to why, in The Sorrowful Lute, cabaret is viewed by all characters, including the female protagonist and the male antagonist, as morally and artistically inferior to Cantonese opera. Love Me or Leave Me and The Sorrowful Lute share the same Chinese title (i.e., Pipa yuan, see photos 1 and 3). One may wonder what Love Me or Leave Me has to do with the pipa, a Sinicized Chinese instrument; in fact, in early- and mid-twentieth-century Cantonese culture, pipa was a euphemism for those young prostitutes-to-be who sing well. In this sense, the aforementioned details about those advertisements contextualize or even affirm The Sorrowful Lute as a remake that takes culturally specific moral judgment about music performance in addition to textual faithfulness into account.

-Ho-chak Law

Ho-chak Law is a seventh-year doctoral candidate in Ethnomusicology. He is currently finishing a dissertation titled “Cinematizing China Performatively: Film, Chinese Opera, and the Articulation of National Identity.”

Feminist Theory and Music Conference in San Francisco

This past July, fellow music theory PhD candidate Steve Lett and I attended the Feminist Theory and Music (FTM) conference hosted by San Francisco State University. Featured in the same session, we presented papers centered on rethinking early feminist music theory’s contributions to our discipline. Steve’s paper was titled “Depoliticizing Experience: Music Theory after the Feminist Critique” and mine was titled “Philosophies of the Body in Feminine Endings: Historicizing the Feminist Roots of Music Theory’s Embodied Turn.”

Referencing the 1978 Maya Angelou poem “Still I Rise,” the conference theme “Still We Rise” threaded through diverse topics and formats. We attended papers on autoethnography of queer American spaces, trauma in recent productions of Strauss’s Salome, and indigenous feminisms from the Marshall Islands. In a workshop on South African protest music, we learned strategies for musical activism alongside musicologist Nicol Hammond who draws on her Apartheid-era experiences in her recent work. Two special sessions commemorated the passing of Pauline Oliveros and Geri Allen, two feminist icons in music. A third special session celebrated the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

FTM is a biennial conference organized by an unincorporated group of dedicated scholars. At the end of the conference, attendees were involved in a conversation about planning the next iteration of FTM. While these details are still in formation, Steve and I are already looking forward to attending in 2019!

-Vivian Luong

vs_photo 2
The Golden Gate Bridge enveloped in fog.

Vivian Luong is a music theory PhD candidate. She is currently working on her dissertation titled “Rethinking Music Loving with Ethnographies of Music Analysis.”

Steve Lett is a music theory PhD candidate. His dissertation titled “The Psychedelic Listener” explores how ideas about music’s role in psychedelic psychotherapy animated the practice of influential music therapist Helen L. Bonny.


William van Geest, Brandeis Journal of Musicology publication

Early this summer, William van Geest had an article, entitled “New Perspectives on Meter in Webern’s Opp. 5, 11, and 29,” published in the inaugural issue of the Brandeis Journal of Musicology. William originally presented this paper at the 2015 Musicology Conference of the Brandeis University Department of Music Graduate Student Society. A summary of the article is found below. William also recently had the opportunity to visit the Paul Sacher Stiftung in Basel, Switzerland, where he examined Webern’s sketches for his Op. 28 String Quartet for use in a paper that explores meter in this piece.

While several earlier analysts have explored meter in Webern’s music, most of these investigations seek to answer the question, “Is it metrical?” The results of this line of inquiry, while often interesting, are frequently inconclusive or otherwise unsatisfactory. My aim is to discover Webern’s operative notions of meter, and to situate these within his larger aesthetic goals. Given our lack of extensive comment by Webern on meter, I here rely on analytical means. I begin by assuming that meter as notated is meaningful for Webern and that conventional notions of meter play some role; beyond this, I allow the problem of metrical projection and discrepancies between notated meter and the musical surface to define the character and shape of his metrical practice.

This article explores Webern’s notions of meter as suggested by the analysis of three pieces. In the fourth movement of the Op. 5 Pieces for String Quartet, I discuss suggestive connections between meter and form, as well as Webern’s conception of written meter as exerting a force on the musical surface. In the first movement of the Op. 11 Three Little Pieces, I show Webern’s extension of the connections between form and meter, both via denser formal units and to mark formal initiation or closure, as well as his careful employment of metrical activation to dramatic ends. In the first movement (“Zündender Lichtblitz”) of the First Cantata, Op. 29, I discuss a reversal of the foregoing, whereby Webern closely adapts the notated meter to the musical surface, yet also discuss his treatment of visual cues for meter as barriers in the musical surface, as well as his abrogation of typical distribution of energy. This survey of Webern’s metrical practice shows the composer both grappling with metrical conventions but also reinterpreting them in original and productive ways.


-William van Geest


William van Geest is a fourth-year Ph.D student in Music Theory at the University of Michigan. While his current research focuses on rhythmic theory in thirteenth-century France, his interests include the history of music theory, rhythm and meter, the music of Anton Webern, and medieval grammar. He has presented work on these topics at a variety of conferences in North America and Europe.

The “Other” Patti, and Using as a Source for Archival Research


It’s certainly not a traditional starting place for research, but when it comes to studying nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century America, is an indispensable resource. In studying singers who performed opera in the American Old West, it has supplied me with documents including ship manifests, birth and death records, censuses, and wills and testaments. Such sources often confirm or refute anecdotal evidence that has become lore, provide new insights, and if the individual you’re studying happens to have living descendants, it’s not uncommon to benefit from the hard work of family genealogists. And all of this is available in one place, for the low monthly fee of $19.99. The “Shoebox” feature lets you easily save documents or lines of documents needed for reference, you can easily search adjacent or linked names in records, and each item is thoroughly documented in terms of its original source, roll, page number, etc. Throughout this short excerpt from my dissertation, * denotes the presence of a footnote whose source is


To see in action, let’s take, for example, the Italian-American soprano Carlotta Patti (1835*–1889). She’s the elder sister of the much more famous Patti—the “Queen of Hearts” soprano Adelina Patti. She was herself a talented singer, and an admired member of one of America’s great dynasties of performers. Unfortunately, she’s never received the attention she deserves from historians of any stripe. John Frederick Cone, in his biography of Adelina Patti from 1993, grants Carlotta a mere two sentences, and selectively underscores a physical handicap—a limp caused by a congenital disorder or horse-riding accident, depending on which story of hers we are to believe—as the cause for her not having a more prosperous career on the opera stage. But in point of fact, Carlotta Patti did have a career that many singers would (and still do) aspire to, even if it consisted mostly of recitals and solo concerts, accompanied by some of the most esteemed musicians of the day—from pianist Louis Moreau Gottschalk to her husband, the cellist Ernest de Munck. By considering her career as “less than” Adelina’s, scholars have disregarded the contributions she made to democratizing and disseminating art music in nineteenth-century America.

Carlotta Patti was born in Florence in 1835, the second child of tenor Salvatore Patti and soprano Caterina Chiesa Barili-Patti.* As is well-documented, the family arrived in New York in 1846, and Salvatore established, along with buffo Antonio Sanquirico, an Italian company at Palmo’s Opera House. Carlotta took up piano studies under Henri Herz, the famed Austrian virtuoso and pedagogue, who taught and performed in the United States between 1845 and 1851.* In 1852, the eldest daughter of Salvatore and Caterina, mezzo-soprano Amalia Patti, married impresario Maurice Strakosch, a decision that was expedient for establishing the Patti name. As recorded by Adelina’s biographers, Carlotta advanced as a pianist and subsequently taught her younger sister piano. That is, before her own aspirations as a concert artist were put on hold. Carlotta traveled to the West Indies and South America in 1856* to care for an ailing elder half-sister, Clotilde, from her mother’s first marriage to the composer Francesco Barili.* According to Carlotta’s own testimony given during probate proceedings regarding Clotilde’s last will and testament, she was in Lima, Peru in April 1857, shortly before returning to New York from Panama on 14 May 1857.*


Rivalry between Carlotta and Adelina could only be expected when she returned, and it may have been on this account that Carlotta found herself pursuing a singing career. While Carlotta had been away, Adelina met great success on a tour of the West Indies with Gottschalk, performing in Havana just weeks before her half-sister’s (Clotilde) death in March 1858.* Carlotta, instead of resuming her study of piano, set to training her voice. Her training was likely carried out partly under the tutelage of Clotilde’s husband, Carlo Scola, who had returned to New York with Maurice Strakosch in September 1859 with a new band of Italian opera singers in tow, and was indebted to Carlotta for her care of his ailing wife.* Adelina spent the better part of the spring and summer of 1860 on a tour through eastern cities and as far west as Chicago with Amalia, tenor Pasquale Brignoli, Strakosch at the piano, and others.

Gothamites were missing their homegrown prima donna, and in little time began to look for a replacement. The first and most evident option was Carlotta, the New York Times issuing this statement in early June, when Adelina was in Cincinnati: “Miss Patti’s sister, Miss Carlotta Patti, highly esteemed by all the connoisseur-world of New-York as a pianist and a vocalist of the first force, has been invited to atone to her sister’s admirers, for her sister’s absence by a concert, with which request she will shortly comply.” Operagoers, finished with feeling unappreciated by their leading prima donna, sought penance from some member of the Patti family. Carlotta’s solo concert debut took place at Dodworth’s Saloon on October 25, 1860. Dodworth’s was a gentlemen’s concert room opened by the band master Harvey Dodworth in 1858*, a much different venue than the Academy of Music where Adelina had performed exclusively of late. However, as David Monod has shown, pre-Civil War concert saloons did not fit the stereotype of “disreputable dives where working-class men went for rough entertainment, sexual encounters, and cheap liquor.” Rather, Dodworth’s regularly featured opera singers, along with other types of “high” entertainment or the like in adaptations, expanding the accessibility of opera beyond the opera house. Operas were truncated, interspersed with performances by acrobats and comedians, and integrated within an evening of general pleasure and amusement. It was after these New York gentlemen’s saloons and their variety of entertainment that opera houses in the West were fashioned, where Carlotta Patti indoctrinated a generation of immigrants, miners, and sourdoughs into admiring opera and star singers.

-Austin Stewart

Austin Stewart is a sixth-year doctoral candidate, researching opera and civic identity in the American West during the nineteenth century, with an emphasis on the theatres, performances, and artists encountered by the citizens of Denver. His dissertation committee is chaired by Prof. Mark Clague.