Alice Shieldscomposer

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What the Press is Saying


Review of White Heron Dance, with fixed audio by Alice Shields, dance by Mayo Miwa, and video by Tom Barratt, at the 2017 New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival: "...universal grandeur, paradoxes of anguish and ecstacy, loss and regeneration, divinity made manifest — were equally the subjects of compositions in this Festival by composers such as Alice Shields. A symphony orchestra and a fixed media presentation are equally capable of creating beauty: the success of a work of art is not determined by its medium. As artists in other fields — ranging from dance to sculpture, film to theater — continue to discover and develop interdisciplinary connections and possibilities, electronic musicians will be at the forefront of newly emerging creative fields."    — JEAN BALLARD TEREPKA, THEATERSCENE.NET

"It is startling that composer Alice Shields has been on the electronic music beat for more than 35 years and yet, the Albany Records release Shenandoah: 3 Electronic Works is only the second full-length release from her in that time...Dust is the most immediately satisfying — its constantly changing metrical pulse and blend of textures easily keeps one's attention...The title track, Shenandoah, was composed in response to the 9/11 attacks, but do not look here for something akin to what John Adams does in On the Transmigration of Souls. Rather than ruminate over the depth and horror of this great tragedy, Shields presents in Shenandoah an affirmation of life and puts forth a tastefully low-key philosophical perspective on it...Shenandoah may well appeal equally to younger listeners who are into electronics either from a hip-hop or an industrial noise perspective."    — UNCLE DAVE LEWIS, ALLMUSIC.COM

"Kyrielle [(on "Stolen Gold," Albany Records, TROY1305)] is another rather unusual pairing of computer and violin because it includes sounds of a church organ to evoke the ambience of worship with Gregorian chant. A Kyrie asks God for mercy. Kyrielle is a feminine version that implores mercy from a feminine deity or saint, possibly the Virgin Mary. Alice Shields uses chants attributed to Gregory the Great, who was pope from 590 to 604, but she surrounds each with varied fragments and ornaments."    — MARIA NOCKIN, FANFARE MAGAZINE

"Fantastic violin and electronic elements [on Kyrielle, on "Stolen Gold," Albany Records, TROY1305]...a great find...beautiful and new and really worth a listen!"    — R. OLSEN, ARKIVMUSIC.COM

"Violinist Airi Yoshioka's curiosity in the electro-acoustic medium led her to commission works from five composers — part of the seven breathtaking works [including Alice Shields' Kyrielle,] that are all given their world-premiere performances on this recording [("Stolen Gold," Albany Records, TROY1305)]."    — ALBANY RECORDS

"Of all the pieces in this month's Soundtracks that incorporate to a greater or lesser degree references to a musical "Other," none is so wholly representative of a single tradition as Alice Shields' Komachi at Sekidera. Shields has been heavily involved with Indian music and dance during the past decade, but here she has set the words of a Noh play for soprano, alto flute, and koto in a style that sounds (to my semi-trained ears) thoroughly Japanese."    — JENNY UNDERCOFLER, NEWMUSICBOX'S 'SOUNDTRACKS'

"Eight For the Vanguard: Hallwalls debuts eight new compositions for soloists"
"Composer Alice Shields, influenced in her wide-ranging music by classical Indian music and dance, wrote her work River of Memory, which includes computer generated sounds, for Monique Buzzarté, known as a champion of women's music. Shields explains, "River of Memory is a meditation and reflection of memories in sound. The tempo is slow, like calm, deep waves flowing between minor and major tonalities, with little crests in major tonality, which soon subside into the next pool of mixed feelings." "    — JAN JEZIORO, ARTVOICE)

"Alice Shields' electronic music is too rarely heard. This CD containing three compositions - Vegetable Karma (1999), Dust (2002), and Shenandoah (2001) - is a welcome addition to the literature.

"In general, her music projects a transcultural take on the world, combining, for example, east and west through the haunting sounds of an Indian raga with bursts of hip-hop samples, or low sounds articulated with a Tibetan trumpet. She visited the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia shortly after the 9/11 attacks in 2001 and interviewed recent immigrants, often quoting their music in a pattern that moves from voice to musical excerpt. And the music, like the voices, comes from around the world."    — CDEMUSIC.ORG

"What you see above is [Amelia] Lukas, brilliant mezzo soprano Laurie Rubin and koto player Asami Tamura during their performance of Alice Shields's lovely Komachi at Sekidera." (Photo by Steve Smith, from his Night After Night blog)

NeoLit Ensemble presents Komachi at Sekidera at The Tank
"In Komachi at Sekidera, by Alice Shields, the duo was joined by Asami Tamura on koto. In a brief introduction Ms. Shields described the piece, based on a Noh play, as depicting a Japanese poet, legendary for her ravishing beauty, reflecting on losses endured because of advancing age.

"Ms. Shields wrote the piece, she said, to honor her mother, an artist afflicted with Alzheimer's disease. Seated on the floor, the trio offered a limpid, eloquent performance of this touching piece, which made effective use of Ms. Rubin's rich lower register."    — STEVE SMITH, THE NEW YORK TIMES

Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center 1961-1973 (New World Records)
Contains Study for Voice and Tape and Dance Piece No. 3 by Alice Shields
"This is an excellent and essential compilation of vintage first-generation electronic music from one of the most well-known electronic music studios."    — MODISTI.COM

Restless Spirits (Koch International Classics)
Contains Komachi at Sekidera by Alice Shields
" interesting piece...The sound, from New York City's Town Hall, maintains an appropriate chamber-music ambience while giving remarkable presence to the instruments and voice."    — CLASSICS TODAY

CRISEYDE at the Feminist Theory and Music Conference UNC Greensboro
"...the Feminist Theory and Music Conference 2009, hosted by the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, had an eclectic mix of poignant new music from living female composers. This concert, as well as others following throughout the week in both lecture settings and concert halls, gave the opportunity for many talented contemporary composers to have their musical voices heard... The final highlight of the program was the premier of legendary composer Alice Shields' operatic work, Criseyde, which the composer describes as a feminist reconstruction of Chaucer's tale, Troilis and Criseyde. The opera Criseyde is truly a masterful work demonstrating the musical maturity of the composer through its intricacies and depth. Orchestrated for small vocal ensemble, piano, and cello, Criseyde involves the vocalists in a moving dance with the cello, performed beautifully by the performers."    — SABRINA YOUNG, ASSOCIATED CONTENT on Criseyde

American Operas, Sifted and Sampled
"Female historical figures were also explored on Sunday with Alice Shield's Criseyde, a feminist interpretation of Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde. Nancy Dean's libretto offers a rare chance to hear Middle English sung... The melodic development and ornamentation of the intense, richly scored work reflect Ms. Shields' lengthy study of classical Indian raga."    — VIVIEN SCHWEITZER, THE NEW YORK TIMES on the New York City Opera VOX performance of Criseyde

Eight New Works, Newly Unwrapped
"Meet the Composer invited eight performers to choose a composer and commission a work; then it presented the eight scores back to back on Wednesday evening at Symphony Space. The results, the awkwardly named 'New Music for Soloist Champions,' were perhaps inevitably mixed, but you could not have asked for a more stylistically varied program.

Monique Buzzarté, a trombonist, is also a composer, but instead of commissioning herself she solicited The River of Memory from Alice Shields. Ms. Shields provided a lush, ambient electronic work in which major and minor chords melt into one another, and chimes, bird song and insect sounds periodically peek through. Wrapped in all this is a plaintive trombone line, which Ms. Buzzarté played from the back of the hall."    — ALLAN KOZINN, THE NEW YORK TIMES on The River of Memory

"Mass for the Dead nearly raised them on Sunday night. This electronic ghost story, given its world premiere by the American Chamber Opera Company, blends Gregorian chant, Monteverdi arias, Latin recitation and 20th-century electronic soundscapes into a paganistic barrage. With robed figures whirling across a candlelit altar, the proceedings took on the aspect of a Black Mass. It's a reasonable guess that no spookier piece has been heard in New York this year."    — ALEX ROSS, THE NEW YORK TIMES on the opera Mass for the Dead

"The kyrie in Alice Shields' Mass is so unexpected it's almost shocking in the context of avantgarde."    — from 'Continuo's Weblog / Reassessed aural delicacies' on "Voices" from the opera Mass for the Dead, recorded on Tellus: The Audio Cassette Magazine #22: FALSE PHONEMES

"awesome... so luxuriant yet eerily supernatural, it convulsed the senses. ...a startling extension of the consciousness of India, in an equally startling Western opera of the seen and unseen."    — Nala Najan, SRUTI, "India's Premier Music and Dance Magazine" on the opera Mass for the Dead

"...eerily evocative, transporting one to an other-worldly place where spiritualism and magic are interwoven. From the opening darkness to shrieks to distant cries in the wilderness, it holds the listener spellbound. Shields exudes integrity, originality, and courage."    — Joan La Barbara, MUSICAL AMERICA on "Coyote" from the opera Shaman

"...well organized, and eerily effective."    — Robert Palmer, THE NEW YORK TIMES on "Coyote" from the opera Shaman

"...a full-blown electronic opera, based on Indian classical music, and yes, 'heavy metal rock.' The mystic feel of Indian music is all over the disk."    — THE SPLATTER EFFECT on the opera Apocalypse

" of the first electronic operas. This sensual/intellectual music requires more than one listening to begin grasping its force, its power of persuasion, and the beauty of its engaging rhythms, colors and textures. Highly recommended in a field that still has very few examples."    — CONTACT (Montreal) on the opera Apocalypse

"a major work, with dramatic and powerful gestures."    — CDEMUSIC (Electronic Music Foundation) on the opera Apocalypse

"All very current— and very serious. Apocalypse is relentless."    — AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE on the opera Apocalypse

Classical Music by Women: Apocalypse on Compact Disc
"Several CDs of more avant garde music have been added to my personal collection over the past few months.  A most welcome addition has been Dr. Alice Shields's Apocalypse, released several months ago by CRI (CRI CD 647).  Shields, one of the first women to work to work extensively in the electro-acoustic medium, in 1965 became Technical Instructor at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center and served as Vladimir Ussachevsky's personal technician and collaborator on several of his works.  After receiving her doctorate in music composition from Columbia University in 1975, she became Associate Director of the Center, a position she held until 1982.  In addition to her achievements in music composition, she is a poet and an opera singer of considerable skill and experience.

"Apocalypse is an electronic opera for live and recorded singers and is choreographed with movement patterns from the Hindu Bharata Natyam dance-drama.  The CD recording features selections from the complete opera and contains the tape portion of the work, created with both MIDI and analog electronic music technology.  In the live performance, the characters "The Woman," "The Seaweed" and "Chorus" are performed by Shields, a mezzo, and "Shiva" is performed by baritone Michael Willson — who sing along with their pre-recorded and electronically-manipulated voices on tape.

"Shields provides detailed descriptions of her self-written story in the recording's program notes, which I will paraphrase.  The central character in the opera is "The Woman" who travels from conception, to birth, to her meeting and initiation by the Goddess whom the composer names "The Seaweed."  The Seaweed teaches the Woman empathy, emotional attachment, and reverence for all life, utilizing phrases based on the Bhagavad Gita.  After taking on herself the persona of the Goddess, the Woman prepares to meet the God, whom Shields names Shiva.  In the opera Shiva represents the breaking of the illusion of separateness through the metaphor of sexuality, and the work culminates in the Woman's sexualized union with the God in a stylized enactment of the Tantrik maithuna, the love-making of Shiva and Shakti combining spirit and matter, mind and energy, asceticism and sensuality.

"The opera was begun in the summer of 1990 with the completion of the "Apocalypse Song" which later became the centerpiece of the entire drama.  Shields stresses the influence of multiculturalism in her work, and the opera utilizes texts in English, classical Greek, Gaelic, and Sanskrit.  The recording is an interesting one with fine balancing of all vocal and electronic parts.  I was impressed with Apocalypse, not only with its intriguing sounds, continually changing musical characters, and unique vocal manipulations but also with Shields powerful and beautiful voice.  As a composer of electronic opera myself, I found Apocalypse to be of great importance to me as an example of superior work."    — ELIZABETH HINKLE-TURNER, INTERNATIONAL LEAGUE OF WOMEN COMPOSERS JOURNAL

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"... remarkable rigor and variety. Taking its text from the Egyptian Book of the Dead wherein a dying soul appeals to Osiris, Ani is a spooky ride, the aural equivalent to Kenneth Anger's satanic cult fim, Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome. Its ending, a series of altered moans, is without cliche and chilling to the bone."    — Ellis, AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE on the electronic piece The Transformation of Ani

"... a highly responsive background for a chanted text from the Egyptian Book of the Dead; the spatial drama of the piece seems a genuine extension of electronic possibilities."    — Alex Ross, FANFARE on the electronic piece The Transformation of Ani

"After hearing Igor Stravinsky's Movements, Alice Shields's Transformation of Ani, Sun Ra's The Magic City, or any among a mile-long list of creative music, most mainstream music sounds laughable, irrelevant, and emotionally feeble."    — Christopher DeLaurenti, THE TENTACLE on the electronic piece The Transformation of Ani

"... Interspersed with her flat, halting words were strangled cries, abortive screams and fragmented voices calling from some unimaginable beyond. All extremely interesting and worth rehearing..."    — THE NEW YORK TIMES on the electronic piece The Transformation of Ani

"In an operatic tour de force, Alice Shields embeds a reading from the Book of the Dead amidst a whirlwind of hair-raising sounds derived from her classically trained voice."    — THE SONAR MAP, Playlist Archive on the electronic piece The Transformation of Ani

"...echoing beauty and sustain ring out of this hommage to Brahms."    — EAR MAGAZINE on Rhapsody for Piano and Tape


The HinduOnline edition of India's National Newspaper

"Multi-cultural creative production"

"This 30-minute work, with original music by Alice Shields, is the result of a three-year period of dialogue and experimentation between Anita Ratnam and Mark Taylor (Dance Alloy) on the kinetic and esthetic potentials of mixing traditional Bharatanatyam and contemporary post-modern movement forms. The music and movement images for Dust were drawn from the writings of Alexandra David Neel, a European Buddhist scholar who was one of the first Westerners to enter the forbidden city of Lhasa, Tibet as well as from photographs and sound sources of Tibetan landscape and culture...Anusha Subrahmanyam and L. Narendra Kumar and Andre Koslowski and Gwen Ritchie...bring alive the exciting blend of two cultures that reflect the ancient with the modern. Alice Shields, the music composer created the sound sources that included Tibetan trumpets, Tibetan ritual conch shells and Indian music."

"The premiere of Dust was performed at the Byham Theater, Pittsburgh, USA, in May 2001. Two more performances at the Byham between September 13-15, 2001 created a stir soon after the September 11 tragedies that hit America. Anita opened the work with Rabindranath Tagore's poem "Where the Mind is without fear". Over 300 people attended the show and joined in a tearful but elated ovation at the conclusion.

"The work impressed many presenters in the USA and was invited to America's most prestigious performing arts university, Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, in March 2002. This was followed by a one week residency on campus, in Indian classical and contemporary dance. Dust visited several cities in the U.S. in spring 2003.

"Dust travelled to India in November/December 2002. It was premiered at New Delhi , Hyderabad and in Chennai as part of 'The Other Festival' between December 1-7,2002."

The HinduOnline edition of India's National Newspaper
Chitra Mahesh

"DUST...thought-provoking venture"

"The only thing that mars the beauty and serenity of the Chinmaya Heritage Center Hall, which is now the focus (since Museum Theatre is undergoing renovation work), is the creaky sound when the curtains go up and the seats banging when someone gets up. And in the dark you know precisely how many are trying to make a quiet exit. The sound is a dead giveaway. But these are miniscule considering how The Other Festival, has come to stay, and that too with such vigour. The audiences are more in number and the programmes are truly symbolic of new winds blowing through conventional Chennai. What is more, the wide cross section of those who come, students, elderly folks you would most often find at cutcheries, at sabhas, foreign visitors and well anyone who has some love for the arts and something different, find something that they like.

" There is something spiritual and yet mundane about dust in itself. It's a beginning and end. Of life and death — of transition and static. Ever-present and intangible. You can feel it, experience it and yet remain oblivious to it. When such an aspect is taken up for interpretation along with the mysticism of a land, the result is a very thought provoking venture. Just as Dust by Arangam Dance Theatre and Dance Alloy, was. You may not have liked it or even really figured it out, despite the extensive introduction to the subject and the background to the production, but it made you think. Of the presentation, its pattern of movements and then of course the thought processes. Sombre in its mood, Dust goes into the death and resurgence at an esoteric level while the obvious foundation is the writings and story of Alexandra David Neel, the first European that too, a woman to enter The Forbidden City of Lhasa — and to understand and adopt Buddhism, the work goes much beyond that if one got to talk to the creators, Anita Ratnam and Mark Taylor....

" In the beginning there is sound, of the Tibetan ritual music, the horn and the cymbals. The journey has begun for the initiated and the uninitiated. While the initiated go about their routine tasks, the need for doing it without attachment, which will eventually lead to their deliverance, is signified in the concept of Chod (something akin to preparing for a life without rebirth) cutting through a Buddhist tantric practice to realise dharmakaya the height of Buddhist realisation....[The dancers] moved, in steps of leaps and jumps and — tak a dhimi — the woman in search of an answer comes in slowly. It takes her almost 15 minutes to cross over to the place of action and when she does, she jumps in and becomes a part of their world. She falls into their rhythm and dances to their music. It is just music creating the mood of change without words.

" Alice Shields, who has created the whole thing on a Macintosh computer, has borrowed sounds from Tibetan trumpets, ritual conch shells, and Indian music. She says, "I have combined traditional Bharatanatyam jathis in a musical setting inspired by the tillana.""

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PG NewsOnline edition of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Jane Vranish

"It was a time to celebrate for the Dance Alloy last night at the Byham Theater. A 25th anniversary is a major milestone for any dance company, particularly in today's economic climate. But, true to form, the Dance Alloy celebrated with deep-rooted, inspired performances rather than bright and joyous incantations. So there was a great deal to give pause for reflection.

"Alloy artistic director Mark Taylor paired with Indian choreographer Anita Ratnam in yet another major cultural collaboration with Dust, a work based on the writings and story of Alexandra David-Neel, a female explorer from the 1920s who was the first European to venture into the forbidden city of Lhasa in Tibet.

"Alice Shields' exotic electronic score, replete with Tibetan trumpets and an Indian singing voice, and Barbara Thompson's lighting design, with its overhead spots, a golden ring of light and a fragmented wash, added greatly to the overall mood....

"...a program that was vivid in design and broadly intelligent in scope."


Associated Press
David Dishneau

"Mind-boggling art rises out of 'Mud'"

"FROSTBURG, Md. — Of all the shape-shifting oddities born in a swamp, few have thrived like Barbara Hurd's book, "Stirring the Mud: On Swamps, Bogs and Human Imagination." The collection of nine essays, published in 2001, has won acclaim and prizes for its artful musings on a slippery theme: How the ambiguous nature of marsh life mirrors the mushy edges of our minds.

"Stranger still is the book's incarnation as a dance, Stirrings, which premiered this month at Frostburg State University, the small Appalachian college where Hurd teaches creative writing.

"Even Hurd, who revels in describing the undefinable, was boggled when the school's cultural events chairman, William Mandicott, proposed commissioning the production. "I'm not a dancer, so to take meditations and put them into movement was intriguing, but hard for me to imagine," she said.

"But the artists found common ground — in the mud. One weekend last September, Hurd, composer Alice Shields, choreographer Mark Taylor and five dancers from his Pittsburgh-based Dance Alloy company waded into the western Maryland swamps that inspired the book.

"Guided by a naturalist, they dug deep into the morass to experience its essential weirdness: the carnivorous and gender-bending plants; the creatures equally at home on land and water; the sphagnum moss, ever dying on the bottom as it grows on top, forming a springy mat strong enough to dance on — lightly.

""You walk in a particular manner so as not to sink. You keep moving in a particular tempo," Shields said.

"Her music mimics wetland birds and insects. It also incorporates spoken words from Hurd's text, including the key, repeated phrase, "Borders relax, shift, absorb."

"Taylor has created other dances for Frostburg State. He brought Shields aboard, having collaborated with her in the past.

"Hurd said she regards the piece as theirs, not hers. She neither saw the dance nor heard the music before the first performance, although she initially was wary of the project. "From the beginning, I wanted the dance to somehow capture the overall sensibilities of the book, the kind of mystery, the ambiguity, the things becoming something else," she said. "If I had met Mark and found him to be somebody likely to take that book and turn it into a dance that seemed utterly out of character with the book, I would have been worried. But from the first conversation I had with Mark, I knew this was an artist of great integrity and great sensibility, and that I could trust him to create a work that certainly wasn't antagonistic to the book.""


"Alice Shields's Komachi at Sekidera (based on a Japanese Noh play) is a fascinating exploration of the melismatic voice against the timbres of alto flute and koto."    — Alex Morin, AUDIOPHILE AUDITION on the chamber piece Komachi at Sekidera
Jason Serinus

"In her recital of works by Ades, Poulenc, Purcell, Bolcom, Shields, and Hoiby, the amazing soprano Dora Ohrenstein becomes the vocal equivalent of Meryl Streep, brilliantly meeting the challenge of portraying an extremely diverse and colorful cast of characters.

"Performing mainly in English, the singer begins with Thomas Ades' Life Story, set to what she describes as Tennessee Williams' "world weary, terribly knowing" poem of the same name. Ending with hints of death, Ohrenstein segues from Ades' jazz-tinged vocal line to the suicidal La Dame de Monte Carlo by Francis Poulenc and Jean Cocteau. If their woman ends by singing of falling head first into the sea, Henry Purcell's 17th century Bess of Bedlam, whose original vocal line is accompanied by a modern arrangement of electric guitar, accordion, and bass clarinet, manages to fall apart across a span of several centuries. A break from madness is offered via five songs from William Bolcom's I Will Breathe a Mountain, set to poems by five different female poets. Equally rewarding is Alice Shields' beautiful Komachi at Sekidera, to text adapted from a Noh play by Kanze Motkiyo Zeame."

Glens Falls Times on "Odyssey 2"

"...imaginative and exploratory in its contrasts of comedy and tragedy...disturbing connotations...a horrifying power in the defilement of the paper woman."

Pollikoff's 'Music in Out Time' Presents a Madcap 'Archangel'

"Elsewhere, Valarie Lamouree sang, spoke and whistled, with the help of Judith Martin, oboist, and Ronald Anderson, trumpeter, in Alice Shields' Spring Music.  ...Miss Shields Spring Music had moments of shattering sonority -- she is a promising young composer..."    — THEODORE STRONGIN, THE NEW YORK TIMES

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