Annie Gosfield

Annie Gosfield has created a body of work that includes large-scale compositions, chamber pieces, electronic music, video projects, and music for dance. Her work often explores the inherent beauty of non-musical sounds, and is inspired by diverse sources such as machines, destroyed pianos, warped 78 records, and detuned radios. She uses traditional notation, improvisation, and extended techniques to create a sound world that eliminates the boundaries between music and noise, while emphasizing the unique qualities of each performer. Annie lives in New York City and divides her time between performing on piano and sampler with her own group and composing for many ensembles and soloists.

Annie's music has been performed worldwide by her own ensemble and by Joan Jeanrenaud, Fred Frith, Felix Fan, The Bang on a Can Allstars, the Flux Quartet, Silesian String Quartet, Rova, So Percussion, Talujon Percussion, Present Music, Newband/The Harry Partch instruments, Agon Orchestra, The West Australian Symphony Orchestra New Music Group, Marco Cappelli, George Kentros, and many others, at festivals including Warsaw Autumn, ISCM World Music Days, The Bang on a Can Marathon, The Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, Festival Musique Actuelle in Victoriaville, Wien Modern, OtherMinds, Company Week, and three "Radical New Jewish Culture" festivals curated by John Zorn.

Year / Artwork Title Importance Medium
1997 Brooklyn, October 5, 1941 4.00 stars CD
When I was asked to compose a piano piece representing Brooklyn for a concert commemorating the 100th anniversary of the unification of the five boroughs of New York City, I was inspired by the 1941 Dodgers vs. Yankees baseball World Series, thus coining the phrase World Serial Music. The piece is named for the notorious fourth game of the series. My mother, born in Flatbush, Brooklyn, was a wildly enthusiastic 12-year old Dodgers fan at the time, and was recently reminiscing about watching this memorable but heartbreaking game at Ebbets Field. At the top of the ninth inning, a hair's breadth away from the end of the game, Dodgers pitcher Hugh Casey struck out Yankee Tommy Henrich with a pitch that should have ended the game in a 4-3 Dodger victory, which would have tied the series at two games apiece. Instead, the ball rolled under the catcher Mickey Owen's glove, getting by him and allowing Henrich to reach first base safely. The Yanks went on to score four more runs to win, 7-4, and turn the series around. Shaken by their unexpected loss, the Dodgers lost again the next day, and the Yankees won yet another world championship.

Brooklyn, October 5, 1941 is performed with two baseballs and a catcher's mitt, which are used to strike both the piano keys and the strings and soundboard inside the piano. The score gives instructions to have additional baseballs available to the pianist, should he, like Mickey Owen, suffer the mishap of letting the ball get away. Playing the piano with baseballs and a catcher's mitt produces different sounds and tonalities than the traditional method of playing with the fingers: new groups of notes and rapid sequential chords become possible by rocking the balls both side-to-side and back-and-forth on the keyboard, and wider spans are reached with the aid of the mitt. Sounds also differ inside the piano, using the baseballs to mute strings and strike the metal soundboard under the lid. Speed is enhanced, and the technique of rocking the baseballs creates a distinctive machine-like flurry of notes and tremolos. Although I know of no previous works composed for piano and baseballs, this is a tip of the hat to the late Nicholas Slonimsky, who performed Chopin's Black Key Etude by rolling an orange on the piano keys.

Blair McMillen - Piano

1999 Mentryville 4.00 stars CD
Cover Comments:
Another fun trip into the imaginative world of Annie Gosfield. Her third CD for Tzadik is a nod toward tradition as she draws contemporary classical music into her own mysterious orbit. Four crazy pieces incorporating satellite sounds, static, machine noise and microtonality with virtuosic fireworks from some of the best performers in America today, including world renown cellist Joan Jeanrenaud and the New York based Flux string quartet. From a duet piece for violin and satellites to a prepared piano piece about ghost towns and hardware stores, this new addition to the Tzadik Composer Series blurs the boundaries between music and noise and creates a new world of imaginative sounds, passion, wit and humor.

Annie Gosfield - Prepared Piano

1999 EWA7 4.00 stars CD
EWA7 was inspired by machine and factory sounds; the scrapes, squeaks, and bangs of metal, the ambient buzzes and whines of electric devices, and the imperfect rhythmic repeats of heavy machinery. Most of the music was developed in 1999 during a six-week residency in the factories of Nuremberg, Germany, in a program sponsored by the Siemens Corporation designed to "combine art and industry" My work in Nuremberg included visiting many factories, observing and listening to all types of machinery, and recording sounds on site. I was particularly fascinated by the ever-changing sonic landscapes that occur in each factory as sounds shift, overlap, and echo in the distance. A critical part of the residency was the opportunity to listen: what I initially heard as a mass of cacophonous factory noise gradually revealed itself to be a beautifully complex amalgam of layered textures and timbres. The sound of a buzzsaw's rising harmonic grind would emerge out of the quiet ambient hum of fluorescent lights, for example, only to be obliterated by random arhythmic crashes and bangs from a huge metal press. Machine rhythms went in and out of phase, dynamics varied wildly, and in an environment of constantly shifting activity and noise, the frequency spectrum fluctuated from sub-audio rumbles to barely audible high-pitched whines.

EWA7 was premiered by my ensemble in the EWA7 factory in Nuremberg. It is comprised of many overlapping pieces with varying instrumentation, from short sequential solo sections to larger works for the full ensemble. Much of the musical materials used in this piece are derived from actual machine sounds that I recorded on site in many different factories, and then sampled for use in live performance. Driving machine samples, layers of ambient noise, crashing metal and electronic blips and bleeps all meld and collide, evoking the clamor and din of a journey through a grimy working factory. Each musician's interpretation has been critical in the development of this group of pieces, which ranges from short improvisatory solos to fully composed works. We recorded the basic tracks at a studio in Brooklyn that was conveniently located upstairs from two metal fabricating shops, whose owners generously loaned us huge sheets of metal, welding tanks, lengths of steel tubing, and a variety of discarded bits and pieces, which we incorporated into our ever-growing percussion set-up.

The Annie Gosfield Ensemble
2000 Flying Sparks and Heavy Machinery 4.00 stars CD
Flying Sparks and Heavy Machinery was inspired by machine and factory sounds: the metallic scrapes, squeaks, and bangs; the ambient buzzes and whines; and the imperfect rhythmic repeats of heavy machinery. During a residency sponsored by the Siemens Corporation in Nuremberg, Germany, I conducted six weeks of research into these utilitarian industrial sounds, visiting factories, observing and listening to all types of machinery, and recording sounds on site. I was particularly fascinated by the sense of gradually changing environments that occur in a large factory as the sounds shift from the ambient hum of fluorescent lights, to the grinding harmonics of buzzsaws, to the rhythmic crashes and bangs of huge metal presses. Machine rhythms go in and out of phase, dynamics vary wildly, and in an environment of ever-changing activity and noise, the frequency spectrum fluctuates from sub-audio rumbles to barely audible high-pitched whines. My interpretation of these shifting environments ranges from the literal (rhythmic transcriptions of the recordings that I made on site) to the fanciful (Russian constructivist inspired evocations of industrial activity). Strings focus on microtonal variations of pitch, replacing equal-temperament with the untuned buzzing, humming, and grinding sounds of machines. Percussion instruments are all of indefinite pitch, and imitate the banging, scraping, and hissing cacophony of the factory.

If all pieces are biographical, this is no exception. When I first started work on Flying Sparks and Heavy Machinery, I awoke to a veritable lexicon of machine and work-related sounds: a large crew of jackhammers tearing up my street, men on scaffolds hammering away at the brick facade outside my window, and a symphony of band saws, crowbars, and sledgehammers renovating the apartment upstairs. Trying to work through the constant noise created more moments of desperation than inspiration for me, but the cacophony and hammering always brought me back to the random rhythms and shifting patterns of utilitarian noise.

For string quartet and percussion quartet
Flux Quartet
Talujon Percussion
2002 Lightheaded and Heavyhearted 2002 4.00 stars CD
Cover Comments:
Flux Quartet
2003 Lost Signals and Drifting Satellites 4.00 stars CD
Cover Comments:
George Kentros - Violin
2003 The Harmony of the Body-Machine 4.00 stars CD
Cover Comments:
Joan Jeanrenaud - Cello