In Search of New Sound Worlds: PRISM Quartet presents Color Theory Concerts, June 4 and 11

03 Jun 2016


The PRISM Quartet. Photo by Jon Rohrer.

The PRISM Quartet will premiere new works by Guggenheim Fellow Steven Mackey, Berlin prize recipient Ken Ueno, and Greek composer and conductor Stratis Minakakis, on June 4 and 11, as part of the Center-funded project, Color Theory.

Combining saxophones with a wide range of percussion in order to investigate new possibilities of orchestration and the concept of musical color, PRISM will partner with Brooklyn-based ensemble Sō Percussion (June 4), and Partch (June 11), a Grammy Award-winning ensemble devoted to American composer and musical instrument builder Harry Partch (1901–74), for two concerts at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets are available online.>>

In advance of the concerts, we asked PRISM's Matt Levy to share what sparked his interest in exploring color theory through a musical lens:

"As a musician raised by art teachers, I've long been intrigued by parallels between aural and visual modes of expression. Just as a single color may consist of a unique combination of other colors, a single note (on the saxophone, for example) consists of a fundamental (the primary note you hear), and a series of overtones (also called harmonics), the balance of which determine the timbre, or "color," of the sound. Color theory, the practice of mixing pigments to create color combinations that are aesthetically and emotionally provocative, provided a curatorial framework for the PRISM Quartet's Color Theory project.

Our project was sparked by a series of questions: What kinds of sound worlds could our composers imagine by writing for brand new combinations of saxophones, percussion, and Harry Partch instruments? How would they filter the governing metaphor of color theory through their own compositional processes? What new performance practices would composers require of PRISM and our guest ensembles to produce new composite sounds?

Like saxophones, percussion instruments are capable of producing a breathtaking range of sounds, from darkly hued vibrations to bright and glaring outbursts. In the case of Harry Partch, he created an 'instrumentarium' and composed music that transcends the rigid confines of equal temperament. Instead of the standard 12 notes to the octave, Partch's instruments use 43, resulting in a kind of melodic/harmonic 'High Definition' that is fluid and otherworldly."