I (Amy) first met Anne Rhodes when she was a graduate student at Wesleyan University – at that point in my own musical experience I’d never met a vocalist quite like her. With extensive classical training and studies in jazz, South Indian voice, overtone singing, and shape-note singing, Anne crafts a sound that is completely her own. Catch her performing around New England and in New York at one of the following events:
May 25, 2011: Broadcloth Trio at Outpost 186, Cambridge, MA
May 27, 2011: Broadcloth Trio and Architeuthis Walks on Land at IBeam, Brooklyn, NY
June 18, 2011: Classical recital (with Zohra Rawling, soprano and Tim Shaindlin, piano) at Lyric Hall, New Haven, CT
August 13 Rhodes/Kitamura Duo at Never Ending Books, New Haven, CT
When did you start playing?
I think I started singing about the time I started talking, which was pretty early. I used to walk around in a circle making up songs when I was about 3. I didn’t take voice lessons until I was 16, but sang in choruses and played various instruments – piano, violin, and tenor sax – growing up.
How did improvisation become part of your musical experience?
When I was a voice major at BU in the late ’90s, I met Ran Blake and began hanging around and making music with with people in New England Conservatory’s Contemporary Improvisation program. Later I moved to Middletown and became involved in the Braxton Ensemble, and eventually did an MA at Wesleyan University. During that time I found that my favorite way to improvise is not in the performance-art diva style of many experimental singers (not that I don’t have a hefty dose of diva in me!), but to take an instrumental approach as part of an ensemble.
What composers/musicians most influence your work?
It sounds funny, but conversations with my husband Carl Testa have by far the biggest influence on my choices as a musician; those are the times I find myself thinking about and articulating what it is I’d most like to accomplish. As a singer and improviser I’m less influenced by other experimental singers than by more traditional singers like Frank Sinatra, Beverly Sills, Nancy Wilson, and Chet Baker. I think I also unconsciously soak up and spit back out what I hear from lots of instrumentalists and electronic musicians. I’ve just very tentatively started to compose, and Anthony Braxton is definitely a huge influence on that work, which is something I didn’t fully realize until I listened a recording of a recent performance of one of my pieces.
What current projects/ensembles are you involved in?
I’m in the improv/experimental music trio Broadcloth with Nathan Bontrager (cello) and Adam Matlock (accordion). We’ve been together for about a year and a half, and in that time I’ve come to think of the trio as my main musical outlet as well as my musical nuclear family. One of the things I do with that group is to embroider graphic scores. I’m currently composing a long-form embroidered book for the group. I also work with my husband, multi-instrumentalist/composer Carl Testa as part of the duo Bruxism, and we have been collaborating in recent years with the dancer Rachel Bernsen. Working with Rachel on pieces that combine music and movement has been incredibly rewarding and helped me link my opera and theater background to what I’m doing now.
What recent releases or upcoming events do you have on the horizon?
Broadcloth will be recording our first album this month, and I’m planning to do a solo recording project in the next year, which will involve a number of pieces I commissioned a few years ago. Broadcloth will be performing on May 25 at Outpost 186 in Cambridge, MA, and May 27 at IBeam, as well as a couple of June dates. On June 18 I’m doing a classical recital with Zohra Rawling (soprano) and Tim Shaindlin (piano) at Lyric Hall in New Haven, and in July I’ll be doing a duo show with Kyoko Kitamura at Never Ending Books in New Haven.
What are you currently listening to?
I have to admit that I don’t listen to a lot of recordings, but most recent thing I’ve heard and loved is Sun Red City’s (Max Heath et al) new album “Timelines.” As for live stuff, some of my favorite recent performances have come from Liz Albee, Brian Parks, Tyshawn Sorey, Katherine Young, and Chris Riggs.
How has working with Anthony Braxton shaped your musical experience?
It’s hard to give a concise answer to this one! Through his extraordinary combination of rigorousness and generosity, Anthony has shown me, and so many other musicians, that we are capable of much more than we realize. He has this way of challenging you and at the same time keeping you from feeling overwhelmed or intimidated. It’s a valuable lesson to carry into any musical situation: be committed, push yourself, but don’t obsess over some false idea of perfection; there’s nothing very musical about perfection anyway.
He’s also shown me that the personal relationships you have with other musicians have everything to do with the music you make. Mutual respect and affection really come through in music-making – it’s hard to say which comes first, really – and the life of a musician is too short to waste a lot of time on situations that aren’t emotionally as well as professionally rewarding.
What impact has the Tri-Centric Orchestra had on your concept of the orchestra as an entity?
To pick up on my last point, Anthony refers to the orchestra as a “family.” That may sound corny, but it has a lot to do with an ensemble functioning less as a competitive, top-down corporate body than as a “multi-hierarchichal” (his term) group in which to explore music together and forge new collaborative relationships. Also, improvisation as part of a large orchestral/operatic ensemble may not be a brand new idea, but I think it still feels pretty revolutionary in the current musical climate and I’m glad it is something we are committed to.
What’s your favorite food?
Ribeye steak, rare, with béarnaise sauce.
Anne collaborated with Anthony Braxton on an album of Ghost Trance Music, which was released in 2010. View more information about that album here: GTM (SYNTAX) 2003 Composition 339 & 340