Tag Archives: Voice

TCO Profile: Kamala Sankaram

Kamala Sankaram’s voice (and accordion!) is one you won’t forget.  And, surely, you’ve heard her before.  As a performer, Kamala has collaborated with and premiered pieces by the Philip Glass Ensemble, the Wooster Group, eighth blackbird, Phil Kline, Fred Ho and many others.  Her compositions have been featured as part of the Bang on a Can Summer Festival, the Santa Fe New Music Festival, the Lucerne Festival, the Music With a View Festival at the Flea Theater,  American Opera Projects’ series “Opera Grows in Brooklyn” and in the article “More Song, Less Art(ifice): The New Breed of Art Song” in New Music Box magazine.  And, for the animation fans out there, she’s voiced many a character on the Cartoon Network and Comedy Central.  Kamala sings the part of Helena in Trillium E and has always brought a truly joyful spirit to her work in the Tri-Centric Orchestra.  Read on about her latest project, “Miranda,” opening on January 12th in New York.

Kamala Sankaram

When did you start playing?
I started playing piano when I was six.  I was very serious at that time, playing in competitions and so on, but I stopped playing piano when I was 12 because I saw the high school show choir!  Mind you, this was in the early ‘90s and I lived in a very small town, so the show choir seemed very glamorous.  They got to wear spangly, sequined outfits and tons of makeup.  I joined, started singing and that was it.  I didn’t really start studying classical voice until I got to college.  I was introduced to Anthony Braxton’s music in college, as well.

What current projects/ensembles are you involved in?
I’ve been working on an opera (well, opera-ish-type-thing) for the past three years, and it’s finally opening on January 12th at HERE Arts Center. The opera is titled “Miranda,” and it’s a steampunk murder mystery.  Other than that, I sing, compose and play accordion for Bombay Rickey, a Bollywood/spaghetti western/ Yma Sumac band.  I sing and play accordion with Taylor Ho Bynum in Positive Catastrophe.  I’m working on another opera with Susan Yankowitz called “The Thumbprint of Mukhtar Mai.”  That opera will consist of a mix of Hindustani and Western instruments with many different vocal styles ranging from Bel Canto to Bulgarian.

What recent releases or upcoming events do you have on the horizon?
I’m really excited for Miranda!  As I mentioned, it’s a steampunk murder mystery opera where the audience must vote and convict the killer at the end.  Six instrumentalists (including myself!) walk the audience through the final day of Miranda’s life.  The show is scored for violin (Rima Fand), cello (Pat Muchmore), electric guitar (Drew Fleming), high reeds (Ed RosenBerg) and low reeds (Jeff Hudgins).  These people are awesome – they act, sing and dance all while playing their instruments! The show runs January 12, 13, 14, 16, 17, 19, 20, and 21st at 9 pm.  On the 17th, we’ll have a talkback with the audience entitled “When Pink Floyd meets Puccini: Indie Classical Music and Opera” which will be a really great discussion about a new generation of opera composers who aren’t afraid to throw in a little rock.

What are you currently listening to?
I’m listening to a lot of Bollywood music from the ‘60s. I just picked up a really great complication called “The Bollywood Funk Experience.”  I think RD Burman is my hero!

How has working with Anthony Braxton shaped your musical experience?
Working with Anthony has been a joy.  He is genuinely one of the kindest people I’ve ever met, in addition to just being amazing!  One of the biggest things I’ve gained from working with Anthony is a new appreciation for rhythm and an awareness of the constraint of meter. When we speak, our sentences naturally change in tempo and contour along with what we’re saying, so it makes sense that vocal music should do the same thing – but I don’t know of anyone else who is approaching vocal music this way.

What’s your favorite food?
Mexican!  Anything Mexican!  Especially guacamole… I could eat a whole bowl of it by myself!

Visit Kamala Sankaram on the web:


TCO Profile: Jen Shyu

Jen Shyu is always on the move: leading her own projects, lending her voice to others’, performing in inter/cross-disciplinary contexts, engaging in research abroad.  Ben Ratliff of The New York Times writes, “Instead of thinking about [Jen] categorically, you can focus on how beautifully and generously she uses sound.”  Read her biography and you’ll quickly realize that she is a force to be reckoned with.  Steve Coleman, David Binney and Taylor Ho Bynum are frequent collaborators, and on Thursday, Jen heads out on the road with bassist Mark Dresser to celebrate the release of their duo CD, “Synastry,” available now on Pi Recordings.  I recommend catching one of their performances this month, as Jen will soon depart for Solo, Indonesia, where she will spend the next year studying sindhenan, the traditional singing of Javanese gamelan music, on a Fulbright Scholarship.

What releases or upcoming events do you have on the horizon?
Bassist Mark Dresser and I are thrilled to release “Synastry,” a duo album for voice and bass, culminating in our New York City CD release concert at the Jazz Gallery Friday, September 16, 9pm. Leading up to this concert are CD release concerts September 8 in Los Angeles (Blue Whale), September 10 in Buffalo (Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center), September 11 in Accord, NY (Nancy Ostrovsky‘s home), September 13 in New Haven (The Big Room), September 14 in Philadelphia (Ars Nova Workshop), and September 15 in Baltimore (Windup Space). I then leave September 23 for Indonesia on a Fulbright research scholarship, so the Jazz Gallery concert will be a farewell party as well.  Our collaboration makes Mark the first bassist and myself the first female and first vocalist to record on Pi Recordings as leaders, so we are excited.

Jen Shyu / photo by Miranda Lichtenstein

How has working with Anthony Braxton shaped your musical experience?
Mark has worked with Anthony Braxton extensively, and my recent experience with Anthony’s music has had a deep impact on how I think about improvisation and composition.  His concepts, energy, true love and passion that he infuses into his music and music making process have been completely inspiring; he as a mentor is so encouraging and empowering. Anthony has pushed me to become more articulate about my work and to challenge my own notions of music making in this universe.

What impact has the Tri-Centric Orchestra had on your concept of the orchestra as an entity?
The Tri-Centric Orchestra experience has been very powerful – the first impression of having Anthony direct us was realizing how precise the music is, yet how much one’s own intent, energy and personality is as important or almost more important – that one’s vibe and vibration is what carries the music and delivers it to the people.  The precision is only a given, the first step.  It is this perfect marriage that makes the music so powerful, challenging and a joy to make.

What are you currently listening to?
I was recently turned onto the Norwegian Modern psyche/rock trio VIRUS – love it!

What’s your favorite food?
It’s a competition between Samoas (yes, the Girl Scout cookie) and my mom’s sweet tarot root soup….

Visit Jen Shyu on the web:
Official Website
Jen Shyu discography on Bandcamp
Review of “Synastry” on All About Jazz

TCO Profile: Anne Rhodes

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

Anne Rhodes / photo by Bruce Wahl

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.

Visit Anne Rhodes on the web:



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