Music Program

Saturday, November 5, 2016 at 8:00 p.m.

$15 general admission, $12 students/seniors, $10 members

To learn more about the benefits of becoming a member, please click here.

Amirtha Kidambi's Elder Ones

Amirtha Kidambi (voice, harmonium, compositions)
Matt Nelson (soprano saxophone)
Brandon Lopez (contrabass)
Max Jaffe (drums)

Elder Ones is NYC-based quartet performing the compositions of vocalist Amirtha Kidambi (Seaven Teares/Elizabeth-Caroline Unit). Born in Buffalo, NY raised in the Bay Area and now based in Brooklyn, Kidambi's music lies nestled in a Venn diagram of musical spheres and communities around New York City. She and her collaborators saxophonist Matt Nelson (Battle Trance/Tune-Yards), bassist Brandon Lopez (Tongues, The Undermine Trio), and drummer Max Jaffe (JOBS, Unnatural Ways) have crossed paths in the DIY underbelly, in incestuous circles of free improvisers, and uncomfortable chairs in concert halls of angular new music. The instrumentalists chosen for this project draw from a wide variety of vocabularies from hip-hop to free improv, each bringing their own highly individual sound to the group. The quartet uses composed material and loose structures as a template for improvisation. Oscillating between worlds of modal Sufi-like circular grooves and free improvisation to jagged rhythmic precision and meditative drones, Thyagaraja, Coltrane or Stockhausen could be equally suspected as illegitimate fathers of their sound.

Amirtha's background in Hindu devotional singing or Bhajan, led her to use the Indian harmonium as accompaniment and compositional tool. Amirtha has been singing with the harmonium since a young age and has a deep connection to its timbre, intonation and mystical qualities. She was also inspired in part by her work with Darius Jones and the Carnatic tradition, to use abstract syllables to liberate the voice from specific literal ideas to facilitate unhindered improvisation, and to allow the listener a greater range of interpretation. Her music has developed through years of dedicated collaboration with bands, composers and other improvisers, finally leading to her own individual sound. She owes her developing sound to her cultural traditions, 90s R&B, John and Alice Coltrane, Edgard Varèse and many other musical languages and influences. The four-part suite Mother Tongues partly refers diversity of what she feels are equally native musical languages that have found their expression in these compositions. The band formed to realize Amirtha's composition Mother Tongues. The piece was premiered at Roulette in June 2015 for the Emerging Artist Commission. Commissioning funds will be used in part to make a debut recording this year.

Amirtha Kidambi is invested in the performance, investigation and exploration of creative musics, ranging from Carnatic vocal, free improvisation, experimental art rock and new music. As a bandleader with Elder Ones and as soloist, collaborator and ensemble member in groups such as, the early Renaissance inspired dark folk band Seaven Teares, the homemade analog percussion and visuals group Ashcan Orchestra, and vocal quartet Elizabeth-Caroline Unit, Amirtha has performed in a variety of venues from DIY spaces to concert halls including Carnegie Hall, Issue Project Room, Silent Barn, Whitney Museum, Le Poisson Rouge and The Kitchen. In collaboration with Charlie Looker, the band Seaven Teares released their debut album Power Ballads in 2013 on Northern Spy Records. Recent projects include Apollo's Accidental Answer a chamber opera with the Pat Spadine's Ashcan Orchestra, the premiere of AACM founder and legendary composer/pianist Muhal Richard Abrams' Dialogue Social, and The Oversoul Manual by Darius Jones, premiered at Roulette followed by a Carnegie Hall debut and releasing an album on Aum Fidelity in October 2014. She recently premiered Ben Vida's work Slipping Control for voice and electronics with Tyondai Braxton at the Borderline Festival in Athens, Greece. Amirtha is fortunate to have had the great honor of working with the late composer Robert Ashley since 2011 in That Morning Thing and premiered WWW III (Just the Highlights). Amirtha and the Varispeed ensemble also premiered his final opera CRASH in the 2014 Whitney Biennial with a Spring 2015 performance run at Roulette. Amirtha is grateful to have been one of the 2014-2015 recipients of the Roulette Emerging Artist Commission with funds from The Jerome Foundation. With support from the commission, Amirtha will record and release a forthcoming album with Elder Ones in the Spring of 2016.

The aggressive and sublime first album by the band Elder Ones, "Holy Science," is a kind of gauge for how strong and flexible the scene of young musicians in New York's improvised and experimental music world can be. At the center of it are drones and phonemes. The group's leader, the 30-year-old composer and singer Amirtha Kidambi, holds forth behind a harmonium, the small keyboard instrument with hand-pumped bellows; it's commonly used in bhajan, the Indian devotional-singing tradition that was central to her musical experience while growing up in a South Indian family in San Jose, Calif. For the most part, she's singing wordlessly, improvising like a horn, using seven syllables assigned to different parts of her range. The other band members — the soprano saxophonist Matt Nelson, the bassist Brandon Lopez, the drummer Max Jaffe — strengthen and expand on her scales and melodies, improvising and following loose arrangements. The record is all about time, in the long view; it is a suite with four sections named after the yugas, or eons of cosmic time as described in Hindu mythology.

Ms. Kidambi has formal training in Carnatic and Western classical music, too, but that's not where her input ends. In a recent conversation about where she came from and where she's going, she discussed the Carnatic singer Sudha Ragunathan; the free jazz of John Coltrane and Albert Ayler; Alice Coltrane's bhajan recordings from the 1980s and '90s; Sarah Vaughan; Black Sabbath; the 20th-century classical vanguardists Varèse and Xenakis; the experimental composer Robert Ashley, with whom she worked toward the end of his life; and Renaissance motets. The common theme through them is a sense of immediacy, or what she called intensity.

The syllables she sings, basically, are express lanes to intensity. Having struggled with writing words, she decided that they would be an impediment anyway. "The idea is that I don't have to think about it, because that would hinder my improvising," she explained. "I need the easiest, most direct way possible to get to a sound." She added, "I don't want anything to be in the way." - Ben Ratliff, The New York Times

Hallwalls Music Program is made possible through the public funds from the Music program of the New York State Council on the Arts, a state agency.