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The performance environment for tessera is a collection of small gallery rooms with a large central performance room where the ensemble is encircled by the audience.The gallery rooms adjacent to the central performance space contain a multichannel audio system strategically arranged for precise and controlled auditory effects. The placement of speakers across gallery spaces creates a listening environment where computer processed audio can remain detached from the ensemble performance space, and at a distance from the audience. The strategic distribution of the audio system in this manner allows for a greater spatialization of sounds, precise pointillistic placement of sounds, and the creation of antiphonal groupings of sounds. The transformations are strategically placed throughout the audio ecosystem (outside the performance space) to blend and contrast with the acoustic ensemble in the performance space.


Collectively, these conditions allow the ensemble to create an intimate acoustic recital in their performance area, maintaining a balance of acoustic properties and sonic transformations while keeping computer processed audio at a distance from the performers and audience. In this way, the design generates a simultaneous dual environment of acoustic intimacy and a manufactured peripheral audio ecosystem.


The instrumental ensemble for tessera produces intimate immediacy through proximity to the audience. The winds, always set against the strings to create transitional sonic blends, focus on bursts, dynamic expansion, expressive blowing, exaggerated performance gestures, as well as cameo performances on a tlapitzalli, an authentic Mexican/Aztec clay flute and a Mexican 3-hole clay bird whistle. The strings play as a trio formulating saturated, intense textures interrupted with rapid articulations, registral and dynamic variations, and creative bowing.

The vocalist’s part is indicated in the score only through entrance and exit cues for the text, with no notated material. In tessera the voice floats above the strictly structured and designed instrumental performance.The text is unified into a mosaic whole through combined creative vocal treatment and the adhesive application of computer processes, through software designed by William Brent.

The text, thoughtfully selected from The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci, is crafted for brevity and allegory. While the vocalist focuses on expressions of the human voice through sung and spoken transformations, real-time computer processing applied to the vocals allows us to reformulate, transform and create new sound clouds.The specific choice and arrangement of selected text and sonic transformations of text are created not to trigger or re-call or collect or re-collect memories or past emotions or sympathetic emotional vibrations but to experience emotions through new material generated to mask or wash over the past, and to produce new and distant/displaced sonorities, voices evocative of unimagined and distant landscapes.

tessera was commissioned by the Phillips Collection, Washington, DC for the 75th Anniversary of their music program during the 95th anniversary of the Gallery. tessera premiered on March 17, 2016. Composed for vocalist, oboe, clarinet, violin, viola, cello and computer, tessera is an exploration of delicate and intimate ensemble expressions and sonic transformations. tessera is part 1 of a 2 part work titled a delicate balance.

SCORE – click on the score image to download a PDF of the score

AUDIO – live performance at The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC on March 17, 2016

 the steve antosca ensemble
Pamela Z – vocals           Lina Bahn – violin

                Alison Lowell – Oboe, bird whistle            John Pickford Richards – viola  

          e. michael richards – clarinet, tlapitzalli           Matt Haimovitz – 'cello

William Brent – computer

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