Lisa Renee Coons is a composer and sound artist with a special affinity to noise composition, collaboration, and experimentation. She is dedicated to progressive art and focuses on partnerships with other artists and musicians as a means of developing innovative new works. Coons’ music was featured as part of ACO’s citywide SONiC festival in 2011, performed by electric guitar quartet Dither. Presently an assistant professor of music composition at Western Michigan University, Coons received her PhD in Composition from Princeton University, her Master’s from SUNY Stony Brook and studied at the University of Missouri-Kansas City during her undergraduate degree. Before joining WMU she was a Jackie McLean Fellow and visiting professor at the Hartt School in the University of Hartford. Her portfolio includes music for acoustic and electronic instruments, turntables, traditional ensembles, and her own welded percussion sculptures. For more information visit www.lisarcoons.com
I have always been fascinated with the visual spectacle of coordinated movements in string ensembles; the physical gestures can be elegant or primal, sensual or violent, but they always add a dimension to the experience that cannot be felt in recorded sound. Vera’s Ghosts for the ACO String Orchestra will explore the possibilities at the intersection of the visual and the aural. It is a work about mental illness and dementia, using as a point of departure the idea of the conductor as protagonist. The spatialized sounds (and extended techniques) that are passed quickly around him are part of that implied narrative—they start with moments of clarity, triggered by his physical gestures, but slip out of his control and spiral around him. The piece gradually moves from organized textures and noise, to glitching attempts at melody where the protagonist tries to hold on to what is real, to a sort of quiet hymn of remembrance at the end—an idealized (but melancholy) portrait of someone lost.
This piece focuses on conveying the sensation of someone struggling to hold on to lucidity and failing more than it relies on traditional ideas of motives or development. In Vera’s Ghosts I explore ideas of ensemble, space, and choreographic movement. This work requires real-time decisions and engaged listening on the part of both conductor and performers to effectively shape gestures, so it is very much a collaboration with them, rather than a work composed for them. My sincere thanks to the American Composers Orchestra and George Manahan for allowing me this opportunity to collaborate and take chances.