Sam Sfirri's sounds of silences 

New Music Collective hosts Transitions, Sun. Nov. 15

The New Music Collective presents an unusual concert on Sun. Nov. 15 — a concert-length work titled Transitions at the Circular Congregational Church (150 Meeting St.) composed by pianist/multi-instrumentalist Sam Sfirri (of the Western Polaroids and the Pulse Trio). It's one of many in a diverse series of works this year.

Last March, Sfirri received support from the Coastal Community Foundation's Expansion Arts Fund. The free concert features guest performances by Bill Carson, Jason Brogan, Nathan Koci, and NMC's Ron Wiltrout. It's part of the New Music Collective's emerging New Works Program.

"It's a new way of approaching and utilizing generous support to our organization," says NMC co-director Ron Wiltrout. "It's directing your donations straight to the creation of new music, by way of a New Works Fund, created with help from the Coastal Community Foundation and continued solely with your participation. It will enable us to commission the composition of two new works each year by composers from Charleston and beyond."

City Paper: Tells us about the Coastal Community Foundation's Expansion Arts Fund and how you connected to it.

Sam Sfirri: The Expansion Arts program wants to support the works of new and emerging artists with seeking professional development, produce new work, reach new audiences, or research indigenous art forms. I chose to produce and perform a work in Charleston that draws influence from the natural occurrences of Charleston County. The piece consists of several layers of sound activities that each performer may individually choose to play, though there is no requirement to play any at all ... there is a possibility that the entire length of the piece — approximately 72 minutes — could have no intentional sound coming from the performers, whatsoever. The piece is not written for any specific instrumentation, but one to as many as eight performers may play it. It is called Transitions.

City Paper: Is there a basic structure in Transitions that allows for improvisation by the players?

Sam Sfirri: This piece is a collection of transcribed events that occurred in Charleston County in May, 2009. Depending on decisions individually made by the performers, these transcriptions may delicately appear amidst the silence and sound of the performance environment.

City Paper: What's this about the possibility that there could be no intentional sound coming from the performers?

Sam Sfirri: The transcriptions I made were of silences from several locations in the county. Each of these silences sounded very different from one another. For example, the silent environment of a beach in comparison to the silence under an overpass. The various transcriptions were then placed into the score to provide a series of layers for the performers to either investigate, or not.

City Paper: How could the performers accidentally provide sound?

Sam Sfirri: While the piece is not improvised, the possibilities of how it might sound from performance to performance is variable. Each performer prepares his or her own part prior to the concert, based on layers in the score. The performers may also choose their own instruments. Though the realization of a completely silent piece is unlikely, it is possible because all the performers may choose to play none of the layers. In that case, the natural layer of the performance space may take shape as another silence that exists in Charleston.

See newmusiccollective.org and myspace.com/samsfirri for more.


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