My Heart is a River

Freida Abtan (2021)

My Heart is a River Teaser by Freida Abtan :: Supported by FRFF (#2021-054) from STUDIO for Creative Inquiry on Vimeo.

Act 1:

i) Opening out

ii) Seeping in

Act 2:

iii) Abandoned structures

iv) Reclaimed space

Act 3:

v) Spilling upwards

vi) Floating down

In Memory of Nessim and Raphael Abtan

My Heart is a River is a 45-minute immersive performance for cello and surround audiovisual media, written by Freida Abtan for Seth Parker Woods. Narratively, it investigates those moments where subjective identity must be reformed. The first act is inspired by Abtan’s family story of immigration and the experience of one’s culture being judged through another. The second examines childhood obsession and rejection. The third: familial acceptance and the death of a parent. Each movement uses unique, related, aural and visual processes in its aesthetic and is a self-contained vignette depicted as a dream originating from the cellist’s instrument. The music for My Heart is a River uses spectral processing to transform the sounds of the cello into physical materials such as water and skipping rocks. In performance, Woods plays in tight synchronization with the pre-recorded audio and visual accompaniment. The video features his physical performance as well as ones by Tamzin O’Garro, Aloria Adams, Giada Jiang, and Ausar Stewart and situates his body within its depicted narrative. The piece was originally a commission from the Seattle Symphony for its 2020 season, where it premiered in the opening season of the Octave 9 surround audiovisual concert hall. It was extended to 46 minutes for another performance in 2023. For both productions, the sound and video surrounded the audience using an eighty-channel acoustic diffusion system as well as ten projection screens placed in an extended horseshow configuration. The production’s immersive media choreography must be tailored according to the differing projection capabilities of each performance venue. For the audience, small differences in proximity, orientation, or visual obstruction have a profound effect on what dominates their experience. The audio and visual material for the piece was created through physical and musical improvisation workshops conducted between Seth Woods and Freida Abtan, as well as cellists Meaghan Burke and Simon Cummings. Recordings from those workshops became the source material for Freida Abtan to process and manipulate and the resulting electronic music was then scored back for Seth Woods to play live, embedded within a musical landscape in which his playing already features. My Heart is a River was created with generous support from Carnegie Mellon University’s College of Fine Art Research and Creation Fund and the Frank-Ratchye Fund for Art on the Frontier Grant #2021-054.