The San Jose-based cellist Cellista (born Freya Seeburger) composed her new piece Wants to accompany an interdisciplinary art installation of the same name.
In sampling, manipulating and distorting spoken-word samples from the 1960s to the current administration, the work has a strong political message. “Wants is very much a response not just to the Trump presidency, but also to the repetitions of history, which reinforce the unequal structures that gave rise to this moment in time,” Cellista says.
Wants received its world premiere on Friday, Feb. 10, at Little Boxes Theater in San Francisco. Watch a video of the piece below, shared by the artist and her collaborators, and read on for a Q&A with Cellista about Wants’ creation and activist message.
What was the inspiration for Wants?
Wants developed in part because of my intensive musicological work with French composer Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time. The Quartet was germinated in a Nazi P.O.W. camp, where the composer and four fellow musicians were held captive. When the Quartet was premiered, it was performed in front of both prisoners and their guards. To think of that moment, one of overturned power that gave rise to a moment of equality created through the emergence of an equalized space for art to be performed and heard, was profound. Messiaen always regarded the Quartet as a way to let in the light, and the title points to the light of the Apocalypse, rather than at the fear and cataclysms that are often attached to the piece.
What does the piece say about current politics?
Its intention is to offer a sort of musical marker or time compass that demonstrates the ongoing repetitions of history, and the ongoing suppression of marginalized voices. Wants takes excerpts of news headlines, interviews, and speeches from the 1960s up to the present day and distorts and manipulates them. In my manipulation of my samples, I take the words and phrases of President Trump and put various delays and effects on them. The sampling and manipulation technique is meant to provide a counterpoint to his falsehoods, and it functions as my own version of sound propaganda. It is my refusal to have my reality taken from me. It is my denial of alternative facts and my method of resistance.
Who are you hoping to reach with this piece?
Wants in a simplified way is very much about my own wants, specifically my desire to bring my community together to witness and participate in a moment dedicated to being present while gazing at the past. I am trying to strengthen my own community — my friends, family and colleagues, because I believe in reinforcing equalizing structures.
How will you know if you have gotten the message across?
What I hope is that my audience will walk away from the evening feeling connected and self-aware.
Are you planning to make more work along the same lines after this piece?
I am working on completing “Transfigurations,” the album on which Wants appears, as well as an album of classical music in the coming year. I also hope to explore more political performance art that incorporates my background in musicology and interest in social justice issues.