Michelle Kinney with Zeitgeist

Zeitgeist collaborated with Minnesota composer Michelle Kinney for the 2021 “Playing it Close to Home” concert featuring works by Kinney and winning songs from the Eric Stokes Song Contest.

Cocoa in the Poppies
My soulmate Cocoa (a 13 year old golden retriever-like mutt) and I drove across the country to California where we hung out for about a month together writing this song. The poppies were in full bloom. Cocoa swam in the ocean. It was pure bliss for both of us. 

Frank on the Highway
Frank was really lost on the highway and all he had to eat was a coffee can filled with lard and a sack of uncooked potatoes. Composed in the 1980s for a play by Chris Sullivan, it has stood the test of time. 

Echo and Narcissus
Also composed on that California trip. Again referencing a flower (and an echo and a narcissist). The true source of this piece spun out from a captured moment of a looping phrase that I saved from accompanying a dance class.

michelle kinney

Michelle Kinney’s career began in Minneapolis, MN, when she returned home after receiving a BA in music from Northwestern University. During this early phase in her career, she was recognized and frequently funded as a composer & cellist, collaborating with Twin Cities choreographers (Laurie Van Wieren), filmmakers (Chris Sullivan, Chicago) and theater artists (Michael Sommers), in addition to composing for her own new music ensembles (IMP ORK, Aphid Bloodbath Consort). In 1989, she moved to New York City to pursue an MA in Performance Studies at New York University. Michelle lived in NYC for 13 years, recording and touring Europe and the US with several of her mentors; bridging musical genres and scenes, from art music (Henry Threadgill, Butch Morris, Myra Melford), to pop (Sheryl Crow, Natalie Merchant, Lou Reed); and composing for dance (Cyrus Khambatta), film (Debra Dickson) and theater (Richard Schechner). 

​Michelle returned to the Twin Cities in 2002 to raise her young family. In addition to again becoming very actively engaged in the community as a composer and performer, Michelle is the Musician in Residence for the Dance Program within the University of Minnesota’s Theater Arts and Dance Department. In this perfect “day job” for a musician/composer, Michelle improvises compositions in daily dance classes, with her cello played through a looping device. Each day Michelle spends hours reading bodies in motion as if they were sheet music, spontaneously creating and layering multiple cello parts, starting from a rhythmic foundation and building harmony, texture and melodic phrasing.

Julie Johnson: Crocus Hill Ghost Story

Crocus Hill Ghost Story
Music by Julie Johnson • Story by Cheri Johnson
Sound Design by Eric M.C. Gonzalez 

A macabre tale of a house possessed that is accompanied by a wildly evocative and colorful score, Crocus Hill Ghost Story explores the complex relationship between two longtime friends and the evolution of their relationship as they experience a haunting. Suitable for teenagers through adults.

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Victor Zupanc & Kevin Kling: For the Birds

Co-written in 2010 by Victor Zupanc and Kevin Kling, For the Birds is a concert length work that, on the surface, seems to be about birds. It features a series of musical pieces extolling the nature of each particular bird (sparrows, roosters, woodpeckers, Canadian geese, hawks), drawing parallels with our own human nature. Interspersed between, is insightful storytelling created by Kling reflecting on childhood memories, immigration, illness, accidents, and healing. However, just below the surface (but discernible to those that look), For the Birds is a work about that part of our human nature that compels us to reach beyond ourselves for more —more opportunity for our family, more money, more fun, more speed, more knowledge, more love. When all goes well, we call that need aspiration. When it doesn’t, and we plunge to the earth with melting wings, we call it hubris. Through utterly delightful music and a worldview only Kevin Kling can provide, For the Birds gives us the space to contemplate our nature, laugh at ourselves, and heal.  Continue reading “Victor Zupanc & Kevin Kling: For the Birds”

Eleanor Hovda: If Tigers Were Clouds

If Tigers were Clouds… then reverberating, they would create all songs was developed in collaboration with Zeitgeist during a Music in Motion Residency based at the Fleisher Art Memorial in Philadelphia. We met for two separate week-long sessions (in September and December, 1993) and during that time I was able to work with Zeitgeist in a process similar to that of a choreographer making a dance “on” a specific group of dancers. This process allowed us to make a piece that is what it is because [Zeitgeist] and I spent many hours together working, talking, eating, and
playing during those times.

The title is a thought arrived at in a collaborative instant with composer David Gilbert at least 25 years ago. It suddenly came back to me as I was scoring this piece for Zeitgeist. This piece is very much about reverberation, resonances, and the sonic energy of pitches and their overtones. Tigers and clouds suggest strength, mystery, elusiveness, and can evoke magical imaginary worlds in children and adults.”

— Eleanor Hovda Continue reading “Eleanor Hovda: If Tigers Were Clouds”

Eric Stokes: Whittlings

Whittlings (1992)
by Eric Stokes

This one-movement work is composed as a sonic metaphor on the art of whittling. Imagine an experienced craftsman working on a block of fine-grained wood with very sharp blades. The artisan’s task is to shape the outcome by taking away much of the woodblock. One could take the view that the saxophone is to some degree the agent of the whittler or the actual whittling instrument but that view is much too simplistic. Imagine instead that all of the sounds made by the players (including the sax) are the literal actions taken in the process of paring away at the sonic possibilities inherent in the Zeitgeist ensemble. One other element to consider is the 22-beat pattern which repeats incessantly throughout Whittlings. In one way, that might be heard as the gestures of the whittler(s). In another way, one might also hear the repeating beat pattern as the actual block of material on which the whittlers, including the composer, are at work, paring away sound by sound. Finally, we are left to contemplate nothing more nor less than our own memory of our experience in hearing the performance. Did a whittled object emerge as an artifact, a memory of the metaphorical process? Or as Yeats writes in his poem “Among School Children,” are we left with a philosophical puzzle:

O body swayed to music, O brightening glance, How can we know the dancer from the dance?

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Eric Stokes: Tintinnabulary (Phonic Paradigm IV)

Tintinnabulary (Phonic Paradigm IV) (1983)
by Eric Stokes

Tintinnabulary: “of or pertaining to the ringing of bells”

— American Heritage Dictionary (1969)

In composing such a piece, several orders and types of struck, reverberant objects were used. The resulting sounds were recorded. By means of simple procedures, unique properties of these recorded sounds found distinctive places in the compositional plan. Composition therefore, in this instance, was and is a function of foresight and afterthought.

The compositional goal remains: “to ring some few of the sounding world’s most multitudinous tintinnabularies.”

Born to song and loving sound’s venture I still seek to celebrate that love and birthright.

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Eric Stokes: The Pickpocket is Lyrical Two

The Pickpocket is Lyrical, Two (1994)
by Eric Stokes

I. Bull ‘Gine ‘n’ Tarriers

II. Breath Can Blow Both Ways

…hot on cold fingers

…cold on hot soup

III. Pop the Whip

IV. Go ‘Way From My Window

…from my door

…my bedside

…bother me no more

V. Over the Deep Blue Moon

The Pickpocket is Lyrical Two incorporates several folk melodies (and a few of the composer’s own) in a fairly straightforward setting rich in lyricism and humor.

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Eric Stokes: Susquehannas

Susquehannas (1985)
by Eric Stokes

I. Nostrum

1. a pet scheme for the solution of some problem;
2. from the Latin, “on our own” (i.e., invented and made by the seller, especially in reference to patent medicines).

II. Buffalo Bones … all the way to Medicine Hat.

III. Whangdoodles

1. mythical creatures of ill-defined characteristics, sometimes noisy, mischievous or nocturnal; 
2. apprehensions resulting from the believed perception of such creatures.

The title of Susquehannas refers in part to the convergence of streams like Cherry Valley, Lick-Run, Tunkhannock, Hop Bottom, and Tuscarora in the Eastern mountains. The early people who lived along those banks called themselves the Susquehanna.

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