Performances by adventurous cellist Seth Parker Woods are not only ear-opening: They expand your perceptions of his instrument’s identity itself.
Performances by Chicago-based cellist Seth Parker Woods are not only ear-opening: They expand your perceptions of his instrument’s identity itself.
Local music lovers will get a chance to experience this extraordinary, adventurous young artist in person when he makes his Seattle debut Saturday, Dec. 9, in a solo recital at the Chapel Performance Space at the Good Shepherd Center in Wallingford.
Parker Woods was featured at the Arts Club of Chicago this past summer in “Iced Bodies,” a performance art collaboration with the experimental composer Spencer Topel, in which he played a cello sculpted from ice as it slowly melted and dripped. While no phase changes are planned for his solo Seattle recital, Parker Woods will augment the sound world he produces from his instrument with electronics and even a radically altered bow.
Nonsequitur presents Seth Parker Woods
8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 9, Chapel Performance Space at the Good Shepherd Center, 4649 Sunnyside Ave N, Seattle; $5-$15 donation at door (nseq.org).
Most of the program Parker Woods has in store for Seattle comes from his debut album, “asinglewordisnotenough.” Released last year on the London-based Confront label, the album represents “the culmination of collaborative work I’d been doing for the past five or so years,” the cellist explained in a recent phone interview. “It’s the first sonic archive I’ve been able to create documenting me as I explore my relationship to the instrument.”
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All of the works he has chosen are by living composers and will be Seattle premieres; three of them were written specifically for the 33-year-old Parker Woods, who was featured as Musical America’s New Artist of the Month in October.
For example, the Québécois composer and bass guitarist Pierre Alexandre Tremblay wrote the album’s title piece, “asinglewordisnotenough,” while Parker Woods was researching his Ph.D. thesis at the University of Huddersfield in the United Kingdom.
“In that piece, the singular voice of the cello is multiplied into a maximum of eight, scattered and speckled throughout the work. One of the things I was researching at Huddersfield was physical gesture while playing the cello and how to translate that into a kind of meta-instrument,” Parker Woods says. “My introduction to the use of electronics outside of dance or pop music came with the Miles Davis of ‘Bitches Brew’ and later when I started getting into Edgard Varèse and Karlheinz Stockhausen.”
A native of Houston, the cellist was inspired to learn his instrument at the age of 5 after seeing the film “The Witches of Eastwick,” which includes a scene with Susan Sarandon playing ever more passionately, until her cello bursts into flame. Parker Woods attended Houston’s High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. He spent formative periods in New York and Europe, at one point making a living playing side gigs with Lady Gaga and Sting.
In Europe, Parker Woods combined his passions for experimentation and dance and came under the influence of the legendary choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker. His dissertation addressed the aesthetics of movement among musicians and dancers, culminating in an interactive work using a “prosthetic digital spine,” which Parker Woods titled “Almost Human.”
Another piece, “Gray Neon Life,” is by the young American composer Edward Hamel and came about after Parker Woods sent out a call for compositions responding to urban street art. Hamel references the graffiti tags made famous by the artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, incorporating fragmented phrases into his score that are spoken by the cellist. Although purely acoustic, “Gray Neon Life” radically alters the cello’s sound by using a bow whose hair is twisted around the stick — a technique devised by the Australian composer Liza Lim. “It creates this serrated, fraying sound that you hear almost as a stutter,” Parker Woods said. “I think of it as a retranslation of speech patterns, like you find with MCs and in hip-hop.”
The program’s experimental focus reflects the mission of Nonsequitur. Says Steve Peters, the director of the series and an admired linchpin in Seattle’s new-music scene: “I was specifically interested in Seth because he is playing composed music that pushes the boundaries of his instrument, combining acoustic cello with complex electronics.”
But his artistic practice embraces the classic repertoire as well. When Parker Woods made his debut in October at the prestigious Phillips Collection Sunday concert series in Washington, D.C., he opened the program with the first of Bach’s revered Cello Suites. He is also a founding cellist of Chineke!, Europe’s first orchestra comprising mostly people of color. In August, Chineke! made its BBC proms debut.
Whatever he plays, the cellist approaches his instrument as a “full-body experience,” making music that he believes should “really challenge the listener and the performer.”