UNCHAINED is a collaborative intermedia project [ Caroline Owen – pianist and movement artist, Kyle Sharkey – painter, and I – composer and sound artist] inspired by women’s resilience and bravery. If awarded, we present a live performance program of two interactive, intermedia works to the Houston public. While these two musical works vary in their length, narratives, and use of technology, they both synthesize live piano, movement, and interactive visual art and audio to tell the stories of women who undergo anxiety and struggle in their individual searches for authenticity and truth. 

The first work, Tahirih the Pure, is a 15-minute piece for solo piano and live painting that illuminates the life of the titular heroine, who was a Middle Eastern poet, philosopher, theologian, and women’s rights activist. The work narrates Tahirih’s rejection of traditional religious ideologies for her more progressive ideals; this ultimately culminated in her radically heroic decision to unveil her hijab before an assemblage of men at a conference––a move that resulted in her execution. The title of our proposed project, UNCHAINED, is taken in part from the second movement’s title of the same name and recalls Tahirih’s shedding of tradition in favor of equal rights for women. The visual scenes would illuminate the musical narrative performed by Caroline on piano and be projected for the audience to experience. 

The second work, Electric Sky Blue, resulted from a year-long collaborative exploration of storytelling through sound, visuals, movements, and technology with Caroline Owen. Inspired by a poem by Caroline, the piece abstractly follows the poem’s surface narrative while simultaneously outlining a broader journey––one that evolves from themes of birth and innocence to anxiety and struggle, finally leading to a sense of newfound resilience and authenticity.

Sounds of Freedom

“Sounds of Freedom” is a collaborative performance project between four pianists and four Iranian composers. For the first stage, composers will be commissioned to write new works for solo piano (with/without electronics), each 6-8 minutes in length, inspired by protest songs from Iran’s active “Women-Life-Freedom” movement.

The Iranian people have been protesting in support of freedom, human rights, minority rights, and women’s rights to self-expression since September 16th, 2022. Since then, hundreds have been murdered and thousands arrested, tortured, or raped. This includes at least 60 children under the age of 17 who were killed in the last 3 months. 

Our proposed project, “The Sounds of Freedom,” responds to the “Women-Life-Freedom” movement by commissioning four works by Iranian-born composers Badie Khaleghian, Parisa Sabet, Bahar Royai, and Pedram Diba, in collaboration with four pianists, Caroline Owen, James Palmer, Ariel Mo, and David Kalhous. Each composer will work closely with one of the pianists to compose a piece inspired by protest songs from Iran’s active “Women-Life-Freedom” movement.

Our collective of composers and pianists seeks to write an ongoing history of the bravery of Iranians, especially women, by curating evening-length concerts for solo piano celebrating the  “Women-Life-Freedom” movement. There would be potentially four performances in New York City, Boston, Houston, and Atlanta, where each pianist is based.

We have selected performers and composers who believe in giving the “Women-Life-Freedom” movement a musical platform in the US. In addition to increasing visibility and awareness of the revolution in Iran, this project encourages new collaborative relationships among performers and composers, professional performance experience, and the potential for these works to be later documented in a future recording project.

Due to the multifaceted nature of this project and the number of artists involved, we ask for support from the New Music Creator Fund to help us kickstart the process of commissioning and workshopping the four new pieces. This project does not currently have any other funding and would not be able to happen without support from New Music USA. Any funds from this grant will be used to remunerate five of the eight artists involved in this project (3 pianists and 2 composers); one composer is outside the US, another is already involved in another NMUSA grant, and one pianist has asked not to be compensated. The funds would be split evenly between all five artists in support of the commissioning/composition/workshop process.