In a vivid multimedia performance premiering Oct. 2, Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) will present pioneering string quartet ETHEL’s most ambitious undertaking to date, “Documerica” —a dynamic piece inspired by the U.S. government’s Documerica Project, a program sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency to "photographically document subjects of environmental concern" in the U.S. from 1972 to 1977. The work pairs ETHEL’s dynamic virtuosity with evocative imagery, presenting a transcendent reflection of our nation’s collective soul—a synthesis of score and projections that explore America’s complicated relationship to its land.
A multimedia meditation interweaving over 3,000 vintage photographs from an astonishing trove of images from the National Archive, ETHEL commissioned the composer Mary Ellen Childs, Grammy Award-winning jazz drummer Ulysses Owens, Jr., Chickasaw Nation’s Jerod Impichchaachaaha' Tate, and James Kimo Williams to create a work that seamlessly fuses contemporary composition with stunning projections by renowned artist Deborah Johnson (Planetarium, 2013 Winter/Spring Season) of big sky vistas, ghost towns, mountains, and slices of urban environments.
“ETHEL’s Documerica invites audiences to contemplate and respond to the environmental and social challenges that are revealed in this piece,” says ETHEL cellist Dorothy Lawson. “It’s dramatic and beautiful and very exciting.”
The Documerica Project features the work of approximately 70 well-known photographers contracted by the EPA including Danny Lyon, Gene Daniels, Marc St. Gil, Anne LaBastille, Bill Strode, Charles O'Rear, Jack Corn, Tomas Sennett, Yoichi Okamote, Ken Hayman, and John H. White. Like the earlier Federal photographic project of the Farm Security Administration during the Great Depression, some of the Documerica Project photographers interpreted their mission rather broadly, and sometimes artistically.
Many preserve a distinct visual record of time and place. Some of the subjects photographed are cityscapes, everyday life in small towns, scenes of natural beauty including beaches and mountains, urban areas including junk yards, streets, buildings, and traffic; Amtrak; air and water pollution; waterfronts; mining scenes; and people. Geographical areas included are National Parks and Forests, Lake Tahoe, the Great Lakes, the Alaskan Pipeline, Hawaii, Washington, D.C. and cities throughout the United States. Digital scans of over 15,000 of the original 35mm color slides and black and white negatives and prints are available through the National Archives and Records Administration's Archival Research Catalog.
The string quartet ETHEL has been a pioneering post-classical ensemble since it was founded in 1998. ETHEL invigorates contemporary concert music with exuberance, intensity, imaginative programming, and exceptional artistry. With an eye on tradition and an ear to the future, ETHEL is a leading force in concert music’s reengagement with musical vernaculars, fusing diverse traditions into a vibrant sound that resonates with audiences the world over. The New York City- based quartet comprises Ralph Farris (viola), Dorothy Lawson (cello), Kip Jones (violin) and Tema Watstein (violin). Their appearances at BAM include Everywhere (2005 Next Wave) and TruckStop™: The Beginning (2008 Next Wave). Coined as an “avatar of ‘post-classical’ music” (The New Yorker), ETHEL invigorates contemporary concert music with exuberance, intensity, imaginative programming, and exceptional artistry.
The performances will take place at the BAM Harvey Theater (651 Fulton St.) from Oct. 2-5 at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets start at $20. Call BAM Ticket Services at 718.636.4100 or visit BAM.org.