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PRISM Quartet, So Percussion, and Partch Commission, Premiere, and Record New Works by Ken Ueno, Stratis Minakakis, and Steven Mackey

The Latest Update

Color Theory news and updates

Posted on July 29, 2016 by PRISM Quartet, Inc.

Thank you to everyone who came out for PRISM’s Color Theory concerts in Philadelphia and Brooklyn—and especially to our guest artists So Percussion, Partch, and Derek Johnson, and our commissioned composers Steve Mackey, Ken Ueno, and Stratis Minakakis.  Bringing this project to life was truly a collaborative effort.

The Color Theory recording is now in post-production and will be released on PRISM’s new label, XAS Records, this fall. We’ll also be releasing video recordings of our concerts at Roulette on PRISM’s YouTube channel. Stay tuned for updates. 

In the meantime, we’re happy to share some recent media coverage with you:

The New York Times
Man, Can You Hear That Crazy Forest Green?
JUNE 14, 2016

PRISM Quartet Continues Pushing the Limits of the Saxophone
JUNE 13, 2016

The Philadelphia Inquirer
PRISM sax quartet makes new music with the fantastical inventions of Harry Partch
JUNE 09, 2016


Photo caption: June 12, 2016: PRISM Quartet, Partch, guitarist Derek Johnson, and conductor Stratis Minakakis in concert at Roulette in Brooklyn. Photo by Scott Friedlander.

More Updates ▼

Gearing Up

Posted on May 10, 2016 by PRISM Quartet, Inc.

COLOR THEORY is less than a month away, and everything is coming together nicely. Last month, PRISM spent a week in LA rehearsing with Partch, Ken Ueno and Stratis Minakakis.  Ken expanded his piece, “Future Lilacs,” and we now have a new guest artist joining us: Derek Johnson. Derek is a composer and guitarist who teaches theory and composition at Ball State University in Indiana, and has played quite a bit with Bang on a Can All Stars. Derek will be playing the adapted electric guitar, Ken’s take on Harry Partch’s adapted guitar. Ken also hacked the alto sax by adding 7 feet of tubing from Home Depot between the mouthpiece and the neck. The sound is unlike anything you ave ever heard. Check it out!

Click here for a full playlist of COLOR THEORY videos on PRISM’s YouTube channel, including statements from Steve Mackey, Ken, and Stratis; a tour of the Harry Partch fantastical instruments with Partch’s John Schneider; rehearsal videos, and more.

For the Philly concerts, WNYC’s John Schaefer will be moderating pre-concert discussions (6:30 PM discussions, 7:30 PM concerts). We have a new addition to the panel: Martha Lucy, the deputy director for education & public programs and curator at the Barnes Foundation. Martha will help us to connect color theory practices in the visual artist with our COLOR THEORY commissions.

PRISM’s website has a full list of all COLOR THEORY concerts and ancillary programs in both Brooklyn (Roulette) and Philadelphia (Kimmel Center). These include at free Family Drumming Workshop with So Percussion (Kimmel Center); a free Instrument Making Workshop/Harry Partch Lecture by Charles Corey (Kimmel Center); and a free Composers Forum with Steve, Ken, Stratis (moderated by David Ludwig) at the Curtis Institute (registration required).

Up next: rehearsing  Steve’s new piece, “Blue Notes and Other Clashes,” and Donnacha Dennehy’s “The Pale” with So Percussion. 


KEN UENO: My work will metaphorically connect to color theory in blending different temperaments. It is the scientific reduction of sounds to a common denominator (thinking in terms of frequencies rather than scales) that helps me with this approach, which I consider a Newtonian way of rationalizing the ineffable.

STRATIS MINAKAKIS: My work, “Shadow Etchings,” will explore the musical dimensions of the dichotomy between what Goethe describes as “uncolored” versus “colored” shadows. What does it mean to construct such shadows of a sound?

STEVEN MACKEY: In this new work I imagine a dialogue between colorful, static timbral objects and syntactical, forward moving narrative elements. I will engage the idea that white light is made up of all the colors of the rainbow in a musical metaphor creating dense, heterogeneous textures that delineate a bright, joyous state of being – a glorious cacophony.


Color Theory is inspired by the spirit in which scientists and visual artists have studied color throughout the centuries. In 1671–72, Sir Isaac Newton discovered the origin of color by shining a beam of light through a prism, splitting it into the colors of a rainbow. Visual artists have used color theory to develop a body of practical knowledge about mixing pigments to create color combinations that provoke powerful emotional responses.

Our project uses color theory as a framework to examine the spectra that makes up instrumental sound. PRISM will commission, present, and record a new body of music combining saxophones and percussion, including reconstructed Harry Partch instruments, originally built by the American composer/inventor from 1930–1972. Partch’s “Instrumentariam” is full of fantastical, visually striking creations such as the eucal blossom, spoils of war, and cloud chamber bowls. Color Theory will pioneer new possibilities of orchestration, sound, and musical color with first-time instrumental pairings that represent enormous and unexplored potential.



  • PRISM and So Percussion premiere a new octet by Steven Mackey and a new arrangement of Donnacha Dennehy’s “The Pale” on 6/4/16 at the Kimmel Center* (Philadelphia) and 6/7/16 at Roulette (Brooklyn)
  • PRISM and the Grammy-winning Partch ensemble, in their east coast debut, premiere new dectets by Ken Ueno and Stratis Minankakis on 6/11/16 at Kimmel* and 6/12/16 at Roulette

*Kimmel Center is co-presenter; Radio broadcasts by media partner WWFM

Ancillary Programs

The project includes 12 ancillary programs to increase impact by contextualizing commissions, educating and building audiences:

  • 2 Pre-concert panel discussions at Kimmel examining color theory across disciplines with WNYC’s John Schaefer and Ingrid Schaffner, Chief Curator, Institute for Contemporary Art (UPenn)
  • 1 Harry Partch Lecture and 1 Instrument Making Workshop at NextFab Studio with Charles Corey, Director, Harry Partch Institute (UWashington)
  • 1 Composers Forum at the Curtis Institute, moderated by David Ludwig
  • 6 Composition-for-Kids classes and 1 Family Drumming Workshop with PRISM and So Percussion at the Kimmel Center


The project culminates in the production of a commercial recording of commissioned works for release on XAS Records (PRISM’s label), distributed worldwide by Naxos, with liner notes by Schaefer, and photos/design by Flux Design (fluxlabs.com). Two 2-day recording sessions will be produced by PRISM after each set of concerts.

Project Media

PRISM Quartet Performs Music by David Ludwig, Steve Lehman, Ken Ueno, And Jennifer Higdon
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CUE: 0:00: Josquin Microludes, V. …brief mes jours definer… (2012) by David Ludwig*; CUE @ 3:06: Radical Alignment* (2014) by Steve Lehman; CUE @ 6:40: July 23, from sunrise to sunset (2004, recorded 2010) by Ken Ueno; CUE @ 8:02: Short Stories, Stomp and Dance* (1996) by Jennifer Higdon. * denotes recorded in 2014.

This sample demonstrates a wide range of music commissioned and performed by the PRISM Quartet, including microtonal music (Lehman), with one work by project composer Ken Ueno.

So Percussion Performs “It Is Time” by Steven Mackey
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CUE @ 3:10.
Mackey: “It Is Time” engages our perception of time and our desire to control and manipulate it. The work marshals the virtuosity of the individual members of So Percussion to speed, slow, warp, celebrate and mourn our perceptions of time. “It Is Time” was inspired by my young son Jasper (now 30 months old). As an older father (now 664 months old) I felt, for the first time in my life, saddened by the immutability of time and the finite limits to how much of It I will be able to spend with my young family.
Recorded 2012.

Partch Ensemble plays Harry Partch; Duo X plays Ken Ueno; Antonio Gimenez plays Stratis Minakakis
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CUE: 0:00: PARTCH ensemble: CASTOR & POLLUX by Harry Partch. A story of seduction, birth, and an ascent into the stars, Castor and Pollux follows the tale of the famous twins.

CUE: 9:41: Duo X: Stars Like Sibilants Speak for clarinet and sho + Max/MSP (2013) by Ken Ueno. This work investigate a kind of ritual music theatre that combines extended techniques, movement, and electronics.

CUE: 20:05: Antonio Gimenez: Diaploys by Stratis Minakakis.
Diaploys is the third in a family of works that relate to Odysseus’ sea voyages towards home.

Start and End Dates



Brooklyn, NY and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

2 updates
Last update on July 29, 2016

Project Created By

NYC and Philly
Intriguing programs of great beauty and breadth have distinguished the PRISM Quartet as one of America’s foremost chamber ensembles. PRISM seeks to place the saxophone in unexpected contexts, chart fresh musical territory, and to challenge, inspire, and move audiences. “A bold ensemble that set the standard for contemporary-classical saxophone quartets” (The New York Times), PRISM was…

In Collaboration With

Guest Ensemble
Brooklyn, New York
Guest Ensemble
Los Angeles, California
Commissioned Composer
Princeton, New Jersey
Commissioned Composer
Berkeley, California
Commissioned Composer
Cambridge, Massachusetts
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


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