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It Can’t Not Be Dance Music: new music inspired by the art of James Welling

Commissioning project between fivebyfive and The George Eastman Museum, with open rehearsals and a concert among the photographs

The Latest Update

Latest update from composer Kamala Sankaram

Posted on May 4, 2020 by fivebyfive

I have begun generating material for the composition using a similar process to the one that James Welling described in his interview: I began by making an audio recording of the phrase “writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” (I chose this phrase because the combination of architecture and dance in Welling’s photographs brought it to mind.) I then used audio filters to create three versions of the recording: one with only high frequencies, one with mids, and one with lows. I converted each of these recordings into midi data, and used the rhythms and notes from the computers interpretation of the audio information to begin the composition of the piece.

More Updates ▼

Update from Kay He

Posted on May 2, 2020 by fivebyfive

Here is an update from Kay He about her new work for this project.

Latest from composer Bob Lydecker

Posted on April 30, 2020 by fivebyfive

CHOREOGRAPH update April 29, 2020

When we talked to Jim Welling a few months ago, he encouraged us to write pieces that were inspired by his visuals, not by his process.  In my last update, I talked about how I was approaching the collaboration a bit like scoring a film — juxtaposing different music with his images and seeing which combination I liked best.  The approaches I liked connected with the dance imagery and brought a light tone to the visuals.

Since then, I’ve sketched out different sections of music in Cubase (my recording software / DAW) and have been thinking about the overall structure of the piece.  How will my sketched-out ideas be ordered or develop?  What else can I incorporate and what should I stay away from? 

I’ve also been thinking about the musical language.  There are ideas I’d like to explore and decisions I’ve generally made about harmony, etc., but I’m trying to keep those ideas toward the back of my mind as I write.  I think that will help my process be a little more enjoyable and keep me open to ideas that come through intuition. 

That said, one concept I’ve been interested in for a few years is rhythms that are free and out of sync with each other but then coalesce and unify.  That won’t be the center of the piece, but I’m definitely using erratic or out-of-time playing juxtaposed with things that line up in a normal rhythmic manner.  Related to that, I’m also incorporating aleatory in certain sections.  One, as a way to achieve simultaneous tempi or rhythms that are out of sync.  Two, because I think it’s simpler to achieve craziness that way.  And three, because I’ve been thinking for a while about composers in relation to power, hierarchies, etc.  Allowing players to improvise balances that out just a touch.  It can also be fun and is maybe a bit more collaborative.  I was happy when I first talked with Five by Five that they enjoy improvising, too!

Harmonically I’m probably keeping the piece super diatonic.  Everything I’ve written so far is basically in C major.

Aside from finishing the piece, one of my tasks now is to figure out the simplest way to notate some of this stuff.  Here are screenshots of some of one of my Cubase sessions and some scratchy notation of one of the first ideas.

Update from Kay He

Posted on March 17, 2020 by fivebyfive

It was great to talk to James Welling. The conversation with him and other composers really inspired me a lot and it made me thinking about how to approach this commission. James Welling talked about his process of creating these works and how he extracted colors from different layers of photography to compose each work. I have been reviewing the images and imagining how sound will emerge from it. When I am looking at the images, each time it tells me a different story. My imaginations went wild with James Welling’s works. The next step is to organize all the colorful ideas and imaginations together to produce a piece of music that is truly inspired by these amazing art works.

Update from composer Kamala Sankaram

Posted on March 12, 2020 by fivebyfive

The George Eastman Museum was kind enough to host a conversation between James Welling and all three of us composers. He talked about his process for creating his work, a technique that involves using the color filters in his photo-editing program to bring out particular hues in the photographs. I’ve been thinking about how you might be able to do something similar with music, so I’ve been experimenting with using audio filters on found sounds and converting them to midi to generate musical material. I’m hoping to use this as the basis for the layers of my composition.

Update from composer Robert Lydecker

Posted on March 10, 2020 by fivebyfive

Robert Lydecker
After talking with photographer, James Welling, I’ve been pursuing a more intuitive approach to
our “Choreograph” project. As a first step, I’ve spent time just looking at the images, seeing
how they make me feel, and also spending time away from them to reflect during walks or other
spare moments. And, I’ve also been taking time to just imagine different sorts of music for Five
by Five. As a way to make tangible progress, though, I’ve tried just pulling up the images and
improvising music against them. I’ve been treating it a bit like scoring a film, except unlike with
a traditional film, I’ve realized that the mood or story in these images is fairly open to
interpretation, and I can almost add my own narrative or can change how the viewer responds
to the images by the music I create. Instead of thinking about translating these images into
music, my thought is to see if I can add another layer of meaning or feeling, that could give the
viewer a completely new experience. While I still have more of the piece to develop, the
sketches I’ve been happiest with so far, all have a somewhat optimistic and whimsical tone to
them. I felt this contrasted nicely with some of the darker hued images. My next step I think will
be to come up with a few more musical sketches, and then piece them together and revise to
make a satisfactory throughline.


Rochester-based quintet fivebyfive is excited to commission three new works for the exhibition “Choreograph” by internationally renowned photographer James Welling which will run July 2020 through December 2020. The exhibition will be held at The George Eastman Museum (Rochester, NY), the world’s oldest museum dedicated to photography. The works will be premiered by fivebyfive (flute, clarinet, electric guitar, bass and piano) in September 2020 during the exhibition.

Photographer James Welling has been questioning the norms of representation since the 1970s, and his practice has influenced an entire generation of artists and photographers. Welling’s latest body of work, “Choreograph”, explores his passion for architecture, dance and the landscape through boldly colored and multi-layered photographs. The George Eastman Museum will be the first museum to exhibit this collection.

As the name “Choreograph” indicates, these photographs draw heavily from Welling’s love of dance. Welling’s interest dates back to 1970 when he saw the Merce Cunningham Dance Company perform while attending the University of Pittsburgh. This exhibition marks his return to dance, albeit in photographic form.

Welling found the temporary nature of dance intriguing, like a memory. In an interview Welling commented, “My work, for myself, is about memory, feeling, touch…a sense of my relationship to the physical world, colors, sensations, photographic emulsions, but all in the service of chasing memories, both very distant and recent.” Adding, “This is the least understood part of my work.”

Eager to explore these ideas and the bold, multi-layered world of Welling’s work, fivebyfive will commission three new pieces by composers Kay He, Robert Lydecker and Kamala Sankaram that will be inspired by the photographs in “Choreograph”. These composers were chosen for their unique multi-discipline voices that we believe will effectively capture and reflect upon the multi-layered world of Mr. Welling’s photographs.

In July 2020 the “Choreograph” exhibition will open. During the Summer of 2020 there will be Open Rehearsals and Preview Performances at the museum, a first of its kind for the institution, with each of the composers and fivebyfive. The new works will be given their premiere in September 2020 among the photographs at the George Eastman Museum (GEM). Further plans include collaborating with live dancers, recording the new works, making a film inspired by the photographs, and touring to other museums where ‘Choreograph’ will be shown.

Concerning process and presentation
Embracing the spirit of accessibility, fivebyfive and GEM propose a large window of time for development. Through open rehearsals and preview performances, audiences will be given the opportunity to connect with the artists, ask questions and experience the work as it evolves. Both fivebyfive and GEM  believe this to be essential to the ultimate understanding of the art and to the development of an engaged audience.

June 2020 – delivery of scores and materials to fivebyfive
Summer 2020– open rehearsals / preview performances at GEM
September 2020 – premiere performances of new works at GEM
Late 2020 through May 2021 – subsequent performances of works, audio recordings and film in progress

Project Media

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Features: fivebyfive

Awake combines the cyclic processes and layers of Javanese gamelan music with harmonies and colors of Western classical and popular music.

Patrick Burke, composer

Performed by fivebyfive:
Laura Lentz, flute
Marcy Bacon, clarinet
Sungmin Shin, electric guitar
Eric Polenik, bass
Haeyeun Jeun, piano

Recorded live on April 26, 2017, WXXI Radio – “Live from Hochstein”

Cue @ 2:25-5:00

On the Pivot of an Abandoned Carousel
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Features: Yuanyuan (Kay) He

In On the Pivot of an Abandoned Carousel, the flute and electronics overlap so the audience cannot determine what is real and what is not. This mimics our memories, so as to show the exaggerations and delusions that form in our head.

Yuanyuan (Kay) He, composer

Kenzie Slottow, flutist

2015 EARS concert in Austin

Cue @ 1:18-2:56

The First Drop of Rain from Thumbprint
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Features: Kamala Sankaram

In this 90 minute contemporary opera-theater work, the libretto originates from a series of interviews with Mukhtar Mai whose world was shattered by an act of brutality that could have destroyed her. The score is a dynamic collision of Hindustani and European opera influences with an ensemble of six singers and six instrumentalists, featuring flute, violin and viola, upright bass, piano/harmonium, and percussion (drums and tabla).

Kamala Sankaram, composer

Performance – June 18, 2017 at Redcat with LA Opera and Beth Morrison

Cue 1:56 to End

Start and End Dates



Rochester, New York

6 updates
Last update on May 4, 2020

Associated Event

July 11, 2020 | Rochester, NY
Archived Events

Project Created By

Rochester, New York
fivebyfive is a quintet based in Rochester NY, formed in 2015 with a mission to engage audiences in the collaborative spirit and creativity of modern chamber music by commissioning, arranging and performing a wide range of works for its instrumentation. The group performs works of today’s leading composers, supports emerging composers from around the world,…

In Collaboration With

Bronx, New York
Los Angeles, California
Tucson, Arizona


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