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The Ambition of Ghosts

A New Work for andPlay and Wavefield Ensemble


“The Ambition of Ghosts” is a 20-30 minute double concerto for violin and viola, accompanied by string orchestra and multichannel electronics. This work will be composed by myself, David Bird, in collaboration with the NYC-based violin/viola duo andPlay and Wavefield Ensemble. It will be premiered in NYC in April 2021 at the Roulette Intermedium. While Wavefield Ensemble is not a string orchestra, they will expand their core string instrumentation for this project.

Whispers convey a variety of cultural expressions and emotional sensations such as intimacy, fear, comfort, shame, and admonishment, recently popularized by the ASMR genre of YouTube videos, celebrating the static-like, or skin-tingling, sensations that whispering creates.“The Ambition of Ghosts” explores the variety of associations that whispering evokes, as well as the ambiguity and misidentification of whispered text, and will utilize a variety of miniature speakers distributed throughout the string orchestra, which will play back multi-track recordings of whispers. The rich spectral components of these whispered texts will be placed in ‘dialogue’ with the solo and ensemble string instruments. Distributing multiple speakers throughout the string orchestra will allow me to control the density, movement, and placement of the whispered texts as they relate to the live instrumental parts, “moving” the pre-recorded text through the ensemble.

This project represents over six years of collaboration with andPlay. “Bezier” for vln/vla was written in 2013, and “Apocrypha” for vln/vla/electronics was completed in 2017. Both works were developed in workshops with andPlay, and were featured on andPlay’s debut album ‘playlist’ (New Focus Recordings, 2019). My recent works for solo or ensemble string instruments are greatly informed and impacted by my experiences working with andPlay as well as the techniques we’ve developed together. With “The Ambition of Ghosts” I look forward to bringing the personalized and idiosyncratic sonic pallet developed with andPlay to a larger instrumentation.

This grant will provide the financial resources to develop this project. I will first collect audio interviews with participants willing to share “whisper-able” content (personal secrets, intimate exchanges, gossip, etc.), I will then re-record these excerpts in a recording studio with professional singers and voice actors. From these recordings, I will develop nuanced gestures and performance techniques on the instruments that uniquely relate to the various timbres and textures of whispers collected, as well as begin to mediate these audio sources with the aid of computer processing. Workshopping with andPlay throughout the process, I will formalize these findings into a long-form structure, orchestrating these individual techniques for string orchestra, and assembling the work more broadly.

June 2020 – NYC workshops with andPlay

July 2020 – Residency with andPlay at Avaloch Farm (NH) to workshop solo parts

August 2020 – Finish composing, integrating workshop notes, developing and testing the electronic component, and orchestrating materials for Wavefield Ensemble

January 2021 – Score and Parts delivered to andPlay and Wavefield

April 2021 – rehearsal period followed by premiere in NYC at Roulette Intermedium

Project Media

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Features: David Bird, andPlay

“Apocrypha” is written for violin, viola, and electronics, and is loosely inspired by Stanislaw Lem’s 1961 novel “Solaris”. Lem’s work follows a team of scientists stationed on a distant planet covered by a vast ocean. In the novel, the ocean demonstrates a bizarre ability to manipulate the emotions and memories of the scientists. “Apocrypha” was written for andPlay (Hannah Levinson and Maya Bennardo), and demonstrates our collaboration and work with electronics.

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Features: David Bird

“drop” is for string octet, strobe lights, and electronic sounds, and was written for the JACK Quartet and Mivos quartet. It is inspired by William Gaddis’s posthumously published novel Agapē Agape. This sample shows how my collaboration with andPlay has been integral to the development of my writing for string instruments; many of the extended techniques used in “drop” were first developed with andPlay in my 2013 work “Bezier.”

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Features: David Bird

“moln” (the Swedish word for cloud) is for solo bass flute, bass clarinet, string quartet, percussion, and multi-channel electronics. It is inspired by radiation clouds and written for the Talea Ensemble with soloist Laura Cocks. Multi-channel composition has been a significant part of my compositional approach and is prominently displayed in this work. I look forward to developing this practice further with “The Ambition of Ghosts”.

Start and End Dates



New York, New York

Project Created By

New York, New York
David Bird is a composer and multi-media artist based in New York City. His work explores the dramatic potential of electroacoustic and mixed media environments, often highlighting the relationships between technology and the individual. His work has been performed internationally, at venues and festivals such as the MATA festival in New York City; the Gaudeamus…

In Collaboration With

New York, New York
New York, New York


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