Ken Ueno (b. 1970)
A recipient of the Rome Prize and the Berlin Prize, Ken Ueno, is a composer/vocalist/sound artist who is currently a Professor at UC Berkeley, where he holds the Jerry and Evelyn Hemmings Chambers Distinguished Professor Chair in Music. Ensembles and performers who have played Ken’s music include Kim Kashkashian and Robyn Schulkowsky, Mayumi Miyata, Teodoro Anzellotti, Aki Takahashi, Wendy Richman, Greg Oakes, BMOP, Alarm Will Sound, Steve Schick and the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, the Nieuw Ensemble, and Frances-Marie Uitti. His music has been performed at such venues as Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, MusikTriennale Köln Festival, the Muziekgebouw, Ars Musica, Warsaw Autumn, Other Minds, the Hopkins Center, Spoleto USA, Steim, and at the Norfolk Music Festival. Ken’s piece for the Hilliard Ensemble, Shiroi Ishi, was featured in their repertoire for over ten years, with performances at such venues as Queen Elizabeth Hall in England, the Vienna Konzerthaus, and was aired on Italian national radio, RAI 3. Another work, Pharmakon, was performed dozens of times nationally by Eighth Blackbird during their 2001-2003 seasons. A portrait concert of Ken’s was featured on MaerzMusik in Berlin in 2011. In 2012, he was a featured artist on Other Minds 17. In 2014, Frances-Mairie Uitti and the Boston Modern Orchestra premiered his concerto for two-bow cello and orchestra, and Guerilla Opera premiered a run of his chamber opera, Gallo, to critical acclaim. He has performed as soloist in his vocal concerto with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project in New York and Boston, the Warsaw Philharmonic, the Lithuanian National Symphony, the Thailand Philharmonic Orchestra, and with orchestras in North Carolina, Pittsburgh, and California. Ken holds a Ph.D. from Harvard University. A monograph CD of three orchestral concertos was released on the Bmop/sound label. His bio appears in The Grove Dictionary of American Music.
Ken Ueno, is a composer, vocalist, improviser, and sound artist. His music celebrates artistic possibilities which are liberated through a Whitmanesque consideration of the embodied practice of unique musical personalities. Much of Ueno’s music is “person-specific” wherein the intricacies of performance practice are brought into focus in the technical achievements of a specific individual fused, inextricably, with that performer’s aura. In an increasingly digitized world, “person-specificity” takes a stand against the forces that render all of us anonymous. It also runs counter to the neo-colonial tradition of transportability in Western Classical music. As an outsider, Ueno has been drawn to sounds that have been overlooked or denied. His artistic mission is to push the boundaries of perception and challenge traditional paradigms of beauty.
Breath is at the ontological center of Ueno’s art practice as a vocalist specializing in extended techniques (overtones, throat-singing, multiphonics, extreme registers, circular singing), and taking a cue from Robert Hass’ thesis that “poetry is: a physical structure of the actual breath of a given emotion,” his practice transposes this notion into music through physical valence. Ueno believes that physical gestures are, indeed, mapped to given emotions. When we hear the operatic tenor, Pavarotti, sing a high C and linger there for tens of seconds, he not only suspends his breath, but, we, too, as listeners, suspend our breath. Physio-valence directs our bodies to vivify, in real time, the suspension of our breath in parallel with the music to which we are listening. In his music, through circular breathing, that Pavarottian lingering moment is expanded to minutes, not seconds. The phenomenological reading of that lingering exacerbates traditional modes of analysis in terms of structural hearing. For example, in Tard, Ueno holds his breath in a bowl of water for 2 minutes, as an analog to how he has felt his breath suspended since November 2016, as well as having his voice muted as a person of color.
Ueno employs the megaphone as a prosthetic extension of his voice. Armed with a megaphone, he is mobile and able to incorporate the narrative of movement in space, direct his sound in different directions, at different structural materials and angles, and to play with various lengths of echoes. And articulating the resonant frequencies of different locations in a space, means that architecture, too, can be read as harmonic structure (in this way, Ueno’s music sonically articulates architecture – in his installations, he “instrumentalizes” architecture). Ueno has developed an array of vocal techniques specific to the megaphone. For example, a kind of slap tongue whose attack is followed by a multiphonic drone shaped by changing the vowel shapes within his mouth. The shapes of these bespoke vowels, however, do not exist in any language. He has also learned to control the aperture of the multiphonic (or bandwidth) with the shape of his mouth, and can also sing in counterpoint or in augmentation with the shaped feedback multiphonic by humming into his nasal cavity. There are other techniques which involve ingressive singing, which, in alternation with exhaled techniques, allows me to circular-breathe.
Ensembles and performers who have played Ueno’s music include Kim Kashkashian and Robyn Schulkowsky, Frances-Marie Uitti, Mayumi Miyata, Teodoro Anzellotti, Aki Takahashi, Alarm Will Sound, the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Steve Schick and the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, Wendy Richman, Greg Oakes, Gabby Diaz, Anne Lanzilotti, Vincent Daoud, Karen Yu, Dan Lippel, Aaron Larget-Caplan, Sound Icon, Alia Musica Pittsburgh, the Warsaw Philharmonic, the Lithuanian National Symphony, the Paul Dresher Ensemble (with Amy X Neuburg), the Nieuw Ensemble, Neue Vocalisolisten, , the Del Sol String Quartet, Vincent Royer, the Bang on a Can All-Stars, the American Composers Orchestra (Whitaker Reading Session), the Cassatt Quartet, the New York New Music Ensemble, the Prism Saxophone Quartet, the Atlas Ensemble, Relâche, the Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra, Dogs of Desire, the Orkest de Ereprijs, and the So Percussion Ensemble.
Ueno’s music has been performed at prestigious venues around the world including Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, MusikTriennale Köln Festival, Ars Musica, Warsaw Autumn, the GAIDA festival, Darmstädter Ferienkurse, the Muziekgebouw, the Hopkins Center, Spoleto USA, and Steim. He has been the featured guest composer at the Takefu International Music Festival, the Norfolk Music Festival, the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival, the Pacific Rim Festival, the Intégrales New Music Festival, and the MANCA Festival. Ueno’s piece for the Hilliard Ensemble, Shiroi Ishi, was featured in their repertoire for over ten years, with performances at such venues as Queen Elizabeth Hall in England, the Vienna Konzerthaus, and was aired on Italian national radio, RAI 3. Another work, Pharmakon, was performed dozens of times nationally by Eighth Blackbird during their 2001-2003 seasons. A portrait concert of Ueno’s was featured on MaerzMusik in Berlin in 2011. In 2012, he was a featured artist on Other Minds 17. In 2014, Frances-Mairie Uitti and the Boston Modern Orchestra premiered his concerto for two-bow cello and orchestra this past January, and Guerilla Opera premiered a run of his chamber opera, Gallo, to critical acclaim. He has performed as soloist in his vocal concerto with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project in New York and Boston, the Warsaw Philharmonic, the Lithuanian National Symphony, the Thailand Philharmonic Orchestra, and with orchestras in North Carolina, California, Stony Brook, and Pittsburgh. During two weeks in the fall of 2019, he was in residence at the Osage Gallery in Hong Kong to present installations, installations performances, concerts, and take part in a panel discussion on his works at Hong Kong University. He also curated a team of local stars with whom he performed at Osage.
Awards, grants, and fellowships that Ueno has received include those from the American Academy in Rome, the American Academy in Berlin, Civitella Rainieri, the Townsend Center, the Mellon Foundation, the Fromm Music Foundation (2), New Music USA (4), the Pittsburgh Foundation, the Aaron Copland House, the Aaron Copland Fund for Music Recording, Meet the Composer (6), the National Endowment for the Arts, the Belgian-American Education Foundation, and Harvard University. He has twice received support from the Fromm Foundation to support orchestral commissions. He has also received support from the MAP Fund twice – for an evening-long work for Community MusicWorks and himself as vocalist, and for a work for the combined forces of the Prism Saxophone Quartet and the Partch Ensemble. A monograph CD of three of his concertos was released on the Bmop/sound label. In the Spring of 2017, he was a Mellon Visiting Artist at the Susan and Donald Newhouse Center for the Humanities at Wellesley College.
As a vocalist/improviser, Ueno has collaborated with Ryuichi Sakamoto, Joey Baron, Ikue Mori, Robyn Schulkowsky, Joan Jeanrenaud, Pascal Contet, Gene Coleman, Tyshawn Sorey, David Wessel, Robin Hayward, John Kelly, Jorrit Dykstra, Kevork Mourad, Gilberto Bernardes, Hans Tutschku, James Coleman, and Vic Rawlings amongst others. Ueno’s ongoing performance projects include collaborations with DJ Sniff, Kung Chi Shing, Tim Feeney, Matt Ingalls, and Du Yun.
As a sound artist, Ueno collaborates with visual artists, architects, and video artists to create unique cross-disciplinary art works. For the artist, Angela Bulloch, he created several audio installations (driven with custom software), which provide audio input that affect the way her mechanical drawing machine sculptures draw. These works have been exhibited at Art Basel as well as at Angela’s solo exhibition at the Wolfsburg Castle. In collaborating with the architect, Patrick Tighe, Ueno created a custom software-driven 8-channel sound installation that provided the sonic environment for Tighe’s robotically carved foam construction. Working with the landscape architect, Jose Parral, he collaborated on videos, interactive video installations, and a multi-room intervention at the art space Rialto, in Rome, Italy. In 2013, Ueno created a 24-channel audio installation, Liquid Lucretius, which was installed at the Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo in Mexico City for two months. Breath Cloud, a sound installation with 90-speakers was commissioned and installed at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum in May, 2014. 2014 also saw the opening of his collaboration with the architect, Thomas Tsang, at the Inside-Out Museum in Beijing. The software-driven work sonically activates a stairwell as a resonant chamber, which leads to a sonic aperture with an opening outside the building, effectively turning the building into a large wind instrument. More recent sound installations have been commissioned by the RISD Art Museum and the Bi-City Bienniale of Urbanism/Architecture in Shenzhen, China. More recently, he has created installation performances at galleries in Guangzhou, and spaces in Taiwan, and Savannah, GA (commissioned by the Telfair Museum).
Ueno is a Professor at the University of California, Berkeley, where he is currently the Jerry and Evelyn Hemmings Chambers Distinguished Professor in Music. He has been invited to present lectures on his music at over a hundred peer institutions, including Harvard, Yale, Cornell, Columbia, Peabody, Stanford, Northwestern, USC, UCLA, Seoul National University, Beijing Central Conservatory, the University of Hong Kong, the Geneva Conservatory, and the Paris Conservatory. He holds a Ph.D. from Harvard University and an M.M.A. from the Yale School of Music, and his bio appears in The Grove Dictionary of American Music. www.kenueno.com