ABOUT UNREMEMBERED

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Unremembered is an hour-long, thirteen-part song cycle for seven voices, chamber orchestra, and electronics by composer Sarah Kirkland Snider, inspired by poems and illustrations by writer and visual artist Nathaniel Bellows (W.W. Norton, HarperCollins). Four years in the making, the studio recording of Unremembered will release on New Amsterdam Records in September 2015, and features vocalists Padma Newsome (Clogs), DM Stith, and Shara Worden (My Brightest Diamond), and the Unremembered Orchestra (includes members of ACME, Alarm Will Sound, ICE, The Knights, So Percussion), conducted by Edwin Outwater (Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony, San Francisco Symphony.)

A meditation on memory, innocence, and the haunted grandeur of the natural world, Unremembered recalls strange and beautiful happenings experienced during a childhood in rural Massachusetts: a houseguest takes sudden leave in the middle of the night; a boy makes a shocking discovery on a riverbank; a girl disappears in woods behind a ranging farm; ghosts appear with messages for the living. Through Bellows's moving words and images and Snider's vivid, fraught, astonishing score, the cycle explores the ways in which beguiling events in early life can resonate in—and prepare us for—the subtler horrors that lie beyond the realm of childhood.

Hailed as “an intricately magical landscape” (Justin Davidson, New York Magazine) and "Snider's own brand of New England gothic that would make Edgar Allan Poe proud," (The Washington Post), Unremembered is a “a deeply personal, brave work” (I Care If You Listen) that “attests to Ms. Snider’s thorough command of musical mood setting” (The New York Times) and "cements her reputation--begun with 2010's Penelope--as the finest composer for voice of her generation" (Agit Reader). Named to dozens of Best-of-2015 lists internationally including The Washington Post (Top Five), The Nation (Top Five), The Boston Globe’s Steve SmithThe Guardian’s Seth Colter WallsWNYC, and New Music Box, Unremembered was also called “one of the most significant and harrowing releases of the year” (Thought Catalog); “masterful…a stunning, immensely rewarding experience” (PopMatters); “evocative and strangely beautiful” (Opera News); “warped and eerie” (NPR Songs We Love); "luminous, otherworldly, and brilliantly individualistic (New York Music Daily); and “a glimpse into an entirely new sound world” (Indy Week). It was also named one of the 50 Best Classical Works of the Past Twenty Years by Q2 Radio listeners in both 2015 and 2016.

Produced by Lawson White and Sarah Kirkland Snider, Unremembered was mixed by Grammy Award-winning mixer Andrew Scheps and mastered by Grammy Award-winning mastering engineer Chris Bellman. Sound design was created by Michael Hammond, Lawson White, and Sarah Kirkland Snider. Both LP and CD formats include hand-drawn illustrations by Nathaniel Bellows and original artwork by DM Stith.

In the live performance of Unremembered, each movement is accompanied by video projections featuring Bellows's hand-drawn illustrations interleaved with photography and videography of the cycle's rural New England locations, offering a unique and immersive visual world to complement its varied sonic and emotional landscapes.


ARTIST'S STATEMENTS

Unremembered began in the spring of 2011 when the vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth approached me to write some music for them. I asked the writer/artist and my old college friend, Nathaniel Bellows, to write some poems for me to set. Five short poems about his childhood in rural Massachusetts soon arrived, unexpectedly accompanied by five corresponding illustrations he had drawn. Like stained glass, each illustration brimmed with vibrant, swirling colors and complex, layered narratives. I remember turning “The Guest” sideways to focus on the figure of one girl consoling another, and immediately hearing the song’s opening melodic line. I soon completed the commission for Roomful of Teeth, but Nathaniel kept going – more poems and illustrations followed, in the style of the first five. It quickly became clear to me that a whole world lingered therein, one that I wanted to continue exploring.

The project found its next opportunity the following year, when the Ecstatic Music Festival commissioned me to collaborate with the vocalists Padma Newsome, DM Stith, and Shara Worden, whose voices I had been imagining in the new songs. Unremembered ultimately grew into a thirteen-song cycle tailored to their voices – seven vocal parts in total, accompanied by chamber orchestra and electronics.

Unremembered is an assemblage of vividly intense, imagistic vignettes – some are narrative, some are existential and ruminative. In words that are simple, direct, and lyrical, we see the world through a child’s eyes. These were Nathaniel’s stories and experiences, but they triggered memories from my own childhood – my own recollections of how it felt to develop consciousness, to encounter things I could not understand or explain, to reconcile the fact that some questions had no answers. In creating music for this piece, I strove to immerse myself in my memory of those feelings, in hopes of creating a musical world that reflected the sense of magic, mystery, wonder, fear, and revelation innate to childhood.
— Sarah Kirkland Snider
SARAH KIRKLAND SNIDER AND NATHANIEL BELLOWS

SARAH KIRKLAND SNIDER AND NATHANIEL BELLOWS

In approaching this project, I was interested in exploring how writing poetry to set to music would be – and needed to be – different from the longer, free verse narrative poems I am accustomed to writing. The landscape of my childhood in New England is something I’ve always drawn from in all my work, but revisiting these stories in this new context, and with a more formal, deliberate poetic approach, resulted in something unexpected – each poem possessed a taut structure and musicality, blurred with an otherworldly halo of haunted uncertainty, a shadowed quality that deeply characterizes my memories of that time and place. Because of the potency and significance of the material, and because my first inclination in any artistic endeavor is to draw, I made sketches and studies to further explore and ultimately illustrate each poem, which, as the project evolved, were created in tandem to the music Sarah was writing.

At the beginning of writing these poems, I had in mind folk songs, fables, spirituals, and the work of Wordsworth, Hopkins, and Dickinson, to help me recount these episodes from my childhood. But the finished product has become something much larger and more expansive than anything I could have been inspired by or hoped to capture from my own experience – Unremembered is a layered, ghostly chorus of innocence and ruin, the embrace and celebration of the unknown, and the hard-won wisdom that comes from the passing of time.
— Nathaniel Bellows