• The Great Salt (2018)

    The Great Salt is Clayton's exhibition at Harvard Art Museums. The hybrid analog-digital artwork is response, sonic extension, intervention into the complex history of a 17th-century silver vessel, on view in the museums' Lightbox Gallery from October 30, 2018 through February 4, 2019. Museums freeze time. Music melts it. Clayton’s interactive installation flows between these binaries, with surprises lurking throughout.

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    In 1638, a work of silver known as The Great Salt arrived in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Owned by John Glover, who died during his passage across the Atlantic, the object transferred to Glover’s widow Elizabeth, who later married the first president of Harvard. The Great Salt (on display in the museums' silver cabinet on Level 2, Gallery 2340) is one of seven pieces of historic Harvard silver. This shape-shifting container, designed to hold salt for the dining table at a time when the mineral was a rare and valuable commodity, is invested with centuries of prestige. Originally the charge of the most important person sitting at the table, The Great Salt continued to be used throughout the 20th century as part of the regalia for inauguration ceremonies of new Harvard presidents.

    This object was selected by Jace Clayton, a visiting artist at the Harvard Art Museums, as the subject for a response — a sonic extension and intervention into The Great Salt’s narrative. . A display vitrine, much like those that protect precious objects elsewhere in the museums, here holds approximately 40 electronic synthesizer modules, connected with multicolored cables. Programmed using techniques such as granular synthesis, a process that breaks a sound into tiny “grains,” this collection of electronic components performs a new work — a composition designed by Clayton to self-modulate, actively generating new sounds and changing as it repeats. Three marímbulas — Afro-Cuban thumb pianos — surround the vitrine and can be played by visitors, affecting the presentation of the electronic sound.

    The year 1638, just as The Great Salt made its way to Massachusetts, was also when the first enslaved Africans arrived in the colony. This installation includes references to both 17th-century European and African musical forms, playing with associations between The Great Salt, the sea, and the Middle Passage. Through sound, the installation responds to The Great Salt with acts of performance, translation, and participation.

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    Salt Wood Salt Wire Salt Salt is a new composition by Jace Clayton, visiting artist at the Harvard Art Museums. It serves as a companion piece to his current exhibition. Written expressly for—and performed with—the new music ensemble Bent Duo and featuring Clayton’s live electronics, Salt Wood Salt Wire Salt Salt explores the structural themes of The Great Salt installation: 17th-century British classical song form, West African thumb-piano polyrhythms, granular synthesis, and playful interactivity.
  • The Jacob Lawrence of Jacob Lawrence (2018)

    The Jacob Lawrence of Jacob Lawrence is a new work by Jace Clayton, commissioned by the Black Mountain College Museum. The piece is included in the museum's inaugural show in its new site, 'Between Form and Content: Perspectives on Jacob Lawrence and Black Mountain College.' The Jacob Lawrence of Jacob Lawrence has two aspects: it exists as a single-channel video on view at the exhibition, and a composition for voice and electronics that Jace Clayton and Arooj Aftab performed in the museum on October 19th. Lawrence’s interest in the socioeconomic structures that contour racial imaginaries while reinforcing real-world inequality formed the starting point for this piece. In it, Clayton collects American newspaper mentions of ‘Jacob Lawrence’ that pre-date Jacob Lawrence, the celebrated artist. Excerpts from those articles, which reach back centuries, form the entirety of the libretto/script.
  • Silver Clouds (2017)

    Silver Clouds is a site-specific audio work Clayton created to accompany Andy Warhol's installation of the same name at the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. "The Warhol Museum and Powdermill Nature Reserve, Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s environmental research station, invited interdisciplinary artist Jace Clayton to compose a sound installation for Andy Warhol’s Silver Clouds installation. This audio intervention is inspired by both the work of museum researchers at Powdermill and Warhol’s futuristic floating sculptures, which hover between the natural and the artificial. Clayton’s piece reflects the bird-like sounds created by oscillators in David Tudor’s original score for Rainforest, Merce Cunningham’s 1968 dance performance set amidst Warhol’s Silver Clouds." website | interview
  • Room 21 (2016)

    This site-specific hour-long composition/performance for 20 musicians was written and choreographed by Clayton in response to the art and objects in Philadelphia's Barnes Foundation, where it debuted. The project was curated by Lee Tusman in conjunction with Ars Nova Workshop. More info.
  • Enkutatash እንቁጣጣሽ

    Enkutatash እንቁጣጣሽ  is a large-scale public choral work by Jace Clayton, transforming security threats into spiritual renewal. The piece debuted on September 11th 2014, the Ethiopian New Year (Ethiopia uses its own calendar system), and featured a choir singing a musical rendition of the color-coded Homeland Security Threat Level changes superimposed with seasonal African songs. Enkutatash እንቁጣጣሽ treats the changing threat-level data as a musical score to be sung by a D.C. choir and audience participants, using the five-note (pentatonic) Ethiopian musical scale. Accompanying the choir are modified East African harvest songs for masinqo (one-string lute) and voice, performed by Gezachew Habtemariam and Kalkidan Woldermariam. The D.C. area is home to the largest Ethiopian community outside of Ethiopia. After the performance there was music by all-lady DJ crew Anthology of Booty and complimentary vegetarian Ethiopian food in tribute to the holiday, from which the piece takes its name and inspiration. The free outdoor event, commissioned by the 5x5 Project, was staged at the Gateway Pavilion at St. Elizabeth’s East, in the Anacostia neighborhood. St. Elizabeth's is the former national mental institution that currently houses, among others, the Department of Homeland Security.
  • Gbadu and the Moirai Index (2018)

    Gbadu is an experimental musical composition and performance piece for four vocalists and the stock market. The performance will be staged in New York near Wall Street, with singers representing the Moirai (the three Fates) and Gbadu (their West African counterpart). Each singer’s vocals are processed and transformed by real-time financial data, mapped to character-appropriate stock market indexes. Due to market fluctuations, although the score is fixed, each performance will sound radically different. This project is supported by Creative Capital, with debut slated for summer 2018.
  • Julius Eastman Memorial Dinner (2013-)

    Conceived for twin pianos, live electronics, and voice, Clayton's The Julius Eastman Memorial Dinner brings fresh insight to the artistic legacy of the mercurial gay African American composer Eastman, and contributed to Eastman's newfound popularity. ("...will advance [Eastman's] cause with an eclectic young audience" - Russel Platt, The New Yorker, 2013) The Julius Eastman Memorial Dinner is built around new arrangements of Evil Nigger (1979) and Gay Guerrilla (1980), two of Eastman's most important, if rarely performed, piano compositions. Clayton uses his own custom-designed 'Sufi Plug Ins' software to live-process the pianos of David Friend and Emily Manzo, and also intersperses musical vignettes and new compositions – performed by neo-Sufi vocalist Arooj Aftab – to lend context and nuance to the composer's saga, which was cut short in 1990 at age 49.  JEMD debuted in 2013 and continues to be performed. An album version of the project was released on New Amsterdam Records.
  • Sufi Plug Ins (2012 – ongoing)

    SUFI PLUG INS is a free suite of music-making software tools based on nonwestern notions of sound & a poetic interface. This brief demonstration video shows version 1 in action. For more information, please visit the project site.