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Stony Brook Students Win SUNY PACC Prize

Ensemble Decipher rehearsing member Eric Lemmon’s toy_5 for the New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival, June 2020.

Students in the College of Arts and Sciences were recently awarded the SUNY PACC Prize for Performing Arts, Creation and Curation. The modular and technology-focused experimental music group, Ensemble Decipher, which includes Department of Music students Joseph Bohigian, PhD ’20; Sam Beebe, PhD ’21; Robert Cosgrove, DMA ‘20; Taylor Long, DMA ‘22; Eric Lemmon, PhD ’21; Chelsea Loew, PhD ’21; and Niloufar Nourbakhsh, PhD ’21, will tour multiple campuses in the SUNY system and commission new music from SUNY students and faculty alike. Amy Kahng, a third-year PhD student in the Department of Art’s Art History and Criticism program, received the prize for her curatorial exhibition proposal, Mis/Communication: Language and Power in Contemporary Art.

Ensemble Decipher

Ensemble Decipher after performing at the NowNet Arts Conference on November 4, 2020.
Ensemble Decipher after performing at the NowNet Arts Conference on November 4, 2020.

Since its founding as a laptop ensemble in 2017, Ensemble Decipher has evolved into a flexible, adventurous ensemble dedicated to advancing the work of composers and sound artists experimenting with vintage, contemporary, and emerging technologies, with the laptop serving as the central hub of connection. Through the prize, Ensemble Decipher will commission student and faculty composers and sound artists from SUNY Fredonia, Purchase, Oswego, Stony Brook and Buffalo State College. The ensemble will then tour each SUNY institution as well as perform the new works publicly at a New York City venue. 

“I’m incredibly proud of Ensemble Decipher who all worked together to make a compelling final presentation/performance to SUNY PACC after developing an entirely new approach to their presentation based on feedback on the initial round,” said Margaret Schedel, associate professor in the Department of Music. “By reaching out to music departments across SUNY, they were able to create an exciting commissioning and performing opportunity across the State.”

Ensemble Decipher rehearsing member Eric Lemmon’s toy_5 for the New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival, June 2020.
Ensemble Decipher rehearsing member Eric Lemmon’s toy_5 for the New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival, June 2020.

“This is something we’ve been working on collectively for several months with countless revisions, group meetings and practice pitches,” said Taylor Long, DMA ‘22, Ensemble Decipher member. “We’re extremely grateful to the SUNY PACC prize judges for affording us the opportunity to see our project through, and we can’t wait to begin collaborating with students and faculty throughout the SUNY system.”

The members of Ensemble Decipher share a desire to introduce their community to a sonic expansion of musical performance through their unconventional instrument — an assembly of laptops, speakers and human performers. Ensemble Decipher was started in 2017 by current Stony Brook PhD candidate Niloufar Nourbakhsh, but progressively grew beyond the medium into a modular, technology-focused experimental ensemble using anything from laptops to accelerometers attached to rocks, boxes trained via machine learning to respond to touch, acoustic instruments, and anything in between. The Ensemble strives to dissolve the notion that new music requires performer virtuosity by embracing the technological advancements of our time to create complex and unique soundworlds that redefine the capacities of new music while also reflecting on the power structures that lace them. 

View a highlight reel of recent performances from Ensemble Decipher, including works in order: toy_3 by Eric Lemmon, Overshare by Lainie Fefferman, HOLDING_SPACE by Yaz Lancaster and Stone Dreams by Joseph Bohigian. 

Ensemble Decipher has worked with notable U.S.-based composers and technologists including Department of Music Associate Professor Margaret Schedel, Mara Helmuth, Hannah Davis, and Lainie Fefferman and has premiered works by many others. Recent feature performances include concerts at the Society of Electro-Acoustic Music, International Computer Music Conference, New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival, Network Music Festival and an ensemble residency at EarFest. 


Han Yohan, Phallo Me (美) (still), 2017
Han Yohan, Phallo Me (美) (still), 2017

Mis/Communication is a curatorial exhibition proposal that examines the ways in which “normative” languages are privileged over “non-normative” languages. The exhibition features video, sculpture, print and interactive media works by 11 artists who question the power dynamics of language as they manifest in this contemporary moment. From struggling with confronting an ableist society to questioning the inherent coloniality of adapting to different languages or dialects, these artists question the hierarchies of power that inform communication. Some of the artists in the checklist include Jesse Chun, Martine Syms, Han Yohan, Christine Sun Kim and Shan Goshorn, among others. 

“Amy Kahng’s Mis/Communication originates from this bright young scholar’s intuitive investigation into ‘power dynamics of language,’” said Sohl Lee, assistant professor in the Department of Art and Kahng’s advisor. “Here, language refers not only to the spoken or written words defined by national or cultural linguistic traditions like Haitian Creole, Korean and Portuguese, but also to performative body language, American Sign Language and Artificial Intelligence’s voice recognition program. It’s a timely exhibition that explores the challenges and potentials of communication, and I am thrilled to see it come to fruition thanks to the SUNY PACC award.” 

Single-channel video, 7 minutes, 1920
Single-channel video, 7 minutes, 1920

Kahng’s primary research includes modern and contemporary art in South Korea and New York and transnational art practices since the 1970s. She has contributed to curatorial projects at art institutions such as the Museum of Modern Art and the Getty Museum and has worked in commercial galleries such as Kukje Gallery, Commonwealth and Council, and AA|LA Gallery. 

“I am incredibly honored to be selected for such a prestigious prize,” Kahng said. “I want to express my deepest gratitude to the SUNY PACC organizers who provided feedback and workshopped my proposal over several months, to my mentors and advisors at Stony Brook University, and to the judges for providing this opportunity to realize my curatorial project. While currently in the process of finding and securing the exhibition venue, I am thoroughly looking forward to presenting Mis/Communication to the SUNY community and beyond.” 

The PACC prizes were announced live on YouTube by SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras.

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