Awardee: Emily Bate

Primary Artistic Medium: Music


I’m proposing a Duet Machine: a low-tech kiosk installed in public space, where individual participants learn a simple piece of music to sing in “duet” with an element of the environment around them. The music will be accessible to all experience levels. The piece will create an opportunity to connect with, respond to, and thus “duet” with one element of the more-than-human world: squirrels, birds, buildings, weather, etc. This piece provides a singing experience for all kinds of people, attunes our senses to the world around us, and creates musical connections safely in the age of social isolation.

My recent artistic practice is based on researching communal singing culture, encouraging everybody to claim and strengthen their voices, and composing new work with both amateur and professional singers. The onset of COVID-19 ended the possibility of safe, in-person communal singing, overnight & indefinitely.

Although I’ve tried Zoom choir practice and Instagram concerts, these formats heighten my feeling of loss, and compare poorly to the “real thing.” Like many of us, I’ve also found myself spending lots more time outdoors. In a time when it’s harder to connect with my loved ones, I’ve experienced greater connection with plants, animals, the seasons and all the rest of the more-than-human world. So I’ve created lots of experiments since March to keep myself and others singing, without digital mediation, using some of the things we do have access to.

Here are a few of those experiments: a piece of music about spotted lanternflies, a “tea party” kit for people to use with their house plants, karaoke tracks for performing my music at home, and song sheets sent snail mail.

The Duet Machine, installed in public space, makes these experiments available to more people. I want to create a singing experience that feels safe, feels like a total surprise, and deepens engagement with the present.

Here’s how I think it will work: the machine will be a kiosk of some kind, somewhere in the city. As you approach, you will read some signage orienting you to your particular location: it will include a land acknowledgement, indicating that you’re on unceded Lenape territory, and any historical context particular to the site. The kiosk itself will be as low-tech as possible and easy to manipulate. It will offer folks a choice between several different duet partners likely to be in the vicinity. Music itself will be taught via a simple playback device, and there will be instructions for transforming the music into a true duet.

To give one brief example, I’ve written a duet for a singer and a squirrel. The song is a very simple melody repeats. To make it a duet, the singer manipulates the melody in response to the squirrel’s movements: when the squirrel is in motion, you sing, when it stops, you pause, etc.

The Duet Machine will offer several possibilities for people to engage in a singing experience that feels fresh and unexpected, and creates a moment of attunement with their physical environment.

People Making Sounds