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TED2011

Maya Beiser: A cello with many voices

March 2, 2011

Cellist Maya Beiser plays a gorgeous eight-part modern etude with seven copies of herself, and segues into a meditative music/video hybrid -- using tech to create endless possibilities for transformative sound. Music is Steve Reich's "Cello Counterpoint," with video from Bill Morrison, then David Lang's "World to Come," with video by Irit Batsry.

Maya Beiser - Cellist
Maya Beiser commissions and performs radical new work for the cello. Full bio

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Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
(Music)
00:32
(Applause)
07:04
Thank you.
07:27
Imagining a solo cello concert,
07:29
one would most likely think of Johann Sebastian Bach
07:32
unaccompanied cello suites.
07:35
As a child
07:38
studying these eternal masterpieces,
07:40
Bach's music would intermingle
07:43
with the singing voices of Muslim prayers
07:45
from the neighboring Arab village
07:48
of the northern Kibbutz in Israel
07:50
where I grew up.
07:52
Late at night, after hours of practicing,
07:54
I would listen to Janis Joplin and Billie Holiday
07:56
as the sounds of tango music
07:59
would be creeping from my parents' stereo.
08:01
It all became music to me.
08:04
I didn't hear the boundaries.
08:07
I still start every day
08:10
practicing playing Bach.
08:12
His music never ceases
08:14
to sound fresh and surprising to me.
08:16
But as I was moving away
08:18
from the traditional classical repertoire
08:20
and trying to find new ways
08:22
of musical expression,
08:24
I realized that with today's technological resources,
08:26
there's no reason to limit
08:29
what can be produced at one time
08:31
from a single string instrument.
08:34
The power and coherency
08:36
that comes from one person hearing, perceiving and playing all the voices
08:38
makes a very different experience.
08:42
The excitement of a great orchestra performance
08:45
comes from the attempt to have a collective of musicians
08:48
producing one unified whole concept.
08:51
The excitement from using multi-tracking,
08:54
the way I did in the piece you will hear next,
08:57
comes from the attempt
09:01
to build and create a whole universe
09:03
with many diverse layers,
09:06
all generated from a single source.
09:09
My cello and my voice are layered
09:12
to create this large sonic canvas.
09:14
When composers write music for me,
09:17
I ask them to forget what they know about the cello.
09:20
I hope to arrive at new territories
09:22
to discover sounds I have never heard before.
09:25
I want to create endless possibilities
09:28
with this cello.
09:30
I become the medium through which the music is being channeled,
09:32
and in the process, when all is right,
09:35
the music is transformed
09:38
and so am I.
09:40
(Music)
09:49
(Applause)
19:59

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Maya Beiser - Cellist
Maya Beiser commissions and performs radical new work for the cello.

Why you should listen

The founding cellist of the Bang on a Can All Stars, cellist Maya Beiser is a frequent collaborator with artists across the spectrum of creativity -- visual artists such as Shirin Neshat, video artists such as Irit Batsry -- to produce groundbreaking multimedia concerts.

Composers who write for her follow her passion for melding influences -- Middle Eastern sounds, classic and modern tones. Her newest project, Elsewhere, is described as "a CELLoOpera." Elsewhere is an imaginative retelling of the Biblical legend of Lot's wife, created by the "dream team" of Maya, director Robert Woodruff, composers Missy Mazzoli and Eve Beglarian, writer Erin Cressida Wilson, and choreographer Karole Armitage

The original video is available on TED.com
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