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Van-Anh Vo and Chris Brown at the Hanoi Sound Stuff Festival April 9, 2015

Van-Anh Vo and Chris Brown
at the Hanoi Sound Stuff Festival
April 9, 2015

Chris Brown & Van-Anh VoIn April 2015 duo of Van-Anh Vo and Chris Brown will be featured at the Hanoi Sound Stuff Festival, where they travel with support of a MAAF_new_logo_colorUSArtists International grant from the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation.

Van-Anh Vo and Chris Brown are musicians and educators who have known each other for many years and recently begun to collaborate on stage. Their contrasting cultural backgrounds and specializations provide starting-points for a hybrid musical practice enabled by improvisation and electronic media, and bridged by mutual interest in both new and traditional musics. While teaching classes in non-western music traditions at Mills College in Oakland, Brown hired Vo’s Vietnamese ensemble to perform at Mills College in 2004. This meeting led to discussions about melodic ornamentation in Vietnamese music, and Vo’s interest in creating a notation for these ornaments, which does not yet exist in Vietnamese music, which she thinks could help to preserve and teach these aspects of traditional music to new generations of Vietnamese musicians. Brown wrote software that tracks these ornaments electronically, creating graphical shapes that can be used to represent them. He then applied these shapes to computer-synthesized voices in creating their first collaborative work “Two Left Hands”, which premiered at Mills College in November, 2013. Vo and Brown have since continued to refine and perform this piece in concerts featuring both traditional Vietnamese music and electronic works.  The mission of Vo and Brown’s duo is to preserve and celebrate the melodic qualities of Vietnamese traditional music in the context of new electronic music.

Music of the Lost Cities

by Johanna Poethig and Chris Brown (2014)

Music of the Lost Cities is a psycho-geographical, mixed-media narrative that explores pre and post apocalyptic urban and natural landscapes through imaginary characters named “the sub-colonials” who move through past, futurist, and surreal environments. Like everything else in our late stage capitalist colonial culture, time has been commodified, so no matter how much time we save, we have no time to spare. And in every moment another species on our planet is lost, from the cities to the wilderness. The sub-colonials have reemerged, humans in an innocent and suspended state, navigating by sound in their media dreams through a familiar world of ruined landscapes. Music of the Lost Cities is an electronically animated shadow-play, inventing a futurist epic by drawing on the free association of sounds and images from many different cultures.

The development of this work took place during collaborations with local and global collaborators within real and virtual spaces. It began through artist meetings during the Bay Area/ Manila/ Mexico Galleon Trade artist exchange in 2008. In January 2009 a live radio event titled Transmissions Gangan at Cubao-X in Quezon City, Philippines featured electronic images projected on a band performing live electronic music which was transmitted via FM radio to cars with hifi audio systems creating a live video-sound installation. Collaborators included members of the SABAW Media Kitchen from Manila, Philippines: Tengal (Sound), Tad Ermitaño (Visuals), Caliph8 (Sound) and Malek Lopez (Sound). It continued in February 2010 with Music of the Lost Cities: Scavenging the Cultural Apocalypse at The Living Room in Malate, Manila, which featured computer networking used to create interactive links between the live electronic sound and video. Performances have also taken place along the way at Taman Budaya Art Center, Jogjakarta, Indonesia, and in San Francisco, Oakland, San Diego, and Joshua Tree, California.

The outcome is an evolving series of video chapters, the first two of which were sourced from images and sounds collected during travels in Southeast Asia and India during Spring 2010. Chapter Three is based on Johanna’s performance as Oras Ligaya (“Hour of Happiness”), inspired by the classic TV show of the same name that she watched in Manila as a child, in which Time itself is the central protagonist. Production of the fourth and final chapter, The Landscape Speaks, began during an artist residency at the late composer Lou Harrison’s “Harrison House” in Joshua Tree, California.

wi-fi version:

cellular version:

Lost Cities, chapter 4 only

wi-fi version:

cellular version:


upcoming events

(US) Going Under is my 2020 piece for 6 flat-gongs (gangsa) based on data mapping the numbers of Covid-19 infections during the first three months of the pandemic in 6 US states. A video of its first performance earlier this month in Oakland, CA has just been released online as part of the “Composite By the Numbers” series curated by Dayang Yraola in Metro-Manila, Philippines.

While its structure involves a sonification of clinical data, the twenty-minute piece is a meditation on the passing away of human lives we have been living through during this pandemic, and a sonic ritual focusing attention on the healing qualities of time and nature.

Thanks to all my collaborators on the piece: Johanna Poethig, Philip Perkins, Anne Perez, Brenda Hutchinson, Suddhu Tewari, Carly McLane, Brendan Glasson, and especially Dayang Yraola..