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Performance  |  Sarah Hennies: Contralto

Saturday, March 28, 2020, 7:30–9:30 pm

Tickets: $20 General Admission, $5 Student with ID, Free for Members


"imaginative, resourceful, witty, defiant...haven't been so deeply moved by a new piece in ages." - Steve Smith, National Sawdust

”The whole experience was quite disorientating but very emotionally charged, leaving me with an unsettled feeling that is difficult to describe. During the performance, I was mesmerised by the humour and humanity of the film’s expressive subjects.” - Kate Bradley, 
Revolutionary Socialism in the 21st Century

"[The work] of a woman considering herself and women like her to a degree I have never seen on stage before." - Tamzin Elliott, San Francisco Classical Voice 

"Contralto" is a one-hour work for video, strings, and percussion that exists in between the spaces of experimental music and documentary. The piece features a cast of transgender women speaking, singing, and performing vocal exercises accompanied by a dense and varied musical score that includes a variety of conventional and "non-musical" approaches to sound-making.

When a transgender man begins taking testosterone it causes his vocal cords to thicken and his voice deepens and drops into the so-called "masculine range." It is not widely known, however, that trans women's voices are unaffected by higher levels of estrogen in the body. Being a woman with a "male voice" creates a variety of difficult situations for trans women including prolonged and intensified dysphoria and higher risk of harassment and violence due to possibly exposing someone as trans unintentionally.

"Contralto" - defined in musical terms as "the lowest female singing voice" - uses the sound of trans women's voices to explore transfeminine identity from the inside and examines the intimate and peculiar relationship between gender and sound.

"Contralto" stars Julie Ashkin, Alexandra Brandon, Alyssa Green, Anna McCormick, Dreia Spies, Sarang Umarji, and Josie Zanfordino and was premiered at Issue Project Room in Brooklyn, NY on November 30, 2017. The musical score was performed by Erik Carlson (violin), Wendy Richman (viola), T.J. Borden (cello), James Ilgenfritz (contrabass), Tim Feeney, Greg Stuart, and Ashley Tini (percussion).

Contralto has been performed or screened at:

ALICE (Copenhagen)
BWA Gallery of Contemporary Art (Wroclaw)
Cornell Cinema (Ithaca)
Echo Park Film Center (Los Angeles)
Edition Festival (Stockholm)
Handwerker Gallery (Ithaca)
Inkonst (Malmö)
ISSUE Project Room (Brooklyn)
McGill University (Montreal)
MOCA Tucson (Tucson, AZ)
Monday Evening Concerts (Los Angeles)
OBEY Convention (Halifax, NS)
Plaza Theatre (Atlanta)
Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (Portland, OR)
Radius Gallery (Santa Cruz)
Royal Northern College of Music (Manchester, UK)
send + receive Festival (Winnipeg)
La Sobilla (Verona)
Toronto International Film Festival Bell Lightbox Theatre (Toronto)

Made possible by support from:
Community Arts Partnership of Tompkins County
Foundation for Contemporary Arts Emergency Grant
New York Foundation for the Arts Shelley Pinz Professional Development Grant


Sarah Hennies (b. 1979, Louisville, KY) is a composer based in Ithaca, NY whose work is concerned with a variety of musical, sociopolitical, and psychological issues including queer & trans identity, love, intimacy, psychoacoustics, and percussion. She is primarily a composer of solo and chamber works, but is also active in improvisation, film, performance art, and dance. She presents her work internationally as both a composer and percussionist with notable performances at Le Guess Who (Utrecht), Festival Cable (Nantes), send + receive (Winnipeg), O’ Art Space (Milan), The OBEY Convention (Halifax), Cafe Oto (London), ALICE (Copenhagen), and the Edition Festival (Stockholm). As a composer, she has received commissions across a wide array of performers and ensembles including Bearthoven (NYC), Bent Duo (NYC), Cristian Alvear (Santiago), Claire Chase (NYC), R. Andrew Lee (Denver), LIMINAR (Mexico City), The Living Earth Show (San Francisco), The Thin Edge New Music Collective (Toronto), Two-Way Street (Knoxville), and Yarn/Wire (NYC).

In late 2017 she premiered the groundbreaking work, Contralto at Issue Project Room (NYC), a film exploring transfeminine identity that uses aspects of “voice feminization” therapy as artistic material. The piece features a cast of transgender women accompanied by a dense and varied live score for string quartet and three percussionists. The work received widespread acclaim and has since been performed and screened all over the world at a variety of venues and festivals including Bent Frequency (Atlanta), La Sobilla (Verona), Monday Evening Concerts (Los Angeles), MOCA Tucson, Time-Based Art (Portland, OR), and the Toronto International Film Festival’s Bell Lightbox Theatre.

She is the recipient of a 2019 Foundation for Contemporary Arts Grants to Artists Award, a 2016 fellowship in music/sound from the New York Foundation for the Arts, and has received additional support from New Music USA, the New York State Council on the Arts, and the Community Arts Partnership of Tompkins County.

Hennies is currently a member of improvised music group Meridian with Greg Stuart and Tim Feeney, a duo with sound/performance artist Jason Zeh, and the Queer Percussion Research Group with Jerry Pergolesi, Bill Solomon, and Jennifer Torrence. Since 2013 she has operated Weighter Recordings, a small record label for unusual music.

Sarah is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor of Music at Bard College for the 2019-20 school year.