Carolyn Chen


Carolyn Chen has made music for supermarket, demolition district, and the dark. Her work reconfigures the everyday to retune habits of our ears through sound, story, light, and movement. Studying the guqin, Chinese zither traditionally played for private meditation in nature, has informed her listening in social spaces. Recent projects include an audio essay on a scream and commissions for Klangforum Wien and the LA Phil. Described by The New York Times as “the evening’s most consistently alluring … a quiet but lush meditation,” her work has been presented in 25 countries and supported by the Berlin Prize, Fulbright, and ASCAP’s Fred Ho Award. Recordings and writings are available on Leonardo Music Journal, MusikTexte, Experimental Music Yearbook, and the New Centennial Review. Chen earned a Ph.D. in music from UC San Diego, and a M.A. in Modern Thought and Literature and B.A. in music from Stanford University.



Hedges juxtaposes the terminology of dividing national boundaries with the shock of a Cesarean birth. In the background, the poet sings a Tamil lullaby to her child, the “ari ro ari ari ari ro” quoted at the end of the poem, here incrementally harmonized at growing intervals.

Frequency (Alka’s Testimony)

This is a musique concrète montage assembled from snippets of foley library impact sounds and non-verbal “room sound” sections of the recording of Alka Sinha’s courtroom testimony in the sentencing of the men responsible for her husband’s death, including the voice-mail greeting of Divyendu Sinha. The assemblage finds a rhythm in these spaces between their words.

Source: Alka Sinha speaks on loss of her husband, sentencing day, 10/18/2013, posted by mast radio, Oct 18, 2013,

Lawn (Arid)

Lawn (Arid) is set up in a call and response song structure, with descriptors of arid lawns bouncing across the page from recollected domestic tasks and sports played in South India. In particular, tennikoit is a ring-tossing game played on a tennis-like court, with each player catching and returning the ring to the opponent’s court. Paralleling the game’s structure, I sang with my voice in a loose shadow of the poet’s, beginning each line in the same place, but often diverging in trajectory by the end of the phrase. Each call starts as a solo, but the responses accumulate in round form, each new line layering it's harmony over all of its predecessors. At the end, the whole crowd of voices plays out a few times, with different soloists moving in and out of focus. In and out of the background plays crowd response sounds from a recorded tennikoit match.

Source:  “38th Senior National Tennikoit Championship 3,” posted by Indian Tennikoit, Aug 19, 2014.

Stoop (Damp)

Stoop (Damp) contrasts scenes of Midwestern microaggressions with childhood memories in India. This assemblage contrasts a cold, wet, outside sonic space overlaid by the friction of closely roaming intervals, with a warm indoor scene lit by Zameen’s imaginative storytelling.

Curb 4

Curb 4 is a grid of different shades gray – the word itself in alternate spellings, objects holding the color, and phrases describing Sunando Sen, print-shop owner and immigrant killed when he was pushed off the subway platform by a woman who told police she has hated Hindus and Muslims since 9-11. Between the poet’s utterances roars a wailing subway backed by shifting shapes of pink noise which threaten to obliterate the voice. The arrival of the train is elongated in the manner of an ever-circling sonic barber’s pole.

Field recording: Subway, Maniccola, Jan.7 2013.


Threshold narrates a speaker’s physical reactions to hearing the news of the shooting of Srinivas Kuchibhotla, imagining the same violence enacted on her yet-to-be-born daughter. Like the speaker (and the author), I was pregnant and moving into the third trimester while making this assemblage, and integrated a recording of my own daughter's fetal heartbeat, time-stretched into “canons sung in double-time,” into the assemblage. The piano ballad in the background is a reduction of a quartet based on the same poem for loadbang ensemble.

Lawn (Temperate)

This poem tells a story of meeting two Bills, Susans, Phils, and Marys who fail in their attempts to pronounce the name “Divya”, whose “velvet D” holds comparison to common words in standard English. The song starts with a simple antiphony of Anglo-Saxon names uttered by Josh and Divya, steadily layering in sung versions in a seemingly endless procession. The second part offers a sung pronunciation guide to the D of Divya. Each repetition slightly tilts its timing, gradually encroaching in closeness.