“I see a lot of fluidity between disciplines,” says composer-performer Pamela Z. “The most compelling work, to me, is interdisciplinary work that makes use of visual and sonic things and brings those all together.” Born in Buffalo, New York, and based in San Francisco, California, the multi-hyphenate is constantly pushing the limits of her craft, using electronic instruments, intertwining voice manipulations with live digital pro- cessing, and experimenting with sound samples interwoven with self- made visual work.

This July, during her upcoming Studio Residency at MoMA, field recordings Z made abroad will be accompanied by a one-of-a-kind performance. The daring, masterful artist will have the opportunity to continue crafting her song cycle, Simultaneous, an emotive composition of voice and electronics, plus a small chamber ensemble that includes oboe, viola, cello, and percussion. This years-long project, which began in 2019 but was stalled by the pandemic, will finally come to fruition, continuing a busy but deservingly jam-packed 2023 for the respected virtuoso. “This year has been a very good year,” Z says.

Building upon her early passions for music and performance, Pamela Z has always been an artist, attuned to her surroundings and enthralled by the intricacies of life. “I have always been interested in sound and playing with sound,” she recounts. “Even from very early on, I was playing with tape recorders, trying to make layered sounds.” Nurtured and given freedom by her supportive family from a young age to explore her creative mind and sense of wonder, this luminary found her voice as an artist in her 20s. Informed but not defined by her classical sensibilities and traditionalist academic background, earning a BME at the University of Colorado College of Music, Z immersed herself in experimental music, employing a digital delay unit and looping her voice in real-time, still a vital element of her work today. Now, with decades of collaborative and solo projects under her belt and several prestigious grants and awards to her name–including a 2020 Rome Prize–this kaleidoscopic visionary continues to redefine the possibilities of what she can achieve while always staying grounded in her art.

Blending echoed voices, upbeat tempos, and electronic cuts, Pamela Z’s compositional work is recognized for the subversive, visceral element that evokes a lucid-dreamlike state in the listener. From concert halls to the intimacy of her studio, she has brought her unique sound to stages of all kinds, performing original work, while also creating chamber music and dance scores for the Ethel String Quartet, Jo Kreiter and Flyaway Productions, and Dakar Biennale. Yet this accomplished com- poser’s story is told not only sonically but also through captivating projections. She has also developed a visual component to her aural work throughout the years–centering on fantastical documentation, blurring one’s perception of reality. “I look at the visual world in the same way that I think about the sonic world, which is sort of a John Cage philosophy that all sounds are music, and it just depends on if it’s organized in the ear of the listener,” Z explains. “I feel that same way about visual things.”

Inspired by the clouds that seem to swallow the sky while in flight, or the sounds of pedestrians and automobiles reverberating throughout an Italian city, Z communicates her life experience and innate internal curiosity through art–resulting in a creative fluidity that defies categorization. “I tend to work in ways that reflect what I love, what I see, and what I get excited by,” she says. Endlessly pouring herself into her craft, Pamela Z creates artwork that is a feast for the senses.

Pamela Z begins her residency at the MoMA on July 8, 2023. Simultaneous will be on view from August 9 through August 13, 2023.

This feature appears in the pages of V143: now available for purchase!

Photography Marissa Leshno

Makeup Audra Langley

Editors Kala Herh, Savannah Sobrevilla

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