Amy X Neuburg

"One of the things I love about being in the avant-garde world is that there are really no limitations to my creativity."
-- Amy X Neuburg

View Spark segment on Amy X Neuburg. Original air date: March 2007. (Running Time: 11:07)

Since the mid-1980s, Amy X Neuburg has been combining her staggering vocal abilities with electronics to create music that defies categorization. Working both as a solo performer and as part of a number of ensembles, Neuburg writes, records and performs a hybrid style of music she calls "avant-cabaret." Spark pays a visit to this groundbreaking musician as she prepares a new song cycle, entitled "The Secret Language of Subways."

Neuburg primarily uses electronic instruments in her work -- programmable drum pads, mixers and a looper -- which allows her to instantaneously record and play back sound. Before she can perform a song, Neuburg must prepare each of these devices, a task that can take weeks of experimenting with an array of configurations and functions. To these tools she adds her voice, which boasts an impressive four-octave range.

In performance, all sounds are executed live: Despite Neuburg's reliance on electronic instruments, she uses no prerecorded tapes or canned sound. Looping allows her to create a sound live then repeat it to build a dense and dynamic sound texture. In addition, Neuburg leaves little room for improvisation, as each sound is meticulously scripted, every note precisely choreographed.

Subtitled "A Song Cycle About Love and War and New York," Neuburg's "The Secret Language of Subways" is composed of 12 songs that were largely conceived while riding New York's subway system. Using urban metaphors to examine questions of love, loss, deceit, art and social responsibility, "The Secret Language of Subways" is Neuburg's most ambitious work yet, both in terms of content and musically. Enlisting the help of Bay Area cellists Jess Ivry, Elaine Kreston and Beth Vandervennet, she has put together an unusual and challenging quartet.

Born in Cheltenham, England, Amy X Neuburg began classical training in voice at the age of 13. She earned a B.Mus. from Oberlin Conservatory and a B.A. in linguistics from Oberlin College. Neuburg then went on to pursue a master's degree at Mills College, where she studied composition under electronic music pioneers Pauline Oliveros and David Rosenboom. In 1987, along with fellow Mills students Joel Davel, Tim Root and Herb Heinz, Neuburg formed the techno-theater ensemble MAP, later performing under the name "Amy X Neuburg and Men." Neuburg has also performed and toured the world in the operas of veteran minimalist composer Robert Ashley.

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