Cellista's 'Finding San Jose' a Love Letter to the South Bay

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Cellista "Finding San Jose" interview for KQED Arts. (photo by Brian Eder)

Everyone knows the way to San Jose by now. But finding its pulse and unique voice is the new challenge of the day, one that Cellista has taken head-on in her debut solo album, Finding San Jose.

Cellista (born Freya Seeburger in 1983, in Colorado) arrived onto the San Jose art scene during the autumn of 2010; she firmly planted her black Luis & Clarke carbon fibre cello into the soil of Silicon Valley and has nurtured its roots ever since. Ask her about being a musician in San Jose and she’ll tell you a love story full of hopes, accomplishments and heartbreak. Each track of the album is the response of a musician to finding an independent voice in a place bustling with talent and creativity, both often overshadowed by the tech and manufacturing industries.

Cellista art installation & performance at SubZERO Festival 2014
Cellista art installation & performance at SubZERO Festival 2014 (Cherri Lakey)

Her first impression of San Jose -- and the reason she and husband Nico decided to move here -- was the abundance of the visual arts. “It’s everywhere," she says. "I’ve never seen anything like it. The community is really strong, really collaborative and really encouraging and in a way that’s completely different from other scenes. It’s special and unique in a way I’ve never seen, even compared to Denver or Paris and other cities, in all my traveling. It just made me want to have a new relationship with art and art making, and my cello is my tool.”

One of Cellista’s earliest tool-wielding performances was an outdoor art installation she and visual artist Tulio Flores envisioned for the 2014 SubZERO Festival. Together they created a dramatic bird cage, large enough to stage her cello and a looping station, and invited audience members to write something about themselves and San Jose on tags that would be tied to the cage. Throughout the event, Cellista chose random tags, using them to improvise music inspired by the feeling the words gave her, and would even vocalize their words through her looping station to add texture to her melodies. “They left very confessional thoughts on those tags," she says, "as if it were a very sacred space.”

Cellista, 'Finding San Jose' album cover.

Cellista has continued her tag-gathering at different events over the years, and has now amassed over 1,000 tags. A few of those initial tags appear on the album on “A Conversation at Trials." “I took eight of those tags at random and I gave them to poet David Perez," she explains. "I had him create a poem from those eight tags, and I also gave him eight prompts of my own, and he created this collaged ‘found’ poem which couldn’t exist without San Jose."


It is this broad creative process that makes the album an overall brilliant gem. True to her “pastiche” curatorial style, this inclusion and collaboration with other creatives is what makes Finding San Jose a captivating and mesmerizing listening experience. The roster of eclectic performers featured on the album include Rykarda Parasol, Emcee Infinite, hip-hop artist Dem One, and the Juxtapositions Chamber Ensemble. The distinct differences of genre or styles from song to song might be jarring, were it not for the flow of Cellista’s cello compositions, giving the listener a sensation of being right alongside her.

Live performance on the occasion of Cellista's interview for KQED Arts; filmed and edited by Brian Eder.

As Cellista suggests in the liner notes, on how best to listen to Finding San Jose: “Be alone. In a candlelit room; root yourself firmly in the present with eyes wide open. Listen all the way through.”

Indeed, letting one's imagination conjure the feeling of leaves crunching beneath the feet and the expressive faces of city dwellers passing by in “St. James Park” changes one's perspective of San Jose. Whether you live here or not, it will be a new one that connects you to an alluring persona you can fall in love with -- which is what Cellista intended all along.


Cellista premieres 'Finding San Jose' in a theatrical album release incorporating film, dance, poetry and theater on Saturday, Oct. 29, at Little Boxes Theater in San Francisco. More details here.