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Pamela Z Doesn't Check Her Bags

May 20-23, 2010

Bay Area musician/composer Pamela Z is doing her best to describe the premiere of the live version of Baggage Allowance. A living extension of a gallery installation currently on display at the Krannert Art Museum in Champaign, Illinois, the work will debut in Z Space at Project Artaud in San Francisco on May 20-23. Next to come is a Web component, which will go live sometime after the performance, the composer promises.

“One of the things I find really difficult is having to explain what I do,” Pamela Z says. Ironically, when attempting to get publicity for her multidimensional, multimedia performance work that ponders the physical, intellectual, and emotional concepts of “baggage” as both impediment and treasure, she finds herself dealing with publications that insist on stuffing Baggage Allowance into a one-size-fits-all compartment.

“I have to click only one category,” she says, “and I don’t ever know what to click. The tendency is to go for ‘music,’ because that’s what I’m best known for. But Baggage Allowance is much more theatrical than an ordinary music concert. And it would give the wrong impression to call it a ‘theater’ work. It’s a combination of live performance, video, and music that almost becomes visual art.”

Watch Baggage Allowance Trailer

A unifying element of the piece is Z’s voice. She sings, speaks, and processes her voice in real time to create layers of living sound. She also weaves sampled sounds into the structure of the composition. These include the voices of several people she interviewed about their experiences with actual baggage, plus ambient sounds that occur during travel and evoke memories of baggage in all its physical and metaphysical manifestations.

“While the sonic part is prominent, the live performance and visual components are just as important,” she says. “There will also be multiple channels of projected video, with images woven in to create an integrated whole.”

A lot of Z’s material is taken from interviews with regular people who discuss their experience with baggage in all its aspects: things they pack for a trip, things stored, things they can’t let go of, and things they have to pack and move. As these are woven into the piece, her music moves between more conventional melodic structures and ambient abstraction.

“I live in a world where some people only want to hear music that is very complex and abstract, and others want to hear melodic,” she allows. “My work liberally dips into both sides. Because I’m such a hyphenated composer-performer-media artist, my creations cross boundaries and give me a broader platform. But they’re not really in the pop world. I have a big fan base in classical music lovers who attend Other Minds, the San Francisco Symphony, and chamber music performances in the Green Room. And I also have a visual art following.”

If you are not yet among the legions of fans who flock to Pamela Z’s performances here and in New York, Berlin, Linz, Champaign, and Indianapolis — all of them places she’s packed her bags and flown to in the last six weeks — now’s the time. If it’s old baggage that’s keeping you from spreading wings, what better opportunity to send it packin’?

Jason Victor Serinus is a music critic, professional whistler, and lecturer on classical vocal recordings. His credits includes Seattle Times, Listen, Opera News, Opera Now, American Record Guide, Stereophile, Classical Voice North America, Carnegie Hall Playbill, Gramophone, San Francisco Magazine, Stanford Live, Bay Area Reporter, San Francisco Examiner, AudioStream, and California Magazine.