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Artist transforms MRI exam experience through musical collaboration

Wikipedia Commons

Concert audiences in Rochester recently had to opportunity to hear the premier of new work that combines an ensemble of cellos with sounds captured from a most unlikely source. WXXI’s Mona Seghatoleslami went in search of what inspired the new work.

Sterz: Sound is always something I’m working with, whether it be a vacuum, or a bird’s nest, or anything like that.

That’s the artist who goes by the name of Sterz, and the reason he’s speaking in this halting way is…

Sterz: In 1998, I had a stroke. And I just didn’t get upset about it. It’s what it is.  And I’ve carried (?) on from there until now.

Credit Wikipedia Commons

Since then, Sterz has spent a lot of time getting checkups via Magnetic Resonance Imaging or MRI. After 15 years of undergoing these very loud tests, he asked to record one:

Sterz: I did my usual thing, and meditated, and then fell asleep. And then went back and listened to it. And, they were just…just sounds, and sounds of glorious, and confusing, and mentally … and physically and spiritually…eh (Esther: Disturbing maybe? The sounds are very powerful, disturbing, or interesting?)  Disturbing, but also relaxing.  

Cellist Esther Rogers met Sterz at a potluck, and talked about a shared interest in collaborating on artistic and musical projects:

Esther: We first got together, I just brought my cello over to Sterz’s studio, and he played me these crazy sounds, and I just started playing, I was really insecure actually (right), okay, I don’t know, I’ll just play this and play that. I started playing a specific sound in the very low register and that (yes) hit a very emotional (right) place for Sterz, and we knew we had something (right, right), that this was what Sterz was looking for when he was imagining cellos (right).  And that was really exciting for me, I mean, exciting that umm, I got to part of something that impacted someone so immediately with my cello, and also--

Sterz: It was immediately…

Esther: Yeah, immediately, an immediate connection once I hit on those specific pitches, and to realize that my instrument that I practice, could actually be so powerful emotionally. I was not sure what I was even trying to do, just okay Okay, we’re putting three cellos with this, and to even sit down and kinda talk about it. Just being patient for these ideas was something.

Sterz: I was the exact opposite. I was …I was…wondering how I could get it out on paper.

Esther: Yeah, it’s been fascinating to learn that even machinery, mechanical sounds, have pitches, and rhythms. As I listened over and over to the MRI, I could only handle a few minutes at a time in my headphones, or I’d need a break, but the I started zoning in on this has a pitch center, and it’s using only a few types of pitches, very specific sounds or Instruments, if we wanted to call it that.

The result of the collaboration between Esther and Sterz is a 17-minute work they call “EZ: A Performance Art composition for three cellos, performer, and MRI’. 

Esther: It’s a very experiential piece. I know that when we were creating a video to present the idea, I found it very powerful, just playing in this environment, and taking in the experience of it, not just thinking about a story to it, but It made me very – well, a little bit emotional, and it was an experience. Something happened doing that, even just preparing. 

Sterz: yeah, I agree.

Copyright 2014 WXXI News

Mona Seghatoleslami is the host and producer on WXXI Classical 91.5 FM weekdays from 3 to 7 p.m. She also hosts the lunchtime concert series Live From Hochstein at 12:10 p.m. Wednesdays, interviews musicians, produces special programs, and works on any project she can find that helps connect people and music in our community through WXXI.