As one who has lived in the Los Angeles Area for over four decades, it continues to astound me how many performing artists and groups that I have yet to discover. One such artist is musician, composer and founder of Emersion Music Emer Kinsella. Her newest site-specific and mesmeric work RENOVATION will be presented on September 24, 2022 at 7 PM at the recently renovated Culver Steps in Culver City, California. Renovation features the Intrinsic Strings chamber string ensemble and contemporary movement artists The Friidom and Epiic movement. The work will also feature local contemporary, dance and media composers Emer Kinsella, Allyson Newman, Carla Patullo, Yuichiro Oku and Justin Bell. Tickets are on sale now.
Kinsella was born in Dublin, Ireland, studied violin at the Young European Strings School of Music in Dublin before moving to England to train at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London for violin performance. From there she enrolled at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna for violin and completed a Masters at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna where she studied Impact Design-Arts as Urban Innovation and later received her MFA in film scoring at Columbia College Chicago. Her first adventure into composing music for a documentary film occurred while living in Berlin, Germany for a year (2010) and met American filmmaker and director Alex Falk. After Berlin, she was called back to Vienna where she began writing music for radio plays. It was also in Vienna where Kinsella created her first site-specific experiential concert. It was her master’s in Urban Innovation, combined with her degree in music for film, and her work in Vienna that was the pathway to what Kinsella is creating today.
For the interview, we met on Zoom and Kinsella reflected on how she enjoys bringing different mediums and different types of people into the same environment together “to look through each other’s lenses and to find connecting threads.” Those she has worked with include film composers and contemporary movement composers and artists. This includes composer/choreographer, director and actor Friidom who is well known for his work cinematic dance genre “Epiic.” I first heard Kinsella’s extraordinary music scores while watching the premiere of a new work, Mythology of Self , by Los Angeles based choreographer Laurie Sefton.
Kinsella told me that she loves movement whether it is dancers working with her for a performance or her musicians moving about as they perform. That first site-specific work in Vienna involved the musicians working their way down from the top floor of an abandoned building that was set to be demolished, performing in the windows with an amazingly colorful lighting design, down to the ground floor and continuing outside to join the audience that had been observing them. “The audience was able to move around inside the building as well,” she said. Readers can see a clip from this performance HERE.
While talking with Kinsella about her work and how she enjoys locating buildings or urban spaces to perform in that one might not imagine a concert occurring in, I thought of LA’s site-specific entrepreneur Heidi Duckler. Indeed, their paths had crossed a few years before this when Kinsella contacted Duckler after seeing one of her site-specific performances. Kinsella later performed on one of Duckler’s Ebb & Flow presentations in the L.A.’s Historic Park, and it was there that Kinsella and Friidom first met. Each were involved in the show and after talking decided that they wanted to collaborate on a project about the pandemic called ‘Elegy for the Pandemic’ which later took place on the rooftop outside Heidi Duckler Dance’s office in the Bendix Building.
I was curious about how Kinsella saw what she does with music and movement as unique from what other movement artists and choreographers do. “With my music it’s coming from film music as well, so it’s cinematic music meets Friidom’s Epiic Movement dance style,” she said. “He comes from street dancing and contemporary dancing. His network of collaborators is a mixture of dancers that like to get together and create something different and unique.”
“He (Friidom) sees himself as a movement conductor”, Kinsella continued. “He’s a big fan of film and cinematic music as well.” She described how Friidom uses his hands like a conductor and this being yet another connection between them. “I love movement and seeing dancers be able to interpret the music I’ve written and see it in a new form.
Regarding improvisation, Kinsella said that there is some of that in this performance over a stretching and structured arch. Renovation includes written sections of music and a few trios where the musicians improvise over electronics with my music. “It brings a spontaneity and self-exploration out to the audience, as well as defined structures and written works,” Kinsella explained.
I asked Kinsella to explain how she felt about the difference between writing music for film and for dance. “I find that I write something completely different with movement artists coming from thinking about the words, the concepts and delving into those structured concepts,” she said. “I see the music take a very different form. Both end up with unique emotions and there’s storytelling in both. In film I can be more specific about what is happening. I also look to write at script level for films because there is that extra freedom where I feel that I can delve even deeper into the core of the music come together.” She enjoys both, but with movement artists she likes thinking about words and core concepts for structure.
For many audience members, they do not have the opportunity to experience dance performed to live music. The majority of dance companies cannot afford to pay the musicians and even if it involves an original score, they are forced to perform to pre-recorded music. “It’s a different dimensional experience to bring audiences to live music and to live chamber string players right there in an intimate setting and having the different aspects of movement artists and narrative music come together,” Kinsella said. “I love cross over and bringing different people together. It is something that I want to see more in our community too. To be able to tap into each other and to create something new out of it.”
It was in 2019 when Kinsella presented her Baldwin Hills concert using different spots on the overlook, “where people could stumble into groups of string players almost like a scavenger hunt,” she said. “You would see little parts of the music story that were spread across the overlook. For the various audience members, no one got to see each of the elements the same way like pieces of a puzzle. Depending on how fast they were, but depending on which path they chose, they stumbled upon a different one. We then led them to the main concert performance at the circular amphitheater outside at sunset which also had various narrative and film music composers’ works.”
Kinsella has been working on Renovation for the past two years, and I was curious as to how she came up with the title. “Renovation is basically about coming out of the pandemic,” she said. “I thought that it was important to explore stages, as in the five steps of renovation. It’s about looking inwards into ourselves and communities and seeing how we can pick up the pieces after Covid and move forward in terms of building better futures for ourselves and our society.
The structure of Renovation will follow the five steps and the performers will actually be on the Culver Steps. Kinsella explained the five steps. “The planning and budgeting,” she began, “The planning being a kind of awakening; budgeting is the self-costs that we go through for anything in our lives. The demolition is the taking of action, moving forward and getting rid of any toxic things that are in our lives – getting rid of that and the action of that. Then we have construction, that is constructing our lives again and finding better processes to do that with. The cleaning up, the fine tuning – a revelation for a better future.
Kinsella generally has an idea before bringing in the other collaborative team. “It is then through conversations that end up developing the work and bringing it to the final idea and concepts,” she responded to my question regarding her working process. These conversations between artists and the working process is what truly excites Kinsella. She noted that everyone brings to the table a different perspective on a single topic. “I come from my world of what I think of Renovation,” she added. Her group’s previous concerts at Baldwin Hills, which was pre-pandemic, was about isolation and Kinsella feels that these threads keep connecting our communities in different ways. “Yes, it is these conversations, learning from people’s different stories is where the concept tends to develop and really grow.”
What excites her and also essential to Kinsella are the musicians and artists she has met throughout the years she has lived in Los Angeles. “Expanding the group of collaborators and having them be part of different projects with me is also important.”
When asked why she chose the Culver Steps as the site to perform Renovation, Kinsella said, “During the time I was creating the concert at Baldwin Hills, they were constructing this. It had a very similar name, Culver Steps instead of Culver Stairs.” She has lived in Culver City for a number of years and during the pandemic it was a place where she would go to watch the construction. The project is now complete and new stores have opened, which brings in more people. “Just watching that development is an analogy to my own personal view of what I’ve done since the pandemic and over the pandemic,” Kinsella said. “And for me a new construction matches the concept of Renovation as well as transformation.”
As artistic director, it is Kinsella’s responsibility to figure out what each area’s job is and to manage all of it. She oversees the sound team as well as the music and dance rehearsals. Though it is a great deal of work, Kinsella says that it is also a very “enriching experience” and she hopes that throughout her career she will be able to cross over to several different mediums of music, film, television, theater and dance.
WHO: Intrinsic Strings chamber string ensemble and contemporary movement artists The Friidom and Epiic movement, along with featuring local contemporary, dance and media composers Emer Kinsella, Allyson Newman, Carla Patullo, Yuichiro Oku and Justin Bell.
WHEN: Sunday, September 24, 2022 at 7:00 PM – 9 PM (PT)
WHERE: The Culver Steps in Downtown Culver City – 9300 Culver Blvd. in front of the Culver Hotel.
For more information and to purchase tickets, please click HERE.
To learn more about Emer Kinsella and Emersion Music, please visit their website.
For more information about The Friidom and Epiic movement, please visit their website.
Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Emer Kinsella – Photo by Whitney Vlasaty