Vicky Chow and Tristan Perich’s “Surface Image” recorded in the EMPAC Concert Hall, with mixing and mastering done in Studio 2.

Good news started rolling in over holiday break as music magazines, radio stations, blogs, and awards organizations selected a number of albums produced at the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) for their lists of 2014’s best. Ben Frost’s AURORA, Vicky Chow and Tristan Perich’s Surface Image, David Brynjar Franzson’s The Negotiation of Context, and Michael Gordon’s Rushes were all developed through the EMPAC artist-in-residence program, and recorded either in full or in part at EMPAC.

Ben Frost

Ben Frost using facilities at EMPAC to produce his album AURORA.

The highest honor was given to Frost, whose record was chosen as the No. 1 avant-garde album of the year by Rolling Stone. Chow and Perich’s album followed closely behind at No. 4. Spin placed Frost at No. 48 in a list that took no account of genre, while Pitchfork notched the project in at No. 50.

Meanwhile, Chow and Perich’s album received much acclaim on classical/new music lists. Rhapsody put the album at No. 17, Fragile or Possibly Extinct at No. 6, while WNYC’s New Sounds selected it for their top-10 year-end radio show. Music Is Good chose Chow and Perich at No. 8 and Michael Gordon at No. 9. And, finally, Franzson’s album, which was recorded at EMPAC by the ensemble Yarn/Wire, registered at No. 5 on The Wire’s list of “best modern composition.” The album was also nominated for an Icelandic Music Award in Franzson’s native country.

These selections highlight EMPAC’s rising profile within the international arts community as an incubator for boundary-pushing work that cannot be technically achieved elsewhere. During his residency, Frost used the EMPAC Concert Hall as a giant echo chamber, processing source material he had recorded in Iceland and the Congo, while recording and mixing in Studio 1. Chow and Perich developed their entire album in residence at EMPAC, with music curator Argeo Ascani producing. Pianist Chow worked in the Concert Hall, while Perich programmed 1-bit electronics in Studio 2, mixing and mastering everything in-house.


Perich programmed 1-bit electronics in Studio 2, mixing and mastering everything in-house.

In each of these cases, the artists also debuted their work in an EMPAC performance. But the artist-in-residence program as often conceives work behind closed doors that then takes life elsewhere. In Frost’s case, the residency was used in part to develop the live show he then toured the world with throughout the year. When Yarn/Wire performed at EMPAC this fall, two of the selected pieces were drawn from this prior recording project with Franzson.

In this way, the EMPAC artist-in-residence program functions much like laboratory science, where the bulk of the work happens out of the public eye, allowing these sense-based experimenters the space to try new ideas before announcing their findings in recordings, film, and performance.

For more info on the EMPAC artist-in-residence program, including a list of artists scheduled for spring 2015, visit the Residencies page on empac.rpi.edu.