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Roomful of Teeth

Musicians from Roomful of Teeth

Grammy-winning vocal group Roomful of Teeth returns with new music by composers celebrated for breaking down cultural boundaries.

The Isle

The Isle begins with a cloud of murmuring voices – a musical imagining of something hinted at in Shakespeare’s stage directions in The Tempest. The calls for ‘a burden, dispersedly’ and ‘solemn music’ suggest an off-stage refrain and/or perhaps something even more otherworldly. In Shakespearean Metaphysics, Michael Witmore writes: ‘Like the island itself, which seems to be the ultimate environment in which the play’s action takes place, music is a medium that flows from, within and around that imaginary place into the ambient space of performance proper. If some of the courtiers from Naples and Milan are lulled to sleep by the island’s ‘solemn music’, the audience can hear this music in a way that it cannot feel the hardness of the boards that the sleeping players lie on.’

In taking cues from this reading of the play, I’ve constructed my own musical account of the island of The Tempest. Three monologues, by Ariel, Caliban and Prospero, are set in three distinct ways. Ariel’s initial song of welcome appears, for the most part, homophonically, although its break from the quasi-robotic delivery (into the ‘burden, dispersedly’) points to the character’s vaporous and ethereal nature. Caliban’s famous description of the island as ‘full of noises’ finds its home in a distraught and lonely monodic song, ornamented and driven by extraneous sounds. Prospero’s evocation of the various features and inhabitants of the island (from the final act) breaks apart into spoken voices that eventually dissolve into the wordless voices of the beginning, mirroring his pledge to throw his book of spells into the sea (and possibly to return to the island’s pre-lingual state). The harmonic material of the beginning and end of the piece (the murmuring voices) is a 24-chord progression that includes (for fun) all major and minor triads of the western 12-note system. As Prospero says: ‘But this rough magic I here abjure, and when I have required some heavenly music, which even now I do, to work mine end upon their senses that this airy charm is for, I’ll break my staff, bury it certain fathoms in the earth, and deeper than did ever plummet sound I’ll drown my book. (Solemn music)’.

© Caroline Shaw


math, the one which is sweet 

math, the one which is sweet is the sound of getting lost in new love – of giving in to excitement, savouring anticipation, surrendering to daydreams. It’s the thrill of getting to know someone new, and the lens of tenderness through which everything about them is perceived. It dismantles and plays with the false dichotomies of love: logic and emotion, order and abandon, repression and disinhibition. It’s an invitation to these dualities, like two people falling in love, to coexist in the dazed delight of new-found connection. This piece speaks to the intimacy and vulnerability inherent in giving, receiving and letting go of love.

© Angélica Negrón


On Stochastic Wave Behavior

Wayfinding, observing nature and respecting the ocean have been present since my childhood growing up in Hawai’i. So, when geologist Rónadh Cox and artist Brad Wells asked me to be part of the National Science Foundation-funded ‘A few waves do most of the work’ project, I felt very connected to the ideas of integrating knowledge and research about the ocean into classrooms.

Reclaiming language and supporting indigenous language revitalisation have been essential to my artistic work in the past year. Connecting to language and meeting up with my family every weekend to support safe learning environments – both of these actions influenced a new way of approaching my compositional practice. A language that is changing, that is evolving, that is new is alive. Similarly, haku mele (compositional) practices that engage new sounds through an indigenous lens embrace ‘Ōlelo Hawaiʻi as an active part of the creative process.

Indigenous communities often struggle to remain ‘authentic,’ pushing up against archaic stereotypes and a genuine desire to preserve culture. In Paradoxes of Hawaiian Sovereignty, J Kehaulani Kauanui writes:

‘In the US context, as Kevin Bruyneel argues, one of the defining elements of American colonial rule is the fastening of Indigenous Peoples to the concept of “colonial time” by locating them “out of time”, where they are not allowed modernity. This “shackling indigenous identity to an archaic form” upholds the concept of authentic Indigenous Peoples always being already primitive/static (positioned to continuously struggle for recognition of their humanity), while the coloniser is always characterised as civilized/advanced, thereby rationalising domination of Indigenous Peoples as a form of “progress”. It is this enduring notion of the “savage” that continues to be used by states in their attempt to justify political subordination, such as the “domestic dependent nation” status subject to US plenary power in the case of federally recognised tribal nations.’

There is much more to discover about the revitalisation of indigenous language, but I like the idea that Prof Cox’s research extends to include metaphors for that movement: a few waves can make a difference and have made our work as Kanaka Maoli artists relevant to today’s dynamic landscape where science and indigenous knowledge celebrate the power of nature. Through radical indigenous contemporaneity, this work hopes to make those connections both in the classroom and in the community.

© Leilehua Lanzilotti


7 planets

Exploring the planets, their wondrous influences on us and our magical togetherness in the solar system has piqued my interest ever since I spotted a glowing Venus in the night sky in the spring of 2020. A vision that became a fixture for many months while the world seemed to spin out of orbit and our realities rapidly changed. Observing the planets became a solace, their consistency offering a night-time comfort at a time when there wasn’t any around us.

During that time I stumbled upon a video that encouraged musicians to ‘ditch the pitch’ and, due to my Turkish heritage, I was already familiar and comfortable with quarter tones, so this led me to dive deeper into the possibilities of singing to the planetary frequencies.

The voice is such a unique instrument, why not take it beyond the five lines of a stave? Having previously worked with Roomful of Teeth, I couldn’t think of a better constellation of singers to go on this ‘out-of-pitch-and-space-journey’ with me.

Since planetary frequencies are too low for tuning chords on regular resonator boxes, I had to get creative about how to do this analogue. After some thought, I unstrung a guitar, cut off its neck, stuck a tuning fold holder on top and built the tuning fork resonator. Subsequently I travelled to see Roomful of Teeth at their 2022 residency at Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art and this yielded the pieces ‘Mercury’, ‘Venus’, ‘Mars’, ‘Jupiter’, ‘Saturn’, ‘Uranus’ and ‘Neptune’. All were written on the planetary frequencies that exist outside concert pitch and they honour the planets of our solar system that travel alongside us through time and space.

© Alev Lenz

Programme and performers

Caroline Shaw The Isle
Leilehua Lanzilotti On Stochastic Wave Behavior (European premiere)
Angélica Negrón math, the one which is sweet
Alev Lenz 7 planets (world premiere)
1. Mercury 
2. Venus 
3. Mars 
4. Jupiter 
5. Saturn 
6. Uranus 
7. Neptune

Roomful of Teeth
Estelí Gomez
Mingjia Chen
Caroline Shaw
Virginia Kelsey
Jodie Landau 
Steven Bradshaw
Thomas McCargar 
Cameron Beauchamp director

Song texts

Roomful of Teeth

Roomful of Teeth is a Grammy Award-winning vocal band dedicated to reimagining the expressive potential of the human voice. By engaging collaboratively with artists, thinkers and community leaders from around the world, the group seeks to uplift and amplify voices old and new while creating and performing meaningful and adventurous music using a continuously expanding vocabulary of singing techniques.
Roomful of Teeth has built a significant and ever-growing catalogue of music through collaboration with a broad range of composers, including Julia Wolfe, David Lang, Missy Mazzoli, William Brittelle, Angélica Negrón, inti figgis-vizueta, Paola Prestini, Nathalie Joachim, Caroline Shaw, Leilehua Lanzilotti, Anna Clyne, Sarah Kirkland Snider, Cava Menzies, Judd Greenstein, Terry Riley, Toby Twining, Ted Hearne, Eve Beglarian, Caleb Burhans, Ambrose Akinmusire, Michael Harrison, Peter S Shin and Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate.
Recent appearances include performances at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Kennedy Center, Walt Disney Concert Hall and Kings Place in London. The group has also performed specially commissioned works with the Los Angeles and New York Philharmonic, BBC, Cincinnati and Seattle Symphony orchestras and Cabrillo Festival Orchestra, among others, and collaborated with opera director Peter Sellars in Claude Vivier’s Kopernikus.

Roomful of Teeth’s discography includes its eponymous first album, released in 2012, which won a Grammy Award. Other recordings include Render (2015), The Colorado (2016) and Yo-Yo Ma’s Silkroad Ensemble’s album Sing Me Home, which won a Grammy in 2016. The group also has released two EPs: The Ascendant (Wally Gunn) and Just Constellations (Michael Harrison). Its newest album, Rough Magic, was release in May to great critical acclaim. Roomful of Teeth’s recordings have been featured on television and in film, including Josephine Decker’s Madeline’s Madeline, Netflix’s Dark, Jeen-Yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy and Homecoming: A Film by Beyoncé.

Visit to learn more and to support the group’s work.