Maya Shenfeld

Albums

Under the Sun

Coming soon on Thrill Jockey records

In Free Fall

Berlin composer Maya Shenfeld’s music is as powerfully evocative as it is strikingly intimate. Through a mastery of sound sculpting and visionary approach to composition Shenfeld has established herself as one of the most vital voices in Berlin’s New Music scene. Her work exists in liminal spaces, collapsing the boundaries between electronic synthesis and organic sound as it draws equally from classical tradition and underground experimentalism. Each aspect of her output, from site-specific sound installations to works for new music ensembles and even playing guitar in punk bands, combines an astute technical prowess with an authentic, tangible expression of soul. Shenfeld’s debut solo record In Free Fall merges the grand vision of orchestral music with the granularity and intimacy of deep listening, exploring a tension between immaculately structured compositional architecture and the sheer joy of noise, grain and feedback.

In Free Fall, named after Hito Steyerl’s essay, captures Shenfeld’s own feelings of “free fall” both with regards to the current moment, and to her growth as a composer. Originally trained as a classical guitarist, Shenfeld’s relocation to Berlin to study composition sparked a drastic expansion of her horizons and practice. Diving headfirst into the city’s punk and experimental music scenes, the composer found herself shuttling, literally and figuratively, between disparate musical worlds; from the grand Konzerthaus Berlin to hole-in-the-wall Indie venues. She elaborates: “playing in a punk band, writing together, jamming, opened something in me, allowed me to rediscover the joy and spontaneity in the process of music making. I feel like the band amplified my artistic “voice”, which the hierarchical (and patriarchal) classical music institutional environment had obscured. Through this experience I started engaging with classical music differently, bringing to it this sort of immediate, unrestrained, physical connection or sensation.” In Free Fall reconciles Shenfeld’s classical training with her uncompromising spirit, resulting in beautiful iridescent constellations of sound.

The physical nature of sound is central to Shenfeld’s work. She elaborates: “I’ve always been taken by the way music can seemingly stretch, bend, and even break time, its ability to touch something in you, emotionally, and the fact that it’s a resolutely physical experience.” In Free Fall’s use of space and dynamics captures the distinctly three-dimensional nature of Shenfeld’s live performances and sonic installations. Opening track “Cataphora” (“Descent”), written during a residency with Caterina Barbieri, collapses the boundaries between organic and digital instruments, tape loop and sine wave thrum inseparable from live brass recorded by Kelly O’Donohue. “Voyager” bristles with rippling distortion, a direct callback to her work with punk bands. “Mountain Larkspur”, a collaboration with James Ginzburg (Emptyset) reworks ethereal choral vocals from Shenfeld’s commission for Bethanien Youth Choir, captured at rehearsals for the piece at an abandoned 1902 swimming pool in Berlin and manipulated by Shenfeld and Ginzburg into expansive ambient atmospheres. “Body, Electric”, written following a silent meditation retreat and during the first lockdown of 2020, transmutes the physical sensations of inner reflection into a classical sonata form. “Sadder Than Water”, written during the same period, offers a more contemplative counterpoint, an elegy leading into the album’s closing track “Anaphora”(“Ascent”). This last track closes the circle of works and calls back to “Cataphora” with its use of brass and delicate ascending melody.

In Free Fall is a decisive statement from a crucial new voice in contemporary music, challenging traditional structures and narratives. Returning to the essay that gives the album its name, Steyerl’s description of “free fall” equally speaks to the wonderful sensation and innovation of Shenfeld’s music: “The horizon quivers in a maze of collapsing lines and you may lose any sense of above and below, of before and after, of yourself and your boundaries… with the loss of horizon also comes the departure of a stable paradigm of orientation, which has situated concepts of subject and object, of time and space, throughout modernity. In falling, the lines of the horizon shatter, twirl around, and superimpose.”

Film music

The Flagmakers

Original Film Score, Recorded at Scoring Stage Babbelsberg Berlin 2022. In Wisconsin, inside the largest American flag manufacturing plant in the nation, flag makers from Afghanistan, Burma, Morocco, Nigeria, Mongolia, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Serbia, Albania, Cuba, Pakistan, and Iraq stitch, fold and prepare to ship more than five million American flags annually.Emmy for outstanding short documentary, shortlisted for an academy award.

Production music

Cinematic Minimalism

Commissioned by EMI
Released under the alias Rouge Fou 2021

Ambient Drones

Comissioned by EMI Production Music
Released in November 2019

Performance

Under the Sun AV Show

Gay guerrilla girls

Produced by the Schinkel Pavillon e. V. in collaboration with Maya Shenfeld in the framework of Disappearing Berlin

Postbank-Hochhaus
18th of May 2019, Berlin

Julius Eastman, Gay Guerrilla (1979)
Arranged for guitar by Dustin Hurt

Performing Artists: Rossella Bottone, Greta Brinkman, Sky Deep, Klara Gustaffson, Tina Jäckel, Valerija Kravale, Flavia Messinese, Julia Reidy, Benita Rigo
Veslemøy Rustad Holsete, Alexa D!saster, Tabea Schrenk, Maya Shenfeld, Donya Solaimani, Eva Sterk, Lea Taragona.

“What may be happening in this work, what may soon occur tonight is an example of how music can be organized differently: the usual hierarchical order and stricture to complete an orchestral sound is no longer basis, but something else. […] Here, stands sixteen women gay guerrillas. If Eastman’s composition was to cast light on inequality and discrimination, that basis, if it was a call for a cause to be uncompromising, that purpose, then artist Maya Shenfeld has taken up this provocation: she has gathered an ensemble of women on electric guitar and bass— she is Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker, she is Elizabeth Cotten, she is Gail Ann Dorsey, she is Peggy Lady Bo Jones, she is Carole Kaye, she is Kim Gordon, she is Meshell Ndegeocello, she is Esperanza Spalding, she is Tina Weymouth, she is “who knew,” coming to fill the stage. And as much as this is a reenactment or could be said to be part of the fervor of a market-incentive revival of Eastman, there is something else going on. Something that, I think, Eastman would have appreciated. A community is being strengthened and there is a queering occurring. Tonight’s Gay Guerrilla uncomfortably shows just how unusual it is to see so many women in this position, and it is part of overcoming the debasing of women instrumentalists and, all the more so, women composers. […] Indeed, music needs a body, a political base (or many basses) for spiritual communion. The basicness of the ground that Eastman called on and made art for is translated here tonight by women, seriously electric.” (Excerpt from Laura Preston’s text, May 2019).

Pedagogy

Composing with overtones