The Value and Beauty of Transition

For the past two and a half decades, Audrey Chen has forged a singular voice in experimental music. A fearless improviser who uses cello, voice, and electronics, her unique sonic vocabulary manifests in solo work and extends to a robust constellation of collaborations including duos with Phil Minton, modular synth player Richard Scott, and electronic music artist Kaffe Matthews, as Mopcut with Julian Desprez and Lukas Koenig, as Beam Splitter with trombonist Henrik Munkeby Nørstebø, the trio Sen Ryo No with modular synth players Tara Transitory and Nguyen Baly, and the duo Voice/Process for voice/live digital processing with Hugo Esquinca.

In addition to being a provocative sonic explorer who takes an egalitarian approach to spontaneous composition, Audrey has lived a unique life. A single mother—pregnant at the age of 23—a second generation Chinese-Taiwanese-American, and current US-expat, her history, life, and work spans three continents and a myriad of releases of solo and collaborative albums. Her particular lived experience influences a fiercely personal, visceral approach to music. Audrey puts her whole self into her art, and her oeuvre reflects a fascinating dissolution of the boundaries between public and private

LBYou came from a family of scientists—your parents were material engineers—so I’m curious as to how your interest in music gels with what they were wanting for you and how you decided to dedicate your life to a discipline so different from theirs.

ACAs I approach my 45th year, it’s interesting to think about the lineage of my family and the influence their choices have made on my own. My parents were reluctant to share much of this history because it’s likely they experienced too much trauma, having been born during the 1940s in mainland China and Taiwan. That time was a period of great turbulence around the world. In their home countries, the Communist Revolution was taking place in China, a fifty-year Japanese occupation was ending, and the the White Terror martial law in Taiwan was beginning. My mother’s family were forced to live in exile, and my father’s family were on the receiving end of the transfer of regimes and governments. These experiences as children formed them and the parents that they would become as immigrants in the US. Their stories, whether passed down or not—of immigration, displacement, upheaval, and having to integrate into new cultures—make for a complex history. 

What little I know about my ancestry has come—in small pieces—from my parents, my maternal family members and mostly from a brief memoir that my mother recently had translated and made into books for the family. It was my grandmother’s story. She was born in mainland China, into a time-period in which her family was hunted down by the Communist regime. Orphaned as a teenager, her parents were killed, and her remaining family were persecuted by the Communists. She was then raised by her older brother and ended up meeting my grandfather. He later became a general in Chiang Kai-shek’s army in the Sichuan province. When Mao Zedong took over the government in China, they both left, in exile, to Taiwan. My grandfather left before and sent word to my grandmother to gather the six children, who were spread around the countryside, and to make their escape along the Yangtze River, then out of China to Taiwan.

My father’s story and past are more of an enigma of scattered stories he’s told through my childhood. He speaks even less about his past, and this is likely because his family also suffered from the new Nationalist regime that installed itself at the end of the 40s. His older brother was a political prisoner for years on an island just off the coast of his home city, Taitung. The youngest of nine children, my father was the only sibling to have moved to the US, and he is the only one who speaks English. Since my Mandarin is limited and my Taiwanese is non-existent, I have not been able to gather any further information from other family members. 

So, there was this first movement of the family, from China to Taiwan, when my mother was maybe around six, then fast-forward to when she met my father, around 1960, at an engineering college in Tainan, Taiwan. They immigrated together to the US in 1967 to get their masters and doctorates at University of Minnesota. 

I’ve been thinking more and more about what these movements meant for them and how their traumas were passed down to me and to my son. And it has been an interesting way to look back and understand why I make certain decisions—why I am who I am—and how it goes beyond my parents not showing support for my being a musician because they’re engineers to something much more vast and multi-dimensional. It helps me to better understand their pragmatism, their values, and the way they face adversity; a single-minded formidable team with their engineer brains, intent on fixing and shaping a better life for themselves and for those they love.

LBHow much of the Chinese-Taiwanese culture would you say your parents brought with them to your household? Was it a feeling of “We’re American now,” or did they want you to hold on to the culture?

ACThey wanted us to integrate, but they also really wanted us to hold on to our culture. They made us, all three siblings, go to Chinese school. They wanted us to be friends with all of their friends’ kids. They wanted us to be American, but also with strong roots in our Chinese and Taiwanese cultures.

In the 1960s there was a huge influx of immigration to the states from Taiwan, and many people came to get their degrees. The US government made it particularly easy for those in search of higher education degrees to enter in hopes of bolstering the economy. So, my parents were some of these young people who came in and decided to stay. I think at that time, they saw that the possibilities of living in the US were kind of endless.

LBThat era in the US had a particularly good economy, so it makes sense that your parents would see it that way.

ACThey believed in the “American dream.” It’s totally fair that they did, but this concept is, of course, so problematic. I think the rift between my parents and I emerged because of our generational and cultural differences. They went through all this trouble to move their whole life to another country to give us better opportunities. But the opportunities that they gave us made us free-thinking individuals living and growing in an entirely different kind of society. So, that’s something they didn’t really expect at all. And it was definitely hard for my parents and I to come to an understanding about this very important aspect. Now in 2021, it’s another time, and they’re in their 80s. They’re a little bit more chilled out—well into their retirement—but they still ask me when I’m going to get a real job. They’re still trying to fix me. My saving grace is that I miraculously gave birth to an engineer kid. My son, Iven, is a fourth-year engineering major at UCLA. So, at least I have him as a sort of monolith of pride for my whole family. I never pushed him into it. He sort of siphoned out the engineering energy from my family, passing through me and into him. Although I’m also a highly skilled fixer of sorts, I was ill-fitted to that kind of career and couldn’t see myself devoting my youth to working really hard so I could relax when I was 65. It’s not the trajectory that I wanted for myself at all. 

LBI think that a lot of people in our generation have realized that that trajectory is bullshit. A lot of people have worked their whole lives end up not being able to retire at 65, and it’s not so easy to have that sort of comfort because all the pillars of what we thought were the American Dream turned out to be false.

ACYes, totally. And it depends on who you are and if you fit into all these checked boxes. But if you exist outside of these boxes, then you’re left out of that dream or left outside that hope. A lot of people have this notion, lots of different kinds of immigrants from everywhere. It’s not easy to talk to my parents about this or even most political issues.

LBI’m always interested in talking to people who end up doing what they do, not because of their families and the support they had, but in spite of these things. Can you tell me about how you began to become obsessed with music and how that evolved for you?

ACMy parents worked for Bell Labs, and when I was eight, they transferred from the Chicago area to North Andover, Massachusetts. We moved to southern New Hampshire, just an hour north over the border. I began playing cello that year, in the 4th grade. I chose the cello based on its size, like in Goldilocks. My brother played the violin, and his practicing sounded terrible to my ears, just too scratchy. I didn’t see the point of the viola because it looked like a slightly larger violin with all the same unfortunate characteristics. The bass was just way too big. And then there was the cello, and it fit me just right. It took me about two years to understand my love for the way it sounded, but this started my relationship with self-produced sound, the intimacy and mediation of self-guided practice. Prior to this, that mind space was only evident in play and drawing, but this sonic universe, and its ephemeral quality, gave me something more distinctly unique and mine.

When I think back to that time, part of that mind-space also developed from my circumstances. I moved into an area that was almost entirely white, with my brother and I being some of the few minority kids. Dealing with that kind of isolation made me become even more introverted, and when the cello came into my life, I gravitated to its possibilities like a lifeboat. 

Also during that time, I started to become a heavy dreamer, and my memories even now are sometimes confused between this dream life and what actually happened. But my earliest vivid memory from then was actually from one of these weird dreams, one of my fever dreams. I remember wearing a pair of green pajamas, mint green top and bottom with cuffs. I was inside of the back of a truck where it was completely dark and had a small hole through which I could see what was happening outside. There was a parade. I was standing there and peering through the hole, looking with this frame at what was on the outside. And at this moment, I remember wondering—perhaps for the first time—why I was me and why I was in this body and not the ones outside?

This kind of self-actualization question had a lot to do with how my situation and environment changed. I looked at myself for the first time, noticed how people were looking at and treating me, and also how their behavior changed in my presence.

I think a huge reason that I chose to do what I do was very in line with this sort of search to figure out who I was and am. It was beyond doing something that I simply liked. It was beyond doing something that was fun. It was all about doing something that could consistently trigger this sort of self-realization process.

Why am I in this body and not in that other body? Why are my decisions mine, and what makes a life a life? It was these kinds of big questions that I started to think about in a very abstract way as a kid, as an adolescent, as a young mother, and I still do today. 

My mother’s engineering expertise was as a failure analyst. My father originally worked as a metallurgist and developed some patents on superconductors. I think the questioning was combined with the inevitable influence my parents had on me, no matter how hard I fought to do the opposite. Playing music was a way to hide away and not have to deal with the very hard interpersonal connections. But I was a perfectionist, too, and during this time I began to analyze my failures as well. So, if I stayed by myself, I had more control, and then I wouldn’t fail socially. I think that was my logic at the time.

LBDo you feel that the cello was in some way a coat of armor for you?

ACYeah, for sure. But at the same time, it was really satisfying and freeing to express myself through this language. I also started singing when I was eleven. Most of the early periods through puberty and adolescence were solitary ones. So, the first stages of practice didn’t involve other people. Those years were turbulent ones for me emotionally, but I found a lot of solace in this kind of meditative self-exploration. It taught me a lot about practice and self-discipline, how to approach problems. The process of becoming synthesized with your instrument involves a lot of problem-solving, fixing and figuring out the most efficient way to make use of your physicality in a relaxed and natural way be able to achieve certain dynamic results.

LBI think it’s also a way that you can exercise agency over something: if you play a passage enough times, you’re going to get it right. And you can see that progression over time. I think a lot of times, for kids who maybe feel like they’re not in complete control of their circumstances or have some kind of dissonance with the way that they feel and the way that they exist amongst their peers, that practice can be a really therapeutic and meditative way to deal with these issues. But I’m also very interested in this search for understanding that you’re talking about with music, which is interesting in the context of what your parents do, because I think that science is also a search for understanding.

ACI am my parents’ daughter, that is for sure. And my son is my son, but he’s also very much the grandson of my parents. I only wish I knew my grandparents better. All I know are some of their stories, but I barely knew them as people. They passed away when I was pretty young, and we didn’t speak the same language. I wish I knew them beyond these figureheads that we would visit in Taiwan or who would visit us in the States. To me they were smiling, old relatives and very sweet. I feel that Iven has been very lucky to have full-fledged relationships with all of his grandparents because I had him super young. He’s also had the opportunity to know two of his great-grandmothers on both sides. I have this wonderful photo of him and my grandmother in a wheelchair. We were visiting Taiwan, and he must have been around 5 or 6 years old. I remember him taking off and pushing my grandma, my ama, running and rolling around the parking lot. I was nervous, but I remember her laughing and having fun with him.

LBSo you were in school and you got more and more into music. You discovered the cello and then you discovered using your voice, which is also a very personal kind of form of expression. 

ACI went to Manhattan School of Music when I was seventeen, after attending a private boarding school in New Hampshire. I moved away from home when I was thirteen as a scholarship and, I assume, quota student. Any minority who went to one of these weird boarding schools would understand a bit more about how it was for me, but I also had my individual angst. That experience was difficult because it’s like going to college right out of your tweens. I went on to MSM, and then I got kicked out or, rather, was asked to withdraw. It was circumstantial and a lot of it had to deal with my age and my ability to handle living in a city for the first time in my life. It also had to do with my relationship to authority and hierarchy, both of which I have a strong allergic reaction to. Being in a conservatory environment that fostered this kind of top-down mentality and competitiveness with others wasn’t a good fit for me. It made me feel trapped, and although I was used to isolation, it needed it to be on my own terms. 

LBDo you think that influences your attitude toward spontaneous composition? 

ACYes, it’s about freedom and its myriad subjective meanings. I’ve been improvising more freely with sound for almost 20 years now, on my own and with many others. This process started shortly after the birth of my son in 2000. And these two new, huge changes sparked a long journey of becoming interconnected with my son and others through music and sound making. Before that, it was just classical interpretation of other peoples’ compositions, but I always knew that something was missing. I was fighting against that too, against people who were telling me what to do, and I found composition was too strict for me. I had arguments with my teachers about my interpretations and how openly I would want to interpret things. They would tell me that I couldn’t do it that way, and I would ask why. Some of my teachers appreciated the way I questioned things. It’s not that I didn’t respect any type of teacher, it’s more that I would want to know that they’re questioning things too—open to questioning themselves—and I wanted them to give me answers that I could respect as theirs and not just regurgitations of an institutional knowledge that’s been passed down. 

LBThis is the baggage of musical history. We do things a certain way because that’s just how we do them. 

ACIn classical music, jazz, and more traditional forms of music, there is this hierarchy: people have their heroes, and there’s all this idolatry going on. On some level it makes me deeply uncomfortable. I’m happy for people to live their life their own way, to self-realize in their own time and in their own way. But for me, no, I don’t buy into it. I think a lot of this comes from growing up as a second-generation immigrant, not feeling that I had any one tradition, not feeling that I had any one place in the world except in a self-made place where I could create all my own parameters of home. I never trusted tradition because it never gave me this sense of belonging, so I had to carve my own way.

LBIt’s so interesting that egalitarianism is still a radical concept in music.

ACI think it is. The more I’m inside it, I begin to see these kinds of behavioral patterns happening and reemerging in every kind of community, no matter how experimental they profess to be. It’s always so disappointing. And then if you question it, they shut you out. 

LBIt is totally a hierarchical thing, and I think that it has a lot to do with capitalism. I also think that, a lot of times, artists get pigeon-holed into having a lack of curiosity. I want to ask you about your progression from cello to voice into electronics. 

ACI started playing cello when I was eight, and I started singing when I was eleven, and then I did both. But then I didn’t really do both at the same time because there wasn’t much repertoire written for the two instruments totally intertwined. I didn’t figure out a compelling way to join the two together until I started improvising, and there I could weave them together without the constraints of rules and formality.

Within the last five years, I’ve phased the cello out of the constellation (temporarily) of what I’m doing. This decision was partially due to a back injury caused by years of touring with this instrument and a need to pare down, simplify, and deepen my setup. I also wanted to make a separation from the historical and personal baggage of the cello. This was also a time when my son was nearing the end of high school, approaching adulthood, and consequently, I was changing too, and my role as a mother and an adult was shifting. I was faced with having to learn how to be an adult without a child, and this new adventure was daunting, to say the least.

Also, I have a long relationship with one synth, one of the original “Fourses” made by Peter Blasser (Ciat-Lonbarde) when we both lived in Baltimore. Peter’s instruments are uncontrollable, so the process is very chaos based. I think it’s precisely what attracts me. It’s like having an alternative personality with me, and I don’t have so much control but relate to it and try to have some level of influence. Currently, I’ve been using just the unprocessed voice and electronics. This combination has been at the essence of this new stage in my life. 

LBThe unpredictability of the synth allows it to exist as another player in the improvisational context.

ACExactly. The synth has a mind of its own, and it does unpredictable stuff all of the time. I don’t know what’s going to happen: I make motions, I move, I twist a knob, and then, all of a sudden, something is happening. Sometimes it’s a little bit more consistent, but then it totally goes off in another direction. It’s infuriating and beautiful at the same time. It challenges me, and that, combined with the other kind of unpredictability of my voice and the way I use it, makes for an exciting duality.

LBThat’s interesting, because usually people use voice and electronics in a way where either you’re processing the voice through the electronics—or you have complete control over the electronics—and it’s a very controlled, hierarchical system. But you’re throwing a monkey wrench into that, because you’re not even sure what’s going to happen with the electronics. 

ACI think that I have that element in different parts of my life. Being a single mom has been an enormous part of my life. I had Iven in 2000, when I was 23 years old. I was living in Baltimore and was in no way ready to be a mom, but I became one. I bring that up because I have these different parts of my life where I have felt the need to try to control things to some extent—to be hyper-
organized—and the process of music making is not one of them. Especially after being in classical music with how regimented it was, how everything had to be perfect and the aesthetics were so delineated. I hated that. I wanted to be free of that. The moment I get into the zone where I’m not in control anymore and everything’s flowing, then everything feels right. All this has been a super interesting process in learning how control and release affects different experiences. There’s a balance, of course, with how I am navigating motherhood, my own adulthood, improvising, and trying better to understand behaviors, decisions, and the fluidity of outcomes. It’s all interconnected.

LBIf you come from conservatory training, it’s all about control; it’s all about mastery of your instrument. And so I think it takes a lot of courage to cede that control and say, “I’m going to let what happens happen, and I’ll just respond to it.”

ACThat’s life! You actually have little control over anything. And so I feel like what I do is kind of an honest approach, an honest reflection of how my life is, and that I ultimately am without control. Anything can happen at any moment. Iven is his own person, and he’s not a kid anymore. He’s an adult, and we’re two individuals, as much as I see myself and my tendencies within him. So, I learned on a day-to-day basis with him that I basically have no control over this human being that I birthed. This is a healthier and more realistic perspective to have when it creates problems.

LBCan you tell me just a bit about that period of your life and how it was to navigate these spaces where there aren’t a lot of children at shows, and there’s not a lot of babysitting options for musicians. 

ACIn certain moments, people were supportive and, in other moments, really not supportive at all. Everybody was judgmental to a certain degree. Supposedly, I lived in a very utopic experimental community, and I thought they would be accepting, but people have limits on how experimentally they’re going to live their lives. This experience showed me a lot about people’s true colors about how flexible they were and how paradigm-changing they really wanted to be.

It wasn’t easy when my son was born. My life was turned inside out, and I had no idea what I was doing. I was a kid having a kid. At that age I was still developing, individuating from my parents, and navigating my way into adulthood. This major life-event took me by surprise and burst everything wide open for me.

LBHaving a child is such a deeply human experience; it connects you to the lineage of humanity. So I’m wondering, do you ever consider how your singular life experiences factored in how you developed your very unique kind of voice?

ACIt’s a deeply humanizing experience. I feel very human. Aligning my practice with the real processes of living has been really important to me. I don’t want to control too much. I was a single mom, and Iven came on tour with me all the time. I didn’t have a professional practice before having him, so I decided to combine the two since I was going to be doing something new and uncharted anyhow. The way that I improvise is totally influenced by the way that I had to improvise being a parent. There was no line between motherhood and musician and me living my life. Everything was one beautiful and enormous blur, a big mix of everything. I didn’t have much delineation between my public and private life. And I totally gave up wanting to have any kind of professional persona when my son was with me on tour. He would normally tell everything about me to everybody else that we were meeting. It was a humbling kind of experience but taught me a lot about letting go and keeping my priorities in order. 

LBSeeing you perform, it really is like you are just putting yourself out there, and it’s a bodily kind of experience. And I think that there’s something to be said for that level of honesty. I wonder if bringing a child on tour with you, and having that kind of exposure, has helped with that feeling.

ACThis physicality of my practice serves as a kind of trigger for my subconscious, to help release deeper and more latent emotional and psychological responses. I think I’m able to ride this balance of awareness and release, or at least that’s my aim. 

I have run marathons—almost once per year—for the last 20 years. My first public improvised concert took place after my very first marathon. I was utterly destroyed, and I took this feeling of exhaustion and pushing myself beyond my mental limits into this first public performance. I think from that moment, I realized that this kind of physical intensity could help open me up somehow and give me this deeper access and focus. 

This combined with the rigors of being a single mom for most of my son’s childhood. Like most 20- to 30-year olds, I pushed myself to the limit with energy and organization, and I struggled to keep us afloat financially. I lived in Baltimore at this time, which is also where I first began to renegotiate my relationship to sound making, improvising, and experimenting with the voice and cello. And it was in this community that I started to lay the foundation to what is my practice today. 

When Iven was around five years old, his father and I split. And as I grew more into my own, we also grew further apart, and he became more critical of the way I blended my life and my work. Part of my practice involves questioning systems, institutions, and traditions continuously, which also meant I felt a great responsibility to myself and my son to break these boundaries by trying to find a way to live more honestly and openly. Iven is, and was always, an individual, a person. I never wanted to treat him like a child, but as the evolving human that he was. Of course I provided a kind of structure and was still quite diligent with systems and schedule. Somehow, between my personal rigor and the natural chaos of traveling with a growing child, we improvised our relationship, developing our own way together as a team and as partners. Bringing him on tour was a necessity but really also an earnest effort to share my life with him. 

Touring is often a series of days with infinite amounts of time in travel and in wait. Performance takes a fraction of the day. I preferred to keep him close and with me. It wasn’t always easy, but we learned how to do this smoothly and make it feel as much like home as being with his father or being home with me. He became equally comfortable with the routines of tour.

We were able to do it like this until 2011, when there came a violent disruption in our lives. His father sued me for full custody, and I won a significant artist grant that helped fund both my custody lawyer and my move to Berlin. The court ruled in his father’s favor, and I moved, completely heartbroken by the lengths at which his father stooped to prove me an unfit mother and disillusioned by the values of the US court systems. 

LBHow did your profession as an experimental musician factor into the custody battle?

ACIven’s father has always been a good dad. His stepmom is kind, and he also has a brother, nine years younger. But the unit that his father built after I was gone was also a family that had no room for me. I was a real mother that was seen as disruptive to their nuclear construction. I always felt that they wanted to erase me from their equation. They were not particularly kind to me, and after the trauma of the custody battle, the relationship has never been able to heal or become better. This makes me sad, because I’ve tried on a number of occasions to make the bridge for my son without success.

I wanted to give him a sense of freedom in his life by being able to live and experience things in a different kind of way. It’s something I really believe in. And I actually believe in it even more now, because he’s an adult and has become such a confident, smart, kind, and generous human. So, everybody who told me that I probably was fucking him up was wrong. 

I made the move to Berlin in 2011 in order to continue my work and make a better life for myself and for my son. His father and I initially agreed to go to mediation to figure out a way to do this without getting the court involved. But at some point, he stopped communicating with me. One day a lawyer rang my doorbell and pushed an envelope into my hand and told me that I was being served. Immediately, I went into a kind of desperate defense mode. I scrambled to find a lawyer. Simultaneously, my community deserted me, perhaps taking his father’s side, the more normative choice. I remember that my heart broke over and over again, but I still had to give all my strength to this. I wasn’t about to give up my son and lay down without a fight. It was an unacceptable conclusion. But in the end, his father won because of the nuclear family that he constructed—the combined incomes of his wife and him were more than ten times mine, and social norms trump revolutionary behavior. Not once did anyone look at the reality of the bond between my son and I. No one asked Iven what he wanted, what he felt, or even his assessment of his own reality.

LBAnd it had nothing to do with your ability to be a parent.

ACMy relationship with Iven was and is awesome. It always has been. It’s not that we’ve never had conflict, but we always talk it through. That is one of our huge things and one that I am adamant about. When he’s reticent, I make him go for a long walk with me, and he starts to open up and use his words. I wanted him to name his feelings and feel that I was always there to listen to anything he had to say. His father, on the other hand, has never been a particularly great communicator. His strategies were always geared toward distraction and deflection and rarely addressing adversity directly. For me, having that combination of change in physical space, movement, and communication is key.

LBIt fits into this idea of white American maleness that I think looks good in a court of law, right? I mean, it looks good to a judge who is also probably that. It’s fascinating to see the way that your profession and the choices that you’ve made as an extremely successful creative musician doesn’t seem to hold any water within this context of the American legal system when they’re looking at a white male with a normal family, a normal house, and a normal income. It really speaks to a lot of the ways that custody and the justice system is stacked against people who are different from what is considered normal American society.

ACIt was absolutely the hardest thing I ever had to go through thus far.

LBBut you’ve prevailed because you’ve been able to create this person who is a thinking, sensitive creature. And at the same time, you’ve been able to have your life; you’ve been able to succeed as a musician and make a life for yourself that is separate from the struggle of your time in Baltimore.

ACI was able to do it then because I was younger and had more energy. I could push myself to the brink without so much fall back. But now I have less energy. The struggle continued after the custody battle. The agreement that was drawn up gave us split legal custody but physical custody to Iven’s father. The complex visitation schedule would only be possible if it happened in Baltimore, except for school holidays that were cut up into precise fractions of the year. 

My solution: For seven years I traveled back-and-forth between Baltimore and Berlin every six weeks to be with my son for one month (except for the alternating and split summers and holidays). A good friend offered for us to live with her and her two sons in a kind of odd and beautiful intermittent, blended family. This is what I promised my son, and I kept this schedule no matter what. I organized all my touring and work in Europe inside of this framework. For the seven years after the custody battle, I still managed to be with my son for six months a year.

LBYour multi-generational immigration story now spans three continents and three generations. Now you’re a Chinese-Taiwanese-American living in Berlin. Can you talk a bit about your present situation?

ACWhen I was living in the States, I couldn’t see how I could continue to make a living, deepen my practice, and do it in a professional way where I could afford a good quality of life. It’s not possible in the US, but it’s possible here in Berlin.

I’m happy that I got to this point, where everything is continuing to grow. But it was also a long, hard, and bumpy road. I was in a string of damaging relationships over the years, and they really took a toll on me. Some were really abusive and made it hard for me to even be a mom. But that’s all over now, and I’m emerging from a lot of difficult times. And I’m finally with a person that is very stable and super loving. I’ve also been empty-nesting for the last few years, and I am still trying to adjust and learn how to be an adult without a child. I barely was, having gotten pregnant so young.

The music is also changing more now that I don’t have all these other struggles to handle in my life. So things are just freely evolving, like how the cello has been phased out for now. I might bring it back, but let’s see. This instrument also carried a lot of personal baggage for me, being the same cello I played since I was a hormonal, prepubescent girl. Now, there’s this kind of confluence of events in my life that have given me space for the music to take another shape, which is very exciting. I’m stepping again into a new kind of unknown where I’m super proud of my son, and I hope that I’ve lived through the tougher times already. But who knows, life is just going to do its own thing.

LBYou can never really make too much of a plan.

ACI have no idea where it’s going to go. I just keep going with it in the spirit of non-control; I let it evolve on its own. Every time I play, there’s new stuff happening. Every year older I get, my body changes and, because the voice is so intrinsically intertwined with the body, it changes too. So, every time I go to use my voice, it’s going to be different. 

Temperature changes, the seasons change, the climate of my life will continue to change, and so will everything else. And it’s exciting now that I don’t have to fight, but just navigate gently and ride this inevitable movement of time.

LBIsn’t it amazing when we are given freedom? New possibilities emerge we haven’t been given the latitude to explore before?

ACAnd now we’re in the second year of the pandemic, and as devastating as it’s been for a lot of people, it’s also been interesting in terms of how the situation affected how we conceptualize and experience time. I feel like people who improvise regularly or have it as a central part of their practice have been uniquely equipped to handle a situation like this.

LBTo me it all goes back to that whole notion of making a plan: you think you’re going to play a certain kind of set, and then you look down and all of your equipment is broken, and so you have to come up with something else instead. So it’s like, you make a plan, but guess what? Instead you get freedom.

ACIt’s basically all about how you maneuver the setbacks and understand the value and beauty of transition. Can you handle them with grace? And can you have gratitude for these moments? 

I definitely do. I feel very grateful.

The Value and Beauty of Transition