ENKUTATASH እንቁጣጣሽ

Remember the color-coded Homeland Security Threat Level system?
Remember how it made you feel?
I do.

My latest project is called Enkutatash እንቁጣጣሽ. It’s a participatory music performance transforming security threats into spiritual renewal. It debuts on Thursday September 11th, the Ethiopian New Year (Ethiopia uses its own calendar system) in Washington D.C.

Enkutatash እንቁጣጣሽ treats the changing threat-level data as a musical score to be sung by a D.C. choir and audience participants, using the five-note (pentatonic) Ethiopian musical scale. Accompanying the choir are several pieces developed from East African harvest/new year songs for masinqo (one-string lute) and voice, performed by Gezachew Habtemariam and Kalkidan Woldermariam.

After the performance there will be music by all-lady DJ crew Anthology of Booty and complimentary vegetarian Ethiopian food in tribute to the holiday, from which the piece takes its name and inspiration. Everything is FREE and open to the public. Festival info page | Facebook event invite (pls help spread the word if you’re on Facebook!).

For a glimpse of what to expect, on Friday we did a 15-minute preview performance at the Dither Extravaganza event in Brooklyn. Ben ‘Baby Copperhead’ captured a few minutes of the room audio from that:

The free outdoor event takea place this Thursday, September 11th, at the Gateway Pavilion at St. Elizabeth’s East, in D.C.’s Anacostia neighborhood. St. Elizabeth’s is the former national mental institution that currently houses, among others, the Department of Homeland Security.

Doors open at 6, with Enkutatash beginning at 6:30. Event is rain or shine (we will be under the Gateway structure, protected from the elements). There will be shuttle bus from the Congress Heights metro to the event location, & maps for those who prefer to take the 10-minute walk through the grounds of St.Elizabeth’s.

When curator Stephanie Sherman approached me about doing a site-specific composition in the capital for her Near Futures / 5×5 Festival selection, I knew I wanted to engage with D.C.’s role as a center of government as well as its reality as home to the largest Ethiopian community outside of Africa. Mixing homeland security threat levels with African songs about returning to one’s homeland to celebrate the new season… Making various systems audible and overlapping, bringing ourselves into the picture with voice.

When I told them I was looking for a masinqo player, my friends in Debo Band and The Ex both directed me to the hugely talented Gezachew. And Josef Palermo suggested the Sept 11/Ethiopian New Years connection which grew into the title & date of the piece. Five colors, five notes, many ways of understanding and cherishing the day.

Jace Clayton's Enkutatash

QUIETEST PLACE: Art Assignment Highlights

Back in April I did a video for Sarah Urist Green & John Green’s Art Assignment, PBS Digital’s weekly series where artists devise ‘assignments’ for the viewers to complete. My assignment was: take a stroll until you find the quietest place within walking distance and document it with photo or video, sharing the results on social media via #theartassignment. Amazing documentation poured in from all over the globe.

Ssshhhhh – YOU PEOPLE ARE GREAT. ‘The Quitest Place’ received a record number of responses, several of which are featured in this highlight reel:

And here John riffs on my assignment in an airport for his wildly popular Youtube Vlog Brothers.


“attention has become so fractured on the internet that there is no longer room in YouTube videos for any silence”

MUDD UP BOOK CLUBB: Senselessness by Horacio Castellanos Moya

mudd up book clubb: horacio castellanos moya
On Sunday August 24, we’ll be meeting to discuss Senselessness (2004, 2008 English trans.), a dynamite novella from Central American author Horacio Castellanos Moya.

It takes the form of a monologue, so everything we get comes from the mouth of, as the book jacket text describes, “an alcoholic, atheist, sex-obsessed writer [who] finds himself employed by the Catholic Church (an institution he loathes) to edit the testimonies of the survivors of slaughtered Indian villages.”

Senselessness is agonizing/ly funny, profane & political, entertainingly written yet dealing with huge issues surrounding language and authority, grieving and historical memory — it’s no surprise that Castellanos Moya’s early novels earned him death threats, leading him to take up residence in exile…in Pittsburgh.
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LOVE SONGS & CINNAMON

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[Etel Adnan]

I recently spent time in the Shatila Palestinian refugee camp in Beirut. My hosts make sure that I left with fresh cinnamon and many love songs from Palestine.

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Shatila Camp Mix – track 9

She’s talking about love for her land/country, the water. She addresses a traveler who is going to Ramallah, she says take my soul with you.

The second half she says:
Oh mother, there’s a knock on our door it’s our beloveds
There’s a strong knock on our door, it’s the fedayeen, the ones who long for/love freedom
They knock on our door

And then some love for a dark palestinian woman

It sounds like a folk song or a combo of a few folk songs

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Shatila Camp Mix – track 7

MUDD UP BOOK CLUBB: Etel Adnan’s Sitt Marie Rose

Etel Adnan

[Etel Adnan]

Summer reading time! On Sunday July 6th we’ll meet in Manhattan to discuss Etel Adnan’s Sitt Marie Rose. This remarkable novella was written in 1977 by Lebanese artist Etel Adnan. These days Adnan is more recognized for her painting — she was a quiet hero of the 2014 Whitney Biennial. Elsewhere, Adnan’s words have been put to music by Henry Threadgill and Gavin Bryars. Point is, Adnan does many things very well.

Sitt Marie Rose is light and heavy, experimental and matter-of-fact, this story set during the Lebanese Civil War in which gendered violence might be the real civil war. It is also about the way cities feel and tense up. There is politics and religion and luminous sentences as precise and glowing as Adnan’s abstract paintings. The title character is a teacher of deaf-mute children and the language throughout pays great attention to sound, vibration, and silence.

It can be tough to find in bookstores so here’s a purchase page recommended by the publisher. E-book versions exist too. Head here to check out other Mudd Up Book Clubb selections.

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[Etel Adnan, title unknown, from Documenta 13]

I tell myself that it would be better to let loose a million birds in the sky over Lebanon, so that these hunters could practice on them, and this carnage could be avoided. – Sitt Marie Rose

ART ASSIGNMENT: The Quietest Place


The Art Assignment is a new PBS webseries created by curator Sarah Urist Green and hosted by her and author/YouTube superstar John Green, in which they ask artists around the country to devise an ‘art assignment’ related to their work that viewers can carry out, sharing the results online. Here’s the video for mine. It involves walking to find the quietest place near where you live. Fascinating responses to my #theartassignment have come in already — songs, videos, a delightful array of photos, even diary-style written logs of soundwalks, from all over the globe. It’s been wonderful to see the enthusiasm with which people are searching for their ‘Quietest Place’. (As a bonus, we get to experience the complications of recording quiet — wind in the smartphone mic… handling vibration rumble… it all ends up sounding rather noisy.)
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[some of the participants' photos]

You can check out a growing assortment of the responses over at the Art Assignment blog; some of the best will be folded back into a future episode of the program.