Explore John Muir’s Yosemite: OFFICIAL LAUNCH!

I am so excited to share with you the final version of this project, which has been in the works for about a year and half!

Multimedia installation for web and iPad app Explore John Muir’s Yosemite, illustrates the writings of naturalist and conservationist John Muir through interactive photography and music, offering an engaging new interpretation of Muir’s vision of nature.

The 2014 launch of Explore John Muir’s Yosemite commemorates the centennial of John Muir’s death, the 150th anniversary of the Yosemite Grant, and the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act.


Back in June ’13, I traveled with my partner John Resig to Yosemite and nearby Sequoia National Park to capture about 1,000 videos, photographs, and audio recordings of sites that were important to John Muir. You might have seen my travel diary on this blog from this special trip.

Visiting the site of John Muir’s cabin at Yosemite Falls.

Over the following several months, I designed and constructed an interactive media experience integrating selections from Muir’s essays with my photography and a non-linear score I composed and produced specially for this project. John then coded the Javascript engine that drives the animations and interactivity in the installation.

I was honored to exhibit the beta version of Explore John Muir’s Yosemite for renowned Muir scholars last March at the 2014 international John Muir Symposium at The University of Pacific in Stockton, CA, with support from NYU’s Student Senators Council Academic Conference Fund Grant.

Since then, John and I have been refining things under the hood and converting the browser experience into a visually immersive iPad app, which I’m excited to report is now available as a free download in the App Store.

If you like the iPad app, please consider leaving a review in the App Store.

Enjoy the finished product! I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Production of Explore John Muir’s Yosemite was supported in part by a Challenge Grant from New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.

“Watercolors” at the Parrish: Crowdfunding Success!

Thanks to the generosity of some awesome and fantastic funders, my fundraising campaign to support The Chelsea Quintet‘s performance of Watercolors this Saturday at the Parrish Art Museum was a great success: contributions have brought the campaign to 126% of my fundraising goal! Combined with the funding provided by the Museum, this makes it possible to compensate the five musicians and cover transportation and production expenses.

The Chelsea Quintet
The Chelsea Quintet

The generous supporters of this campaign, whose contributions ranged from $15 to $200, are:

  • Anonymous (2)
  • Daniel Gagne
  • Andrea Grover
  • Kevin Morgan
  • Dorothy Reilly
  • John Resig
  • Nancy Weekly 

If you haven’t had a chance to contribute yet, you can still make a difference: all of the funds raised in excess of my goal for the Parrish Art Museum performance will help cover the expenses of my next (TBA) project bringing Music Inspired by Art into a gallery or museum venue. This is an ongoing project that needs continual support to thrive.

If you contribute by Saturday, November 10, 11:59PM Pacific Time you can still receive some neat perks, which include a DVD with over an hour of video from performances of my “Music Inspired by Art;” a personalized CD of my music; a special-invitation high tea at my apartment; and even a commission of a short piece of music.

Watch the Trailer, Find Out More, and Donate

Watercolors at the Parrish is already attracting some great feedback and press: The Sag Harbor Express included an article on the event in their Thursday, October 25 print edition announcing that I would be “Christening the Parrish” with the performance (click here to read a scan of the article). Nancy Weekly, leading Charles E. Burchfield scholar and curator at the Burchfield Penney Art Center, comments on the Indiegogo campaign: “Nell Shaw Cohen deserves superlative praise for her compositions inspired by art, particularly her understanding of Charles E. Burchfield’s rapport with nature.” 

Stay tuned for more updates!

“Watercolors” at Parrish Art Museum


Inspired by the paintings of Charles Burchfield
Performed by The Chelsea Quintet
The Parrish Art Museum
Water Mill, NY
Saturday, November 10, 2012
12:30pm & 2:30pm
Free admission

I’m thrilled to announce another exciting performance of my music inspired by art coming up this November. I’d also like to ask that you consider helping me make this special project a reality.

The Parrish Art Museumest. 1898, a prestigious museum in the Hamptons, will open the doors of a brand new facility this November. To celebrate the public opening on November 10, the Museum has chosen to feature two performances of my piece Watercolors for wind quintet (flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, and bassoon) inspired by the watercolor paintings of Charles Ephraim Burchfield (1893-1967).

Watercolors will be performed by a wonderful ensemble of accomplished musicians, The Chelsea Quintet. The group’s affiliated parent organization, The Chelsea Symphony, is the resident symphony orchestra of the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City.

Read more about this concert and how you can help on my Indiegogo campaign page, which includes a video trailer and more information about the venue, musicians, and the music!

Watch the Trailer, Find Out More, and Donate *

* The Indiegogo campaign lists a number of suggested donation levels that have special “perks” — gifts and special opportunities I am offering as thanks — but remember that you or your friends can donate any amount, whether it’s $5 or $55!

New Beyond the Notes website launched

Beyond the Notes is live! Visit www.beyondthenotes.org now on your browser or mobile phone.

The online multimedia educational guide includes numerous videos, interviews with art curators, audio excerpts, and program notes. The site contains:

  • 24 pages
  • 47 audio clips
  • 33 videos
  • 29 images

“Far more extensive than the usual site devoted to an event or artwork, [Beyond the Notes] contains…loads of information connecting the music and art.”

David Weininger, The Boston Globe (read full article)

After browsing the website, come check out the concert on November 2!

Beyond the Notes: Music Inspired by Art
Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011
Free admission. Reception to follow.
Pierce Hall at New England Conservatory
241 St. Botolph Street, Boston, MA 02115

Beyond the Notes: Music Inspired by Art

I’m very excited to announce my upcoming recital, Beyond the Notes: Music Inspired by Art. The concert will be a multisensory, multimedia experience featuring live chamber music performed by wonderful NEC student musicians coordinated with video and slide projections of the art that inspired it.

Beyond the Notes: Music Inspired by Art will be presented at the New England Conservatory of Music on November 2nd, 2011, 6:00-7:30pm in Pierce Hall (241 St. Botolph St, Boston MA). Reception to follow. The event is free and open to the public.

Beyond the Notes screen capture
Beyond the Notes website as seen on a mobile phone

The concert will be enhanced by an accompanying digital companion, which will be launched within the next couple of weeks. Visitors are invited to browse the website ahead of time, or before and after the concert in the hall or on their phones, and explore video clips, audio excerpts, photographs, and information about the artists and music.

The new website will highlight Watercolors, a wind quintet inspired by the paintings of Charles Burchfield, in addition to the portion of the website featuring the string quartet The Course of Empire, which was posted in July.

The section on Watercolors features video clips from a fascinating interview with Nancy Weekly, Curator at the Burchfield Penney Art Center; Carol Steen, painter and co-founder of the American Synesthesia Assocation; as well as a movement-by-movement analysis of the connection between my music and the paintings, which is interspersed with audio excerpts and relevant images from the paintings.

While The Course of Empire and Watercolors are being highlighted on the website/app, every piece on the program has its own dedicated page and content. Other pieces featured on the program and the accompanying website include:

  • Setsugekka for violin and piano, inspired by Japanese woodblock prints by Hiroshige. The website will include videos introducing the genre of Japanese woodblock printing, and the traditional theme of setsugekka (snow, moon and flowers). This section features text and narration by independent print scholar John Resig (ukiyo-e.org).
  • To Create One’s Own World for soprano, flute, bass clarinet, and marimba, and The Faraway Nearby video piece with chamber score, both inspired by Georgia O’Keeffe. The website will include audio clips, song text, and the online video of The Faraway Nearby.
  • Revealed in Stone, a song cycle for tenor and piano inspired by the sculpture and poetry of Michelangelo. The website will feature an analysis of the English translation of the poetry used in the cycle.
  • Triptych for solo guitar, inspired by the formal structure of triptychs (especially as seen in Medieval art). The website will include a comparison of different genres of triptychs.

Both the concert and website have received support from the Entrepreneurial Musicianship Department at NEC.

Peabody Essex Museum concert: success!

Rehearsal at PEM with projections of Thomas Cole's paintings
Rehearsal at PEM with projections of Thomas Cole's paintings

“The Course of Empire” at the Peabody Essex Museum on Saturday, July 30, was a success! The four performers (members of string orchestra A Far Cry), Liza Zurlinden, Ethan Wood, Jason Fisher, and Alexei Gonzales did a beautiful job of interpreting my string quartet. The group performed in Morse Auditorium beneath a large projection of the five paintings (provided by PEM), which were switched in real-time to correspond with each movement.

The music was preceded by a brief introductory video compiled from clips of videos I produced for Beyond the Notes, which provided context for Cole’s paintings and my musical “transmutation” of them (as curator Linda Ferber at the New-York Historical Society put it).

I made video and audio recordings of the performance, and will post clips online in the near future.

Article in The Boston Globe
Article in The Boston Globe

We counted roughly 140 people in the audience between the morning and afternoon concerts. That’s a great turnout for an event of this nature, and was bolstered by some remarkable publicity: the concert received a preview in the Boston Globe (read a scan of the article or see it on the Globe’s website) by Classical Notes columnist David Weininger. The article took up a full-page spread on p. 5 of the Arts & Entertainment insert on Friday, July 29. Weininger had the following to say about my companion website, Beyond the Notes:

“Far more extensive than the usual site devoted to an event or artwork, it contains not only reproductions of the Cole paintings and program notes, but a full performance of the piece and loads of information connecting the music and art.”

The concert took place in conjunction with the opening of Painting the American Vision, a special touring exhibit of 45 paintings by 19th century American landscape painters of the Hudson River School. This was the kind of event I’m really passionate about producing–an event that brings together art forms in what is both an artistic expression and an educational experience for audiences. I look forward to developing similar collaborations with art museums in the future.

L-R: Ethan Wood, Alexei Gonzales, Nell, Liza Zurlinden, Jason Fisher
Nell with the performers. (L-R: Ethan Wood, Alexei Gonzales, Nell, Liza Zurlinden, Jason Fisher)

Beyond the Notes: The Course of Empire is launched!!

Well, it’s finally here!

Beyond the Notes presents…

enter website

enter mobile website *

Beyond the Notes: The Course of Empire is an in-depth multimedia exploration of 19th century American painter Thomas Cole’s suite of five paintings The Course of Empire, and the string quartet I composed in response to the paintings. The site includes more than twenty documentary videos illuminating Cole’s paintings, my music, and the connections between them.

The website is meant to be freely enjoyed by anyone, whether or not you’re familiar with Cole’s paintings or my string quartet, but it was created specially to serve as a companion (a “digital program note”) for audiences of the live performance of The Course of Empire at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA on July 30, 2011, and an additional performance of the piece on an upcoming concert of my music inspired by visual art at New England Conservatory in fall 2011.

* The mobile website is optimized for iPhone and Android, and will work smoothly on most mobile phones. Users may experience problems viewing the website on iPad. If you experience technical glitches on any other device, please let me know.

The Consummation of EmpireFor more information about the concert, the string quartet, and Beyond the Notes, please check out these relevant blog posts:

July 9
Announcement of Peabody Essex Museum concert, with an overview of Beyond the Notes.

May 30
Behind the scenes exploring and filming in the Hudson River Valley, Cole’s former home.

May 25
An introduction to Beyond the Notes.

Members of A Far Cry to perform “The Course of Empire” at the Peabody Essex Museum on July 30!

I’m thrilled to announce that I will collaborating with members of A Far Cry, Boston’s leading string orchestra, to present my string quartet The Course of Empire, which was inspired by the suite of five paintings by great 19th c. artist Thomas Cole. For the first time ever, the quartet will be performed directly in front of the paintings themselves! The performance will coincide with the unveiling of the first Beyond the Notes multimedia companion website, which explores the Course of Empire paintings and music in depth.

Thomas Cole, Destruction (1836) from The Course of Empire
Thomas Cole, Destruction (1836) from The Course of Empire

The concert is being presented by the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA on Saturday, July 30, 2011, with two performances at 11:00am and 3:30pm in the special exhibit galleries (free with museum admission). The event is part of the Inspired by the Land festival, held in conjunction with the opening of national touring exhibit Painting the American Vision featuring 45 landscape paintings by Cole and his contemporaries.

A Far Cry
A Far Cry (Photo: Yoon S. Byun)

The Course of Empire will be brought to life by four musicians who perform regularly with A Far Cry: Liza Zurlinden and Ethan Wood, violin; Jason Fisher, viola; and Alexei Gonzales, cello. Founded in 2007, the groundbreaking self-conducted string orchestra has enjoyed a heady ascent toward the highest ranks of today’s new generation of classical ensembles. Hailed by the Boston Globe as “thrilling,” “intrepid” and “brilliant,” A Far Cry explores the traditional boundaries of classical music, experimenting with the ways it is prepared, performed, and experienced. A Far Cry was recently appointed Chamber Orchestra in Residence at Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Visit www.afarcry.org for more.

The concert will coincide with the premiere of multimedia companion Beyond the Notes, which I’m producing with the support of an Entrepreneurial Grant from New England Conservatory (my first E-grant supported the production of The Faraway Nearby). The Beyond the Notes website and mobile app for The Course of Empire will be up and running in the very near future, and I will be posting on my blog, twitter, and sending out a newsletter announcing its release. Please keep an eye out for that!

Screen capture of The Course of Empire multimedia companion
Screen capture of the upcoming multimedia companion

The website/app will feature a comprehensive guide to the paintings and music, featuring audio of the string quartet and 23 short videos exploring the historical, artistic, and intellectual contexts for Thomas Cole’s five paintings, and illuminating how Empire fueled my creative process and musical decisions.

The videos include extensive excerpts from my interview with the awesomely knowledgeable and articulate Linda S. Ferber, Vice President and Senior Art Historian of the New-York Historical Society (sponsor of the touring exhibit and permanent home of the Empire paintings). My favorite quote from Ms. Ferber: “A string quartet composed to The Course of Empire is very natural, when you think about it. Thomas Cole was very musical…I think he would be immensely pleased to find his paintings transmuted into musical form.”

A Charles Burchfield Pilgrimage

I’m currently on my first road trip shooting footage for Beyond the Notes (see this post for a description of the project). The primary purpose of this trip is to collect material for online videos about American painter Charles Burchfield (1893-1967), the artist who inspired my wind quintet, Watercolors, and orchestral tone poem The Sphinx and the Milky Way. (See this post for more about my interest in Burchfield, and the paintings that inspired Watercolors.)

Burchfield's home in Gardenville, NY
Burchfield's home in Gardenville, NY

My pursuit of all things Burchfield has taken me to Buffalo, NY and surroundings, where the painter spent much of his life. Yesterday I visited the Charles E. Burchfield Nature & Art Center in Gardenville, a community center and park on Buffalo creek. There I caught a glimpse of his former home and studio where he lived and painted from 1925 to his death in 1967 (a private home across the street from the park), and filmed and photographed woods and flowers that evoked some of the nature scenes in Burchfield’s paintings.

Charles Burchfield, The Moth and the Thunderclap (1961)
Charles Burchfield, The Moth and the Thunderclap (1961)

I continued onto the Burchfield Penney Art Center in Buffalo to visit the stimulating exhibit Sensory Crossovers: Synesthesia in American Art, which “provides an unprecedented opportunity to consider synesthesia through the work of some of the 20th century’s most significant artists—luminaries such as Charles E. Burchfield, Arthur Dove, Max Weber, Joseph Stella, Georgia O’Keeffe and Adolph Gottlieb.” (source) It was intriguing to see diverse works from both Modernists and later artists that dealt with the translation of music and sound into visual art. The exhibit features a number of wonderful works by Burchfield (including the bold The Moth and the Thunderclap); excerpts from his sketchbooks on display document a language of abstract forms and symbols, through which he sought to express the music of Sibelius and Wagner.

Filming at the Burchfield Nature & Art Center
Filming at the Burchfield Nature & Art Center

After taking in the exhibit, I had the pleasure of filming an interview with Nancy Weekly, longtime head curator at the Burchfield Penney Art Center, co-curator of Sensory Crossovers, and author and editor of a number of essays and books on his work. (I recently enjoyed this book by Weekly.) She was wonderfully generous with her time and expertise, and spoke with me on a number of topics relating to Burchfield’s work, including the importance of music in his paintings; and the phenomenon of synesthesia in art.

With this informative interview, I am hopeful that Beyond the Notes will become a valuable and entertaining resource for anyone interested in exploring Burchfield’s art—especially visitors who may not have the motivation to seek out books on the topic.

Tomorrow takes me to The Thomas Cole National Historic Site in Catskill, NY, where I’ll be shifting my focus back into the 19th century and the monumental landscapes of the Hudson River School.

Beyond the Notes: companion for arts events

For the next few months, I will be focusing on the development of Beyond the Notes (beyondthenotes.org), a new kind of multimedia companion for arts events. Each “digital program note” on Beyond the Notes will accompany an event, and may include video interviews, audio excerpts, slideshows, and other interactive features, which will be accessed by audience members on a website or in the concert hall (but not during the performance!) via a mobile application supporting iPhone, iPad, and Android.

By producing websites and mobile apps rich with interactivity and substantive content, I hope to inform and enhance audiences’ experiences of the performing arts and visual arts, and to facilitate communication between artists and their audiences.

Thomas Cole, The Savage State (1834)
Thomas Cole, The Savage State (1834)

From now through September, I will be producing a pilot Beyond the Notes website and mobile app to complement a performance of my string quartet The Course of Empire, based on paintings by Thomas Cole, at the Peabody Essex Museum on July 30 in coordination with national touring exhibit Painting the American Vision.

Beyond the Notes will also accompany my recital at New England Conservatory in October, which will feature The Course of Empire and other music inspired by visual artists including Charles Burchfield (Watercolors and The Sphinx and the Milky Way), Georgia O’Keeffe (The Faraway Nearby From the Faraway Nearby [orchestra piece], and To Create One’s Own World), Michelangelo (Revealed in Stone), and Hiroshige (Setsugekka – mp3s coming soon).

I will be closely blogging and tweeting the production process for the Beyond the Notes pilot. My first exciting step: a road trip this weekend to film an interview with Nancy Weekly, leading Charles Burchfield scholar and Head of Collections and Curator at the Burchfield Penney Art Center in Buffalo, NY.

I’ll also be heading to Catskill, NY to do research at the Thomas Cole National Historic Site and to film landscape footage in the region that inspired Cole’s monumental paintings. In June, I’ll be interviewing Linda S. Ferber, Senior Art Historian at the New-York Historical Society, an expert in Thomas Cole and the Hudson River School artists; as well as Carol Steen, artist and founder of the American Synesthesia Association, for a segment on synesthesia in art and music.

The first Beyond the Notes website/app is being funded in part by an Entrepreneurial Grant from the Entrepreneurial Musicianship Department at New England Conservatory. (My first Entrepreneurial Grant, awarded in summer 2010, supported the creation of The Faraway Nearby, a multimedia video piece inspired by the New Mexico paintings of Georgia O’Keeffe.)

This pilot project is an experimental vehicle towards developing a new model of media enhancement for music and arts events. If successful, I plan to start a service creating websites and apps for small arts organizations ranging from galleries to theater companies.