Molly Pease: Waterways and Dwellings
I. Can an empty space compose?
II. Where’s a dwelling place?
III. Momentary sail
IV. Bow to stern
Molly Bendall, text
Contemplating the question “What’s a dwelling place?”, Molly Pease’s Waterways and Dwellings, with text by Molly Bendall, turns towards Ballona Creek as a source of ecological and cultural knowledge. This meditative piece for four voices charts a course through Culver City’s landscape. The composition began with a walk along the nearly nine-mile-long creek that connects the city to the Ballona Wetlands, Marina Del Rey, and the Pacific Ocean. Over the course of their walk, they paid attention to the ecological and social conditions of the area: what could be heard, seen, and smelled from the path. These sounds and textures were recorded and interpreted by the composer to create a sonic landscape that pulls from local birds, rowers yelling and paddling by, rolling bicycles, and the boardwalk. Waterways and Dwellings looks to Culver City’s history to converse with its present condition: LA County’s housing crisis, the homeless people affected by it living along the creek, and the environmental impact of littering in the area.
Waterways and Dwellings’ movements each respond to a different section of Bendall’s text. The first movement titled “I. Can an empty space compose?” is a contemplation of what place is and how we think about space in a holistic sense: the history of the Tongva people, the birds, the currents in the water, and the trash lining the creek bed. The piece contains layered voices, rhythmic ideas, and extended techniques inspired by the environment. Breath sounds evoke foghorns. Overtone singing and whistling creature texture. Yodels reminiscent of local birds and vocal improvisation that reflects the improvisational qualities of nature ground the piece in the environment of Ballona Creek and its accompanying paths, travels, and conversation.
The second movement, “II. Where’s a dwelling place?” considers this question by studying man-made objects, places, and ideas weathered by the creek’s conditions, while the third movement “III. Momentary sail” explores aspects of the place’s ecology. Birds, bugs, dunes, reeds, and conversations permeate the landscape. Performers theatrically communicate wordless patterns to each other, competing for dominance, while Ballona Creek’s history is spoken. The snowy egret and the blue heron call out, waiting for a response. The piece culminates in “IV. Bow to stern”, as Pease turns to jazz and rock influences as she considers a creaky old boat rocking and hitting the dock of the marina. The boats of the past enter the harbor: the Entertainer, the Mona Lisa. Eventually, time and history catch up with the landscape, carrying the uncertainty of the future. If only it carried the script of what it was.
Molly Pease is a versatile, experimental and collaborative LA-based vocal artist and composer whose singing has been described as “sonically mesmerizing” (LA Weekly) and “amazing” (LADC), and whose compositions defy genre. Whether performing an aria in The Industry’s critically acclaimed experimental opera Sweet Land, improvising with a jazz orchestra at Blue Whale, or belting out pop vocals with indie band Hello Forever, Molly is known for passionate originality. She has performed solos with Tune-Yards at Walt Disney Concert Hall in 2020, WildUp at The Grand LA in 2019, and David Rosenboom’s Battle Hymn for Insurgent Arts at REDCAT in 2018. TV credits include vocals for Hulu’s Castle Rock in 2019 and CBS’ Strange Angel in 2018. Ongoing performance projects include C3LA, HEX, Tonality, and First Congregational Church of LA’s Laude.
As a performer–composer, Molly uses improvisation and extended vocal sounds, merging music, movement and visuals in solo projects and inter disciplinary collaborations. Examples include her new album Inner Astronomy, a project of her father’s poetry with original music, fashion design and collage, and Score for the Near Future, a 2019 collaboration with sculptor Jimena Sarno. Molly is currently composing an opera called Hysteria, which was selected for Overtone Industries’ Original Vision development program and 2021 showcase. Her 2018 experimental rock album ACKLAND was pegged as “not of this world” (Emerging Indie Bands), and her original song Transform was featured on critically acclaimed vocalist Alicia Olatuja’s 2019 album. Molly’s music has been performed at Blue Note Tokyo, The Jazz Bakery, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church and Monk Space, among others. She was a 2019 composer fellow at N.E.O. Voice Festival.
Molly completed her MFA in Jazz Studies at California Institute of the Arts in 2017, and received her BFA at The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York.
Molly Bendall was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia. She worked in family-run restaurants for much of your youth, but she also trained and performed as a ballet dancer. She received her undergraduate degree from Virginia Intermont College and graduate degrees in English/Creative Writing from the University of Virginia and The Johns Hopkins University. She currently teaches in Los Angeles at the University of Southern California, Loyola Marymount University.
Her first book, After Estrangement, won the Peregrine Smith Poetry prize in 1992. She is also the author of Dark Summer (1999) and Ariadne’s Island (2002), both published by the Miami University Press. She has also published two books of cowgirl poetry, co-authored with the poet Gail Wronsky. Bendall has translated poems of the French surrealist poet Joyce Mansour.
She has received the Eunice Tietjens Prize from Poetry magazine and the Lynda Hull Poetry Award from Denver Quarterly. Her work has twice been chosen for Pushcart Prizes.