Grant Recipients Grants to Artists Music/Sound 2017

Gelsey Bell

Photo by Reuben Radding.
  • 2017 Grants to Artists
  • Music/Sound
  • Composer, Performer, Scholar
  • Born 1982, Santa Rosa, CA
  • Lives in Ridgewood, NY
  • Additional Information

I have been using [the award] slowly, savoring it and feeling so much easier moving forward with projects knowing I have a financial cushion... I used [some of the grant] for a research trip for a piece I am making with Yasuko Yokoshi. The piece is called shuffleyamamba and will premiere in Japan this fall. We will then bring it to New York in the fall of 2020. I don't plan on using any more of my award for that project but having the ability to do that early research ensured that the project would go forward and it might not have without it.

- Gelsey Bell, December 28, 2018

Artist Statement

I primarily focus on voice as a nexus of social interaction and personal reflection. I have made a nest for myself using song form, but the building blocks cull from a wide array of fields outside music as well: theater, dance, philosophy, sociology, etc. Staging, dramaturgy, movement, and bodily sensation are often essential aspects of my sonic composition. I also cultivate a wide spectrum of vocal techniques across genres and am currently occupied with developing music that uses fluctuations in vocal timbre/style as an integral element of a melody.

As both an artistic creator and a scholar, I strive to maintain a two-way channel between using scholarship's complex theories and historical awareness in my performance work (not necessarily in order to be “communicated") and articulating embodied and kinetic experience and intelligence in scholarly prose.

I am also very committed to improvisation and collaborative creation, as well as furthering the history and life of classic works and practices that rely on improvisation and performer reinvention. And finally, I am interested in performance practices that are not tied to an object-based economy, rethinking the way music and performance can function on a societal level.

- December 2016


Gelsey Bell is composer, vocalist, and scholar. After releasing two studio albums as a singer-songwriter, Under A Piano (2005) and In Place of Arms (2010), Bell brought her songwriting into the experimental world through song cycles and collaborative pieces. She performs regularly as a vocalist and multi-instrumentalist, culling from a wide range of techniques and styles to create her own performance works, to literally voice those of contemporary composers, and to explore improvisation.

Her song cycles include Bathroom Songs (2010), which has been performed in bathrooms across North America and Europe; SCALING (2011); and Our Defensive Measurements (2013), commissioned by Roulette and the Jerome Foundation. Her other pieces include “Weight" (2014), commissioned by Ne(x)tworks; Spent Horizon (2015); and WIFE (2015), commissioned by Avant Media. She is a core member of new music ensemble thingNY, with whom she has collaboratively composed and arranged music for almost ten years, including This Takes Place Close ByIN HOUSE, TIME: A Complete Explanation in Three Parts, and the many SPAM extravaganzas. Bell is a founding member of performance collective Varispeed, with whom she collaboratively arranged and performed in their critically acclaimed adaptation of Robert Ashley's Perfect Lives, and John Cage's Empty Words. She also has a band with Fast Forward and Chris Cochrane called The Chutneys.

Bell's collaborative works include Locker Room Duet (2013), created with fiddler Cleek Schrey; original songs for Kimberly Bartosik's You are my heat & glare (2013); Prisoner's Song (2015), created with visual artist Erik Ruin; Airs and Interruptions (2015), originally composed for performances of Merce Cunningham's choreography performed by CNDC-Angers alongside music by John King; and Buoy (2016), created with choreographer Biba BellShe has worked as a vocalist and multi-instrumentalist with composers Robert Ashley, Dave Malloy, Jonathan Bepler, Kate Soper, John KingJoan La Barbara, Rich Burkhardt, Brendan Connelly, Miguel Frasconi, and Anthony Gatto; visual artist Matthew Barney; sculptor Chris Larsen; sound artist Gregory Whitehead; choreographer Yasuko Yokoshi; and Panoply Performance Lab.

Bell received her Ph.D. in Performance Studies from New York University, and was awarded the Monroe Lippman Memorial Prize for her dissertation. She has published articles in TempoTDR/The Drama ReviewThe Journal of Interdisciplinary Voice Studies, and Movement Research Performance Journal. She has received both a residency (2015-16) and a commission (2013) from Roulette and the Jerome Foundation, and is the Critical Acts Co-Editor for TDR and the Reviews Editor for The Journal of Interdisciplinary Voice Studies.

Black and white photograph of a person behind a booth speaking on a microphone with their arms slightly raised to their sides. Behind them the projection of a silhouette with fur doing the same motion.

Performance still from Prisoner's Song, at Roulette, Brooklyn, 2015. Photo by Michael Yu.

Black and white photograph of a person dressed in a long dress with neck-length straight hair singing in front of a microphone with closed eyes.

Performance still from Prisoner's Song, at Roulette, Brooklyn, 2015. Photo by Reuben Radding.

A person laying in the middle of a stage singing, with only their face lighted. surrounding them in a circular motion people laying down and peices of wood, all shadowed with only blue lines illuminating on them.

Performance still from thingNY's This Takes Place Close By, at Knockdown Center, Queens, 2015. Photo by Michael Yu.

Four performers sitting behind a table with microphones in front of them reciting from papers.

Performance still from thing NY's performance of Paul Pinto's “Hack It," at the Ecstatic Music Festival, Merkin Hall, New York, 2015. Performers: Gelsey Bell, Paul Pinto, Dave Ruder, and Jeffrey Young. Photo by Aleksandr Karjaka.

Spent Horizon, at Roulette, Brooklyn, 2015. Performers: Gelsey Bell and Odeya Nini. Video by Matthew Bernard.

Excerpt from WIFE, at Avant Media Festival, Wild Project, New York, 2015. Performers: Gelsey Bell, Kjersti Kveli, and Megan Schubert.

A person dressed in a yellow dress and glasses holding a book and talks in a microphone that a person next to their side is holding.

Performance still from Varispeed's Perfect Lives Manhattan, “The Supermarket," at Performa, New York, 2011. Performers: Gelsey Bell, Dave Malloy, and Dave Ruder. Photo by Performa.

Black and white photograph of person dressed in jeans, a dark shirt and circular earrings in a bathroom leaning against the wall near the door.

Performance still from Bathroom Songs, at thingNY's IN HOUSE, University of the Streets, New York, 2011. Photo by Reuben Radding.

Excerpt from SCALING, at Vital Vox Festival, Roulette, Brooklyn 2011. Performers: Gelsey Bell and Paul Pinto.