Grant Recipients Dorothea Tanning Award Music/Sound 2022

Pamela Z

A close-up portrait of Pamela Z against a light grey background wearing purple lipstick and green stick pins in her hair. Her hands are raised by her face, palms facing up.
Photo by Donald Swearingen.
  • 2022 Dorothea Tanning Award
  • Music/Sound
  • Composer, Performer
  • Born 1956, Buffalo, NY
  • Lives in San Francisco, CA
  • Additional Information

Artist Statement

My work is about layers. Since the early 1980s, I have used digital delay and sampling technology to create layered sound and performance works. I like making work that explores broad, open-ended concepts like memory, language, numbers, or time.

I’m drawn to the musicality of the human speaking voice and attracted to the dynamic that arises from simultaneously receiving it as abstract sound and the literal meaning that it holds. Speech sound is full of pitches and cadences that I routinely harvest for use as melodic and rhythmic figures of musical composition. I also love finding musicality in found sounds, and have long enjoyed using concrete samples as components in my live and recorded works.

I’m best known for works composed for my own solo voice and live electronics, which I often manipulate using wireless, gesture-controlled instruments. But, over time, my work has expanded to encompass many more facets, including chamber music compositions, fixed media “tape” works, and sound and video installations. Although my work has begun to include visual art, sound is generally still at its core. And the human voice and speech remain key.  

- December 2021


Pamela Z is a composer, performer, and media artist working with voice, live electronic processing, sampled sound, and video. In addition to her solo performances, she has a growing body of works for chamber ensembles as well as installation works using multi-channel sound and video.

A pioneer of live digital looping techniques, Z processes her voice in real time to create dense, complex sonic layers. Her solo works combine experimental extended vocal techniques, operatic bel canto, found objects, text, and sampled concrète sounds. She uses MAX MSP, Isadora, and custom MIDI controllers to manipulate sound and image with physical gestures. In works such as Quatre Couches (2015), she integrates digital and embodied techniques to create and transform multiple interlocking layers of her live-sampled voice.

Beyond her own interdisciplinary practice, Z has collaborated with a wide range of artists including Joan La Barbara, Joan Jeanrenaud, Brenda Way (ODC Dance), and Miya Masaoka, among others.

Z has toured extensively throughout the United States, Europe, and Japan. She has performed at The Kitchen, New York, NY (2019, 2010, 2004); Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles, CA (2022, 2019, 2017); the 50th Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy (2003); Bang on a Can Festival at Lincoln Center, New York NY (1999, 1996); and Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, Wuppertal, Germany (1998).

She has shown work in exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY (2001, 2000); The Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery, Saratoga Springs, NY (2005); and the Dakar Biennale, Dakar, Senegal (2004).

Z is the recipient of many honors and awards, including the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Walter Hinrichsen Award in Music (2020); the United States Artists Mellon Fellowship (2020); the American Academy in Rome, Frederic A. Juilliard/Walter Damrosch Rome Prize (2019-2020); and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, Guggenheim Fellowship in Music Composition (2004).

She holds a B.M. from the University of Colorado, Boulder.

A photograph of Pamela Z performing, standing in front of a music stand and microphone. Behind her, a screen projection depicts light green and light pink smoke. On the far left of the screen, there are two windows on a light grey facade pictured. Pamela Z is illuminated by pink light but the rest of the scene is dark and the audience who sits in front of her, watching, is enclosed in shadows.
Performance still from Other Rooms, at The LAB, San Francisco, 2019. Performer: Pamela Z. Photo courtesy of San Francisco Arts Commission.
Performance excerpt from Badagada, at Resonant Bodies Festival, Roulette, Brooklyn, 2018. Performer: Pamela Z.
Performance excerpts from Quatre Couches, Typewriter, and Breathing, at Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra, Santa Monica, CA, 2017. Performer: Pamela Z.
Performance excerpt from Attention, at Exploratorium, San Francisco, 2016. Performed by Del Sol Quartet.
A photograph of Pamela Z performing, standing with her arms upraised and her eyes closed. Behind her, wall projections show three people clad in black gesturing and interacting with one another. While Pamela Z is illuminated with orange light, the rest of the scene (including a table with laptops on it) is shrouded in darkness.
Performance still from Memory Trace, at Royce Gallery, San Francisco, 2015. Performer: Pamela Z. Photo by Silvia Matheus.
A photograph of Pamela Z performing, wearing a black long sleeved shirt and a draped black skirt and draging a black suitcase behind her. She appears mid-stride and has one arm raised by her head. Behind her, an x-ray of a rib cage is projected on the wall. The floor is illuminated with orange-red light.
Performance still from Baggage Allowance, at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL, 2010. Performer: Pamela Z. Photo by Valerie Oliveiro.
A photograph of Pamela Z performing with her arms upraised up, holding a rotary from a phone, with the wires from it circling her arms. The background of the image is lavender and blurred. Pamela Z wears a blue top and green dangling earrings.
Pamela Z in performance at Ars Electronica, Brucknerhaus, Linz, Austria, 2008. Photo by rubra, courtesy of Ars Electronica.