title: Behind the Wallpaper
instrumentation: amplified voice (range: F3 to C#5), string quartet
duration: 35 min.
written in: 2013–15
text: Alex Temple

“[A] dizzying collage of dreamlike impressions … somewhere between avant-garde composition, mysterious artifact, and sci-fi thriller.”
Lindsey Rhoades

Behind the Wallpaper is a story about someone undergoing a mysterious transformation. At first her life is mundane, even dreary — but moments of altered perception reveal something sinister flickering in the corners. And then, late one night, she has an inexplicable encounter in a university science park. Soon she finds herself changing, in ways that may or may not be visible to others. Like the cycle’s unnamed protagonist, the music slips unnoticed through the cracks in the walls, drawing on indie pop, Weimar cabaret, Elizabethan music and 19th-century Romanticism.

I wrote Behind the Wallpaper for Spektral Quartet and singer Julia Holter, whose own music has a stylistic fluidity and vulnerability that made her the perfect choice for this dreamy, unsettling story.

For more about the piece, check out:
· New Music Chicago’s interview with me and Spektral violist Doyle Armbrust
· The American Composers Forum’s interview with Doyle
· The Chicago Tribune’s interview with Doyle, Julia and me
· The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra’s interview with Julia
· Time Out Chicago’s interview with Julia

(see the score)

(read the lyrics)


You can hear the Chicago performance (my favorite of the bunch), preceded by a brief interview with me, Julia and the quartet, on the Music is Music podcast. (May require iTunes.) Since the download is a single track, here’s a breakdown of the songs:

1. Midnight Bus (starts at 6:20)
2. Unnatural (starts at 8:59)
3. Tiny Holes (starts at 10:43)
4. This American Life (starts at 13:00)
5. Science Park (starts at 15:58)
6. Fishmouth (starts at 19:23)
7. Purple Stain (starts at 22:46)
8. Night After Night (starts at 26:25)
9. Meanwhile (starts at 28:40)
10. Jolene (starts at 30:41)
11. Spires (starts at 37:25)

Julia Holter, voice
Spektral Quartet
  Clara Lyon, violin 1
  Austin Wulluman, violin 2
  Doyle Armbrust, viola
  Russell Rolen, cello
Live at Constellation, Chicago, IL, 2.26.15

You can also hear our New York show (fantastic sound quality!) in its entirety at WQXR. Here too Behind the Wallpaper is presented as a single track, so again:

1. Midnight Bus (starts at 0:00)
2. Unnatural (starts at 2:51)
3. Tiny Holes (starts at 4:49)
4. This American Life (starts at 7:20)
5. Science Park (starts at 10:23)
6. Fishmouth (starts at 13:50)
7. Purple Stain (starts at 17:19)
8. Night After Night (starts at 20:58)
9. Meanwhile (starts at 23:17)
10. Jolene (starts at 25:27)
11. Spires (starts at 32:06)

Live at Merkin Concert Hall, New York, NY, 2.25.15