Photo courtesy of Aaron Wojack

New York based composer-performer Noveller (aka Sarah Lipstate), having mostly composed guitar-driven soundscapes for herself, is having a go at composing for other musicians. Her piece Into The Midnight Sun is going to be debuted by the new music ensemble The Low End String Quartet at an upcoming concert in DC (Interestingly enough, this same concert is also going to feature the debut of another piece by a composer-performer–Zoe Keating).
This piece is also the focus of a fundraising campaign for Sarah by the Low End Quartet that everyone can chip in and help out with on the link at the bottom (EDITOR’S UPDATE: The campaign has reached its goal! Thanks to all who contributed!!).
Sarah had a few minutes to talk to The Glass.

CM: Can you talk about how you went from studying piano to what you do with Noveller?

SL: I started piano lessons when I was in 2nd grade and continued for 8 years. My piano teacher really pushed all of her students to compete in piano rallies which involve written exams in addition to performance, so I was trained heavily in theory as well as technique. I felt like the pressure to doing well in these competitions took a lot of the fun out of playing the instrument, so I discontinued my lessons and hardly touched a piano for the following 2 years. My next musical pursuit was playing the trombone in my middle school and high school bands. Again, I really loved playing trombone but marching band was a total drag, especially in Louisiana in the sweltering heat. When I was 17, I saved up all of my money from working a summer job and bought my first electric guitar. My main focus at that time was just getting used to the feeling of the fret board and building up strength and agility in my fingers. I loved that I could just play the guitar for myself and not be concerned about making music that other people wanted me to play. That’s essentially how Noveller began, though I didn’t start writing or recording under that name until 2005.

Fades (GlassLands, Brooklyn, NY; 5/27/10)

CM: The pieces (at least the ones I heard online) are very ambient and somewhat dark in nature, and it’s just you and the guitar and loops/effects, and great projections at the live gigs. Has there been any thought about bringing in other instruments or have you approached that already?

SL: I’ve used other instruments in my recordings over the years. The very first Noveller recording is just processed feedback and theremin. I’ve played piano, banjo, glockenspiel, voice, theremin, tape loops, and probably a few other instruments that I’m forgetting. Currently, I find that it’s more interesting for me to focus on the electric guitar and its sonic possibilities. I went through a phase in college where I was constantly cruising pawn shops for new gear and new instruments. I’d get excited about something like an electric sitar and use it for a few months and then end up pawning it for something else. I’m more interested now in getting to really know the gear that I have and using it to its full potential.

CM: I like that you are also a filmmaker–The ARTIFACT project was an even bigger concept, and looked like it was an incredible thing to be a part of! Are there any plans to bring that back?

SL: I developed the concept for ARTIFACT after being asked by Maria Chavez to do an installation at Splatterpool Artspace in Brooklyn last year. The opportunity to fill a gallery with images and sounds and objects really allowed me to broaden the scope of the project. My friend Chris Habib and I collaborated to create a personal echo chamber equipped with an analog tape loop playing audio of me bowing my guitar. Each time a person opened the hatch to the chamber to put their head inside, a mechanism triggered the erase head on the tape machine and inserted a second of silence into the loop. As more as more people engaged the chamber, the loop slowly returned to silence. The concept tied in with the film loops that I created for the installation as well. It was an incredibly fun project and I’d love to do something on that level again!

Almost Alright (video directed by Chris Habib; Hand-drawn 16mm film by Sarah Lipstate)

CM: Let’s discuss the commissioning project from The Low End String Quartet. Can you tell us about the piece they are performing, and is this the first time you have written for other musicians?

SL: Yes, Into the Midnight Sun is the first piece that I’ve composed for other musicians. The unique instrumentation of The Low End String Quartet (electric guitar, electric violin, amplified cello, electric upright bass) is pretty perfectly suited for my compositional style so it was a very ideal environment for me to explore writing for quartet for the first time. Having an electric guitar in the mix provided a great frame of reference for me to start building the piece. I also wrote some of the melody on piano and then used midi instruments to figure out the arrangement for strings. It was certainly a challenge but I couldn’t be happier with the outcome. “Into the Midnight Sun” feels hopeful to me. Its music drifts across a land where darkness looms but the sun’s glow remains unyielding.

Bleached Beach (Chinatown’s Spectacle, Boston, MA; 9/4/10)

Click here to donate to Low End String Quartet’s USA Projects fundraising campaign for Sarah

Sarah’s official website


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