Gelsey Bell wears many hats in many different games of musical chairs. Most simply, she is a singer, a songwriter, and a scholar. It’s hard to know which hat you’re interested in or which game of musical chairs brought you to this website. But no matter what story you desire to hear, they all started in northern California, where she grew up the daughter of a musician mother and a philosopher father. She started writing and singing at an early age and most of the events of note in her life have spun out of these two activities.
She began performing as a singer-songwriter when she was eighteen and released her first studio album, Under A Piano, in 2005, after which Indie Sounds NY named her one of its Top Ten for the year. She performs throughout New York City at such venues as Rockwood Music Hall, Caffe Vivaldi, the Sidewalk Cafe, and Goodbye Blue Monday, and has also performed in Pennsylvania, California, Minnesota, and Michigan. Her second studio album, In Place of Arms, was released in mid-September 2010. She also made two experimental albums, February (2008) and Love is Just a Crack in the Place of You (2009) for the RPM Challenge.
She performs regularly as an experimental vocalist, 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. She is currently working on a full-length piece called Our Defensive Measurements, commissioned by Roulette and the Jerome Foundation. Her most recent song cycle, SCALING, merges her singer-songwriter composition style with her experimental tendencies towards extended technique for both voice and piano. It premiered as part of the Vital Vox festival at Roulette in November 2011 and a recording of the live performance is available online. She also created a site-specific song cycle called Bathroom Songs (2010), an hour-long, site-specific song cycle called Song Cycle in Time/Space (2005), and a suite of works for voice and boom box called Telephone Songs (2006). She is a core member of the new music ensemble thingNY, with whom she has premiered over a hundred works. They have performed at such venues as the Stone, Issue Project Room, the Tank, Judson Memorial Church, ABC No Rio, Nuyorican Poets Café, and Secret Project Robot, among others. She is also a core member of the collective Varispeed, whose successful site-specific adaptation of Robert Ashley’s Perfect Lives landed on both Time Out New York and The Los Angeles Times best of 2011 lists for classical music and opera. And she is a member of art band The Chutneys with Fast Forward and Chris Cochrane.
She appears as the vocalist on Jay Vilanai’s Shakespeare Songs (2011) and she developed composer Tom Swafford’s fifteen-minute solo opera “This is the Real Me.” She has performed John Cage’s Song Books at Issue Project Room and Lincoln Center. She has performed in countless other musical and theatrical contexts at such venues as the Kitchen, PS 122, and Ars Nova, with such folks as Robert Ashley, Matthew Barney, Jonathan Bepler, John King, Dave Malloy, Panoply Performance Lab, Claude Wampler, Banana Bag & Bodice, and Hoi Polloi. She has also worked as a songwriter and performer with dance collective Urisov, and choreographers Kimberly Bartosik, Yasuko Yokoshi, Julie Alexander, and Coco Karol.
With an insatiable desire to explore the voice on all levels, she is a doctoral candidate in Performance Studies at New York University in addition to a performing vocalist. Her scholarly work focuses on the voice, song, twentieth-century music and performance, contemporary philosophy, technology, the quotidian, speech pathology, and social justice. She has the pleasure to work with scholars Allen S. Weiss, André Lepecki, and Barbara Browning and is currently working on a dissertation tentatively titled VOICE-ACTS: Performance and Relationality in the Vocal Activities of American Twentieth-Century Composers. In 2012 she received the Stefanos Tsigrimanis Artistic Scholar Award. She has published articles in TDR/The Drama Review, Women & Performance, and the Grove Dictionary of American Music. In addition, she is the Critical Acts Editor, with T. Nikki Cesare, of TDR/The Drama Review: the journal of performance studies, edited by Richard Schechner.
Gelsey also has a sense of humor and strives to not take herself too seriously. She apologizes for this bio’s seeming momentary lapse and thanks you for your interest in her activities.