Gelsey Bell is a singer, a songwriter, and a scholar. She has been described by the New York Times as the “future of experimental vocalism,” an “imaginative,” “brandy-voiced,” “winning soprano,” whose performance of her own music is “virtuosic” and “glorious noise.” She performs regularly as an 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.
After many years as a singer-songwriter, during which she released two studio albums, Under A Piano (2005) and In Place of Arms (2010), Gelsey began to bring her songwriting into the experimental world through song cycles and collaborative works. These include Prisoner’s Song (2015), created with visual artist Erik Ruin; This Takes Place Close By (2015), a collaboratively composed opera by thingNY; Airs and Interruptions (2015), originally composed for CNDC-Angers/Robert Swinston’s performance of Merce Cunningham’s choreography, with music by John King; WIFE (2015), which was commissioned by Avant Media; the song cycle Our Defensive Measurements (2013) for five performers, which was commissioned by Roulette and the Jerome Foundation; SCALING (2011) for piano and two vocalists; and Bathroom Songs (2010), which has been performed in bathrooms all over the world. Her smaller pieces include Spent Horizon (2015), first performed with vocalist Odeya Nini; “Weight” (2014), which was commissioned by Ne(x)tworks; and Locker Room Duet, created with fiddler Cleek Schrey. She also composed music for choreographer Kimberly Bartosik’s You are my heat and glare, which premiered in Paris in 2013. Currently she is developing an opera for thingNY called Rolodex. She received a 2017 sound/music grant from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, and both a residency (2015-2016) and a commission (2013) from Roulette and the Jerome Foundation.
Gelsey is a core member of new music ensemble thingNY and performance collective Varispeed. With thingNY, she has collaboratively written and arranged music for multiple projects including This Takes Place Close By, IN HOUSE, TIME: A Complete Explanation in Three Parts, and the many SPAM extravaganzas. She has also performed in Vinko Globokar’s Un Jour Comme Une Autre, Paul Pinto’s minis, and Erin Roger’s Trajectories and Chronolinea. As a founding member of Varispeed, Gelsey collaboratively arranged and performed in their critically acclaimed adaptation of Robert Ashley’s Perfect Lives and John Cage’s Empty Words. She has also taken the lead in arranging their three-person rendition of Robert Ashley’s “Love is a Good Example” and Kenneth Gaburo’s Maledetto.
Gelsey has also had the honor to have worked with a wide range of performance creators as a vocalist and multi-instrumentalist, including composer Robert Ashley, in his final opera, CRASH, in a part that was written for her, and the revival of That Morning Thing; composer Dave Malloy, originating the role Princess Mary in Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 (on its way to Broadway in fall 2016), and as a co-arranger and Pearl in Ghost Quartet; visual artist Matthew Barney and composer Jonathan Bepler, as part of the vocal trio in the Wake Ensemble in The River of Fundament; composer Kate Soper, in her opera Here Be Sirens; composer John King, alongside Joan La Barbara in his Micro-Operas, as well as Impropera; with Fast Forward and Chris Cochrane, in their band the Chutneys; choreographer Yasuko Yokoshi, for BELL; composers Rick Burkhardt and Brendan Connelly and the Theatre of a Two-Headed Calf, for their opera You, My Mother; in various projects with composer and fiddler Cleek Schrey, as well as composer and glass player Miguel Frasconi; composer Anthony Gatto and sculpture Chris Larsen in their opera Wise Blood; Avant Media, for various performances of the music of John Cage; Panoply Performance Lab, for the recording of their opera Institute_Institut; composer Tom Swafford, who she worked with to develop “This is the Real Me”; and composer Jay Vilnai, for his recording of Shakespeare Songs.
In January of 2015, Gelsey received her PhD in Performance Studies from New York University. Her dissertation, Voice-Acts: Performance and Relationality in the Vocal Activities of the American Experimental Music Tradition, traces the stories of five experimental composers writing music for their own performing voices during the 1970s. She was awarded the Monroe Lippman Memorial Prize for her dissertation and the 2012 NYU Stefanos Tsigrimanis Artistic Scholar Award. She has published articles in Tempo, TDR/The Drama Review, The Journal of Interdisciplinary Voice Studies, and Movement Research Performance Journal. She is the Critical Acts Co-Editor for TDR/The Drama Review and the Reviews Editor for The Journal of Interdisciplinary Voice Studies.