Gelsey Bell is a singer, a songwriter, and a scholar. She has been described by the New York Times as a “brandy-voiced” “winning soprano,” whose performance of her own music is “virtuosic” and “glorious noise.” 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.
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, most frequently in the form of song cycles. These include Our Defensive Measurements (2013), which was commissioned by Roulette and the Jerome Foundation, SCALING (2011), which is available as a digital album as SCALING live at Roulette, and Bathroom Songs (2010), which has been performed internationally. She also wrote the piece “Weight” for Ne(x)tworks, which premiered at Issue Project Room in 2014, and wrote the music for choreographer Kimberly Bartosik’s You are my heat and glare, which premiered in Paris in 2013.
Gelsey is also a core member of experimental music ensemble thingNY and performance collective Varispeed. With thingNY, she has performed in such works as Vinko Globokar’s Un Jour Comme Une Autre, Paul Pinto’s minis, and Erin Roger’s Trajectories and Chronolinea. They have also collaboratively written and arranged music for multiple projects including TIME: A Complete Explanation in Three Parts, IN HOUSE, the many SPAM extravaganzas, and the upcoming This Takes Place Close By. 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.
Gelsey has also had the honor to have worked with a wide range of performance creators from various corners of experimental art, including composer Robert Ashley, in his final opera, CRASH, in a part that was written for her, and the revival of That Morning Thing; visual artist Matthew Barney and composer Jonathan Bepler, as a soprano in the Wake Ensemble in The River of Fundament; composer Dave Malloy, in both Ghost Quartet and Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, for which she originated her roles; composer Kate Soper, in her opera Here Be Sirens; 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; composer John King, for Impropera; composer and fiddler Cleek Schrey, for their collaboratively written Locker Room Duet; composer Miguel Frasconi, for his Sun Studies, which she performed with vocalist Joan La Barbara, and various improvisational projects; 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”; composer Jay Vilnai, for his recording of Shakespeare Songs; among many others.
In January of 2015, she also 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 experience of composing for their own performing voices during the 1970s. She has published articles in such journals as Tempo, TDR/The Drama Review, 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.
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.