Hewlett backs Berkeley projects for hip hop opera, ‘Dreamer’ composition

Composite image of DJ Spooky and graphics by Greg Niemeyer. Courtesy of the artists.

New grants from the Hewlett 50 Arts Commissions will support two ambitious musical projects involving artists at UC Berkeley.

With one grant, UC Berkeley art practice associate professor Greg Niemeyer, DJ Spooky and the Internet Archive will collaborate on an 11-movement multimedia production for a string quartet, vocalist and original electronic instruments about the origins of the Internet and what needs to happen to keep it accessible, neutral, and free. 

Niemeyer said he is creating an open source Sonic Web instrument, a large touchscreen with a software tool to draw network diagrams enabling DJ Spooky, the performance name of Paul D. Miller, to explore what networks sound like and to layer sounds with vocals as well as string and sampled sounds. 

The Internet Archive will partner with the UC Berkeley Center for New Media, Stanford Live, Youth Radio, and Oakland High School for music and technology workshops as well as a service-learning course at UC Berkeley. The work will premiere at the Internet Archive’s Great Room in San Francisco in August 2018. A downloadable album with music videos and a livestream of the premiere will be hosted by Internet Archive.

The other grant involves a commission by Cal Performances at UC Berkeley for Peruvian composer Jimmy López to create an oratorio on the immigrant experience for orchestra, chorus and soprano to be performed by conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Philharmonia Orchestra of London during their Berkeley residency in 2019. 

One goal is to form a creative cohort of 10 to 12 Dreamers — immigrants who were brought to this country as children and are undocumented — with Cal Performances’ guidance and support, to serve as members of the creative team and as ambassadors ensuring meaningful connections between the artists, Cal Performances and the wider community.

Cal Performances will partner with Alameda County community organizations, UC Berkeley’s Undocumented Student Program and others that aid immigrants and refugees and with presenting partner Stanford Live.

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation grants of $100,000 to $200,000 are part of a five-year, $8 million commissioning initiative supporting the creation of 50 exceptional works of performing arts and their debut in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Read more about the projects here