Claire Chase: Density 2036: Part VII (2020) - Liza Lim: Sex Magic

, composer


Virtuoso flutist Claire Chase continues her laudable documentation of her multi-year commissioning project, Density 2036, with a digital release of Australian-Chinese composer Liza Lim's Sex Magic for contrabass flute, alto ocarina, Aztec "death whistle," electronics, and kinetic percussion. Through the piece, Lim explores elemental sources of feminine power and the realm of childbirth in a rich tapestry of sound and advanced instrumental technique.


# Audio Title/Composer(s) Time
Total Time 45:45

Sex Magic

02Oracles i: Salutations to the cowrie shells
Oracles i: Salutations to the cowrie shells
03Oracles ii: Womb-bell
Oracles ii: Womb-bell
04Oracles iii: Vermillion – on Rage
Oracles iii: Vermillion – on Rage
05Oracles iv: Throat Song
Oracles iv: Throat Song
06Oracles v: Moss – on the Sacred Erotic
Oracles v: Moss – on the Sacred Erotic
07Oracles vi: Telepathy
Oracles vi: Telepathy
09The Slow Moon Climbs
The Slow Moon Climbs

Liza Lim’s Sex Magic revolves around a constellation of symbolic associations, sonic rituals, and stylistic referents to craft a musical statement on the essence of women’s power. The work is a direct outgrowth of one arena in Claire Chase’s practice; Lim was particularly captivated by Chase’s interpretive voice as manifested through her contrabass flute, lovingly named “Bertha.” Extrapolating upon the vocabulary of sounds Chase has cultivated through Bertha, Lim draws on musical traditions around the world that feature large flutes, often in ritual contexts, exploiting the instrument for its deep resonant tones, multi-dimensional pitch articulation, and capacity for a unique range of percussive sounds. In live performance, small hand percussion is arranged on altars, as if part of an offering. Those altars are affixed with transducers to amplify the instruments arranged open on top of them, processed to vibrate at pitches that relate to the flute material. Lim and Chase’s conception is beautifully integrated and holistic, an expression of the rich, elemental values that the piece explores.

The opening movement, “Pythoness,” begins with clarion calls of awakening, in dialogue with feedback from the skin of a floor drum upon which the massive flute rests. On an audio recording, the listener hears a poignant duet, moving directly past constricted presentations of discrete pitch and rhythm into an immediate expression of organic gesture. It sets a powerful tone for the work to come, carving out its own musical language as a vehicle for inhabiting an evocative space.

Six “Oracles” follow and comprise the main body of the work, each exploring different actors in the ritual, as laid out on the altars in front of the audience. Cowrie shells, used as currency in some cultures and rich with symbolism, are featured in “Oracle i”, a patient dance in which sudden rhythmic outbursts in the flute are tempered by sensual waves of articulation on the shells. In “Oracle ii: Womb-bell” the flute and altars vibrate in symbiosis, the latter activated by resonant frequencies on the contrabass flute. The pigment vermillion is the focus of the third oracle, frequently used in decorative arts and associated with blood and life force in Chinese culture. Lim’s evocation of the highly toxic pigment is fierce and energized, with charged and focused passagework on the flute that is punctuated by percussive hits, and culminating in a chilling scream.

For “Oracle iv: Throat Song,” Chase shifts to the alto ocarina, playing and singing into the instrument closely associated with Chinese and Mesoamerican traditions in poignant intimacy.

The longest of the oracles, number five, “Moss – on the Sacred Erotic”, is scored for contrabass flute alone, and gives Chase the opportunity to revel in the otherworldly sound cavern inside Bertha. What is particularly remarkable is how nimble Chase manages to be on the large instrument, executing fleet passagework alongside haunting multiphonics and breathy trills. Lim closes the oracles with a minute long silent meditation, a reset to the ground from which all of the sounds of the work grow.

“Skin Changing” unleashes the rhythmic possibilities of the entire hyper-flute setup, with Chase triggering events from key clicks and mouth sounds on Bertha. Polyrhythmic figures, ricochet reactions, and overlapping patterns create an elaborate drumming ritual. A somber low register melody closes the energetic movement, eliding into a bass flute solo to open to final movement, “The Slow Moon Climbs,” the longest of the work. Chase’s flute and the altars engage in a responsive energy exchange, organisms intertwined in mutually reinforcing feedback. It is an apt image for the close of Lim’s work, a piece that is about the connection, vibration, and oneness that flows from the ancient wisdom inherent in the experience of womanhood.

– Dan Lippel

Executive Producers: Helen Meyer and John Meyer
Producer: Matias Tarnopolsky
Session producer and recording engineer: Rick Jacobsohn

Technical supervisor and Constellation engineer: David Dennison
Mixing and mastering engineer: Senem Pirler
Recorded at Studio 9, The Porches, North Adams, MA, May 2022

Cover photo by Pete Woodhead, from a live performance of Sex Magic at Southbank Centre London, April 2, 2022 (IG: @petewoodhead)

Design, layout & typography: Marc Wolf (

Density 2036: Part VII (2020) is dedicated to IONE
Co-commissioned by SoundState Festival, Southbank Centre London
Premiered at The Kitchen @ Queenslab in December 2020 and at SoundState Festival in April 2022

Claire Chase

Flutist Claire Chase, a 2012 MacArthur Fellow, is a soloist, collaborative artist, and activist for new music. Over the past decade she has given the world premieres of over 100 new works for flute, many of them tailor-made for her. In 2014 she began Density 2036, a project to commission, premiere and record an entirely new program of pieces for flute every year until 2036, the 100th anniversary of the eponymous and seminal piece by Varese. Also in the 2014-15 season, Chase is music directing and playing as soloist in a series of performances of Salvatore Sciarrino's Il cerchio tagliato dei suoni for 4 flute soloists and 100 flute “migranti”.

Chase has performed throughout the Americas, Europe and Asia, including debuts last season in Berlin, Frankfurt, Vienna, Paris, London, São Paolo and Guangzhou. She has released three solo albums, Aliento (2010), Terrestre (2012) and Density (2013). In 2014, she was selected as an inaugural Fellow of Project&, with which she will several new works exploring the relationship between language, music and social interaction over the next several years.

Chase was First Prize Winner in the 2008 Concert Artists Guild International Competition. She co-founded the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) in 2001 and serves as the organization’s Artistic Director and CEO in addition to playing over fifty concerts a year as an ensemble member. ICE has premiered more than 600 works since its inception and pioneered a new artist-driven organizational model that earned the company a Trailblazer Award from the American Music Center in 2010. Chase was also honored with Crain’s Business “40 under 40” Award in 2013.

In 2013, Chase founded The Pnea Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of the flute and its repertoire in the 21st century through commissions, community engagement, cross-cultural and interdisciplinary collaborations and advocacy. She lives in Brooklyn.

Liza Lim

Liza Lim (b. 1966, Perth, Australia) is a composer, educator and researcher whose music focuses on collaborative and transcultural practices. Beauty, rage & noise, ecological connection, and female spiritual lineages are at the heart of recent works such as Sex Magic (2020) for Claire Chase; the orchestral cycle, Annunciation Triptych: Sappho, Mary, Fatimah (2019-22), and the piano concerto World as Lover, World as Self (2021). Her large-scale cycle Extinction Events and Dawn Chorus (2018) has found especially wide resonance internationally and highlights ecological listening to beyond-the-human realms.

Lim has received commissions from some of the world’s pre-eminent orchestras and ensembles including the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC, SWR and WDR Symphony Orchestras, Ensemble Musikfabrik, ELISION, Ensemble Intercontemporain, Ensemble Modern, Klangforum Wien, International Contemporary Ensemble, Arditti String Quartet and JACK Quartet. She was Resident Composer with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in 2005 and 2006. Her music has been featured at the Berliner Festspiele, Spoleto Festival, Miller Theatre New York, Festival d’Automne à Paris, Venice Biennale, Lucerne Festival, and at all the major Australian festivals. Awards recognizing her wide-ranging career and depth of compositional practice include the Australia Council’s Don Banks Award (2018), the ‘Happy New Ears Prize’ of the Hans and Gertrud Zender Foundation (2021), and the 2022 APRA AMCOS National Luminary Award. She was DAAD Artist-in-Berlin (2007-08) and Composer-in-Residence at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin (2021-22). She was a founding member of the Academy of the Arts of the World in Cologne (2012-16) and was elected a member of the Akademie der Künste Berlin in 2022.

Lim is currently Professor of Composition and inaugural Sculthorpe Chair of Australian Music at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.

27 Dec, 2023

New Focus releases highlighted in year end lists

New Focus titles were highlighting in several 2023 best of the year lists: Alex Ross's Notable Classical Recordings 2023 list in The New Yorker - Claire Chase: Density 2036,” Parts VI, VII, VIII: works of Olga Neuwirth, Pamela Z, Phyllis Chen, Sarah Hennies, Liza Lim, Matana Roberts, Wang Lu, Ann Cleare; Claire Chase and various collaborators (New Focus) - George Lewis, “Afterword”; Joelle …

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An Earful podcast

— Jeremy Shatan, 7.06.2023


Take Effect Reviews

The Brooklyn flutist Claire Chase packs 3 years of a commissioned project into this release, where many different works from several artists features different players for the experimental setting.

Disc 1 leads with the playful flute prowess of Olga Neuwirth’s “Magic Flu-idity”, where Nathan Davis’ typewriter adds a charming element to the climate, and Pamela Z’s “Louder Warmer Denser” follows with Z’s fixed media wordplay intersecting the unpredictable and avant-garde flute acrobatics.

At the end of this portion, “Reservoir 2”, by Sarah Hennies, welcomes expressive vocal swells from the Constellation Choir that pairs well with the precise tonality of the flute, and disc 2 leads with Matana Roberts’ “Auricular Hearsay (Version 1)”, which makes quite an impression with Susie Ibarra’s atypical percussion and Senem Pirler’s live electronics complementing the atmospheric flute.

Deeper into disc 2, “anfa”, by Ann Cleare, meshes Levy Lorenzo’s mysterious and cinematic electronics with Chase’s dense contrabass flute, while disc 3 is entirely Liza Lim’s “Sex Magic”, which unfolds across 9 chapters of Pirler’s live electronics matching Chase’s contrabass flute, kinetic percussion, alto ocarina, Aztec death whistle and pedal bass drum for the lower registers, unconventional rhythms and poignant intimacy.

A truly unclassifiable listening experience that’s iconoclastic in its own vision, Chase pushes the boundaries of the flute with unparalleled attention to pitch, and it sure does enthrall the listener from beginning to end.

— Tom Haugen, 1.29.2024

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