Claire Chase: Density


Density takes the seminal flute solo Density 21.5 by Edgard Varèse as an endpoint and works backwards through an exploration of the concept of "density" as a springboard for sonic explorations of texture, layering and performative virtuosity. 


# Audio Title/Composer(s) Time
Total Time 73:34
01Vermont Counterpoint
Vermont Counterpoint
03Almost New York
Almost New York
04Piece in the Shape of a Square
Piece in the Shape of a Square
06Density 21.5
Density 21.5

Booklet texts are by Laura Mullen and photography is by David Michalek. Both the Balter and Diaz de León are written for Chase and are heard here in their world premiere recordings.In John Zorn’s Arcana: Musicians on Music (Volume 6), Chase writes of her adolescent encounter with the Varèse flute solo (including an unsuccessful attempt to program it at her junior high school graduation) and how the work has marked her life, career, and commitment to the creation of new repertoire and new performance practices for the instrument. She describes her first time playing through the piece in her family living room at age thirteen:

As I struggled through the piece that night for the captive audience of our family dog, I imagined my body as a vast, black chamber, with waves of light in fantastical fluorescent color schemes darting rapidly around it. I felt power for the first time in my playing, and a different kind of power than the satisfaction I had felt when I had executed a difficult technical passage or spun a sweet line of Debussy—this was new. This was deeper, darker. This was a new kind of music. What was it? Whatever it was, I was hooked. I wanted no more of the old stuff. Density was all there was.

Chase, now 35, recorded Density 21.5 on a platinum Powell flute owned by Doriot Anthony Dwyer (a descendent of Susan B. Anthony), the first female flutist to become principal of a major US orchestra. Density is Chase’s third solo album and completes a trilogy of recordings, with Aliento (2009) and Terrestre (2012), dedicated to the documentation of 20th and 21st century flute repertory. In performance, Chase plays the disc as a 70-minute continuous solo in collaboration with the art director David Michalek and the sound engineer Levy Lorenzo, using sound, space and her unique perspective on the instrument to explore flute performance in an entirely new way. \

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.
10 Oct, 2016

Brooklyn Rail features New Focus

George Grella of the Brooklyn Rail featured New Focus among several excellent labels in an article published on October 4, 2016, entitled, "Trust in the Labels." Here are his words about New Focus: "A star-power new music label, around since 2003, that has embraced digital media, especially digital music libraries and streaming services, with an optimistic view that digital will eventually lead …

Read More

23 Dec, 2013

NF releases make Best of 2013 Lists!

Time Out Chicago, Rhapsody, the New Yorker, and NPR all mentioned New Focus releases in their Best of 2013 lists. Three New Focus releases were included in Time Out's listing citing Tony Arnold and Jacob Greenberg's rendition of Messiaen's Harawi, Third Coast Percussion's Resounding Earth by Augusta Read Thomas and Claire Chase's Density in their top classical …

Read More

01 Oct, 2013

Claire Chase Density release events

In promotion of her new solo flute record, Density, Claire Chase is performing the album in its entirety in shows in New York (10/3 The Kitchen), Philadelphia (10/9 Bowerbird), and Washington D.C. (10/12 Atlas Performing Arts), following up on a recent show on the exciting Frequency series at Chicago's Constellation venue, curated by Peter Margasak of the Chicago Reader. Density is now available …

Read More



Time Out Chicago

If being a fan of Claire Chase means being on a bandwagon, get ready to ride that wagon at full tilt into the sunset. The International Contemporary Ensemble founder’s third solo record, Density, completes a new-music hat-trick both conceptually and in its impeccable execution. Beginning with Steve Reich’s 11-flute “Vermont Counterpoint” and incrementally reducing the number of instruments piece by piece before arriving at Edgard Varèse’s “Density 21.5,” Chases’s peeled onion of a track list never sags. Take Marcos Balter’s “Pessoa” for six bass flutes, in which languid incantations envelop the ears like a pail of warm milk spilling out over a polished wooden floor. In Mario Diaz de León’s “Luciform,” electronics erect a foreboding prison of bass around the solo flute, played here with impressive technical dexterity and an enthralling breathlessness by Chase. ForDensity, the journey is the thing, so listeners are advised to set aside the full hour and a quarter for maximum gratification. 


NPR's 100 Favorite

An elegant, hypnotic reading of a landmark modernist solo piece composed for a platinum flute, from a player — and MacArthur Fellow — best known for her sterling work as head of the International Contemporary Ensemble.


New Music Box

The newest album by flutist and leader of ICE, Claire Chase, uses the concept of density as an overarching theme. Varése’s 1936 work Density 21.3 serves as the springboard, and from there she explores many definitions of density in music. The various sized flutes snowball upon themselves in all of the other works on the disc: the multiple linearities we know from Steve Reich and Philip Glass; fragile, gauzy layers of texture from Marcos Balter; laser-focused swimming with sine waves from Alvin Lucier; and they even transform into a noisy heavy metal guitar in Mario Diaz de León’s Luciform for flute and electronics. As pristinely produced as this recording is, don’t miss a chance to hear Chase perform these works live—her performances are riveting, and just as tight as those on the album. - Alexandra Gardner



MacArthur fellow and International Contemporary Ensemble founder Claire Chase named her third album for the Edgard Varése classic that ends the collection. Five other multi-tracked works of varying density fill out the program, from the dancing interlocking patterns of 11 flute lines in Steve Reich’s “Vermont Counterpoint” to the bracing acoustic beating that five overdubbed lines generate against sine waves in Alvin Lucier’s “Almost New York.” Each piece flows uninterruptedly into the next, paring down as it goes. Chase brings both staggering technique and humanity to this sterling collection of modern flute works, which also includes an early Phillip Glass piece and new work from Marcos Balter and Mario Diaz de Leon.

- Peter Margasak


The Star Ledger

Claire Chase, founder and artistic director of the International Contemporary Ensemble, is well established as a first-rate flutist with vital new music instincts. Her latest recording is not always an easy listen — take Alvin Lucier’s 24-minute droning "Almost New York" — but a worthwhile one. Steve Reich’s "Vermont Counterpoint" features layered recordings of 11 parts. Chase becomes an impeccable, bright, propulsive chorus, with mechanic precision but also urgency and eagerness. In a similar minimalist vein is Philip Glass’ "Piece in the Shape of a Square." Marcos Balter’s captivating 2013 "Passoa" employs odd, husky tones of six bass flutes. Chase seems to hiss, stutter and whirr through the instrument as well as latch on to melodic elements with natural musicality. At various points a main voice seems surrounded by percussive popping sounds, like splatters of paint on a canvas, as well as the buzz of swarming insects, but only flutes are used. The recording also includes an expert rendering of Varèse’s Density 21.5 on a platinum flute and Mario Diaz de León’s dark, virtuosic video-game like work for flute and electronics, "Luciform."

Ronni Reich


Q2 Music

On her last solo album, "Terrestre," flutist Claire Chase performed pieces by Boulez and Carter, and threw in a new Kaija Saariaho premiere for good measure. With her newest album, "Density," she presents the most varied “American” program yet from any soloist in the International Contemporary Ensemble orbit. (Chase is the virtuoso group’s executive director.) Steve Reich’s Vermont Counterpoint is first up: Chase multitracks its 11 parts, but rather than feeling studio-cramped, it’s expressive. Her downshift into the slow section is majestic. A rare recording of Philip Glass’s Piece In the Shape of a Square, written in 1967, doubles up on the album’s minimalist bona fides—though this connection between two pieces is hardly the most interesting one on the album.

Three other pieces suggest two additional, complementary pairings. Electronic-acoustic dialogue is foregrounded on Alvin Lucier’s Almost New York: the flutist has to look for ways to blend in with the pure-wave oscillators, and thus manipulate the “density” of her instrument to get the cleanest sound possible. By contrast, Mario Diaz de Léon’s Luciform pits flute-tones in stark relief against a barrage of alien electronic effects. Here, Chase deals with chords of doom-metal texture, and, at the end, sheets of tintinnabulation that sound as if grabbed from Stockhausen’s Cosmic Pulses. Diaz de Leon’s composition is the most varied-sounding one on the album—a perfect foil for Lucier’s drone-work.

But Luciform also has a connection to another piece, Marcos Balter’s Pessoa (for six bass flutes). Both composed in 2013, their distinct approaches make a powerful argument for the current health of the New York scene. Less hyperactive than Luciform, Balter’s Pessoa nevertheless is full of activity: a nimbus of five multi-tracked parts often swarms around the solo bass-flute lead, casting delicate shadows of flutter-tongue action. At other points that chorus coalesces into keening chords.

All that’s left is for Chase to pivot back to a key text of the solo flute literature: Edgard Varèse’s Density 21.5. Its register leaps aren’t just “navigated”—they’re all but dared to trouble the flautist. They don’t, much. As on the other pieces, sometimes her instrument sounds as if disembodied, while at other moments the human breath rattling around in the density of the instrument is a presence all its own.


American Record Guide

Any release by Claire Chase is likely to be a contender for Best of the Year. Contemporary music is her specialty, and we have praised her previous albums Aliento and Terrestre. This one is spectacular too, and it has original flute pieces by Steve Reich and Philip Glass. Need I go on? 

Most of these works call for more than one flute, and Chase plays all the parts. There are six bass flutes in the work by Marcos Balter (b 1974). It is a fascinating, mournful collection mostly of unpitched sounds. There is a mesmerizing section toward the end where all six flutes are playing. Chase is also called to sing. Rather than go into detail about each of the others, let me generalize. Claire Chase chooses programs that offer a variety of textures and styles across the modernist realm. I imagine her concerts would be worth attending. You might not like one piece, but you won't dislike them all. Varese's solo, from 1936, is the foundation of the contemporary flute repertory. Its title is the density of platinum, 21.5 grams per cubic centimeter. The work was written for the owner of the first flute made out of platinum, Georges Barrere; see CAPLET for some excellent chamber music written through his influence. Few platinum flutes are around because they are heavier and more expensive than gold. Chase got hold of a platinum Powell flute that was owned by Doriot Anthony Dwyer, principal flute in the Boston Symphony for many years. Varese was very specific with his rhythms and his markings, so there is little room to interpret this. Laura Mullen is credited for the liner notes with the phrase; homage to Octavio Paz. They are descriptive meditations on the music. - Todd Gorman

Related Albums