CULVER CITY, Calif. — The 12 signs of the zodiac are getting a musical treatment from 12 Los Angeles composers, including Carolyn Chen, a Highland Park resident who took inspiration from her own neighborhood for her musical composition.
The project is called "Tierkreis LA" and gets its inspiration from German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2007), who wrote a set of 12 music box melodies, one for each zodiacal sign, back in the 1970s. He called the musical series "Tierkreis," which is the German word for zodiac.
“I listened to all of the [original] music box recordings and [Capricorn] had a lot of space in it, so it seemed kind of welcoming," Chen said.
Chen chose Capricorn — the sign of the goat — for her piece then set about finding an angle for her composition which was supposed to draw on her experiences as an Angeleno.
“I thought, ‘Well, I live in Highland Park, you know, the only association I have with goats is eating birria,” Chen said. “So, that's what my movement is about.’”
Chen said many restaurants in Highland Park serve a version of the Mexican goat-based dish birria which has many ingredients in common with Chinese cooking, so it was the perfect metaphor for her piece. She even incorporated some Mexican-inspired dance rhythms and motifs to reflect the flavors of the birria recipe.
“Aside from this literal idea of a recipe and these kinds of ingredients being brought together in the way that kind of, cultures are mixing, I felt like the piece is kind of about this neighborhood, about Highland Park and its history,” Chen said.
"Tierkreis LA" also has a visual component created by artist Erik Ruin, who uses a wide range of visual styles and techniques, creating a dialogue with each of the zodiac pieces.
“At first, I wasn't sure exactly how to interact with that theme,” Ruin said. “But then, the more I thought about it, the more I realized it dovetailed with a lot of my interests as an artist, which are sort of about how we use narrative to construct our own sense of meaning. Each of the pieces has a really strong, unique visual identity, and I think it'll be a really unique and interesting experience, hopefully, for the viewer.”
Some of the visuals are performed as paper cutout artwork manipulated live by Ruin and projected on stage during performance.
"Tierkreis LA" was scheduled for performance last year but was delayed due to the pandemic. Now, it is finally getting its premiere Saturday and Sunday in Culver City, performed by The Brightwork Ensemble and presented by Synchromy.
“It feels amazing and a little bit terrifying,” said Chen. “But it is also so exciting, after so much time alone time, to just sit and listen with people.”