Phyllis Chen


Roots of Interior (2019) for flute and heartbeat




Phyllis Chen is a composer, keyboardist and creative force whose music draws from her tactile exploration of objects and sound.  Described by The Washington Post as “a virtuoso of the toy piano, she delights in the delicate sonorities of music boxes and everyday objects, weaving them into strikingly original works of engaging lightness and transparency.(…) Chen is a master of the art of play — serious, serious play.” She has received grants/commissions from Fromm, Pew Heritage Trust, Singapore International Festival of the Arts, Roulette-Intermedium, NYSCA, New Music USA and others. She was most recently named a 2019 Cage-Cunningham Fellow from the Baryshnikov Arts Center.




Roots of Interior (2019) for flute and heartbeat

There was a time when I could hear two heartbeats inside my body, beating in counterpoint, in conversation. Since the sound of my heartbeat was the first music my daughter heard,  I always trusted she would  intuit the rhythm of my song.

With all the metaphoric uses of the heart, it is surprising that I forget to simply listen to my own beatings, its speed, its irregularities and other qualities. In this piece, I think of Claire not only as a performer but as a landscape, an environment that changes as she plays. Toward the end of the work, we catch a glimpse into her experience by way of a digital stethoscope strapped to her chest. What will her heart sound like today? And what will it be like in 2036?

— Phyllis Chen