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Phyllis Chen

Roots of Interior (2019) for flute and heartbeat

density 2036: part vi



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

Roots of Interior (2019) for flute and heartbeat

density 2036: part vi


Described by The New York Times as “spellbinding” and “delightfully quirky matched with interpretive sensitivity,” Phyllis Chen (2022 Guggenheim Fellow, 2019 Cage-Cunningham Fellow) is a composer, pianist and sound artist whose music draws from her tactile exploration of object and sound. 


Phyllis started playing the piano at the age of five and came across the toy piano as an adult. As a pianist, she immediately fell in love with the instrument’s possibilities. Being bound to no history, the toy piano became her grounds to develop her personal voice, one that reflects her third culture kid experience. The unrefined and raw tone of the instrument inspired Phyllis to  create very personal miniature theater works (The Memoirist, The Slumber Thief and Down The Rabbit-Hole) in collaboration with her partner and video artist, Rob Dietz. One of her interdisciplinary solo works, Lighting The Dark, was described by NYT as “by turns poignant, humorous and virtuosic, Chen’s performance offered a slyly subversive take on issues relating to femininity, technology and power…the looping, spellbinding music…became a fitting tribute to the modest, repetitive, yet quietly heroic work of women.”


Phyllis has received commissions by ensembles and organizations such as the International Contemporary Ensemble, A Far Cry, Baryshnikov Arts Center, Claire Chase’s Density 2036, Opera Cabal’s Opera Shop, Singapore International Festival of the Arts, the Roulette-Jerome,  Look & Listen Festival, Jacob Greenberg, and others. She has received grants from New Music USA, Foundation for the Contemporary Arts, NYSCA (via Concert Artists Guild and Look & Listen Festival), Fromm Foundation and the Pew Heritage Trust via Christ Church of Philadelphia. 


Phyllis has released five albums, three solo albums (Concert Artists Guild, cerumenspoon, New Focus Recordings) and a fourth collaborative album with Indie-band Cuddle Magic on FYO records.

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