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Vijay Iyer

Five Empty Chambers (2016) for tape

density 2036: part iv



Every sound you hear in this piece was generated by Claire Chase. My initial idea was to build a piece for live flute and pre-recorded audio. I asked Claire to record herself playing non-pitched material so that I could build some accompanying rhythms and textures.

I specified almost nothing about what I needed, and so what she sent me were not isolated individual sounds, but a series of virtuosic pitch-free impromptus on five different flutes (contrabass flute, alto flute, flute, piccolo, and ocarina). She displayed a different personality on each instrument; it was like listening to a cypher of  whisper-quiet battle emcees, or perhaps a series of encounters with various insect-robots, whirring and buzzing in the air in front of you.

I decided I would treat each of her improvisations as an episode. I built a specific environment around each one, and ran them through effects so that her extemporaneous rhythms were triggering other sounds. The more I sat with the results, the more I realized that additional flute might not be necessary. So I decided to give Claire a break for this round. Thank you for listening.

—Vijay Iyer

Five Empty Chambers (2016) for tape

density 2036: part iv

Face the Music and Claire Chase Perform Vijay Iyer's "Five Empty Chambers"

Face the Music and Claire Chase Perform Vijay Iyer's "Five Empty Chambers"

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There is no written score for the solo (tape) version this work, as it was based on Chase’s recorded improvisations. The live ensemble version of the work with multiple flutists is a generative and improvisatory process that Chase leads in educational workshops, with multimedia scores created by Jessica Shand. If you are interested in performing the work in its ensemble version, please contact For information about Vijay Iyer’s other music, please contact


Described by The New York Times as a “social conscience, multimedia collaborator, system builder, rhapsodist, historical thinker and multicultural gateway,” composer and pianist Vijay Iyer has carved out a unique path as an influential, prolific, shape-shifting presence in twenty-first-century music over the last twenty-five years, earning him a place as one of the leading music-makers of his generation.


He received a MacArthur Fellowship, a Doris Duke Performing Artist Award, a United States Artist Fellowship, a Grammy nomination, the Alpert Award in the Arts, and two German “Echo” awards, and was voted Downbeat Magazine’s Jazz Artist of the Year four times in the last decade. He has been praised by Pitchfork as “one of the best in the world at what he does,” by the Los Angeles Weekly as “a boundless and deeply important young star,” and by Minnesota Public Radio as “an American treasure.”


Iyer’s musical language is grounded in the rhythmic traditions of South Asia and West Africa, the African American creative music movement of the '60s and '70s, and the lineage of composer-pianists from Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk to Alice Coltrane and Geri Allen. He has released twenty-four albums of his music, most recently UnEasy (ECM Records, 2021), a trio session with drummer Tyshawn Sorey and bassist Linda May Han Oh; The Transitory Poems (ECM, 2019), a live duo recording with pianist Craig Taborn; Far From Over (ECM, 2017) with the award-winning Vijay Iyer Sextet; and A Cosmic Rhythm with Each Stroke (ECM, 2016), a suite of duets with visionary composer-trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith.


A longtime New Yorker, Iyer lives in central Harlem with his wife and daughter. He teaches at Harvard University in the Department of Music and the Department of African and African American Studies. He is a Steinway artist.

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