'mid the steep sky's commotion

Premiered at the Icebox Project Space in June 2017, Joshua Stamper's 'mid the steep sky's commotion is back in a new music video and documentary by Ben Stamper. 

Joshua's music and Caroline's art explore the enigmatic and impenetrable quality of wind, its singular and intimate relationship to the detritus of a city, and what this relationship suggests about language, time, and transience.

Read on to learn more about 'mid the steep sky's commotion. 

Watch the new video for "fists" from 'mid the steep sky's commotion. Music by Joshua Stamper; Performed by The Crossing; Art by Caroline Santa (projection sequences sped up 550%, 750%, and 1000%).

'mid the steep sky's commotion Documentary directed by Ben Stamper

‘mid the steep sky’s commotion is a 40-minute work written for us by composer Joshua Stamper, in collaboration with visual artist Caroline Santa. We premiered this work on June 11, 2017 as the first concert of the Month of Moderns series, in the Crane Arts Icebox in Philadelphia's Northern Liberties neighborhood.

Wind – a force of destruction and preservation, origins inscrutable and destination unknown – is the epitome of mystery. Its presence echoes through our poems and dreams, yet its patterns and path remain impenetrable, invisible save for its effect on the world around it.

Movement of time, of water, of air and flame, of human beings: these are a few of my favorite things. The impossible calculus that instructs motions macro and micro - the closing of an eyelid, the surge of a wave, the peel of a race car around its track - it’s a mesmerizing dynamism that is at once confounding and comforting. I have a deep and abiding love for “nature in the manner of her operation”, as John Cage puts it.  (Joshua Stamper)





Featuring a found-text libretto culled from the streets of Philadelphia, each movement of ‘mid the steep sky’s commotion represents a different journey through the city. Texts have been harvested from objects that have been moved, gathered, and discarded by the wind: weathered gas receipts, church bulletins, candy wrappers, concert flyers, matchbooks.

These harvested texts find new relationships with one another in the form of mesostics (a poetic device pioneered by John Cage, similar to an acrostic, but with the vertical phrase intersecting the middle of each line, as opposed to the beginning.) The form is strict - between any two capitalized letters (“meso-letters”), you can’t have the second meso-letter, so the process of writing becomes a fascinating dance between chance and intention. The meso-strings (or “spine words”, as Cage described them) become the principle scaffolding that each line of the libretto hangs on, acting as a sort of invisible helical DNA spiral - the central agent in binding words, separating words, creating order, disorder, generating motion. Cage described the process of creating mesostics as “brushing” one text against another, a very appropriate way to describe the recombinatory activity of wind. The meso-strings are taken from the Bible.


Libretto banner by Caroline Santa

The winds of Philadelphia provide the words to be sung, and in their singing, wind is rebirthed.

A note from Joshua Stamper:

My interest was in the relationship between texts that are by definition fading, transitory, and fleeting, and “the Word which endures forever”. In performance, these vertical meso-string structures of the libretto are utterly indiscernible, but their governance of the shaping of the lyric is absolute, just as wind is invisible save for its effect on the world around it. In writing ‘mid the steep sky’s commotion, I have been working in collaboration with, and even as apprentice to, the wind in its furious shifting and shuffling. Any other time in any other place, would yield a completely different text, which would yield a completely different music. The winds of Philadelphia provide the words to be sung, and in their singing, wind is rebirthed.

Crossing MoM1 Icebox.jpg

A note from Caroline Santa:

Due to the sheer volume of the Icebox, I wanted to use a small gesture and make it appear much larger. The way I see it, the video projection is an expanse or backdrop for the wind, or the choir.

I started with a piece of tinfoil that I punctured repeatedly-covering it with holes until it was almost mesh. To increase the scale, I inserted the foil into a slide mount (for an old fashioned slide projector) and found that light poured beautifully through the apertures. When manipulating the focus of the slide projector from the furthest extreme of un-focus, the projection shows a cloudy haze. As I gradually bring the "slide" further into focus, new patterns emerge and transform as we see the “in focus” slide for a moment, and it slides back into haze slowly.

Inspired by interactive wind current maps, I drew into the tinfoil with the pin, creating wind paths, eroding the surface of the slide until it would no longer pass through the projector, the way the wind can move, alter, or break up anything in its path.

I thought it was important to bring a physicality to Stampers’ mesostics-the libretto, and also a record of what was blown by the wind. I chose Organza for its lightness and fragility-I hope that as the audience moves around them, the hangings also move. There are six Organza hangings-one for each movement of the piece.





Joshua Stamper, music and mesostics
Caroline Santa, projections and mesostic installations
Donald Nally, conductor of The Crossing

Katy Avery, Julie Bishop, Elijah Blaisdell
Karen Blanchard, Steven Bradshaw, Colin Dill
Micah Dingler, Robert Eisentrout, Ryan Fleming
Joanna Gates, Steven Hyder, Michael Jones
Heather Kayan, Heidi Kurtz, Maren Montalbano
Rebecca Myers, Daniel O’Dea, Becky Oehlers
James Reese, Daniel Schwartz, Rebecca Siler
Daniel Spratlan, Elisa Sutherland, Shari Wilson

John Grecia, keyboards
Bethany Brooks, keyboards

Paul Vazquez of Digital Mission Audio, recording, mixing, mastering

Ben Stamper, video director, camera, video editing
Janelle Delia, camera
Christopher McDonald, camera

© 2017 Joshua Stamper. All Rights Reserved.

This project was supported in part through an award from The National Endowment for the Arts, The Anne M. and Philip H. Glatfelter III Family Foundation and the Musical Fund Society of Philadelphia.

Additional support through gifts from Christie Kim, J. Richard Landis, James Olsen, Lisa and Esuga Abaya, and the generosity of our Hatchfund contributors.