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Cellista Reveals ‘Transfigurations’ at Anno Domini

In Music
UNSHROUDED: Cellista's 'Transfigurations' is a powerful, clear-eyed vision of the Bay Area's afterlife.

UNSHROUDED: Cellista's 'Transfigurations' is a powerful, clear-eyed vision of the Bay Area's afterlife.

It all begins with a crackle. Tape hiss purls. Then, from out of the Bay Area’s past, a voice echoes:

“On May Day, 1969, the Black Panther party held rallies across the nation demanding that jailed minister of defense Huey P. Newton be set free,” announces a disembodied voice. It goes on to recount how, on the first May Day, working people in Chicago led a mass strike—calling for an 8 hour work day. “The Black Panther party today,” the voice continues, “is carrying on this same fight for all working people.”

What comes next is a testimony from the end of time. Then, “Rupture II:”

“What are we going to do?” asks an all-too-familar voice. “We’re going to make American great again, you watch.”

Welcome to Transfigurations.

Written and recorded over the last two years, Transfigurations is the latest effort from San Jose experimental musician Cellista, a.k.a. Freya Seeburger. Though cello is the album’s primary instrument, Transfigurations would best be described as a sort of avant-pop, comprising elements of classical, found sound, trap, modern composition and noise. It is clear-eyed, and it is apocalyptic. The message, unmistakably sent across the album’s eleven tracks: that the Bay Area has reached a point of no return.

“I think we reached it a while ago,” Seeburger says over the phone. “What’s happening now is just the wound. It’s opening up and we can see it. That sounds sort of dark and depressing, but we’re not in a terribly great time.”

In an area where the powerful praise the act of disruption, it’s no surprise then that harm would manifest in the form of “Ruptures,” gaping holes inflicted on the body of an ecosystem, registered on Tranfigurations as a series of sound collages.

“I think that’s what my ruptures are about. It’s a way of giving testimony to the fragile ecosystem around us, and the fact that artists here struggling,” says Seeburger.

On the quietly ominous “Look Homeward, Angel” San Jose rapper DEM ONE spits two verses, bookending an operatic aria sung over cello, piano and beatbox. In the second verse, he aims squarely for the gut, calling out San Jose’s self-described status as “Capital of Silicon Valley:”

“I’m from the valley of the heartless,” DEM ONE rhymes, “People sleeping on the park bench. Evil creeping through the darkness. Plush homes, apartments segregated—separated from the people on the margins.”

Though it comes early in the record, this verse serves the album like a centerpiece. Free of any gilded threading, apart from the self-satisfied lingo IPOs and disruption, DEM ONE’s verses reveal what is always there around us. Yes, it is political. Yes, you are probably in some way complicit. And yes, you should listen.

“Being an artist is a political act, whether you want to admit that or not,” Seeburger says, “because it’s so reliant on places, and spaces, and institutions making room for us.”

The question of affordable housing, and of the space for artists in this newly transfigured Bay Area arises again in “Rupture III,” a mournful tone piece, which samples news reports on the Oakland Ghost Ship fire.

“Just where are struggling artists supposed to live?” asks the voice of a correspondent, his report soon falling into an unrelenting loop on the words “questions of safety and legality.”

“We’re dependent, reliant on affordable housing,” Seeburger says, of the Bay Area’s arts community, “but right now in the Bay Area, we’re seeing these small assaults on our life daily, whether it be the lack of affordable housing, or just the political situation, there’s all these micro forces that disrupt our daily way of life.”

Transfigurations bears witness to these small assaults, registering them across a body scarred with tape hiss, slashed with string, and drained of all security. The assessment is dire, but like the biblical transfiguration of Christ, it is an event meant to lay bare what was previously hidden.

“In some ways, the ruptures, it’s a way of seeing the wound so that we can attend to it,” Cellista says. “So that there can finally be some sort of help, some sort of healing.”

Cellista’s ‘Tranfigurations’
May 31, 8pm, $10+
Anno Domini, San Jose

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