Santa Monica Daily Press
Where art meets music
String Theory brings unique style to the Broad Stage
By Taylor Van Arsdale
BROAD STAGE — What is it about String Theory that seems to have everyone all a twitter? Is it the canopy of sound that emanates from the unusually large-scale, invented and completely original instruments? Is it the unique way in which the extended length of the strings generates a visual physicality incorporating the dance and movement into the very act of playing the harps? Or is it that there really isn't anything quite like it?
String Theory — a music performance ensemble whose signature instrumentation revolves around long string installations — was born out of the collaborative efforts of three artists: Holly Rothschild, a choreographer and director; her husband Luke Rothschild, a designer and composer; and Joseph Harvey, a baroque cellist and composer.
The three met during their college years in Chicago, and though each of them studied at different schools their mutual passions threw them together performing in artistic collaboration. Inspired by each other's work, the friends decided to meld their passions to create a hybrid and kinetic performance ensemble featuring sonic sculpture; thus founding String Theory almost 10 years ago.
Luke Rothschild designs large-scale instruments that Holly Rothschild said, "completely transform the entire environment or architecture into a giant stringed instrument. Those pieces bring the dancers and musicians that participate in the performance together. We like to think of it as an immersive performance experience."
The long string harps are played in a different way than traditional stringed instruments. The vibration that the harp utilizes is a compression wave — a longitudinal vibration, as opposed to an elliptical vibration of a plucked guitar string or a bowed cello string, she added.
The trio also mixes film and video elements to the show as well and the music ranges from pop, to film scores, to 15th century renaissance, to rock, to electronica, to experimental moods as well as soundscapes.
One of the pieces features a dancer wearing a specialized "skirt harp." The dancer plays the harp with both her feet and her hands — wearing cotton gloves coated with rosin dust — firmly grasping the long string, and stroking it longitudinally to create the vibration. Each string is tuned by a tuning block and the distance from the resonator dictates the pitch of each string.
The skirt harp in the upcoming show is played as a duet with a Theremin — remember those cigar shaped boxes used to make those eerie sounds popular in 1950s sci-fi movies?
"We have a bunch of crazy instruments in addition to our own," Holly Rothschild said. "The skirt harp is 'super sonic' so when she's moving around in it, it also gives off ambient sounds." The giant wearable harp was made particularly for the Broad Stage, a site the group loves to play. "It's such a beautiful venue and the stage is so expansive, which is great yet at the same time it also feels very intimate," she said.
The troupe, which consists of 14 dancers and musicians, is also glad to be back in Santa Monica. "I feel like Santa Monica is such a great city. It's an extraordinary example of what a community should strive to be. The Santa Monica Cultural Affairs division provides a lot of opportunities for artists. They really try to support the arts," said Rothschild.