2022 Recipient of the Eugene McDermott Award in the Arts at MIT
"Z is an enthralling sonic explorer who is not averse to composing sumptuous melodies.”
Transforming elegant physical gestures into complex aural and visual landscapes
Pamela Z, the 2022 Recipient of the Eugene McDermott Award in the Arts at MIT, is a pioneering composer, performer, and interdisciplinary artist. She works with voice, live electronic processing, sampled sound, and video, and is known for using custom music technology activated by physical gesture to explore deeply personal themes.
The Award recognizes innovative talents and offers the recipient a $100,000 prize and a campus residency. The 2022-23 McDermott Artist Residency, which built on Pamela Z’s prior visits to MIT in 2013 and 2016, included visits to classes and labs, workshops, lectures, and a public performance.
About the Award
The Eugene McDermott Award in the Arts at MIT recognizes innovative talents and offers the recipient a $100,000 prize and a campus residency.
Established in 1974 by Margaret McDermott (1912–2018), the Eugene McDermott Award in the Arts at MIT is bestowed upon individuals whose artistic trajectory and body of work have achieved the highest distinction in their field and indicate they will remain leaders for years to come. The McDermott Award reflects MIT’s commitment to risk-taking, problem solving, and connecting creative minds across disciplines.
A distinctive feature of the Award is a campus residency, which includes a celebratory event at which the Award is presented, a public presentation of the artist’s work and significant interactions with students, faculty, and staff. The goal of the residency is to provide the recipient unparalleled access to the creative energy and cutting-edge research found in the MIT community, and to have the recipient connect with departments, laboratories, and research centers throughout the Institute in ways that will be mutually enlightening.
The Selection Process
The Eugene McDermott Award in the Arts at MIT may be given to an artist working in any field or cross-disciplinary activity, including architecture, creative writing, dance, design, filmmaking, media arts, music, theater, and visual arts. Award nominees are identified by an Advisory Committee, which is composed of international leaders in arts and culture. A Selection Committee, chosen by the Council for the Arts and the Associate Provost with responsibility for the arts, then selects the recipient.
The Award honors Eugene McDermott (1899–1973), co-founder of Texas Instruments and long-time friend and benefactor of MIT. The Eugene McDermott Award in the Arts at MIT was created by Eugene’s wife, Margaret (1912–2018) in 1974 and is presented by the Council for the Arts at MIT.
A geophysicist, Eugene McDermott was a member of the MIT Corporation from 1960 to 1973. The scholarship funds he established at MIT reflect his commitment to education and the public art he donated a conviction, shared with his wife Margaret, that the physical environment of a campus has great influence upon the character of an institution. They commissioned Eugene’s Stevens Tech classmate Alexander Calder to create The Great Sail, which was dedicated in 1966 on McDermott Court, facing the Green building. In 1976, the McDermott family and other friends of MIT made a gift of Three Piece Reclining Figure, Draped, by Henry Moore, which graces Killian Court.
Concert: Pamela Z with People
April 19, 2023 / 5:30pm
MIT Media Lab Multipurpose Room, 6th floor
75 Amherst Street, Cambridge, MA, USA
Pamela Z performs a selection of her compositions ranging from early groundbreaking works to recently premiered ensemble pieces with pianist Sarah Cahill, violinist Kate Stenberg, flutist and MIT student Sara Simpson, and Evan Ziporyn conducting.
The program includes “Presence,” “Summons,” and a suite of works for solo voice and electronics.
Artist Lecture: Crossing Disciplines
April 20, 2023 / 5pm
MIT Room 26-100
60 Vassar Street, Cambridge, MA, USA
Pamela Z shares her work and process, discussing the increasingly blurred lines between disciplines in her practice.
Works for Voice & Electronics
March 11, 2016 / 6:30pm
Le Laboratoire, 650 East Kendall Street, Cambridge, MA
Presented by the MIT Center for Art, Science & Technology (CAST)
Using body-sensors, customized hardware, and software of her own design, Pamela Z presented a program of her own work. Elegant physical gestures and intricate real-time digital processing create dense, complex sonic layers in solo works that combine experimental, extended vocal techniques, operatic bel canto, found objects, text, and sampled concrete sounds, resulting in aural and visual landscapes of stunning beauty and originality.
Artist Lecture and Demonstration
April 3, 2013 / 12:00pm
Killian Hall, MIT Building 14W
77 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA
CAST Marathon Concert
April 5, 2013 / 7:00pm
Kresge Auditorium, MIT Building W16
48 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA
The four-hour CAST spring concert, following up on 2011’s popular FAST Forward New Music Marathon, featured renowned guest artists Hauschka, Pamela Z, and Dewa Alit performing solo works, and with students in MIT’s own Gamelan Galak Tika, Glass Lab Orchestra, Lamine Touré, and Rambax. Traversing the spectrum of contemporary musical practice, the marathon concluded with an unprecedented world fusion version of Terry Riley’s anthemic In C, featuring Senegalese drums, original glass instruments, electronics, and western instruments.
Pamela Z’s signature instruments are her classically trained bel canto voice and bespoke, gesture-activated audio controllers. Throughout a long and innovative career, she has pioneered the use of interactive technology in solo performance, layering and transforming her vocalizations into a wide variety of sounds and images. Her projects resist classification, blending elements of music, spoken word, dance, theater, and visual art.
Once described by a fellow artist in the New York Times as a “wild virtuoso,” she has invented her own artistic path. Since putting down roots in the 1980s in the San Francisco Bay Area contemporary art and performance scene, she has brought her work to venues and festivals including New York’s Bang on a Can, Japan’s Interlink, San Francisco’s Other Minds, Italy’s Venice Biennale, and Senegal’s Dakar Biennale. In addition to solo and collaborative performances, she has composed scores for dance, film, and chamber ensembles (including Kronos Quartet and Eighth Blackbird). Her sound-and-video installations have appeared at major exhibition spaces around the world.
Pamela Z’s affinity for technology manifests not only in her creative tools but as a recurring theme in her work—from the parallels between how humans and computers save information (Memory Trace, 2015) to scientific data about ecological changes (Carbon Song Cycle, 2013). Other works throughout her career have drawn on her experiences as a traveling artist (Baggage Allowance, 2010; Gaijin, 2001) and delved into the nature of language and communication (Voci, 2003; Parts of Speech, 1998).
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“Z is an enthralling sonic explorer who is not averse to composing sumptuous melodies.”
— Berkeleyside: The Elemental Pamela Z: Sculpting Sounds in Berkeley
Artpulse: Interview with Pamela Z
New York Magazine: Pamela Z
The New York Times: An Encyclopedia of Voices, Human and Otherwise