Pamela Z

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Pamela Z
Pamela Z performing at the University of Colorado's ATLAS Institute, Boulder, CO in 2012
Pamela Z performing at the University of Colorado's ATLAS Institute, Boulder, CO in 2012
Background information
Buffalo, NY
Genresavant-garde, contemporary classical, experimental, electroacoustic
Instrument(s)voice and electronics
LabelsStarkland, Innova, Bridge

Pamela Z (born 1956) is an American composer, performer, and media artist who is best known for her solo works for voice with electronic processing. In performance, she combines various vocal sounds including operatic bel canto, experimental extended techniques and spoken word, with samples and sounds generated by manipulating found objects. Z's musical aesthetic is one of sonic accretion, and she typically processes her voice in real time through the software program Max on a MacBook Pro as a means of layering, looping, and altering her live vocal sound.[1] Her performance work often includes video projections and special controllers with sensors that allow her to use physical gestures to manipulate the sound and projected media.[2]


Born in Buffalo, New York, and raised in the Denver Metro area, Pamela Z received her bachelor's degree in music from the University of Colorado at Boulder (1978), where she studied classical voice. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, she worked as a singer/songwriter on voice and guitar throughout Colorado under the name Pam Brooks. She began experimenting with digital delay and reverb to process her voice in the early 1980s and started composing works involving live looping.[3]

In 1984 she relocated to San Francisco where she legally changed her last name to Z and became active in the San Francisco Bay Area contemporary music and performance art scene. Throughout the late 1980s and the 90s, she continued to create solo voice and electronics performances, and gained visibility through her appearances in Bay Area new music performance venues, theaters, and art galleries. She began touring her work nationally and internationally and, by the year 2000, she was performing regularly in New York, Europe, and Japan. Z has performed in such festivals as Bang on a Can at Lincoln Center in New York, the Interlink Festival in Japan, Other Minds in San Francisco, La Biennale di Venezia in Venice, Italy, and Pina Bausch Tanztheater's Festival in Wuppertal, Germany.

In addition to her solo voice and electronics works, Z has composed chamber works commissioned by contemporary music soloists and ensembles such as Kronos Quartet, the Bang on a Can All Stars, Eighth Blackbird, flautist Claire Chase, the New York string quartet ETHEL, Del Sol Quartet, The California EAR Unit, the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble, and Orchestra of St. Luke's. She has also composed scores for modern dance choreographers including Stephan Koplowitz, Brenda Way (ODC Dance), Jo Kreiter (Flyaway Productions), and Mary Armentrout. In addition, she has composed and recorded film scores for independent filmmakers including Barbara Hammer, Lynne Sachs, Jeanne C. Finley and John Muse.


Studio Recordings of several of Pamela Z's signature pieces appear on her 2004 solo CD, A Delay is Better on the Starkland label. In addition, a number of her works have been released on various experimental music and sound art compilations including her "Declaratives In First Person" on Crosstalk: American Speech Music a 2008 (Bridge Records) compilation produced by Mendi + Keith Obadike, and ‘’Geekspeak’’, which appears both on Sonic Circuits IV, a 1996 Innova Recordings compilation and on Bitstreams, a Whitney Museum collection of works from a 2001 sound exhibition curated by Stephen Vitiello. Z also recorded a track for Meredith Monk’s 2012 tribute CD Monk Mix– performing a voice and electronics arrangement of Monk’s ‘’Scared Song’’.

Other work[edit]

Pamela Z has created fixed-media sound works for radio and new media installations for art galleries. She has had solo exhibitions at fine arts institutions including the Krannert Art Museum (Champaign, Il), Savvy Contemporary (Berlin), Trondheim Elektroniske Kunstsenter (Trondheim, Norway), the Fine Arts Center Galleries at Bowling Green State University, and the Chico University Art Gallery (Chico, CA), and her installations have been shown in group exhibitions including Dak’Art (Dakar Biennale, Sénégal), Bitstreams (Whitney Museum of American Art), side by side/in the world (San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery, Walkmen (Erzbischöfliches Diözesanmuseum, Cologne, Germany) and the McColl Center for Visual Art, Charlotte, NC.

Z is also known for her narration work in independent film and television. Her voice appears in several documentaries including Sam Green's The Weather Underground (2002), Hrabba Gunnarsdottir's Alive in Limbo, and the Bay Area PBS affiliate KQED's weekly arts television program Spark.

Honors and awards[edit]

Z has received numerous awards including the United States Artists fellowship (2020), the American Academy of Arts and Letters Walter Hinrichsen Award (2020), the Rome Prize (2019), the Guggenheim Fellowship (2004); Doris Duke Performing Artist Award in theater (2015); the CalArts Alpert Award in the Arts (1998); the Creative Capital Fund (2002); the ASCAP Music Award (2000-2017); the MAP Fund (2009 and 2012); a SEAMUS Lifetime Achievement Award (2016), and the NEA and Japan/US Friendship Commission Fellowship (1998). In 2008 she was honored as Alumna of the Year by the University of Colorado at Boulder College of Music, and she received a Prix Ars Electronica honorable mention (Linz, Austria) in the Digital Musics Category. In 2017, she was a Robert Rauschenberg Foundation Artist in Residence.


  • Echolocation, (solo album) (1987) ZED, CS
  • Pearls, the Gem of the Sea on " Komotion International Vol. 11", compilation, (1991) Spirit Records, LP, CD, CS
  • State on "State of the Union", (compilation produced by Elliott Sharp), (1992) Arrest, CD AR003
  • In Tymes of Olde (Z) and Obsession, Additiction and the Aristotelian Curve (Z and Imhoff) on "From A to Z" compilation, (1993) Starkland, CD ST-203
  • Bald Boyfriend performed by The Qube Chix on "Dice" compilation, (1993) Ishtar, CD 001
  • Geekspeak on "Sonic Circuits IV" compilation, (1996) Innova Recordings, CD 113
  • Parts and Questions/Trip on "Dice 2" compilation, (1996) Ishtar, CD 002
  • Caught on "Emergency Music" compilation, (1998) CRI, CD-770
  • Geekspeak on "Bitstreams", compilation curated by Stephen Vitiello, (2001) Whitney Museum of American Art, CD
  • 50 for Charles Amirkhanian on "Homo Sonorus" compilation, (2001) Kunstradio, CD
  • No. 3 on "Visions", compilation, (2002) EMIT Series, CD
  • A Delay is Better, (solo album) (2004) Starkland, CD ST-213
  • Live/Work on "IMMERSION" compilation, (2000) Starkland, 5.1 surround DVD-audio ST-2010
  • Peter Kowald Movements I, II, & III (Kowald, Gottschalk, and Z) on "Global Village Trio", (2004) Free Elephant, CD -001
  • Pop Titles 'You' on "Deep Wireless 2: New Adventures in Sound Art", (2005) CD
  • John Cage Postcard From Heaven, (Victoria Jordanova: harps, Pamela Z: voices), (2006) Arpaviva, CD -001
  • Ethel Ethel Dreams of Temporal Disturbances (Z) on "Light", (2006) Cantaloupe, CD CA20137
  • Still Life with Commentator with Vijay Iyer and Mike Ladd (2007) Savoy Jazz
  • Lisle Ellis Sucker Punch Requiem (Lisle Ellis: bass, Pamela Z: voice & electronics, Oliver Lake: saxophones, George Lewis: trombone, Holly Hoffman: flutes, Mike Wofford: piano, Susie Ibarra: drums & percussion), (2008) Henceforth, CD 616892911227
  • Declaratives In First Person on "Crosstalk: American Speech Music" compilation produced by Mendi & Keith Obadike, (2008) Bridge Records, CD 9285
  • Meredith Monk Scared Song (composed: Meredith Monk, arr. & performed: Z) on "Monk Mix", (2012) House Foundation for the Arts, CD
  • Holding It Down: The Veterans' Dreams Project (2013) (Vijay Iyer & Mike Ladd)


  • Gann, Kyle American Music in the Twentieth Century (Schirmer Books, 1997) ISBN 002864655X, p. 383
  • Borger, Irene. (1999). “The Force of Curiosity” (Interview with Pamela Z). California Institute of the Arts. pp. 299–323.
  • Harris, Craig, ed. (1999). “Art and Innovation” (Michael Black, David Levy, and Pamela Z "Artscience Sciencart") The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA/London, England. ISBN 0-262-08275-6. pp. 210–247
  • Wilson, Stephen. (2002). Information Arts: Intersections of Art, Science, and Technology (Gesture: Pamela Z). MIT Press, Cambridge MA/ London, England. ISBN 0-262-23209-X. pp. 745–746
  • Bulatov, Dmitry, ed. (2001). Homo Sonorus An International Anthology of Sound Poetry . (Pamela Z, USA) The National Center for Contemporary Art, Kaliningrad Branch, Russia.
  • Malloy, Judy, ed. (2003). Women in New Media. (Pamela Z: “A Tool is a Tool”) MIT Press, Cambridge MA/London England. ISBN 0-262-13424-1. pp. 343–361
  • Gray, Herman S. (2004). Cultural Moves: African Americans and the Politics of Representation. American Crossroads. ISBN 0520241444.
  • Rothenberg, David. (2005). Why Birds Sing . Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-07135-X. pp. 203–204
  • Uitti, Francis-Marie. “Pamela Z”, Contemporary Music Review: IMPROVISATION , Routledge (Taylor & Francis), Edinburgh Vol. 25, Nos 5/6 (October/December 2006), pp. 587–589.
  • Lewis, George. “The Virtual Discourses of Pamela Z ” Journal of the Society for American Music , Cambridge University Press, Cambridge MA, Vol. 1, No. 1, (February 2007), pp. 57–77.
  • Lane, Cathy (2008). Playing with Words, The spoken word in artistic practice. CRISAP, RGAP Distributed in the U.K. and Europe by Cornerhouse Publications. ISBN 978 0 955 8273 3 4, pages 34–36
  • Rodgers, Tara. (2010). Pink Noises: Women on Electronic Music and Sound (Pamela Z, Language, Machines, Embodiment) Duke University Press Books, ISBN 0822346737.
  • Garrett, Charles Hiroshi, ed. (2013). The Grove Dictionary of American Music (Pamela Z). Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195314281.
  • Kelly, Jennifer. (2013). In Her Own Words: Conversations with Composers in the United States . University of Illinois Press, Urbana, Chicago, and Springfield. ISBN 978-0-252-03759-7. pp. 210–227
  • Raines, Robert. (2015). Composition in the Digital World: Conversations with 21st Century American Composers . Oxford University Press, New York, NY. ISBN 978-0199357031. pp. 306–316
  • Da Rin, Renate (author), Parker, William (author/editor). (2015). giving birth to sound - women in creative music . Buddy's Knife, Köln, Germany. ISBN 978-3000492792. pp. 271–280
  • Rutherford-Johnson, Tim (author). (2017). Music after the Fall: Modern Composition and Culture since 1989 . Simpson Imprint in Humanities-University of California Press, Oakland, CA. ISBN 9780520283152.
  • Chiriacò, Gianpaolo. (2018). Voci Neri. Mimesis/Eterotopie, Sesto San Giovanni, MI. ISBN 9788857548050. pp. 195–201
  • Voegelin, Salomé. (2018). Fragments of Listening: The Political Possibility of Sound. Bloomsbury Academic, London, UK. ISBN 9781501312151.
  • Gaston-Bird, Leslie. (2020). Women in Audio. Routledge, New York, NY. ISBN 978-1-138-31601-0. pp. 131–135

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Garrett, Charles Hiroshi. ‘’The Grove Dictionary of American Music’’, “Pamela Z”, Oxford University Press 2013
  2. ^ Wilson, Stephen. ‘’Information Arts: Intersections of Art, Science, and Technology’’ Leonardo/The MIT Press 2002, pp. 745-746
  3. ^ Malloy, Judy. ‘‘Women, Art, and Technology’’ “Pamela Z: A Tool is a Tool”, Leonardo/The MIT Press 2003, pp. 350