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"Festival of Whispers" (2017/2019) explores coastal erosion as cultural erosion. The piece was commissioned by the Athenaeum Library of Art and Music in La Jolla, CA, a library that sits at the edge of the sea. It was premiered as a sound installation and a chamber music ensemble piece for the SoundON Festival of Modern Music. The work is multi-faceted and it includes a multichannel sound installation, a chamber ensemble wor, an indeterminate instrumentation expansion for voices and instruments of any size, and, a series of headphone listening stations. The work can thus be presented as a chamber piece, an orchestral or choir piece, or as a sound installation. The version listed here is the full ensemble piece, including the score, software, electronic parts, and  instrumental performance parts.


The chamber music version  is scored for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano and percussion (3 cym, snare, vib, bell tree or glock, 4.5 octave marimba, large bass drum)

duration is c.15′, variable depending on the ensemble interpretation of the score (see below). The work was expanded in 2019 for the Eighth Blackbird Ensemble who premiered the new version of the piece at the Coastal Futures Festival 2019. 


Listeners hear the sound of the coast through the walls and floor, as if the ocean is pushing up under the building, pulling it out into the sea stone by stone. Whispered texts drawn from the music library stacks (the writings of composers) figuretively "wash off the shelves and drift out to sea", spinning around the hall through the audio system. As the ocean seems to erode the performance space, the musicians and audience members spread whispers around the hall. The ensemble music, while illustrating the collapse of culture through coastal erosion, also develops its own musical content and community, contributing to that culture even as it too is washed away. In this way the music explores the loss of cultural, an outcome of climate change often overlooked in the face of the humanitarian and economic devastation global warming brings.


"When I was in residence at the Athenaeum a giant sink hole opened up in downtown La Jolla – the ocean coming up right under the foundation of the city! It reminded me of the fragility of human culture and how climate change threatens our most cherished cultural artifacts in addition to our habitats."

- Matthew Burtner


The score features metered instrumental sections (above) alternating with non-metered sections of variable duration (below). The electronics are controlled via a Max patch and are follow the musicians so that the duration of the piece is flexible.


Contact for details on the installation and audio materials.

Festival of Whispers (2017/2019)

  • Performance materials include a PDF score and individual PDF instrumental parts, a software instrument to control electronic playback, and the electronic tracks. 

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