Ted Hearne On Gentrification In Brooklyn And The Impact Of Spike Lee On 'Place' After hearing a speech by filmmaker Spike Lee, composer Ted Hearne teamed up with the poet Saul Williams to remap the history of his neighborhood in Brooklyn, N.Y., through the language of music.
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Ted Hearne On Exploring Gentrification Through The Music Of 'Place'

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Ted Hearne On Exploring Gentrification Through The Music Of 'Place'

Ted Hearne On Exploring Gentrification Through The Music Of 'Place'

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LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Modern classical composer Ted Hearne is known for tackling big themes in his music. In the past, his compositions have put a spotlight on issues of race injustice, inequality and the environment, to name a few.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PLACE")

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST #1: (Singing) Keep on searching, self.

FADEL: His latest work is called "Place," and it's a collaboration with poet Saul Williams. The 19 songs, or movements, are a combination of electronica, jazz, indie rock and spoken word. This time, Ted Hearne is taking on the very thorny issue of gentrification.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PLACE")

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST #2: Gentrification is...

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST #3: Gentrification is a generational conversation that has gone by many names. We should not discuss what brings you back to the city without acknowledging why you left.

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST #2: White flight, white flight, white flight. Now that winter is over...

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST #3: Now that winter is over...

TED HEARNE: I started thinking about it when I moved to Brooklyn. And I guess it was right around the last term of the Bloomberg administration in New York. And I moved to Fort Greene, which is a neighborhood that I really loved and which was a neighborhood that I think had the highest disparity of income in the whole city, the ZIP code that I lived in.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PLACE")

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST #2: What led you here in the first place? Why did you leave in the first place?

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST #3: Migration - was it war? Was it poverty? Was it persecution? Was it dreams? White flight, white flight, white flight.

HEARNE: The thing that really, like, spurred me to write the piece was a speech that Spike Lee gave. And he talked about, you know, how people moved into this neighborhood and didn't have respect for the culture that existed before them. My relationship with the space that I was in felt very one-dimensional at that moment. I hadn't thought enough about the place that I was moving to and the history in it. I felt indicted by what Spike Lee said, and I recognized it.

And I started thinking about, you know, how could this neighborhood be mapped in a deeper way that was more related to the experiences of everyone that was living around me and had lived in that neighborhood and the history of the neighborhood? How would that sound like if I tried to map that in music?

FADEL: Ted Hearne has mapped other events with his music that exposed racial fault lines or political hypocrisy. His cantata "Sound From The Bench" about the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision was a finalist for the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in Music. His oratorio "The Source" was inspired by Chelsea Manning and WikiLeaks. And his hour-long dramatic song cycle "Katrina Ballads" is set entirely to media footage collected in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

HEARNE: I think that music is always a reflection of the place and time that it comes from. And, of course, it also reflects the people that are hearing it. We're lucky to be in a time where there is heightened political consciousness. But, of course, we know that lots of Americans, lots of people around the world have been conscious this entire time, right? So, you know, for me, I don't know how to make music without thinking about the relationship of myself and the world to the people around me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST #4: (Vocalizing). Get on your knees. I need a million miles. I need a million miles.

HEARNE: I think that because music is abstract, we can often use music as a way to help free up our thinking about real things and about ourselves. We can freely associate. And we can hear a beat that comes from one place. And we can hear, like, a sound that comes from another place. And in our minds, there's nothing that stops us from hearing them together. And in a way, that's a metaphor for a world where there is more understanding and when there is more dialogue between people.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IS IT OK TO SAY?")

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST #5: Is it OK to say? Is it OK to say? Is it OK to say? Is it OK to say?

FADEL: Composer Ted Hearne. His latest studio album is called "Place."

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