Program Type: 
Carla Kihlstedt

Necessary Monsters

July 29, 2011 - July 30, 2011
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater


"If confidence and creativity are the cornerstones of sexy, then violinist/vocalist Carla Kihlstedt is the sexiest woman in the avant-garde -- she conveys power with her world-class instrumental technique, compositional vision, and stage presence."
SF Weekly

Musician, composer and vocalist Carla Kihlstedt is a Bay Area treasure. YBCA is proud to present the West Coast premiere of her newest work, Necessary Monsters — a collaboration with poet Rafael Osés. A contemporary song cycle based on Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges’ Book of Imaginary Beings, Necessary Monsters is a psychological safari that encounters some of the chimeras living in the fertile landscape of our collective minds, and which thrive on the sustenance of shared experience.

Each song is a manifestation of a different imaginary creature that reflects an aspect of our complicated humanness. Narrated by a writer inhabited by these creatures, they parade out of her mind one by one in the course of a sleepless and delirious night. Among the beings that visit her are the Squonk, who weeps incessantly, the Nisna, a half-finished being complete in its incompleteness, and Odradek, an assemblage of detritus left over from past lives that will outlast us all. This is a small yet singular selection of the imaginary beings that have helped human beings to dream, all as envisioned by a single human being.

Prior to the performance, the public is also invited to contribute to The Bestiary, an ongoing web-based collection of newly imagined beings at

Necessary Monsters is a set of nine songs performed by seven musicians and a narrator. Carla Kihlstedt is the composer, violinist, primary vocalist, and director. The libretto is by Rafael Osés, a Cuban-American poet, artist and educator living on the East Coast. In this performance, the audience follows the delirious journey of a writer cajoled by creatures of her own imagining as she tries in vain to corral and contain them in an orderly field guide.

Each poem is a manifestation of an imaginary creature culled from Jorge Luis Borges’ Book of Imaginary Beings. Though the character of each one is distinct and unique, together the beings create a cohesive whole, living side by side in one mind. Likewise, though each song is singular in its musical approach, the journey from the first to the last is captivating and complete. There is a folk-inspired song set in the woods, a military march, a dizzying circus waltz, an intimate piece of chamber music, an insistent and aggressive rock song.

Necessary Monsters is a celebration of creativity and of the act of self-reflection. All of the beings in the Borges book are the result of people having had the courage to look into their own minds and articulate what they saw, whether it's dark and disturbing, or humorous and laughable.

Necessary Monsters is the first of two parts of a larger project called the Imaginary Beings Project. The second part is a web-based crowd-sourced project called The Bestiary: a living, breathing collection of newly imagined beings – a contemporary continuation of Borges’ Book of Imaginary Beings. People can submit their contributions to the site in the form of visual art, text, animation or music to either create completely new beings or reinterpret the originals. For more information, visit:

Audio clip:
Artist's Statement

Our endlessly creative imaginations make it bemusing, amusing and amazing to be human. Every culture
that has ever existed has created elaborate menageries of imaginary creatures, all of which have one
important role: to tell us about ourselves.

Necessary Monsters is a staged song cycle after Jorge Luis Borges’ Book of Imaginary Beings. I wrote it
with poet Rafael Osés for seven musicians and an actress.

Necessary Monsters follows a young writer as she tries in vain to corral the imaginary beings that parade
out of her mind in the course of a sleepless night. In this journey, she encounters many beasts - some
meddlesome, some winsome, some loathesome - and discovers that she is indeed the sum of their

Necessary Monsters is the most fully-realized and elaborate piece I’ve created to date. It has gone
through a kind of distillation process, the way a good friendship does, that only happens with time. In
this next chapter, we’ve recast, retooled, and redirected. The cast, the crew and the design team include
some of my very favorite musicians and artists, all of whom have brought incredible ideas and energy to
the piece. It is finally becoming the beast it was meant to be.

Carla Kilhstedt

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  • Necessary Monsters
    Jul 29, 2011 7:00pm
    Jul 30, 2011 7:00pm
    Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater
  • Post performance Q&A with Carla Kihlstedt and collaborators
    Jul 29, 2011 7:00pm
    Following the performance
    Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater

    Please join us for an exciting post-show conversation and Q&A with Carla Kihlstedt and her collaborators, moderated by independent music writer Andrew Gilbert (San Jose Mercury News, San Francisco Chronicle, Boston Globe, San Diego Union-Tribune, JazzTimes). The conversation will focus on the making of Necessary Monsters.
    Note: this had originally been listed in error as part of the Saturday, July 30 performance.

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Curator Statement

I am extremely excited to be able to present Carla’s world premiere piece here at YBCA. Carla’s contribution to the Bay Area’s music scene has been phenomenal, both as composer and as band leader. She is best known for her work with the Tin Hat, a world-class band that has toured internationally to high critical acclaim. But locally, Carla has been involved in a myriad of projects and alternative bands that simply can’t pin her down to a specific style or genre, but has surely influenced the vibrancy of the Bay Area scene. No matter what the style, whether her focus has been within the classical, rock, jazz, or experimental music styles her approach has been unique and her musicality mesmerizing. Many critics have wondered how Carla can manage so many simultaneous projects at once and marvel at her ingenuity; musicians praise her technique and her compositional gifts; audiences love her. It is very fitting that Carla is part of BAN6, and is truly a Bay Area musical treasure. Although she recently moved to the East Coast, her growth and development has been honed here in the Bay Area, and we will continue to see Carla perform in this area for years to come.

Isabel Yrigoyen, Curator
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Artist Bio

Carla Kihlstedt
Carla Kihlstedt's music lives in the fertile places where genres overlap and aesthetic values transmute She is a composer, improviser, violinist and vocalist. She spent seventeen of her most artistically formative years in California's Bay Area where she developed a striking, personal musical language unconstrained by traditional genre delineations. The cornerstone of her musical vocabulary comes from her initial classical training as a violinist (Peabody Institute, and the Oberlin and San Francisco Conservatories of Music), but her work now reaches far beyond the traditional concert hall.

She is a founding member of several pioneering and iconic musical projects including the dramatic and alarming experimental rock band Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, the rich and subtle acoustic composers' collective Tin Hat, the intimate and incisive purveyors of song, 2 Foot Yard, and the exhilarating improvisational duo with pianist Satoko Fujii, Minamo. More recently she has created a project called Causing a Tiger with Matthias Bossi and Shahzad Ismaily (an improvised trio that instigates songs and abstract stories) and Now You (a transparent and sonically rich song-writing duo with Matthias Bossi).

In the classical realm, Kihlstedt has premiered the music of Lisa Bielawa and of the late Jorge Liderman, and has been a soloist at the MATA festival in New York, the Ojai Music Festival, the Armenian Gallery Festival, as well as with the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players. She has contributed to several recordings of Tom Waits, Tracy Chapman, Madeleine Peyroux and Pretty Lights, and is a frequent collaborator of guitarist/composer/improviser Fred Frith. She has written pieces for the ROVA Saxophone Quartet and the Bang on a Can All-Stars, and has been awarded residencies at the Headlands Center for the Arts and at Civitella Ranieri in Umbria, Italy. She has also received the National Performance Network's Creation Fund grant, and the Gerbode Foundation's Emerging Composers Award.

Kihlstedt has recently joined the faculty of New England Conservatory's Contemporary Improvisation Department where she works with young inquisitive musicians, helping them find their own compositional and expressive voices. Her various projects and outpourings are cataloged on her web site:

Rafael Osés
Rafael Osés holds degrees from Hartford Art School and Columbia University. His work appeared in Black Warrior Review in 1998, won its 1998-99 Literary Award for poetry, and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He received an artist grant from the Connecticut Commission on the Arts in 1999, was a MacDowell Colony fellow in 2002, a finalist for the Philbrick Award in 2004, the inaugural recipient of the Alonzo Davis Fellowship from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts in 2007, and received an Amy Rao Honorary Fellowship from the Djerassi Resident Artist Program in 2008. He was a Caldera Artist Residency fellow in February 2010, and also presented a talk on his artwork and a reading of his poetry at the Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland, Oregon. His book-length narrative poem, The Night Pharaoh, with woodcut illustrations by artist Daniel Duford, was published in August 2010 by Publication Studio; his poems have also appeared in Fugue, The Cincinnati Review, Endicott Review and The Portland Review.

Rafael Osés’ radio play "Violet Enlightens" (written in collaboration with musician and composer Mark Orton) was broadcast on Pacifica Radio affiliates KGNU, Boulder, KPFA, Berkeley, and KNMU in Albuquerque, as well as on Bush Radio in Cape Town, South Africa, Resonance 104.4fm in London, England, and WDR in Germany, and is archived in the Electronic Poetry Center at SUNY-Buffalo.

His poem "Balada," scored for soprano and guitar by musician and composer Thomas Schuttenhelm, was premiered at the Centro Cultural Conde Duque in Madrid, Spain in 2007, and their "Tres Canciónes Españolas" premiered at Central Connecticut State University in 2009. He has been a core faculty member in Creative Writing at the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts since 1997, department chair of Creative Writing at the Center for Creative Youth at Wesleyan University since 2000, and received a Surdna Arts Teacher Fellowship in 2007. He has also taught courses at the University of Hartford and Saint Joseph College.

YBCA's programs are made possible in part by:
Abundance Foundation
National Endowment for the Arts
Novellus Systems

YBCA Performance 11–12 is made possible in part by:
Doris Duke Charitable Foundation
The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

Additional Funding for YBCA Performance 11–12:
Zellerbach Family Foundation
Panta Rhea Foundation
Cultural Services of the French Embassy
New England Foundation for the Arts
and Members of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

Media Sponsor:
SF Bay Guardian