Naked Light takes its inspiration from four paintings by Edward Hopper (1882-1967): Morning in a City (1944), Morning Sun (1952), Hotel by a Railroad (1952) and Office in a Small City (1953). Each painting depicts a subject(s) standing in front of an open window, staring onto a cityscape just beyond the sill. A strong light returns, flooding their bodies. Rather than bringing warmth however, in each painting the light is cold. In the light, the subjects are revealed to be gaunt, angular, textured and “imperfect”. Emotionally, the light pierces the subjects, stripping away their exterior selves—any costumes or artifices they may have put on—and reveals the insecurities and anxieties that lie beneath.
The emotions evoked in these paintings remind me of various moments in my life. I remembered waking up before any of my cabin-mates at sleep-away camp. A high, small window left open in the night let in the morning light and sounds onto my top bunk. The unfamiliarity of both intensified my homesickness. I was reminded, too, of mornings during my freshman year of college when I would open my shades to see an unfamiliar campus portending four years of new experiences and stressful music theory tests. And now, amidst a pandemic, rampant police violence, and political mayhem, it is a sensation I feel strongly every morning, the sunlight reminding me that it is time to tackle the uncertainties of the day. I decided to represent these experiences in music.
A week after the work’s premier, I discovered that I was not the only person who had gravitated toward Hopper’s works during the pandemic. While researching whether Hopper had painted any works in response to the 1918 influenza pandemic, I found a March 16 tweet, by the author Michael Tisserand. Captioning four of Hopper’s works that depict the painter’s famously solitary subjects, Tisserand wrote “we are all Edward Hopper paintings now.” The tweet received seventy-one thousand retweets and over two-hundred thousand likes. Memes of Hopper’s paintings, often with their subjects removed, proliferated and journals from the New Yorker to Time Magazine published articles detailing the prescience, and sudden popularity of Hopper’s works.
Hopper, it turns out, had not painted any works in response to the 1918 pandemic, but his depictions of lonely figures situated in silent, ominous cityscapes has resonated with viewers during who are currently living in similar isolation. Unwittingly, in using Hopper’s paintings as a springboard for my own writing about solitude, I had connected myself to thousands of other people. My hope is that Naked Light might serve as a point of connection for others, too.
I owe a debt of gratitude to Andrew French, Ayaka Arai, Torstein Johansen, and Alex Goodin who underwent the strange and thrilling journey of giving Naked Light’s virtual premiere during the 2020 Fresh Inc Festival from four different locations in the U.S. I am in awe of their musicianship and dedication, and I thank them for bringing this work to life.