Dina Emerson and Bees

Dina Emerson‘s latest project is a song cycle based on the lives of bees, and when coupled with some video of bees, it makes for a drifting, other-worldly experience.

She performed it Wednesday at Meridian Gallery, to a healthy sized crowd. Emerson was in touch with a few of the local arts scenes while she lived here.  She’s now in Vegas, singing for Cirque du Soleil — a tidbit that pretty much every writeup has to include, because it’s cool.

I know her best for her avant-garde work in different contexts. I’ve written about her improv work with Jonathan Segel as Chaos Butterfly. And she’s been the vocalist on countless CDs we received at KZSU — especially one favorite of ours, “The Most Unwanted Song,” created scientifically (and tongue-in-cheek) to appeal to as few people as possible. Naturally, it’s 1,000 times better than “The Most Wanted Song.” Emerson does opera rap about country lifestyles (combining the three most hated types of music), and kids sing about holidays. The best part is when they start running out of the usual “song” holidays and start doing Arbor Day and Ramadan.


Emerson’s setup consisted of her voice, tuned wine glasses, and an iPhone to trigger samples. Using an echo delay on the mic, she clinked the wine glasses, hit them softly with a mallet, or rubbed the rims, creating ghostly sound effects.

Her singing was mostly in long tones, with a stillness to the music, as if the songs were meant to be images themselves, built from pitch and timbre. The bee video behind her unfolded slowly, starting off with images of kids running through fields under an achingly blue sky, but spending most of its time on the bees themselves in the hive, buzzing around their cells, tending to larvae, doing the things bees do.

The songs carried a reverence for the bees’ endless toil. One song was about the new queen arriving, the old queen stepping down. Another was about the dance bees do to direct their cohorts to a source of pollen. Emerson also lifted some text from an old educational movie about bees that describes the drone, which “doesn’t do anything.” That made for a nice refrain on one song.

I don’t think Emerson actually used the sound of bees, but she did vocalize some “Zzzz”s for one song.

Emerson’s next Bay Area appearance appears to be July 21, when she’ll be the guest vocalist with Tri-Cornered Tent Show as part of the Outsound New Music Summit.