When composer José-Luis Hurtado heard Shailja Patel’s poems in their first week of residency in April, he knew he wanted to transform her words into music. “I not only heard words, but I also listened to music when she performed her work,” José-Luis says. “When I’m talking about music, I’m talking about rhythms and tones and colors and textures and density,” he adds. “That’s how everything started, she sent me the poems and I already somehow had the music.” 

Shailja’s work also inspired Daniel Díaz Mantilla, who wrote a poem responding to hers. Daniel’s poems in turn became part of José-Luis’ composition, a cycle of three songs, each a dialogue between two speakers and piano.

For Daniel, collaborating with fellow Fellows was an unexpected way of engaging with the idea of collectivity, rather than approaching creative work in isolation. “Producing with each other, being pushed by others’ ideas or certain difficulties” was exciting and surprising. Shailja agrees. “It’s a chain reaction of another artist hearing what you’re trying to do, reflecting it back to you in a way that is freshly generative, and the cycle continues,” she says. At Civitella, time is “elastic and expansive,” rather than urgent and compressed, and the space not to be productive, paradoxically, made room for experimentation and ideas to come “like magic.” 

José-Luis promises that the collaboration will continue. “The fact that we’re not going to be physically together does not mean that our work cannot somehow keep communicating.” Watch the piece here.

José -Luis also recorded an improvisation session with cellist Tomeka Reid while they were in residence together. Watch them play here.