Light Meets Sound: Christopher Cerrone’s “South Catalina”

Our perceptions of light and sound overlap in some interesting ways. Both travel through the air in waves and bounce off walls. In music, tone is often described in terms of “color,” “dark,” and “bright.”

Glistening splashes of light formed the inspiration for South Catalina (2014), a sextet by American composer Christopher Cerrone (b. 1984). Inspired by an art instillation, the piece evokes piercing brilliance, as well as mystery. As with the constantly-changing play of sunlight and shadow, this music seems strangely “alive.” Here is the composer’s description:

South Catalina draws its inspiration from two sources. First is the amazing work Swarm by the London-based artist collective, rAndom International. The interactive sculpture responds to sound impulses with a blast of asynchronous lights. When seeing the work at the entrance to the Frenkel Art Foundation, I immediately knew I would write a piece of music where sharp and loud attacks in the piano and percussion would inspire a flurry of wild and improvisatory gestures from the rest of the ensemble.

I spent much of the Fall of 2013 living in Los Angeles, preparing for the inaugural production of my opera, Invisible Cities. One of the things that struck me about living in Southern California is the amazing light. Every day, without fail, is amazingly bright, and while this can be initially enchanting for an East Coaster, it can also feel oppressively out of sync with one’s mood. South Catalina draws on both of these sensations with its driving optimism but also its relentless forward movement. The title is drawn from the street in the Koreatown neighborhood of LA where I lived.

South Catalina is included on Hand Eye, a 2016 album by the Chicago-based contemporary music sextet, Eighth Blackbird. The group premiered the work a year earlier.


  • Cerrone: South Catalina, Eighth Blackbird iTunes
  • Christopher Cerrone’s complete discography iTunes
  • Eighth Blackbird’s complete discography iTunes

Photograph: the art instillation, “Swarm,” by rAndom International.

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