A techno tone poem on the voices and sounds of youth in detention 

Handcuffs, metal detectors and slamming cell doors are striking musical instruments, and incarcerated teenagers are the streetwise chorus in composer Phillip Bimstein’s techno tone poem, Lockdown! 

In 1997 Bimstein was awarded the three-year New Residencies grant from Meet the Composer to write music about communities near his home in southern Utah.  As an outgrowth of his arts residency Bimstein made weekly visits to the Washington County Youth Crisis Center, where he mentored the young inmates on creativity, leadership and collaborative citizenship (Bimstein also served two terms as the mayor of Springdale). 

Bimstein was deeply affected by his work with the confined teenagers and felt their stories deserved be to be heard.  During his visits Bimstein taped interviews in which the youths expressed their fears, regrets about past crimes, and hopes for the future.  Later he transferred these recordings to his computer.  With an ear to their pitches and rhythmic patterns he then wove their voices into a musical and narrative fabric. 

He also recorded a wide range of sounds in the detention center:  slamming cell doors, electronic locks, ratcheting handcuffs, metal detectors, alarms, and the guards’ walkie talkies.  Bimstein digitally processed these sounds on his computer, exploring and mining their musical potential to create a full palette of tone and percussion.  He then composed Lockdown! with funding from the Utah Arts Council’s Artist Grant program.

Bimstein’s “alternative classical” music  has been performed at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center, Abravanel Hall and London’s Royal Opera House.  His works often explore social issues and tell stories in the subjects’ own voices.  As a songwriter, records by his Chicago new wave rock band, Phil ‘n’ the Blanks, were college radio and MTV hits in the early 1980’s.  Currently he writes songs for the chamber folk ensemble, blue haiku.  He combines these styles in Lockdown!

Lockdown! in concert and outreach

blue haiku premiered Lockdown! in a “Music in the Box” concert at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center in Salt Lake City in April 2006.  

Bimstein and blue haiku (with support from Heart & Soul) also present Lockdown! at detention centers in outreach programs specially designed to stimulate introspective dialogue among the youth. 

Reviewing a presentation at the Genesis Youth Center last November, Brandon Griggs wrote in the Salt Lake Tribune, “Lockdown! is a unique 18-minute musical work about life behind bars.  Hearing it, the Genesis teens nodded in recognition at the familiar noises . . . snippets of sound [woven] into an aural tapestry . . . the kids listened attentively to the piece, rocking slightly to the light techno beats.  Many bowed their heads during a recorded passage in which teen offenders spoke about disappointing their mothers.”  Chris Roach, a Genesis supervisor, told Griggs “I guarantee you there were some kids here tonight who were touched by the music.”  

 Links to Lockdown!  

blue haiku

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