Facing Fire is an exhibition that explores western wildfires as omen and elemental force, as metaphor and searing personal experience. Fire tends to spread. So, too, does the meaning of fire. Sixteen artists bring us photographs, paintings, drawings, ceramic, and video as they face fire, sift its aftermath, and struggle with the implications. UCR ARTS is collaborating UCR’s Department of Music to present original compositions created by students and faculty around artworks found in the exhibition.

The faculty and student composers in the UCR Music Department work in a variety of media drawn from influences that range from hip-hop to experimental electronic music. The approaches for each piece within the Facing Fire project are highly individualized. Some works are fully scored compositions for classical instruments, others use external source material and text taken from other mediums, such as video game soundtracks and news reports. Their compositions are a testament to the importance of expressing one’s creative impulses during times of uncertainty and isolation.

About the composer/composition:

Roberto Casillas is a composer, trumpeter, guitarist, and pianist with a Bachelor’s Degree of Arts, with an emphasis in Music Composition. Roberto has performed with various groups both in and outside the university. Alongside performing, Roberto has written various pieces for small ensembles including The Mojave Trio, pianist Keith Kirchoff, clarinet and trumpet duet, various electronic pieces, and has scored soundtracks for the Theatre, Film, and Digital Production Department, as well as outside films and commercials.

The piece takes the listener to the tragic fire at Joshua Tree, as flames quickly rise, decimating a large portion of the land. The piece begins with a combination of pitched percussion and synth strings in their low, dark register, personifying the violent flames that devoured over 155 acres of land. The fast electronic runs are inspired by light sparks evolving into wildfire. As the piece progresses, a subtle sense of optimism increases, portraying beauty and rebirth amidst the fiery ashes and beautiful night sky. Firefighters can be heard panning left to right in the struggle to extinguish the roaring flames as they continue to dominate Joshua Tree.

Image: Stuart Palley, Burned Joshua Trees, Erskine Fire, Dye sublimation print on aluminum, 2016, Courtesy of the artist