Plan your visit to The CJM!

Contemporary ArtPop CultureMusic

Marshall Trammell in Residence

Sep 18, 2021–Feb 13, 2022

Marshall Trammell in Residence offers reflections on Leonard Cohen’s life, spirituality, and musical practice in real time. An Oakland-based experimental archivist, percussionist, conductor, and composer who has built a practice centered on collaboration, Trammell will periodically inhabit The Museum's Maribelle and Stephen Leavitt Yud gallery in a dynamic residency that may include improvisation, performance, and collaborative re-contextualization of diverse facets of Cohen’s legacy. Throughout the residency, Trammell will invite other voices to participate in audio-visual engagements that explore aspects of Cohen’s life and work, while engaging in the broader social and cultural urgencies of our present moment.

During the first part of Trammell’s residency, Trammell mixed audio tracks of Leonard Cohen lyrics, sung by members of the Bay Area-based acapella group the Conspiracy of Beards, into an immersive sound installation. Inspired by Alvin Lucier’s seminal sound piece, I Am Sitting in a Room (1969), Trammell combined these audio files in a process of iterative playback and room recordings merging them together into an abstract, minimalist composition. Trammell also invited visitors to the installation to create and submit their own recordings of themselves singing or speaking Cohen’s lyrics.

In the second phase of Trammell’s residency, starting in December 2021, visitors are invited back to the gallery to hear voices of the community, including their own (for those who contributed recordings), transformed into a new composition—a site-specific sound map—where Cohen’s words reverberate throughout the Yud’s unique architecture. 

Trammell draws on his recent practice of Insurgent Learning Workshops to grow his work in residency from an exploration of Leonard Cohen’s life and work to a focused engagement in broader social and cultural urgencies. Insurgent Learning Workshops center quilt codes—symbols and resistance language of the Underground Railroad—to create new systems for musical improvisation, and a new vision of solidarity in economy. As part of this practice, Trammell asks how invisible and visible cultural destruction impact our approaches to culture, identity politics, and the preservation of memory—and how this results in new configurations of power, privilege, and powerlessness. In the process, he excavates new insights from global meta-narratives including sustainability, transnational politics and nature building, religion, identity politics, and reconceptualizing human/nature relations.

In this residence, Trammell maps the recorded vocal tracks over eight channels and sixteen speakers located throughout the Yud in a graphic trajectory that draws from the shapes of quilt codes, including the North Star (pointing north to freedom), Sailboat (a boat for fugitives), Log Cabin (shelter), Bow Tie (new clothes), Crossroads (Ohio River, or boundary to freedom), Shoofly (ally or accomplice) and Bear’s Paw (following animals to shelter, food and water).

Part of the exhibition series Experience Leonard Cohen

Marshall Trammell in Residence is presented at The Contemporary Jewish Museum (The CJM) in the context of the exhibition series Experience Leonard Cohen, organized at The CJM by Heidi Rabben, Senior Curator, and Justin Limoges, Director of Exhibitions.


This exhibition is included in your general admission ticket. Become a Member to receive free admission. All visitors are required to book their timed tickets online in advance to facilitate a contactless visit to The Museum.

Exhibition Preview
About the Artist
Headshot of Marshall Trammell
Marshall Trammell

Marshall Trammell (b. Oahu, Hawaii) is an experimental archivist, percussionist, conductor, composer, and self-styled Music Research Strategist. His aesthetics and activism are centered in social change interventions and generate new local and global ecologies that embrace improvisation as a collective, movement-building tool in the creation of post-capitalist imaginaries. He is a designer of interculturally-situated, arts-driven social engagement interventions. Trammell conducts Insurgent Learning Workshops (ILWs) instigating renderings of alternative economics and anti-violence, community accountability frameworks as Creative Improvised Music.

Trammell’s ongoing Music Research Strategies (MRS) project uses political aesthetic theory, data creation, mapping, and collective music- and art-making in order to step out of the domain of traditional cultural institutions, relocating the act of co-production back in the community. Music Research Strategies is a performing-political education platform for embodied social justice vernacular, organizational strategy, and alternative infrastructure development.

Trammell was a fellow at Rensellaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY from 2004–06, and was recently an Intercultural Leadership Institute fellow (2018–19). In 2016, he published “Music Research Strategies” for Sound American and is currently documenting ILWs for publication. He is a member of In Defense of Memory, featuring Laura Ortman and Carlos Santistevan. He is known for such projects as Black Spirituals, Mutual Aid Project, Black Fighting Formations and collaborations with John Tchicai, Roscoe Mitchell, Pauline Oliveros, Saul Williams, Raven Chacon, Thurston Moore, and many others.

About Experience Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen’s words gave voice to the human condition, in all of its grace and imperfection—and to this day, they continue to inspire generations of artists, musicians, and writers. This inspiration is at the heart of Experience Leonard Cohen: a series of four solo exhibitions that present immersive and intimate artworks by contemporary artists George Fok, Judy Chicago, Candice Breitz, and Marshall Trammell, all inspired by the life and work of Leonard Cohen (1934–2016), the influential musician, man of letters, and global icon from Montréal, Canada.

A black-and-white photo of Leonard Cohen sitting on a train, holding an open book

Courtesy Old Ideas, LLC


Lead sponsorship of Experience Leonard Cohen is generously provided by Craig Newmark Philanthropies.

The Contemporary Jewish Museum (The CJM) thanks Maribelle and Stephen Leavitt, The Bernard Osher Foundation, Suzanne and Elliott Felson, the John Pritzker Family Fund, the Irving and Eleanor Jaffe Foundation, Taube Philanthropies, Kendra and Tom Kasten, Jessica Silverman, and Meyer Sound for generously supporting the exhibition. 

Media Sponsorship is provided by the San Francisco Chronicle. In-kind support is provided by Where the Buffalo Roam.

Image Credit

Header image: Marshall Trammell performing at the Black Spirituals Tour 2014–15, at Komedia, Brighton, England, 2015. Photo: Agatha Urbaniak