Longtime collaborator with Robert Poss, Susan Stenger has bridged the rock and art music worlds throughout her career. She grew up in Buffalo, New York, where she both played in bands and explored new music as a student of Petr Kotik and Julius Eastman. She skipped her high school graduation to attend the now legendary "New Music In New Hampshire" summer workshop in Chocorua, NH, where she first encountered the music of faculty members David Tudor, David Behrman, Gordon Mumma and Frederick Rzewski in what was a life-changing experience. After studying classical flute at the Prague Academy Of Music, she returned to New York to continue her flute work with Samuel Baron and to devote herself to the performance of new and experimental music, especially that of John Cage, Petr Kotik, Phill Niblock, Christian Wolff and Jackson Mac Low. As a member of Kotik's New York City-based SEM Ensemble, she participated in major performances and recordings of Cage's SongBooks, Concert For Piano and Orchestra and Atlas Eclipticalis. Stenger eventually began composing and performing her own music for flute and electronics and, in 1986, took up the electric guitar as well. She soon began touring with Rhys Chatham's influential, overtone-drenched guitar army, which had served as boot camp for many a NY art rocker, including members of Sonic Youth and Swans. In 1987, Stenger joined long-time friend and fellow Chatham-ite Robert Poss in forming Band Of Susans, which combined wall-of-guitar minimalism and visceral punk punch into artful song structures. Her role expanded from electric bassist to singer and songwriter as BOS went on to release nine critically acclaimed CDs during the next decade.
In 1996 Stenger moved to London and formed The Brood, a unique gathering of musicians from the fields of rock, electronics and improvisation with a common interest in classic experimental music. Performers have included Finnish electronicists Pan Sonic, Justine Frischmann of Elastica, Bruce Gilbert and Robert Grey of Wire, David Thomas of Pere Ubu, Robin Rimbaud (Scanner), and composer/bassist Gavin Bryars. The Brood has performed in major London festivals at both The South Bank Centre and The Barbican.
Big Bottom was formed in 1997 when Stenger recruited visual artists Angela Bulloch, Cerith Wyn Evans and Tom Gidley, as well as bassist J. Mitch Flacko, to join her in what Art Monthly has described as a serious performance-art endeavour "carried along by a dash of the idiocy of Spinal Tap." Stenger's music for Big Bottom explores the fundamentals of sound and structure through the primal power of five electric basses and a drum machine, incorporating both original material and fragments of familiar riffs. Upon hearing the band play, dancer/choreographer Michael Clark invited Stenger and Big Bottom to appear in his 1998 comeback show, current/SEE, for which Stenger composed new solo work as well as pieces for the full band. They toured together in the UK and Europe, playing live in a Stonehenge-like array that provided both music and set for the dancers. In addition to touring with Clark's company, Big Bottom has performed in such contrasting venues as London's Scala and The Disobey Club (with Japanese noise band Merzbow) and Zurich's Museum For Contemporary Art, and can be heard on Candy Record's We Love You compilation of art/music productions. Stenger composed and performed music for fashion designer Hussein Chalayan's October 2002 show in Paris, for which she assembled a band that included Michael Clark and Chalayan himself on bass, as well as regulars Wyn Evans and Flacko. Other Bottoms have included Gina Birch, formerly of The Raincoats. Big Bottom will perform at Berlin's Volksbuhne on New Year's Eve, 2005, opening for Throbbing Gristle.
Her 96-day musical installation, Soundtrack For An Exhibition, opened at Le Musée d'Art Contemporain in Lyon, France on March 7, 2006, and includes contributions from Robert Poss, Alan Vega, Alexander Hacke, Kim Gordon, Mika Vainio, Ulrich Krieger and Jennifer Hoyston among others.
In addition to her own work, Stenger continues to perform the music of other composers on flute, guitar and bass, most recently that of F. M. Einheit in Paradise Lost And Found, a 2004 production at Munich's Haus Der Kunst based on Milton's Paradise Lost. She has also toured America with The Creatures and John Cale and for three years performed regularly as a bassist with Nick Cave in a band that also included Jim White and Warren Ellis of the Dirty Three.