“I THINK OF myself and the work that I do as being a bridge,” says soprano, composer, filmmaker and visual artist Misha Penton, who delights in bringing together far-flung collaborators to realize her futuristic art songs. Her newest project, Radiant Poison (available Feb. 18 on Bandcamp), is a digital and video EP of three compositions featuring Penton’s multitracked vocals and original lyrics.
The music is defiantly uncategorizable, drawing on electronica and contemporary opera, with contributions by Houston composers George Heathco (electric guitar) and Chris Becker (beats and ambience). As an added bonus, each track is paired with a music video directed by and featuring Penton, whose penchant for flowing fabrics and theatrical gestures are perfectly suited to the medium. “I’m a very visual person,” says Penton, “so that’s another part of my practice.”
Penton, who has performed live at the Rothko Chapel and MFAH, produced her first music video in 2013, and made her directorial debut in 2019 with HGO, directing the online opera A Rose. The video for Radiant Poison’s second track, Shore Pines and Spider Silk,captures Penton the visual artist in a kind of performative trance as she covers a roll of paper with calligraphic swirls, creating a mysterious graphic score for the song’s thundering beats, ringing guitar chords, and poetic lyrics describing “gold beetles” and “tiny spiders” in a starlit, moss-covered garden.
“I like micro worlds,” says Penton, who confesses she is wary of touching bugs, and acknowledges her husband is the one with the green thumb. “But I follow a lot of nature photographers on social media, and it’s extraordinary what you can see now.”
Penton, her husband and an ever-changing number of cats have lived in Woodland Heights for over a decade. During the pandemic, as she began collaborating more virtually, Penton decided to take over the first level of their home, where a baby grand piano was already in place, and transform it into a cozy recording studio and video-editing suite. With Radiant Poison’smusic and videos in the can, Penton looks forward to using all of these tools to initiate more long distance collaborations and explore the creative potential of “happy accidents and indeterminacy.”
“I’m always hopeful about the new year,” says Penton. “I’m just kind of seized with the possibility. I don’t think you can be an artist if you’re not idealistic.”