Antoniette Costa, a singer-songwriter and School of General Studies post-baccalaureate student, knows how to take musical collaboration to an unplugged extreme.
In her most recent project, titled “Track 14 Sessions,” Costa invites the public into her Times Square studio for an intimate recording session that strips the creation process down to the raw vocals and bare instrumentation. The second installation of the series will take place tonight, Jan. 28, at 8 p.m. at Legacy Recording Studio (168 W. 48th St.) with guest performances by Nikki Jean, who was featured in Lupe Fiasco’s song “Hip-Hop Saved My Life,” and Khari “Ferrari” Mateen , producer of The Roots.
The practice of recording music professionally can be a mystery to those removed from the industry, so Costa positions herself just steps away from her listeners. Free of vocal filters and editorial tricks, her delivery is spontaneous and filled with unrestrained passion. “I think that with music, every time you perform a song, it’s a little bit different,” Costa said. “Sometimes, even if your voice were to fluctuate or crack or the guitarist plucks the wrong note, sometimes that adds to the particular flavor of the moment.”
As she performs, her audience is free to move about the studio, navigating between the control room and the recording booth.
“Track 14” refers to the train that Costa takes on her regular commute between New York City and Philadelphia, since she divides her rehearsal and recording schedules between the two. Her musical connection belongs to Philly though, where she worked out of Larry Gold’s “The Studio” as an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania.
Costa was brought under The Roots’ mentorship after Dice Raw of The Roots discovered her debut album “Breakthru,” released independently in 2005. “They [The Roots] are very big on live instrumentation,” Costa said. “Even though they’re a hip-hop act, there’s such great musicality to their songs; I think it forces you to appreciate the instrumentals and not just the vocals. Being around them has better trained my ears to appreciate the musical parts that are going on.”
Like her “Track 14 Sessions,” Costa’s approach to making music resists convention. “I’m afraid that by taking a music theory class, I’m not going to be as creative,” she said. “Not knowing what’s right or wrong or what’s typical composition-wise makes my music more free in the sense that I’m not trying to assume an ABA-structure or something like that.” Although Costa knows how to read music, she prefers to learn by ear and more easily identifies with gospel musicians who perform through intuition than with clasically trained musicians.
Her music is a candid extension of her personal experiences or what she likes to call “a window into her soul.” Costa was particularly drawn to songwriting after her Aunt Lilly passed away from childbirth in 2004, prompting her to set aside ambitions of medical school—at least temporarily—to pursue music more fully.
“She [Aunt Lilly] was a successful corporate lawyer in Philadelphia, but she was very talented in the arts—an incredible writer,” Costa said. “She wrote a lot of poetry when she was about 20, and then she put the arts on hold—she never came back to them.”
A gift for empathy and understanding not only inspired Costa to write the song “Murphy” through the lens of Chief from Ken Kesey’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” but also encouraged a return to her briefly discarded pre-med track. She said that being able to interact with patients would give her a sense of daily purpose.
On top of her rigorous schedule of organic chemistry and biochemistry classes, Costa is considering an internship with an ENT (Ear, Nose, and Throat) physician whose work treating the vocal chords of recognized singers would interestingly combine her musical and medical interests.
“I believe that I can pursue both equally,” Costa said. “I know at one point you’re going to have to choose what you want to do, but I think I can do both. I don’t see why I have to make a choice.”
An earlier version of this article stated that Costa is in the School of Continuing Education. She is in the School of General Studies. Spectator regrets this error