The Spontaneous Combustion of Jill Tracy and Paul Mercer
(photo by Libby Bulloff)

“Every object holds a story…”
Since joining forces on Halloween 2007, Jill Tracy and Paul Mercer have become widely known for their astonishing duets on piano and violin, mostly improvised or channeled. The pair affectionately refer to their duets as “spontaneous musical combustion.” Their uncanny ability to conjure unsettlingly lavish compositions has led to spellbinding results, eerily transporting the room into “a Musical Séance.”

Audience members are asked to bring small objects of special significance, such as a photo, talisman, jewelry, toy, token. This is a very crucial part of manifesting the music. Every object holds its story, its spirit. Energy, resonance, impressions from anyone who has ever held the object, to the experiences and emotions passed through it.

Altar of objects brought to The Musical Séance (photo by Neil Girling)

“These compositions are delicate and glorious living things they materialize, they transport, and in the same second they vanish,” explains Jill Tracy of The Musical Séance. “They embody the fragile essence of Time. No two shows are ever alike, we have no control, that is the rare beauty of it.”

The Musical Séance brings it one step further– harnessing the energy of the audience, a synergistic summoning of what dwells within each of us.

Following the pair’s Music Séance last year in Victoria B.C, a man approached violinist Paul Mercer: “While you were playing, I could see a figure looming behind you, a man, he was soaking wet.” He had no idea that the antique violin Mercer was playing that evening belonged to a murder victim who was drowned in a river.

Often, the objects themselves are just as compelling as the music they inspire. Everything from cremated cats, dentures, haunted paintings, 16th century swords, antlers, and x-rays have been presented at the seance. The excitement is–you never know what to expect.

V. Vale of RE/Search publications hailed a Jill Tracy/Paul Mercer Séance as “Sheer magic! Perfection. Improvised… If you’re lucky enough to be there, you realize you’ve just had a hint of something extra-mortal, uber-human, transcendent – maybe the concentrated ghosts of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater or the Commedia Dell’arte of the past are swirling around the room . . . and you think that THIS is the new avant-garde: live, un-censored, living theater.” describes the Jill Tracy/Paul Mercer Séance as “musical psychometry.”

Jill Tracy at a pedal reed organ (circa 1860)

Mercer, whose collection of ages-old violins each tells its own story, was the impetus for his highly regarded Ghosts CD and lecture series. His personal instrument collection features very unique voices, spirits with such strong personalities they have their own names. His current instruments include a mysterious late 19th century violin named Daphne, a luminous late 17th century violin named Abigail, and a stunning 1820 Viola named Henryetta. Paul has had the fortune to play some powerful instruments such as 1842 Nicolas Vuillaume, two Stradivari, including the magnificent Firebird Stradivari 1718 ex Saint Exupery.

The duo were commissioned to compose the popular Midnight Waltz at the 2008 International Ball of the Vampires (Portland, OR), a dramatic and ambitious work entitled Coronation of the Witch Queen. The waltz was later featured when Jill Tracy and Paul Mercer were the headlining performers at Anne Rice’s legendary Halloween Ball in New Orleans.


A rare glimpse inside The Musical Séance, short film by Jonathan Castro.

From CONSTELLATION MAGAZINE cover story with Jill Tracy:

One of the wonderful things about you is how you connect with your audiences.  Each performance is tapped into the energy of that audience and becomes a custom performance.  The shows that stand out in my mind are the “Musical Séances” (with violinist Paul Mercer) where your fans bring objects from their dead and you channel that energy into the music.  How did this relationship with your fans begin?

JT: My music and concerts are so emotionally driven in the first place. I feel that I need to be a beacon for people, and allow them into the swampy place in their souls where the sinister and sensual meet. I find it fascinating to delve into those places and take an audience with me.

After shows, fans would want to talk about the songs, the stories, their own lives and struggles. My performance would resonate with them in a deeper way than they were used to. I don’t feel like I “put on a show” as much as engage and “transport” the audience into my world. They are brave enough to trust and follow me there.

I began incorporating more storytelling into my shows, my affinity for odd history and science tales, and audiences loved it. They became a defining part of the evening, and like you said, every show a singular experience.

When I began performing with Paul Mercer, we composed music “on the spot” in front of audiences. I call it “spontaneous musical combustion.” The audience and environment completely drives the work. And the fans are thrilled because it’s a piece of music inspired by them, in the moment, never to be heard again. People would come night after night because they wanted to hear what we would compose next and be part of it. It was ever-changing. It was alive.

With “The Musical Séance,” we take it one step further and the crowd completely participates in the show. It’s sort of musical psychometry. We ask audience members to bring in a cherished heirloom, or something of special significance to them: a photo, jewelry, toy, etc. They bring it to the stage and we use that object to channel the music.

The Musical Séance was exhausting at times. Night after night it was totally different. It was all about what the audience would bring to me. People would say, “This is a ring from my uncle who committed suicide.” And I would put on the ring and begin to play the piano. I felt the energy and would present it musically. One particular night became so intense I was on the verge of fainting. Almost stopped the show…

It’s the exact opposite from working on songs, or even improvisations. You must abandon any sense of “working” on it, and allow yourself to be the portal.  It’s a “surrendering.” I have no idea what I am playing. I’m not in charge anymore; it becomes so much bigger than that.

Click HERE to read the entire Jill Tracy CONSTELLATION interview by Katelan Foisy.


Read SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE’S 96 Hours cover story on Jill Tracy and Paul Mercer’s  A Musical Seance: “Spirit in the Song.”

Have an unusual treasure, mysterious heirloom or charm that holds great emotion for you? Have an incredible story for us?

Host A Musical Séance in your community. Please CONTACT .


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