Exploring the "Irrepressibly Subjective" with Teju Cole by Liquid Music

by Liquid Music Blog Contributor Patrick Marschke

  "Zürich , 2014" by Teju Cole from   Blind Spot

"Zürich, 2014" by Teju Cole from Blind Spot

The idea of “multimedia” existed before the technology that it is usually associated with came into existence. Google defines its adjective form as: “using more than one medium of expression or communication.” If you dig down deep enough, it can be hard to think of an art form that doesn’t fall within this definition: a painting doesn’t exist without architecture and light, music doesn’t exist without performance and time, film/video never pretended to be anything other than an assemblage of mediums. In a way, multimedia work is the most intuitive and fulfilling things one can make — the medium serves as a conduit to an idea, a tool rather than a bin.

At the same time, words like these exist: 
Photographer
Art Critic
Writer
Musician
Composer
Improvisor
Professor
Performer
Curator

But these concepts also came after. On the most neutral level they make things easier. Easier to talk about, easier to be excited about, and, of course, easier to sell. 

And yet artists have perpetually pursued a genre-less, medium agnostic, non-commodifiable paths of seemingly insurmountable resistance. Why? 

Teju Cole and Vijay Iyer both have built incredible careers that undeniably answer this question, and their most recent collaboration, Blind Spot, serves as the main argument for this path of most resistance. Its vitality is rooted in its unrelenting and “irrepressibly subjective” lens of emotional and intellectual vibrancy. 

To prepare for the Midwest premiere of Blind Spot we spoke with Teju Cole about collaboration, improvisation, and his relationship with and dedication to the subjective.

[This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity]


  photo via Christopher Anderson/Magnum Photos.

photo via Christopher Anderson/Magnum Photos.

How did you meet Vijay Iyer and how did this collaboration come about? 

Teju Cole: A few years ago we were both living in Manhattan near Columbia University and I used to run into him on the subway. This must have been in the early 2000s — I was in grad school at Columbia and he was already working as an artist living in that neighborhood. I think we really took note of each other when he noticed that “Oh, this guy that I keep running into on the subway is also the guy that is coming to my concerts.” I would run into him on the way to go see his show. I started out as more of a “fan.” I really appreciated his work — I got on the Vijay Iyer train very early. I liked the kind of thinking he was doing with his music. It was very visceral, incredibly intelligent but very emotionally resonant music. From there it eventually became a friendship. 

A few years later when my first book was published in Nigeria in 2007 I gave Vijay a copy of it. The book actually mentions finding his work in Lagos. I think it is always an interesting thing between artists when both parties now [are established enough to] have something to show, something to present. A few years after that when Open City was published, my first published book in the US, Vijay reached out to me about doing a collaboration around that work. And that's how we properly started collaborating. I think we recognized in each other an interest in the complexity and flow of what it meant to be in this space. For us, America is not some simple straightforward thing. It's a space in which many different energies are functioning and I think we recognized that in each other. 

So we did the Open City Suite, and we’ve done that a few times. In the past couple of years, the evolving Blind Spot project has become our most sustained collaboration. We’ve done it in a few places but what’s interesting is that it is not a written [or composed] suite. But it would also be inaccurate to call it improvised. It's a very advanced form of real-time composition — I think that’s a fair way to put it. What we are going to do in Minneapolis has never been heard before, but it couldn’t be further from what people call “free jazz,” in a sense. The text and images are kind of like the score that we are reading from.

For me, just to be working with somebody who is so advanced in his thinking, and yet also creates such beautiful work is such a thrill. I’m so happy about it. 

...and Vijay is so studied in various forms of American improvisation: being able to study and work with AACM folks like George Lewis and Wadada Leo Smith — and that they were doing similar forms of multimedia work 40+ years ago… 

Absolutely! So his profound knowledge of the American black music and improvised music traditions are definitely part of the extraordinary pleasures that one takes from his work. But I think it's also important to note that he’s never identified solely a jazz musician. He has always prioritized collaborations: he’s definitely the best band leader I’ve ever seen at work, just in the way in which he allows other player, parties, and energies to flow when they are working together. And he’s always had a very profound respect for the role of literature and the spoken word as part of the texture of acoustic experience. He’s done many projects of this kind — it's always been inherent in his work. 

Can you talk a little bit about the inception of the work? Did the text come first?

It's actually really interesting: after we’d done Open City in 2013 he reached out to me in 2015 having been asked to curate a series of events at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He said that he wanted me to be a part of it and asked if I had any new material. I mention that I had been thinking a lot about images and text and what they do to next each other, and [thought:] “what if we added music as a third element?” At that point even I didn’t know what the project was, you know? I thought maybe it would lead to an exhibition, or a perhaps book to be published in Italy. I had no plans to publish it in the US. So really the first outing this material had was in the context of making music with Vijay. 

So we worked out some of the images and text in a very raw form and presented it at the Met. We did maybe six sets over the course of the week. It was incredibly intense, very moving, very engaged in a very compact space, and I could see that people were having a very emotional experience with it. It changed my relationship to my own work as well. As a writer, we are often at some distance from what the effect the work is having on people. It’s quite different for musicians who can see the immediate emotional impact that the work is having their audience.  

 ‘Brienzersee, June 2014’, Teju Cole

‘Brienzersee, June 2014’, Teju Cole

It's different every time — I change which images are in it. I never know what form of acoustic attack that Vijay or the trio is gonna have so it keeps it really fresh. We’ve done a version of this at Jazz SF, at the Institute for Contemporary Art. It's been interesting: I’m a writer and photographer, he’s a musician, but it seems like the contemporary art museum context is where this thing really takes flight. The museums are the ones that are bold enough to program this and have faith in what it can be. 

I also have to say: every time that we’ve done it not only has it been different but I think we find a deeper scene, we’ve whittled away some of the more obvious stuff and we go into a deeper place with it. The quality of listening just keeps improving.  

It is very cool to hear that even the images and text are “improvised” as well.

Absolutely. Keeping the material fresh is so vital. Not having pre-prepared answers… for example, I’m having this interview with you, I don’t have a cheat sheet, you know? I’m thinking with you in real time. This idea of doing work in real time is what keeps a performer interested, and if they're interested then the audience also has a chance to be interested.

In a way improvisation is the most natural thing in the world — it is the first thing we do. At times society can make you feel like “play” is a bad thing, but improvisers like Vijay and this project are such a tremendous example of how complex,  sophisticated, nuanced, and rich this medium can be.  

This has been the great American contribution to music over the course of the 20th century. To really bring it to the mainstream that improvised music is in no sense inferior to notated/composed music. There are all kinds of inquiries we can make about “American Classical Music” and all kinds of arguments around the word “Jazz” itself, and yet there is something there: call it improvisation, real-time-composition, or flexible modes of music making — those things are not intellectually or musically inferior to Beethoven or Mahler.

You seem to be a fairly prolific creator of Spotify playlists, what inspired you to start making them and what role do they serve for you? 

I’ve always been interested in presenting the music in my head to other people. Many years ago in college, I even dabbled in doing college radio. It was just fun: this idea of “and here is what I’m going to play you next,” you know? It’s interesting to think that you are not recommending an individual song to someone, you’re creating a listening experience, which has to do with more than one song. In the days that I was super active on Twitter, I used to make youtube playlist or just give lists of songs. 

Creating playlists is one of my great joys — it is one important aspect of my work that’s not related to compensation, I’m not paid for it, it’s not part of my job description. It just gives me a lot of joy and I think it gives other people joy as well. It also enacts, hopefully in a straightforward and unobtrusive way, my belief that there is no hierarchy among genres — [the lists include] a lot of so-called jazz, hip-hop, classical, Nigerian dance music, a lot of so-called “world music” because ALL of it is interesting. This is how I’ve always lived my life, I think that is true of many many people as well. Though when you turn on the radio the experience you get is that people only tend to like one kind of music or that they think of music in these categories rather than in these emotional experiences, which is actually what music is. 

Your work doesn’t seem to pay much attention to genre, hierarchies, or classification, a tendency that is truly at the heart of Liquid Music and Walker Performing Arts — which is certainly not the path of least resistance. How have you sustained such broad interests and output when it is so easy to be pegged solely as a critic, writer, photographer, etc.?

That categorization can be really tedious. But when you find a space that is responding to something other than the needs of the exigencies of the marketplace its a real pleasure because then some other thing can happen. 

  ‘Rivaz, October 2014’  by Teju Cole from Blind Spot

‘Rivaz, October 2014’ by Teju Cole from Blind Spot

For me, there is no dissonance in being a writer and photographer and anything else I am interested in pursuing at a given point in my life. It’s gonna sound weird but I know that if you are in a situation in your life where you can’t pay rent or you can’t eat enough food: that’s a desperate situation and that needs to be solved. But beyond those basic material needs of shelter, food, and clothing we actually have a lot more freedom than we think we do. Nobody owes you a huge income. You might luck out and stumble your way into a pretty decent income. But since I was quite young I told myself I would always prioritize the work I wanted to do as long as I found ways of making a basic living. It’s not a choice that everyone makes. Some people are like, “well I want to prioritize the work that interests me but I also have to make a lot of money doing it.” Hyper-Capitalist Neoliberal arrangements don’t always allow for that. A lot of it has to do with just surrendering and saying that “it is more important for me to do work that affirms my notion of what art is up to.” And if rewards come that then it's a really pleasant surprise. 

But it was never a calculated agenda, that the money would follow. I’ve never believed that. There's been some money in this for me but I’ve never counted on it, and I still don’t because who knows whether the next thing I do will be considered too free to have a place in the market. Or the countless hours I’ve spent putting together playlists: that's time I could spend getting paid for something. One can over prioritize getting paid. There is an expression people use “You left money on the table,” meaning that in every situation you should try to maximize financial gain. I think that's a death kiss for art. In every situation, you should try to maximize your creative freedom. That should be the first variable that is put up when your negotiating. It’s a variable, it doesn’t mean you always have maximum artistic freedom. But if that is not being prioritized then its just product. 

I’m not going to speak for Vijay, but I sense the same thinking is true for him. If you wanted to have the amazingly successful career he’s had, those are not the calculations you would make. That kind of music, with that kind of intensity, with that kind of focus, with that kind of moral and ethical and political commitment. Those particular sets of choices are more likely to give somebody a small but respectable reputation. Meanwhile, he’s got a huge reputation because sometimes your luck plays out in such a way that things end up being bigger than you planned them to be. But this stuff can’t be calculated so you might as well just honor your own freedom at every step of the way. 

Your writing and photography seem to simultaneously have a deeply rich emotional quality while leaving so much room for the viewer/reader to find a bit of themselves in the work(s). Can you speak to where this comes from? Should audiences expect a similar effect from Blind Spot

I think so. I think that our intellect is one of our necessary conduits to the recollection of experience — we can’t check our brains at the door. The work has to be smart. And yet it can be smart and also emotionally real. My hope is that people will have an experience where they don’t feel like they checked their brains at the door, where they feel like their intellect is being challenged. But at the same time the psyche, the soul, the human part of ourselves is moved. And not in a general way, right? But in a very specific, highly individuated way. The material is fairly wide-ranging and the hope is that everybody finds an aspect that is like: “yes, that really speaks to ME, personally, in this place at this particular time, it feels like a message to me.” If we can achieve that, that's heaven for us as performers and presenters. 

It seems like both writing and photography can easily err on the side of objectivity or documentation, while music, especially instrumental music, tends perpetually lean toward abstraction. But your work seems to find a place between those sides of the spectrum. How do all of these things coalesce in your mind and how you think about this performance?

I would never say that I’m trying to go for an abstract quality in the work. I would say that I’m trying to go for an irrepressibly subjective quality in the work. It has to be subjective because for me it is important to not be speaking from a place of authority, or from the assumed center of the discourse. I am coming to all of this as one person in my own life, speaking to you, in your own life. I’m not at the center of the discourse, I’m not a heterosexual white man who comes from a long line of artistic privilege or anything like that. I have experiences that are outsider-ish, I experience the world in a highly subjective way. 

And then to realize that that subjectivity is actually worth transmitting, that it can be a gathering point. If I’m writing for photography criticism, if I’m writing fiction, or if I’m making an image: the burden of speaking in a neutral, objective, and permanent way, like a block of granite — I don’t have that burden. I can just testify to an intense, small, highly personal experience, and trust that because we all have intense, small, highly personal experiences it’s gonna meet someone out there. 

It’s about trusting subjectivity as a mode of ethical discourse. 

Buy tickets to the midwest premiere of VIJAY IYER & TEJU COLE: BLIND SPOT copresented by LIQUID MUSIC AND WALKER ART CENTER mAY 31 & JUNE 1, and keep an eye out for Teju's interview with Krista Tippett via On Being in the coming months.


Follow Teju Cole:
Website: http://www.tejucole.com/
Publisher: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/authors/91688/teju-cole
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Teju-Cole-200401352198/
Instagram: @_tejucole

Follow Liquid Music for updates and announcements:
Twitter: @LiquidMusicSPCO (twitter.com/LiquidMusicSPCO)
Instagram: @LiquidMusicSeries (instagram.com/liquidmusicseries
Facebook: facebook.com/SPCOLiquidMusic

 

Stiff String Theory by Liquid Music

by Liquid Music Blog Contributor Patrick Marschke

MUSIC

What images came to mind when you read that word? An asymmetrical row of black and white rectangles was probably not far from the first.

  Still life on the piano ('CORT') , Picasso (1911) via  wikiart.org

Still life on the piano ('CORT'), Picasso (1911) via wikiart.org

The piano carries with it an unparalleled burden of symbology, association, and ubiquity, perhaps even to the point of completely obscuring its origin and the elemental enchantment with the sound that codified its place in history.

Bartolomeo Cristofori’s pianoforte, invented sometime around 1700, solved a unique problem. While the human voice could easily and quickly jump from a whisper to a shout, claviers (harpsichord, clavichord, and other proto-pianos) had an incredibly limited dynamic range, restricting their expressive potential. The mechanism of a harpsichord is basically a simple plucking lever — no matter how hard you press the key the “pluck” produces essentially the same sound. Instrument builders came up with some clever solutions around these limitations: additional strings, “manuals”, and fancy mechanisms. Composers also dealt with the harpsichord’s lack of sustain by exploring increasingly complex ornamentations (see figure 1.).

 Figure 1. Baroque Trill Instructions via  Wikipedia Commons

Figure 1. Baroque Trill Instructions via Wikipedia Commons

Then comes the pianoforte, its name designating its solution: piano = quiet, forte = loud. The instrument was able to gracefully maneuver through quiet, loud, and all the places in between. Its mechanism literally throws a hammer at the strings, retaining and amplifying the velocity from the keystroke of the player. It is important to note that even though the mechanism of the piano looks very complicated, touch is integral to its workings — pianists obsess over every aspect of the relationship between their fingers, arms, and body to the keys. All that said, the velocity of the hammer and the “touch” of the pianist are only two of the variables that contribute to the sound of a piano: how hard or soft are the felt covered hammers? How do we deal with all the resonance of those newly unbridled strings? How do we tune all those strings?  Even physicist Richard Feynman was enchanted by the alchemy of the instrument enough to write a letter to his piano tuner.

  Piano hammer mechanism

Piano hammer mechanism

For a more detailed evolution of keyboard instruments with listening examples check out SPCO’s neighbor Schubert Club’s Evolution of the Piano — Twin Cities readers can even stop by the museum to see the instruments in person.

One might think that by 2018 we would have “figured out” the sound of a piano — after all it's just a few strings right? While we have made a tremendous amount of progress in the realm of digital piano synthesis and sampling, anyone that has spent time with a piano, from a spinet to a 10-foot grand, will acknowledge that there is something about the feel, sound, and aura of the acoustic piano that digital versions haven’t quite pinned down. That is not to say nothing has come of computers trying to be piano’s in their own ways: Dan Trueman’s bitKlavier exemplifies the incredible direction that digital instrument building is headed.

Etude #4 from Dan Trueman's Nostalgic Synchronic Etudes for prepared digital piano, performed by Adam Sliwinski.

With all this history come some baggage. Pianist Michael Mizrahi summed this up eloquently in the album notes “The Bright Motion” (New Amsterdam):

“For centuries the piano has been a popular sounding board for new compositional ideas and styles—the ingenious explorations of compositional technique in Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, the pathbreaking musical ideas set forth in Beethoven’s piano sonatas, the previously unimaginable feats of virtuosity achieved by Liszt, and the sonic and formal experiments of Schoenberg’s piano pieces. Much of this cherished repertoire has been central to my solo career as a classical pianist.
By the end of the twentieth century, the piano had lost some of its status—compositions for solo piano declined in prominence at the artistic vanguard, some composers citing the intimidating tradition of canonical piano works as a factor in their reluctance to write for solo piano. However, in the twenty-first century, many composers of my generation, including those featured here, have come to view the piano as an instrument particularly receptive to new music. With this album of recently composed works for solo piano, I showcase the continued vitality of an instrument that evokes an exceptionally rich musical heritage yet still is capable of expressing the most contemporary of musical ideas.”

Mizrahi, along with many previously featured Liquid Music artists like Vicky Chow, Nils Frahm, Hauschka, David Friend, Bryan Nichols, Emily Manzo, deVon Gray (to name a few) are each paving uniquely exhilarating contemporary explorations of piano, proving that piano isn’t going anywhere.

← Listen to examples of the distance piano has gone in its three centuries with this curated survey of solo piano works.

Grand Band takes this exploration to its logical extreme, relishing in the unparalleled sonic experience of the soundboards, strings, hammers, and keys and multiplying it by six. There are few if not zero chances to hear what six pianos sound like on one stage together: don't miss this one.

Grand Band will perform at the Ordway Concert Hall on Wednesday, May 16, 2018 at 7:30pm. Purchase tickets here.

Read more:
Grand Band: A Curious Synthesis
Interview: Missy Mazzoli on "Three Fragile Systems"


Follow Liquid Music for updates and announcements:
Twitter: @LiquidMusicSPCO (twitter.com/LiquidMusicSPCO)
Instagram: @LiquidMusicSeries (instagram.com/liquidmusicseries
Facebook: facebook.com/SPCOLiquidMusic

Follow Grand Band updates and announcements:
Official Website: www.grandbandnyc.com
Twitter: @GrandBandNYC (twitter.com/grandbandnyc
Facebook: www.facebook.com/Grand-Band

Grand Band: A Curious Synthesis by Liquid Music

By Trever Hagen

 Photo by Chris McGuire

Photo by Chris McGuire

Liquid Music brings the virtuoso piano sextet Grand Band to the Ordway Concert Hall in Saint Paul, Minnesota on May 16th. Its Twin Cities debut includes the world premiere of Three Fragile Systems by the composer Missy Mazzoli along with music by the late composer Julius Eastman, Bang on Can co-founder Michael Gordon, Paul Kerekes and Kate Moore. Grand Band’s performance will feature pianists Erika Dohi, David Friend, Paul Kerekes, Blair McMillen, Lisa Moore and Isabelle O’Connell.

The Unconventional Piano Sextet

Grand Band stage plot in the round_Lisa Moore.jpg

The mise en scène is delicate yet imposing — six grand pianos silently yin-yang together across center stage. Gentle sleeping giants. Their collective posture is perplexing – while one or two pianos on stage are a common sight, the snoozing huddle of ivories before a Grand Band performance indicates we have little a prior knowledge as to what we might hear. Then the flurry of 60 fingers across 528 keys commences. In a harmonic display of yet-before-unheard piano polyphony, Grand Band shows us they are a super-group not only because of their fluency of expression on the piano, but because of the extra-ordinary sound that only they can make.

This unconventional arrangement of music for six pianos sets Grand Band’s repertoire in its own universe – far outside any existing canon of work for piano. Grand Band’s instrumentation requires dedicated new compositions; commissioned pieces for this ensemble’s singular voice. Yet the audience does not know what to expect when seated for the performance. By eliminating expectation you do away with convention, one of the most reliable, known forms of how we communicate.

What makes 'new music' new?

One is reminded of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s critique of the use of language from past realities to depict contemporary ones. The take away from the Austrian philosopher’s work in the context of ‘new music’ is that while a musical canon is a discourse that connects us with universal imaginations of humanity, there is still a wide gap in that discourse for pieces composed today that tune in the modern soul with old soul, while providing a compass for the future soul. Embracing new musical vocabularies of non-convention offers us sense-making devices for new realities — those particularities of the human condition in place and time.

Certainly synthesis is a path toward 'new' – or at least a step toward innovation. But with any form of innovation understood via genre, ‘newness’ comes only in relation to a display of the rules of past traditions alongside ideas that challenge it. With the new music presented at Grand Band’s performance this month, we see elements of a curious synthesis particularly brought to light by the composer Missy Mazzoli.

 Missy Mazzoli by Caroline Tompkins

Missy Mazzoli by Caroline Tompkins

“Post-Millennial Mozart”

Missy Mazzoli has made a name for herself in numerous musical pathways – prestigious grants, academic positions, as well as forging innovative collaborations. For example, her band Victoire joined with Glen Kotche of Wilco to create the piece Vespers —  a beautiful, haunting meditation on religion, magic and ritual, and spirituality. Mazzoli’s pieces rest on her curiosity to explore the depths of human experience and consciousness. This broad vision manifests itself in the complex timbres of her pieces, the intent of harmonic discovery, and the movement between symbolic rupture and settling.

To do this, Mazzoli places her work at the interface of humanity and technology — the constantly evolving process of how humans create and adapt to new technologies. This approach is most clearly seen in her blending of traditional chamber formats as violin-cello-piano along with electronics, distorted guitars and keyboards. But most importantly, Mazzoli is a story-teller. She uses these techniques less as a strategy and more as a natural way a composer invites instruments and motifs to guide the listener through an unfamiliar tale. Listening to Mazzoli’s work, you hear familiar narrative structures with fresh voices and new grammar. I find this appealing because we need new vocabularies to understand our historical moment – to influence it and to report on it.  Mazzoli is articulating a near-future world in her music, asking us not to follow but to face the unfolding beauty of non-binary perception.

Read more about Mazzoli’s Three Fragile Systems in an interview with Ines Guanchez for Liquid Music. 

Grand Band's Liquid Music Program

In addition to the world premiere of Three Fragile Systems, Grand Band will perform the work of four other composers.

 Michael Gordon by Peter Serling 

Michael Gordon by Peter Serling 

Michael Gordon is a house-hold name amongst enthusiasts of exploratory composition. One of his recent pieces performed by Mantra Pecussion, Timber, was composed for six graduated, amplified, wooden Simantras. Played with mallets and fingertips, the composer showed his ingenuity with a bold use of texture and rhythm. No doubt Gordon’s pursuit of musical rhythmic innovation overlays with his interest in cities – those effervescent tide pools of rhythm and activity. Gordon has collaborated with film-maker Bill Morrison to create the city portraits such as Gotham (a mediation on the aura of New York City) and El Sol Caliente (a commission by the New World Symphony for Miami Beach’s centennial, Gordon’s hometown).

The New Yorker's Alex Ross described Gordon’s music as "the fury of punk rock, the nervous brilliance of free jazz and the intransigence of classical modernism." That is an earful, but balanced in Gordon’s compositions. Grand Band will perform his piece Ode to La Bruja, Hanon, Czerny, Van Cliburn and little gold stars... (or, To Everyone Who Made My Life Miserable, Thank You).

 Paul Kerekes by Jennifer Joungblood

Paul Kerekes by Jennifer Joungblood

Additionally, Grand Band will perform wither by Paul Kerekes, one of co-founders of Grand Band. Kerekes’s work as a composer and performer is diverse. His work has been performed by a  growing list including American Composers Orchestra, Da Capo Chamber Players, New Morse Code, Thin Edge New Music Collective, Real Loud, and Exceptet. Beyond performing and composing for Grand Band, he is also a member of the Invisbile Anatomy ensemble. IA is a group that draws on the experience of the human body as the ultimate source of music creation; the primal physicality of this approach is not lost in the edginess and jaggedness of their music. To carry out this intent, the group ties together multiple musical traditions as well as performance art and Fay Wang’s captivating poetry.

kate moore 2.jpg

The prolific Australian-Dutch performer and composer Kate Moore was commissioned by Grand Band to create the piece Sensitive Spot. While Moore has received a collection of awards to pack her portfolio, she is quick to point out that as much as she works within and through institutions, she also dialogues with alternative music spaces and cultures. For this reason, Moore’s work stands side by side with other composers in seeking out new sounds wherever they may lie. In 2017, Moore broke through new establishment walls as the first woman to win the Matthijs Vermeulen Prize for her composition The Dam. Indeed, as the San Diego Union Tribune put it, “her intent seems to be to create a dream, an alternative reality.”

Finally Grand Band will perform an interpretation of Julius Eastman’s cascading 1979 piece Gay Guerrilla, originally composed for three pianos.  Eastman died in 1990, homeless, and it is only in recent years that his work has been more widely championed and disseminated after nearly 26 years of posthumous rest.  The inclusion of Gay Guerilla is another lens into a function of new music: to unearth forgotten melodies, reveal alternative musical spaces, and champion new sonic experiences. 

Trever Hagen is a writer, researcher and trumpeter living in Minneapolis. His interests lie in memory studies, music therapy and acoustic ecology. Hagen's newest book, "Living in the Merry Ghetto: the music and politics of the Czech underground" will be out on Oxford University Press in 2019. 


Grand Band will perform Three Fragile Systems at the Ordway Concert Hall on Wednesday, May 16, 2018 at 7:30pm. Purchase tickets here.

Follow Liquid Music for updates and announcements:
Twitter: @LiquidMusicSPCO (twitter.com/LiquidMusicSPCO)
Instagram: @LiquidMusicSeries (instagram.com/liquidmusicseries
Facebook: facebook.com/SPCOLiquidMusic

Follow Grand Band updates and announcements:
Official Website: www.grandbandnyc.com
Twitter: @GrandBandNYC (twitter.com/grandbandnyc
Facebook: www.facebook.com/Grand-Band

Interview: Missy Mazzoli on "Three Fragile Systems" by Liquid Music

Liquid Music’s Ines Guanchez interviewed composer Missy Mazzoli in anticipation of the May 16 premiere of "Three Fragile Systems." Mazzoli's piece was commissioned by piano supergroup Grand Band, whose MN debut is part of the 2017.18 Liquid Music season.

  Missy Mazzoli  by Marylene Mey

Missy Mazzoli by Marylene Mey

The music of New York-based composer and pianist Missy Mazzoli has been performed in venues across the globe. Described by The New York Times as “one of the more consistently inventive, surprising composers now working in New York,” Mazzoli is also a faculty member at Mannes College of Music and the founder of Victoire featured in the closing concert of Liquid Music’s 2014.15 season.

Some of Mazzoli’s more recent projects include Proving Up, an opera based on the short story by author Karen Russell, orchestral arrangements for Icelandic band Sigur Rós, and Luna Lab, a mentorship program for young female composers ages 13 to 19 at the Kaufman Music Center, founded by Mazzoli and composer Ellen Reid.

  Victoire  by Marylene Mey

Victoire by Marylene Mey

Ines Guanchez: How would you describe Three Fragile Systems as a musical piece?

Missy Mazzoli: Three Fragile Systems is a work in three movements for six pianos. Each movement is based on a single melody that undergoes a series of transformations. My goal was to make music that felt fluid and organic, but was built on rigid mathematical systems. I also wanted to create music that could only be performed by six pianos; there are moments when the six player play massive chords that span the entire range of the instrument, and moments when six players try to play a melody in unison. I love the chaos and beautiful unpredictability that seems to be an inherent part of this instrumentation.

IG: Could you describe your creative process while composing Three Fragile Systems? Was there anybody or anything in particular that you drew inspiration from?

MM: I was influenced by the work of Irish composer Andrew Hamilton, the artist Sol LeWitt, and certainly by early minimalist compositions by Philip Glass and Steve Reich that are built on very clear processes and use a lot of math.

 Mazzoli performing with Olivia De Prato, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil by Victor Naine / I Hate Flash

Mazzoli performing with Olivia De Prato, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil by Victor Naine / I Hate Flash

IG: Where do you think you are right now in your journey as a composer?

MM: I’m having the time of my life, and a lot of that joy comes from my collaborations with exceptional performers, directors, writers and visual artists. I’m tackling a lot of massive collaborative projects — operas, ballets, film scores  as well as smaller chamber work, so life is very full and exciting!

 Mazzoli performing with Olivia De Prato, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil by Victor Naine / I Hate Flash

Mazzoli performing with Olivia De Prato, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil by Victor Naine / I Hate Flash

IG: Given your familiarity with the piano — understanding the array of sounds and colors possible, knowing its power —  how did you approached this composition for such unique ensemble?

MM: There were definitely things I’d always dreamt of hearing on a piano; what does it sound like when all, or almost all of the keys are depressed at once?  What sounds can be made using the inside of the instrument? What does a unison melody sound like on six pianos? Also, I was very conscious that I was writing for these particular performers, all of whom are open, adventurous and virtuosic, so I felt free to try something very new and potentially difficult.

IG: You were presented by Liquid Music in 2014.15 with your ensemble Victoire, now you have composed a piece for Grand Band, and the SPCO will be playing one of your works during the Tapestry19 festival next season. You compose for a variety of musical genres and projects. As a successful 21st Century composer do you recommend the diversification of musical modes and styles to aspiring composers?

MM: To be clear, I actually feel that my style remains consistent, or consistent in its inconsistency, regardless of which instrumentation or ensemble I’m working with. But you’re right, I’m working with a lot of different groups and in a lot of different formats.  I definitely feel it’s important, in life and art, to have a lot of diverse sources of happiness, community, and income, especially in these unpredictable times. Teaching, mentoring, curating, performing, writing theatrical work, writing for soloists  these are all part of my life, and each outlet feeds and nourishes the other.

 Mazzoli by Stephen S. Taylor

Mazzoli by Stephen S. Taylor

Grand Band will perform Three Fragile Systems at the Ordway Concert Hall on Wednesday, May 16, 2018 at 7:30pm. Purchase tickets here.

Follow Liquid Music for updates and announcements: 
Twitter: @LiquidMusicSPCO (twitter.com/LiquidMusicSPCO)
Instagram: @LiquidMusicSeries (instagram.com/liquidmusicseries
Facebook: facebook.com/SPCOLiquidMusic

Follow Missy Mazzoli for updates and announcements: 
Twitter: @MissyMazzoli (twitter.com/missymazzoli)
Official Website: www.missymazzoli.com 
Facebook: www.facebook.com/missy.mazzoli

'Come Through': A Visual Perspective by Liquid Music

This week Liquid Music welcomes Bon Iver and TU Dance to the stage for a much-anticipated performance of their collaborative project 'Come Through' at the Palace Theatre in St. Paul. In this blog feature, writer Steve Marsh talks to the artists behind the visual aspects of the project, Eric Timothy Carlson and Aaron Anderson.

  *All gifs by Carlson/Anderson. *Photos by Graham Tolbert

*All gifs by Carlson/Anderson.
*Photos by Graham Tolbert

In the fall of 2016, I was working on a story on PEOPLE, a new creative network being formed at the Funkhaus Berlin, a hulking former East German radio complex on the banks of the River Spree. All the studios were assigned a number, and I kept getting drawn to Saal 6 for much of the week, where various members of the Minneapolis noise ensemble Marijuana Deathsquads were camped out. The hang was expectedly caliginous, so just imagine how high I was when the artist Eric Timothy Carlson handed me a copy of his new book, NYPLPCETC 01-04, a fat, red-covered, 400-page picture book of images he had culled from the New York Public Library Picture Collection.

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Carlson and I had circulated in the same Minneapolis art scene for years, but I had only recently gotten to know him, this artist who always seemed to have a pencil in his hand, and a sketchbook in his lap, who grew up in Owatonna and attended MCAD before eventually moving to Brooklyn. I first met him at Justin Vernon’s April Base Studios in Fall Creek, Wisconsin, when Carlson was working with Vernon on creating a new Bon Iver aesthetic around the recording of 22, A Million. By the the fall of 2016, Carlson had become very involved in developing the semiotics for Vernon’s new social network, PEOPLE, overseeing the painting of a gigantic PEOPLE banner in the Funkhaus’ main hall. But when Carlson handed me his book in Saal 6, I remember sitting on a Bauhaus-appropriate German couch and leafing through image after curated image—photographs of people, people working as cops, people protesting, people lost in the ruins—and I remember the images numbing my brain, unfolding with a kind of punishing psychedelic effect, but I couldn’t stop looking, couldn’t stop turning the pages, and the images had this cumulative power, forcing me to re-see things I thought I’d seen before, cycling me through melancholy to disgust to astonishment. 

TU Dance and Bon Iver invited Carlson and his artistic partner and Brooklyn studio-mate Aaron Anderson to collaborate on the visual component of Come Through. Anderson, also an MCAD alumnus, has been working closely with Carlson for years, since founding Hardland/Heartland (with fellow Minneapolis artist Crystal Quinn), a Minneapolis-based art collective, in 2006. Back then, Carlson and Anderson shared a penchant for collaborative performance with musicians, and a shared interest in esoteric text, ancient symbols, and experimental film—those interests persist in their work on Come Through. The two artists created hundreds of images for this performance and worked very closely with TU Dance and Bon Iver, sometimes remotely, sometimes on site at April Base, and finally during a week of intensive rehearsal last month at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams. Ahead of this weekend’s premiere, we discussed the roots of their partnership, how this project came to be, and their mode of working together leading up to their debut performance at the Palace Theater.

  'Come Through' at MASS MoCA.

'Come Through' at MASS MoCA.

Steve Marsh: How did the two of you begin working together?

Eric Timothy Carlson: This pretty Minneapolis trippy guy, Derek Maxwell, used to host these drawing parties at his apartment, where all the tables would have paper taped onto them. People would show up and hang out and party and work on these collaborative communal drawings. Everyone was pretty good at drawing, but Aaron was really sick at drawing. We started talking about working on a comic book, and coming up with these bigger narrative ideas that quickly kind of like superseded any comic book idea. So it went straight into collaborating with Crystal. She was making costumes and fabric art, as well as being a really talented drawer and painter. The first Hardland/Heartland show was actually an installation at the Soap Factory with Derek Maxwell and Lazerbeak. We made these inflatable floating mountains, and made a mural like a giant title card, and Crystal made costumes for everybody. Derek Maxwell was in a band called the Gamut, and our setting for the show had Gamut as these wandering musicians searching for the tune from this ancient warrior, Lazerbeak. So it was this noise band with this art installation inside of an elevator shaft. And the Gamut partied and played music, and when they unlocked the key to this tomb, Lazerbeak emerged and DJed for the rest of the night.

Aaron Anderson: The blog was the only reason we were called Hardland/Heartland.

Eric Timothy Carlson: The blog was like a public journal, but the real work was these kind of events and parties and installations.

  'Never Better' album cover, designed by Eric Timothy Carlson. 

'Never Better' album cover, designed by Eric Timothy Carlson. 

You went on to design the CD packaging for P.O.S.’ Never Better, and to design Gayngs’ iconic symbol.

ETC: Never Better was the biggest [album design project]. I had a number of projects with Building Better Bombs—those were the first ones. I was working with a friend of mine, Greg Hubacek, who was deeper into the hip hop realm. Did a mixtape with Plain Ol’ Bill. Fort Wilson Riot were friends of mine and I did some stuff with them. We’re all connected.

With this project, your imagery is so esoteric that it allows the person looking at it to come up with their own reference points and their own associations. So I don’t know if it’s fair to start with discussing process. You are obviously trying to protect whoever is seeing this imagery from having the images defined for them.

ETC: Well in a way I think talking about process avoids telling you what it is supposed to be in the end, as opposed to just telling you what it’s supposed to be in the end!

AA: Our desks are pretty close, as far as process is concerned. 

When Justin Vernon invited you to do this, did he play music for you? Did you bring your own ideas because you’ve worked with him in the past?

ETC: Uri (Director of TU Dance) and Justin had been in touch and Justin had been talking about the project. And in their conversation, the 22, A Million lyric videos came up, just as an, “oh, it would be great to have this component present in the collaboration.” So it was brought up to us and just hearing about it was exciting. Something that no one involved had ever done before. [Uri and Justin] were able to get together for a session before we were able to be around for it. So we kind of got some videos of the dance’s progress and we were given kind of audio sketches. That’s what we were initially given. So at that phase of it, there was very little hard direction for us. So I was familiar with some of the songs, and some of the songs were new material. There were loose notes about how this thing could be. But it wasn’t until we got together, all of us in the same place, that we were able to see some of the dance take form in the space with the music being played live, and then we received an actual set of notes from the choreography. Uri has this vision of this whole thing in a way. He’s the one that has the whole dance in mind and knows what all the dancers are doing for the whole show. He has listened to all of the music and knows it inside out, as far as the outline of it is concerned. As far as what the performance on stage is, and how it relates to the music, he kind of has the conductor hat on. So getting notes from him proved to be really important.

So a quick digression: I would say a lot of your work reminds me, I don’t mean to sound trite, but of Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi or Fricke’s Baraka or Jodorowky’s Holy Mountain, in that the images that you sample deliver more meaning cumulatively, rather than standing on their own. This one, in particular, while you’re watching it, you have shots of money, and then shots of ears, and then shots of an empty hall without an audience. It’s almost psychedelic in the fact that they’re images that we’ve all seen before, but when they’re recontextualized in the order they’re presented, and as the backdrop to a dance performance, then they have new meaning.

ETC: Totally.

So that kind of psychedelic, shamanistic vibe—the term Terence McKenna used is a “syncretic experience,” the merging of different cultural traditions in your brain. Is that the intent of your work?

ETC: I feel like all of that is totally on as far as the approach and what we’re open to and what we’re producing. I feel like once we start working on a project with a narrative where the subject is humanity, I think it works really well for that. I’m not super interested in making an explicit character-based narrative.

Why is that? Why intentionally be esoteric or obtuse? Why leave so much work to be done by the audience to actually provide meaning to the narrative?

AA: I don’t think it’s a lot of work. It’s just not the usual type of work that some people are asked to do. To me the visuals feel very specific at times. But esoteric to one person is a form of specificity to another person, and if you don’t share the same point of view with that person, that’s the opportunity to feel weird, or off-put, or mystified even. I think that personally, that’s the only thing I’m good at—doing it that way. Being confused about something is better than not caring about something. And in general, you’ll take more home with you later if you can get it that way. Whether or not you’re into it or not, whatever, that’s past my ultimate realm of concern, but really it’s more effective work that way.

ETC: It’s also speaking for a lot of different people, and to a lot of different people, a lot of different audiences. And a lot of it is about asking questions and there’s no solution.

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The interesting thing that I thought about during this show, is that there are a lot more words than you usually find in your work, or maybe the words just stood out to me so much. Maybe it will feel different when I’m in the theater and am more focused on the dancers or the band. But the words stood out to me so much. And words have more of an authoritarian quality than imagery. Words actually connote more explicit meaning than say, a photograph of a blooming rose. You can be more specific with words. Was using more text intentional?

ETC: It definitely occurred. As part of the process, where again, the initial kind of conversation about our involvement was based on the [22, A Million] lyric videos. And there was no intent of making lyric videos for this performance, but we used a structure that was established in those lyric videos. Where every part of a movement in the song gets an introduction piece and that leads you through the performance as a whole. And then a way to continue organizing what will go into each section, was just kind of parsing the notes that we were receiving about the intent of the choreography for each section. And some of it is stated very explicitly: “This is what this means.” A lot of that stuff was really interesting. Where a viewer, especially a viewer unaccustomed to contemporary dance, sure some of these things would be picked up, but there are so many different things—are you looking at it formally, are you looking at it physically, are you looking at it conceptually, specifically about the dance in particular.

AA: But also coming at being really comfortable from the lyric videos. The way that that matched with the music up until that point, dance was the point of this. That’s the driver of the thing in a cool way. The dance.

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You’re right, I think we grew up in similar scenes of music and visual art. I would say my ability to pick out references and to understand the language of visual art, or the references or language of popular music, is much more on point than my ability to do that with dance. I’m much more comfortable with the language of both of those mediums than I am with dance.

ETC: [One of the members of the band] BJ Burton was talking about seeing one of the guys in the front row [at MASS MoCA] looking at them during the whole performance and he was like, “why are you not watching the dancers? Watch something! We’re just standing here.”

But if you’re ignorant of the tradition and the nomenclature, like most people are when it comes to dance, you’re going to latch onto things in the room that they understand.

ETC: Totally. And see who they want to see.

AA: If you’re someone who goes to a TU Dance show, or something who would go see a Bon Iver show, you’re going to be puzzled when you leave. Either way. It will change your day, at least, in a good way.

I think being confused for an hour and 15 minutes could be a healthy thing. Maybe we shouldn’t be so sure of ourselves right now.

ETC: Yeah.

AA: Like I said, I don’t think that person will be confused the whole time, but there will be a period of acclimation. And it was interesting to see the rehearsal up close and then having to be positioned in the back of the theater. Because the system we made is more or less played along with the band. It’s not like we’re setting it up and walking away.

ETC: We’re currently pretty analog, playing through the video stuff. None of it is pre-set.

So you have control over the performance?

ETC: We have 200 videos and we have them organized and sequenced, but we can skip back in between things, and every intro of a new video piece is triggered by hand. So a lot of it isn’t necessarily falling on the beat, but it’s made to work in context of a beat.

So every performance will be slightly different?

ETC: Every performance will be very different! But it will be nuanced.

How many songs are in the performance?

AA: Like eight?

ETC: No it’s more than that now. It got to a certain point before we got to the final two weeks of building out the program. And so we had built out a program based on everything that we had known, and we got to April Base and by the time we left, it was pretty different. There were multiple working titles too—so we would call a song one thing, and the band might call it another, and the dancers might call it another. So there’s definitely a lot of fluid pieces in the way it works.

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When somebody walks out of the theater after the show, and has an opportunity to ask you guys or any of the musicians, “what does NO VISUALS” mean? Or what about “BREATHE NOW AND ASCEND?” Will anybody give them a straight answer? Can anybody?

ETC: [Laughs] Well, I think the underlying premise of the whole thing is a message of hope and belief in humanity. The I WANT TO BELIEVE poster at April Base has deep resonance here. It all kind of comes to that push.

AA: I think you would get a straight answer out of most of the people involved. Some of the people might not ever give straight answer, but you’ll get honesty. And I think that’s what is cool about it. That it sort of allows for that kind of excitement. As a person who’s involved in that, it’s so rare to truly feel that.

ETC: I don’t know. Is it really confusing? It is a really mysterious vibe?

Yeah, I would say so. The kind of uplifting melancholy of Justin’s falsetto imbues the whole thing with a feeling I’m familiar with—hopeful sadness I guess. But then your imagery recalls Koyaanisqatsi, which is about an imbalance of nature and technology. Whenever you see flowers and rotting images of decay mixed with money and marching and neoclassical facades, again it can kind of look scary. I think it’s more the emotional content is on that line between being sad and also feeling the uplift that contemplating humanity gives you. It’s really big is what I’m trying to say.

ETC: Yeah. There are a lot of voices, and it’s a cacophony. And the project is a cacophony, but I feel like your read into that is also totally right. It is big. The conversation is big. And it is acknowledging this moment, that it’s a weird time, and the conversation of feeling that kind of tension in the air, and acknowledging that. The intent is to break through some of that and inspire or to ask and believe that something can be done. By us. Everybody. Us.

So would it be fair to me to ask, for instance, one of the most striking images in the entire thing is the flash zoom through all the faces. And it’s a motif that recurs. It’s really explicit, in the center of the piece, and then you flash back to it towards the end. So what idea is that coming from?

ETC: That was a direct response to a note from the choreography. “This could be a sequence of human faces.”

So how many faces are in that thing, and where did you get the faces? I know with your last book, Eric, you spent time culling images from the New York Public Library.

ETC: I don’t know, there’s 50 or 60. There might be more. 75, something like that. That was in the choreography notes for a specific moment. And that was kind of before we had gotten a bigger picture of the whole thing. So we only had a handful of things that we could really work on. So all of those were pulled from royalty free stock photography portrait galleries. So we were just trying to find a functional array of images that I could pull from that. There are certainly images throughout the whole thing that are just pulled from the Internet, and that I feel comfortable in using those from a Google image search. But when it comes to people’s faces, straight up people’s faces, it seemed important to make sure that we had whatever, royalty free free use images. But that section is also interspersed, or the faces are interspersed with the faces of the performers. So we got head shots of everybody in the performance as well, just to make it a little more personal.

AA: It flies a little too fast for anybody to recognize them.

What about the amanita muscaria mushroom—it’s one of the oldest shamanic totems of psychedelia. What was the note that you were responding to there?

ETC: That was growth. All of the growth stuff is less a specific note, but that was the tone. From the very start, knowing what this thing was addressing, this contemporary moment, this struggle that we feel is very real, and the desire to supersede that, without showing that as… I don’t know, people standing triumphantly raising some flag. The mushroom just acknowledges the growth and re-growth and cycles of nature blooming.

AA: And fungus growing is just as interesting as a flower. Even speaking to the complexity to the images in the project, that seemed to be important that that would be there. It’s not just flowers.

ETC: Flowers are too cute.

AA: Too happy. The problem is not solved. It’s just about having a better attitude to go forward.

ETC: And I love a mushroom as an end note. The deep kind of actual systems of mushrooms are a great parallel to humanity, like an unseen system that actually connects. And fungus and the connection of a lot of that material to decay, and that decay and things breaking down play a huge role in things being built again.

Maybe the most dramatic sonic moment in the show is when Justin is unaccompanied and he’s doing these sort of painful field hollers. Part of me was in awe of this white dude that’s singing such an ancient form of suffering, it’s a sound that’s strongly associated with slavery, and it’s accompanied by an image of an actual field, or brush, this kind of grey kind of ochre, muted kind of field plants. Where did you get that imagery from and what does that image mean?

ETC: So it’s in Central Park and there’s a grove of trees with a path going through it. And if you revisit the image there’s a clump of the leaves in the middle of it, and it forms this inexplicable, nearly unbelievable face. There’s like a head floating in this image. And when I walked by it, I saw it in the corner of my eye and it stopped me. It felt super surreal. But it’s a menacing headed tree, and it kind of follows you as you walk past it.

Thank you for indulging me. It does feel like cheating where you’re asking the artist to tell you what [stuff] means.

ETC: Yeah.

Everybody is going to become disoriented or confused at some point, so is there anything you would suggest to prepare for it?

AA: Bring an open mind. Sorry to have a lame answer. But a willingness to challenge your point of view.

ETC: Coming into it expecting a thing is the wrong way to do it. It’s an 90 minute thing, and it’s not a typical music show.

Maybe a warning is good: “This is not going to be normal.”

ETC: You could watch Holy Mountain and Koyaanisqatsi.

AA: Or you could watch some Bruce Conner films.


Steve Marsh is a writer interested in culture, extreme experience and performance. He’s the senior writer for Mpls.St.Paul Magazine and has been published in The Wall Street Journal, GQ, Pitchfork, New York Magazine, and Grantland.

Eric and Aaron's work will be presented as part of TU Dance and Bon Iver's "Come Through" at the Palace Theater, commissioned by Liquid Music, on April 19, 20, and 21, 2018. Tickets to all four performances are SOLD OUT. 

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Follow Steve Marsh:
Twitter: @stephenhero

Follow Eric Timothy Carlson: 
Twitter: @3TC3T3RA
Instagram: @erictimothycarlson
Website: www.erictimothycarlson.com

Follow Aaron Anderson:
Instagram: @aaron_anderson
YouTube: https://m.youtube.com/user/BeatDetectives

Follow Liquid Music for Updates and Announcements: 
Twitter: @LiquidMusicSPCO
Instagram: @LiquidMusicSeries  
Facebook: facebook.com/SPCOLiquidMusic

Artist in Virtual Residence: Ashwini Ramaswamy, Entry #2 by Liquid Music

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Minneapolis-based Bharatanatyam dancer and choreographer Ashwini Ramaswamy is one of Liquid Music Series' 2017.18 Artists in Virtual Residence. Known for her ability to "weave together both fearfully and joyfully, the human and the divine" (New York Times), Ramaswamy will be bringing her craft to the 2018.19 Liquid Music season in collaboration with DJ, composer, and author Jace Clayton (our other Artist in Virtual Residence) for a premiere of their new work. Here, in her second entry of the season, she discusses the inspiration behind her creative process, seeking a complimentary performance space for the project, and meeting up with Jace in North Carolina.


Blog Entry #2
By Ashwini Ramaswamy

In Marisha Pessl’s 2013 novel Night Film, the legendary director Stanislas Cordova’s cannon of classic films includes the title “At Night All Birds Are Black.” That title has stayed with me since I read the book several years ago. It is one of the inspirations behind my 2016 work Nocturne, which explores the night-worlds of humans and wildlife, and it has influenced my current Liquid Music commission.

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To me, “At Night All Birds Are Black” is a striking image that combines unity with foreboding. I really gravitate towards that kind of opposition, which lends itself beautifully to art-making. This dichotomy is one of the reasons I became interested in crows and ravens as a potential theme for the Liquid Music piece that I am creating with Jace Clayton, aka dj/rupture. Myths have painted these birds as both harbingers of doom and divine messengers; their potent influence and cultural staying power is undeniable. Crows and humans are co-evolving species, and the historical, mythological, and philosophical connections between them brim with creative possibilities.

  Ashwini and LM Curator Kate Nordstrum explore possible performance spaces.

Ashwini and LM Curator Kate Nordstrum explore possible performance spaces.

Making a new work from scratch can take years – I have been ruminating on this project since 2015, and it will premiere in 2019 – and several elements need to come together. I’ve spend the past few months looking for the right performance space for the work, trying to find residency sites to provide space and time to create the work with Jace, and finding dancers that will elevate the work.

Since my plan for the dance aspect of this piece includes finding artists outside of my genre, I’ve spent the past few months posting and responding to audition notices, meeting with dancers, attending other company’s rehearsals, watching videos, and narrowing down the genre of dancer I might want to work with. I have one spectacular artist on board, and am still on the hunt for another – I’m looking for someone unexpected – to fill out the cast.

Finding the right site for a new piece is critical, and it can be tricky to balance ideal physical location, cost, and schedule when looking for the perfect home for a project. Liquid Music events are spot-on when it comes to location, and LM curator Kate Nordstrum and I have been looking at and discussing space options for the better part of a year. We are coming close to narrowing it down – stay tuned for an announcement of the exact date and location very soon!

In a few days I am heading to North Carolina, where Jace is the UNC Chapel Hill/Duke University Nannerl Keohane Distinguished Visiting Professor. This will be my second visit there to work with him on his project Sufi Plug-ins V.2, and I was very happy to bring with me my good friend and collaborator Rajna Swaminathan, an accomplished composer and mridangam (south Indian percussion) artist. This time together in a creative setting is very important as we continue to find our rhythm as collaborators. Here are a few photos from the last visit; more to come after this weekend’s work-in-progress showing in Durham!

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Ashwini will continue to document her Artist in Virtual Residence journey on the Liquid Music blog throughout the year and will be featured as part of the 2018.19 Liquid Music Series season for a premiere performance of her collaborative work with Jace Clayton. 

Keep up with Liquid Music Artists in Virtual Residence Ashwini Ramaswamy and Jace Clayton through journal entries and updates on the LM blog:
 Artist in Virtual Residence: Ashwini Ramaswamy
Artist in Virtual Residence: Jace Clayton/DJ Rupture
Liquid Music Connects: Students Visit "Virtually" With Artists in Residence
Jace Clayton on Collaboration

Follow Ashwini Ramaswamy:
Website: http://www.ashwini-ramaswamy.com/
Instagram: @ashwiniramaswamy (instagram.com/ashwiniramaswamy/)
Facebook: facebook.com/ashwini.ramaswamy

Follow Liquid Music for updates and announcements: 
Twitter: @LiquidMusicSPCO (twitter.com/LiquidMusicSPCO)
Instagram: @LiquidMusicSeries (instagram.com/liquidmusicseries
Facebook: facebook.com/SPCOLiquidMusic

"Come Through" by Bon Iver & TU Dance: Dancer Reflections at MASS MoCA by Liquid Music

 All photos by Aden Seeley, MASS MoCA

All photos by Aden Seeley, MASS MoCA

"Electrifying” (City Pages) TU Dance and “hyper-modern balladeering” (The Guardian) Bon Iver wrapped up a week-long residency at MASS MoCA in North Adams, Massachusetts March 25 with two enthralling sneak peek performances of their Liquid Music-commissioned project “Come Through”. After months of collaboration and rehearsal, the final product will premiere April 19-21 at the Palace Theatre in downtown St. Paul as a part of the 2017.18 Liquid Music season. “Come Through” features new music by Justin Vernon as well as new choreography from TU Dance’s "polyrhythmic genius" (Star Tribune) Uri Sands. Here is a look at the MASS MoCA experience, featuring reflections from TU Dance company members on the residency and performance.

She had tears in her eyes as she thanked me and everyone involved in the project, saying she now had renewed energy to keep fighting for justice.

Elayna Waxse: I’m a Twin Cities-based performer, choreographer, and educator currently in my sixth season with TU Dance. During our residency with Bon Iver at MASS MoCA, there were several times I had to pause and reflect on the special project that was unfolding before me. I heard some great responses from the audience, but I think my favorite was from a woman who stopped me outside the theater shortly after our Sunday matinee. She had tears in her eyes as she thanked me and everyone involved in the project, saying she now had renewed energy to keep fighting for justice. She professed (and I censored) “We’re not (expletive) alright, but one day we might be alright”. As an artist, this is all I can hope to convey.

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It reassures me that we are moving in the right direction and all of our efforts to connect and impact with our message is successful.

Christian Warner: This is my second season as a company member with TU Dance. The collaboration has been surreal to say the least but I believe my favorite moments are seeing the audiences members become overwhelmed with emotion or express their cathartic experiences as they view the piece. It reassures me that we are moving in the right direction and all of our efforts to connect and impact with our message is successful.

Within a collaboration as unique as what Liquid Music has created, all of the collaborators involved have experienced opportunities to make honest personal connections through art.
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Randall Riley: I’m a dancer with TU Dance, currently dancing my third season with the company. Within a collaboration as unique as what Liquid Music has curated, all of the collaborators involved have experienced opportunities to make honest personal connections through art. I cannot wait for everyone to hear the glorious score, but also get their lives from the projections that really help glue the piece for me!


TU Dance and Bon Iver will perform "Come Through" at the Palace Theater, commissioned by Liquid Music, on April 19, 20, and 21, 2018. Tickets to all four performances are SOLD OUT. Follow TU Dance and Bon Iver to keep an eye out for updates and announcements on the project as it continues to grow...

Follow TU Dance:
Website: http://www.tudance.org
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TU.Dance.MN/
Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/tudance

Follow Bon Iver:
Website: https://boniver.org/
Facebook: @boniverwi
Twitter: @boniver
Instagram: @boniver

Follow Liquid Music for updates and announcements: 
Twitter: @LiquidMusicSPCO (twitter.com/LiquidMusicSPCO)
Instagram: @LiquidMusicSeries (instagram.com/liquidmusicseries
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Interview: Nathalie Joachim on "Fanm d’Ayiti" with Tim Munro by Liquid Music

Nathalie Joachim’s Fanm d’Ayiti celebrates the women of Haitian song and aims to explore their individual stories as they relate to Afro-Caribbean culture, society, history and music. Fellow flutist Tim Munro sat down with Joachim to reflect on the scope of the project, and how the process has changed her. Below is an edited transcript of Joachim’s words.

In Haiti, the women are badasses. You don’t want to mess with anyone’s Haitian mother. You’re going to definitely be on your best behavior.

I started to focus on three artists: Emerante Morse, Carole Demesmin, Toto Bissainthe. I felt connected to them. Going to Haiti, talking to these women, meeting their families, seeing where they’re from, hearing their deep commitment to Haiti. It felt inspiring. The three paint an interesting portrait. They’re each from pretty distinct eras, musically, but each influenced the other. Many consider these women revolutionaries.

The piece of the puzzle that made Fanm d’Ayiti come together was being in Haiti, recording a children’s choir. They were singing the music for a Catholic church service, accompanied by a drummer who was playing these very distinct voodoo drum patterns. It was two worlds colliding: this Catholic religion passed on through colonialism, and a musical practice that came all the way from Africa.

 Photo: Erin Patrice O'Brien

Photo: Erin Patrice O'Brien

Fanm d’Ayiti is linked by the idea of strength and freedom and empowerment. It is made up of music woven together with some of the recorded testimony of the women I interviewed, and the field recording of the girls choir, and recordings off my grandmother. Half of the material is completely original, the other half are some arrangements of these three female artists.

 Photo: Erin Patrice O'Brien

Photo: Erin Patrice O'Brien

My entire piece has a religious lens. So many of the songs in the show are Haitian voodoo songs. All of the text throughout the whole show is very deeply rooted in religion, whether it is African religion or Roman Catholic. I’ve learned about Voodoo as a practice. There is a stigma attached, but it’s akin to Native American religious practice. Voodoo as a practice is more about storytelling than anything else. Many of the gods are tied to nature.

 Nathalie alongside Emerante Morse (July 2017)

Nathalie alongside Emerante Morse (July 2017)

 The Children's Choir (July 2017)

The Children's Choir (July 2017)


I’m at the end of this project, but it also feels like the beginning. The show has helped me focus a new direction, to connect deeply to something that has been waiting to be tapped into.

 Photo: Erin Patrice O'Brien

Photo: Erin Patrice O'Brien

For so long I have been attached to the, like, “I’m a classical flutist, and this is what I do.” This is what the world thinks is the most “validated” training. The thing I’m “supposed” to be doing. I have never stood solidly on my ability as a composer. I had been actively writing music, but was very selective about what I was sharing publicly. Censoring my own voice.

Also, in the past I have shied away from what I knew to be my vocal identity, to make myself fit somewhere. I’m definitely not an opera singer…at all. And I feel like people look at me and are like, “This is an African American female, so she’s going to sound like a soul singer,” and I don’t sound like that.

The practice of music in Haiti is very communal, very relaxed. It’s not about who’s been playing the longest, who’s the best, who’s the most trained, who’s recognized as X, Y or Z. It’s just people sharing a piece of themselves as honestly as they can. It’s a style of music that really lacks any pretension, which makes me a better performer. It takes away this need to be perfect.

I never recognized that the many hours singing with my grandmother were also music lessons. To me it was just “Oh, that’s just my time with my grandmother.” But the second I started this project, I realized she trained me so well in the practice of folk singing and folk music in Haiti.

 Scenery in Haiti (July 2017)

Scenery in Haiti (July 2017)

In this project I’m writing and performing in a way that I would have been scared to do a decade ago. So much of my musical instinct and influence comes from being a kid growing up in Brooklyn, with electronic music and hip hop steeped in my ear. That, combined with my classical training, is of course a valid practice of studying music.

Vocally, this project is the most I’ve been myself. Making music in Haiti happens without abandon. The songs have such deep meaning, and you just give yourself to it. It has resulted in me finding a vocal quality that feels like the most natural.

All of these things are coming together with honesty. Putting myself out there in this way is super-vulnerable. But at the showing in St. Paul and the taping for “On Being,” it was maybe the least stage-fright I’ve ever had. It felt normal. And right.

 

Tim Munro is a Chicago-based, triple-Grammy-winning musician. His diverse work as a flutist, speaker, writer and teacher is united by a single goal: to draw audiences into an engrossing and whimsical musical world.


FOLLOW NATHALIE JOACHIM
Website: nathaliejoachim.com
Facebook: facebook.com/nathalie.joachim.39
Twitter: @flutronix (twitter.com/flutronix)
Instagram: @njoachim (instagram.com/njoachim)
Youtube: youtube.com/c/nathaliejoachi

FOLLOW TIMOTHY MUNRO
Website: timothymunro.com
Twitter: @lullysfoot (twitter.com/lullysfoot)
Instagram: @timothymunro (instagram.com/timothymunro)

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Podcast: Liquid Music Playlist

Shawnee, Ohio: An Essay by Brian Harnetty by Liquid Music

On March 20, 2018, Liquid Music presents composer, sound artist and writer Brian Harnetty to perform his composition Shawnee, Ohio. Described by The Wire as "breathing new life into old chunks of sound by radically recontextualising them", Shawnee Ohio evokes a historic time and place through the present act of sound archives, field recordings, and live musicians. In this essay, Harnetty reflects on his family background, the significance of Shawnee, and his process in creating the piece.

  Photo by Kevin Davison

Photo by Kevin Davison

In 1872, my mother’s ancestors immigrated as Welsh coal miners to a town called Shawnee in Appalachian Ohio. Located in what is now the Wayne National Forest, my family experienced a series of booms and busts that resulted in labor strikes, underground mine fires, and the formation of the United Mine Workers. Shortly after my grandfather Mordecai Williams graduated from Shawnee High School in 1925, the whole family moved away, caught between a regional mining bust that would never recover and the Great Depression yet to come.

  By Jonathan Johnson

By Jonathan Johnson

Almost a century and a half later, I continue to return to and evoke this region as the core subject of my work. Since 2010, I’ve been regularly visiting Shawnee. The streets are lined with two story buildings with upper porches and are being held up by the community of people that remains there after a century of economic decline. I’ve developed friendships with local residents, accompanied them on their jobs, and attended social events and festivals. I’ve also observed protests over the region’s most recent boom, hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” Much like the author bell hooks, I “return again and again” to the homes of my family, searching for ways to deeply understand and help protect the soundscape and its people.

My piece Shawnee, Ohio gets its musical and visual material from these visits. One day, I asked a local historian if there were any sound recordings. Rummaging through a closet in his office, he produced a box of about forty cassette tapes. They were mostly recorded by him in the 1980s. The tapes contain oral histories of a generation of people now gone.

On these tapes I hear memory, laughter, embarrassment, music, forgetting, sorrow, friendship. I hear about everyday events—births, work, loves, deaths—directly and without mediation. I hear Jim Bath describing Shawnee, building by building; an unknown boy interviewing his grandmother about men who died in the mines; and Neva Randolph, soulfully singing of hope and change, even while on her own death bed. These people speak and sing in their own voices, unrehearsed. They are not famous or wealthy. Their agenda is to share, to remember, to learn, and to find ways to move forward.

In ‘Shawnee, Ohio’ and all of my work, I contend that the simple act of listening—to places, people, to their stories and their sonic pasts—can transform their futures.
— Brian Harnetty

Now, after 80 years of environmental recovery, the region and the forest are once again under threat. New fracking leases on public lands are greatly expanding gas and oil extraction there. Needless to say, the region is deeply divided politically and socially over fracking and energy extraction. Residents find themselves caught between the promise of jobs—however temporary—and fighting to end centuries of environmental degradation.

I cannot lay claim to these places and people; I don’t pretend to be a spokesperson for them or the region, nor can I identify as Appalachian. However, in Shawnee, Ohio and all of my work, I contend that the simple act of listening—to places, people, to their stories and their sonic pasts—can transform their futures. In this way, the lament of Sigmund Kozma as he describes a 1930 mine disaster becomes a cautionary tale for today, and the sung protests of Jack Wright against fracking evokes a spirit of hope that has stubbornly persisted for generations. Through listening, this project asserts the key to social change here necessarily involves connections and discussions over this shared past, the land, and the forest: public lands that can be reclaimed through many different voices of dissent.

  By Jonathan Johnson

By Jonathan Johnson

Harnetty will perform Shawnee, Ohio at Mairs Concert Hall at Macalester College on Tuesday, March 20, 2018 at 7:30pm. Purchase tickets here.

Follow Brian Harnetty:
Website: http://www.brianharnetty.com
Twitter: @bharnetty
Instagram: @bharnetty
Facebook: facebook.com/Brian-Harnetty

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Liquid Music Artist in Virtual Residence: Jace Clayton by Liquid Music

Liquid Music welcomes back Manhattan based composer, DJ, and writer Jace Clayton, also known as DJ/rupture, as our 2017.18 Artist in Virtual Residence. Described by The Wire as a “pan-global, post-everything superhero,” Jace is currently working with Minneapolis-based Bharatanatyam dancer and choreographer Ashwini Ramaswamy (another LM Artist in Virtual Residence) on a commissioned project that will premiere here February 2019. In this blog post, Jace reflects on his creative process alongside Ashwini and the different ways in which they have slowly connected both as people and as artists in their shared journey. 

 Jace Clayton by Max Lakner

Jace Clayton by Max Lakner

Blog Entry #2
By Jace Clayton

One of the most important aspects of working as an artist is being honest about deadlines. How much you can get done, how long it takes, when you can deliver, and when things require extra time to develop. This is my way of saying: this blog post is long overdue!

Seriously though, one of the exciting things about embarking on this collaborative creation process with Ashwini is having the time to slowly feel things out and let the ideas and brainstorm arrive at their own pace. Particularly for the performing arts – which are most often experienced as an event that happens over the course of an hour or two – all the days, months, and yes, sometimes years of preparation are ‘invisible’. The idea of a rehearsal is clear-cut: a bunch of people in the same room who have already decided, more or less, what the project is and how best to execute it. At the rehearsal they put that into practice – re-doing the tricky parts, recording it to watch or listen to later, giving trusted colleagues an early look. All in the service of making the final performance as strong as it can be.

 Jace Clayton by Erez Avissar

Jace Clayton by Erez Avissar

But what Ashwini and I are doing these months is the thing that happens before the rehearsal. It’s the open-ended process of listening, sharing ideas, chatting about art or simply life – Ashwini’s post showed some of all this in action. On top of those critical things, there is also the need to let things sink in. Unhurried, unorganized time, where impulses can grow, unrushed, into ideas. Where subconscious hints and suggestions can slowly gain force to become full-fledged ideas. This rich time of waiting is hard to discuss, much less document. So here I am writing about it.

 Ashwini Ramaswamy by Ed Bock

Ashwini Ramaswamy by Ed Bock

What’s next?

This March I was able to invite Ashwini and a friend of hers, Rajna Swaminathan, down to North Carolina. We’re working on a different project, but this is doubly useful insofar as it gives us an opportunity to get in the studio together and simply get accustomed to how each of us work – knowledge that will help the Liquid Music collaboration.

I’m spending the year in North Carolina as the Nannerl Keohane Distinguished Visiting Professor, a yearlong position split between Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It functions more like a visiting artist position than a regular teaching job; I’m working on several creative performance-based projects and bringing in students and faculty from each university to join me in the process. 

One of these projects involves the creation of digital music-making tools inspired by non-western ideas of sound. Working alongside the students we decided to build some tools engaging with Indian conceptions of rhythm. The town of Cary, North Carolina has an active Indian classical music community, and slowly my student team and I decided that we would focus on the two-headed drum called the mridangam. When I mentioned the project specifics to Ashwini I was delighted to learn that she has collaborated with an incredible mridangam player – and that Ashwini’s dance form is intimately tied to percussion. From there it soon became obvious that we could brainstorm and refine our digital tools working with Rajna and Ashwini, and in turn open up that process to a kind of public rehearsal this spring. And maybe, just maybe, the tools I’m developing down in North Carolina will be used in whatever Ashwini and I cook up.

 Jace Clayton by Max Lakner

Jace Clayton by Max Lakner

The more honest a collaboration is, the more open you have to be to let it go in any direction. And to work as an artist is, partially, to be open to unusual and unlikely alliances. Inspiration can come from almost any direction.

Keep up with Liquid Music Artists in Virtual Residence Ashwini Ramaswamy and Jace Clayton through journal entries and updates on the LM blog:
 Artist in Virtual Residence: Ashwini Ramaswamy
Artist in Virtual Residence: Jace Clayton/DJ Rupture
Liquid Music Connects: Students Visit "Virtually" With Artists In Residence Ashwini Ramaswamy and Jace Clayton AKA DJ Rupture

Follow Ashwini Ramaswamy:
Website: http://www.ashwini-ramaswamy.com/
Instagram: @ashwiniramaswamy (instagram.com/ashwiniramaswamy/)
Facebook: facebook.com/ashwini.ramaswamy

Follow Jace Clayton:
Website: jaceclayton.com
Instagram: @djrupture (instagram.com/djrupture)
Facebook: facebook.com/DjRupture/
Twitter: @djrupture (twitter.com/djrupture)

Follow Liquid Music for Updates and Announcements: 
Twitter: @LiquidMusicSPCO (twitter.com/LiquidMusicSPCO)
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Interview: Brian Harnetty on "Shawnee Ohio" with Mark Mazullo by Liquid Music

Liquid Music welcomes composer, sound artist, and writer Brian Harnetty to perform his composition Shawnee, Ohio on March 20th at Macalester College's Mairs Hall. In this blog post, Macalester Professor of Music History Mark Mazullo interviews Harnetty, finding the insight and inspiration behind the project that Compass Magazine says "fits into a practice considered ‘sonic ethnography,’ the study of culture, people and place through sound.”

DSC_0038 Jennifer Harnetty.JPG

MM: Your piece, "Shawnee, Ohio," is about place, in both a geographical sense and a human sense. You have a family connection to this small town, and in your many visits there, you have been impressed with the way its residents, "bound together by a common heritage of booms and busts," have persevered and held each other up by keeping the town alive. There are many ways to tell this story. How does music, specifically, allow us to gain unique insight into it? Why is this a musical story?

 West Main Street circa 1909. Photo courtesy of Little Cities of Black Diamonds Archive.

West Main Street circa 1909. Photo courtesy of Little Cities of Black Diamonds Archive.

BH: I think an important reason is that music has been of great significance to people from this region: labor songs, ballads, old timey and country music, high school orchestras, records, and radio. The more research I did, the more examples I found of music being made and listened to, and I wanted to reflect this in the project. Although the region doesn’t have the same fame and recorded documentation as Kentucky, for example, there is a distinct character to the recordings from Ohio, which you can hear in archives such as the Anne Grimes Collection in the Library of Congress. More personally, “Shawnee, Ohio” is also about my grandfather who grew up there at the beginning of the twentieth century, and the music he played and heard when he was young.

Over the past seven years, I’ve been visiting Shawnee and nearby towns, asking myself again and again: “What do these places sound like?” and “What stories do these sounds tell?” I’ve been focusing on my ears as much as my eyes or other senses. The more I listened, the more stories jumped out at me from local residents and the forest itself. And, when I began working with archival recordings, there was singing right alongside storytelling. They are fused together, where the singing tells a story, and the talking becomes musical. When I hear residents talking, their speech becomes a kind of singing; I hear melody and rhythm, inflection and character – the grain of their voices –and setting music to go with them feels just like making songs.

There’s an old folk tradition of passing down a familiar melody and switching out the words to fit local places and current events. Murder ballads are a great example. In fact there are two nineteenth century murder ballads in “Shawnee, Ohio,” telling gruesome stories from Gore, an appropriately named nearby town. It was a great way to pass along the news! I am tapping into this tradition throughout “Shawnee,” whether people are singing or speaking. The past mixes in with the present and tells a complex story of labor struggles, resistance, ecological damage, social life, and hope.

Tell us something about your artistic inspirations in combining music with images and oral history. Have you always been interested in these connections, or was there a moment or particular experience in your life that drew you in this direction?

When I was a young kid, I was always positioning myself near the adults at parties or weddings or funerals so I could listen to their conversations. Even without fully understanding what they were talking about, I could hear the cadences in their voices; and how a conversation would slowly evolve out of nothing, and would seem to go nowhere. My father still excels at this kind of conversation, languid and full of insight and quiet camaraderie.

As a student, I loved the way my teacher, Michael Finnissy, incorporated all kinds of music from the past into his compositions, part of a tradition of musical borrowing going back to Charles Ives and beyond. I was also very much interested in Robert Ashley’s spoken operas, and Harry Partch’s use of vernacular language in pieces like “US Highball” or “The Letter.” But for me, the grain and scratch and hiss of recordings was just as important as the music itself. I transitioned into a hybrid between notation and sampling, drawing from DJs and remixers such as J Dilla and Madlib. Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music loomed large in my imagination, too: both the content and texture of individual recordings, and the fact that it was a huge idiosyncratic collection guided by Smith’s equally peculiar vision. Everything I’ve done since first listening to it has been, in one way or another, a response to it!

But, I realized there was also great responsibility to sampling and music borrowing. Many ethical issues came up, and I became wary of indiscriminately using other people’s music, understanding that if done with privilege and power, it can become a damaging cultural appropriation. I started to work with specific sound archives over long periods of time, and interacting with the people and communities connected to the recordings. Other documents––including photos, maps, and letters––became important to me. Eventually, the projects became visual, too, and my approach to different media was the same: evoking the past to inform the present. I began to understand that I was not only performing my own music, but performing the whole archive like a giant instrument, and my contribution was just one small part among many.

 Photo courtesy of the Little Cities of Black Diamonds Archive

Photo courtesy of the Little Cities of Black Diamonds Archive

Your decisions in this piece around questions of musical style, instrumentation, and form are all clearly influenced by the Appalachian region. Did you have to learn anything new in order to compose this music? What were some of your challenges in writing it?

I’m not a traditional musician, but I have been studying and listening closely to different kinds of Appalachian music for many years, mostly the old timey ballads and instrumental songs. This is music that predates bluegrass and tends to be slower, more sparse, and darker, all qualities that I like. I also relied on working with traditional musicians, like Anna Roberts-Gevalt on banjo, to find a spot between traditional and experimental music worlds.

Listening, for me, is always the biggest (and most exciting) job for each project. I work with sound archives a lot, and the challenge here was that most of the recordings were not part of a formal collection, but were given to me from residents of Shawnee. This meant many hours of sifting through recordings, digitizing them from deteriorating cassette tapes, searching for clues and traces and sounds that resonate with me, and trying to understand the contexts around them. These recordings––of miners talking about their work and its dangers, a boy asking his grandmother questions about her past, murder ballads, and resistance songs––are at the heart of the piece, and once I understood how they would work next to one another, I composed everything around them. All of the instrumental parts are rooted in archival research too, in music that residents listened to. I incorporated into the score fragments of labor and popular songs, and even the music the Shawnee High School orchestra would have played in the 1920s.

Another challenge was to reconcile my experimental background with the rural material. This meant determining exactly who the main audience would be, and I decided it should be the residents themselves. I ended up making a piece that contained my own personality and influences, but would also be familiar to the people in Shawnee. There are other examples of this, like the late period of the British composer Cornelius Cardew, where he was writing and playing music for local labor groups. I am, more and more, seeing the communities that I work with as co-authors of the music, where they are playing an active part in influencing how it gets made. This is done literally through the use of samples and remixing (where authorship is already in play), and more subtly with how interactions and friendships and the place itself might influence what material to choose and how the projects unfold.

We struggle in our society to understand the value of things, like art, whose worth is not quantifiable. How do you talk about the value of art, specifically your own art, and especially in its relation to industrial, economic, and social forces that continually threaten its vitality? Are works like "Shawnee, Ohio" unique in their ability to speak across such lines? What about concert music that does not combine with words and images: is there a future for such art, and if so, what does it look like to you?

I don’t think the projects I work on will be commercial successes, so you’re right; they are not quantifiable in terms of money! For me, value and meaning get mixed together; they grow slowly and are much harder to see. When I work with a community over a long period of time––in this case, people and places in and near Shawnee––I develop many different projects across media, including performances, recordings, essays, and installations, all part of a larger socially engaged art practice. So, the greatest value is in the relationships that are formed as a result of taking the time to listen to community members, and the residue of these interactions can find its way into the art that comes out of them. There is also value in creating projects that allow those voices and stories to be heard, of people often overlooked or marginalized.

I guess I’ve had a strange relationship with concert music, and am often working outside the classical world. Partly by choice, partly by necessity: I knew it would be difficult to keep writing the same kind of music that I did when I was a student in London, for example. So, instead I let the landscape around me in Ohio influence how and what I wrote. I also promised myself that I would work on a small scale, independently, and with whatever and whoever was around me and willing. And now, I just can’t seem to separate the people and places and issues that I am passionate about and the music I am writing. It has all become part of the same thing.

I’ve been a fan of the writer Wendell Berry for a long time, and I set out to make my musical projects in a similar manner to the way he talks about farming – on a human scale and with a stewardship and connection to the people and places around me. This turned out to be critically important: I was no longer writing based on instrumentation or in a particular style, I now wrote for what was necessary to make a project work, and with people I trusted to take risks with. So, there is value in that, too.

And yes, there is absolutely plenty of room for music that doesn’t combine words and images! I’ve just widened my search to find it in many different – and often rural –places, in addition to the concert hall and urban cultural centers. I can hear that vitality in sound archives, or in the communal listening practices of Pauline Oliveros; in a family playing music together in their living room, or in the scratch and warble of a recording of fiddle music from a century ago.


Mark Mazullo is Professor of Music History and Piano at Macalester College in St. Paul, MN. A performer and writer, he is the author of the book, Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues: contexts, style, performance (Yale University Press, 2010), as well as many articles and essays that have appeared in such journals as The Yale Review, Musical Quarterly, American Music, Popular Music, and others. As a pianist, he has a special affinity for Beethoven, and he is currently preparing the last five sonatas for performances at Macalester College and elsewhere in the 2018.19 season.

Harnetty will perform Shawnee, Ohio at Mairs Concert Hall at Macalester College on Tuesday, March 20, 2018 at 7:30pm. Mark Mazullo will host the post-concert Q&A. Purchase tickets here.

Follow Brian Harnetty
Website: www.brianharnetty.com
Twitter: @bharnetty
Instagram: @bharnetty
Facebook: facebook.com/Brian-Harnetty

Follow Liquid Music for Updates and Announcements: 
Twitter: @LiquidMusicSPCO
Instagram: @LiquidMusicSeries  
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Poliça's Channy Leaneagh on the evolution of "Music for the Long Emergency" by Liquid Music

By Katie Hare

In the 2015.16 season, Liquid Music brought together and tracked the creative process of two innovative ensembles, local favorite Poliça and Berlin-based s t a r g a z e, as our first Artists in Virtual Residence. Over the course of 18 months, a long-distance musical collaboration was in full swing – numerous video calls, emails, mp3 shares, and a couple of meetups all led to the making of Music for the Long Emergency. It premiered with a very memorable performance at the Fitzgerald Theater on November 16, 2016, just one week after the U.S. presidential election.

This week, Poliça and s t a r g a z e will release the project as an album, followed by performances at Symphony Space in NYC and at First Avenue in Minneapolis on February 21, 2018 (more here). In celebration of the event, we asked Poliça’s Channy Leaneagh about her band's relationship with s t a r g a z e and the evolution of Music for the Long Emergency.

 By Graham Tolbert

By Graham Tolbert

How has the relationship with s t a r g a z e transformed since your early days of collaboration in 2015?
We now have the creative intimacy to know what’s possible; knowing the musical personality of each of us. After writing music together we have a palette to draw from and inspiration for new colors to create together.  We’ve also have shared experiences by now that have built a friendship beyond collaborating; like dancing in an empty ballroom at the Eaux Claires music festival, taking s t a r g a z e to our favorite spots in Minneapolis and cooking meals together. Creating music with people is about giving time and care to each other; listening beyond our egos, responding to each person’s voice and building a new utopia for the duration of the song. All of that can happen if the chemistry is there; and with s t a r g a z e it was and is.

How will the First Ave performance be similar to/different from the Liquid Music presentation at the Fitzgerald in 2016?
Bringing the show to the club instead of a theater will be a completely different energy; excited for that! Music for the Long Emergency has a lot of intensity that will explode in the First Avenue speakers. We’re also bringing the absolute best and most brilliant lighting designer, Arlo Guthrie, for some new production for the Minneapolis and Chicago shows.

Part 1 of a mini-documentary series following Liquid Music virtual residency artists Poliça and stargaze as they collaborated on a fall 2016 premiere performance. 

Considering the political events over the past year, has the overall project evolved in reflection of our current moment?
A deepening of our determination to create in spite of the capitalistic fires that seek to burn all creative freedoms! Making music with a large group of people; having to listen to each other, let go of expectations and self-interest, being quiet or speaking out/having a solo when the group needs you to... these are qualities of creating art with lots of people and those are the qualities of rebelling against the current political time we are in. This is not a time to give up; not a time to stop creating. Love songs and love in action is anti-fascist.

You are releasing Music for the Long Emergency as an album Feb 16! How do you feel on the eve of its debut?
I’m so very ready to be performing again alongside s t a r g a z e and the Poliça family. This is our 4th album and I feel very grateful to be where we are and be able to perform these songs around the world!  We are also bringing the band Divide and Dissolve to Minneapolis and Chicago to open the show. Check their music out – they use noise music to literally dissolve white supremacy from the clubs where they play. Their music is intensely moving and beautifully brave.      

Liquid Music alum Daniel Wohl is working on an overture for Music for the Long Emergency. How are you developing this piece with him? How has his participation in the project contributed to its growth?
We won’t rehearse with the full group until February 12th at MASS MOCA (three days before its debut!) but Daniel and I have been in touch on building the vocal melody for his piece so I luckily had a head start! It’s going to be a beautiful addition to the Music for the Long Emergency; in fact I think it was the missing piece.

Catch POLIÇA and s t a r g a z e's performance at First Avenue on Wednesday, February 21, 2018 with special guests Divide and Dissolve, IN/VIA. Purchase tickets to the performance here.

Follow POLIÇA:
Website: http://www.thisispolica.com/
Twitter: @thisispolica
Instagram: @thisispolica
Facebook: facebook.com/thisispolica

Follow s t a r g a z e:
Website: http://we-are-stargaze.com/
Twitter: @wearestargaze
Instagram: @we_are_stargaze
Facebook: facebook.com/wearestargaze/

Follow Liquid Music for Updates and Announcements: 
Twitter: @LiquidMusicSPCO
Instagram: @LiquidMusicSeries  
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On the Spectrum of Pop with Anna Meredith and Har-di-har by Liquid Music

 photo: Kate Bones

photo: Kate Bones

The beauty of living in a time when genre boundaries have mostly dissolved is discovering the infinite possibilities left in the void they left behind. These liminal spaces have been Liquid Music’s bread and butter since its conception — and for good reason: when genre is stripped away audiences are empowered to listen in new ways and have the chance to really take the time to discover themselves in something unfamiliar. Performers are given permission to fully self-actualize, to test the boundaries, and take risks. This genreless world also brings up some interesting and less than obvious questions. For example: what is “pop” music? 

Is it a catchy tune?
Is it “popular?”
Is it an arbitrary list of 40 songs?
Does it have to have words?
Do you have to remember the words?
Does it have to have a beat?
Do I have to dance to it?
Would my mom like it???

The aforementioned beauty is: we don’t have to answer! Better yet, we can listen, see, and hear artists explore these questions with unparalleled nuance. Regarding “pop,” composer/performer/multi-instrumentalist Anna Meredith complicates the question. Meredith is in many ways the ideal Liquid Music artist — a trained, acclaimed and oft commissioned composer that dove headfirst into the world of electronic indie band-dom. 

In preparation for her Liquid Music/Walker Art Center Midwest premiere, we wanted to find out more about how Meredith has so fluidly navigated her incredibly prolific and diverse career. To do so we asked local collage/art-pop duo Har-di-har (Julie and Andrew Thoreen), whose music similarly utilizes intricate instrumentation with incisive chamber aesthetics, to find out more about Meredith’s practice. 

- Patrick Marschke, LM Blog Contributor


 Har-di-har (Andrew and Julie Thoreen) photo: Taylor Donsky

Har-di-har (Andrew and Julie Thoreen) photo: Taylor Donsky

[portions of this interview were edited for length and clarity]

Andrew Thoreen:  Was there a specific thing that led you into pop, electronic and IDM music, in addition to doing traditional composition alongside that?

Anna Meredith: I wasn’t someone who was composing as a kid. I didn’t understand that composition was even a career I could do so I was actually performing and playing in bands and choirs, playing clarinet and drums and stuff way before I wrote any music. I went on to eventually study composition, it was a much more singular and kind of focused thing. Traditionally composition is a very isolated activity where you write on your own and you are expected to be a sort of genius who doesn’t interact with other people that much; you write an exquisite score on paper and you hand it to someone and that's kind of the end of your involvement. Quite often, the piece itself is only played once so it's all about this craftsmanship behind the scenes, and I think even though I was and do really enjoy that side of working, I also missed the performance and I missed some energy — even with a big orchestra, I wasn't getting quite enough power that sometimes I wanted. With electronics I can be in control from start to finish, everything from instrumentation to how its performed to performing a big part of the performance myself means that I'm not relying on anybody else. It’s kind of a control freak thing. I just had a desire to have a bit more control, have a bit more fun, to be able to really get into music that I was repeating and performing over and over again, rather than making brand new things for each show. 

Andrew: Another thing you mentioned was the tragedy of putting so much time into one piece and only having it performed once.

Right. Traditionally I’ve spent six months, or even longer, writing a piece that's performed once and has no recordings — and that’s the idea. A lot of composers I know are really happy with that kind of equation: that the effort put in is equal to a single occasion. I just couldn’t live with it. Sometimes it felt that I was giving so much and then quite often the piece was being played to an audience of people who were just waiting to get to the Dvorak in the second half of the concert and get through your piece. That felt wrong, whereas there is a development and evolution to the electronic music I’m doing with the band but broadly, a lot of them are playing the same tracks in slightly different ways that we work on. It's a really lovely thing performing for people and watching them know the songs and sing along. That was a bit an eye-opener for me. Suddenly thinking: Oh, this is about familiarity and this is about making bits of music that you really love and believe in and then putting them out in the world to really exist. Classical music often doesn't “exist.” If you write the score on paper and if there’s no recording all it is is one experience, this single moment in time, whereas here there is this physical object, this album, you can hold this thing and pick it up and you can listen to it day or night… being able to make something that exists in the world, it’s quite cool.

Andrew: Right, the “Album as a form” is wonderful and really not that different from the idea of a Concerto or Symphony especially in its development in pop music. It has infinite possibilities within, it's just a constraint of time.

And we don’t even need that constraint! We could easily have an album that is 100 hours long streamed online.

I wonder if it will change because now, certainly people don't like symphonies in quite the same way. I wonder if our idea of a 12 track album will be gone in 20 years. It's a reflection of what we expect. But for now, it feels nice. It feels like you're sort of saying, okay, I've got 40 minutes to an hour to play with and create an amazing shape or journey through this time. I’m in control of this experience... Well, you say you are in control but obviously with streaming people are jumping around tracks and playing the favorite ones and skipping the ones they don't like but you at least can try.

Julie: I was actually watching the BBC Proms piece, “Hands Free,” and I was just thinking the whole time how it was written and how it was directed and then conducted in the moment. It made me just think about “play.” It was like a big playground.

It was a commission for a big Youth Orchestra, 160 kids, massive, they’re amazing, they're the sort of best youth orchestra in the UK. The commission was initially about trying to celebrate or highlight skills that you have as a musician that aren't about playing your instrument — communication and rhythm and precision and intricacy and performance ability — but that aren't about picking up your cello. They asked me initially to write a clapping piece, but I eventually realized that just clapping is pretty painful and, to me, not that interesting to listen to — so that's why I started to bring in all the beatboxing and body percussion and I worked with a choreographer to kind of highlight it all. It was a really interesting experience — some of the kids were quite reluctant at first. Classical players like to have something to look at even if it’s not telling them anything, even if their paper is just saying “TACET,” don't play this movement, it’s a security thing about projecting and performing to the audience.

I really wanted to make sure there was no sheet music. I have a graphic score for reference but I don't give it to the performers because I thought they would clutch onto this paper as if it was the Holy Grail. To a certain degree it's about just saying: “This is what material is.” You wouldn't question it if I asked you to turn your bow over and tap it with the wood or stick this whatever in your trumpet. You just say, “This is what the piece is: put down your instrument, turn away your music stand, stand up. Do this sequence and these movements and.” To have them make the connection that getting the movement quality right, getting your arm straight or your elbows high is as important for that piece as getting the right phrasing or notes for playing your solo violin piece. It was a big challenge for them to work on. It’s developed a lot since it was first premiered because each new group can check out previous performances. 

I really like it because there's a certain self-sufficiency to the piece. You don't need any special training, you don't even need to own any instruments. And there is an equality to that — typically in an orchestra, there is a lot of hierarchy: the lead violin is “more important” and so on. With this piece everyone has to work equally otherwise it fails.

Andrew: I am curious about your experience as a multi-instrumentalist: How do you balance all that goes into being a touring/performing instrumentalist and singer with your compositional practice? 

My instrumental skills are so much worse than everybody else's in the band! So everything that I do I’ve designed around my own limits. I play the clarinet but I’m nowhere near the band skill-wise, they are all total professionals. I’m not an amazing singer but I love singing so the songs I sing on are ones that work around where my little squeaky five-year-old voice can work. The idea is sort of “warts and all” — this is who I am and what I do. I would feel weird to have an amazing singer or a brilliant clarinet player. I wanted to sing, I want to play my clarinet, I wanted to smash the shit out of some drums. Keeping up technique is not something I do as much as I should, partly because I have the others making me look good. But the balance thing I do find quite difficult because I’m trying to juggle this balance of touring and big new commissions and a film soundtrack — it's very difficult to do. 

In the past I would write a bit of music for months and that would be all I would do. Now I have to keep breaking it up to go on tour. I’ve definitely been at points where taken far too much on and I've ended up in the tour bus frantically trying to write, laptop bumping over the road as I try and get through it, so it's a tough balance and I'm kind of I'm kind of working on it.

  gif: Kate Bones

gif: Kate Bones

Julie: Do you typically compose at the computer?

I do. For me, the most important thing is the pacing and the shape and the drama. I'm not a very good pianist and I don’t think improvising helps me make strong decisive music that has a really good shape. So the first thing I do is get a blank paper and I draw timeline across it and then I draw these very graphic shapes which are the kind of drama of the music. 

Julie: Before you have even written a note?

Yeah! It’s like pacing a story, controlling the shape of the thing. It’s quite often these big angular build-ups. It helps me really control the narrative. And then I work backward from these timelines. 

I draw these shapes and then I have to make the music work around these shapes to make them the clearest and strongest version of themselves. Strength is something I’m always really looking for in music. I want to strip away things. I don’t want to make music that is just layers of sound, or that the identity is created solely through texture. 

Julie: How do you take these pieces/songs constructed in the studio and translate them to a live setting? 

Not everything is played live — some stuff is backing tracks and some is sampled. It's all still very electronic.

I’ve taken the album version and made space in the arrangements for the players. It’s a combination of machines and humans. A battle for supremacy. I’m not someone that feels that everything must be made by humans. I get that there is a real purity that comes from that but it would be impossible with this music. I wouldn’t even know where to begin.

From the album side, I then create a version that’s the live version that cuts things out so that the space for real instruments to be with electronic instruments and then I make slightly different arrangements to make it fun/practical for the musicians.

Andrew: I’m curious about how you decide where and when to use acoustic instruments vs. live instruments in the live setting.

Production is definitely not my forte. I’m not the type of person that would be excited to find an amazing old analog synth and write a piece for it. In fact, the whole production side of things tends to scare me a bit. So after I do my graphic-y shape I will then go into Sibelius [music notation software], and write most of the music on that, which has terrible sounds, terrible midi…

Andrew: And really bad feel...
 
...terrible and depressing feel. I find that its a good way to test the bones of the material: if I can make things that sound exciting using shit MIDI sounds then I know that the actual building blocks are good. I try not to jump straight to the production side and to finding the right synth. So when I’m making this mock-up on Sibelius, I’ll have piano sound and a brass sound, it gets some sort of element of color that I like, and then I’ll go into Ableton and I’ll extract all of the MIDI out of Sibelius into Ableton [digital production software]. It's also that I’ve been working in Sibelius much longer than Ableton, so it’s really about making things work for your own skill set.

Andrew: How do you go about finding the digital sounds you end up using?

When initially I started getting into electronics I opened up Ableton and looked at a million different synths and thought, “oh this is amazing!” and started improvising away. It was all really fun but it didn’t sound like me at all, it was all very layer-y and amorphous and lacking direction. I’ve had take a lot of time to evolve this painstaking and (a bit weird) process of graphic score to notated music extracted into the production software. From there, I’m actually not too precise about synth sounds. I have a general idea about color. I generally start with a preset and then muck about with it until I get what I want, but I don’t feel like that’s the strength of the music — the particular sound of the synth, it just sort of gives the right function, the right color. 

In terms of where to include acoustic instruments I think I normally have an idea earlier on about where the acoustic instruments will go.

Julie: What do you hope for the future of classical music and music education?

I’m not someone who sees genres at all. I think we’re living in a quite healthy time. It feels like there’s loads of really interesting music that is a bit of this and a bit of that, a bit Classical, a bit pop, a bit jazz, a bit minimal. I think it’s understandable that people want to place things into certain genres and pigeonhole because it’s familiarity: “I get what this music is, it’s this" or "it sounds a lot like this,” or “she’s clearly listened to tons of this.” I really understand that desire to categorize but I don’t find it helpful at all. I don’t think about genre at all when I’m writing. 

The way that I write the strongest stuff is almost like a denial — I don’t think about whether something is groundbreaking or different or if anybody has done it before. I just try to make a thing to the best of my ability and in the strongest possible way. If that then happens to be a bit different than what people have done before, great, but it’s not something I’m setting out to do. I’m not trying to break rules or do anything new. I think if I set out to do that, I’d write worse music. It would prioritize the rule-breaking instead of the quality or integrity to myself which is important. To do stuff I am proud of. For that reason, I don’t listen to much music, mostly out of security. If I listen to someone else’s music I think, "Wow that’s great, I should try to do that" and then I write just a crap version of it. I just trained myself to be in this little hermit cave where I’m not thinking too much about what other kinds of music are out there. I’m just doing my own thing. 

Julie: It sounds like your main driving force is integrity to yourself as opposed to following the established systems. 

Right. Similar to the “warts and all” approach to performing: honesty is the only way I can think to do it. To present yourself — this is how I sing, it’s a bit squeaky and weak, but who cares. This is me and this is my voice. Trying to be honest to myself.

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A post shared by Har-di-Har (@hardiharmusic) on


Special thanks to Julie and Andrew from Har-di-har for taking the time to interview Anna! You can find out more about there music and upcoming performances here. Follow them on facebook/instagram

Follow Anna Meredith
Website: http://www.annameredith.com/ 
Twitter: @AnnaHMeredith
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/annahmeredith/ 
Instagram: @AnnaMeredith

Follow Liquid Music for updates and announcements: 
Twitter: @LiquidMusicSPCO (twitter.com/LiquidMusicSPCO)
Instagram: @LiquidMusicSeries (instagram.com/liquidmusicseries
Facebook: facebook.com/SPCOLiquidMusic

Liquid Music CONNECTS: Students Visit "Virtually" with Artists in Residence Ashwini Ramaswamy and Jace Clayton aka DJ Rupture by Liquid Music

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By SPCO Education Manager Eleanor Owens GrandPre

Building on the momentum established during last year's debut, 2017.18 marks the second year of CONNECTion Virtual Visits between The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra's CONNECT program and Liquid Music. Serving over 5,500 students, the CONNECT program engages students in grades 1-5 in twelve partnering Minneapolis and Saint Paul public schools. The program is completely free of charge for these schools and provides supplementary music education resources to students with curriculum and support for teachers. The educational resources are paired with SPCO musician visits to each of the participating schools and culminates with a live orchestra concert, curated specifically to bring to life the year's curriculum and theme. The feedback from the schools in our annual evaluations increasingly indicates that teachers are looking for more performances for their students. CONNECTion Virtual Visits provide a special way to introduce students to living artists while engaging them with performances right in their own classroom.

This year’s collaboration features Minneapolis-based Bharatanatyam dancer/choreographer Ashwini Ramaswamy and composer/DJ/author Jace Clayton. Ramaswamy is celebrated for her ability to “[weave] together, both fearfully and joyfully, the human and the divine” (New York Times), and Clayton has been described as a  “pan-global, post-everything superhero” (Wire). Ramaswamy and Clayton are this season’s Virtual Artists in Residence for Liquid Music and the students and teachers in the CONNECT program are thrilled to be virtually introduced and captivated by their art.

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Ashwini rehearsal by Ed Bock.JPG

Using a shared love of literature and interest in artistically exploring social memory, the two artists will develop an original work for its World Premiere in Liquid Music's 2018.19 season. This type of collaboration is a first for both of them. Students in CONNECT’s twelve participating schools will be introduced to these artists through a video introduction made by the artists themselves. Liquid Music audiences will be able to follow their creative process on the Liquid Music blog as Ramaswamy and Clayton share behind-the-scenes insight into their collaboration. 

The  “selfie-style” video introduction offers a personal look at the artists, early on in their collaborative process. The videos are accessible and give CONNECT students unique insight into the initial stages of creating new work.  

After viewing the introduction videos, students and teachers will collect questions and submit them to the artists via their own “selfie” videos. This shared video exchange is a special part of this CONNECTion Virtual Visits. Part of the charm of the interaction is that students have the chance to be curious and experience music they might not normally hear by artists previously unknown to them.  

Finally, completing the circle, the artists will record a video, answering selected questions that were posed by the elementary aged students. Each full school watches the final question and answer video – the students whose questions were picked to be answered by the artists get a chance in the spotlight! (See last year's final video by 2016.17 Artist in Virtual Residence Nathalie Joachim.)

The limits faced in the schools with complex scheduling and limited funds are real, but this program works to engage students and expose them to new music and art in an effective, yet efficient way. With just a laptop and bit of time, the CONNECTion Virtual Visit provides a unique and transformative experience for students and teachers, fostering discovery and interest in contemporary music and multidisciplinary approaches to art. 

Keep up with Liquid Music Artists in Virtual Residence Ashwini Ramaswamy and Jace Clayton through journal entries and updates on the LM blog:
 Artist in Virtual Residence: Ashwini Ramaswamy
Artist in Virtual Residence: Jace Clayton/DJ Rupture

Follow Ashwini Ramaswamy:
Website: http://www.ashwini-ramaswamy.com/
Instagram: @ashwiniramaswamy (instagram.com/ashwiniramaswamy/)
Facebook: facebook.com/ashwini.ramaswamy

Follow Jace Clayton:
Website: jaceclayton.com
Instagram: @djrupture (instagram.com/djrupture)
Facebook: facebook.com/DjRupture/
Twitter: @djrupture (twitter.com/djrupture)

Follow Liquid Music for Updates and Announcements: 
Twitter: @LiquidMusicSPCO (twitter.com/LiquidMusicSPCO)
Instagram: @LiquidMusicSeries (instagram.com/liquidmusicseries
Facebook: facebook.com/SPCOLiquidMusic

Interview: Elayna Waxse on Collaboration by Liquid Music

In late October, TU Dance and Bon Iver spent a weekend in residence at April Base Studios to begin work on their spring 2018 Liquid Music world premiere. We asked Elayna Waxse of TU Dance to reflect on the excitement, challenges, and "buzzing" creativity involved in early project development. 

  All photos by Graham Tolbert

All photos by Graham Tolbert

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How did you come to be part of this project?

I first officially met Toni and Uri [Artistic Directors of TU Dance] in 2011, and was invited to join the company in 2012. Being involved in this project is one of many perks of my job.

What excites/intrigues/challenges you in creating with Bon Iver (and performing live with the ensemble)?

I’ve already experienced the power of Uri Sands’ choreography when he is working with just the dancers, and I’ve experienced the power of Bon Iver’s music. Now I’m excited to see what happens when these powers combine.

Have you done anything similar to this before?

I’ve been involved in several projects that utilize original musical compositions, but none quite as collaborative as this one. In the past it's been more remote, with musicians and dancers creating their work separately, and collaborating to make the two independent works merge into one cohesive unit. It’s been straight up magical to witness both the dance and music taking shape at the same time and in the same space.

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Tell us about the first residency weekend with Bon Iver at April Base in October. What was your method for collaboration?

The first word that comes to mind is surreal. It felt like the room was literally buzzing with the amount of creative energy being cultivated.  We came with some raw movement material, but mostly worked with ideas generated in the moment in response to the music. Customarily dancers respond to the music with movement, so it was pretty electrifying to realize that at times the reverse was happening and the music was responding to our movements. 

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Do you have any insights, inspirations or curiosities as you observe the musicians’ process?

It’s really inspiring to see the musicians bring their individual artistry and brilliance to the group, while also feeding off one another as they create new material. One of the things I love about working with TU Dance is that everyone brings 100% of their commitment, intensity, drive, and creativity to the work. I sense the same from the musicians. I can’t wait to see what the combination of these two groups produces. 

Finally, on a more personal note, why is this project important to you?

I believe live music drastically alters the space in which dance exists, and maybe the opposite can occur as well? I think it’s important to explore the connection.

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  Photo by Michael Slobodian

Photo by Michael Slobodian

Elayna Waxse is a Twin Cities-based dancer, choreographer, teacher and member of TU Dance. She's performed locally with Minnesota Dance Theatre, Black Label Movement, BodyCartography Project and Live Action Set, and internationally with Cie. Ismael Ivo e Grupo Biblioteca do Corpo at ImPulsTanz Vienna International Dance Festival 2014 and in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Waxse also creates her own choreographic work, which has been presented by Minnesota Dance Theatre, Zenon Dance Zone, Bryant Lake Bowl 9x22, Detroit Dance Race, Public Functionary, and Future Interstates.

 

Waxse will perform with TU Dance in collaboration with Bon Iver at the Palace Theater, commissioned by Liquid Music, on April 19, 20, and 21, 2018. Tickets are currently SOLD OUT. Follow Waxse and TU Dance to keep an eye out for additional local performances in the future: 

Follow Elayna Waxse:
Website: https://www.elaynawaxse.com
Twitter: @ewaxse

Follow TU Dance:
Website: http://www.tudance.org
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TU.Dance.MN/
Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/tudance

Follow Liquid Music for updates and announcements: 
Twitter: @LiquidMusicSPCO (twitter.com/LiquidMusicSPCO)
Instagram: @LiquidMusicSeries (instagram.com/liquidmusicseries
Facebook: facebook.com/SPCOLiquidMusic

JT Bates on Collaboration by Liquid Music

In late October, local powerhouses TU Dance and Bon Iver met up for a weekend-long residency at April Base Studios just outside of Eau Claire to begin work on their spring premiere for Liquid Music. We spoke with JT Bates, a Saint Paul-based drummer, curator, and producer who will be featured as one of the band members on the project.

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By Katie Hare
All photos: Graham Tolbert


For decades, drummer JT Bates has been involved in a wide array of musical things. As an artist, he has dabbled in many genres and worked closely with a variety of musicians. He has toured with fellow improvisers Tony Malaby, Anthony Cox, John Medesk, and Craig Taborn; and has played alongside some of his personal favorite singer/songwriters Pieta Brown, Phil Cook, Erik Koskinen, Dead Man Winter, and the Pines. For 20 years, Bates’ well-loved modern jazz/avant garde series “Jazz Implosion” has maintained a strong identity as a significant staple of the Twin Cities music and jazz scene. He is a recipient of American Composer Forum’s “MECA” grant, with which he made his first solo recording, Open Relationships, in 2015. Bates is also a lifelong member of two bands: Fat Kid Wednesdays, a jazz trio featuring Adam Linz and Michael Lewis, and rock 'n roll outfit Alpha Consumer featuring Jeremy Ylvisaker and Michael Lewis. Currently he is working on two records – one for Michael Rossetto and David Huckfelt, and another with the Bates/Cox/Malaby trio and his latest group Grain, a Hammond B3 organ trio.

Eagerly awaiting his performance with TU Dance and Bon Iver next Spring (April 19-21) at the Palace Theater in Saint Paul, we asked Bates to tell us a bit about the project's creative process thus far. Here, he discusses what he experienced within the first residency at April Base and reflects on the challenges, curiosities, and motivations of collaboration.

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Initially, how did you become a part of this collaboratative project?
Justin [Vernon] asked me if I was up for being in the band. The answer was "yes".

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In creating new music and performing with Bon Iver/TU Dance, what excites, intrigues, or challenges you?
Improvising is definitely a home base for me, so creating new music and collaborating is something I always look forward to. It's fascinating to watch the different combinations of mediums and people and what comes of them. This, of course, can also be a challenge. Collaboration doesn't always fall into place right away – people have to learn each others' processes. Creating in groups is such a growing experience. Putting up what you might consider to be some of your best ideas and having them fall to wayside can be difficult, but learning to rise through those frustrations is ultimately a beautiful lesson in understanding that a collaboration is about creating something larger than any one of us could on our own.

Have you worked with dancers or dance companies before?
I have been involved in a fair amount of dance projects, and in different capacities, as both composer and performer. I was involved in a great collaboration in 2015 called Stripe Tease through the Walker Art Center (and toured multiple other cities) with choreographer Chris Schlichting and composer Jeremy Ylvisaker. Initially for that project, we did some days of improvising, but in different areas of the building as Chris wanted to have the sounds and movements not necessarily dictated by one another. Chris and Jeremy then took audio and video recordings and began to find combinations that they liked and, after that, brought myself and Michael Lewis back in to develop and rehearse those ideas. That was an interesting way to see what stuck from what we had worked on initially, and how those things had grown/morphed into their own. I have also worked with Zenon Dance Company on a few different pieces, including Luciana Achugar's "Molten Substances."

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Tell us about the residency weekend at April Base in October. What was your method for collaboration?
I just tried to be open to the sights and sounds around me. Specifically as an instrumentalist, I brought a variety of gear along – I didn't really know what the palette would be. I started with a rather traditional drum set and eventually added more electronic percussion in as it seemed to be leaning in that direction. Conversely, the third day, we ended up in a very beautiful, quieter vibe with voice, guitar, brushes and saxophone. Not sure how much of all of that will remain in the final piece, but this is exactly the unknown map that I love to follow on these initial days of creating.   

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What are your hopes for the project as it continues to move forward?
I hope that the collaboration continues to grow more and more into it's own. That we all can find something new together, as well as for ourselves. Something we can feel proud of as a group, and something that we can take away with us to other things we are involved in. And that the audience might see or hear something unexpected or new to them – that they might feel something different or maybe think about something in their own life a little differently. I guess that's my hope with most art. 

On a more personal note, why is this project important to you?
Three things: 
- I finally get to be a part of Liquid Music!
- I get to play some shows at the Palace Theater.
- Justin got BJ Burton to play some shows, and I get to play those shows too.

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Bates will perform with Bon Iver in collaboration with TU Dance at the Palace Theater, commissioned by Liquid Music, on April 19, 20, and 21, 2018. Tickets are currently SOLD OUT, but it's hard to miss Bates considering his active involvement in the Twin Cities music scene...

Follow JT Bates for updates and event listings:
Website: http://www.jtbatesdrums.com/
Instagram: @floortomhanks
Twitter: @jt_bates

Follow Liquid Music for updates and announcements: 
Twitter: @LiquidMusicSPCO (twitter.com/LiquidMusicSPCO)
Instagram: @LiquidMusicSeries (instagram.com/liquidmusicseries
Facebook: facebook.com/SPCOLiquidMusic

Liquid Music Artist in Virtual Residence: Jace Clayton Dj/Rupture by Liquid Music

Liquid Music intern Ines Guanchez profiles 2017.18 Liquid Music Artist in Virtual Residence Jace Clayton, exploring Clayton's music and writing, including his previous Liquid Music appearances. Over the course of the next year Clayton will work with Minneapolis based dancer and choreographer Ashwini Ramaswamy to develop a new work for music and dance to be premiered in the 2018.19 Liquid Music season.

Described by The Wire as a “pan-global, post-everything superhero,” Liquid Music is proud to welcome back Manhattan-based composer, DJ and writer Jace Clayton as one of our Artists in Virtual Residence for the 2017.18 Season. Also known as DJ /rupture, Jace Clayton’s journey began in Massachusetts, where he was a founding member of Toneburst, a DIY experimental electronic art/music/DJ collective. Clayton began to gain exposure in 2001, when he released a three-turntable, sixty-minute mixtape named “Gold Teeth Thief,” which was named one of the “50 Records of the Year” by The Wire. In “Gold Teeth Thief,” Clayton created a groundbreaking, highly-influential mix that combined hip-hop, Jamaican dub, Japanese noise, London jungle, and many other diverse genres.

 Jace Clayton by Erez Avissar

Jace Clayton by Erez Avissar

Clayton has developed a strong emphasis on working with a DIY global-scale ethic. His more recent projects include The Julius Eastman Memorial Dinner (a touring performance piece that debuted in Liquid Music's inaugural season) and Room 21 (an evening-length composition for 20 musicians). He has also composed original music for ensembles such as the Bang On A Can All-Stars and collaborated with various artists, including filmmakers Jem Cohen, Joshua Oppenheimer, poet Elizabeth Alexander, singer Norah Jones, and guitarist Andy Moor.

One of Clayton’s more prominent projects is Sufi Plug Ins, a free suite of ‘software-as-art’ music released in 2012 with seven audio software tools that readjust and retune western sounds according to non-western notions of sound with the goal of providing an alternative to the Eurocentric technology of late capitalism.

 Screenshot of the Sufi PlugIns Maqam synthesizer Bayati

Screenshot of the Sufi PlugIns Maqam synthesizer Bayati

This is a concept that is prominent in Clayton's book Uproot, which recounts his experiences traveling the world listening to music and understanding how sounds are created and used. Uproot explores the concept of “audio terroir,” described as “the ways in which environments… can gestate and nurture novel sounds.”

Clayton last shared his talent and music with Liquid Music audiences in April 2016, premiering a composition for Saul Williams and the Mivos Quartet at the James J. Hill Reference Library in celebration of National Poetry Month. This season, Clayton will be developing a new work with Minneapolis-based dancer/choreographer Ashwini Ramaswamy, commissioned by Liquid Music and premiering in the 2018.19 season. Make sure to follow their artistic progress on the Liquid Music Blog.

FOLLOW THE VIRTUAL RESIDENCY:
Liquid Music Artist in Visual Residence: Ashwini Ramaswamy

FOLLOW JACE CLAYTON:
Website: jaceclayton.com
Instagram: @djrupture (instagram.com/djrupture)
Facebook: facebook.com/DjRupture/
Twitter: @djrupture (twitter.com/djrupture)

FOLLOW LIQUID MUSIC FOR UPDATES AND ANNOUNCEMENTS 
Twitter: @LiquidMusicSPCO (twitter.com/LiquidMusicSPCO)
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Liquid Music Artist in Virtual Residence: Ashwini Ramaswamy by Liquid Music

  Ashwini Ramaswamy by Ed Bock

Ashwini Ramaswamy by Ed Bock

Minneapolis-based Bharatanatyam dancer and choreographer Ashwini Ramaswamy is one of this year's Liquid Music Series' 2017.18 Artists in Virtual Residence. Known for her ability to "weave together both fearfully and joyfully, the human and the divine" (New York Times), Ramaswamy will be bringing her craft to the 2018.19 Liquid Music season in collaboration with DJ, composer, and author Jace Clayton (our other Artist in Virtual Residence) for a premiere of their new work. Throughout the process, Ramaswamy will document her personal experiences with the project. Here, in her first writing entry, she reflects on her ancestral roots, wandering art museums in New York City, and getting to know Clayton as a collaborator through conversation, performance, and artistic influences.

Blog Entry #1
By Ashwini Ramaswamy

The new project for Liquid Music that I am working on with DJ/composer/author Jace Clayton has been ebbing and flowing in my head for a few years. I have long been interested in the restlessness and unpredictability of cultural memory, which is deeply embedded in my own transnational existence. Like a phantom limb, my Indian ancestry lingers with me, informing my artistic work and daily interactions and sparking my interest in the specter of cultural memory. I wanted to go outside my comfort zone to create an organic collaboration with a DJ and composer with whom I would have otherwise never partnered. Liquid Music curator Kate Nordstrum connected me with Jace, a master of electronic manipulation, who has worked on a number of past Liquid Music programs. The collaboration is also alien for him, too: he’s never before partnered with a choreographer. We come from very different artistic spheres and backgrounds, and are using this Virtual Residency to find our connection points and weave them into the new work.

This July, I went to New York City to gather inspiration and have an initial meeting with Jace about our project. I used to live in New York, and always savor my visits. More often than not I am there to perform, so when I have the luxury of enjoying the city without the pressures of a performance, I try to take full advantage. I visited the Whitney Museum, the Brooklyn Museum, saw a performance at Lincoln Center, and Jace accompanied me to an exhibit at the Rubin Museum called The World is Sound curated by my friend Risha Lee. Risha was gracious enough to give us a personal tour of the exhibit, which took over two years to conceive and execute.

Lincoln%20Center.jpg
Whitney%20Museum.jpg

At the end of October, Jace came to the Twin Cities for our second meeting, which also involved the consumption of art. We attended the first event of Liquid Music’s sixth season – Breaking English, by Rafiq Bhatia, with an opening piece, Spiritual Leader, by Ian Chang, at the Walker Art Center. Integrating other artists’ performances, readings, or exhibits into our collaborative process is something that I hope will continue in the coming months – that undercurrent of creativity helps spur conversations that can go in unexpected directions. 

  Ramaswamy and Clayton outside of SPCO/Liquid Music offices in Saint Paul.

Ramaswamy and Clayton outside of SPCO/Liquid Music offices in Saint Paul.

  Clayton performing at Honey in NE Minneapolis.

Clayton performing at Honey in NE Minneapolis.

Artistic inspirations have been the main crux of what Jace and I have discussed in our meetings thus far – from Abram Tertz’s A Voice Form the Chorus to Eduardo Galeano’s Memory of Fire trilogy, the work of visual artist Doris Salcedo to a documentary on musician David Byrne. While our project is still in its infancy, these discussions help us navigate and discover each other’s working styles and influences. I played Carnatic (south Indian classical) compositions for Jace at the Ragamala studios in Uptown Minneapolis, and I saw him do an experimental, improvised DJ set at Honey in the Northeast neighborhood. By our next meeting, we will have a narrative framework in place that will further define the work and drive it forward. 

We’ll have more to share soon – until next time!

NYC meeting.jpg

Follow the Liquid Music blog for more entries and updates from Ashwini throughout the season – she will continue to share her journey of the project's evolution through a series of posts including writings, photos, and videos!

Follow Ashwini Ramaswamy:
Website: http://www.ashwini-ramaswamy.com/
Instagram: @ashwiniramaswamy (instagram.com/ashwiniramaswamy/)
Facebook: facebook.com/ashwini.ramaswamy

Follow Liquid Music for updates and announcements: 
Twitter: @LiquidMusicSPCO (twitter.com/LiquidMusicSPCO)
Instagram: @LiquidMusicSeries (instagram.com/liquidmusicseries
Facebook: facebook.com/SPCOLiquidMusic

'This World Is Too ____ For You': An Interview With Emily Wells by Liquid Music

By Katie Hare, Liquid Music Intern

On November 16, 2017, New York-based multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, composer, and producer Emily Wells brings the world premiere of her new project, This World Is Too ___ For You to Minneapolis. With our current cultural moment in mind, the project includes arrangements of Wells' music by violinist/composer Michi Wiancko and original visual work designed by Wells exploring the depth of repetition and body movement. 

In anticipation of the project's premiere, we asked Wells a few questions about her creative process, influences, and collaborative experiences in the making of This World Is Too ____ For You, chatted about her beloved dog Oly, and discussed finding a sense of comfort and friendship within art.

 Emily Wells by Shervin Lainez.

Emily Wells by Shervin Lainez.

Tell us a bit about your background and explorations of various musical genres.
I grew up playing the violin and my dad was a musical minister so church music was a big part of my life – like it or not. He took a classical approach, though, more of the Brahms approach to church music. Over years I became really fascinated with writing and recording music. I got a four track when I was a teenager and thought, "This is it. This is so fun". It set my path toward being interested in what a songwriter could do beyond the simple structure of a song, but also through production and layering. Being a string player, I was interested in the sound of an ensemble. In the meantime, I also discovered all sorts of music via whatever was happening, I guess, in the early 2000s. That's sort of the seed of where it started, but it's developed over the years and through every record. Every tour I've learned so much. 

What did you listen to growing up? Was there a particular artist or genre that you were most influenced by?
It was highly classical music. Being a violinist, it was Vivaldi, Beethoven, Brahms, Bach. You know, all of those traditional old guys you learn from. I had an older brother, though, so I had a window outside of my sheltered existence into Nirvana and the Beatles and stuff like that. Also through his girlfriends I was introduced to gods like Tori Amos and Björk. Everyone in my school was into hip-hop, we were all obsessed with Outkast, Tupac. That was all happening at that time. I think I'm revealing my age, perhaps...

As a multi-instrumentalist, what is your favorite instrument to play and why?
I mean, I really love playing the violin because that's what I know how to play. With other instruments, I'm just trying to get an idea across. I also love the voice. Sometimes I hate it because it's mine but for the same reason I love it because it's truly uniquely mine and it's the thing that can express lyrics. 

What inspired and drove you to work on the project, This World Is Too ___ For You?
I had just come back from a European tour and whenever you get back from a tour, you feel kind of washed clean. You have a new mind. You come back to the life that you had created for yourself before you left and have to reorient within that. 

The world we are all inhabiting now is so wild and confusing... I had to find a way to focus inside of that and channel some of the storm. I tried to approach every song structurally and simply, almost in opposition to the way I've created in the past where I can get hung up on the production or what the arrangement will be. Knowing that I was going to hand the songs to Michi Wiancko and also Greg Fox (who is playing drums)—and these players were going to be able to do things on their instruments that I couldn't do on my own in the studio—was incredibly liberating as a writer. It allowed me to think in terms of form, less so in product. I was able to think through ideas more simply. It was such a gift. Working solo and producing so much of my own work is a very alone recording process, and this has enabled me to have these sorts of imaginary friends, even though they won't be imaginary forever! 

Was there a particular setting that helped you in working through this project?

 Wells' studio space in NYC.

Wells' studio space in NYC.

Mostly I recorded in my in my studio in New York, which is a recording studio I've created. It's a humble setting, but it's mine. It has four windows, a little sound booth. It was such a haven. I have a fourteen-year-old pit bull, Oly, who has been at my feet for like every record I've ever made, so she was there snoozing on the couch through the whole process. She can't really walk so much anymore, so I have a giant dog stroller that I walk her to the studio in every day.

I also gave myself a self-imposed residency in the middle of the process. Some friends let me borrow their cabin upstate, so I went there for a week and set up all my gear and wrote there as well. That was interesting after having a focused couple of months in the city, to then take that energy to a really different place and be totally alone. 

Does Oly ever make it on tour with you?
Yes! She came on the road with me several times. Although, I think she may be getting too old now, sadly. She was the best tour companion anyone could ever hope for. She had minimal votes on what restaurant we went to, she would always spoon me at night in the hotel. So, she is pretty perfect.

 Wells' studio space in NYC.

Wells' studio space in NYC.

 Oly the fourteen-year-old pit bull.

Oly the fourteen-year-old pit bull.

How has working with Michi Wiancko helped build the project?
I usually create my own arrangements through recording and performing. I don't often put sheet music in front of a player and say, "okay, go"... I feel my way through the dark. It's more of a recording-oriented process of composition, so this project is really different because A: I wasn't arranging, and B: Michi is a different writer, a different player, she comes from a different background. It has been really fascinating to hear what she has come up with and how these songs called to her as an arranger. I wrote, she responded, and we created something together.

What can we expect from a visual media standpoint? Is this something you have worked with before?
A few tours ago I started adding this element. I got interested first in Pina Bausch, which then opened up my world to other contemporary dance. That has really influenced what the visuals have become. It's not all dance footage – that is part of the footage that I use, but I'm also interested in repetition and how bodies move. I try to focus in on form and find correlations. I don't want to give too much away about what the visuals will be, but I am working on a new piece that is specific to this project. It is going to incorporate a lot of the same ideas that I've used in the past, but with fresh eyes.

Check out some of the ways Wells has explored contemporary dance and body movement in her previous work and performances:

Do you have any pre-performance rituals that you are dedicated to?
I love to go for a run if I can. Also, this sounds so cheesy, but I try to remind myself to enter the experience from a place of gratitude. That's a bit of mantra before I step on stage. 

Is there anything else you would like the audience to know before being introduced to This World Is Too ____ For You?
Going back to the notion of gratitude, just how special it's been for me to write with the SPCO in mind and get to visualize something so specific for the writing process. For artists like me, who often write a record and figure out how we're going to play it live, and then go on the road and play clubs, theaters, churches, etc... You walk into a lot of situations where you have to deal with whatever you have in hand and figure out a way to make it work there. It has been extraordinary for me to get to visualize a performance so far in advance with such specific parameters and know that it could open into these certain ways. I'm really grateful to have had a chance to write in that way.

Prior to and throughout the process of creating This World is Too ____ For You, Wells admirably referred to two books: About Looking by John Berger, and Madness, Rack, and Honey by Mary Ruefle as well as a self-curated musical playlist. Not only did this content help her find a sense of stability within our current cultural moment, but it also stood as a strong symbol of art's purpose and why she continues to create it: 

I started making the playlist as a way to communicate with Michi before we met and then it ended up becoming a real dialogue with myself through the process. If I would hear a song that spoke to me specifically with this project in mind, I would put it on the playlist. Some songs lasted, others didn't. I finished it around the time I went to the cabin for my self-imposed residency and I probably listened to it a hundred times that week. It was truly my friend. I think that's another thing this process has been and also those songs have been to me: a form of friendship. When you're alone making, you have to find friends in those who have come before you – they help make sense of what you're doing. Sometimes making art feels totally senseless, especially when the world has so many things going on that need attention... Those songs spoke to me and reminded me why I make work. They are now imprinted on me in a really specific way – they'll always be in that order in my mind. 

On About Looking and Madness, Rack, and Honey:
I started reading the John Berger book while I was still on tour, so in a way it wasn't so much a part of the process while I was writing, but it was the lead-up. It allowed my mind to push beyond concepts like, "how long are we driving today?" or "what is our soundcheck time?" When you're on the road, you're so day to day, and you need a window to look through to even believe that you'll ever have a future. It's six weeks of a life of repeating the same thing every day. I love how Berger approaches really big concepts through art – art making, looking, thinking, and our relationships to those things. The first essay is about photography and our relationship to it. He references a lot of Susan Sontag's On Photography, which I also picked up. It's a really good conversation between two artists. She's responding to him through her work and he's responding to that. I was moved by the way he made more of her work come to life. I considered this as I was creating This World Is Too ___ For You. Berger's writing helped me understand an intention that I wanted to bring into my process. 

We all approach 'making' differently but 'fear' is also always a part of the process in some way. You have to find a way to move around it. Madness, Rack, and Honey is a book of lectures by Mary Ruefle – it's really interesting because it's so direct, her individuality so present. The thing that hooked me was this lecture she has on fear, speaking directly this idea of "why are we doing this, what's the point?" and how we have to face that as makers. She's a poet and talks a lot about poetry and references poets. She helped me to be brave around language and look for its potency, to explore ideas in really humorous and totally engaged, present ways. Everything is so distracting right now... it's hard not to be caught up in the distractions of the day such as looking at the news. Ruefle really helped ground me in thinking about ideas and not "what did our president do today that's ruining our lives?" These are ideas to be explored and they all relate to each other and to now and the future.

Anyway, I digress, but it was total light for me...

Poems, even when narrative, do not resemble stories. All stories are about battles, of one kind or another, which end in victory and defeat. Everything moves towards the end, when the outcome will be known. Poems, regardless of any outcome, cross the battlefields, tending the wounded, listening to the wild monologues of the triumphant or the fearful. They bring a kind of peace. Not by anaesthesia or easy reassurance, but by recognition and the promise that what has been experienced cannot disappear as if it had never been. Yet the promise is not of a monument. (Who, still on a battlefield, wants monuments?) The promise is that language has acknowledged, has given shelter, to the experience which demanded, which cried out.
— John Berger, (Courtesy of Emily Wells)
Emily Wells live from bowery Ballroom by Karlie Efinger and Scott Carr.JPG


Liquid Music Series presents the world premiere of Emily Wells: This World Is Too ____ For You on Thursday, November 16, 2017, at 7:30pm at Machine Shop in Minneapolis. The performance features violinist/composer Michi Wiancko, percussionist Greg Fox, and musicians from the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. Purchase tickets here.

 

Follow Emily Wells:
Website: emilywellsmusic.com
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCtMNKOMwMrV1Ft-I4_c-JPQ
Instagram: @emilywellsmusic
Twitter: @emilywellsmusic

Follow Liquid Music for updates and announcements: 
Twitter: @LiquidMusicSPCO (twitter.com/LiquidMusicSPCO)
Instagram: @LiquidMusicSeries (instagram.com/liquidmusicseries
Facebook: facebook.com/SPCOLiquidMusic

Ian Chang's Contraption by Liquid Music

by Patrick Marschke

 Ian Chang by Sara Heathcott

Ian Chang by Sara Heathcott

This weekend Son Lux's drummer Ian Chang makes his way to the cities to perform Spiritual Leader, a solo performance consisting of drums, a laptop, and an infinite palette of sounds. Although the technology involved in making his performance possible was developed very recently, Ian is part of a long tradition of musicians that have consistently and completely redefined what it means to be a drummer by their ingenious embrace of new technologies.

  Trap Kit Innovator  Warren "Baby" Dodds

Trap Kit Innovator Warren "Baby" Dodds

Drums or “membranophones” are very old and ubiquitous instruments, the earliest archaeological evidence from as early 5500 BC, second to voice as a tool for musical expression. The modern drum set as we know it today is, by comparison, very young. Its conception was spurred by technology and a few visionary innovators at the turn of the 20th century. The “Trap Kit” (short for contraption) was a way for a single musician to cover all of the parts of a marching drum section: bass drum and cymbals (the hi-hat) with the feet, and snare drums/toms with the hands. It was practical and malleable — need a cowbell for the bridge? Attach one to the bass drum. Need a gong? Why not THREE. By 1940s the trap kit was distilled to the drum kit we recognize today.

   Sonny Greer with Duke Ellington  and a ton of stuff

What is fascinating and unique about the drum set is that unlike instruments like piano and violin, whose designs have remained practically identical for centuries, the modular nature of the instrument has allowed its practitioners the ability to modify and redefine their sound through the nearly limitless potential customization of the “standard” kit: each drummer can build their instrument to accommodate the specific needs of their musical situation.

Fast forward to the 70s. Suddenly, sounds weren’t solely being created by vibrating membranes anymore. Synthesized sounds began to creep into nearly every genre — sine waves, envelopes, noise, and filters sought to replicate the familiar and, more thrillingly, created sounds that had never been heard before. Sonic explorers as they tend to be, drummers found ways of incorporating these new-found sounds into their contraptions.

  Kraftwerk’s Karl Bartos wired up one of the first electronic “drum sets” to accompany the band’s  revolutionary pulsing synths .

Kraftwerk’s Karl Bartos wired up one of the first electronic “drum sets” to accompany the band’s revolutionary pulsing synths.

Along with the 80s  came the introduction of the drum machine: notably the LinnDrum and Roland TR-808, whose rhythmic infallibility was initially seen as a threat to be-sticked percussionists. Why lug around a bunch of heavy empty cylinders and their human counterparts when you could plug in a slick little box that could fill a room with groovy beats with the push of a button? Critics accused the drum machine’s gridlocked pulsations of coldness and sterility. Musicians like Prince thought differently. Ever-adaptable, drummers persisted and with the advent of digital samplers found new ways cue up these sounds through pads played with fingers on an MPC or through stick-triggered rubber drum-like pads.

In the 90’s and early 2000s the advent of affordable laptops meant that drummers could add some serious computational processing to their contraptions, giving them instant access to any conceivable sound, signal processing, looping, and interactive generative performance environments. As thrilling as all these new sounds and ways of accessing them was (and still is!), there was something missing. Acoustic drums have a mystical quality: the sensitivity to touch, the way their incredibly complex frequencies interact with a room and our bodies. In the past decade, a few pioneering drummers have come up with some incredibly creative solutions to this acoustic/electronic divide by simply taking the best of both worlds. Below is a completely un-exhaustive look into those methods culminating in an in-depth look at what makes Ian’s approach stand out:

Deantoni Parks || The Micro Sampler

Deantoni maps tiny samples to a midi keyboard, much like one would with the above mentioned MPC sampler, while maintaining the nuanced control and accuracy provided by piano-like keys. He sacrifices his right hand and makes up for it with a completely inhuman left hand. Seriously, how does he do that?? The shortness of the samples obscures and abstracts their source, creating an incredible percussive and musical palette framed by Deantoni’s rigorous and patient song structures.

Nate Wood || One Man Band

Nate Wood sounds like 5 people even when he is only playing drums in Kneebody. Somehow he has figured out a way to forgo having a band all together, because why not? Here he plays synths, electric bass, and sings all without dropping a beat OR a stick. WHAT?

Josh Dion || Soul and Rhythm

Josh’s approach is similar to both Deantoni and Nate with a small synth covered by his right hand with the addition of an incredibly soulful voice, killer songwriting, and unparalleled groove.

Martin Dosh || Hometown Hero

Twin Cities local Martin Dosh uses a band’s worth of instruments and slick looping techniques to slowly unfurl fully fledged songs.  

You’ll notice that all these videos have something in common: each drummer has an additional interface or instrument to create the non-drum sounds, which means they sacrifice a hand and end up juggling an instrument or two. It is incredible, but certainly not intuitive. Sunhouse Sensory Percussion, the technology used by Ian, came up with a novel solution to this: a sensor analyzes the frequency information of a given drum and uses machine learning to map samples to 10 distinct “zones”. What makes this different than a traditional electronic drum or drum trigger is that these 10 zones flow seamlessly into each other, creating hybrid sounds rather than stark contrasts. Finally the physicality and nuance of drums has been translated to the digital realm with revolutionary implications. Ian Chang was one of the first musicians to utilize this system and has completely embodied the technologies' potential.

If you watch a muted video of Ian playing it looks like a drummer playing drums. Unmute and a world of sounds spills out. The power of the technology comes from its intuitiveness, and at the hands of a master practitioner like Ian, the results are unprecedented.

We asked Ian a few questions about the project:

PM: What came first, the technology or the idea of having a solo set?
IC: The technology came first. I started putting ideas together for a solo project when beta testing Sensory Percussion.  

What aspects of the technology are you excited to explore in the future?
I'm excited to collaborate with people more on my next release. Doing the first release solo has given me the opportunity to dive in pretty deep on the technology, and I think it has some exciting collaborative possibilities!  

How do you find your sounds/samples?  
I'm lucky to be part of a musical community where there is no shortage of people who are incredible at their instruments, so I'm always trying to tap into that as much as possible.  There's nothing like the sound of somebody playing an instrument that they have a deep relationship with.  

Are there solo drums + electronics projects that you admire?  
Definitely. Shigeto, Deantoni Parks and Dosh come to mind.  

Is there music that was particularly influential on this project?  
Not intentionally, I think any musical influences are more subconscious.

Have you used this setup in collaborative settings?
I have! Both in the studio as a writing/ arranging tool as well as in live settings both improvised and not. It's super flexible!

Do you think that it is important for listeners to know how your music is made/generated?
The goal is to make music that can stand alone, so that it doesn't require a footnote for people to connect to it.  However, I do think that the process is central to what makes this project unique, so it's both important and unimportant.  

How is the live iteration of this project different than the EP?  
Not very.  The challenge I placed on myself with this EP was that every track would be made up of unedited performances.  The main difference is that the experience of seeing it live is visual, both in terms of seeing it performed and also there is a lighting component to the show.


See it live: Ian opens for Rafiq Batia
Saturday Oct. 21

FOLLOW LIQUID MUSIC FOR UPDATES AND ANNOUNCEMENTS 
Twitter: @LiquidMusicSPCO (twitter.com/LiquidMusicSPCO)
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Facebook: facebook.com/SPCOLiquidMusic

Patrick Marschke is a Minneapolis-based percussionist, composer, and electronic musician trying to make all of those things into one thing. He is a member of the Minneapolis-based music collective Six Families and occasionally writes about music for the SPCO, the SPCO’s Liquid Music Series, and Walker Art Center in addition to working at The American Composers Forum