Walker Art Center

I'm not exactly sure how this happened... by Liquid Music

by Michi Wiancko

...but during the month of October, Saint Paul will become the most Michi-friendly place on the planet.

Let me preface this by explaining that my musical universe and career is a patchwork of all the different ways of music-making that I love the most. I feel very lucky that way. Performing chamber music with some of my most favorite classical musicians? HELL YES. Writing music for groups that are looking to branch out and like the idea of a performer/composer? CHECK. Arranging both classical and non-classical works for both classical and non-classical musicians? BINGO.

"You Are the First" —the result of thousands of jumps over the course of 6,000 miles.

"You Are the First"—the result of thousands of jumps over the course of 6,000 miles.

I come from an intensely classical background: I got an early start on the violin, went straight to private lessons and competitions after school, graduated from conservatories, and had classical performance managers who pinned down as many recital and concerto performance opportunities for me as they could. But there was a discontent I started feeling in my early twenties that grew steadily each year. I wanted to be a part of other kinds of creative scenes, to MAKE music, not just play it. I was also becoming disillusioned with the soloist path - it was so lonely and stressful.

So, I started by joining other people’s bandsgypsy jazz, folk, country hick-hop, indie rock. I will never forget the time that I got a last-minute call to replace a violinist-in-labor for a solo performance with the New York Philharmonic. 90 minutes after stepping off the stage of Avery Fisher, I stepped onto another stage in the east village (in very different clothing, but with a heart still racing from my big NYP moment) to play alt-country versions of Cypress Hill songs for an audience of mostly SantaCon revelers. I could write a whole separate essay about this surreal moment in my career, but suffice it to say that this was a turning point for me when it came to accepting myself for who I was. I needed to make my own path.

Eventually I started writing music for my own band, Kono Michi, and collaborating with as many kindred spirits as I could find. Composing and arranging music for others feels like a natural outgrowth from that, and now that my discontent has disappeared, I have incorporated classical performance back into my life with gratitude and passion.

I love working with people who come from a completely different musical background from me. Oftentimes it’s the people who don’t read music or didn’t go to music school who have the most to teach us conservatory geeks, and who have the most profound and honed relationship with aural expression - the kind you can’t necessarily get from Juilliard.

I also love working with people like me who come from a classical upbringing but have itched for something MORE and NEW. It turns out that some of us grew up strictly classical, practicing our instruments for your standard 4 to 6 hours a day, while sneaking off to blast music that couldn’t be further from the kind we were making ourselves. Goth and new wave (my first loves), shoegaze and post rock, punjabi and rap and electro-pop and lo-fi indie folk… the list of what I identified with during my formative years goes on and on. I kept my passion for this “other” music locked up in a separate compartment for fear it would make me appear less than serious about my Brahms Concerto or Bach Chaconne to my peers and mentors.

Fast-forward to October 2015. Now everybody likes everything!* I think the opportunities that are in play for me here would blow the mind of my 20-year-old self.

Let’s start with Liquid Music. On October 14th, I get to collaborate with the incredible powerhouse duo that makes up the band Wye Oak. Theirs is a harmonically, rhythmically, lyrically, and artistically brilliant kind of pop music that I have taken and arranged for Wye Oak + myself + a musical crew comprised of people I love. Their pop songs trigger the obsessive fangirl in me, so orchestrating it for an electro-acoustic bunch with mega-chops is a project that I’ve found exceptionally fulfilling, and we haven’t even gotten to the live performance part of it yet.

On the same concert, we’ll present the premiere of a new piece I’ve written for violin, cello, bass, and synthesizer called I Have a Map. It’s the kind of piece that one might be inspired to write while going back and forth between Greenwich Village in New York and a serene hilltop farm in the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts. And then. As if that was NOT enough to rock my (and, hopefully, eventually, both of your) socks off, I get to perform a bunch of new music by one of my FLC’s** and most innovative souls out there, Bill Brittelle.

View from Michi's hilltop studio/shack

View from Michi's hilltop studio/shack

The same day that this all goes down, I’ll be starting rehearsals with The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, with whom I’m performing for two weeks in mid-October (in addition to a November tour to Taipei, Singapore and Jakarta). As their “arranger-in-residence” this season, I’ve created an orchestral version of a piece that happened to already be close to my heart: Sergei Prokofiev’s lush, romantic violin and piano masterpiece, Five Melodies.

It’s really an honor to get to dig deep into this incredible music as both a violinist and as an arranger with one of the greatest chamber orchestras out there.

Finally, in other, SPCO-unrelated news, on October 11th, the acclaimed cross-genre string quintet, Sybarite5, will be premiering a piece I wrote for them called Blue Bourrée at the Schubert Club. I just found out about this. Life, right?

So, why this blog entry? 3 things:

  1. Kate Nordstrum, Liquid’s illustrious matriarch, asked me to, and one feels compelled to never say no to Kate.
  2. I want to get you to come to any or hopefully all of these concerts. (And if you do, please come say hello.)
  3. In my experience, it’s quite rare that an organization can engage so many different sides of my musical personality at once, so I wanted to acknowledge how this particular moment in Saint Paul’s musical offerings is a unique marker in the evolution of my own musical life. It’s also one that points to a larger musical renaissance that I feel deeply fortunate to be a part of.

See you in October!

      * This isn’t actually true.
      **Favorite Living Composers

Spiritual America: Interview with William Brittelle by Liquid Music

By Lauren McNee

Liquid Music's season opener is t-minus 23 days away. On October 14, Liquid Music will present Spiritual America featuring composer William Brittelle and the indie rock duo Wye Oak, with special guest violinist, composer, arranger and songwriter Michi WianckoSpiritual America features a series of new electro-acoustic art songs that explore themes of secular spirituality in American culture through the personal lens of love, loss, youth and longing.

As we're gearing up for what is sure to be an electrifying first show of the season, Brittelle had time to answer a few questions about post-genre electro-acoustic music, American spirituality and road tripping across the U.S. 

"Spiritual America is conceptually very human—beautiful, haunting, sad and seeking—and the musical component moves you to these emotional places."                                                            —Kate Nordstrum, Liquid Music Curator on Spiritual America                                                                                                                                                                                        
photo by Stephen Taylor

photo by Stephen Taylor

Tell us your story. How did you get interested in contemporary music and how did that lead to composing post electro-acoustic works?

I’ve always been drawn to different kinds of music. While studying music in school, I was very interested in contemporary compositional ideas - things that were happening that very moment, which, at the time, included kind of the tale end of Fluxus, free-jazz, etc. Growing up in a small southern town, I felt fairly alienated from my environment, and that continued to a certain extent into my collegiate and post-collegiate studies. Connecting with experimental music was a way of connecting with a world outside of the conservative dome I was living in. After dropping out of graduate school, however, I found myself very attracted to pop, hip-hop, and punk music, I think as a way of reconnecting with society and railing against my training. This led to me starting a punk band and touring, booking rock clubs, etc, but I soon found that the rock world is equally, if not more constricting that the world of classical conservatories. So, in my late 20’s, I began the quest to unite my influences and write music true to my background, interests, and abilities.

You describe your work as post electro acoustic music. Do you consider your music to be a reaction to electro acoustic music versus a new form of a pre-existing genre, as implied by the term "neo"? How does this fit in with the ideology of the label you co-founded, New Amsterdam Records?

The term I usually use (at least for now) is post-genre electro-acoustic music. Post-genre is meant to signify that the music isn’t actively participating in any kind of genre tradition and shouldn’t be viewed as some kind of reaction against or for classical, rock, etc. I feel like, at this point, using genre information to understand certain kinds of music is misleading and ineffective. So, in that sense, post-genre is the absence of genre, a call for viewing music in more individualistic terms. I see a parallel actually in the post-gender movement, a tendency towards wanting to see things as they are, as being truly unique, and resisting the urge to use shorthand or past experiences to come to the table with certain biases or expectations. It certainly doesn’t mean that there aren’t shades of rock or classical or experimental music in what I’m doing, but I don’t think the story of the music are those shades, the story is something more personal, more emotional.

NewAm’s core objective is representing music that doesn’t fall cleanly into existing genre-bounds, so, in that sense, this music certainly fits the bill.

How did you enter into a collaboration with Wye Oak? What attracted you to their sound and how do you think it fits with the theme of secular spirituality in America?

The initial impetus for the project came from a discussion with the North Carolina Symphony about creating a work exploring my background, the fact that I was raised in a small town in an extremely religious environment. I’d always been extremely attracted to Jenn’s voice, and as the project developed, I became more and more certain that Wye Oak was a perfect match for this project. Getting to know Andy and Jenn has been wonderful and their ability to bring in elements that aren’t on the page is vital to this kind of project.

In terms of fitting in with the theme, I think Jenn’s voice embodies a sense of longing . Her singing has this magical effect, something my son would call “sad happiness”. I think the core of the project is that “sad happy” sense of emotional longing, the sense that there is something out there, beyond the walls of what’s immediately available to you, something are both intensely attracted to and scared shitless of - which basically describes my emotions upon first coming to New York!

photo by Stephen Taylor

photo by Stephen Taylor

Composer/violinist Michi Wiancko is also featured as a special guest in this program. Tell us about Michi and why you wanted to work with her on this project. How is her music complimentary to Spiritual America?

Michi is a dear friend, and we worked together previously on a collaborative show. Not only is she a world class violinist, but she’s a wonderful composer/arranger as well, and her ability to create on the fly and work with musicians of non-classical backgrounds is really unique.

Talk to us about the cultural aesthetics behind Spiritual America. What inspired you to develop this project and how does the music embody your vision?

Yes, so, as I mentioned, this project started with a discussion with the North Carolina Symphony. I’ve been getting increasingly interested in experimental and aggressive music as of late, and this project felt, in part, like a way to balance that out. A way to connect with something intensely personal, and, hopefully, universal. I spent the first 15 years of my life in the south, and, to a certain extent, I think I’ve lived my adult life walled off from that experience. I never see the people I grew up with, I never go back there. It feels like a different universe, like a past life, especially the religious dogma I was fed as a child and am now repelled by. It occurred to me about a year ago that there was an element missing from my life, a sense of grounding, a sense of having roots, and I think that’s due in large part to the denial of my youth. There were a lot of wonderful and meaningful things about growing up the way I did, and my experience certainly wasn’t unique. So the project is, in a sense, a way for me to connect the kid me with the adult me, to round things out, to break down the wall and reintegrate my youth into my general emotional being.

The Liquid Music/Walker Art Center presentation of Spiritual America is one of four offerings this season, along with the Alabama Symphony, North Carolina Symphony and Baltimore Symphony. What makes this show unique?

This is the first and only chamber version of this project, and will include some new material. Since the other shows are orchestral-based, this show will be much more “band” oriented and feature more improv. Because we only have 8 musicians on stage (versus upwards of forty or fifty for the full orchestra version) everyone, including me, will be called on to do a lot more!

What projects are you working on post Spiritual America?

Well Spiritual America is ongoing, and will probably be in development for another year or two. I’m also working on an experimental electronic album called “Alive in the Electric Snow Dream” which will be paired with my first book of poetry called “Spectral Peaks”, a new piece about the electronic musician Arca for the Seattle Symphony, and a project about LSD with my friend Elia Rediger for the Basel Sinfonietta.

And lastly, in the vein of Spiritual America, if you were going on a cross country road trip across the US, what three things would you need with you, and why?

Let’s see, good food because I can’t eat at Arby’s, my wife because I’d be super bored without her, and an atlas so I didn’t have to bring my ****** phone:)

Spiritual America Trailer

The Show

Wye Oak and William Brittelle: Spiritual America with special guest Michi Wiancko
Sponsored by First & First                            
Co-presented with the Walker Art Center

Wed Oct 14, 2015
Doors at 6:30p | Music at 7:30p         
Aria, Minneapolis                        

Order online or call the SPCO Ticket Office at 651.291.1144
$25 ($22 for LM subscribers and Walker members) 

World Premiere - Michi Wiancko           
Shriek Suite - Wye Oak, arr. by Wiancko and Brittelle
     The Tower
     I Know the Law
     Sick Talk
Selections from Spiritual America - Brittelle
     We are not Ancient
     Spiritual America
     Canyons Curved Burgundy/Acid Rain on the Mirrored Dome
     Pink Jail
     Topaz Were the Waves

Devendra Banhart Gets Mystical with Art by Liquid Music

Devendra Banhart talked art, music and more as Guest of Honor on The Dinner Party Download. We appreciate this guy's sense of humor and are eager to present his music as part of the 2015-16 Liquid Music season. Devendra Banhart and Friends: Wind Grove Mind Alone offers a beautiful artistic vision in two unique nights of programming, May 13 & 14.

For more information on Devendra Banhart and to purchase tickets:

Liquid Music season wraps up this weekend by Liquid Music

It’s a big weekend for fans of Liquid Music as the series wraps up its third season. Composer/electric guitarist Noveller, synthpop chanteuse Glasser, and new classical chamber ensemble Victoire will join forces for an evening that explores the sonic intersections of woman and machine, manipulation and composition.

Tonight at Amsterdam Bar and Hall, composer Missy Mazzoli of Victoire will be the featured guest at a Composer Conversation Series event, discussing her Liquid Music project. (Also check out Mazzoli’s recent interview with American Composers Forum president John Nuechterlein.)

The concert itself is tomorrow night at Walker Art Center. A handful of standing-room tickets are still available, but the performance will certainly sell out. More about the performance:

Composer/electric guitarist Noveller, synthpop chanteuse Glasser, and new classical chamber ensemble Victoire join forces for an evening that explores the sonic intersections of woman and machine, manipulation and composition. Hailed as “an orchestra of one” by National Public Radio, Sarah Lipstate (Noveller) conjures dense, sweeping soundscapes from her guitar that “call to attention all senses at once, to the point w here even the word music seems somehow limiting” (Time Out New York). Cameron Mesirow (Glasser) similarly creates “a methodical, computer-tethered expedition into the vast, wild expanse of human feeling,” her commanding voice soaring through her rhythmically-driven melodies to “communicate the unknowable” (Pitchfork). Hailed as a “postmillennial Mozart” by Time Out New York, Victoire founder Missy Mazzoli composes diverse, hypnotic pieces for the group, encompassing rock rhythms, meditative electronics, and classical minimalism, and Victoire’s six virtuoso players perform her work in a manner both “evocative and alluring” (The New York Times). The evening features solo sets from each artists and culminates in a collaborative finale.

We’re incredibly grateful for the loyalty of the Liquid Music series’ fans and supporters. This weekend’s concert will likely continue a season-long streak of sold-out shows, and we look forward to announcing our new season soon.

In Loring Park, music arranged by your GPS by Liquid Music

Loring Park (Photo by Jason Riedy via Flickr/Creative Commons)

Kate Nordstrum, Liquid Music curator, writes: 

On the occasion of The Music of Bryce Dessner mini-festival presented by Liquid Music and the Walker Art Center, I thought it would be exciting to partner with Leav, a mobile platform that connects digital art with the world around it. It’s been fascinating to learn about this new technology and I invite you to experience Leav’s arrangement of Dessner’s Music for Wood and Strings on a walk through Minneapolis’ Loring Park (immediately across the street from where it will be played live by So Percussion on Saturday, April 4.) Your own movement will dynamically interact with the piece’s content—everyone’s listening experience is a unique creation. Leav founder Bobby Maher provides more context:

There is a relationship between art and location. In a gallery, at an outdoor art installation, at a play in a historical theater, or a show at a dive bar, our environment affects our experience. Mobile technology has ensured that we can listen to music or watch video anywhere, but unfortunately, this encourages most people to ignore the world around them. We wanted to change that.

In 2013, with the generous support of a New Media grant from the IFPMN and the McKnight Foundation, Andy Voegtline, Erik Martz, Joey Kantor, and I put together a team of artists and programmers to create a mobile platform for Minneapolis/St. Paul that could connect digital art with the world around it. We called it Leav.

Leav is a mobile app that allows users to take in art that is shaped by and linked to specific cues like location, time, and other environmental factors. It uses your phone’s GPS to uncover things like a citywide symphony with different orchestral parts drifting in and out depending on which city street you’re on, or a short film only viewable at dusk in a tree-filled park in December. Factors like time, temperature, direction, and speed of travel can dynamically interact with a piece’s accessibility and content.

We are proud to partner with world-renowned composer and musician, Bryce Dessner, and SPCO’s Liquid Music series to create an interactive experience that allows audiences to discover Dessner’s Music For Wood And Strings in a way otherwise impossible. Wander through Loring Park with your iPhone to reveal the composer’s intricate counterpoints, striking rhythms, and vibrant harmonies as a creative participant in your own listening experience.

To arrange this work we enlisted electronic composer Aquarelle (Ryan Potts) to reimagine Dessner’s intricate composition of four hammer-like dulcimer “chord sticks” as well as woodblocks, snares, and bass drums.

With a composition as dynamic and active as Music For Wood And Strings I first had to acknowledge that I could not fully encapsulate the range and breadth of the piece itself. That could not be done. But I could try to approximate the structural and thematic tendencies of the whole in smaller, focused sections that also illuminate the detail and interplay between the players of So Percussion. That become my aim throughout the process of arranging the piece into six distinct sections. – Aquarelle

When you first open Leav in Loring Park you will see a map indicating pieces of art in your area. Once you are inside the radius shown on the map, you can move within that space to hear the various musical elements of Music For Wood And Strings interact with one another.

Leav’s arrangement of Dessner’s Music For Wood And Strings will be available in Loring Park April through August 2015. The app is free for download in the iTunes store.

I hope to see you at the concerts this weekend or wandering the park with new eyes while the app is available.

So Percussion performing Leav’s arrangement of Dessner’s Music for Wood and Strings in Loring Park

So Percussion performing Leav’s arrangement of Dessner’s Music for Wood and Strings in Loring Park

Interview: Dawn of Midi’s Amino Belyamani by Liquid Music

Listen to “Nix” from Dawn of Midi’s Dynomia:

DysnomiaDawn of Midi’s critically acclaimed 2013 release, seems to come from another realm entirely. The trio calls upon the full expressive and technical range of their acoustic instruments to create sounds that evoke a delicately woven electronic composition. The result is something undeniably unique and irresistible, music charged with an immediacy and purpose that hypnotizes and engages not just the ears but the body of its listeners. Dawn of Midi will perform Dysnomia in its entirety alongside a set by virtuosic keyboard improviser Nils Frahm at Amsterdam Bar and Hall on November 15.

I had a chance to talk with Dawn of Midi pianist and composer Amino Belyamani about their mysterious and arresting album, and the challenges of performing the music live.

How did Dawn of Midi start? Can you talk a little bit about your journey as collaborators and how you arrived at the music that you will be performing for the Liquid Music Series? 

Dawn of Midi started out because of our failure to progress as tennis mates. We decided to play completely improvised music in complete darkness instead. We’re still not sure if abandoning tennis was the right choice.

What are some of the biggest challenges in performing your music? What makes a performance particularly exciting or rewarding for you?

The biggest challenge in any musical performance, we believe, is to deliver a near-perfect execution of an aural story in real-time. Every note needs to be played at its fullest intention and every duration, whether of a note or of a silence, must be respected at its correct quantum value. We are not satisfied and the audience will not be satisfied with a performance that is mathematically correct in terms of the time intervals. It is the collective ‘swing’ of each rhythmic phrase that allows for the music to sound right and breathe naturally.

This ‘swing’ cannot be given any fixed value, hence the use of the word ‘quantum.’ It can only be learned through first hearing and understanding it in the body, then practicing it until you feel like abandoning all music endeavors and end up as a goat herder.

I understand that some of your music is created through improvisation but Dysnomia now exists in a structured, composed format. Why did you decide to move in a more composed direction and what was the process of cementing the musical details like?

Dysnomia started with the idea that the whole piece would be through-composed, note for note. However, prior to the making of, we did experiment with partially improvised formats that eventually led to Dysnomia. We felt that we needed to control our musical ideas in their total form, in order to reduce the risk of the music sounding like s***. The process involved a lot of trial and error, over 150 rehearsals that were all archived for compositional use.

Many reviewers talk about the hypnotic and trancelike qualities of your music, what draws you to such effects and how do you achieve them musically?

I am from Morocco where  dancing as a way to induce trance is very common, whether in shamanistic-like rituals like the Gnawa Lila, or in casual gatherings and wedding parties. A lot of Moroccan music is based in polyrhythms that are heavily swung which makes the music and effect even more complex. When the body dances to music that never plays or outlines the regular pulse (the one you would be dancing on), trance is facilitated as the body becomes a complementary instrument to the experience by completing the circuit in time. Dysnomia is heavily based on these swung polyrhythmic ideas and creates different degrees of hypnosis and trance depending on the listener.

Why are you looking forward to performing on a bill with Nils Frahm? 

We are excited to go on tour with Nils Frahm as both acts represent this idea that humans can play and emulate what machines do, or let us say, what we taught machines to do.