Edges Holding Ground: A reflection on "Origami Harvest" by Liquid Music

by Andrea Mazzariello

Photo by Jayme Halbritter Photography

Photo by Jayme Halbritter Photography

There is an infant sitting in the bandleader’s lap. This is not what I expected to happen after hearing the same infant vocalizing, moments before, somewhere in the audience. This is in some respects a classical music concert, after all, and such interruption of rarefied, attentive silence typically sets off a ripple of poison glances followed by an ushering into the lobby. Also there’s no lobby; we’re in a bar.  And as it turns out the infant belongs to Ambrose Akinmusire, the aforementioned bandleader, who offers a knee. The little one settles and focuses primarily on Marcus Gilmore, which is understandable given what he is doing to the drums, how he is making them somehow sing in counterpoint, multiple textures and grooves interlocking to create a swinging technicolor breakbeat. 

Photo by Jayme Halbritter Photography

Photo by Jayme Halbritter Photography

Photo by Jayme Halbritter Photography

Photo by Jayme Halbritter Photography

This particular instance, infant-in-lap, of What We Were Not Expecting To Happen frames the performance, profound risk disguised as causal violation of art music’s norms and terms. This includes the norms and terms of genre collision itself; there are ways we will accept the fluidity of boundaries between music cultures versus ways in which a porous boundary feels uncomfortable. It is one thing to invite a rapper (in this case, Kool A.D.) to collaborate with a jazz combo and a string quartet, it is yet another when said rapper’s verses pull no punches in terms of graphic sexual content or when the freestyle-that-wasn’t encore lasts a half hour. Programming a piece written in the 21st century is a risk of sorts; this particular collaboration, though, even in the context of “redefining classical music,” does something else entirely.  

Photo by Jayme Halbritter Photography

Photo by Jayme Halbritter Photography

Perhaps especially in that context. Bringing wildly different musical worlds into contact invites Venn-diagram performances, sounds we can all agree upon, overlapping moves, consensus. Here, though, we got the sense that the abutting edges existed in aesthetic conflict, were even more idiosyncratically themselves precisely because they were being asked to hold ground. Mivos’ thorniest, most aggressive digging in was instructive in this regard: the gestures deliberately resisted the pretty or cinematic string quartet trope that might fold, with a minimum of friction, into a jazz situation or a “live sample” on a hip hop track. And the crowd was with it. Which is not to marginalize the beautiful, lyrical playing that became a kind of refrain throughout the piece; rather, it’s to suggest that the moments of intersection between musical worlds, the overlapping modes, meant catching our breath. The jagged edges, though, could take it away. 


Andrea Mazzariello is a composer, performer, writer, and teacher. He teaches at Carleton College and runs One More Revolution Records. The Operating System will release his first book in December 2017.


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Interview: Sarah Kirkland Snider with Jodie Landau by Liquid Music

Composer Sarah Kirkland Snider joins Jodie Landau for a conversation about Snider’s song cycle, Unremembered, which has it’s U.S. premiere this Saturday in Minneapolis as part of the SPCO’s Liquid Music Series. “One of the most significant and harrowing releases of [2015]” (Thought Catalog), Unremembered explores the fragility and nuance of memories and emotions in an hour-long, 13-part song cycle inspired by poems and illustrations by Nathaniel Bellows.

Jodie Landau is a 24-year-old composer, vocalist, and percussionist and is the newest addition to the renowned Icelandic record label Bedroom Community. Frequent collaborator with LA-based new music collective, wild Up, his debut album with the group, you of all things, was released to critical acclaim.  


JL: Unremembered is something I’ve been listening to for quite some time and I know it really well — as something that I sing along with, as something I’ve played in my car, at home and especially on hikes. It’s been really nice to listen to it, as I often do with projects, where I can hone in on one album and learn the entire thing and then I take a pause. Having this discussion upcoming was a great excuse to re-engage with it again, which has been extremely beautiful because it’s been raining a lot here and it’s so green. I’ve been going off on all of these different trails and singing and conducting through it. So it’s been really fascinating to get to know it in a way that is first and foremost about movement and exploration and nature. The music is a vehicle for me to engage with the world around me — in particular this one hike spot — and I think this provides an interesting context for my experience of the piece and then therefore our discussion of it.

SKS: First of all, thank you — it means a lot to me to hear that this music was something you developed a relationship with. When I really love an album I too listen to it obsessively, trying to divine the secrets of every detail, and my goal in making this record was to give it enough layers that it would invite and reward that kind of repeated listening. Second, it’s really interesting that you spent time with the music while being outside, hiking. As you know, landscape and nature are one of the main muses of the project; the relationship between a child and the landscape was at the genesis of the cycle. At the core, the cycle is about innocence and experience, and the way places in our past can have a psychic hold on us the rest of our lives, one that can instill both affection and dread. In Nathaniel’s past, nature and landscape and animals exerted an overarching magnetism and magic and companionship, and helped bestow some hard-won wisdom. Every song has a connection to the outdoors, so it’s wonderful to think of you getting to know the piece that way. I too spent a lot of time outside while composing it, talking long walks in the woods behind our house.

JL: You said that you spent some of the time composing while walking?

SKS: Yeah I do that a lot with every piece that I’m writing, but I did it twice as much with Unremembered. I spend a lot of time walking and singing lines and counter-lines to myself and recording them into my iPhone. I find that when I get stuck writing, walking is the only thing that helps me get unstuck. We have woods behind our house where you can sort of lose yourself, so I do a lot of walking back there. There’s something about the way my brain creates things outdoors that is different from when I’m indoors.

JL: When you’re walking you record into your phone?

SKS: Yeah that’s where I do a lot of coming up with motives and counterpoint. But I also do a lot of broader-scope work, listening to mockups of what I’m working on or just going over it in my head to figure out pacing. I feel like I can’t figure out pacing unless I’m walking outside. When I’m working on a computer or looking at a score it’s hard for me to get a sense of scale and scope. I’m listening too closely, which is not the way an audience listens, and I have to constantly remind myself of that. Even the listening of a super engaged audience member is not the listening of a composer listening to their own piece. So I find that in order to forget I’m the composer I need to step away from the music and try to look at it with some distance, and walking helps with that.

Nathaniel Bellows image for "The Estate"

Nathaniel Bellows image for "The Estate"

JL: That comes back to my experience with Unremembered and what it means to engage with the piece and move. I like to think of the music as a means of moving through the world. Being on a hike,  going off on a trail and discovering a certain tree or the way a hill has bloomed in an unexpected way…. The music gives me a pace to engage with it, like here’s a moment where I’m gonna run up the hill or when the music comes to this big crescendo and then stops and holds back and I want to sit and view the landscape that’s in front of me and slow down for a moment. So it feels very appropriate that it’s a part of your process.

SKS: Exactly. It is a part of my process but I also love to listen the way you described. I hear and feel different things if I’m listening while out in the world than I do when I’m just sitting and listening in my study with headphones. And I love the way the world looks different through the prism of music. There’s a really interesting relationship that happens there that’s bidirectional. That’s the ineffable wonder of music — it colors or informs your emotional response to whatever you’re experiencing while listening to it. And actually that’s another parallel with Unremembered, because, like music, innocence is a prism that informs one’s perception of the world. I have these two young kids (now eight and six), and they are so full of marvel, wonder and outsized reactions to everything (though I see this starting to change a bit with my eight-year-old.)  This was something Nathaniel and I talked about a lot when we started working on Unremembered — the way that a child has heightened sensory awareness and intense, unruly feelings. It’s almost like they’re swimming in them. We wanted the music to speak to that in some way, with bold gestures and sharp contrasts and very emotionally direct musical statements.

JL: It’s very appropriate and I’m glad you went there because I was going to ask about that. For me it’s one of the things I connect to deeply about the piece — that heightened sensory skill that kids have. There's something about what it is to be really scared. In “The Slaughterhouse” you have an image of seeing all of these animals slaughtered: “I’d seen it once on another farm and I never will forget.” That question of what it is to experience something that will never quite leave your mind. It will most certainly change and develop in later years and looking back it will become a memory of the memory. So there’s something about listening to this piece and even though the some of the witchy and ghostly elements aren’t something I’ve directly experienced it’s still hits me nonetheless and does have this sense of… I think as a kid growing up I had magic as a thing that was kind of given to me. My aunt is an incredible playwright and director and every year growing up we went to the Berkshires in Massachusetts for 4th of July and she would lead these fairy hunts. So we would explore the woods and so I did have some elements of some of these poems in there. But there was this incredible sense of wonder and magic where everything is heightened. And also this sense of play with everything, even the things that are scary. Listening to this piece also reminds me of my desire to engage with the world in the type of way I do when I’m listening to the piece. Or the way that I do when it brings up these certain memories that I have. So I’m curious for you if there’s a sense of memories that had an impact you won’t ever forget or even this idea of “I never learned to love someone the way I did that place.”

SKS: Yes, definitely, I have some childhood memories that were profoundly impactful and that influenced the writing of this music and made me relate deeply to the cycle’s concept and messages. So I let that guide my empathy, but my primary goal was to tell the stories in music that Nathaniel told in words. So there were visits to Topsfield, Massachusetts, the town he grew up in, to visit all the sites of the various poems, and there were lots of talks about what each poem meant. One of the things we talked about the most was the way that we remain attached, in a kind of Stockholm Syndrome way, to places and times in our childhood where we experienced difficult things; that we feel some very complicated, complex mix of affection and revulsion, dread and nostalgia, and that what we experience there often has a kind of hold on us for the rest of our lives. That's why I decided to take a couple of stanzas from the last song, "The Past", and create a Prelude to the cycle with them, particularly those lines you mentioned: "It all comes back inchoate/the meaning has no base/I never learned to love someone the way I did that place." To me those lines were heart-rending in the way that they expressed gratitude but also possibly revealed a failure of human connection: that the narrator had never loved a person as strongly as he did the place, never discovered a home in another person that was truly a safe harbor. Or perhaps this was a good thing, if the love in question is one suffused with darkness. Either way we are dealing with a complicated mix of polarized emotions. So I knew I wanted to have a simple, almost childlike melody express the lines of this song, cradled in clouds of subtly dissonant harmony, with some darker ones passing in the middle (which sample musical material from Prelude.) I wanted there to be a palpable tension between lighter feelings of nostalgia/affection and darker hints of bitter, stoic resolve.  

Nathaniel Bellows image for "The Past" 

Nathaniel Bellows image for "The Past" 

JL: Yeah I feel like it’s present throughout the cycle but especially in “The Past.” I’m really struck by that co-existence and juxtaposition of playful, joyous, childlike wonder and this painful childlike trauma. Especially in the intro of that piece, as it’s moving towards darkness and then it suddenly gets interrupted by the guitar and harp. So it feels likes it’s gonna go somewhere intense and then it jump cuts back to playing on the playground where it’s all light and fun and bubbly. Then it’s able to get really heavy and intense as it returns to “the way I did that place”. That’s something that to me, every time I hear it, is extraordinarily satisfying compositionally. And it’s emotionally somewhat jarring; it takes me through such a wide array of emotions just in one movement.

SKS: Wow, that’s really gratifying to hear, thank you. I think that for me in many ways “The Past” is my favorite movement because it sort of encapsulates what the whole song cycle is about. I think it’s something that a lot of people can relate to because we’ve all had times in our lives that were difficult or unhappy but that we wouldn’t trade because the wisdom and strength we gained through endurance made us who we are in the present. Those early heartbreaks and disappointments and even traumas were so much more painful for being the firsts, but there is also beauty in having the capacity to feel things deeply, and one can definitely feel a nostalgic longing for that--for the days of having a softer heart.

JL: With that it's very appropriate that I just happen to be looking at “No so low, the flying slicing wing, it says that there is beauty inside your suffering.”

SKS: It’s funny because that line was actually a source of questioning for Shara and Padma. Most of the cycle text is story, metaphor, and allusion — stories that convey messages indirectly, obliquely. “It says that there is beauty inside your suffering” is a line that was direct and straight, and they weren’t sure how to approach it vocally. Which I totally understood, but I also loved the presence of that line because the cycle has so much elliptical representation; once in awhile it’s nice to have a kind of thesis statement saying, simply and directly: “here’s what this is all about.”

JL: Yeah. And to me, one of the things I love about it is that there’s still something very complicated about it — it can be very confusing to acknowledge that, yes, there is beauty inside suffering, because how much do we as people want to choose to suffer? And I know at least for me there was a period of time where I got a little invested in exploring that. I wanted to sit in it, find all of it beautiful and suffer a little bit. But now I’m in a place where I feel like, cool I did that for a bit and now I’m going to try to see those past moments of suffering as beautiful but make a different choice. And that relates a lot to nostalgia; what it is to sit inside of both nostalgia and suffering and to look to the past, and the choice of that. Whether it’s to repeat cycles of the past or to see it as a framework that involved a lot of suffering but was also a kind of emotional height, where you’ll never learn to love someone that way, where it was a pinnacle of your existence. So I think that line is both direct and endlessly complicated.

JL: On a different note, I’m curious about the relationship of being young and coming to terms with life and death.

SKS: Yes, this is of course a huge part of what the cycle is about: the child learning about a death, trying to make sense of it, trying to incorporate it into their worldview. That is the ultimate loss of innocence, and it usually happens pretty early for kids — a character in a book or movie dies, they see a dead animal on the road, or more traumatically, they lose someone close to them. One of the greatest challenges I’ve had as a parent is talking about death with my kids and trying to explain it to them what it means, when I myself don’t really know. I try to present them with all of the different ways of thinking, different religions, philosophers’ takes on it. But ultimately there is no right answer. It’s a constant challenge to live with that awareness and yet still take risks and live fully and deeply and consciously.

JL: One of the things I really appreciate about Unremembered is its allusions to the idea that life doesn’t end with death. That life only continues on in a new form. Especially in “The Speakers,” which, as an aside, the intro is one of the greatest musical things I’ve ever heard. Everytime I hear it it’s the most beautiful and satisfying sound. The first time I heard it I was like “What is happening” and then Shara sings “I’m sorry” and I was just blown away. And it’s exactly how those words should be set. And also the orchestration with the harmonics in the strings leading up all kind of following each other. That texture that’s created is perfect.  

SKS: Thank you! Yeah Shara’s incredible. You don’t have to give her any direction, she just gets it. She’s incredibly smart, sensitive, and intuitive. But yeah Nathaniel does have references to reincarnation in several movements — that line in “The Barn” (“the dance of life continues after death”)... the conversation between the hare and the leaf in “The Speakers”...

JL: ...And in “The Slaughterhouse”, seeing slaughtered cows that are “dead but still bleeding”. And the end of “The Speakers” when they say, “I die and rise invisibly like the ghosts you won’t allow.” That idea of death being this continuation of life. I actually hadn’t realized this about Unremembered until recently; I was listening to a Bob Thurman podcast and he was talking about reincarnation a lot and then as I revisited Unremembered, all of sudden all of these lines that I had previously connected with had another layer of meaning to them.

SKS: That’s interesting! Yeah, death is the great mystery of life, and as a child it’s even more scary and mysterious. So as I wrote the music I tried to put myself back into that head space and channel how it felt to be a young child thinking about death. As a result, there is definitely some anxiety and fear in this collection of songs, but there is also a lot of warmth, tenderness, and hope. Just like Nathaniel’s text.


Sarah Kirkland Snider's: Unremembered will be presented at Ted Mann Concert Hall in Minneapolis, MN on Saturday, March 11 at 8:00pm.

Tickets and details here: http://www.liquidmusicseries.org/snider-unremembered/
Students and kids attend FREE.


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The darker side of memory: the writing of nathaniel Bellows by Liquid Music

by Jeffrey Niblack

Photo from Unremembered website

Photo from Unremembered website

Sarah Kirkland Snider's Unremembered has its U.S. premiere March 11 at Ted Mann Concert Hall in Minneapolis as part of the SPCO's Liquid Music Series. The text of Snider's song cycle was written by poet and artist Nathaniel Bellows, and his drawings, interleaved with photography and video, will be projected as part of the performance.

Bellows is the author of two novels, Nan and On this Day, as well as a book of poetry, Why Speak?. He also is a prolific artist, posting his art and sketches frequently to his Tumblr page

Additionally, Bellows is a musician – in 2016 he released an album entitled The Old IllusionsBelow is a video for the song "The Reason" from the album featuring Bellows' drawings. 

In his work, Bellows often evokes images of growing up in New England, focusing on landscapes and structures.  He vividly describes these places, but there's also a sense of  the specific emotional meaning attached to these places for him. Bellows discussed finding inspiration from his memory of the New England landscape in an interview on the website Largehearted Boy:

I am definitely influenced and inspired by the New England landscape—the seaside and the marshes, meadows, forests, and orchards. The whole area has a haunted quality that I've always felt very deeply, which has infiltrated all of my work, like a reoccurring main character. There's something about the rough bleakness of the winter, and the almost primordial fecundity of the summer that makes you feel both at the mercy of the natural world, and that you've been invited to viscerally experience the raw beauty of its extremes.

His writing style is deceptively direct. His poetry can read like prose, with strong elements or narrative or character. However, as the poems unfold, he gradually introduces something mysterious or even supernatural.  

Nathaniel Bellows image for "The Estate" from Unremembered website

Nathaniel Bellows image for "The Estate" from Unremembered website

One of the striking themes of Bellows' writing is a tension between nostalgia and some of the more negative emotions buried behind that nostalgia: sadness, regret, or fear. A memory in his writings may begin quaint or ruminative, but turns darker and more sinister. The closing stanza of "The Estate", the second part of Unremembered, begins with an anthropomorphized view of a natural setting that seems peaceful, but quickly turns into something ghostly and terrifying. 

The field has breath, the pond a voice
I’ve known since I was small
They told me then to leave this place
Or stay and lose it all

His novel, On This Day, examines similar themes of memory as it examines a brother and a sister who have recently lost both their parents.  As they deal with their grief, they often visit their memories, sometimes tangibly as they spend a little too much time in the house in which their parents died.  The novel moves back and forth in time, so there's a palpable sense of the past's impact on the present.  

The poem "Some Traditions" from Why Speak? presents similar images of a house abandoned, maybe to be sold or perhaps to be left alone and rot, closing with the following:

The radiators stood in an awkward swirl.

No more days of crinoline or hedges shaped
like fish and bears. The curtains came down and were
shredded, twisted, stuffed under doors.

The piano remained in the hall, like an obelisk,
as if to haunt the place we had to leave;
it would have played on its own, we knew,

had we not robbed it of its keys

Unremembered closes with a beautiful concluding section entitled "The Past," the text of which ruminates on our difficultly separating from the past, the need to reconcile oneself to change, and the impact that memories have on our lives. 

Nathaniel Bellows image for "The Past" from Unremembered website

Nathaniel Bellows image for "The Past" from Unremembered website

The meadow lost its golden hue
The trees let go their leaves
The air grew colder, cleaner, blue
Pale as centuries

Someone breathed into my ear
The vapor of the dead
It woke me up, I was asleep
It circled round my head

It all comes back inchoate
The meaning has no base
I never learned to love someone
The way I did that place

 


Sarah Kirkland Snider's: Unremembered will be presented at Ted Mann Concert Hall in Minneapolis, MN on Saturday, March 11 at 8:00pm.

Tickets and details here: http://www.liquidmusicseries.org/snider-unremembered/
Students and kids attend FREE.


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Change Begins Within: Shara Nova (My Brightest Diamond) interview with Composer Molly Joyce by Liquid Music

Not many people can front a rock band, sing Górecki’s Third Symphony, lead a marching band processional down the streets of the Sundance film festival and perform in a baroque opera of their own composing all in a month’s time. But Shara Nova can. In addition to her multi-faceted career as My Brightest Diamond, she will also be returning to Liquid Music on March 11th for the US premiere of Sarah Kirkland Snider: Unremembered, a 13-part song cycle inspired by poems and illustrations by Nathaniel Bellows that explores the fragility and nuance of memories and emotions. 

Composer and staff member of New Amsterdam RecordsMolly Joyce spoke with Shara about Unremembered, her relationship with Sarah Kirkland Snider and the direction her own music.


You worked with Sarah in 2010 on Penelope. What has it been like collaborating with her for a second time on Unremembered?

Maybe the best way to talk about that is to describe the recording process for UnrememberedWe recorded the whole thing in three days. It was like twelve hours of singing every day and some of the most challenging sessions that I’ve ever done. And a really wonderful thing happened because DM Stith ended up being in the same sessions. We were just throwing ideas back and forth while I was in the recording booth and I think that was the first time I’ve ever had anybody produce my vocals in that kind of way. So the process between us felt really collaborative. He could say things to me as a singer, giving me a different image or approach and I really responded to that. And then the vulnerability that I have with Sarah, the transparency in our friendship, I was able to expose a part of myself in those recordings that were very intimate. I was really on the edge of what I was able to do expressively. That comes from having years of a relationship and then building that with someone, where you’re able to go into the booth and be in a really vulnerable place when you record. That level of vulnerability is more rare than I think it is.

And when she was composing the work, did you two collaborate pretty tightly?

Not at all.

But she already knew what worked for your voice?

Yeah by that point we had a whole lot of time together, whereas for Penelope, it was a very new relationship.

Does it feel different performing or recording your own music versus someone else's? Do you approach it in the same way?

That’s the funny symbiotic relationship that I have with Sarah. When I receive a piece from her, even if it’s just a MIDI mockup, I’ll be devastated and so moved by the level of thought, detail and care that she puts into her pieces. Then the musical vocabulary feels very familiar to me and so I’m able to sink right into it. It doesn’t feel like putting on someone else's costume. It feels like a tailored dress that is made exactly for your dimensions. There’s a really big difference when approaching something that was made specifically for you. You have an easier time getting to interpretation quicker because you don’t have as much resistance.

And the freedom and the beauty of doing a project like Unremembered is that these are stories that aren’t necessarily going to be told in pop music. Maybe in a Tom Waits song or something. But to be able to jump into a character like the witch through the narratives and the storytelling or to be able to sing this beautiful poem about the death of a swan, these are the kinds of moments that remind me why I love classical music so much: because there’s not a kind of prescription about what songs need to be about that exists in popular music. Maybe that’s all illusion anyway. But I like the storytelling aspect because it’s almost operatic. And that’s why it's so fulfilling to do this music. To be in Nathaniel’s beautiful, twisted fantasy. And then thinking about the Salem witch trials and how women were treated. And then now to be on the forefront of women still having to articulate their rights and not step aside. These stories are still culturally relevant.

Going into your own music, when I started transcribing some of your music for you I noticed that you aren’t really concerned how it will look on the page. Whereas when I want to write music I have to go into music notation software. I guess I was amazed just receiving all of these files and how it still worked with the voice leading and harmony. Could you talk about your composition process of singing through everything as you write? Maybe if I had a voice like yours I would sing everything out too, but how do you approach composing with your voice?

I just had this issue with another piece too where it was like “OK, well you didn’t think about how the voice leading was gonna work”, and then I do have to kind of make sense of who’s doing what and re-organized the parts. But I know at least how the rhythm or the harmony is going to go. I have started to trust my ear more and more and just be intuitive about the writing. And a lot of times I have to be because the fastest way that I can do things is to sing them straight out of my head. It might be that way because I've sung in choir since I was a child, so I’ve spent so much time in choral music of all kinds. Whether that’s Bach or John Rutter or gospel music. My dad was a choral conductor so being in and around choirs is really natural to me. So I really focused my writing career on choral music in the last couple of years in writing for the voice, doing less instrumental work because there’s more of a gap for me.

I was thinking about your album, This is My Hand, where you are approaching issues of body image and whether or not you could really dance when you perform. What’s your approach to the physicality of performing something like Unremembered?

I live by the principle that the audience is going to respond to what information I give them. It’s not that they need my permission to respond in a certain way but how a person moves helps you interpret the music. I think in the classical tradition that wasn’t always the case. In some ways, it was about removing the visuals and the physicality.  But for me as a theater/pop person, I want to feel this visceral movement. And if that means in a song like “The Swan” from Unremembered, for example, say I only raise my hands at one point. Then suddenly that imagery, even a minimalist gesture puts the picture more solidly in my mind. It’s both give me a stronger a connection to the music and the audience. So it’s not just that I’m vocalizing the music, it has shape in the body as a storytelling mechanism.

When I interviewed you last year you had this quote about putting on your own oxygen mask before putting on someone else’s. And how change begins within, which I feel like I live by now. I feel like in more of your recent work there’s a shift to music that perhaps is more socially conscious and active.

I look back at my third album, All Things Unwind, and there’s a song called “There’s a Rat” which is actually about Dr. Ossian Sweet who was an African American doctor from the early 1900’s who moved into a white neighborhood in Detroit and hundreds of white people gathered in his lawn to put pressure on him to move out. It’s a very traumatic story. Then there’s songs like “High, Low, Middle” which were looking at class. I felt like even using the marching band for the fourth record had social elements. The marching band is a symbol of All-American folk music. Like, here is a playground where class and public school education and music meet, All of these things manifest in the marching bands in public schools in America. In so many ways I feel like there were social elements I was trying to articulate and on the new album and still working with how to talk about racism. What is my response to injustice? There’s so many in which I feel like I have approached the subject but never fully gone there. Because it’s really challenging to figure out how to both have a humility in the writing such that you’re not brow-beating the audience, but also creating a space that offers a question or that invites empathy.  So I wrestled with that a great deal and will continue to do so.

Going back to the “change begins within” notion, do you feel like you’re asking audiences to find change within and to look within to find that empathy?

That is absolutely all of our work. You know I take so much to heart in James Baldwin's words. I’m paraphrasing but he said something like “If the white people were to actually deal with racism they would have to look at their own insecurities and the things they are most afraid of.” And so that is my invitation: to begin to dismantle the racism in my own mind and, as I begin to do that, start opening up that process so that other people can see that as well. There’s so much to be said about white fragility but when you start actually digging into what white fragility is, we’re so afraid of being a good or a bad person. But there are aspects of our thinking that are not in line with the highest truth. It doesn’t mean that you’re a bad person. It means that there are thoughts that you have or systems that we have grown up with that have created these patterns in our thinking and in the way that our entire society is built. It’s based on oppression and inequality. So it’s my job as a musician to become aware of my own racism and try to articulate that in music. Putting it into music is challenging, for sure. But music offers us a place where we can create empathy, where you could be listening or dancing side by side with someone who’s completely different from you. That’s the beauty of this crazy thing that we get to do which is make vibrations.

Is there anything else you wanted to add about Unremembered?

Just understanding the rarity of this performance. It’s just such an incredible thing that this music is being heard live. Just to get Padma Newsome from Australia is like a year's worth of paperwork. So I’m enormously excited to have the opportunity to perform this music live.


Sarah Kirkland Snider's: Unremembered will be presented at Ted Mann Concert Hall in Minneapolis, MN on Saturday, March 11 at 8:00pm.

Tickets and details here: http://www.liquidmusicseries.org/snider-unremembered/
Students and kids attend FREE.

About Molly Joyce:
Molly Joyce’s music has been described as “impassioned” (The Washington Post) and written to “superb effect” (The Wire). Her works have been commissioned and performed by several distinguished ensembles including the New World Symphony, New York Youth Symphony, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, the New Juilliard, Decoda, and Contemporaneous ensembles. The 2016–17 season will see the first commercial releases of Molly’s music, both on New Amsterdam Records. These releases include an EP of two violin and electronics works, and a work on Vicky Chow’s album of electroacoustic piano compositions. As an active participant in other aspects of the music industry, Molly is currently the digital content manager for New Amsterdam Presents/Records and has served as an assistant to Glenn Kotche, Missy Mazzoli, and Shara Nova, among others.

Listen to her works here: http://mollyjoycemusic.com/

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Death and its alternatives: A project update from Tunde Adebimpe by Liquid Music

by Jeffrey Niblack

In May, Tunde Adebimpe comes to Minneapolis for the world premiere A Warm Weather Ghost, commissioned and presented by Liquid Music, the Walker Art Center and 89.3 The Current. Tunde Adebimpe is perhaps best known as a member of TV on the Radio, but his artistic pursuits extend to actingdirecting, animation and visual arts.  

A Warm Weather Ghost is conceived of as a hero’s narrative pushed through a psychedelic fever dream, the surreal work unravels and bewilders as a crew of special guest musicians, vocalists, visual art by Adebimpe and narration coalesce into a magically disorienting and unforgettable performance.

Since announcing the project last year, Adebimpe has assembled an impressive lineup of musicians to perform with the project including "Money" Mark Ramos Nishita on synthesizers, guitars and keyboards; Mia Doi Todd on vocals and guitar; and Jaleel Bunton of TV on the Radio on percussion. As the project has developed, he graciously provided us with a small sample of the animation he is working on as part of the performance and answered questions on AWWG's progress. 

You've assembled a really impressive lineup of musicians to work with on the project.  How did you bring them together?  What do you hope they bring to the project? 

I’ve been a big fan of everyone involved for a while. I've known Jaleel from TV on the Radio, Mark is a legend, and Mia is one of my favorite singers/songwriters in the world. It came together pretty fortuitously. I ran into Mark at a barbecue and we were talking about what we were up to. I mentioned the project and asked if he’d be interested in working together and he was into the idea.  I was looking for a singer to voice one of the characters in the story and Mia was first on the list. I sent some artwork and a rough synopsis to her and thankfully she was into it. Also it turned out that she and Mark are longtime friends which was an added bonus. What they bring to the project is tons of experience and a willingness to play with rough ideas and make them their own.

What has the development process looked like?  Have there been challenges?  What do the next several months look like for the project?

The development process is pretty much the same for everything I do. It usually starts with writing or drawing until something seems interesting and then I head a little further in that direction to see if the idea has anything else to say. A lot of the ideas/art/music for this project first showed up in 2012 when the band was on a break. When I was approached about doing something for the series, I went through the files and found some ‘Warm Weather Ghost’ pages and thought it’d be a good chance to figure out what they were all about.  Most of the music is done and being rehearsed so the next several months will be a lot of drawing/ painting, animating and shooting the visuals.

We're really excited to see how the visuals integrate with the music.  Can you give us an update on how the visual components of the project are coming along?  

The visuals are coming along pretty well. It’s a lot of work! A lot of very enjoyable work mixed with a lot of “ is there an easier way to do this?” work. But I haven’t found an easy way to do it, so I’m basically locked in a garage building a little trip for the next few months.

What themes are you exploring with the narrative elements of "A Warm Weather Ghost"?  

Death and its alternatives.

For those mainly familiar with you through your work in TV on the Radio, how will A Warm Weather Ghost be different musically?

AWWG will have sounds created in the service of one specific visual, so it’s more a live soundtrack (instrumental passages, noise, narration) than a set of songs like we do in TVOTR.     

How has the project changed since you first envisioned it?

I have all of the elements of the original ideas, but really, I think I’m still envisioning it. The way everything is coming together still feels really active, so it changes a little bit every day. 

AWWG incorporates different facets of your artistic universe – acting/theater, visual art, music, storytelling… Have you ever done a project like this before, that displays so many artistic sides of you in one package?

I’ve made visuals for music videos and soundtracked things, but I’ve never done something where I have to be present and performing and locked in to the visual while it’s running. So mostly I’ll be trying not to wipe out, or figuring out how wipe out in the fanciest way possible.


Tickets for Tunde Adebimpe and A Warm Weather Ghost are available here.  


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David Lang's "darker": A Reflection by Liquid Music

by Lisa Perry, D.M.A The University of Minnesota - Twin Cities

 

Still image from darker. Art by Suzanne Bocanegra

Still image from darker. Art by Suzanne Bocanegra

In early December, the SPCO’s Liquid Music and the Walker Art Center presented David Lang’s immersive musical experience, darker, at the Ordway Concert Hall. Accompanying Lang for the performance were visual artist Suzanne Bocanegra and video processing artist Jeff Larson, who created a live liquid light show that was projected in conjunction with the composition. The continuous hour-long work featured twelve musicians from The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Mischa Santora. 

As part of his visit, Lang recorded a "Music in the Making" podcast co-produced by the SPCO, American Composers Forum and Minnesota Public Radio (to be released this spring). In attendance were musicians from the SPCO along with a devoted crowd of new music enthusiasts and Liquid Music supporters. With host Steve Seel of Classical MPR, Lang discussed several of his works (including darker and Crowd Out for 1000 voices) and detailed his creative process. 

darker, Lang explained during the podcast interview, is a piece dedicated to the memory of a friend who had recently passed away. His intention was not to convey a specific emotion, but rather to create a musical and visual landscape that could allow audience members to focus on their own emotions and experiences as the work unfolds. Contrasting many pieces that encompass a broad range of feelings, emotions, and gestures, Lang intentionally created a work that remains largely static, only changing by subtly altering the music through slight variances in harmonic colors, orchestration and dynamics. In an interview with the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, Lang stated: 

I just noticed that classical music did not have the same emotional range as my life, and I wondered what it would be like to make a piece of music that worked that way. A piece of music that actually felt to me like my life – which is a lot of activity, a lot of intense concentration, and not getting too far. […] There are a lot of things going on and everyone has a lot to do, but it doesn’t change very much, because our days are pretty much like every other day. And so what I thought was: What if I made a piece that got a little bit darker – not a lot darker, it doesn’t get miserable or depressing, it doesn’t range you from high to low, it just says: What if we spend a lot of energy doing something and it feels like we are staying in place, and then by the end of the piece we realize we are somewhere that is a little more complicated than where we started. That seemed like a piece of music that was more like my life.
Mischa Santora and members of the SPCO perform darker

Mischa Santora and members of the SPCO perform darker

Highlighting the subtle changes in the music during the performance at the Ordway Concert Hall was the live liquid light show by Bocanegra and Larson. Using colorful oils, powder and natural materials (such as branches and dried leaves), Bocanegra created live art that was projected onto a screen behind the musicians. The constantly evolving visual illustrated the prolonged and subtle transition from light to dark, while enhancing the atmosphere of the overall work. 

Together, the visuals and music created a highly unique and powerful immersive experience for those fortunate enough to be in attendance.


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Taking Action to Find Hope: Artist in Residence Nathalie Joachim on Global Connectivity and Giving Back by Liquid Music

Nathalie Joachim is Liquid Music's 2016.17 artist in virtual residence. As part of this, she is documenting the development of Fanm d'Ayiti, which will premiere as part of the 2017.18 Liquid Music season.  In this blog post, Nathalie Joachim reflects on how current events in the United States and Haiti are affecting the development of the work as well as how Haitian history and music have continued to inspire her. 


As an artist, you sometimes forget that the forces of the world may from time to time bring your ability to create to a grinding halt. Because our creative work is so deeply tied to our inner work, it is easy to forget that the part of you that is human will need to find its way, in spite of the part of you that is a workhorse. This happened to me this past fall. Over the course of one month I was hit in what resonated as very personal ways by two untimely world events: Hurricane Matthew touching down in my family’s hometown in Haiti, and the election of Donald J. Trump.

Anti-Inaugural ball in NYC

Anti-Inaugural ball in NYC

If you’ve ever experienced the paralyzing anxiety that comes when your ability to protect your loved ones has been taken from you, then you understand what I mean, and you can understand how these two events, while extremely different from one another, impacted my life in somewhat similar ways. Let’s just say I needed a minute... a moment to not be absorbed by my creative work, as is my tendency. A moment to take action, and to send small ripples of positivity into the lives of my loved ones (and I mean that in both a familial and global sense). I needed a minute to see beyond myself.  

Fundraiser in Dantan, Haiti

Fundraiser in Dantan, Haiti


For me that meant giving back. In the days following the election, I gave and I gave and I gave: to the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, Southern Poverty Law Center, National Immigration Law Center, Natural Resources Defense Council and so many more. For Haiti, I launched a fundraiser to rebuild my family’s hometown school in Dantan, raising nearly $9000 to invest in the educational future of a community that has been home to so many generations of my family (and built a new well for access to clean water to boot!!). The giving...it was cathartic and empowering; healing and effective. 

As I turned back to my own work, and began to look at all of the work that lies ahead for us as a nation, I began to find solace in human connectivity, as a concept and as a practice.  Connecting – with women, with people of color, with artists, with immigrants, and the communities that we make up. This connective tissue invited me to dive deeper into my research for Fanm d’Ayiti.

Haitian music is a standing representation of global connectivity, and I will be exploring that a lot through this project.  As of late, I’ve taken a deep interest in listening to Yanvalou: a Haitian folkloric and ceremonial song tradition that is rooted in the African music history of Haitian slaves. Most Haitian slaves came from regions of West Africa – Senegal, Nigeria, Ghana and predominantly the region that is present day Benin, aka the birthplace of voodoo and Yanvalou. This music represents a long history of storytelling, spirituality, social commentary and survival. Yanvalou music is to Haiti as the negro spiritual is to America - more than songs, they are a means of communicating, both subtly and overtly. That music was essential to the preservation of the culture of black people and thus their survival. That music is celebrated each year on January 1st as Haitians commemorate their independence with soup joumou.

One of the greatest interpreters and arrangers of traditional Yanvalou is Toto Bissainthe (1934-1994), a Haitian singer, actress and activist. Yanvalou is recognized often for its signature drumming patterns, but Toto Bissainthe had a way of bringing a sense of through song and lyricism to this music – a take that I am particularly drawn to. She spent many of the formative years of her career living and performing in France, where she started Griots – France’s first black theater company, which specialized in the celebration of black and particularly Haitian culture. In other words, she was oozing with my absolute favorite brand of black girl magic, and it’s no surprise that she is my muse for this project.

Nathalie's mom and dad in the 70s

Nathalie's mom and dad in the 70s

She was a champion of Haitian music abroad, which was an overall triumph for Haiti. Her messages, though strong, were thought to be “safe” to be consumed by the masses of rural Haitians because she sang predominantly in French. Most rural Haitians only spoke Haitian Creole, and at that time were being led in a false assertion of black nationalism by dictator Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier (and subsequently his son, Jean Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier - the dictators my parents escaped when they immigrated to America). To Duvalier, she was not a threat because the people most effected by his reign of terror were intentionally denied access to education, and therefore couldn’t understand her words, though they identified with her use of Yanvalou as a symbol of their cultural heritage. It wasn’t until Toto Bissainthe began to share her messages of dissent regarding the state of Haitian political and social affairs through songs sung in Creole, that she was officially exiled by Duvalier. And yet... her message prevailed. Duvalier was known for threatening rural people with voodoo curses if they went against his rule... and yet it was the message of voodoo music that saved them.  

In one of her most famous songs, "Ayiti M’pa Renmen’w Enko" she speaks out strongly against a corrupt and short sighted leader and the failings of Haitian institutions as a result. Towards the end of the song, she finds hope. The lyrics translate to say:

“But the blue and red rainbow [of the Haitian flag]. Haiti, the youth. Haiti, the hope. Haiti, the deliverance. Haiti, when you rise and stand, my country… I love you.”

The messages here? They are not lost on me. Being an ambassador for Haitian music abroad. Being a strong woman with a voice. Celebrating the culture and history of our ancestors. Knowing that their attachment to their beliefs and traditions is part of what makes the world connected and beautiful, and that continuing those traditions of connectivity is essential to our survival. Knowing that people with inflated senses of power will prey on the less fortunate, and sometimes convince them to make choices against their own best interest by pretending to stand for their traditions and values. And knowing that those of us with voices may face opposition, but that as long as we take a stand, our messages will prevail for generations to come. Let’s just say that I’m grateful to have been able to turn back to this project. I am grateful for this platform of connectivity. They are guiding me through the madness right now. They are giving me hope.

Keep up with Fanm d'Ayiti on the Liquid Music Blog:
Introducing Nathalie Joachim
Liquid Music Connects: Students Visit "Virtually" with Nathalie Joachim

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Website: nathaliejoachim.com
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Twitter: @flutronix (twitter.com/flutronix)
Instagram: @njoachim (instagram.com/njoachim)
Youtube: youtube.com/c/nathaliejoachim
Crowdrise Fundraiser: Hurricane Matthew Relief for Dantan, Haiti
 
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Extra Curricular Listening: Origami Harvest w/Chris Misch-Bloxdorf by Liquid Music

Ambrose Akinmusire

Ambrose Akinmusire

As purveyors of contemporary chamber music with a growing and increasingly adventurous audience, we are wholeheartedly committed to the creation and cultivation of new and diverse types of music. An essential part of this process is providing bridges and context for new listeners to discover and appreciate what could sometimes be considered "challenging" music. Context that we will attempt (<—key word) to provide through our 'Extra-curricular Listening' blog series. 

We will provide some extracurricular listening (or watching) and some rabbit holes for LM followers to excavate and discover their own exciting but perhaps obscure corner of the music world. In preparation for the world premiere of Origami Harvest with Ambrose Akinsmusire, Kool A.D., Marcus Gilmore, Sam Harris and Mivos Quartet, Wednesday, Feb. 15 at Amsterdam Bar and Hall.

This week Chris Misch-Bloxdorf, trombonist, composer and Ambrose Akinmusire fan shares his playlist for Origami Harvest.


Ambrose Akinmusire: our basement

Ambrose’s latest release, the imagined savior is far easier to paint, is a genre-defying record which draws as much from classical music as it does from jazz and contemporary music. This track features vocalist Becca Stevens whose own improvisational ability allows for Ambrose to weave in and out of punctuated jabs and flowing accompaniment. The fluidity of the performers makes it difficult to determine what is composed material and what is the “magic” caused from the space in between. 

Kool A.D.: Ok

This is a 100 track album with nearly 100 different artists featured throughout — variety is inevitable with that much of a cast. The album was released alongside Kool AD’s novel under the same title and the prolific nature of the content dropped in November of 2015 is an ode to his ability to produce quality material across a depth of mediums.

Woody Shaw: Time is Right

Amidst the heritage of trumpet players that shifted the paradigms of jazz, Woody Shaw is arguably the most important figure in not only the improvisational language used but also the technical facility on the instrument in the last few decades. This piece is not necessarily one showing his seemingly endless virtuosity, but captures a side of Woody as a composer and band leader which very much aligns with Ambrose.

Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool

Miles Davis was known for his constant experimentation with form, genre and instrumentation. Birth of the Cool, recorded in 1949, is an early example of Davis’ explorations. With an unusual nonet of trumpet, trombone, alto sax, baritone sax, French horn, tuba and rhythm section, Birth of the Cool features unusual timbres, complex arrangements and counterpoint that were revolutionary to the sound of jazz.

Das Racist: Who's That brown

The Brooklyn-based trio, compiled of Kool A.D., Heems, and Ashok Kondabolu (Dap), were hilarious, insightful artsy dudes that put their energy into making powerful music that reflected their experience in America while always having production that pretty much anyone could dance to.

THE RABBIT HOLE

Artists we couldn't fit in, but think are worth mentioning (in no particular order):

Busdriver
Dawn of Midi
Mary Halvorson

Milo
Tigran Hamasyan

Thundercat
Jaga Jazzist
Children of The Light Trio


Special thanks to Chris for his work on this post. Keep up on his goings on here:
https://chrismisch-bloxdorf.bandcamp.com/

See Ambrose Akinmusire's Origami Havest Live in Saint Paul Wednesday feb 15 at 7:30pm at Amsterdam Bar & hall

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Rapper, Author, Future Farmer: Kool A.D. by Liquid Music

koolad.jpg

by Jeffrey Niblack

On Wednesday February 15 rapper Kool A.D.joins jazz trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire for their latest project, Origami Harvest, at Amsterdam Bar & Hall in Saint Paul, commissioned by the SPCO's Liquid Music and Kaufman Music Center's Ecstatic Music Festival. Origami Harvest features Mivos Quartet alongside pianist Sam Harris and drummer Marcus Gilmore. For more information on the project, read an interview with Ambrose Akinmusire about the project on The Liquid Music blog, available here.


Rapper Kool A.D. is not one to rest on his laurels.  Perhaps most famous for his participation in the indie hip hop group Das Racist, he set forth on a solo career soon after that group disbanded in 2012.  In 2016, he released 10 albums, two of which featured 100 tracks. Much as Origami Harvest promises a melding of genres, Kool A.D. has played with genre and form across his recordings. His rhymes veer sharply between the hilarious, the political, and the formally audacious. 

In addition to his music projects, Kool A.D. is a visual artist, author (a novel and a children's book were published in 2016), and voluminous tweeter.  

Kool A.D. graciously answered a few questions via e-mail in advance of the premiere of Origami Harvest

You've known Ambrose for quite awhile.  What was exciting about working with him on this? How did this collaboration begin?  How has the process of developing the piece worked?

We've had a few friends in common since high school but didn't really kick it 'til later. We've both been doing music since we were kids though, so after some time kicking it, I guess it was inevitable to end up working together.

What about the development of the project surprised you?  Is it different than how you first envisioned it?

We still don't really know what it is yet [laughs]. I know Ambrose isn't big on describing his process anyway, so I won't spoil it.

"Origami Harvest" is described as a convergence of genres, colors, and patterns. How has it been working with multiple styles and genres on this project?  

I work across genre regardless but I guess maybe one of the more significant points where we converge is improvisation.

You had an exceedingly prolific 2016.  Will you keep up the pace in 2017?  What will be next for you after "Origami Harvest"?

I got a couple other shows on calendar now, maybe a little tour in the summer, but more immediately, a reading for my novel at the Center for Fiction in New York on February 22nd, an art show called Total Relevance at Idio Gallery in Brooklyn opening February 23rd, another project [redacted for contractual reasons] I guess I'm not allowed to talk about still [laughs] and some more recording projects. I've got a few other books I'm working on but not sure if I'm publishing any this year... maybe an art book, I don't know. Basically, I'm just chillin', living life, plugging away at my little ideas for whatever they're worth, trying to carve out some peace for me and mine. Eventually I want to get into organic, sustainable farming? I don't know... I probably won't do that for a few more years at least.


The world premiere of Ambrose Akinmusire's Origami Harvest is Wednesday, February 15, 7:30pm at the Amsterdam Bar and Hall. Co-commissioned by The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra's Liquid Music and Kaufman Music Center's Ecstatic Music Festival.

Information and tickets can be found at: http://www.liquidmusicseries.org/akinmusire/

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Dealing with the Invisible: Interview with Ambrose Akinmusire by Liquid Music

ambrose.jpg

by JP Merz

Jazz trumpet virtuoso Ambrose Akinmusire is known for his "unfurling lines that confound expectation" (Chicago Tribune) and the "strong aesthetic compass" (The New York Times) that guides his compositions. On Wednesday, February 15, Akinmusire premieres his latest project, Origami Harvest, at Amsterdam Bar & Hall in Saint Paul, commissioned by the SPCO's Liquid Music and Kaufman Music Center's Ecstatic Music Festival. Origami Harvest features rapper Kool A.D. and the Mivos Quartet alongside pianist Sam Harris and drummer Marcus Gilmore.


Music has always been more of a religious experience for me, you know, dealing with the invisible.

Tell us a bit about your musical background

I was born and raised in Oakland, California. My dad is from Nigeria and my mom’s from a small town in Mississippi. My dad came to Oakland in his mid-20s and my mom when she was a teenager. Both of them come from religious families. It’s hard for me to give a musical background without giving the background of my parents and their religion. Music has always been more of a religious experience for me, you know, dealing with the invisible.  I started on piano in church and then started playing trumpet in church. When I think about the images from my upbringing I have these soundtracks from that time. The music that was being played in the cars or at church or on the radio. These things kind of play in my head when I think back to these images from my childhood. So that’s what got me into music, just things that I was seeing and hearing.

What were some of those soundtracks?

A lot of gospel. Just black music. A lot of hip hop. A lot of funk. Every Sunday my mom would play the Aretha Franklin amazing grace concerts. After we went to church, that record would be on all day. Or James Cleveland, Bobby Bland. My mom listened more to blues and gospel and my dad listened to Nigerian music like King Sunny Ade and Fela Kuti. Growing up, I was listening to all of that and hip hop. So when I went to a jazz camp in 8th grade I was just like ‘oh ok this is just like the stuff I’ve been hearing just played on instruments’. It wasn’t like “now I’m playing jazz.” Jazz has never been this separate thing from black music for me because I was saturated with it as a kid. When you think of blues or black gospel music or hip hop these things are obviously black and come from the black experience. I didn’t really have the “normal” kind of American introduction into jazz.

Turning towards this project, Origami Harvest, what sounds are being evoked and what does the title mean for you?

With this project I was kind of thinking… I hate the word mashup... but that’s what this is. I was thinking what if I were able to play a bunch of stuff from iPod all at the same time...what would that sound like? It would be this! We have some electronics, some jazz, some classical, some hip-hop and all kind of melting into each other, forming new shapes that are also impermanent. And that’s why I like the word harvest. Harvesting is circular there’s the off season and the on season, you keep going and going and there’s no arrival. And then I have this image of kind of slowing folding papers and collecting them... Music is really like a crop... now I’m just getting very vague but that’s how I think about it.  But I do think this is a beautiful time in music. A lot of people like to talk about genres or “crossing over” but I think if you look at what New Amsterdam is doing or Kendrick Lamar or lots of people in jazz... it’s like everybody’s erased genres. They’ve erased these boundaries of where you can and cannot go and what can be considered jazz or hip hop or classical. I think this is a great time for this type of project.

You’re not just trying to play all of the ‘right’ notes, you’re considering the ‘right’ notes and the ‘wrong’ notes.

How do you navigate working with musicians from different musical backgrounds in an improvisational setting?

I think now in 2017 it’s hard to find musicians that don’t improvise. Not everyone needs to know how to play a jazz standard like Cherokee in all twelve keys to improvise. Not to get too cliche or deep but we as humans are evolving and evolution is improvising. You can’t really evolve without going into the unknown. I think that in order to make music now, the music of this time, improvisation is something you have to understand. 

On your last album, The Imagined Savior is Far Easier to Paint you also worked with a string quartet, what feels different or new about this time with the Mivos Quartet?

On my last album, there were certain things I was trying to address. I went through this long period of trying to address the lack of sustain in jazz. Most “jazz” instruments can’t sustain a note for very long. Drums, Piano, Bass, Guitar, even trumpet can’t sustain for very long. So I thought, what about having strings to sustain the note for a very long time. Or having Theo Bleckmann layering his voice on a loop pedal. I wanted to create an album that almost never had a silent moment. So that’s what I was dealing with on that album sonically. With Origami Harvest it’s very different, especially with a string quartet like the Mivos Quartet. When I think of Mivos, I don’t think of them as a group there to sustain. I think of them as a rhythmic machine, a living organism.

How has working with Victor Vazquez (Kool A.D.) shaped this project?

Victor is from Oakland as well so we’ve known each other for a very long time and have a lot of mutual friends. We’ve always kind of been one step away from working with each other… I think now at this point in my life and my career I try to surround myself with musicians and people who are willing to present all sides of themselves because then you can deal with honesty and actually have a real conversation. In 2017 with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the media, it’s very tempting to only present the good sides of yourself. But I like people who are just as comfortable with the ugly sides of themselves as they are with the beautiful sides of themselves both in their craft and socially. And I think Victor embraces that in his lyrics and his life. I think once you get to that level in an improvisation setting, the possibilities are limitless. You’re not just trying to play all of the “right” notes, you’re considering the “right” notes and the “wrong” notes.

Has anything in this project surprised you along the way? Or not gone as you anticipated?

No because I don’t anticipate things. The way I’m dealing with music as I get older is that I’m just here as a scribe, just writing things down. I’m not trying to shape to be any one particular thing. So there is no surprise but it is all discovery. It’s just what is coming out, there’s no judgement there’s no preconceived ideas. There’s a bit of editing with instrumentation and sonics. I’m not usually surprised by how things turn out. But on the other hand I’m always very surprised because I didn’t know anything about the music beforehand.

Is there anything else you’d like the audience to know before the show?

Not really. For this project, I feel like I’m in the audience as well because of the way I’m dealing with the music. Sure, my name will be at the top of the composition but the music doesn’t belong me, music doesn’t belong to anyone. Music will be here, it was here before all of us were born and when we die it will still be here. We are just here to serve the music. So I have just as much insight as the audience and I’ll be experiencing as they experience it.


The world premiere of Ambrose Akinmusire's Origami Harvest is Wednesday, February 15, 7:30pm at the Amsterdam Bar and Hall. Co-commissioned by The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra's Liquid Music and Kaufman Music Center's Ecstatic Music Festival.

Information and tickets can be found at: http://www.liquidmusicseries.org/akinmusire/

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Poligaze: The End Signals the Beginning by Liquid Music

By Lauren McNee

On Friday, November 18 at 8:00pm, Liquid Music audiences filled the sold-out Fitzgerald Theater to see a show nearly two years in the making. Minneapolis’s own indie-rock favorites Poliça and the Berlin-based contemporary ensemble s t a r g a z e shared the stage to present Music for the Long Emergency, a transatlantic collaboration between the two ensembles. Throughout the 2015.16 season, Liquid Music offered audiences the unique opportunity to see this artistic project from beginning to end.  

After 18 months of sending sounds back and forth via Skype and email, collaborating in-person and performing together in Berlin, Poliça and s t a r g a z e became kindred spirits on a personal and musical level. Members of s t a r g a z e arrived in the Twin Cities the Monday before the show for five days of intense rehearsals, friendship and daily breakfast at Mickey's Diner. 

A darkly lit stage signaled the start of the show, as musicians from s t a r g a z e entered one by one, gradually joined by Poliça for a rendition of Reich’s “Music for Pieces of Wood”, originally written for five claves. Reich’s minimalist piece took on a fresh character with the addition of new instrumental voices, synthesized beats and Leaneagh’s soulful voice as audiences began to hear the distinctive voice of the new band formed by the fusion of these two ensembles: Poligaze.

The stage lighting alternated between a fiery red, reverential purple and celestial star-like effect as Poligaze performed original works, including a touching Prince medley. True to Poliça’s reputation as political mavericks, Leaneagh introduced the show’s finale, “The Long Emergency” by reading a passage from an essay by Sarah Kendzior on “how to be your own light” in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election:

“Write a list of things you would never believe. Because it is possible that in the next year, you will either believe them or be forced to say you believe them.”

"The Long Emergency", a song title with meaning derived from the name of the project, Music for the Long Emergency ended with a standing ovation. As audiences exited the theater, the effect of this beautifully visceral show is clear: this is only the beginning for Poligaze.  

Liquid Music Holiday Gift Guide by Liquid Music

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What should you get that persnickety music fan in your life? Or what should you get to help expand the musical horizons of a good friend?  We are here to help with our 2016 Liquid Music Holiday Gift Guide!

Does everybody you know have tickets to upcoming Liquid Music concerts? There are still five amazing projects left in our current season!  Single tickets are available on our website or you can order a Create Your Own Series over the phone, giving substantial savings when you purchase tickets to three or more concerts.  

Besides concert tickets, many past and future Liquid Music artists have released new projects in 2016. Some key releases include:

Vicky Chow, A O R T A
Pianist Vicky Chow plays electro-acoustic works from six contemporary composers.  

Eighth Blackbird, Hand Eye
Hand Eye transports us to a Soul-studded jam session (Ted Hearne), the buzzing contagion of an internet meme (Andrew Norman), a high-velocity adventure-ride (Robert Honstein), a shimmering yet blinding landscape (Christopher Cerrone), the flickering and pulsing of ink on paper (Timo Andres), and a warm but tattered beauty (Jacob Cooper).

Daniel Wohl, Holographic
A Liquid Music commissioned album, released to critical acclaim this year. 

Jace Clayton, Uproot: Travels in 21st-Century Music and Digital Culture
In his book, Jace Clayton aka DJ Rupture examines the boundaries of music and technology across cultures. With humor, insight, and expertise, Clayton illuminates the connections between a Congolese hotel band and the indie-rock scene, Mexican rodeo teens and Israeli techno, and Whitney Houston and the robotic voices in rural Moroccan song, and offers an unparalleled understanding of music in the digital age.

For the young music lover, consider The Life of James Dewitt Yancey.  This children's book about the life of the hip hop artist better known as J Dilla is boldly illustrated and conveys the joys of both music-making and listening.

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For someone looking to expand their horizons in music, Ben Ratliff's Every Song Ever provides a primer on how to better find music that you love in a world where our choices are so overwhelming.  Ratliff eloquently and simply writes about basic characteristics of music in way that can increase our understanding and appreciation of more complex music.  As a bonus, there are listening recommendations at the end of each chapter (and an associated Spotify playlist) to make the reading much more fun! 

 

For someone looking to make some innovative music on their own, consider a melodica, an EBow, or music-making software such as or Logic Pro X.  

If your friend loves music of the season, consider Phil Kline's Unsilent Night, a fun document of an offbeat holiday tradition and a unique spin on holiday music, emphasizing community and connection.

 

 

And if records, books, or instruments aren't your thing, Liquid Music curator Kate Nordstrum recommends some new attire for concerts (or a night on the town) from Cliché, an uptown boutique.

 

Photo courtesy Cliche.

Photo courtesy Cliche.

Liquid Music CONNECTS: Students visit "virtually" with Nathalie Joachim by Liquid Music

By SPCO Education Manager Eleanor GrandPre

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Now in its 22nd year, The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra’s CONNECT program serves students in grades 1-5 in twelve Minneapolis and Saint Paul public schools and in three elementary schools around the state of Minnesota and is free of charge to all partnering schools. The program provides supplementary music education resources to students, curriculum and support for teachers, musician visits to each of the participating schools and a live cumulative music education theme-based orchestra concert for each of the students participating in our local program. Our feedback increasingly indicates that teachers are looking for more performances for their students. With the complexities of the school schedules in mind and a heightened desire to deliver more performances to the students, the CONNECT virtual visit program was born.  Liquid Music curator and producer Kate Nordstrum and SPCO’s education manager Eleanor GrandPre worked together to find a partnership with a Liquid Music artist who could provide these schools with a unique and transformative performance that could be experienced virtually.

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Flutist and composer Nathalie Joachim, this year’s Liquid Music Virtual Artist in Residence, was the perfect answer. With a passion for performance, composing new music and introducing music to young listeners, Nathalie is exactly the type of artist students should be exposed to. Additionally, Nathalie is young, a woman, and a woman of color – all underrepresented demographics in the world of classical music and composition.  For the highly diverse student body of the CONNECT program (over 5,000 students), it is especially important, and significant, to see themselves in the artists they interact with.

The nature of the virtual visit posed a unique challenge for students who were used to a live musician visit and our goal was to make this virtual experience just as meaningful as a live experience.  Students frequently looked forward to asking their own questions at the end of a musician visit, so we integrated Q&A to the virtual visit.  In October 2016, Nathalie produced an introduction video for the CONNECT schools. 

This video helped students get to know her as a composer, a flutist and singer. Eleanor GrandPre produced an online student guide to help students navigate through the video and stay engaged. In addition to introducing herself to students via this video, Nathalie shared a performance of her piece “Aware”. After viewing the video from Nathalie, students will have the chance to respond with questions via “selfie” video.  These student questions will be sent to Natahlie, and she will select at least one student question from each school to respond to. In the Spring, a second video will be produced that includes the student questions via their “selfie” videos and Nathalie’s direct responses. 

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This is an exciting partnership; one that will help students understand the versatility of a career in music, the exciting world of contemporary music, and give students the opportunity to connect with a living composer.  


Keep up with Fanm d'Ayiti on the Liquid Music Blog:
Introducing Nathalie Joachim

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/nathaliejoachim

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David Lang interview with bassist Logan Coale by Liquid Music

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David Lang, one of America’s preeminent living composers and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for music, brings his contemplative work darker to Saint Paul for its Midwest premiere. As much a hypnotic sonic and visual object as it is a piece of music, darker weaves its intricate solo lines into a delicate and subtly emotional fabric. The performance will feature mesmerizing projections created live by New York based visual artist Suzanne Bocanegra. Logan Coale, an NYC-based bassist and occasional performer with the SPCO, will be joining for this performance. Below is a conversation Logan and David had on November 9, 2016 in a Greenwich Village coffee shop. In addition to introducing the inspirations and ideas behind darker, they discuss classical music conventions, the challenges young composers face, as well as Bonnie Raitt and Bob Dylan.


Why the title darker?

Part of the idea in titling it darker was asking myself, can I make something that is emotional without specifying the moment where it becomes emotional? Can I make something which becomes a little more introspective without doing it in the way we normally do in classical music which is to build something big and then take it away suddenly and we are left bereft and quiet and we feel emptiness. Classical music can be very manipulative in this way, where the composer determines what kind of emotions the listeners should have. We try to make the audience have this experience all at the exact same time so that everyone is full of hopefulness at this moment and then bursts into tears at this particular moment. This piece, darker, is a very different way of looking at it. One of the things I love about religion, quite honestly, is when you are in organized religion and are performing actions over and over again, the amount of thoughtfulness is up to you. You can be in that space but thinking about something else completely or be thinking about something very deep and personal. The action doesn’t change, it’s what you bring to the action that determines what kind of experience you have. And it’s nice to actually think that sometimes a piece of music can do that.

What do you think the audience should know going into this performance?

darker is more of an event than it is a piece. The music does actually change over time but the changes are so subtle that you sort of have to adjust your metabolism before you can notice what’s changing. It takes a while before you ask yourself, “I don’t know how I got into this environment, this is slightly different than where I thought I was, was the music eternally that way and I just didn’t know?” There’s never a brand new section where something surprising and exciting happens. So in that way, it’s similar to watching life go by and gradually realizing that there are moments and elements you can track over time.

Unlike a lot of classical music which usually uses very dynamic and extreme emotions. Did you write darker in this way to try to draw similarities between the the experience of listening to a piece and the experience of life?

There are two answers to that question. Point number one is that this piece is a memorial for Jeanette Yanikian and I have a sneaking suspicion that I will be the only person in every audience, including in St. Paul, who knew her. [You can read more about David’s accounting of Jeanette Yanikian here]

Point number two is just sort of a general though about classical music. I think we get used to things being a particular way but there’s no reason for those things to be set in stone except for the fact that we love and revere the music that came before us. We learn that that’s the way well-made pieces work. For example, we love how in a Mahler or Beethoven symphony, but Mahler in particular, the emotional range is really exhausted and we consider that to be exciting in a concert hall. But if that were our real lives, we would be wiped out.

It would be like watching that same Hollywood movie over and over and over.

Right, so I just think in order do what I want music to do, I have to use music to figure out how I actually feel things, in real life. Sometimes it’s necessary for me to say “music has to be more like the life I have.” You know, in a piece of music you hear something really exciting and you go, “Well that’s just the obligatory part where something exciting happens”. Bartok’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste is unbelievably cool, creepy, intellectual, and heady for the first two thirds of the piece and then it goes "Oh, we'll leave you with a folk tune because we want you to be happy." There are these tropes that we don’t examine in classical music because we like to follow the patterns that were set by our “betters” from the past. So in order to have an experience which reminds us of who we are, now, it might be necessary to challenge some of those with new music.

Do you feel the challenges young composers are facing today are similar to the ones you faced or are they different?

The biggest thing that happens for any composer is you feel like you put all this work into a piece and all you want to do is to be taken seriously. No one is in the field for money or fame. You’re in the field because you have a musical opinion, you work really hard on something, and it’s unbelievably satisfying if somebody comes up to you and says “oh what you did, I appreciate it” and you can live for a year on that! That, plus whatever other horrible things you have to do for a year… And I think that’s the biggest problem with our field. I think what people need is to just really feel like they are part of the whole ecology of the system. We need all these young composers, performers, musicians, to feel like they have a purpose. To tell them we respect them and their voices are valued. Even if they never become successful… we need all of these people in order to keep the whole ecosystem fresh. Keep ideas passing from person to person and keep people optimistic. So I think that’s probably the biggest problem is that we have a system in which it’s very difficult to remind ourselves to be optimistic all of the time.

Students at the Bang on a Can summer Festival, an annual new music retreat held at Mass MoCA organized by David and the other founding members of Bang on a Can.

Students at the Bang on a Can summer Festival, an annual new music retreat held at Mass MoCA organized by David and the other founding members of Bang on a Can.

Are you the kind of person where when you were a young kid you said “I’m going to be a musician or a composer” or did it come to you a little later?

Well I was a chemistry student as an undergraduate so I was going to school to be a doctor. I never thought that I would do it for real though. I spent every waking minute playing music on as many instruments as I could. I played in rock bands, jazz bands, orchestras and marching bands. And I’m very nerdy, I played bugle in the boy scouts. During this time I always assumed that I would be going to medical school because that’s what I had been programmed to do from birth. My father’s a doctor.

So when was that moment, where you switched and said “Oh I’m doing this”?

Well it was really traumatic for me actually. I really wasn’t enjoying doing the sciences. In college, all the time I should been studying for my Calculus final, that was time I spent doing music. When I decided to go onto music graduate school my parents were very angry with me and actually never got over it really.

But do you actually remember that specific moment.

Yeah I actually do because it was so traumatic. I actually transferred away from Stanford to the music department at UCLA half way through school and at the end of the summer I never told Stanford that I wasn’t coming back so I just woke up one day and said to my parents, "I actually don’t want to go to UCLA but I do want to study music. So I’ll go back to Stanford, but I’ll do music there." They were not happy, that made them really angry.

So we’re meeting on the 9th of November...I was going to end with a dorky question about what music you listen to when you clean your house but maybe I’ll change that question now to say. What music do you think you’ll listen to tonight?

You mean because of the political situation?

I don’t know, just your mood.

I’m not in the mood to listen to music today. I’m completely distraught actually. And I think there are some moments where you’re not a musician any longer because being a citizen is just so much more powerful. I don’t know, I’m just afraid basically. I don’t want to use music to make me more or less afraid. I’m only going to be able to figure out how to live in the future..

But if you were home alone...and you had to clean your house…

Oh always listen to Dylan, Bob Dylan.

It’s you, a vacuum cleaner and Bob Dylan.

If the vacuuming is very loud I can put on something incredibly obnoxious but I listen to various kinds of classical music everyday but I can’t actually clean the house with it. You know if it’s on I have to sit and I have to listen to it. What do you clean the house with?

Bonnie Raitt gets played a lot for that. There’s “Let’s give them something to talk about” I think it’s partly because that’s what my parents listened to maybe when we were doing similar things so you know it feels like the right thing. But you gotta skip the love songs because they’re too sad.

But anyway, is there anything else you want the good people of Saint Paul to know?

If you think you’d like the most meticulous passage work from Vivaldi but heard by Arvo Pärt and then stretched out for an hour accompanied by a psychedelic light show, you should come to this concert.


David Lang’s darker will be presented at the Ordway Concert Hall in Saint Paul, MN on Saturday December 3rd at 8:00pm. 

Tickets can be reserved at: http://www.liquidmusicseries.org/tickets

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David Lang's darker: Suzanne Bocanegra, Artist Feature by Liquid Music

by Lisa Perry

Bocanegra’s art is human, historical, filled with the material of life, highly organized and highly messy all at the same time.
— BOMB magazine
Still image from darker

Still image from darker

The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra's Liquid Music Series and the Walker Art Center will present David Lang’s darker at the Ordway Concert Hall in Saint Paul on December 3, 2016 at 8:00 pm. The performance will feature musicians of The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and a live video liquid light show created by Brooklyn based artist Suzanne Bocanegra.

The synthesis of visual art and live music is becoming more prevalent as the symbiotic relationship created by the two mediums can provide a unique and immersive experience for viewers. In darker, these two art forms come together and enrich each other, creating a slow-burning, yet all-consuming hypnotic atmosphere. 

In the composition of darker, Lang considered a visual lighting component from the very beginning. In an interview with the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, Lang states:

“So the original idea for the piece and one of the reasons why it’s called "darker" is because I imagined that this piece would have a lighting design. That this piece would be sort of like a proposal to a lighting designer – Here is this piece that gets a little darker in it’s emotional tone – maybe you could figure out a lighting plot that goes through this whole piece, which also gets darker as it goes along.”

“The lighting for this particular performance is going to be a film by the artist Suzanne Bocanegra, who happens to be my wife. She does these incredible liquid light shows where she adds very strange things – light projections of moving water, oil, and colored pigment. She made a beautiful movie to go along with this and it's going to be projected as the music goes along.”

Performance image from darker

Performance image from darker

Suzanne Bocanegra sheds light on her approach to creating visuals for darker:

"I developed a liquid light show for darker that becomes both a moving set and a quasi-narrative. Liquid light shows were originally developed for rock concerts in the 60s to engage the eyes in the mind-altering experience of the music, and I've always been interested in how this form of visual show making is a sort of live abstract expressionist painting. And, just as you see the musicians make the music in front of you, my hands are included in the frame as well, as a echo of the musicians' active hands."

Still images from darker

Still images from darker

“In the program notes to David's score to darker he invites people to interpret the music with some kind of lighting design.  He doesn't say what the lights should do, just that they could be an important part of a performance.  David asked me to listen to the music and think about how I might add a lighting element to it.”

“My first thought was to remember Jeanette Yanikian - darker is dedicated to her memory.  She was the wife of the composer Louis Andriessen and was a composer and performance artist in her own right.  One piece she did that I never saw but I heard about was a piece where she put microphones all over her body and then broadcast the flow of all the fluids flowing through her.  I thought a liquid light show would honor her, and would also be great fun to do.”

Still image from darker

Still image from darker

In addition to her work in darker, Bocanegra has several works that have recently toured across the country. One of these projects, entitled When a Priest Marries a Witch, is an artist lecture and performance starring Paul Lazar and was presented at the Museum of Modern Art. A lecture entitled Bodycast, featuring Frances MacDormand has toured as well and was presented at the Hammer Museum and the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Bocanegra is currently working on a new project entitled Farmhouse / Whorehouse, an Artist Lecture by Suzanne Bocanegra starring Lili Taylor. It will premiere in April 2017 at the Mitchell Center for the Arts in Houston, TX.

More information on the artist can be found at www.suzannebocanegra.com

Performance image from darker

Performance image from darker

David Lang’s darker will be presented at the Ordway Concert Hall in Saint Paul, MN on Saturday December 3rd at 8:00pm. 

Tickets can be reserved at: http://www.liquidmusicseries.org/tickets

FOLLOW LIQUID MUSIC FOR UPDATES AND ANNOUNCEMENTS: 
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Interview w/ Poliça's producer Ryan Olson by Liquid Music

by Steve Marsh

The Washington Post recently pointed out the problems inherent in protesting our addiction to oil in a world addicted to oil. “How did the out-of-state activists protesting the Dakota Access oil pipeline arrive at the North Dakota site?” they asked. “How were the sleeping bags they will use when the high plains winter arrives manufactured and shipped to the stores at which they were purchased? What are the plastics made of in the phones they have been using at Standing Rock, N.D.?” 

When Poliça and s t a r g a z e named their Liquid Music collaboration Music for the Long Emergency, they weren’t planning to make music that could actually be played during the Long Emergency, when electricity will be scarce and finding the time to play music promises to be even scarcer. Neither Poliça nor s t a r g a z e are neo-Luddites nor doomsday preppers—Poliça’s sound is drenched in electronics, and while s t a r g a z e is an ensemble using classical instruments, they’re also making music that needs at least a little juice. But there is something zombie movie eerie about the sound of each group, something that anticipates a time when making music the way they’re accustomed to making it might not be possible.

Poliça’s drummer, Drew Christopherson, first heard of the concept of the Long Emergency during a wedding ceremony in Downsville, Wisconsin—the officiant dropped the title of James Howard Kunstler’s 2005 book The Long Emergency into his homily. Kunstler defines "The Long Emergency" as the interminably fallow period of civilization that will follow our present industrial age where relentless societal growth has been fueled by cheap oil. When that oil spigot finally runs dry, precipitating related crises of food and water, Kunstler argues, convincingly—frustratingly—that Elon Musk won’t be walking through that door with some miracle perpetual motion machine that will save us.

A week before s t a r g a z e arrived in St. Paul, I met with Polica’s Ryan Olson at his practice space in the decaying husk of a paint factory in North Minneapolis. It was a different setting from where I watched him work with s t a r g a z e in Berlin: at the starkly beautiful Bauhaus-designed East German-era radio complex, the Funkhaus. But not too different — there was still something post-industrial about it, a “we just survived something” vibe. We talked about his plans for finishing the collaboration, for making music inspired by, as Olson says, “this shit that cannot sustain.” Throughout our conversation, I was reminded of a long passage in Kunstler’s book, where he seizes on the Second Law of Thermodynamics, the axiom of entropy, which states that over time, energy cannot be destroyed or created, only changed from ordered to disorder. “Entropy explains why logs burn,” Kunstler writes, “why iron rusts, why tornadoes happen, and why animals die.”


Steve: What does the Long Emergency mean to you?

Ryan: Preparations for the next stage, after this wave of life explodes. It’s insane who we’re handing the power over to these days. It’s incredible. It’s going to be run into the ground. So we have to figure out ways to do it without that system’s funding.

Steve: The second law of thermodynamics says that as you lose energy, as it dissipates, it spins out of control. It doesn’t resolve itself. It pinwheels off. And some of the music that I heard you make with s t a r g a z e in Berlin was atonal, it had aspects of noise. There weren’t pretty melodies all the way though, it didn’t resolve every time. So what kind of ideas inspired by the Long Emergency ideas will be built into the actual music?

Ryan: Everyone has their own ideas about preparing for the future. It all seems quasi-apocalyptic. It’s too much to even name what exactly it’s about. It’s a good enough blanket to allow you to create under. But everyone is bringing their own dynamic to the project.

Steve: Kunstler believes that one of the reasons modernism sneers at beauty is because it isn’t necessary. He argues that in the Long Emergency, when 90% of our effort will be spent in our gardens, a beautiful human voice will become much more appreciated. But your music is a less literal interpretation: you’re only anticipating the Long Emergency, not making music that will be played during it.

Ryan: It might be kind of apocalyptic sounding. It definitely gets there. The main deal is we are still writing in the days leading up to the show.

Poliça and s t a r g a z e rehearsing at Funkhaus studios in Berlin

Poliça and s t a r g a z e rehearsing at Funkhaus studios in Berlin

Steve: The musicians in s t a r g a z e, they’re classically trained but they can behave more like noise musicians.

Ryan: Yeah, they’re able to react. It’s not all sheet music. They can improvise very well.

Steve: Is that because of their personalities or their training? What makes them special as classically trained musicians?

Ryan: They’re incredibly versatile and are to pick up on a lot of different sounds. I was playing random radio blasts with like static signal, like sample hits, and they would recreate them on violin. They are insane sculptors of sound, masters of their tone. They are able to react to it and play with it.

Steve: Can all classically trained musicians do that?

Ryan: No. It’s not a common trait.

Steve: You’ve worked with some SPCO musicians.

Ryan: Yes, and they’re all phenomenal players. But in collaboration, s t a r g a z e may be more adventurous. Their sight reading is automatic as hell. But they can also go off the paper, and their ears are quick and responsive.

Steve: Improvisation is a big part of what you do in your band, Marijuana Deathsquads, and you and Channy have been recently playing improvised sets as a Poliça duo. Why is improvisation important to you?

Ryan: The reaction to your environment is pretty important to how music works.

Steve: I was talking to your friend Boys Noize about this in Berlin. In a consumer based society, where everything is about buying this music, whether it’s at Walmart or on iTunes, we have a stricter expectation about how the music will be presented. So we can be prejudiced: in a live setting we want to hear the record played the way it sounded on the record, the way we’re used to consuming it. So there may be something more honest when you’re reacting to the music for the first time in a room, and improv ensures that.

Ryan: That’s true.

Steve: So when you’re playing noise improv, which is another step removed from the western classical music tradition, when you’re abandoning that classical language by making noise music, you’re abandoning the baggage of that language.

Ryan: There’s so much 12 tone noise in classical too. It’s run the gamut. But I agree, noise has sprung up from a rebuttal to the classical tradition.

Steve: And you do love these avant garde musicians—you played me that Steve Reich track the other day, you love John Zorn too.

Ryan: Yeah it’s the 50th anniversary of Come Out. I want to do something with the Reich tribute. Something like Come Out but with a different process.

Steve: Can you explain his polyrhythmic approach?

Ryan: Yeah, like with Come Out, it’s like using the phasing of the tape echo, phasing off of itself. I want to do something like that, but with tremolos that are slightly phasing and a three part harmony in the round.

Steve: So the delayed phasing will prevent the three-part harmony from absolutely resolving itself.

Ryan: Well it might. We’ll see, it could get there.

Steve: But it will be frustrating. It will sound like something falling apart.

Ryan: We make things that make sense, sounding like something that’s on our minds. Especially with the seeming end of the world creeping its way directly up there. Police state fucking problems, climate disaster issues. Just all of it, ready to pop.

Steve: Kunstler writes that in the 14th century, during the height of the black plague, spooky skulls and crossbones were prominent in art. Do you think we’ll see goth again?

Ryan: It’s a bumming time, to be sure. It’s hard to say going into it how much that plays into it. It makes sense, but I can’t claim all those things as having meaning for us. I do believe those messages will be there.

Steve: Channy will make this more explicit with the words. I think about the Come Out. It was a direct response to the railroading of the Harlem Six in 1964. You feel the mayhem of that time, with it’s overtones of racial injustice and Vietnam. And you feel that in that song even though it’s just one phrase.

Ryan: Lift my shirt and push on the bruise and let the bruise blood come out to show them.

Harlem protests of 1964

Harlem protests of 1964

Steve: The other thing that’s interesting about this project, is that it’s being underwritten by the SPCO and it’s being put on in the Fitzgerald Theater. But presumably the music will be confrontational to our establishment culture. Isn’t the SPCO the quintessential establishment? And now they’ve commissioned a piece called Music for the Long Emergency. How confrontational will it be? Is it going to be shades of Stavinsky’s debut of Rites of Spring in Paris in 1913? Are you hoping for riots in the aisles?

Ryan: Well the only times we’ve been down to Fitzgerald they’ve been incredibly accommodating and exceptionally professional. The folks that run it are amazing. So that shouldn’t be a problem.

Steve: I’m talking about the audience.

Ryan: I actually don’t know the audience for Liquid Music.

Steve: What kind of reaction are you hoping to get from bourgeois Hillary Clinton voters (like me) who are coming in with sour stomachs? Are you hoping to turn our stomachs further or are you hoping we'll enjoy it?

Ryan: I think they should always be entertained in some sense.

Steve: Like in the Gladiator sense?

Ryan: Kinda. It should be entertaining, whether that be a pretty song or introverted noise. It should take you somewhere. It should be some form of entertainment. That covers enough of what it should be. That’s the goal and there are lots of ways to do that. It’s just interesting to try to mix these different conversations together. The classical world conversation versus what we do, which is not that. To try to utilize them both in a unique way to try to understand. There’s a lot to know. That’s the thing about s t a r g a z e, they know that language so well, they can express such exotic emotions. I can say, “play the violin like this sort of thing,” or “play this kind of sound.” It’s like having tons of synths that you can turn into any kind of sound you want basically. They run the gamut of the expression on those instruments. So it’s fascinating to like have that in your band. You know?

Steve: So they’re like an analog modular synth personified.

Ryan: Yeah and they know how to patch themselves very well.

Steve: Can you explain “patch” to the layman?

Ryan: The routing to create a tone, a signal path, is a patch. 

Steve: If you were able to come up with a piece on your synthesizer or on your laptop, and had them make something that sounds similar or to write something inspired by that sound, could you use s t a r g a z e to play electronic noise music without electricity after the fall?

Ryan: Yeah, they could do that. That’s true. But we’re also employing electronics on their instruments to create different sounds.

Steve: But in a pinch, this could literally be music for the Long Emergency?

Ryan: Yes.

Steve: Do you think this music will be beautiful?

Ryan: There will be parts. It won’t get too “campfire.”

Steve Marsh is a Twin Cities based writer who has published with Mpls. St. Paul Magazine, Pitchfork, GQ and many others.

See the world premiere of Music for the Long Emergency:
Co-presented with The Current
Friday, November 18, 2016, 8pm (SOLD OUT)
Fitzgerald Theater, Saint Paul, MN

Follow Poliça:
Website: thisispolica.com
Twitter: @thisispolica (twitter.com/thisispolica)
Instagram: @thisispolica (instagram.com/thisispolica)
Facebook: facebook.com/thisispolica
Youtube: youtube.com/user/polica

Follow s t a r g a z e:
Website: we-are-stargaze.com
Twitter: @wearestargaze (twitter.com/wearestargaze)
Instagram: @we_are_stargaze (instagram.com/we_are_stargaze)
Facebook: www.facebook.com/wearestargaze/
Vimeo: vimeo.com/wearestargaze

FOLLOW LIQUID MUSIC FOR UPDATES AND ANNOUNCEMENTS: 
Twitter: @LiquidMusicSPCO (twitter.com/LiquidMusicSPCO)
Instagram: @LiquidMusicSeries (instagram.com/liquidmusicseries
Facebook: facebook.com/SPCOLiquidMusic
Podcast: Liquid Music Playlist

s t a r g a z e: Collaboration and Interpretation by Liquid Music

By Jeffrey Niblack

The world premiere of “Music for the Long Emergency” brings together two distinctive musical artists: Poliça and s t a r g a z e. While Twin Cities audiences are likely familiar with Poliça’s music, this performance marks the U.S. debut of the “renegade new classical ensemble,” (Boiler Room) s t a r g a z e, a Berlin-based collective. 

s t a r g a z e often performs new and existing compositions, but they also have a history of collaborating with musicians outside of contemporary classical music. To better understand the unique contributions of s t a r g a z e to their projects, we are presenting a series of comparisons using some of their collaborations with or interpretations of the music of others.

The Dodos
The Dodos are known for lush pop music that incorporates strong poly-rhythmic components. As part of performances in London, The Dodos collaborated with s t a r g a z e to revisit several of their songs. Writing about these performances, The Huffington Post said “orchestral support can often feel self indulgent and egotistical with the orchestra often only there to serve the band. But here it feels entirely equal; two like-minded musical entities fluidly playing and communicating with each other." The below performances of the song “Transformer” illustrate this. The original version is dominated by two distinct guitar parts. In the version with s t a r g a z e, one of the guitar parts is taken over by strings and woodwinds. As the song grows, the number of instruments expands until it reaches an exciting wall of sound.  Although the basics of the song remain much unchanged, the musicians of s t a r g a z e add a richness and dynamism to the original version. 

The Grateful Dead - “What’s Become of the Baby”
On the recent Day of the Dead tribute compilation--a collection of contemporary musicians performing Grateful Dead songs, curated by Aaron and Bryce Dessner--s t a r g a z e performs “What’s Become of the Baby”. The original recording is a bit of an oddity in the Grateful Dead catalog: Jerry Garcia sings an a capella chant-like melody, his voice obscured by heavy echo, the song occasionally bathed in a faintly perceptible drone.  

The s t a r g a z e rendition uses the vocal line in the original song as an inspiration and a starting point: different instruments--including voices late in the piece--take on the vocal melody and repeat it.  The shifting instrumentation creates small movements through the piece--more complex than the original version and wholly unique. 

Deerhoof Chamber Variations
Deerhoof’s Greg Saunier composed Deerhoof Chamber Variations which took several of his band’s songs and arranged them as a single piece for chamber musicians. “Data," one of the songs included in the piece, is made up of angular guitar lines and punctuated by percussion. The s t a r g a z e recording of the "Data" section of Deerhoof Chamber Variations replaces the guitars and drums with strings, harp, and brass, but the most intriguing augmentation is the vocal part. Using stereo sound, the dual voices interactively layer to become their own instrument, their emotional reservedness providing a stark contrast to the warmth of s t a r g a z e's instrumental arrangement.  

Terry Riley: In C
Terry Riley’s composition “In C”, a series of 53 musical phrases for unspecified instruments and musicians, is defined by the collaboration and interpretation that is part of every performance. Riley provides guidance on its performance, but there are many choices to be determined by the performers. 

s t a r g a z e began a string of collaborative performances of “In C” in 2013, collaborating with artists including Nils Frahm, Bill Frissell and Sam Amidon. Below are separate performances with Nils Frahm and composer Terry Riley.  

The two recordings below illustrate how the collaborative process can yield vastly different results. The performance with Frahm sets off with a burst of tension and energy, culminating with most of the musicians giving it their all. In contrast, the performance with Riley builds slowly, closing quietly, in an almost meditative state.  

With these comparisons, we see how s t a r g a z e can add or reveal new elements in the music and what a vital and joyful presence they are when they collaborate with other musicians.  We can’t wait to see what they bring to Liquid Music and the world premiere of Music for the Long Emergency.  

See the world premiere of Music for the Long Emergency:
Copresented with The Current
Friday, November 18, 2016, 8pm (SOLD OUT)
Fitzgerald Theater, Saint Paul, MN

Keep up with Music for the Long Emergency on the Liquid Music Blog:
First Look 
Tables Turned: André de Ridder interviews Channy Leaneagh
Catching up with s t a r g a z e: Weekender Festival, Berlin 2015
Virtual Residency Mini Doc Part I
Meet s t a r g a z e
From Virtual to Reality: s t a r g a z e + Poliça's First Musical Meet-up
Music for the Long Emergency: Naming the Virtual Residency with Poliça and s t a r g a z e
Podcast interview with Channy Leaneagh on Liquid Music Playlist 

Follow s t a r g a z e:
Website: we-are-stargaze.com
Twitter: @wearestargaze (twitter.com/wearestargaze)
Instagram: @we_are_stargaze (instagram.com/we_are_stargaze)
Facebook: www.facebook.com/wearestargaze/
Vimeo: vimeo.com/wearestargaze

Follow Poliça:
Website: thisispolica.com
Twitter: @thisispolica (twitter.com/thisispolica)
Instagram: @thisispolica (instagram.com/thisispolica)
Facebook: facebook.com/thisispolica
Youtube: youtube.com/user/polica

FOLLOW LIQUID MUSIC FOR UPDATES AND ANNOUNCEMENTS: 
Twitter: @LiquidMusicSPCO (twitter.com/LiquidMusicSPCO)
Instagram: @LiquidMusicSeries (instagram.com/liquidmusicseries
Facebook: facebook.com/SPCOLiquidMusic
Podcast: Liquid Music Playlist

 

 

What is the Long Emergency? by Liquid Music

The title of the upcoming Poliça and s t a r g a z e collaboration “Music for the Long Emergency” was inspired by James Howard Kunstler’s 2005 book The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of Oil, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century. In the book, Kunstler predicts significant changes in the coming decades due to an end of the “cheap fossil fuel era.”  While this blog post will not evaluate the claims of the book, we hope it will provide some background and context to better understand one of the inspirations for the Liquid Music project.


The potential for challenges are apparent in several areas: climate change, ongoing wars and terrorism, economic and political instability. Kunstler traces these challenges associated to an over-reliance on cheap fossil fuels. Growth in the 20th century was spurred on by cheap oil.  As oil supply has decreased though, this reliance on oil has left us vulnerable to economic and political forces. We must pay higher prices and make political sacrifices to continue meeting our demand for oil. Most significantly, though, we will be realizing the environmental costs of our use of oil. Indeed, government policy has pivoted to not only focusing on efforts to prevent climate change, but also to mitigate the impacts of it. The State of Minnesota and communities in the Twin Cities area have created plans to reduce the negative impacts of climate change.

Narratives about global crises typically end with the salvation of humanity through last-minute human innovation. Conversely, some narratives end with quick extinction of humans through divine or ecological justice. Kunstler, however, paints a picture of a different future.  He believes we will neither be saved by our ingenuity, nor will we completely perish.  His idea is that we will enter into a period of a “long emergency” where our crisis is not a short-term event but rather a “new normal:" one that will look significantly different than the our current way of life.

The first steps of the long emergency are marked by constraint: initially reductions in income and quality of life, followed by reductions in life expectancy. The availability of food will decrease and we will no longer be able to afford transporting food across long distances. As a result, societies will become more agrarian: much of our time currently spent on professional and leisure activities will be spent on farming as our food will need to be grown more locally. For those of us in Minnesota, given our existing farmland and proximity to abundant freshwater, we are more fortunate than those in the United States on the coasts.  As this change occurs, we will become less reliant on national government and our societies will become smaller and more geographically compact.  

Given the bleakness of Kunstler’s predictions, it may be tempting to read irony in the title “Music for the Long Emergency” either as a piece of bitter black comedy (as in the finale of Dr. Strangelove) or as a comment on the triviality of art in a world in crisis.  Maybe the author would agree with that, but early in the book, he speaks of “cultivating a new religion of hope” so that we have a “deep and comprehensive belief that humanity is worth carrying on.” Maybe that’s the purpose of music in the long emergency: a necessary connection to our past, a new way to envision our future, and a new path to maintaining hope.  

See the world premiere of Music for the Long Emergency:
Copresented with The Current
Friday, November 18, 2016, 8pm (Purchase Tickets)
Fitzgerald Theater, Saint Paul, MN

Keep up with Music for the Long Emergency on the Liquid Music Blog:
First Look 
Tables Turned: André de Ridder interviews Channy Leaneagh
Catching up with s t a r g a z e: Weekender Festival, Berlin 2015
Virtual Residency Mini Doc Part I
Meet s t a r g a z e
From Virtual to Reality: s t a r g a z e + Poliça's First Musical Meet-up
Music for the Long Emergency: Naming the Virtual Residency with Poliça and s t a r g a z e
Podcast interview with Channy Leaneagh on Liquid Music Playlist 

Follow s t a r g a z e:
Website: we-are-stargaze.com
Twitter: @wearestargaze (twitter.com/wearestargaze)
Instagram: @we_are_stargaze (instagram.com/we_are_stargaze)
Facebook: www.facebook.com/wearestargaze/
Vimeo: vimeo.com/wearestargaze

Follow Poliça:
Website: thisispolica.com
Twitter: @thisispolica (twitter.com/thisispolica)
Instagram: @thisispolica (instagram.com/thisispolica)
Facebook: facebook.com/thisispolica
Youtube: youtube.com/user/polica

FOLLOW LIQUID MUSIC FOR UPDATES AND ANNOUNCEMENTS: 
Twitter: @LiquidMusicSPCO (twitter.com/LiquidMusicSPCO)
Instagram: @LiquidMusicSeries (instagram.com/liquidmusicseries
Facebook: facebook.com/SPCOLiquidMusic
Podcast: Liquid Music Playlist

 

Introducing Nathalie Joachim: Liquid Music Artist in Virtual Residence 2016.17 by Liquid Music

Liquid Music is excited to introduce flutist and composer Nathalie Joachim (eighth blackbird, Flutronix) as virtual artist in residence for its 2016.17 season. Over the course of a year, the virtual residency will give audiences an inside look at the development of Joachim's newest and perhaps most personal project, Fanm d'Ayiti. To be premiered by Liquid Music in the 2017.18 season, Fanm d'Ayiti explores Haitian song and the cultural role of women's voices in Haitian music. Below, Joachim shares how her heritage and the strength of Haitian women inspired the creation of Fanm d'Ayiti. Check out her playlist at the bottom of the page for a taste of the musical styles that influenced the project.  

Follow the Liquid Music blog for updates throughout the season, including sneak peak video and audio clips!     

“Critics hail the Brooklyn born Haitian-American artist for creating a unique blend of classical music, hip-hop, electronic programming and soulful vocals reminiscent of neo-R&B stars like Erykah Badu.” – The Wall Street Journal on Nathalie Joachim

NJ: Today, as I begin this journey of exploration of my Haitian heritage and the women who have impacted the small Caribbean nation’s music culture, I cannot get the image of my grandmother out of my mind. It was a year ago almost to the day when she left this world for another, and I still feel her spirit around me, as warm and welcoming as only a grandmother’s hug can be. She had an infectious laugh, a calming presence, and a beautiful voice. And it is that voice that has led me to surround myself this season with the voices of the Fanm d’Ayiti (translation: Women of Haiti). It is my grandmother’s voice that has compelled me to seek out and understand all that is captured in the voices of Haitian women.  

Haiti isn’t so different from many nations in its way of being male dominated, yet silently steered by women. There are many reasons why this is this case politics, culture, tradition, opportunity, etc.  and yet, it was striking to me to discover so few Haitian women at the core of a very rich musical history. To me, Haiti has always been synonymous with the concept of matriarchy. My experience and internal sense of the nation goes hand in hand with the representation of strength through women, and of course attributes an essence of magic and fearlessness to them.  

Together, through Fanm d’Ayiti, we will explore some of the most prominent female voices represented in Haitian music from the 1930s through present day. We will learn about the country’s musical influences from Africa, France, Cuba and even the United States. And we will learn the stories behind these roots stories of political exile, cultural affirmation and independence. As connected as I am to my Haiti, I genuinely believe that this will be as much about discovery for me as it is about exposure for you, and everything about that excites me.

FANM D'AYITI PLAYLIST 

Toto Bissainthe (1934-94)

Toto Bissainthe was a Haitian actress and singer known for her innovative blend of traditional voodoo and rural themes and music with contemporary lyricism and arrangements. Recognized as a champion of Haitian music abroad, Bissainthe was a founding member of the first African theater company in Paris. From the time she left home to pursue studies abroad in the early 1930s, Bissainthe was an artist in exile and was unable to return to Haiti until the departure of Jean-Claude Duvalier ("Baby Doc")  in 1986. Bissainthe's music reached acclaim in the 1970s and she was celebrated for representing the black diaspora.  

Lumane Casimir (1917-53)

Known as the "Emperatrice of Haitian Music", Lumane Casimir was one of the first singers to break through the Haitian music industry. Casimir began her career singing in the streets of Port-au-Prince and was soon singing with some of the most famous bands in the city. Casimir wrote most of her own songs, inspired by her love for Haiti. Her repertoire includes some of the most well-known patriotic and cultural songs of Haiti. 

Carole Demesmin (1951-)

Carole Demesmin was one of the most popular solo artists in Haiti in the 1980s. Her songs celebrated Haitian culture and history in addition to ridings national consciousness about the value of Kreyol as a language. She lectures about Haitian culture around the world and is an advocate for the rights of Haitian artists through her organization United Haitian Artists.

Emeline Michel (1967-)

Referred to as the "Joni Mitchell of Haiti" Emeline Michel's songs merge native Haitian compas and rara music with jazz, pop, bossa nova and samba. She is an accomplished dancer in addition to her work as a vocalist, songwriter and producer. Michel runs her own production company, Production Coeval de Feu, in NYC. She is an advocate for social issues surrounding women and children worldwide.  

Fedia LaGuerre (current artist)

Fedia LaGuerre is part of a generation of great female singers including Annette "So An" Auguste, Myriam Dorismé, Farah Juste, Toto Bissainthe, and Carol Demesmin. They all participated in the anti-Duvalierist struggle and viewed Martha Jean-Claude as a model and pioneer. LaGuerre's songs originally expressed concern for democracy and social and political changes. She now sings religious songs. 

Martha Jean-Claude (1919-2001)

Martha Jean-Claude was known for creating original compositions that inspired Haitians struggling against dictatorship. She wrote a play, Avrinette (1952), which led to her imprisonment by Haitian President Paul Eugene Maggiore for "disrespecting" the government. Jean-Claude fled to Cuba, where she became a star on the stage, radio and television. She became known as the "daughter of two islands", a symbol of the fraternity between Haiti and Cuba. Jean-Claude was in exile for almost three decades and did not return until the fall of Baby Doc.  

Farah Juste (current artist)

One of Haiti's premier singer/songwriters, Farah Juste writes provocative political songs championing the rights of Haitians. Popular in the 1960s, Juste was exiled for speaking out with politically charged songs against Papa Doc’s dictatorship and exposing his reign of terror. Now a resident of Miami, Juste was arrested in 2015 for protesting an election believed to be fraudulent.  

Daniele Thermidor (current artist)

Daniele Thermidor is a celebrated voice in Caribbean and African communities with a voice that commands attention whenever she takes the stage. Thermidor left the music scene to study at Columbia University and raise her family. She returned to her vocal career with the release of her latest album, I'm Back Fanm Vanyan (2010). 

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/nathaliejoachim
 

FOLLOW LIQUID MUSIC FOR UPDATES AND ANNOUNCEMENTS 
Twitter: @LiquidMusicSPCO (twitter.com/LiquidMusicSPCO)
Instagram: @LiquidMusicSeries (instagram.com/liquidmusicseries
Facebook: facebook.com/SPCOLiquidMusic
Podcast: Liquid Music Playlist

Interview w/ saxophonist Colin Stetson by Liquid Music

Colin Stetson is a saxophonist who pushes his instruments and himself to the extremes. In addition to producing his bold and visceral solo albums, Stetson has toured and recorded with a wide range of bands including Bon Iver, Arcade Fire, Tom Waits, Feist, The National and many more. Stetson’s most recent album, Sorrow, is titled a “reimagining of Górecki’s Third Symphony". Górecki’s 1977 work, also known as the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, is renowned for its profound simplicity and emotional resonance. Dawn Upshaw and the London Sinfonietta’s 1992 recording of the work became the No. 1 selling classical record of all time, outselling albums by Michael Jackson and Madonna released that same week. Stetson’s thoughtful adaptation of Górecki's Third Symphony enlists a rare group of twelve musicians including drummer Greg Fox (Z’s, Liturgy), violinist Sarah Neufeld (Arcade Fire, Bell Orchestre) and Stetson's own sister Megan Stetson, an acclaimed mezzo-soprano. 

Last week Colin spent some time speaking about his work and new album with Twin Cities saxophonist Cole Pulice (Six Families, Sonny Knight and the Lakers). Liquid Music’s 2016.17 season will open with Sorrow on September 30, co-presented with the Walker Art Center. 


Cole: What drew you to working on Gorecki’s Third Symphony?

Colin: I must of heard it around 1993-94, my freshman year of college. I think for everyone, especially musicians, we expose ourselves to so much new music at that point, just discovering thing after thing. Gorecki’s Third imprinted on me pretty severely, it stuck and it was something I couldn’t really shed. I started thinking about different arrangements for it maybe as early as ‘95-’96 and that idea blossomed a bit more throughout ‘99-’00. At that time my sister and I were both living in San Francisco and we were making plans to do this project together ever since then. We have, more or less, always been going in the direction of what we eventually created, but it definitely took time to build. A few years ago, I sat down with myself and made a pact, a general goal, as to accomplish all the projects I’ve been dwelling on and back-burnering for decades and Gorecki’s Third was first on the list. So this is my new policy of ‘Get it done, for real’.  

Cole: Was conceiving of this record as a “reimagining” your intention from the beginning? Or was there a progression from realizing you wanted to present this piece and then understanding that you were doing was something you considered a reimagining? 

Colin: When I first started talking about this we never got close to words or a title. It was really just me making notes in the score, listening to the record, discussing it with friends and my sister. So when it finally came time to present this to people, that’s when the terminology became an issue. Adaptation seemed overly bookish, rendition, I just don’t like. So, reimagining seemed like the only way to accurately voice my ideas. I didn’t want to give the wrong impression. Anyone who knows the original piece intimately and then listens to my version can hear that there’s really no modifications done to the notation. I’ve pushed and pulled some of the phrasing and dynamics and drastically changed the sonic timbre. I’ve inserted moments of breathe and quasi-improvisation where I thought they could be used. But really there’s really no serious alterations to the notation so reimagining seemed like an apt description.

Cole: The careful consideration of the terminology seems important when thinking about presenting this work to different audiences, especially considering all of the different musical communities this project touches from classical audiences to people who have listened to your previous records.

Colin: Well I didn’t really tackle this issue until very late in the game. I only realized a few years ago how commercially successful the original recording was. I knew it was a very world renowned piece but I didn’t know that it was the highest selling classical record of all time. I was talking about the original to someone recently and thinking how the original is many things: it’s gorgeous, it’s a profoundly deep and honest exploration of certain base human conditions and truths. But it is not a challenging or difficult piece of music. It is intentionally and profoundly accessible and it’s immaculately beautiful. My version doesn’t take advantage of that innate accessibility. With the instrumentation and musicians involved, I’ve made the sound of the piece unique but perhaps less universal. The arrangement was always about asking myself, how can I most honestly present this music, filtered through my own collective musical and life experiences.

Cole: Your arrangement has a really interesting cast of characters on it. Was this project made for these specific people or did you choose musicians who you thought would best serve your ideas?

Colin: The arrangement I made developed in part with certain people in mind. My friends are inextricable from who I am musically at this point. It’s not that I’m trying to be particularly exclusive, but music is like friendship in that I really value relationships that I find important and worthwhile. Some of these musicians I’ve known for many years: my sister I’ve known forever, some of the other sax players on the album I’ve known since high school and college. Working with my sister has been an extremely positive experience. Every time my sister steps up on stage she knocks it out of the park, destroying minds, melting faces and hearts. She’s really the MVP of this project. Greg Fox [drummer of Liturgy, Z's}, was most recent addition. I had always loved his playing and aesthetic but meeting him and playing with him in the group Liturgy was really what tied this project together. Greg has so much facility on his instrument, not only within the confines of black metal but also everything his does in his improvisational practice. Specifically, the way he approaches blast beats, time and the manipulation of space help put the final sheen on this record that I’ve been conceiving of for so many years.

Cole: Working on this over the course of so many years, must have been difficult or presented some interesting challenges.

Colin: The idea for this project was something that was more or less adrift in a sea of ideas. I’d have a serious binge with the piece for weeks here and there, sitting with it, making notes and thinking about what it could be. And then I would drift off from it and not see it for a few years. Meeting other musicians along the way helped solidify it piece by piece. For example, I met the guitarists Ryan Ferreira and Grey McMurray when I was new to  New York in 03’-04. They have very specific, unique sounds and approaches to their instruments which was then absorbed into my imaginings of the piece. It all happened organically, kind of piece-meal for many years. The actual process of rehearsing and recording happened very quickly though. Almost everything was recorded live with the full group and comes from a single take.

Cole: "Live-ness" seems to be a central theme in your recordings from the New History of Warfare Records or the duo project with Sarah Neufeld. What is it about "live-ness" that makes it so important to your process?

Colin: The avoidance of loops and overdubs is important in my work because I found that by decreasing the options, I vastly increase my drive for unique solutions. If I allow myself to solve certain musical problems by overdubbing another part or throwing in a pad of synths, it removes the impotence for searching further. If my only option is that everything has to come from this instrument at the same time from my body, you start to think about options outside of the boxes set before you.  

Cole: How has working on this large group project differed from your previous solo work?

Colin: Well you have the best players of their particular instruments all together. They’re all incredible sight-readers and team players. Although they are all incredibly talented, virtuosic musicians, this project hasn’t been a showcase for any one individual. This project feels like having a group of the fastest thoroughbred horses just simply walking through the park. You can see how muscled they are and you think “Oh my god, I bet you they could just rip-roar”. But rather than accomplishing these incredible feats of virtuosity, it feels like everyone is using their individual talents to support the simple and beautiful wholeness of this piece. On a personal and selfish level, it’s great for me to have a group like this to contrast the isolation and high stakes of solo work. It’s great to be able to rely  on eleven of the best players I know. Solo work is the greatest joy but also the deepest fear. I’m utterly addicted to it, but it’s not necessarily a thoroughly positive experience.

Photo by Julia Drummond

Photo by Julia Drummond

Cole: Yeah, it’s incredibly precarious but that’s what makes it exciting, right?. Everything is resting on you. So moving forward, do you see yourself doing more large/small group work or more solo material?

Colin: All of the above. There’s solo records being worked on. I’ve also been doing film scores recently and write those as they come up. There’s a couple of new smaller groups that are at different stages of development. This Gorecki group is going to continue performing on a case by case basis throughout the next year or two. I’m also trying to focus on and record more of my improvised music which is a practice I’ve been working on since I started playing music. I’m hoping to make a series on my label of just improvised music, either duo or trio improvised moments. It come as quickly as I can make it happen.

Cole: I just have one last saxophone nerd question about the lyricon.....