Blogs The Green Room Chris Mode

Chris is an intern with the Performing Arts Department at the Walker Art Center. A recent Music graduate from St. Olaf College, Chris' interests lie in new music and its intersection with other arts.

Rock the Garden 8-Ball: Lizzo

After the announcement that Lizzo has joined Rock the Garden 2014, she told The Current that she felt like a “gift-wrapped package with glitter coming out of the top.” Originally from Detroit and raised in Houston, Lizzo and her music have been giving steadily to the Twin Cities over the last few years, and the […]

Lizzo photographed in Minneapolis on February 8th 2014

Photo: Cameron Wittig

After the announcement that Lizzo has joined Rock the Garden 2014, she told The Current that she felt like a “gift-wrapped package with glitter coming out of the top.” Originally from Detroit and raised in Houston, Lizzo and her music have been giving steadily to the Twin Cities over the last few years, and the Twin Cities have been giving right back. She told DazedDigital.com, “Coming to Minneapolis I felt the most comfortable I have ever been . . . We all want to create art. I’m not saying it’s higher or lower, or better or worse. It’s just everyone can see eye to eye there.” Much of this local love for Lizzo came from her 2013 release of Lizzobangers, an album she made with Lazerbeak (Doomtree) and Ryan Olson (Gayngs, Marijuana Deathsquads). Her brazen verses are equally comical and combative, harkening back to some of the industry’s first female MCs, and her sound encompasses an array of influences. She told The 405 that “Beyoncé is a constant inspiration,” and that her dream collaboration would be with Bach. Lizzo’s videos are similarly wide-ranging: “Batches & Cookies” celebrates marriage equality and baked goods, while her new “Faded” video features cameos from Har Mar Superstar, Caroline Smith, and Macaulay Culkin.

Lizzo provides us with the third edition of Rock the Garden 8-Ball (following Dessa and Jeremy Messersmith) as she ponders her past life, career options, and other not-so-pressing questions.

What’s your best kept Twin Cities secret you don’t mind sharing?

Vicki at Paula’s Nails in Uptown. She’s an amazing nail artist.

What are three of your tour necessities?

Shower, panties, FaceTime.

If you had to pick another career, what would it be and why?

I’ve always wanted to be a novelist, I loved writing epic fantasies when I was 6.

Do you have a favorite park/green space in the Twin Cities?

Theodore Wirth Park! Now I’m super close to it so I love walking around the quaking bog.

Write a haiku about your current location.

Soft billowing cloud

White noise rolling steadily

My bed (is the shit).

What is your favorite sound?

French horn fanfare.

Do you think you were anyone specific in a past life?

A male diplomat.

What’s the last (or favorite) book you read?

Just read Spiral Bound, by Dessa.

Rock the Garden 2014 takes place on Saturday, June 21, and Sunday, June 22. See the full lineup and buy tickets here.

Rock the Garden 8-Ball: Jeremy Messersmith

Singer-songwriter Jeremy Messersmith once told The Current that as a kid, he dreamed of growing up to be a biochemist, of creating vaccines and curing diseases. All grown up, that’s not exactly where he finds himself, but his music, including this year’s Heart Murmurs, may still provide a remedy to those titular afflictions of the heart. He […]

Jeremy Messersmith. Photo: Kyle Dean Reinford

Jeremy Messersmith. Photo: Kyle Dean Reinford

Singer-songwriter Jeremy Messersmith once told The Current that as a kid, he dreamed of growing up to be a biochemist, of creating vaccines and curing diseases. All grown up, that’s not exactly where he finds himself, but his music, including this year’s Heart Murmurs, may still provide a remedy to those titular afflictions of the heart. He assures on “Tourniquet,” the album’s first single: “When you feel like dying, think you won’t be missed / I will be there in an ambulance.” Messersmith’s music is highly personal; “songs are a way for me to process and understand things,” he told the Star Tribune. The songs of Heart Murmurs are buoyantly melodic and consistently catchy, whether depicting joyous love or aching heartbreak. He has been touring these songs across the country, including two sold-out shows at First Avenue this February, and on Saturday, June 21, he’ll stop by the Walker for the first day of Rock the Garden 2014.

After Dessa’s consideration of life’s questions both big and small, Messersmith gives us our next installment of Rock the Garden 8-Ball, describing some of his Twin Cities favorites and providing some wise words from Terminator 2.

What’s your best kept Twin Cities secret you don’t mind sharing?

The Midtown Global Market. It’s funny how many of my friends in Minneapolis have still NEVER been there. It has The Salty Tart, The Rabbit Hole, Hot Indian, Holy Land, Sonora Grill, and so many other fantastic food options. It’s also a venue and community space. It doesn’t get much better than that!

What are three of your tour necessities?

A slanket, a jumprope and a giant bottle of hand sanitizer.

Do you have a favorite park/green space in the Twin Cities?

I’m not sure if this counts, but I’d pick the Greenway. It’s beautiful, functional and busy. It’s still one of the greatest urban bike paths I’ve seen.

What are you afraid of?

I’m not a particularly brave person, but most of my little fears about things (heights, public speaking) pale when compared to the big picture. My biggest fear is simply that we humans will not outlive our adolescence as a species and we may never get to travel the stars. We are rapidly making our own world uninhabitable through reckless and short sighted environmental destruction. That’s the fear that keeps me up at night. Okay, that and clowns.

What is your favorite sound?

I think my first impulse is to say silence, but that’s been done to death by John Cage already right?

Apparently, I’ve been conditioned by the advertising industry because I find the sound of a can of soda opening to be profoundly satisfying. The worst part of that is that I never drink soda!

If you could choose your last meal, what would it be?

My last meal would consist of a glass of Pinot Noir, a chocolate tart, and a mushroom crostini with amanita mushrooms. Of course, amanita mushrooms are fatal, but I’d much rather go out on my own terms than give satisfaction to whoever was trying to execute me!

What fictional character do you most relate to?

Any Haruki Murakami protagonist. I’m cheating a little, but I often find them to be fairly passive, introverted males in their mid-30s. They also seem to spend a lot of time cooking and eating while crazy things are happening all around them. Sometimes being a traveling musician feels an awful lot like that.

What advice do you have for young people?

I’m going to quote Terminator 2, the film I try to live my life by: “No fate but what we make.”

Rock the Garden 2014 takes place on Saturday, June 21, and Sunday, June 22. See the full lineup and buy tickets here.

Rock the Garden 8-Ball: Dessa

Bringing the Twin Cities music scene’s definitive earnestness to a national audience, Dessa’s solo work in alternative hip hop is long overdue for a slot at Rock the Garden, where local artists have maintained a crucial presence since its inception. Dessa, though, is no stranger to the festival, performing in 2012 as a part of […]

Dessa. Photo: Bill Phelps

Dessa. Photo: Bill Phelps

Bringing the Twin Cities music scene’s definitive earnestness to a national audience, Dessa’s solo work in alternative hip hop is long overdue for a slot at Rock the Garden, where local artists have maintained a crucial presence since its inception. Dessa, though, is no stranger to the festival, performing in 2012 as a part of Doomtree, their set of homegrown hip hop energizing the sold-out crowd like none other in Rock the Garden history. Lately, she has been taking her intensely personal music around the country as a part of her Parts of Speech tour, and on Sunday, June 22, she brings her verses and melodies to the Vineland Place stage. A lover of writing from Seneca to David Foster Wallace, Dessa is an expert wordsmith herself outside of her musical life. This fall saw the release of A Pound of Steam, a poetry chapbook published by Rain Taxi Review of Books, and a visit to the Walker to read her work. Like her poetry, Dessa’s music is both intelligent and viscerally emotive, often getting to the heart through the head. “And for the most part,” she told The Rumpus in an interview, “my songs are about true lived experiences, are true stories.” We sent her an 8-Ball questionnaire, and she took the time to answer some questions about lived experiences both big and small, from working her with fear to being forced to sit through The Deer Hunter

What is your current musical obsession?

Eastern European and Indian scales. I don’t have any foundation in music theory, so I’m sort of freestyling a study regimen, but I love the sounds–dark, melancholic, a little sinister. 

What’s your best kept Twin Cities secret you don’t mind sharing?

Maybe not quite a secret, but Sugar, Sugar on Grand Avenue definitely warrants a visit–custom made exotic candies and chocolates. The chocolate bar with lime tortilla chips doesn’t sound like much, but is damn good. 

Write a haiku about your current location.

Nobody should watch

The Deer Hunter on a plane.

Window seat, crying.

What are you afraid of?

I’m afraid of falling short of my creative ambitions–afraid I might reach the limits of my talent, or become too discouraged to make brave, passionate material. Nothing to do but carry on, though. I think a career in the arts often asks a person to learn to coexist comfortably with fear and uncertainty. 

What is your favorite sound?

Human voices, in harmony. (A quarter’s worth of Reese’s pieces in a vending machine might be a close second.) 

Do you think you were anyone specific in a past life?

Nope. Hard enough trying to figure out who I am in this one. 

If you could choose your last meal, what would it be?

Half a dozen little courses: sushi; the melty, smashy sandwiches they serve in Brazil; cashews and avocados. Then a half dozen desserts: peanut butter cups, cake with buttercream frosting, maybe some marzipan. This game is making me both hungry and sad. 

What’s the last (or favorite) book you read?

Just finished Myra Breckenridge by Gore Vidal. 

Rock the Garden 2014 takes place on Saturday, June 21, and Sunday, June 22. See the full lineup and buy tickets here.

Rock the Garden 2014 Lineup: Spoon, Guided By Voices, De La Soul, and More

This afternoon, the Walker and 89.3 The Current announced the lineup of Rock the Garden 2014. For the first time in Rock the Garden history, the festival spans two days: Saturday, June 21 and Sunday, June 22. As Associate Curator of Performing Arts Doug Benidt said, “the only thing better than live music is more live […]

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This afternoon, the Walker and 89.3 The Current announced the lineup of Rock the Garden 2014. For the first time in Rock the Garden history, the festival spans two days: Saturday, June 21 and Sunday, June 22. As Associate Curator of Performing Arts Doug Benidt said, “the only thing better than live music is more live music.”

On Tuesday, April 15 at 4 pm, Walker Performing Arts Curator Philip Bither joined Mary Lucia and Jim McGuinn on The Current airwaves to reveal this year’s two-day lineup. We liveblogged the announcement, and you can see the list of bands below. For more, read “27 Facets of the Rock the Garden Lineup.”

Saturday, June 21

Jeremy Messersmith (Minneapolis, MN)

Jeremy Messersmith. Photo: Kyle Dean Reinford

Jeremy Messersmith. Photo: Kyle Dean Reinford

Best Coast (Los Angeles, CA)

Best Coast. Photo: Courtesy the artists

Best Coast. Photo: Courtesy the artists

Matt and Kim (Brooklyn, NY)

Matt and Kim. Photo: Caleb Kuhl

Matt and Kim. Photo: Caleb Kuhl

De La Soul (Long Island, NY)

De La Soul. Photo: Courtesy the artists

De La Soul. Photo: Courtesy the artists

Sunday, June 22

Valerie June (Memphis, TN)

Valerie June. Photo: Matt Wignall

Valerie June. Photo: Matt Wignall

Kurt Vile and the Violators (Philadelphia, PA)

Kurt Vile. Photo: Shawn Brackbill

Kurt Vile. Photo: Shawn Brackbill

Dessa (Minneapolis, MN)

Dessa. Photo: Bill Phelps

Dessa. Photo: Bill Phelps

Guided By Voices (Dayton, OH)

Guided By Voices. Photo: Courtesy the artists

Guided By Voices. Photo: Courtesy the artists

Spoon (Austin, TX)

Spoon. Photo: Courtesy the artists

Spoon. Photo: Courtesy the artists

BUY TICKETS

Tickets go on sale to Walker and MPR members on Thursday, April 17, at 11 am through Etix.com only. Any remaining tickets go on sale to the general public Saturday, April 19, at 11 am.

REMEMBER

Last year’s Rock the Garden sold out in less than an hour, so mark your calendar and make sure that your Walker membership is up to date. Walker/MPR membership ID numbers will be required for all pre-sale purchases.

Walker membership: 612.375.7655 or membership.walkerart.org.

MPR membership: 1.800.228.7123 or mpr.org/support.

Shelley Hirsch’s Sonic Explorations

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, Walker intern Chris Mode shares his perspective on Shelley Hirsch’s Sound Horizon performance. Agree or […]

Shelley Hirsch in Jim Hodges' the dark gate (2008). Photo: Chris Mode.

Shelley Hirsch in Jim Hodges’ the dark gate (2008). Photo: Chris Mode.

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, Walker intern Chris Mode shares his perspective on Shelley Hirsch’s Sound Horizon performance. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

As curator of this season’s Sound Horizon, artist Jim Hodges hand selected musicians to perform in Give More Than You Take, an exhibition of his work over the last 25 years. This Thursday saw the second installment, and vocalist Shelley Hirsch filled the galleries with her eclectic sounds.

Known for her experimental, improvisatory storytelling through song and text, Hirsch has been an active performer and composer for over three decades. Her biography boasts a presence on over 70 CDs, and she has worked with composers such as John Zorn, Christian Marclay, and Alvin Curran (who was at the Walker last month as a part of the Trisha Brown Dance Company’s performance). Hirsch frequently works with visual artists as well, and she and Hodges have a long history of friendship and collaboration.

When she entered the gallery for her 7 pm performance, Hirsch’s dress of blue velvet and floral lace was at home with Hodges’ soft textures and colors. Microphone in hand, she began with an attempt at call and response, the greetings of “How are you?” and “ I’m saying hello to you” careening through her range before breaking into gibberish. Hirsch’s first task was to engage the dozens of students that surrounded her, arms crossed and unenthused. After some forced participation (“you’ve got to get up and be proud!”), they warmed up to her as she began her musical tour of the galleries.

Like Hodges, Hirsch creates through subtle transformations of the everyday; her improvisations relied on in-the-moment reactions to the art and bodies around her. She built a chant out of a simple observation: “I see you looking at me looking at you.” She invited us to “try try try” to draw on napkins, as Hodges did, the next time we got coffee. Classic songs are a large part of Hirsch’s performance vocabulary, and this invitation moved quickly into the first phrase of “Try to Remember.” Her powers of contorting text and sound were quite impressive. After asking for the time, “7:27” slowly morphed into “transcendence,” “transfigure,” and “triangles of light,” moving through the intermediate nonsense words in a free association description of Hodges’ work and her reaction to it.

Hirsch’s appreciation of Hodges’ art was evident throughout her tour. At times she would explicitly acknowledge her fondness for a piece. Elsewhere, his work provided inspiration for her sonic explorations. Near the start, she stood quasi-yodeling into the hanging flower curtain of You. Later, she sang from the sheet music of Picturing That Day, singing the names of colors that Hodges had placed where the note heads had been.

In a participatory performance such as this, the words Hirsch elicited from her audience were often as entertaining as her own. By now totally won over, the students offered comments like “This is my dream job” and “I seriously want whatever she’s on.” At one point, a mother explained to her young, wide-eyed son, “it’s called performance art.” But, smiling, he didn’t need an explanation of the fun that Hirsch was creating.

Early on, I spotted Jim Hodges sitting on a stool in the corner. He watched with a smirk, knowing exactly what we were getting into. By the end of Hirsch’s performance, that smirk became a smile, and I saw it repeated on the faces around me.

 

The ‘Golden Gestalts’ of Alvin Curran and Trisha Brown

The Trisha Brown Dance Company‘s performances at the Walker this week highlight their namesake’s dedication to the exploration of movement over that last 30 years. The music they move to reveals Brown’s engagement of unique compositional voices in this exploration. Their performances include music from experimental powerhouse Laurie Anderson and the master of chance John […]

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I’m going to toss my arms- if you catch them they’re yours, Trisha Brown Dance Company, with music by Alvin Curran. Photo: Stephanie Berger

The Trisha Brown Dance Company‘s performances at the Walker this week highlight their namesake’s dedication to the exploration of movement over that last 30 years. The music they move to reveals Brown’s engagement of unique compositional voices in this exploration. Their performances include music from experimental powerhouse Laurie Anderson and the master of chance John Cage. Alvin Curran will join the company at the Walker for a rare live accompaniment of Brown’s piece I’m going to toss my arms—if you catch them they’re yours.

Curran has been one of the leading experimental composers of the late 20th and 21st centuries, most known for his incorporation of electronics and found recordings. As a student of Elliot Carter’s at Yale, he received a rigorous education in midcentury avant-garde music. His own works built from and grew beyond this tradition, incorporating improvisation and technology to make a style completely his own. “This is part of the problem, carrying my own work around with me all of these years,” he told NewMusicBox, “because it isn’t all in one bag. It’s a bunch of bags.” His compositions are often as much improvised as they are composed, and electronics, installations, and recordings are common in his work. They call for instruments from flugelhorns to hotplates. Curran notes the uniqueness of our point in history, when composers have a wide range of styles and sounds both new and old at their fingertips, easily reproduced through technology. He calls this great synthesis “the new common practice,” “the direct unmediated embracing of sound, all and any sound, as well as the connecting links between sounds, regardless of their origins, histories or specific meanings.”

In the ’70s, Curran presented his music at the Walker on two occasions. His first visit was in 1977 with Musica Elettronica Viva, a group of electronic improvisors he founded with composers Richard Teitelbaum and Frederic Rzewski. He returned the following year to present a show of his solo work. The centerpiece of the evening was Light Flowers, Dark Flowers, billed as a structural improvisation featuring a tape recording, piano, “a section for ocarina, a monologue about the Trojan wars and a trip to the moon”.

Curran’s music of synthesis lends itself well to experimental dance, and he composes frequently for movement. He believes that “sound and image together create an infinity of meanings, timbres, energies, and emotions that would be impossible to achieve using either alone,” making Brown an ideal collaborator. The two have been working together regularly since 1991, when she called Curran asking for some last-minute music for a piece of hers. In his work with dancers, he strives for a unity of the senses, what he calls “golden gestalts when one ecstatically hears movement and sees sound.” Brown’s natural yet investigative choreography serves this goal well, and Curran has the utmost respect for her and her art. “I’m sure like any angel she has some faults,” he writes. “I’ve just never seen them”.

I’m going to toss my arms—if you catch them they’re yours, accompanied by Curran’s work, premiered in Paris in 2011, and the company has been performing it steadily ever since. The dancers’ movements are natural, comfortable, and rooted as they progress from isolation to contact throughout the piece. Their white costumes are slowly destroyed and blown away by the fans that share the stage, revealing brightly colored swim gear beneath.

Curran’s accompanying piece, Toss and Find, is a reflective sonic backdrop for the movement on stage. Curran, on piano, joins a prerecorded tape with electronics and sounds of everyday life. Beginning well after the dancers have begun, the sound creeps in with drones and static that becomes increasingly shrill. The piano enters with sparse, pointed octaves. Eventually the elemental sound of a horn is heard, its open intervals recalling the creation of the world as told musically by Mahler or Bruckner. As the dancers’ bodies begin to interact and their papery clothes have been shed, children’s voices appear, and Curran introduces an entire scale, creating dissonances with the recording. His score of found sounds and simple motives is engaging alone, but it is made complete by its physical manifestation, the dancers’ movements translating with their bodies.

“The human animal is eminently musical,” wrote Curran in a New York Times editorial. “Human music is a vehicle for personal and collective enjoyment and expression, and a means to transcend time and place.” The synthesis of his music with Brown’s choreography heightens this collective expression. As bodies move through and with his music, we may be moved to transcendence as well.

Alvin Curran will perform with the Trisha Brown Dance Company in the McGuire Theater March 12 – 15 at 8pm. Copresented with Northrop at the University of Minnesota.

Sculpting Sound: Dave King and Jim Hodges’ Sound Horizon

On March 6, the galleries of Jim Hodges: Give More Than You Take will be filled with the sounds of renowned local drummer/composer/“restless creator” Dave King. A Twin Cities native, King is perhaps best known for his work with jazz groups Happy Apple (with Michael Lewis and Erik Fratzke) and The Bad Plus (with Ethan […]

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Dave King. Photo courtesy the artist

On March 6, the galleries of Jim Hodges: Give More Than You Take will be filled with the sounds of renowned local drummer/composer/“restless creatorDave King.

A Twin Cities native, King is perhaps best known for his work with jazz groups Happy Apple (with Michael Lewis and Erik Fratzke) and The Bad Plus (with Ethan Iverson and Reid Anderson). But King’s musical scope is broad and his playing versatile; he has performed and recorded with so many bands that the Belles of Skin City wrote a song called “Hey, Dave King, Leave Some for the Rest of Us.” His ubiquity provides seemingly endless fodder for the local music scene, so much so that it prompted this City Pages headline last year: “Happy Apple’s Dave King: I’m not in 99 bands.”

King is no stranger to the Walker. He and fellow members of yet another one of his bands, Golden Valley is Now, were regular attendees at the Walker’s rock and jazz shows in the 1980s. “We were these die-hard kids in the front row,” King said. “That place played a huge role in how I chose what I wanted to do.”

Over the past 15 years or so, King himself has been a source of inspiration for the next wave of Walker audiences. He has played numerous Walker events dating back to the late 1990s (for one of Happy Apple’s earliest gigs) to numerous Music and Movies appearances (in bands like Blood Magnet, Iffy, and Halloween, Alaska) to the Rock the Garden stage in 2003 (when The Bad Plus opened for Wilco). And in 2010, the McGuire Theater was home to King for Two Days, a weekend-long celebration of his work. The mini-festival featured bands Buffalo Collision, The Bad Plus, and Happy Apple, and marked the debut of Golden Valley Is Now and Dave King Trucking Company.

As part of the 2014 Sound Horizon series, King returns this Thursday evening to perform three short sets, each in a different location within the galleries of Give More Than You Take. King says his 30-minute performances will contain “many varying themes and set-ups all inspired by the breadth of Jim’s show.”

Hodges himself curated this year’s Sound Horizon series, which also includes sets by Shelley Hirsch (April 10) and Kevin Beasley (May 8). King has long been a fan of Hodges’ work, but this inspiration became personal when the two met last year after King played in a show with Craig Taborn here at the Walker. The two artists connected immediately, or “had an instantly easy vibe as personalities” (King’s words). Since their introduction, Hodges has attended King’s shows in New York, and King in turn has visited the artist’s studio. This increased familiarity with Hodges’ work has had a real impact on King:

Jim’s imagination, openness, earnestness and keen mind are all things that inspire me. I feel challenged by his ability to do heavy things with the lightest touch. This idea of the multiple possibilities of things is something my work tends to attempt to explore. Also the idea of many varieties of touch and discipline appeals to me greatly and Jim is a great master at this.

Hodges explained that he is equally as inspired by King’s music and process, calling him a “sculptor of sound.” Hodges also cited “an affinity to his energetic broad spectrum and sensitivity” as further reasons why he invited King to take part in Sound Horizon. Sensitivity is a quality these artists share, both creating a subtle balance between hard and soft. This Thursday we’ll get to see just how King’s musical sculptures compare to Hodges’ physical ones around him.

Dave King will perform in the Walker galleries on Thursday, March 6 at 6, 7, and 8 pm. Admission is free.

 

 

An Inspired Translation: Sisyphus’ Take on Jim Hodges

This weekend marked the opening of Jim Hodges: Give More Than You Take, an exhibition of 25 years of work by sculptor/installation artist Jim Hodges. Made using flowers and scarves, chains and denim, his pieces transform everyday objects into quietly emotive reflections on life and love. As a part of the celebration of Hodges’ art, […]

Sufjan Stevens performing with Sisyphus at the Walker, February 14, 2014. All photos by Courtney Perry

Sufjan Stevens performing with Sisyphus at the Walker, February 14, 2014. Photo: Courtney Perry

This weekend marked the opening of Jim Hodges: Give More Than You Take, an exhibition of 25 years of work by sculptor/installation artist Jim Hodges. Made using flowers and scarves, chains and denim, his pieces transform everyday objects into quietly emotive reflections on life and love. As a part of the celebration of Hodges’ art, musical group Sisyphus was commissioned to create work inspired by Hodges. And inspired they were: their self-titled LP  — with a cover featuring a piece by Hodges — will be released on March 18.

On Saturday, all voices in the project were brought together for an opening day dialogue. In her introduction, Olga Viso, the Walker’s Executive Director and exhibition co-curator, provided a helpful identification of the many parties involved: artist Jim Hodges, the musicians of Sisyphus (Sufjan Stevens, Son Lux, and Serengeti), their co-commissioners (the Walker and the SPCO’s Liquid Music series), and the host that afternoon, Bill Arning of Contemporary Arts Museum Houston.

In his introduction of the artist, Arning recalled a quote of Hodges’ that framed the Sisyphus collaboration and their discussion that afternoon: “Art without music makes no sense.” Later, Hodges elaborated on this idea and the universality of music. “Music is the primary art source,” he explained, “the connectedness that runs through everyone.” It also serves as a personal inspiration for Hodges. Single artists or tracks (including some by Sufjan Stevens) become a through line in his process, their sound providing continuity within the studio as he works on a piece.

Bill Arning, Jim Hodges, Sufjan Stevens, Serengeti, Son Lux

Bill Arning, Jim Hodges, Sufjan Stevens, Serengeti, Son Lux. Photo: Gene Pittman

This collaboration turned this order of inspiration around. Arning asserted that “visual art is a catalyst,” sparking a dialogue by asking questions: “Do you see what I see? Do you get what I get from it?” As the members of Sisyphus meditated on Hodges’ work, this dialogue took a musical form through the melding of their distinct voices. With the creation of this album, these artists’ exchange on Hodges work is made permanent, the album a sonic manifestation of a shared reaction to a set of visual art.

It took a few steps for Sisyphus’ work with Hodges to fall into place; Stevens admitted he didn’t remember exactly how it happened. The Walker approached Hodges about collaborating with a musician, Hodges recommended Stevens, and a friend of his suggested he work on this project with Son Lux and Serengeti. (The three had previously released music as s/s/s). Eventually, Sisyphus found themselves in Hodges’ studio, admiring past and current work. That day, perhaps an auspicious omen, all four men were wearing camouflage, a common motif in Hodges’ pieces.

During the dialogue, the musicians of Sisyphus recalled what they found so compelling about Hodges’ work. Stevens was inspired by a “unique earnestness” and an “absence of irony,” qualities rare in life and art today. Sisyphus set out to emulate this emotional purity in their own work. Ryan Lott (Son Lux) believes that Hodges’ art looks inward without reservations or judgments. By being openly introspective, we also open ourselves up to others, the personal investigation also serving the interpersonal.

This inward reflection unites the work of Hodges and Sisyphus. At their most basic, Sisyphus’ music and Hodges’ art deal with the same questions; the idea of loss (of love, of life, of simplicity) is prevalent in both. As Stevens reminded the audience, “everyone here is going to die.” But, as Lott explained, they are both walking through this loss and fear and looking to the future. The treatment of these “heavy” subjects on the album (addiction, anxiety, alienation) “has a glimmer to it.”

After Hour partiers join Sisyphus on stage in the Walker's Garden Terrace Room.

After Hour partiers join Sisyphus on stage in the Walker’s Garden Terrace Room. Photo: Courtney Perry

These artists are from different generations and work in different media, so this sense of hope takes on very different forms. Hodges’ balance of growth and decay, natural and urban is soft and reflective – a favorite piece of mine consists of a set of flower sketches on napkins. Sisyphus, however, is anything but understated. During their performance as a part of the Walker’s After Hours party, their in-your-face beats dominated the Garden Terrace Room as they invited partygoers to join them onstage. As they sang “Calm It Down,” fists pumped and hips swung as a physical remedy to the mental distress the song describes.

Similarly at odds with the tranquility in Hodges work is Sisyphus’ video “Alcohol,” which opened the dialogue. The video was presented without context, and I’ll admit that I was a little put off when it began. The rapid fire, pixelated pop culture felt uninspired after viewing Hodges’ work. By the end, however, I became wholly engrossed, especially in the juxtaposition of images of life and death that became less subtle as the video went on. While dealing with the same subjects as Hodges, Sisyphus is explicit and brazen in their treatment.

In an interview with Olga Viso, Hodges explained that there is a “problem with interpretation and translation from one form to another, when in fact the form of the original is set and specific. Translating it changes it and can leave it behind.”  In Sisyphus’ interpretation and translation of his work, changes certainly do arise as the volume is turned way, way up. But their shared message ensures that Hodges’ intent is not left completely behind.

“Reckoning with my Russianness”: Olga Bell on Origin/Outcome

“I really love when something is so fully focused, so rooted in what it is that it can reach out for its cardinal opposite,” explained composer/vocalist/instrumentalist Olga Bell to The Examiner. “I love thinking about opposites and extremes… I don’t think it’s a motto or a philosophy per se, but it’s a pretty reliable wellspring […]

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“I really love when something is so fully focused, so rooted in what it is that it can reach out for its cardinal opposite,” explained composer/vocalist/instrumentalist Olga Bell to The Examiner. “I love thinking about opposites and extremes… I don’t think it’s a motto or a philosophy per se, but it’s a pretty reliable wellspring for ideas.”

This wide focus has proved fruitful for Bell, as she keeps busy through a variety of musical outlets. Bell is a member of avant-rock group Dirty Projectors, half of duo Nothankyou with Tom Vek, and a mixer and matcher of beats (check out her seriously awesome annual year-end mixes). Her solo album Diamonite, released in 2011 under the name BELL, is made up of intricate electronic pop songs with an edge. In “Chase No Face,” inspired by the true story of a horribly disfigured cat, Bell’s delivery goes from a cool to powerful as she warns: “I am a lion. / Don’t make me sound my roar!”

Bell, who was born in Russia and raised in Alaska, was strictly a classical musician through college, studying piano at the New England Conservatory. After rethinking her plan to attend graduate school for performance, she relocated to New York, where she played piano for a theater production company, interviewed to become an MTV News anchor, and began playing some solo shows that became bigger and longer with time.

Now, Bell finds herself performing and recording with Dirty Projectors. A self-professed fan girl of the band, she knew their intricate vocal lines long before meeting any of the members. Eventually, a spot opened up in the band, and she was put into contact with singer and writer Dave Longstreth. Her fan status was put to good use, and after some whirlwind rehearsing, she began performing with the group. She told The Examiner, “After coming from a classical background where it’s not uncommon to practice or rehearse for many, many hours a day very meticulously, dissecting, interpreting and committing to memory someone else’s vision — a composer’s score — it seemed really natural to just dive and sink my teeth into this music that I had been such a big fan of.”

At the Walker next week, Bell presents Origin/Outcome, a celebration of the past and its relation to her musical present. A highlight of the evening is the world premiere of Krai, a multi-movement homage to Russia. One of Krai’s many definitions is “edge,” and this work exists on the border of many styles. Bell has referred to it as “semi-classical,” but it features electronics and Russian folk idioms such as throat singing. The piece is perhaps the most personal outcome of her many musical leanings.

Through her work with Dirty Projectors, Bell has also gained a collaborator. Angel Deradoorian, whom Bell replaced in the band, was a long-time member and is an active solo artist. She joins Origin/Outcome as a special guest, supporting Bell in Krai. In turn, Bell will lend her voice and fingers to a set of Deradoorian’s music, which similarly reflects on Deradoorian’s Armenian heritage.

In anticipation of the show, Bell took the time to answer a few questions about Krai, her influences, and her work with Deradoorian.

Chris Mode: How did you begin working with Angel? Do both of your experiences in Dirty Projectors affect your work together?

Olga Bell: I loved Angel’s work in DPs. As a fan, I became really familiar with her voice and her parts on Bitte Orca. I felt we had a similar range. I met her a few times and fan-gushed all over her, but I’m not sure she really remembered who I was until I joined Dirty Projectors. Now we’re IRL friends, and I’m really excited to perform with her.

I feel I’m a much better musician after just two years in that band, and Angel was in it for something like six? I don’t think it’s possible to participate in a band that intense and come away unchanged, so, speaking for myself, I feel it’s been really beneficial, personally and professionally.

Mode: You have spoken before about your wide array of musical interests and influences. What role does classical music play in your life versus pop music? Is there even a difference?

Bell: I think everyone should listen to some of everything. I mean, there’s definitely a difference between the kind of feeling I get from an Earl Sweatshirt record versus the kind of feeling I get from a Harry Christophers record, but I love both artists. I love things that are rigorous; I love music that I can’t figure out immediately. I’ve always thought making music was a lot like cooking, and almost everything in cooking benefits from reaching for a little of its opposite, like salt in cookies. I think it’s a great technical accomplishment to work within a strict form or set of limitations, but I’m most interested in producing (and consuming) the crazy collisions, things that are surprising and unprecedented.

Mode: What can you tell us about Krai? How does it relate to your other music?

Bell: Krai is very different from anything I’ve released before. For one thing it’s all written-out and, except for vocals and keyboards, performed by other musicians. It’s much closer to “formal” composition, to the composition I did as a kid, which was entirely for acoustic instruments, as opposed to my “pop” releases of the past few years, which have relied heavily on software sound generators. Krai is also heavily programmatic, which is a new thing for me. I didn’t set any formal constraints on the writing, and there’s no specific story I’m trying to put across, but everything connects in some way to what I found in these places.

Mode: The title Origin/Outcome points to a sense of progression. How does your past (musical or otherwise) manifest itself in your work?

Bell: At the heart of the Krai project is this search for some kind of Russian or more generally Slavic soul. I’m not sure if I’ve been successful at finding it, or conveying it, or if any Russians will recognize anything like that in this piece, but that’s what this has been for me. I hear it in Stravinsky’s music, I hear it in Shostakovich and Gubaidulina, and I think I understand it in Dostoyevsky or Bulgakov, but a lot of people might say I have absolutely no claim to it after living in the USA for so long. I’m proud of being Russian, but I’m never sure exactly what that means, so here’s forty minutes of me reckoning with my Russianness!

I believe Angel feels similarly close to her Armenian heritage, so the first half of the program is an homage to her ancestors’ part of the world, and the second to mine. The title seems appropriate for two American girls presenting a bunch of new music in Minneapolis in 2014.

This new music is just one trajectory of her fresh compositional voice, a path that moves ahead while keeping an ear open to the past. When asked by The Great Discontent about leaving some sort of legacy, she explained, “I guess I’d want to be remembered as someone who was curious, rigorous, prolific, and everywhere at once.” Origin/Outcome is the result of this curiosity, and luckily, “everywhere” includes a stop at the Walker to share it.

Olga Bell presents Origin/Outcome Thursday, February 13, at 8 pm in the Walker’s McGuire Theater. Copresented with the SPCO’s Liquid Music series and the American Composers Forum. Check out ACF’s interview with Bell here.

“Drone, not Drones” Sounds this Weekend at the Cedar

Low’s set at Rock the Garden last summer sparked a surprising amount of controversy for a local music performance; everyone had something to say about the 27-minute, drone-infused rendition of their “Do You Know How to Waltz?” The band received harsh backlash online, was defended ardently, and inspired questions about performers’ responsibility to their audience. […]

Low’s set at Rock the Garden last summer sparked a surprising amount of controversy for a local music performance; everyone had something to say about the 27-minute, drone-infused rendition of their “Do You Know How to Waltz?” The band received harsh backlash online, was defended ardently, and inspired questions about performers’ responsibility to their audience. Philip Bither, the Walker’s Senior Curator of Performing Arts, called it Rock the Garden’s own Rite of Spring.

Something that Low’s Alan Sparhawk said during the show, delivered more calmly and eloquently than any of their naysayers, has had a lasting impact: “Drone, not drones.” Borrowed from his friend and Twin Cities music organizer Luke Heiken, the phrase has become a succinct pro-drone, anti-war statement.

In an interview with the Walker, Heiken detailed his position on drones: “I’m told [drones] are important to track down terrorists and to keep me and my family safe,” he says. “But there is a line crossed when we fly these things into sovereign nations and use explosives to kill people, without a trial, who are believed to be present and write off the loss of life and limb for any people caught in the blast.”  He also described his plans to organize a benefit concert, fueled by the attention his cause has received from the Low set.

After months of organizing, Heiken’s dream is finally coming together in “DRONE NOT DRONES: The Live 28-Hour Drone” this weekend, February 7–8. As the event’s Facebook invite states, “We don’t have the right words to stop ‘targeted killings’ or ‘collateral damages’ or ‘illegal assassinations.’ All we can do is drone on and on about it.” And drone they will.

The drone begins early Friday evening at the Cedar Cultural Center. Proceeds from the event will go to Doctors Without Borders. By the time silence falls late Saturday night, musicians like Paul Metzger, Tim Kaiser, Zak Sally, and Martin Dosh will have contributed to the sound. And of course, after last summer’s events, a drone festival in Minneapolis isn’t complete without Low, scheduled for primetime Friday night. If you loved their RTG set, grab a blanket and pillow and head to the Cedar this weekend.

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