From on stage, back stage and the theater seats, the Performing Arts blog illuminates the intersecting worlds of dance, theater, and music.
For newcomers, the voluminous discography of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) can seem daunting, if not overwhelming. In commemoration of the 50th anniversary of this influential improvisational musicians’ group—founded in Chicago by pianist/composer Muhal Richard Abrams, pianist Jodie Christian, drummer Steve McCall, and composer Phil Cohran—we invited writer and Burnt Sugar […]
For newcomers, the voluminous discography of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) can seem daunting, if not overwhelming. In commemoration of the 50th anniversary of this influential improvisational musicians’ group—founded in Chicago by pianist/composer Muhal Richard Abrams, pianist Jodie Christian, drummer Steve McCall, and composer Phil Cohran—we invited writer and Burnt Sugar bandleader Greg Tate to share a brief history of AACM for the Walker website. In doing so he gave us a bonus: his “idiosyncratic selection of the AACM’s Greatest/Sui Generis Hits.”
Fast Last (1974)
The Great Pretender (1981)
I Only Have Eyes For You (1985)
Blasé (1969), with Archie Shepp
No Agreement (1977), with Fela Kuti
Black Tie White Noise (1993), with David Bowie
Air Song (1975), with Air
Air Lore (1979), with Air
80° Below ‘82 (1982), with Cassandra Wilson
Air Show No 1 (1986), with Air
Just The Facts And Pass The Bucket (1983)
Song Out of My Trees (1993)
Makin’ A Move (1995)
Up Popped The Two Lips (2001)
Solo Trombone Record (1976)
Sequel (for Lester Bowie) (2006)
News For Lulu (1988), with John Zorn and Bill Frisell
Streaming (2006), with Muhal Richard Abrams and Roscoe Mitchell
Les Exercices Spirituels (2011)
Live At The Velvet Lounge, Volumes I+II (1998)
COIN COIN Chapter One: Gens de couleur libres (2011)
COIN COIN Chapter Two: Mississippi Moonchile (2013)
COIN COIN Chapter Three: River Run Thee (2015)
Dear Science (2008), with TV on The Radio
Live from Minagle Falls, with Burnt Sugar
Yanqui U.X.O. (2001), with Godspeed You! Black Emperor
To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from graphic designer Tiffany Malakooti and artist Alejandro Cesarco to animator Miwa Matreyek and futurist Nicolas Nova—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2014. See the entire series 2014: The Year According to […]
To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from graphic designer Tiffany Malakooti and artist Alejandro Cesarco to animator Miwa Matreyek and futurist Nicolas Nova—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2014. See the entire series 2014: The Year According to .
Best known as a founding member of the fabled punk band Hüsker Dü (with Bob Mould and Greg Norton), Grant Hart is a drummer, songwriter, vocalist, and founder of the band Nova Mob (1989–1994). In 2013 he released his fourth solo album, The Argument, a 20-song double album inspired by John Milton’s Paradise Lost and “Lost Paradise,” a short story reinterpreting Milton’s classic, by his friend, William S. Burroughs. Next June, Hart will be featured in WISE BLOOD, an immersive second-line opera and exhibition based upon the southern gothic novel by Flannery O’Connor. The work, co-commissioned by the Walker Art Center and The Soap Factory (where it will be presented), features music by Anthony Gatto, a visual installation by Chris Larson, a cast of singers, brass bands, percussion lines, string players, and singers. Hart will play the role of blind street preacher Asa Hawks.
As time goes by, more young people are surprised by the fact that William S. Burroughs actually wrote books and wasn’t just a freaky old man who influenced Kurt Cobain. True, the happiest looking photos of Kurt show him at William’s home looking out from Bill’s home made orgone accumulator. William loved interaction with intelligent creative people, and to this day any gathering at a Burroughs event continues this tradition.
Jeff Petrich’s “Smoke and Croak”
Minneapolis’s West Bank has seen a lot over the years, but its Golden Age was long ago. During its heyday it was Mecca for jazz and folk artists who frequented the bars and cafes. A local fellow did his art there, producing an illustrated calendar for the Triangle Bar which featured photos of locals as well as notables from the outside world.
Jeff Petrich died this year. His death capped off a great year in which he showed his artwork in Finland as well as participating in a group show at the Belmore in Minneapolis.
When he suspected something was wrong, Jeff walked to Hennepin County Medical Center and was eventually told that he had cancer in more places than you can count with both hands. Treatment was as debilitating as the disease. Heroically, Jeff embarked on a project with his son William and William’s mother, Marie. Entitled “Smoke and Croak,” this mission involved creating as much art as they could, smoking as much cannabis as he wished, and spending all of his time with the people who loved him the most. He stared death in the face, and I would not doubt if he saw death blink. There will be an exhibition of his work in 2015.
September is the beginning of Ajvar (pronounced eye-var) season in Croatia. Sometimes ajvar is called “Yugoslavian caviar.” I think the reason for this is because people love to eat it rather than due to any snob appeal it might have. It is a simple paste made from roasted peppers, eggplant, and olive oil. Simple to make but recipes for making it will stray from that simplicity and suggest adding things that don’t belong in ajvar. It is not meant to be hot, but it’s warm and savory, rich and satisfying.
Nearly every Balkan country claim it as theirs. I have had it from northern Croatia to Bulgaria and it varies little from place to place.
This is a group with roughly 20 members who rotate depending on the size required and the instruments involved. Stargaze teams up with songwriters to perform their music with an orchestra who shares this dream. I had the pleasure of spending a week with these fine players rehearsing and performing two concerts and watching them working with others.
Situated near Cologne, Germany, the town of Haldern rolls up its sleeves every August and puts on what is arguably the most pleasant music festival in the world. Three days of music every year since 1984, Haldern Pop is devoid of billboard-sized corporate logos and all of the nonsense that distracts from a good musical experience. Set in a huge equestrian park, there is a very large stage and a “spiegel tent,” an antique portable venue that collapses to fit on a semi trailer. Off site in the town center are a bar and a 12th-century church that feature music indoors. Most of the tickets for next year have already been purchased.
The Joan Anderson Letter
The very recent re-discovery of this legendary letter by Neil Cassady to a girlfriend, Joan Anderson has the world of literature flipping. Cassady was the inspiration for the Sal Paradise character in Jack Kerouak’s much overrated On the Road. For the rest of Kerouak’s life, people assumed that he was Paradise and Cassady went on and eventually was the bus driver for Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters. Justice will be served by the attention this discovery brings to Cassady as the master of hip argot.
With each passing year, more people are coming around to the theory that the White Star liner Olympic was switched for the Titanic and sunk in her place by swindling board members of a huge multinational cabal. Much like 9/11 and JFK, the sinking that shocked the world has captivated folks who won’t believe that anything or anyone so great could be brought down by simple means or by simple men. Such is the nature of men and myth.
To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from filmmaker Sam Green and musician Grant Hart to artist Shahryar Nashat and animator Miwa Matreyek—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2014. See the entire series 2014: The Year According to […]
To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from filmmaker Sam Green and musician Grant Hart to artist Shahryar Nashat and animator Miwa Matreyek—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2014. See the entire series 2014: The Year According to .
Eyvind Kang is a composer and violist who has released a dozen albums of original music, including “The Narrow Garden” (Ipecac) and “Visible Breath” (Ideologic Organ). He often performs vocalist/composer Jessika Kenney, in many contexts including their works of austere beauty “Aestuarium” and “the Face of the Earth” (Ideologic 2011/12). As a violist he has worked extensively with Laurie Anderson and Bill Frisell, as well as presented solo works by Christian Wolff, Satyajit Ray and Hanne Darboven. He has also been a guest musician and arranger on hundreds of albums, including those by Sunn O))), Blonde Redhead, and Glass Candy.
Qiu Miaojin, Last Words From Montmartre
The communication in these writings is so personal, you begin to feel greatly attached, and since this very feeling is described with precision in the text, the whole experience of reading seems to fold in on itself like a black hole. At a certain point I thought, “I don’t need any other book.” The author advises that the chapters can be read in any order. At first I bibliomanced my own order, but at the moment I prefer her order. Also, there are many serious insights, both spiritual and scientific, that wouldn’t necessarily arise outside the context of high emotion.
Ostad Mohammad Reza Lotfi
This giant of Persian classical music departed on May 2. The Abu Ata concert, a duo with M.R. Shajarian, is one of the classic documents of this music. Towards the end, he seemed to take a spiritual turn; his compositions became concentrated on the state of trance.
Departed on November 14. At this point, due to the kind permission of his family, we may all begin to learn a little more of his work during his final period of seclusion. For more information: Grothendieck circle.
There are so many amazing setar players, but she stood out in this performance with the aforementioned Ostad Lotfi. From the first moments on her solo album on the incredible new Iranian label, Kherad Art House, one falls into a kind of dream. But she balances the paradoxes in the sound of the setar with perfect precision while maintaining a kind of intense communicative empathy with the listener. Although the discursive quality of the phrasing could easily lead to a cascade, she manages to keep the clarity of the musical idea up front. Also a deft combination of original/traditional.
Taku Unami at Issue Project Room, New York
What can I say about this gig? Nothing, because nothing really happened. Most of the people weren’t aware there was a performance going on. I was about to leave because I was so bored, and ran into a friend on the steps, who informed me of the presence of a rare bee in the back of the room. Curious, I returned inside. I had previously become aware of a kind of strange aura, but by now it was really unmistakable. Like a funny party, in which very little happened, but whose aura increased as time went by.
Alain Badiou, Mathematics of the Transcendental
An invaluable resource for those of us trying to study category theory independently. Especially huge for musicians, since it helps open the door to studying Guerino Mazzola’s epic textbook, The Topos of Music.
Martial Canterel, Gyors, Lassú
A new album from him is always a cause for celebration, but I appreciate the change to a more up tempo sound on this one.
For a woman bringing a distinctive voice to the male-dominated world of hip hop, Dessa says it was both “brain-scrambling” and grafifying to hear herself as a man—or, more accurately, to witness her voice slowed down so much that it sounded like that of a male rapper. That’s what Chicago’s The Hood Internet did with […]
For a woman bringing a distinctive voice to the male-dominated world of hip hop, Dessa says it was both “brain-scrambling” and grafifying to hear herself as a man—or, more accurately, to witness her voice slowed down so much that it sounded like that of a male rapper. That’s what Chicago’s The Hood Internet did with her single “Fighting Fish”: for an album released this June, the Minneapolis poet, writer, and Doomtree emcee shared the vocal tracks from her 2013 release Parts of Speech with other musicians and producers for reimagining. Offering The Green Room‘s readers an exclusive first look at the new video for the “Fighting Fish” remix—alongside the original—Dessa shares her thoughts, both on the remix project and on that first time listening to her voice slowed to man-like levels:
The beat for the original “Fighting Fish” was produced by my labelmate, Lazerbeak. It’s got a driving, aggressive sound; the lyrics I wrote for it are about going for the big win, even against long odds (music career, anyone?). In the Midwest, bold ambitions are often perceived as presumptuous: Who are you to think you can do or be something special? This song swims against that current.
We released “Fighting Fish” on my album Parts of Speech last year. This summer Doomtree released a remix project: we sent a cappella versions of the songs to producers around the country and asked them to build new production around the vocals. My favorite remix came from the The Hood Internet, based in Chicago. The remixed version of “Fighting Fish” is chopped and screwed, the vocals slowed down enough to sound as if they were recorded by a male artist. When I first received the file, I listened to it on repeat in my one-bedroom apartment, stunned. The new version seemed to change the emotional center of the song completely–more melancholic, an added gravitas. To hear my lyrics delivered in a man’s voice was brain-scrambling. The male voice is the featured instrument in most rap music; it’s the instrument to which I’m most accustomed as a listener and a fan. The transposition was at once gratifying (I sound like the artists I like!) and sobering as potential evidence of my own ingrained sexism (Do I grant male voices an authority that I don’t grant female voices–including my own?) After all the sociopolitical considerations subsided, however, I continue to love this remix because it kicks ass musically and it’s a big, bold departure from the original.
We recorded a music video for each version of the song. Both were directed by the team Isaac Gale and David Jensen. A big thanks to those two and to all the artists that contributed on this project. Hope you dig it, too.
Dessa, “Fighting Fish (The Hood Internet Remix)”
Dessa, “Fighting Fish” (Original)
For more from Dessa at the Walker, watch her perform “Bangarang” with Doomtree at Rock the Garden 2012; view the Rock the Garden 2014 time-lapse; see video of the October 2013 reading/book-launch party for her poetry chapbook, A Pound of Steam; or read “2013: The Year According to Dessa.” To see Dessa live, check her out on tour, starting later this week, or at Minneapolis’ Orchestra Hall, where she’ll make her choral debut in October.
Dessa. Photo: Bill Phelps To commemorate the year that was, we invited artists, designers, and thinkers across disciplines — from interdisciplinary artist Ralph Lemon and ebook publishers Badlands Unlimited to design firm Experimental Jetset and musician Greg Tate — to share a list of their most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects of 2013. See the […]
To commemorate the year that was, we invited artists, designers, and thinkers across disciplines — from interdisciplinary artist Ralph Lemon and ebook publishers Badlands Unlimited to design firm Experimental Jetset and musician Greg Tate — to share a list of their most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects of 2013. See the entire series 2013: The Year According to .
As her bio says, Dessa has been described as “Mos Def plus Dorothy Parker.” As her lyrics say, she’s “half Dorothy Parker, half April O’Neil” (a nod to the famed poet and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ truth-seeking sidekick, respectively). However you categorize her — scrappy, rappy, or writerly — the Minneapolis-based emcee, poet, writer, activist, and veteran member of the hip hop collective Doomtree is busy. In the last year, she’s published a chapbook of poetry (launched at the Walker in October), released the solo album Parts of Speech, performed an NPR Tiny Desk concert, performed in the ninth annual Doomtree Blowout, published the “miniature book” Are You Handsome?, conducted some excellent interviews on music and food for the beer magazine The Growler and gave some excellent interviews on topics from homophobia to humanism, toured the country with her band, and got going on a new project, a collaboration with classical composer Jocelyn Hagen: commissioned by Minneapolis Public Schools, it’ll be performed in April by a student choir and orchestra. To name a few.
Given the nature of the work she did last year, Dessa — aka @dessadarling on Twitter — offers a fittingly diverse best-of-2013, covering her favorites in religion and TV, politics and hip hop.
Marriage Equality in Minnesota
The “Control” Verse
Kendrick Lamar wrote a guest verse on a Big Sean track and sent the question “Did you hear it yet?” ringing ’round the world. In this verse Kendrick challenges the rap community, even calling out good friends by name, to up the bar. His contemporaries scrambled to write responses and recorded them before morning; veterans spoke of a healthy jolt to the system. Rap is a contact art.
I left the Catholic Church pretty early, but it’s been heartening to watch the first few months of Pope Francis’ term. (Term? Appointment? Reign? I dunno. I left early.) He declined the opulent papal apartment, skipped the gold ring, and emphasizes the centrality of mercy, compassion, and humility — big things. (Though of course Pope Francis would not have been with me making ‘happy eyes’ in the van.) Plus, we all got to watch CNN cover smoke signals.
The hype. It’s for real.
Kanye West BBC Interview
This recording artist has been active for years, but I only discovered her in 2013. Her song “Between Two Trees” and the one-take video that accompanies it reminds me how well rules can be broken.
To commemorate the year that was, we invited artists, designers, and thinkers across disciplines — from photographer JoAnn Verburg and design firm Experimental Jetset to writer Greg Allen and “conceptual entrepreneur” Martine Syms — to share their most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects of 2013. See the entire series 2013: The Year According to […]
To commemorate the year that was, we invited artists, designers, and thinkers across disciplines — from photographer JoAnn Verburg and design firm Experimental Jetset to writer Greg Allen and “conceptual entrepreneur” Martine Syms — to share their most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects of 2013. See the entire series 2013: The Year According to .
During a 2010 visit to the Walker, Ralph Lemon told us of his future plans: “Going forward, I’m looking at the meaning of being an artist, and what might be my place in that.” The notion of constantly redefining what a performing artist is and does has been consistent throughout Lemon’s nearly 40-year career. Starting out in Minneapolis in the mid-1970s, he danced with Nancy Hauser and helped co-found Mixed Blood Theatre. After a stint working with Meredith Monk in New York, he founded his celebrated eponymous dance company — only to disband it at the height of its critical success. At that point he went “enthusiastically into freefall,” as Marcia Siegal wrote in 2000: “Concerned about the way technology had been reconfiguring American art, he set out to look at alternative practices in other parts of the world; he wanted to see how his own artmaking — as dancer, writer, photographer and graphic artist — would evolve if he played by different rules. Soon he became involved in a web of people and projects that could be easily modified to accommodate his agile and curiously moral imagination.”‘
Lemon’s projects since the have been increasingly more global and interdisciplinary, involving collaborators met during his decade of travel and media including text, dance, video, visual art installations (including a set design by Nari Ward), and music (with artists as diverse as Christian Marclay, Tracy Morris, DJ Spooky, and a group of Chinese folk musicians). Like his ambitious ten-year Geography Trilogy, all three parts of which were presented at the Walker, his more recent works have pushed boundaries of both form and content. In recent years, his diverse activities have ranged from curating a performance series at MoMA to collaborating with Jim Findlay on the two-channel video installation, Meditation (acquired for the Walker collection in 2012), and publishing three books on the Geography Trilogy, among many other projects.
In September 2014, Lemon returns to the Walker for a residency concluding with the world premiere of what may be his boldest experiment yet: Scaffold Room. Using a two-story structure erected in Burnet Gallery, this live multimedia performance installation will explore ideas of contemporary performance through archetypal black female personae in American culture.
For his best-of-2013 list, Lemon chooses a fittingly diverse array of works, books, and ideas from across disciplines.
Paul McCarthy at Park Avenue Armory
The exhibition WS was emphatic, vast, brilliant, puerile, perverse, beautiful, funny, and, from what I’ve heard, very very expensive to put together.
The US premiere of Lisa Nelson and Steve Paxton’s Night Stand at Dia Art Foundation took me away. The wide wide world of Paxton and Nelson: Beckett, Faulkner, Fassbinder, Ono, Laurel and Hardy, Fred and Ginger…
Thomas Hirschhorn’s Gramsci Monument
I thought I would hate it. A very famous (and very good) Swiss artist, who lives and works in Paris, goes to the South Bronx, with major support from Dia Art Foundation and does what? Well, the Monument, its specific functionality, became a vital and inspired gathering place, and a good part of the community bought into it and everyone involved seemed grateful for the life of it. Too bad it was primarily a temporary art piece (Gramsci, who?). From the outside it seemed like it belonged there.
Boris Charmatz at MoMA
Now Dig This!
Rick Owens’ Spring Show
The video and online buzz of Rick Owens’ Paris Spring 2014 show, with choreography by Lauretta and Leeanet Noble and danced by members of Soul Steps and Momentum, of NYC, and the Washington Divas and the Zetas from the D.C. area: Oh gosh! I loved how little of what I loved about the buzz and the video had to do with fashion.
Sonali Deraniyagala’s Wave
Devastating. A true story that couldn’t be true.
The Grey Album
Kevin Young’s The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness is smart, poetic and vibrantly apocalyptic. Pop culture, a (fantastic) (decorative) snake forever eating its tail.
Whistle-blower Edward Snowden
As we announced this morning, the trio S/S/S — comprised of singer/songwriter Sufjan Stevens, rapper Serengeti, and producer/composer Son Lux — is putting out a full-length, self-titled LP in February and taking on a new name: Sisyphus. (As Stevens told us, the new name speaks to both the the nature of collaborative music-making and to the […]
As we announced this morning, the trio S/S/S — comprised of singer/songwriter Sufjan Stevens, rapper Serengeti, and producer/composer Son Lux — is putting out a full-length, self-titled LP in February and taking on a new name: Sisyphus. (As Stevens told us, the new name speaks to both the the nature of collaborative music-making and to the art of Jim Hodges, which inspired the name change. Also, “S/S/S started to sound like the Nazi Schutzstaffel with a lisp, so we had to change it. Eff those Nazis.”)
Commissioned by the Walker Art Center and The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra’s Liquid Music series, Sisyphus will available on limited-edition vinyl exclusively at the Walker Shop on February 14, coinciding with the opening of the exhibition Jim Hodges: Give More Than You Take. It goes into wide release (CD/LP/digital download) on March 18. In anticipation of its release, here’s the first track from the new recording, “Calm It Down”:
You can download it here:
A rain delay that turned into an impromptu parking-ramp rave with Dan Deacon. Low’s now-infamous 27-minute, one-song, “drone-not-drones” set. A homecoming for former Hüsker Dü front man Bob Mould. After Rock the Garden 2013, it’s hard to imagine the event getting any more memorable. But next June, we’ll try: In 2014, the Walker and 89.3 […]
A rain delay that turned into an impromptu parking-ramp rave with Dan Deacon. Low’s now-infamous 27-minute, one-song, “drone-not-drones” set. A homecoming for former Hüsker Dü front man Bob Mould. After Rock the Garden 2013, it’s hard to imagine the event getting any more memorable. But next June, we’ll try:
In 2014, the Walker and 89.3 The Current are expanding Rock the Garden to a two-day festival for the first time in the event’s history. Mark your calendar for Saturday, June 21 and Sunday, June 22, 2014.
Held nearly every summer since 1998, Rock the Garden has welcomed a diverse array of bands to its stage. including David Byrne, Stereolab, Sonic Youth, Wilco, Bon Iver, Doomtree, Trampled by Turtles, and the New Pornographers, to name a few. Be the first to get the announcement this spring about the on-sale date and lineup for 2014’s two-day festival by following Rock the Garden on Facebook and Twitter. Or sign up to receive Cross Currents, The Current’s weekly newsletter, and Walker emails.
Tickets to the two-day event will be available to Walker Art Center and MPR members first, with an exclusive pre-sale to be announced at a later date. To purchase Walker memberships visit http://www.walkerart.org/membership; The Current/MPR memberships can be purchased at mpr.org/support.
Assembling an international all-star cast for his October 18 concert Jherek Bischoff: Composed, Bischoff tapped musicians at the top of their form, from Icelandic vocalist Ólöf Arnalds to Bay Area drummer Greg Saunier (Deerhoof), Norwegian singer-songwriter Sondre Lerche to the Twin Cities’ own Channy Leaneagh. Performing with Bischoff just days before her own nationally acclaimed […]
Assembling an international all-star cast for his October 18 concert Jherek Bischoff: Composed, Bischoff tapped musicians at the top of their form, from Icelandic vocalist Ólöf Arnalds to Bay Area drummer Greg Saunier (Deerhoof), Norwegian singer-songwriter Sondre Lerche to the Twin Cities’ own Channy Leaneagh. Performing with Bischoff just days before her own nationally acclaimed band, Poliça, releases its sophomore album, Leanagh agreed to lead an email conversation with Bischoff. Their casual exchange hit topics from the nature of collaboration to musical inspirations, nervous nail-biting to bedtime music.
Channy Leaneagh: I’ll start.
Jherek Bischoff: Oh good! Starting is always the hardest part! Thank you.
Leaneagh: Hello, Jherek,
Bischoff: Ahoy, Channy!
Leaneagh: I’m biting my nails at the thought of interviewing another musician because it’s my least favorite part of this line of work.
Bischoff: I feel you! I every once in awhile say yes to a thing and then realize it’s pretty far out of my comfort zone, and then I freak out a little bit. Funny about biting your nails. Do you really do that? I do. It’s a disgusting habit. I have quit several times and then something really intense happens, like a big show or something, and I go back to it. Yuck! Darn!
Leaneagh: Ha, yes I do bite my nails. Thought I’d quit, but this relaxed interview seems to have brought it out in me again! My hands were well washed and my nails will grow back, so no harm done really. Now, let’s get on with this. You did a beautiful piece for the Kronos Quartet this past July called A Semiperfect Number. Did you have any specific imagery or story behind the composition?
Bischoff: Were you there!? Man, if you were I wish we would have hung!
Leaneagh: I wasn’t there, but thanks to the Internet I have been able to watch and listen to it a bunch.
Bischoff: Well, thanks for the nice words. A Semiperfect Number is another one of these tunes that has been kind of floating around my head for a long time. The song is sort of like two songs with a little connecty bit. The first half of the tune is the part that has been stewing. I wrote it, like a lot of my tunes, on ukulele! The second part came to me a couple days before my deadline. I wrote that part on violin and cello.
The name of the tune refers to the number 40. We played the piece at Lincoln Center in celebration of their 40th anniversary. I was truly hoping people were not going to think I was referring to my own piece… I thought that could sound pretty egotistical! No one said anything…
It’s funny that you mention imagery. This, like most of my music, sounds pretty cinematic, but I rarely have a connection to anything visual until long after I write a piece. I’m not a visual person at all. I am just a feel or mood kind of music maker. My orchestral writing is certainly informed by soundtracks more than classical music so a lot of people mention getting pictures in their heads when listening to my music.
Leaneagh: I’ve been enjoying your collaboration with David Byrne on “Eyes” and Soko and Zac Pennington on “Young & Lovely.” When you are entering into collaboration do you usually work with people you know or have met before, starting the collaboration out of friendship, or do you seek people out from afar and then get to know them through the collaboration?
Bischoff: I love to do a lot of both! Zac and Soko are both friends of mine, and we have a long history of collaborating with each other, but in the case of David Byrne, I had never met him. My big influences as a collaborator are Björk, Duke Ellington, and Mingus. These people could put together these monster bands and utilize people with extremely different backgrounds and musical vocabularies, yet at the end of the day it still sounded like a Mingus composition or a Björk song. So when I set out to collaborate, I do it in basically two ways.
1. I write some material, and then I try to imagine the absolute perfect person to sing the song. Then I reach out to them and cross my fingers that they’ll give me the time of day. This has worked really well for me, and I think it is the fact that I am asking these people to do what they are great at. I’m not asking David Byrne to sing in a strange octave or to bust out an oboe solo or something. I am asking him to do something that I know that he is totally awesome at. So, when people have listened to the tunes and heard what I have to say, I think it feels natural for them to say yes.
2. Sometimes I play a show at a festival or something and I have an opportunity to have a guest vocalist that has a voice that I am not entirely familiar with, but they seem like rad folks, or they are friends or friends of friends. In this case, I will listen to some of their recordings and really try to think of things in my repertoire where I think they could really feel natural. I also, most of the time, will arrange a tune or two for the ensemble so that they can get in their comfort zone and have fun with it. That way they can sing some of their own music in a new way and sing a new tune!
So I do both in hopes that it will lead to longer relationships and friendships. I just try to be around awesome people and I try to make it really easy and fun for them!
We haven’t met yet! But I’m listening to your music and getting a feel for your range and the sound of your voice so I can try to have an informed idea of what is going to work best for us. I am excited about it. I like your voice!
Leaneagh: I agree with that sentiment: “Try to be around awesome people and make it really easy and fun for them.” It’s a beautiful way to go about most things.
How will you go about the Liquid Music Series collaboration? Are you building pieces around specific musicians in the group or will each piece involve all the musicians?
Bischoff: Well, most of the ensemble members I don’t know and will probably not get the chance to become familiar with, besides Greg Saunier, who will be playing drums. I am extremely familiar with that wild man! He is one of my favorite musicians on the planet, and he always just makes stuff sound like real music.
Most of the pieces will involve all of the musicians and one singer at a time. I try to write my arrangements to leave a lot of room for individuals to express themselves if they want to. We usually discuss at rehearsal and decide who is excited about playing a certain solo and stuff. It’s just like how I work with the singers. I would never ask a person to shred an atonal, disgusting-sounding solo if they were not excited about doing it, because then it’s just going to sound stupid. So, I try to identify who in the group is the goofball, who’s the improviser, who’s the shy one, etc. Then we decide together to make everyone comfortable and excited! It’s a lot of little decisions, but when you try to stay on your toes and use your knowledge and experience, all of those decisions can really result in an ecstatic music love fest.
I am really excited about the vocalists for this show! I feel like they each bring something totally different to the table and everyone is a total one of a kind voice and personality. That is always super exciting to me! I will be doing some arrangements of the singers own tunes and they will sing a tune of mine. It’s super fun to get my hands on other peoples songs and arrange for them. Even though each singers project is vastly different, because I am doing the arranging for a specific ensemble, it all becomes very cohesive and it works really well together.
Leaneagh: So glad we did this interview, in fact, because now I am less nervous and way more excited for the show. Are there questions you wish interviewers would ask you, but never do, in relation to your music?
Leaneagh: There isn’t really a question I wish for but I am always happy to hear a new question.
Last question: Do you listen to music when you are going to sleep? What is the most soothing music to you these days?
Bischoff: I used to all the time. Do you?
Leaneagh: The producer of Poliça, Ryan Olson, turned me on to listening to [NASA’s] The Symphonies of the Planets while going to sleep. It’s really helpful on the road to make any place feel like home.
Bischoff: I honestly don’t listen to a ton of music. I work on music all day and all night, so lately I just like silence. On tour I listen to a lot more music and a lot when I go to bed. That is because it’s really hard for me to write or get work done on tour, so I use that as my time to soak in new. I am pretty into ambient music in general. I like Colleen, William Basinski, Eno, all that type of stuff.
Jherek Bischoff: Composed — copresented with the SPCO’s Liquid Music series and in association with the American Swedish Institute and Minnesota Public Radio — takes place Friday, October 18, 2013, at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul.
Arguably the most buzzworthy moment of Rock the Garden this year — competing with Dan Deacon’s parking ramp rave and a homecoming set by native son (of sorts) Bob Mould — was a controversy-stirring performance by Low. Instead of giving an audio tour of its latest release, The Invisible Way (Sub Pop), the Duluth indie […]
Arguably the most buzzworthy moment of Rock the Garden this year — competing with Dan Deacon’s parking ramp rave and a homecoming set by native son (of sorts) Bob Mould — was a controversy-stirring performance by Low. Instead of giving an audio tour of its latest release, The Invisible Way (Sub Pop), the Duluth indie trio filled its entire 27-minute set with one song, expanding the 14-minute 1996 tune “Do You Know How to Waltz?” by nearly double. As if by way of explanation, Low front man Alan Sparhawk concluded the set with three now-infamous words: “Drone, not drones.” Asked about it later that night, he told journalist Chris Riemenschneider, simply, “I got it off a friend’s bumper-sticker, and thought it was fitting.” Now that the dust has settled, we got in touch with that friend — Minneapolis’ Luke Heiken — to hear more.
A fixture in the Twin Cities music scene for years, Heiken ran ScheduleTwo.com, a site (and record label) that up until mid-2008 livestreamed concerts from local music venues. One day in February, Heiken was playing around with an industrial sticker maker and came up with a phrase he liked: “Drone, not drones.” That same night, Sparhawk tweeted, “Mim sez these drones are bullshit. That’s all I gotta know. #potus” — presumably a response to news of a leaked white paper on the Obama administration’s justification for “targeted killings” using unmanned aerial vehicles. Heiken tweeted back, sharing his slogan and, the next day, an image of his sticker. He liked the phrase so much he bought the URL dronenotdrones.com and hatched a plan to do something with it — a benefit show or compilation album to raise funds for groups working to help the innocent victims of the war on terror. On June 12, he tweeted to Low, asking if the band might be interested in such a project.
Fastforward three days, when Sparhawk on stage “dropped that
#TruthBomb on #rockthegarden,” as Heiken put it on Twitter. He wasn’t in the crowd, but Sparhawk’s words — which he later credited to Heiken — prompted action: “I really need to get on it now that Al has forced my hand by tipping it.”
“I was inspired by people caring about the message and wanted to strike while the iron was hot, so knowing releasing music would take a while to put together, I made the t-shirts,” he says. Proceeds from the shirts, as well as the compilation and benefit concert he’s hoping to pull off, will go to either Doctors Without Borders or the Red Crescent, or both. With bands and labels approaching him, he’s making good progress towards his dreamed-of Drone Not Drones recording, which, like the benefit show, he hopes to see released this winter. He’s hoping it’ll be released on vinyl, but acknowledges it may have to be a digital release instead. He’s already confirmed the participation of Twin Cities artists Take Acre, Paul Metzger, and Peace Drone (a side project by members of Flavor Crystals and Magic Castles), German musician/sound artist Stephan Mathieu, and Sparkhawk himself, and he hopes to have more confirmed bands to announce soon.
While Heiken’s stance on drones is nuanced — his personal view isn’t as bumpersticker-ready as the slogan on his t-shirts — his take on the mini-controversy over Low’s Rock the Garden set isn’t.
“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 takes issue with the lack of clear governance of drone use. While manned flights are heavily regulated, he says it’s the “wild west” where drones are concerned.
He calls the flap over Low’s droning set, however, purely “ridiculous.”
“If I got on the Internet every time I saw a band I was bored by,” he says of the online furor, before trailing off. “This shouldn’t be a tragedy. People creating Twitter accounts for it? I’ve never seen people dislike a set so much they’d go out of their way to do that.”
Heiken has seen Low perform “Do You Know How to Waltz?” before. “It’s one of my favorite musical memories: sitting with my now-wife under a blanket in the dark listening to that song. It’s ridiculous that so many are complaining about that at a modern art museum. Even without that, if Low played their normal set, the squares would’ve been turned off. Nothing they could’ve done would’ve made people who where there for Metric or Dan Deacon happy. But it made lots of Low fans happy.”
Related: Low: Rock the Garden’s own Rite of Spring?, by Walker senior performing arts curator Philip Bither