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Walker Cunningham Events: Meet Participating Twin Cities Musicians

During the next three months, movement and music will merge within the Walker Art Center galleries as Events, part of the exhibition Merce Cunningham: Common Time, unfold. Taking place in the Perlman Gallery February 8–9, March 30–April 2, and April 6–April 9, this Cunningham piece features dancers from the Merce Cunningham Dance Company and music by Minnesota-based […]

During the next three months, movement and music will merge within the Walker Art Center galleries as Events, part of the exhibition Merce Cunningham: Common Time, unfold. Taking place in the Perlman Gallery February 8–9, March 30–April 2, and April 6–April 9, this Cunningham piece features dancers from the Merce Cunningham Dance Company and music by Minnesota-based vanguard music-makers. The nature of these works will highlight the collaborations established by Cunningham between dance, music, and art.

Below, an introduction to some of the Minnesota-based music-makers featured in Events, along with their answers to the question: Why Merce?

Wednesday, February 8: Mankwe Ndosi/Nick Gaudette

Nick GaudetteRenegade bassist and composer Nick Gaudette has been playing and performing in the Twin Cities for over a quarter century. Nick began his studies of the bass at the age of 5. Studying classical and nonclassical forms of music, Nick completed Bachelors and Masters degrees in performance from the Cleveland Institute of Music. Over the last decade, he has dedicated himself to the progression of music education. You can still catch his performances and collaboration as he regularly appears with the Cherry Spoon Collective, the Maggie Bergeron & Dance Company, as well as being a co-curator of the Hear Here! Live Music and Movement Festival.

I studied Modern Dance as a musician. To me time and space in music parallels dance. I am always intrigued by the way the body can paint a picture through movement just as a musician paints through a sonic backdrop. Having the opportunity to work within the world of Merce Cunningham in the city and community that I live within is a treat and a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Mankwe bySNixon-2Mankwe Ndosi is a Twin Cities–based vocalist, improviser, and composer focused on using an expanded vocabulary of singing to express emotion, story, and spirit guidance. Ndosi regularly makes new shapes of sound with artists of all media, and living beings of all kinds.

I look forward to new collaborations and pushing to find this moment’s song and movement with Merce Cunningham Company dancers to celebrate and stretch his life through here and now.

Thursday, February 9: Michelle Kinney/Anthony Cox/Andrew Broder

Michelle Kinney is a dedicated and lifelong improviser and composer, working in nontraditional contexts. She finds much inspiration in cross-cultural and cross-genre collaborations. As Musician in Residence at the University of Minnesota’s Dance Program, she MK headshot Airbnbmines the music and kinesthetic information revealed by the body in motion, while accompanying classes with her cello, using a looping station and electronics. She has created several scores for dance, theater, and film, and performs frequently with many collaborative original music ensembles.

The biggest inspirations I get from the Cage and Cunningham collaboration are the many ways they worked together to sublimate the ego in creation and performance, as much as that is possible. I’m fascinated by this unique career-long meditation on the ego. It closes the usual doors to ego-involved self-expression, while opening endless pathways the artist couldn’t have imagined. It’s a disciplined practice, yet it leads to results that are the definition of feral, and offers the artists and audience a glimpse into the randomness of the universe.

Thursday, March 31: John Keston/Graham O’Brien

moogfest_headshot_kestonJohn Keston is a composer, sound artist, and developer who connects musicians to each other and their audience through the insertion of a mediating layer that embraces the chaotic ambiguities of environmental and sensorial influences. His music often activates what remains immutable within traditional forms of notation. He has performed and/or exhibited at Northern Spark, the Weisman Art Museum, the Montreal Jazz Festival, the Burnet Gallery, Walker’s Point Center for the Arts, the Minnesota Institute of Art, the In/Out Festival of Digital Performance, the Eyeo Festival, INST-INT, Echofluxx, and Moogfest.

I have been hooked on the work of John Cage, Pauline Oliveros, and many other innovative composers for years. What keeps me coming back is their sense of discovery. Both Cage and Oliveros excavated sonic environments, bringing attention to sound artifacts that were otherwise ignored. I am thrilled to participate in Merce Cunningham: Common Time, not to emulate the work of Cage, Tudor, or Oliveros, but to honor them through a similar spirit of exploration.

GrahamO'BrienGraham O’Brien is a drummer and electronic music producer/composer from St. Paul. His most recent work, Drum Controller, is focused on the interplay between his unique drumming and composition styles. Currently he is performing new music written especially for live performance and which utilizes a custom-made electro-acoustic drum set concept. As he puts it, “I’m exploring ways to explore spontaneous composition using the rhythmic information of my drumming to provoke surprising response from my computer, in real-time.” Graham’s electronic music work has been released on labels includingEqual Vision, Ambledown, Doomtree, and Strange Famous.

I have lately been especially interested in the concept of “surprise” in my musical creations. If I can truly surprise myself with a combination of sounds, there’s that elusive excitement and inspiration of finding an unturned stone. It’s infectious. In my experience, one way to discover surprise in music is by introducing randomness and chance to my composition or performance concept. It was through the works of Cunningham in collaboration with John Cage that I first encountered this fundamental idea. The Cunningham/Cage/Tudor work has been one of few sources of inspirations that don’t seem to fade, because I’m reminded of the idea of childlike surprise and newness. Really, it’s exciting to be a part of an event celebrating this spirit.

Friday, March 31: Douglas Ewart/Laura Harada

Douglas R. Ewart By Byron Dean11225364_10204780180889348_73866164409500806_nBorn in Kingston, Jamaica, Douglas Ewart immigrated to Chicago, Illinois in the 1960s. He is a past chairman of the world renowned Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM); board member of the Jamaica Minnesota Organization (JMO), and current co-chair of the American Bell Association, Minnesota Chapter. The polymathic Ewart has been honored for his work as a composer, improvising multi-instrumentalist, conceptual artist, sculptor, and designer of masks and instruments. Also an educator, Ewart bridges his kaleidoscopic activities with a vision that opposes today’s divided world. His culture-fusing works aims to restore the wholeness of communities and of the individuals within them, and to emphasize the reality that the world is an interdependent entity.

I have always had a great affinity for choreographers and dancers, and have collaborated with numerous practitioners in the movement field from the formative years of my life as a sonic and visual artist. Music with dance is one of the most compelling and profound confluences. The duet format has been one of my favorite ways to practice. I am looking forward to collaborating with violinist Laura Harada. She is a highly skilled, very sensitive, and dynamic artist, and she has a wonderful spirit. I am honored to be part of this project that is paying homage to Merce Cunningham, the brilliant dancer, choreographer, experimentalist, and conceptualist. Cunningham has been an inspiration and beacon to artists in all disciplines, and people from all walks of life!

Saturday, April 1: Cole Pulice/Michelle Kinney/Eric Jensen

colepuliceCole Pulice is a saxophonist, composer, and improviser based in Minneapolis, where he works with a diverse array of groups and individuals across genre and disciplinary boundaries. Cole also works with the Twin Cities–based collective 6 Families to curate and facilitate community-driven performances and projects.

I am thrilled to participate in the celebration of Merce Cunningham’s work and legacy at the Walker. He’s artist who so gracefully pushed the limits of his medium through the development of frameworks of thinking, choreography, and performing, and well as through the frequent collaboration with artists across other disciplines. It’s fitting to be celebrating Merce Cunningham with such a varied and beautiful collection of musicians and artists.

Sunday, April 2: Noah Ophoven-Baldwin/Joe Strachan

headshot_2017Noah Ophoven-Baldwin is an improvising cornetist based in Minneapolis. As well as being a cornetist he is also a member of 6 Families, a collection of musicians located in Minneapolis. As an organizer for 6 Families, he acts as an advocate for building and participating in an arts community based in patience, kindness, and love. He appreciates the chance to learn from all of his friends/loved-ones/elders/mentors.

As an improviser I think Merce Cunningham’s work is extremely attractive to investigate. His work embraces a similar chaos that so many improvising musicians tap into as performers (and listeners). In my case, Cunningham deftly refocused how collaboration between dance and music (or visual art or architecture) exist together in space.

Thursday, April 6: Toby Ramaswamy/Adam Zahller

IMG_8230Toby Ramaswamy is a Minneapolis-based composer, drummer, and member of the musicians collective 6 Families. He has been fortunate enough to work with, learn from, and be influenced by a diverse group of Minneapolis musicians and artists.

I’ve been lucky enough to work with dancers in the Twin Cities for several years now, both as an accompanist at several schools and as a collaborator with DaNCEBUMS and Kelvin Wailey. The idea of doing a dance/music piece with dancers I had never met really interested me. I’m also a fan of John Cage’s music, and the prospect of working on a project connected to the choreographer most associated with Cage was exciting.

Friday, April 7: Patrick Marschke/Tara Loeper

16299320_10155081688611414_7140549769466536358_nPatrick Marschke is a Minneapolis-based percussionist, composer, and electronic musician trying to make all of those things into one thing. He is a proud member of 6 Families and occasionally writes about music for the SPCO, the SPCO’s Liquid Music Series, and Walker Art Center.

I think this particular Cunningham “event” and the total ambiguity of the relationship between the dance and sounds being created can be incredibly instructive in a time where we are constantly bombarded with information: we don’t really have the capacity to understand and rationalize every correlation or relation being thrown at us, and a certain clarity can come from acceptance and welcoming of chaos. This work does that in a really subtle and profound way, and I’m excited to see how they all play out.

Saturday, April 8: Davu Seru/Jeremy Ylvisaker

Sunday, April 9: Cody McKinney/Leah Ottman

codymckinneyCody McKinney is a bassist, composer, improviser, and sound artist currently residing in the Twin Cities. He has been actively composing, recording, and performing since the mid 1990s. McKinney studied jazz and improvisation at the Berklee College of Music in Boston and, later, composition and process conceptualization at the New School in New York. His work straddles “a haunted space somewhere between free jazz and musique concrète,” with hallmarks that include his “liquid mastery of rhythm” and his use of graphic and text scores with indeterminacy and fixed time. Some of McKinney’s recent works have been recorded by his contemporary trio, Bloodline.

I actually studied composition in the same room where John Cage was teaching composition 50 years earlier. The “young me” was tossing around similar questions and processes when I finally came to learn of their work. That discovery became a revelation for me; both due to the brilliance of the work itself and the realization that the zeitgeist had expanded to unknowingly defending my ideas. Perhaps no other collaboration has been more important to performing arts in the 20th Century than that of Cage and Cunningham.

Cunningham Events is free with gallery admission and has the following performance schedule in the Perlman Gallery.

  • February 8–9
    Wednesday–Thursday, 5:30 and 8 pm
  • March 30–April 2
    Thursday, 5:30 and 8 pm
    Friday–Sunday, 1:30 and 4 pm
  • April 6–9
    Thursday, 5:30 and 8 pm
    Friday–Sunday, 1:30 and 4 pm

Keeping Score with Mark McGee

Mark McGee, also known by his performance name, MAKR, is a Renaissance man. A Twin Cities transplant by way of Richmond, Virginia, McGee is a key creative contributor to myriad musical projects, among them Father You See Queen, Ronia, and Marijuana Deathsquads. His collaborations have extended beyond music to encompass artists of many different media. […]

Mark McGee. Photo: Gene Pittman

Mark McGee. Photo: Gene Pittman

Mark McGee, also known by his performance name, MAKR, is a Renaissance man. A Twin Cities transplant by way of Richmond, Virginia, McGee is a key creative contributor to myriad musical projects, among them Father You See Queen, Ronia, and Marijuana Deathsquads. His collaborations have extended beyond music to encompass artists of many different media.

Ahead of his upcoming Music and Movies performance, in which MAKR’s Coven will premiere a new score for the 1926 silent animated film The Adventures of Prince Achmed, I asked McGee about his inspirations and what we can expect to witness tonight.

You’ve worked with a huge range of talent in the Twin Cities and beyond. What is your relationship to the musicians assembled for this project?

The ensemble includes Nona Marie Invie and Fletcher Barnhill, all of us play in Ronia together and Aaron Baum and I have played in other projects, such as Votel and Basuketto. All of these musicians, in my opinion, are some of the most talented in the Twin Cities.

Can we expect the music to closely parallel the action on screen, or will the audiovisual connection be more oblique?

The music and sound of the piece is a little of both. The music does parallel the action on screen and this score was closely written to the film, but there are places in the film where the music and sound becomes more oblique and detached.

Is there any film score or soundtrack that you find particularly inspiring? Or a film scene?

There are so many. I guess one that comes to mind is the fox wedding/march scene in Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams. It is when the child spies on the foxes, peaking behind trees and fog, only to be spotted by the wedding party. Watching a fox wedding by a human is forbidden, so when the boy reaches his house, he is told by his mother that he can never come home again and in fact, should kill himself with a knife the foxes have left for him. That scene visually has always inspired me and the music is fantastic.

In addition to your musical projects, I’ve read that you’re a visual art lover. Do you see a connection between musical and visual practice? If so, does that inform how you think about this project?

Yes, very much so. Musical and visual practice is one of the same to me. Many might argue the opposite, but to me, both worlds play on one another and display as much information and content, even if the time frames of what is being presented differ. When I write music, it usually comes from a visual place, so it was very natural to create music for this project and to this film.

MAKR’s Coven will perform a newly-commissioned score alongside The Adventures of Prince Achmed tonight, Monday, August 17, at dusk (8:45 pm).

“I Don’t Mind a Detour”: An Interview with Douglas Ewart

Douglas Ewart is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, and past president of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). He sat down with Sam Segal and Mark Mahoney, the hosts of Radio K’s jazz program Sound Grammar, for an interview ahead of his March 5 Sound Horizon performance at the Walker. You can listen to […]

D._R._Ewart_sc000015da01

Douglas Ewart. Photo: courtesy the artist

Douglas Ewart is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, and past president of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). He sat down with Sam Segal and Mark Mahoney, the hosts of Radio K’s jazz program Sound Grammar, for an interview ahead of his March 5 Sound Horizon performance at the Walker. You can listen to the interview on the Walker Channel.

My first experience with Douglas Ewart’s music came through Voice Prints, a recording he did in 2008 at the Walker with one of my musical heroes, Yusef Lateef, along with percussionist Adam Rudolph and Ewart’s AACM colleague Roscoe Mitchell. The music I discovered was deeply spiritual, a quest for serenity that never loses its intensity. In this performance alone Ewart plays sopranino saxophones, C flute, glass didgeridoo, voice, bass clarinet, gongs, bells, percussion, sirens, bass transverse flute, bamboo flutes, and something called the Ewart Hotchiku. Yet, his clear virtuosity on all of these instruments never seems to overwhelm the ensemble’s sense of collectivity, and when I had the pleasure of meeting him to record this interview, I wasn’t surprised to encounter a remarkably humble and thoughtful artist.

Ewart has lived mostly in the Twin Cities since moving up north from Chicago in the early ‘90s, and as a past president of the AACM, he has provided the local creative music scene with a connection to one of the pillars of the 20th Century avant-garde. In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the AACM this year, Ewart spoke to me and my co-host Mark Mahoney about the Chicago collective’s impact on his own artistic approach, the supposed “Jazz Tradition,” and the Twin Cities artistic community.

We also went into depth on Ewart’s childhood in Kingston, Jamaica, where not only did his involvement in the Rastafarian movement in the early ‘60s put him in direct contact with the Nyabinghi drum music of the legendary Count Ossie  but he was also exposed to U.S. jazz titans like John Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders. We learned that as a teenager living in Chicago, it was Ewart’s vocational schooling as a craftsman that would inform his artistic practices as a sculptor and a maker of musical instruments today.

Last June, I attended The Audible Edge, an exhibition at the Nash Gallery that included one of Ewart’s sculptures, a rain stick he had crafted as a tribute to Trayvon Martin. When we asked him about the socio-political themes in his work, Ewart elaborated eloquently on his concerns over the continued dangers faced by young black men in America, as well as the issues he focuses on in his upcoming Sound Horizon piece: gender equality and water conservation.

For his Sound Horizon performance, Ewart will be playing alongside longtime collaborators, percussionist Stephen Goldstein and vocalist/poet Mankwe Ndosi. When asked what we could expect from the piece, Ewart couldn’t make too many promises. “[Performing] reminds me of going on a journey, and you journey to a particular place, maybe to see a particular item,” he said, “And someone tells you about something else, and you only have that moment to make up your mind….I don’t mind a detour….I often get lost on journeys, because I’ll take the other path.”

Listen to the entire conversation here.

Douglas Ewart performs in the Walker galleries at 6 pm, 7 pm, and 8 pm on Thursday, March 5 as a part of the Sound Horizon series.

Open Veins of Hip-Hop: Ana Tijoux at The Cedar

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 Performing Arts Intern and Radio K DJ Sam Segal shares his perspective on Ana Tijoux […]

Photo: Nacional Records

Photo: Nacional Records

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 Performing Arts Intern and Radio K DJ Sam Segal shares his perspective on Ana Tijoux and Maria Isa at the Cedar Cultural Center on October 4, 2014. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments.

The Dominican-American writer Junot Diaz was once asked whether he only writes to a Dominican or Latino audience. The interviewer, Jasmine Garsd from NPR’s Alt.Latino podcast, pointed out how much Spanish goes untranslated in his work, and she questioned whether this was a move to limit his audience to members of his community. Diaz wholeheartedly disagreed. “There’s always a space in any piece of art for a completely random person that you didn’t imagine to fall in love,” he said. I wonder if when Chilean rapper Ana Tijoux was writing the songs she performed on Saturday night at the Cedar, she imagined that a white, non-Spanish-speaker from Minnesota could connect with them so deeply.

Tijoux was accompanied by the guitar, bass, drums, and percussion of a live band, as well as samples from her percussionist’s laptop. She began the night with the title track off of her new album, Vengo (I remember enough high-school Spanish to know that means, “I come”).  Sampled pan flutes cried out on their own before the band dropped in a sharp Andean groove. Any of the audience’s previous associations between the pan flute and sterile, generic “World” music left the building. The instrument became anthemic, and Tijoux’s relentless flow locked into rhythm with it immediately.

Later in the set, she broke out “1977,” a single from 2010 that the audience may have recognized from its appearance in an episode of Breaking Bad. The beat was based on a sample that sounded straight out of a Morricone Spaghetti Western score. Tijoux seemed to be reclaiming this music from a film industry that often used it to Orientalize and demonize Latin Americans.

The packed crowd was about as enthusiastic as I’ve ever seen at the Cedar. Gone were the crossed arms, muted head nods, and desperate attempts to avoid eye contact that I was used to at indie-rock shows.  Groups of friends around me embraced and danced without shame. Hands waved in the air without any desperate prompting from the performer on stage. It made me think: when people characterize Minnesotans as shy and insular, who do they really think of as being “Minnesotan?” Maria Isa, the opening performer, referred to herself as a Sota-Rican, seeing no contradiction between her Puerto Rican and Minnesotan identities. Her music fused traditional Puerto Rican Bomba music (itself a pretty syncretic genre), R&B, and classic Twin Cities backpack rap.

Ana Tijoux grew up in France after her politically active parents were exiled during the Pinochet coup. Yet, she finds a balance between her French and Chilean identities in hip-hop. She managed to combine conscious rap, traditional Chilean folk music, the protest anthems of Victor Jara, and the feminist theory of Beauvoir. With hip-hop’s sampled beats and total lyrical freedom, it makes sense that the genre would attract artists looking to express their multiplicity.

Ultimately, though, I didn’t spend my night tallying up Tijoux’s influences; the music was too fluid and engaging for that. No, I spent my night dancing and vowing to learn how to speak Spanish again.

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.

“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.

Songwriting with Abraham: Minneapolis Artists Collaborate with Cruzvillegas for Music & Movies 2013

Abraham Cruzvillegas, La curva, 2003. Speyer Family Collection, New York. Photo courtesy the artist and kurimanzutto, Mexico City.
Roe Family Singers. Photo by Sara Rubinstein

Roe Family Singers will perform on August 5.

For a band accustomed to old-time standards like “King Kong Kitchie” and its own original bluegrass numbers, the task might’ve been a head-scratcher: compose music to accompany lyrics written by a Mexico City–based conceptual artist and play it live. But Minneapolis’ Roe Family Singers — as well as two other acts playing 2013’s Summer Music & Movies in Loring Park — was up for the task.

Abraham Cruzvillegas‘ lyrics are different in that they are more abstract, and the meaning behind them seems more up to the listener to fill in or deduce,” says the band’s Quillan Roe. “This is closer to how we write our own music, with lyrics used to evoke an emotional response that the listener can fill in themselves with their own experiences, or with their responses to how the music makes them feel.”

The exercise shakes up a format that the Walker has presented for more than 30 summers: a band paired with a film. The past two editions featured commissioned live musicians accompanying classic films — Brute Heart’s score for The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari in 2012 and Dark Dark Dark’s score for Fritz Lang’s Spies in 2011 — but this year the Walker will try something new by adding collaboration with a visual artist to the film/performance tradition. Cruzvillegas, whose Autoconstrucción Suites  is currently on view at the Walker, chose the four films featured in Summer Music & Movies 2013: Roadways. He also provided lyrics for three of the bands to transform into a new song to debut within their Music & Movies sets.

The musicians are excited to work with Cruzvillegas’ words. A few members in the Roe Family Singers (August 5) studied visual art, so they’re particularly interested in working on this project, while Grant Cutler (August 19) chose to use Cruzvillegas’ working method as inspiration. About his creative process, Cutler says he’ll “attempt to put the song together a little like how Cruzvillegas puts together sculpture. With found objects (or in my case found sounds). Maybe using a lot of sampled sounds that are just ‘around,’ and then working in the lyrics over that.”

Abraham Cruzvillegas, La curva, 2003. Speyer Family Collection, New York. Photo courtesy the artist and kurimanzutto, Mexico City.

Abraham Cruzvillegas, La curva, 2003.

Cruzvillegas’ interest in the transformation of found objects is rooted in his childhood in Ajusco, in the south of Mexico City. As Cruzvillegas explains:

The autoconstrucción concept comes from a building technique that is led by specific needs of a family and by the lack of funds to pay for constructing an entire house at once. People build their own homes slowly and sporadically, as they can, with limited money, with the collaboration of all family members and the solidarity of neighbors, relatives, and friends. Houses show the autoconstrucción process in their layers, through which it is possible to experience their transformations, modifications, cancellations, and destructions; they evolve according to changes in the lives of their residents.

In the summer of 2008, Cruzvillegas applied this concept of autoconstrucción to music during his residency at the Centre for Contemporary Arts in Glasgow. There, ten different musical groups worked with his lyrics to create and record original songs, with music ranging in genre from traditional choir and post-punk to ukulele and pop. It wasn’t finding wood to make a sculpture, but instead used human capital as a medium. The project also brought a local connection to his work. Unlike the usual process of making a sculpture in a studio and then transporting it to a museum, this project added local musicians who brought their own experiences and ideas to the lyrics and stories Cruzvillegas wrote.

In Minneapolis, in addition to providing lyrics for the bands, Cruzvillegas also selected the films, all road films in one sense or another. Although the bands were chosen independently from the movies, it doesn’t mean that they don’t like to think about the films they are paired with. Grant Cutler will perform alongside Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, which he says might be one of his favorite movies growing up (despite the scariness of Large Marge). “I hope it comes across as a big crazy experiment,” Cutler says about the set. “Aby [Wolf] and Holly [Newsom, of Zoo Animal] and I were toying with the idea of covering Tequila, but we’ll see.”

Grant Cutler, Holly Newsom (of Zoo Animal) and Aby Wolf will perform on August 19.

Grant Cutler, Holly Newsom (of Zoo Animal) and Aby Wolf will perform on August 19.

Summer Music and Movies 2013: Roadways

Monday nights, 7pm, Loring Park. Free. Hosts from 89.3 The Current will be spinning between the bands and films each Monday.

July 29: Prissy Clerks; DJ Barb Abney; The Hawks and the Sparrows

Aug 5: Roe Family Singers + Charlie Parr; DJ Bill Deville; Cochochi

Aug 12: The Chalice; DJ Jill Riley; In the Pit (En el Hoyo)

Aug 19: Zoo Animal + Aby Wolf + Grant Cutler; DJ David Campbell; Pee Wee’s Big Adventure

The Prissy Clerks, Roe Family Singers, and Zoo Animal + Aby Wolf + Grant Cutler will each perform an original song based upon lyrics provided by Cruzvillegas.

“Drone, not Drones”: Behind the Slogan that Capped Low’s Infamous 27-Minute Set

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 […]

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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.

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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.

Low's Alan Sparhawk at Rock the Garden 2013. Photo: Amy Fox

Low’s Alan Sparhawk at Rock the Garden 2013. Photo: Amy Fox

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

Meet the Minnesota Artists of This Clement World

Cynthia Hopkins has invited a slew of talented Twin Cities musicians to perform beside her in next week’s Midwest debut of This Clement World. This part-music, part-theater performance investigates expansive issues of climate change and more personal struggles with addiction. Pulled from various music scenes of the Twin Cities, Cynthia brings these twelve musicians to […]

Cynthia Hopkins in This Clement World, Photo: Ian Douglas

Cynthia Hopkins in This Clement World. Photo: Ian Douglas

Cynthia Hopkins has invited a slew of talented Twin Cities musicians to perform beside her in next week’s Midwest debut of This Clement World. This part-music, part-theater performance investigates expansive issues of climate change and more personal struggles with addiction. Pulled from various music scenes of the Twin Cities, Cynthia brings these twelve musicians to support her in the performances here at the Walker. We wanted to know more about this eclectic group of performers, so we asked them to tell us their most rewarding or memorable musical experiences and answer a more casual question related to their everyday lives. Check out their answers below (and learn such things as what they listen to, where they can be found on a Saturday night, and what they ate for breakfast)!

Crystal Myslajek, Piano

My most memorable performance is actually a toss-up between two performances with my band, Brute Heart. It would be either performing Brute Heart’s original score to the silent film, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, in August 2012 in the Walker’s Open Field for the Music & Movies series, or playing in First Avenue’s Mainroom for Minneapolis-based, Polica’s record-release show. For me, both experiences reflect the vibrant fabric of music and art in Minneapolis. The Walker’s movies in the park have been a longstanding summer staple for many a Minneapolitan and I had always wanted to play First Avenue having grown up in the Twin Cities going to many shows there since I was a teenager.

What have you been listening to lately?
I’ve been listening to a lot of ambient music. Some of the artists on my playlist are Grouper, Stars of the Lid, and Tim Hecker. I’ve also been thoroughly enjoying the newest release of local music duo Father You See Queen and the lovely guitar and vocals of Chicago-based singer-songwriter Julie Byrne.

Crystal Myslajeck (left) of Brute Heart, Photo: Sophia Hantzes

Crystal Myslajeck (left) of Brute Heart. Photo: Sophia Hantzes

Larry Zimmerman, Trombone

I’ll never forget the first time I performed with my quintet, Chestnut Brass Company, at the Jeju Seaside Arts Center in South Korea–an amphitheater full of (mostly) Koreans clapping in unison to our arrangements of George Gershwin & Irving Berlin songs. What a rush, and now we’re looking forward to our sixth trip to Jeju this August!

What is your favorite thing about the Twin Cities?
There’s something really special about a bright sunny day in February, with fresh snow on the ground and in the trees. A lot of places you won’t ever see that, and it’s a beautiful thing.

Larry Zimmerman (second from left) of Chestnut Brass Company, Photo: abelcentral.blogspot.com

Larry Zimmerman (second from left) of Chestnut Brass Company. Photo: abelcentral.blogspot.com

Erica Burton, Viola

One of my most memorable experiences as a musician came when I played in-studio at the Hideaway for Lazerbeak of Doomtree. It was the very first time I had played music outside of the classical genre, and it was thrilling.

What have you been listening to lately?
Lately I’ve been listening to Aretha Franklin’s “I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You,” The Pharcyde’s “Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde,” and John Mark Nelson’s “Waiting and Waiting.”

Erica Burton, Photo : facebook.com/Laurels.String.Quartet

Erica Burton.  Photo: facebook.com/Laurels.String.Quartet

Zack Lozier, Trumpet

Last summer, as a member of Doc Severinsen’s latest orchestra, I arrived at a rehearsal to find a chart labelled, “Duet/Split-Lead.” I later performed “Well Get It,” a Dorsey classic, trading note for note, right next to Doc at the front of the stage! I sure hope it’s in the show when we go back out in April.

What did you eat for breakfast?
This morning I had corn grits with cotija cheese, a hard fried egg, dark roast coffee, and an orange juice.

Zack Lozier (right), Photo : Andrea Canter

Zack Lozier. Photo : Andrea Canter

Jonathan Sunde, Tenor Vocals

My band, The Daredevil Christopher Wright, got an opportunity to perform for 50 or so people on a rooftop balcony in Paris overlooking La Basilique du Sacre Coeur. The opening act was a two-person, one-act performance of a Bertolt Brecht play. It was absolutely as bizarre and romantic as it sounds.

What have you been listening to lately?
I’ve been really excited about Nina Simone. I picked up her Pastel Blues record and am really enjoying. She’s amazing.

Jonathan Sunde (middle) of The Daredevil Christopher Wright, Photo: thedaredevilchristopherwright.com

Jonathan Sunde (middle) of The Daredevil Christopher Wright. Photo: thedaredevilchristopherwright.com

Karen Townsend, Alto Vocals

Last summer I played accordion for Open Eye Figure Theatre’ s Driveway Tour. It was incredibly rewarding to be part of these hilarious puppet shows that bring communities together for highly entertaining, free, outdoor, family friendly (yes, adults LOVE it too) entertainment in various backyards and neighborhoods. After performing 40 shows last summer in the Twin Cities and Tulsa, I still laughed at every joke and thrived off of the responses of the children and adults in the audience.

Which animal do you identify most with?
The snake. I was born in the year of the snake. I am about to give birth to my first child who will also be born in the year of the snake. I love encouraging people to shed what is no longer serving them. I like to visualize snakes and their movements when thinking about how to introduce concepts and ideas that people may not be open to if I just come right out and say it. I’m always looking to slither my way in, past the armor, to the most kind and compassionate part of the human heart.

Karen Townsend, Photo: karentownsend.bandcamp.com

Karen Townsend. Photo: karentownsend.bandcamp.com

Leslie Ball, Alto Vocals

My most memorable experience as a performer — over so many decades! — would have to be a three-way tie:
1) in the ’70s:  the adventure of weeks spent entertaining our troops on a U.S.O. tour in Panama, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and  several other Caribbean islands
2) in the ’80s: the privilege of singing  for Stephen Sondheim and others in a private presentation of a new work
3) in the ’90s: the honor of being a backup singer for Gene Pitney at his Carnegie Hall concert

Where can you be found on a Saturday night?
At the stunning Southern Theater hosting BALLS Cabaret, the longest-running weekly midnight cabaret in human history (now in our 22nd year). BALLS is a greenhouse for artists of any discipline or experience, nurturing creative community in a sober environment every Saturday night at midnight. BALLS was cited in the New York Times as a “must-see” while in the Twin Cities.

Leslie Ball, Photo: circleofgracemn.org

Leslie Ball. Photo: circleofgracemn.org

Parker Genne (Soprano Vocals)

My most memorable performing experience was busking on the streets in Edinburgh for fringe before my evening shows. There was this magnificent afternoon where I was singing away with my ukulele and this older Scottish gentleman who I noticed singing along to every tune I sang, accepted my offer to join me, and we busked together and made a killing for two hours. We had crowds as we belted our tunes, the best being “Down by the Riverside.”

What is your favorite thing about the Twin Cities?
The people, my family and friends that I love so much, and the lakes we swim in, sail on, and run across in the winter.

……………………………………………………………………………………………..

Also performing with Cynthia Hopkins are local musicians: Jesse Edgington (bass vocals), Jake Endres (bass vocals), Jason Sunde (tenor vocals), and Lauren Asheim (soprano vocals).

Cynthia Hopkins performs the Walker Commision of This Clement World March 7-9, 2013.

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