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The Inherent Elegance of superposition: Noah Keesecker on Ryoji Ikeda

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, composer and multimedia artist Noah Keesecker shares his perspective on last night’s performance of superposition by Ryoji […]

superposition , 2012. © Kazuo Fukunaga / Kyoto Experiment in Kyoto Art Theater, Shunjuza

superposition, 2012. © Kazuo Fukunaga / Kyoto Experiment in Kyoto Art Theater, Shunjuza

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, composer and multimedia artist Noah Keesecker shares his perspective on last night’s performance of superposition by Ryoji Ikeda. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

Ryoji Ikeda doesn’t require you to care about quantum physics anymore than quantum physics require you to care about art. Which is to say that Ikeda’s superposition is not about the math as much as it is of the math and in Ikeda’s world to be of math is to have inherent elegance.

In an interview with MoMA regarding his collaborative duo Cyclo., Ikeda states that “to me, sound is a property of physics; vibrations of air. Music is, in essence, a property of mathematics; without mathematical structures, sounds are merely sounds”. Speaking to him after the performance we chatted about a major underpinning of his work which is that even without our human aesthetic values about sound the mathematical visual derivations he is drawing would still exist. He didn’t invent the sine wave, moiré patterns, Lissajous curves, or the Qubit, but he has invented an astonishingly crisp and pointed work that easily translates the vastness, precision, violence, and subtly of physics and art in a brilliantly crafted audio-visual work.

In general Ikeda’s work stands out for its extremes and superposition is no different. It doesn’t shy away from amplitude (your program comes with earplugs), it doesn’t pander to the moderate audio frequency range of your radio (you can leave your compression at home), and it doesn’t even bother with the topic of popular music idiom comparisons (it’s not about that bass, but there is plenty of bass). What is significant about these extremes is that he is working with a full palette, because if you are going to try to make a work about quantum physics you’re going to need every hertz, decibel, and pixel you can get your hands on.

But what about the show?

It’s a fast 65 minutes. The architecture is pristine, the visuals are surgical, the music is searing at one moment and cool and atmospheric the next. You are gently lulled into Ikeda’s quantum machine and then soon overwhelmed with data. Don’t try to make sense of it all, you’re not supposed to. Someone asked me about a particular section and “what it means.” The work is not narrative anymore than a mathematical theorem is narrative; the meaning determined and extracted through its practical application and relation to a body of knowledge.

Word, words, words. Ryoji isn’t into describing art with words either. Yet words are everywhere. The live performers pound out virtuosic Morse code in unison, illuminate, obscure, and then decode the principles of quantum superposition with keyboards, analog microfilm and live video feeds. In the one quirky and lighthearted section of the work the performers have a simultaneous thought stream like two computers arguing the 1’s and 0’s of the same data set, trying to grapple with humanity, science, religion, matter, life, and meaning, and there is something cute, revelatory, and terrifying about the whole segment. And then, like a text book definition of superposition, when you try to read the position and speed of a particle at the same time, the Qubits hit the fan and the result is explosive and mesmerizing.

Addendum: What Ryoji and I talked about afterwards.

The tuning forks. I overheard half a dozen people raving about the tuning forks and for good reason. I was particularly interested in this section because to me it is the most simple and magnificent execution of superposition, and the music and math that makes it. Two sound waves firing back and forth at each other, each frequency precisely chosen (Ikeda has made hundreds of custom tuning forks at peculiar and precise tunings) for the visual moiré patterns that it produces. It’s like a mathematical proof for Superposition; simple, elegant, factual, and brilliantly rendered and this, this is beautiful art.

Ryoji Ikeda’s superposition will be performed again tonight, October 25, 2014, in the McGuire Theater.

After Relentless: Penelope Freeh on Rosas danst Rosas

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, dance artist Penelope Freeh shares her perspective on Wednesday night’s performance of Rosas […]

A 1993 performance of Rosas danst Rosas. Photo by Herman Sorgeloos.

Rosas danst Rosas. Photo by Herman Sorgeloos.

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, dance artist Penelope Freeh shares her perspective on Wednesday night’s performance of Rosas danst Rosas by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker / Rosas. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

Rosas danst Rosas is a seminal work for Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker; it is the piece that catapulted her onto the international stage as well as the impetus behind forming her company Rosas.

Known now for her relentless use of repetition to exhibit and reframe her quotidian movement, De Keersmaeker started it here, demonstrating virtually every repetitive iteration possible with four bodies. (Specifically four female bodies, but more on that later.)

Rosas danst Rosas begins with a slow burn of floor work. Performed in silence, it is a study in duration, cut through with crackling, rapid-fire gesture. The women move with languid sensuality then flop, drop and roll in the blink of an eye. Virtuosic for even a single performer, this section amplified by four is exponentially so. Tiny variations begin and, because of all the repetition, we can track and even anticipate them. One by one the women leave the group, still connected by movement synchrony or counterpoint. There is anger, defiance, even grumpiness.

Scene change to a stage set with groupings of chairs. Now we really comprehend the feminine as each dancer claims a seat and executes vamping gestures including a cupping of a breast. This sequence is brash and confrontational while also numbing and defamiliarizing as the speed increases. Hair is loose and messy. Sexuality and power are underscored musically and to great effect as the performers stop on a dime at the end of the section.

The chairs are moved upstage and so begins where I really fell into this work. A trio ensues upstage near the chairs as the fourth performer sits on an end. The trio dances in unison until De Keersmaeker separates, coming downstage and into a hallway of light. Like the beginning, again we see connection in separation, distance amplifying and bolstering movement relationship. Many variations occur, more hallways of light, more downstage vs. upstage action.

And so it goes until the fourth dancer joins and yet new ways of patterning take hold. Two women maintain a ground, gently traveling back and forth, while the other two, in opposing squares of light, execute emotional and experiential gestures*. (*There is a sequence of gestures. The emotions are employed too, inherent to a gesture. As gestures repeat, the dancer seems to feel each one again, like it’s new, and yet there’s a cumulative effect.)

There are repeats inside repeats. Movement phrases constantly recur, as do whole passages. I love this micro and macro use of duplication. Again the sound score supports the dance and buoys the dancers. The demand for endurance is unforgiving and yet exhaustion works to get the point across.

Movement washes over us, coming from upstage to down and sweeping across in wide arcs. The dancers spread apart then suddenly converge like a flock of birds creating contrails. Eventually one by one they opt out, collapsing into individuality.

Another satisfying, stop-on-a-dime finish; blackout.

And after, work lights fade up as the dancers, separated by their respective conclusions, respond to the moment. Reminiscent of Toto exposing the man behind the curtain, it is a raw and revealing scene. Echoing gestures from earlier, these are far less dancerly, far more sweaty and necessary. And as quickly as this work was long and took its time, it was over.

Rosas danst Rosas continues in the McGuire Theater tonight (Thursday, October 16) and tomorrow night (Friday, October 17, 2014).

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.

By Invitation: Maia Maiden on Scaffold Room

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, Twin Cities dance artist Maia Maiden shares her perspective on Ralph Lemon’s Scaffold Room. Agree […]

Okwui Okpokwasili, during an Open Rehearsal of Scaffold Room at the Walker. Photo: Gene Pittman

Okwui Okpokwasili during an open rehearsal of Scaffold Room at the Walker. Photo: Gene Pittman

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, Twin Cities dance artist Maia Maiden shares her perspective on Ralph Lemon’s Scaffold Room. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments.

Some of you may need an invitation for this, some of us won’t. Or some of us may need an invitation for this, some of you won’t. Whatever box you may fit into, check that one and move into the box of the Scaffold Room. Enter black art in a white space. Now take away the undertones and hidden messages of what that could mean and deconstruct. Literally, black art: black creator, black artists, black content, black structure (physical and mental). Literally, white space: white walls, white floors, white lights, white box. With permission and without definition, Ralph Lemon enters the space to tell a story of blackness. From his own mouth, he discovered something… This is why it is partially a lecture and a musical. From the lens of a black man enters the presentation of a black woman to the world. Unapologetic for his experiences and outlook, the connections between literature, music, radical politics, sexual exploration, and Beyoncé will make you question your opinions on how you entered the white space. Tap into what you know (well, maybe). Ask questions about what you don’t know (well, maybe not). Find your box… by invitation.

Jazz + Mine: Sally Rousse on Song of the Jasmine

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, local dance artist Sally Rousse shares her perspective on the opening night of Ragamala Dance and […]

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Aparna Ramaswamy of Ragamala Dance. Art and photo: Ed Bock

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, local dance artist Sally Rousse shares her perspective on the opening night of Ragamala Dance and Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Song of the Jasmine. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

Five dancers in a line on the right facing five musicians to the left; several bells hang at various lengths above the dancers while subtle smoke and lights begin to warm the McGuire Theater at the Walker Art Center.  I like the lines, the minimalism. I like the small cast, the parity, the program notes that promise “feverish urgency” and “the inverted.”  A teenage female mystic poet. I might like this show more than any other Ragamala Dance performance I’ve ever seen over the past 20 years.

Song of the Jasmine – a collaboration between Minneapolis’s Ragamala Dance and New York-based jazz saxophonist/composer Rudresh Mahanthappa – cites the writings of 8th century Tamil mystic poet Andal as inspiration. Legend has it that Andal was a sort of foster child, found and raised from birth by Vishnuchitta, a Krishna-focused poet. Brought up with these poems, songs, devotional texts, it’s only natural that the girl would refuse to marry any mortal. Instead, she had a spiritual marriage with a deity of the lord Vishsnu and was consumed into light. Her Nachiyar Tirumozhi, the composition guiding Song of the Jasmine, was Andal’s second and final work, regarded as sacred text on par with the Sanskrit Vedas. She was only fifteen.

One stunning scene has the three beautiful Ramaswamy women in an extended trio that, in variations, seems to tell the story of a girl longing with all her heart to be united with her Loved One, the Divine: He makes her heart beat; He’s like a bee finding nectar in her flowering youth; there is no aroma to compare to that of the Divine; love has invaded her veins.  I think there are snakes, too. And there is compelling floor work, drawing in the sand, writing it all down.  I saw Ranee “loosening the braids of reason” and Aparna dancing the line “my vow to him courses through my body.”  Then, it turns sad, there are tears of unrequited love: “while I pine and sigh for his love, He looks on indifferent.” Teen angst.

But Andal keeps her eye on the prize. Hindu religious aspirations are intense and they do not shy away from seeing their God as Friend, Mother, Child, Self or in this case Lover. Writer Priya Sarrukai Chabbria says in The Autobiography of a Goddess “Andal sings of her individual need for spiritual and sexual congress with her chosen god and of an abundant female desire explicitly sited in the body which, too, is holy.”

The performance had the traditional Bharatanatyam costuming (jewel-colored pleated fabric, bells, red painted hands and toes), and postures (bent knees, arched lower back, slight smile, expressive roving eyes) as well as the percussive marching backwards, articulate mime, and what I like to call “Indian waltzing” in ¾ time. But Ragamala is committed to dynamically weaving their classical South Indian dance form into their American existence. And so much more. I saw some interesting extensions into contemporary movement that includes supple arms and backs and a softness that took Aparna to the floor and somehow back up again like no one else but Hijack’s Arwen Wilder can do. Whoa.

Aparna and Ranee Ramaswamy’s choreography and Mahanthrappa’s jazz-Indian music drove each other powerfully and was surprisingly sensual.  The drumming anchors the movements while the sax often leads the narrative. There are star turns by everyone: the guitarist, Rez Abassi, playing really weird stuff; solos for the always joyful Tamara Nadel and incredible lunges and balances from Jessica Fiala. The Carnatic Violinist, Anjna Swaminathan who has been working with Ragamala in recent years, makes it look easy.  (If you’re wondering, like me, whether “carnatic” has anything to do with “carnal” or “carnivorous”, it doesn’t. But Swaminathan does play the violin like she’s hungry).

When the flutist Raman Kalya takes over for a bit it’s amazing how his positions match Ashwini Ramaswamy’s arms and torso, as though she, too is holding and playing the music.

Ashwini is a gorgeous dancer, so strong and exacting with a really satisfyingly flexible, playful neck. Rock solid balance and delightful, every single moment. Aparna — what more can be said about her as a performer? She’s confident, brave, intelligent, and in her prime, yet she shares the stage generously, with a new maturity that is alluring. Ranee, who just won a prestigious Doris Duke Artist Award, is stunning: the most present and hip, just oozing natural experience and knowing. Andal should have lived such a life.

Ragamala Dance and Rudresh Mahanthappa perform Song of the Jasmine in the Walker’s McGuire Theater May 15-18.

Structure, Improvisation, Space, Noise: Kevin Beasley’s Sound Horizon

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, Dylan Hester shares his perspective on last night’s Sound Horizon performance by Kevin Beasley. Agree or […]

Kevin Beasley 2

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, Dylan Hester shares his perspective on last night’s Sound Horizon performance by Kevin Beasley. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

For the final Sound Horizon performance in the exhibition Jim Hodges: Give More Than You Take, sculptor and sound artist Kevin Beasley gave three half-hour performances at the intersection of structure and improvisation. Kneeling on the floor in front of Jim Hodges’ breathtaking Untitled (one day it all comes true), Beasley used three turntables, a sampler, and a laptop to create immense, dynamic soundscapes.

The performance began with simple feedback drones, but eventually morphed into a dense array of arrhythmic beats, idiosyncratic melodies, and small bursts of static. These sounds then grew sparse: soft synth tones, distant vocal samples, bells and chimes were heard. For every few minutes of gentle, meditative euphoria, there was a collapse back into sheer dissonance, feedback, and static.

Though each set followed the same rough structure, improvisation played a clear role. At some points, the high and low frequency drones grew so loud that they created a binaural effect. Many people left as the volume in the Perlman Gallery became overwhelming.

Beasley did have moments of hesitance, but he is keenly aware of his use of space. Focused entirely on his equipment and the sounds being generated, he maintained intimate control of the soundscapes. In one of my favorite moments, he established a seriously head-nodding rhythm of static, and then added a vocal sample on top of it. The phrase “how can you take him too serious” looped over and over as he manipulated the turntable by hand – eliciting a few uncertain laughs from the audience.

Throughout the galleries, the sounds of the performance paired well with the artwork on display. It drew me even closer to Hodges’ intimate work. Beasley balances on the borders of analog and digital, high and low frequencies, euphoria and aggression. In a similar manner, Hodges tends to juxtapose the real and the artificial, color and monochrome, life and death. Both weave a fine line between density and sparsity. Merged together, the work of these two artists became a single visceral experience.

Roughing Up Steely Dan

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, creative leader/activist/artist Reggie Prim shares his perspective on Saturday night’s performance by Burnt Sugar–The Arkestra Chamber.  […]

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Photo: Petra Richterova

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, creative leader/activist/artist Reggie Prim shares his perspective on Saturday night’s performance by Burnt Sugar–The Arkestra Chamber.  Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

Burnt Sugar, a 17-member Afrocentric jazz/funk collective, electrified the standing-room-only crowd at the Walker Saturday night. Any World That I’m Welcome To: The Steely Dan Conductions was an assertive and funky re-do of the music of this American band that borrowed heavily from jazz, rock, funk, R&B, and pop. At the end of a nearly two-hour performance the audience was on its feet demanding more. I found myself running down the aisle of the staid McGuire Theater and dancing for nearly half an hour onstage with my friends.

A focused and energetic funk “Arkestra” taking on Walter Becker and Donald Fagan’s complex and beloved repertoire produced a delightful tension between recognition and discovery. The band mined the collection for a variety of emotional effects, veering from reverential to parody. All of it was expertly performed. The rhythm section was expertly coordinated throughout the complex songs. Many of the performances were so saucy and knowing that I couldn’t help laughing out loud.

I caught sight of Philip Bither, the Walker’s senior performing arts curator, looking like he was having the time of his life. And frankly, I think he was. I was definitely experiencing one of the most memorable concerts in an age. My friend and I were enjoying ourselves loudly from the first moments. A number of eyebrows in the rows ahead of us seemed raised. I know that loud clapping, neck bobbing, and doing the Funky Sit-Down are not expected behavior at a Walker show. All I can say is that I wasn’t the only person bustin’ a move.

The band was in a word: hot. It was as if seventeen attractive people that I instantly wanted to be my friends all came out on stage together. I was forced to focus. First on Mazz Swift, the violinist and vocalist—a tall, arresting-looking woman dressed in all black with braids down to her hips playing a black electric V-shaped violin. And later, on drummer LaFrae Sci, whose intensity and metronomic precision never wavered over nearly two hours. The band is stocked with attractive and unique-looking characters who are all masters of their instruments. Of particular note for me was the vocal work of Karma Mayet and Lewis “Flip” Barnes on trumpet.

Vernon Reid conducted the band with intensity and laser focus. He also playfully pulled the audience in, encouraging singing and clapping. The party atmosphere belied a more serious artistic mission which was to, according to Reid, “Call Steely Dan out.”

“Calling a person out” is slang for surfacing someone’s hidden intentions, or challenging them to an artistic duel such as in street dancing, beat boxing, and Hip Hop. Throughout the show there was a clear sense that Vernon Reid and Co. were saying “Gimme that!” to Becker and Fagan and clearly intent on surfacing the signifiers of race and Black culture that were perhaps not so obvious in the original recordings.

The songs were accompanied by slides that showed images of cultural figures and artists from the late ’70’s and ’80’s that were “obliquely referential” to the songs. The slides also served as lighthearted interrogators of the often-coded racial signifiers in the lyrics. However, the effect was never heavy handed and only enhanced the intense pleasure of witnessing Burnt Sugar muscle in on a great American songbook.

Shelley Hirsch’s Sonic Explorations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Brad Mehldau’s Inside-Out Intuition

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, music writer Nate Patrin shares his perspective on the second night of Intuitive Expression: A […]

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Photo: Michael Wilson

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, music writer Nate Patrin shares his perspective on the second night of Intuitive Expression: A Brad Mehldau Celebration. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

Describing Brad Mehldau‘s rapport with his instrument is a slippery proposition. You could start with his chops (which are subtle when they need to be and flashy when the moment is right), or how he’s able to dart from elegant simplicity to careening runs of dizzying, joyous intensity like it’s the most natural thing in the world. But it’s his stance that gives him away – hunched over, head cocked, eyes perpetually shut, and an oddly beatific rictus of deep-focus purpose on his face. With every nimble transition or coaxed out counterpoint to one of the trio’s other soloists, he had the appearance of someone who knew exactly where everything came from and was supposed to go, as though every note was simultaneously dedicated to typing out the transcript of an unlikely but true slapstick story.

The 100-minute, two-encore set with his core trio (Larry Grenadier on bass; Jeff Ballard on drums) was deceptively brisk, even during the ballads – though it’s worth noting that songs that started as ballads on the surface frequently had the tendency to rear back and expand into something louder and more complex. Ballard’s drumming was at the center of some of the more aggressive moments: whether soloing or doubling up Grenadier’s zig-zag basslines, he manhandled the backbeat to the precipice of collapse and back again, daredevil rhythms that were free to wander when Mehldau’s piano carried enough steady momentum.

That left the pieces easy to follow yet hard to predict, grabbing attention with its tradition-acknowledging yet canon-expanding nods to bebop (Elmo Hope’s “De-Dah”), old pop standards (“These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You)”), and the tangential outside improvisation of Sam Rivers (“Beatrice”), launching off the initial inspirations to find the notes between the chords and the beats beneath the rhythms. The pull between nuanced, subtle interplay and hard-charging, emotional catharsis used its three-man tug-of-war dynamics most engagingly on “Seymour Reads the Constitution,” a composition Mehldau stated was inspired by a melody he heard in a dream where Philip Seymour Hoffman read the United States Constitution to him – a week before he died. It was a fitting tribute, equal parts complexity and pathos. Which meant it fit in perfectly with the trio’s set, and the breath-snatching compositional vertigo Mehldau brought to it.

Reel Around the Genres: Brad Mehldau and Chris Thile

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,  filmmaker and writer Justin Schell shares his perspective on the the first night of Intuitive Expression: A […]

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Photo: Courtesy the artists

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,  filmmaker and writer Justin Schell shares his perspective on the the first night of Intuitive Expression: A Brad Mehldau CelebrationAgree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

Brad Mehldau opened his two-night set at the Walker with a wide-ranging, virtuosic duet with Chris Thile, best known for his work with Nickel Creek and the Punch Brothers. Over the course of nearly two hours (including two encores), both musicians showcased not only their own genre-defying skills (while never quite leaving the hallmarks of jazz and bluegrass) but their incredible sensitivity and intimacy in performance. In addition to songs by Mehldau and Thile, they re-imagined songs by Fiona Apple, Gillian Welch, Bob Dylan, Elliot Smith, and an incredible version of the Sinatra ballad “I Cover the Waterfront” that showcased Thile’s balladeer skills. (You can find earlier performances of most of these songs from the duo on YouTube.) They also did a melodic mash up of the folk standard “St. Anne’s Reel” with a  bebop hallmark, Charlie Parker, that featured a thrilling, high-speed unison line that ranged through the entirety of both men’s instruments.

Yet I left the concert feeling like Thile, a ‘the-word-incredible-doesn’t-do-it-justice performer’ who can do things with a mandolin I didn’t think the instrument was capable of, overshadowed his bandmate. Reflecting on this afterwards, I had a nagging feeling of safeness or comfort with this concert, despite the incredible technical and emotional depth displayed by both musicians. Despite it’s genre-hopping, it wasn’t all that adventurous, except in the realm of genre-hopping itself, a musical conceit that often sets up genres as straw figures only to knock them down. In the end, and at the risk of being reductive, it seemed that Mehldau was incorporating these other musicians into his own style, while Thile was able to adapt  an incredibly different variety of musical lineages and styles, without necessarily making them his own in the same way as Mehldau. I’m keen to see how Mehldau’s second performance, with his trio of 20 years, will differ, and what other dimensions of the pianist’s work it will show.

Brad Mehldau Trio performs tonight (April 9) at the Walker as part of Intuitive Expression: A Brad Mehldau Celebration

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