Blogs The Green Room Walker Music

The Ecstatic Celebration: Omar Souleyman at The Cedar

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities 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 Sam Segal shares his perspective on Omar Souleyman at the […]

IMG_0179

Omar Souleyman; Photo: Molly Hanse

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities 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 Sam Segal shares his perspective on Omar Souleyman at the Cedar. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

In Modern Standard Arabic, the word “Hafla (حفلة)” carries the sense of both the English words “Concert” and “Party.” It might be more accurate then to refer to Syrian singer and electro-dabke wizard Omar Souleyman’s performance to a packed crowd at the Cedar on Friday night as a hafla. Slowly traipsing back and forth across the stage, Souleyman led one of the most frenzied and ecstatic dance parties I’ve ever seen in the Twin Cities. When I saw this crowd of supposedly reserved Minnesotans losing their minds like a bunch raving club kids to Souleyman’s synthesis of traditional Levantine celebration music and Western electronic dance music, I have to say I was a bit relieved.

International pop artists like Omar Souleyman are so often positioned as mere intellectual curiosities by Western press and promoters. A lot of the discussion around Souleyman seems to amount to little more than saying, “He wears a keffiyeh  and he makes electronic dance music?! How fascinating?!” When people come to shows expecting to see some think piece of a pop performance, they’re rarely ready to dance. In July, I was lucky enough to see the legendary Ethiopian pop star Mahmoud Ahmed at Pioneer Works in Brooklyn. Sadly, while Ahmed and his band were laying down the rawest gutbucket grooves, most of the people in the crowd were standing stiff, flaccidly nodding their heads, or taking Instagram photos. It took over half a set of the 73-year-old Ahmed’s desperate coaxing before the audience allowed itself to stop observing and start participating (I don’t think it helped matters that two hardly-danceable free jazz trios served as the opening acts that night). Thankfully, those who attended Omar Souleyman’s party in Minneapolis came to play.

vacationdad

Vacation Dad; Photo: Sam Segal

The hyperactive cosmic slop of opening performer Vacation Dad provided a perfect entry point for the night’s festivities. Vacation Dad, the project of producer Andy Todryk, ramped up the BPMs on the spaced-out electronic exotica of his recordings in favor of lush, drop-heavy dance music. After a short set of Bernie Worrell meets Diplo magic, Vacation Dad cleared the stage for the man we were all here to see.

keyboard

Rizan Sa’id; Photo: Sam Segal

Building up the tension with the skill of a true showman, the performance began with Souleyman’s master keyboardist, Rizan Sa’id, alone on stage. Over the years, Souleyman’s band has trimmed down to the solo accompaniment of Sa’id, who somehow manages to conjure an entire dabke orchestra on two old Korgs. With a slow, somber melody emanating from the keyboard, Souleyman’s ghostly Arabic greeted the crowd from somewhere offstage. “He’s saying, ‘Goodmorning,’” a guy next to me told a child near him. The guy continued to translate Souleyman’s speech for another minute, but eventually he gave up, telling the child to “think of the words as music.”

photo (1)

Omar Souleyman and Rizan Sa’id; Photo: Sam Segal

Over the years, Souleyman has replaced all traditional instrumentation with electronics, leading him to develop a totally unique style of manically sped up, overdriven dabke music. In a 2013 interview with The Guardian, he referred to this style as a sport: “The fast music is a kind of sport, it makes you move—it’s like any sport where you jump or run. And it’s the same for the audience as well; they tend to dance even more to the fast music.” Well, if this concert was a sport, then Souleyman was our haggard veteran coach, effortlessly conducting our boisterous participation with stoic hand gestures and the occasional affirmative grin. We clapped when he clapped, and we shouted back in call-and-response joy when he pointed the mic towards us (no doubt botching the Arabic phrase he was looking for).

Throughout the show, I was doing my best to try and figure out which songs Souleyman was pulling from his massive catalog, but outside of the fact that I don’t speak Arabic, I could hardly quit clapping and jumping up-and-down long enough to even try. I’d come in with all sorts of political questions: What does it mean that Souleyman is performing music that is increasingly becoming a historical artifact with the devastation caused by the civil war in Syria? Does it matter that this audience might not understand the ethnomusicological context of his music? How much will a Western audience project its stereotypes of Arab identity onto him? But when the skittering beat took over and Souleyman’s gruff voice began calling out poetry I could only understand as another musical instrument, those questions really didn’t seem relevant. What was relevant was the moment and the simple awe of watching a pop star at the height of his powers leading a crowd in communal celebration.

Winter Processes: Dawn of Midi + Nils Frahm

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 Saturday night’s performances by Dawn of Midi and […]

Dawn of Midi (left to right: Qasim Naqvi,  Aakaash Israni, Amino Belyamani).  Photo: Falkwyne de Goyeneche

Dawn of Midi (left to right: Qasim Naqvi, Aakaash Israni, Amino Belyamani). Photo: Falkwyne de Goyeneche

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 Saturday night’s performances by Dawn of Midi and Nils Frahm, a Walker co-presentation with the SPCO’s Liquid Music Series at the Amsterdam Bar and Hall in St. Paul. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

Dysnomia, the second full-length album from Brooklyn-based experimental trio Dawn of Midi, is a single suite made up of nine individual tracks. On paper, it’s avant-garde jazz informed by classical minimalism, a 47 minute record that works just as well in headphones as it does on a loud stereo. In person, it’s a stirring and immersive nine-part cycle.

Bassist Aakaash Israni starts, and Amino Belyamani joins shortly thereafter on electric piano. Both repeat one note over and over. Qasim Naqvi then enters with a bass drum, creating an off-kilter polyrhythmic structure. From here the band’s sound transforms further: it’s jazz, then funk, techno, math rock. At times, I’m not sure whether I trust my own ears.

As their final song (“Dysnomia”) grew softer, I thought I heard the sound of a low-quality cell phone video a few rows behind me. But I was wrong. Actually, I was only hearing the soft ambient chatter and bar sounds from the back of the venue. After spending an hour immersed in Dawn of Midi’s intricate rhythmic structures, my sonic palette had been completely jarred.

Nils Frahm. Photo courtesy the artist

Nils Frahm. Photo courtesy the artist

Berlin-based composer Nils Frahm‘s most recent work is Spaces, an album which juxtaposes the analog and digital, live and studio, acoustic and electronic. Though occasionally referred to as  modern classical, it also touches on minimal synth, glitch, and even dub. It is a testament to his music’s versatility and precision that set opener “Says” also appeared on  a recent mix by Swiss techno dj Deetron. Nils closed with “For–Peter–Toilet Brushes–More,” Spaces‘ seventeen-minute centerpiece which involves the use of toilet brushes as percussion. It won him a standing ovation.

The first time I encountered Nils Frahm was in a title of a song by his friend Peter Broderick. “Hello to Nils” is the last track on Broderick’s How They Are, an album that helped get me through my first winter in Minnesota. Nils’ music likewise helps to ease the melancholy and emphasize the transcendence of the winter months. He does not shy away from sentiment: at one point last night, he introduced a song from his Screws album as a “little bit cheesy” piece of music he wrote after breaking his thumb. But he played it with complete, moving sincerity. It was only appropriate that a fresh layer of snow had appeared outside by the time the show ended.

Deceptive Rhythms and Accidental Influences: An Interview with Dawn of Midi’s Amino Belyamani

Dawn of Midi look like a standard contemporary jazz trio: bass, drums, piano, v-necks, and scruffy beards. After forming at the California Institute of the Arts in 2007, Amino Belyamani (piano), Qasim Naqvi (drums), and Aakaash Israni (bass) put out a full-length album called First in 2010 and a live EP in 2011, both of […]

Frahm_Dawn_of_Midi_2014-15_06_PP

Dawn of Midi: Qasim Naqvi, Amino Belyamani, Aakaash Israni. Photo: Falkwyne de Goyeneche

Dawn of Midi look like a standard contemporary jazz trio: bass, drums, piano, v-necks, and scruffy beards. After forming at the California Institute of the Arts in 2007, Amino Belyamani (piano), Qasim Naqvi (drums), and Aakaash Israni (bass) put out a full-length album called First in 2010 and a live EP in 2011, both of which were freely improvised. On those records, the band sounded roughly like a modern jazz trio; which isn’t to say their music wasn’t brilliant and unique. It was, but Dawn of Midi’s early recordings definitely had more in common with the Craig Taborn Trio than electronic musicians like Aphex Twin or minimalist composers like Steve Reich. You can’t say the same for the trio’s sound on their second album, Dysnomia, which they will perform in full at Amsterdam Bar and Hall in St. Paul on Saturday, November 15 in a co-presentation by the SPCO’s Liquid Music Series and the Walker Art Center.

Dysnomia is a fully composed, forty-seven–minute piece of looping hypnosis. The textures are deep and synthetic. Naqvi keeps fishing wire taped under his drums, giving them the buzz of an 808 snare. The only cymbal he uses is his hi-hat. Belyamani manages to give his piano an electronic timbre by muting and manipulating the piano strings with his left hand. More often than not, Israni plays bass harmonics to match the higher frequency of the piano. Their acoustic instruments breathe organic life into the sonic palette of electronic music.

The album begins with a simple, repeating bass line, and eventually a muted piano drops in, sounding like a synthesizer that’s oscillating just barely out of time with the bass. A kick drum fades in with another off-kilter rhythm. It’s strange at first, the pulse of the “deceptive” rhythms, as Belyamani calls them. But as the piece builds, the disjointed beats slowly starts to swallow you, and soon enough, you’re dancing.

Cover art for Dawn of Midi's Dysnomia( 2014)

Cover art for Dawn of Midi’s Dysnomia (2013)

Sam Segal: I first came across your music in a 2010 radio session Dawn of Midi did on WFMU. At that point, you guys were making this quiet, spacial improvised music that seemed to be working more inside of the jazz idiom. Can you describe how you moved from that sound to the tight, composed, electronic-influenced music you are making now?

Amino Belyamani: As thrilling as it is to be immersed in the risk of each single moment, when playing freely improvised music, it is almost impossible to reach those golden musical moments at every concert. The majority of the music we love listening to is structured pretty heavily, if not entirely composed. If one wants to guarantee that kind of listening pleasure, for the audience as well as for the performers, then everything needs to be worked out beforehand.

Segal: What was the compositional process on Dysnomia like?

Belyamani: By the time we started working on Dysnomia, and understood the kind of compositional endeavor we were about to dive into, we put our improvisational skills to the side and began focusing on “deceptive” rhythms. I wrote the majority of the piece, sometimes bringing into rehearsals fully worked out parts for all three of us. Other times, since we recorded and documented every single rehearsal, we would decide on certain parts based on trial and error. Our bassist, Aakaash Israni, contributed to some of his parts.

Segal: It seems like in the contemporary jazz world, the idea of “the band” has fallen out of style. Musicians will form different combos, make a couple of records, and then disperse. That’s not the case with Dawn of Midi. Was maintaining the fellowship and group aesthetic of a band something that you guys deliberately set out to do?

Belyamani: I believe the real value is friendship. We were tennis mates for over a year before we even played music together. It just happens to be that our common aesthetic was the foundation of our friendship, as well as for our musicianship as a band. We got lucky. Even the name of the band was not deliberately meant to be a foreshadowing of Dysnomia, just a light-hearted joke about this time before MIDI came to be.

Segal: Dysnomia is a piece that really transcends any sort of gimmickry. You guys aren’t performing some parlor trick where all you do is fool people into thinking an acoustic band is an electronic producer. Could you talk about some of the non-electronic influences on the album?

Belyamani: Actually, what seem to be electronic influences were, once again, an accident. It was only after recording ourselves and hearing the sounds we were making that we noticed that it kind of reminded us of electronic and dance music. The intention, all throughout the compositional process, was to translate North and West African music into the western instruments we played. Growing up in Morocco was a great environment for absorbing what I call “deceptive” rhythms. That is, music where the underlying pulse is where you least expect it, where the silences are. Then in college at CalArts I studied heavily with this amazing Ghanaian master drummer named Alfred Kwashie Ladzekpo, who has retired back to Ghana now. The Moroccan and Ghanaian influences are what make up Dysnomia.

Frahm_Dawn_of_Midi_2014-15_10_PP

Photo: Falkwyne de Goyeneche

Segal: There’s a looping, rhythmic quality to Dysnomia that makes it very danceable. Do you ever wish jazz/experimental music audiences were more willing to bust a move or two?

Belyamani: Absolutely! I believe that dance and music are inseparable. In fact, in many African languages, they only have one word that encompasses it all; dance, music, poetry, and style. Those “deceptive” rhythms I talk about are there for that reason; they don’t come from an intellectual or compositional process. They exist so that the dancer fills up those empty spaces, that would be the pulse, by their body, and that’s how trance is achieved.

Segal: Could you give us a hint about the direction of your next record? Can we expect another tightly composed piece, or are you guys stepping back into a more improvisational mode?

Belyamani: All I can say, without spoiling the surprise: Dancing will be mandatory.

Segal: Finally, if you could see any band/artist in any year, who would you see and when would you see them?

Belyamani: I would have loved to be at the Kalakuta Republic, in Nigeria where Fela Kuti resided, in 1974 and see his band blow my mind.

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.

Data Swarms and Physical Sound: The Cerebral and Bodily Art of Ryoji Ikeda

“Somebody said something very interesting. That if you listen to a Ryoji Ikeda CD, you feel minimalist but if you go to see his performance you really feel he is a maximalist, physically.”—Ryoji Ikeda in a 2006 interview with David Toop in The Wire On the surface, it might appear that sound and visual artist […]

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

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

“Somebody said something very interesting. That if you listen to a Ryoji Ikeda CD, you feel minimalist but if you go to see his performance you really feel he is a maximalist, physically.”—Ryoji Ikeda in a 2006 interview with David Toop in The Wire

On the surface, it might appear that sound and visual artist Ryoji Ikeda only creates pieces for isolated academics hiding on the top floor of some New Music ivory tower in Switzerland, squirreling away on their next paper about the acoustic phenomenology of stereophonic subjectivity or whatever. Ikeda recently won the Prix Ars Electronica Collide competition at CERN (you know, the place where they discovered the Higgs boson), which granted him a two-year research residency at the nuclear laboratory. In 2008, he collaborated with Harvard number theorist Benedict Gross on V≠L, a series of multimedia installations investigating a mathematical concept of infinity known as the “axiom of constructability.” superposition, the audio-visual piece Ikeda presents at the Walker on Friday, October 24, and Saturday, October 25, gets its title from a principle of quantum theory.

A brief, superficial listen of any Ikeda album might lead you to the same conclusion. The ascetic tone of the sine wave is the bedrock of his sound. Melodies, rhythms, and discernible narratives are all largely absent. He seems to relish bizarre juxtapositions and tonal shifts.

Yet this portrait of Ryoji Ikeda as a totally cerebral artist can be alienating and inaccurate. Ikeda isn’t an academically trained musician or visual artist. He began his career DJing in clubs in Toyko in the early 1990s. This is perhaps where he first learned how to use music and visuals as forms of stimulation to provoke the body and create visceral spectacles. Ikeda’s ability to manipulate an audience’s physical response to his work is what makes him such a vital and accessible artist.

Shards of static tickle the insides of your ears. You can feel his impossibly heavy bass drones in the pit of your chest. Sine waves bouncing back and forth between the left and right channels increasingly disorient your sense of space. Ikeda reminds us of the very physical nature of sound. In an interview with MoMa’s Inside/Out blog, he refers to sound as “vibrations of air.” The rapidly shifting digital images that accompany these sounds also produce physical responses. Streams of data collide on-screen to create a sensory overload that can literally cause an epileptic seizure. Ikeda’s work often circumvents cognitive processing by going straight for our bodies, and you don’t need a PhD in theoretical mathematics to feel the effects.

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

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

superposition is Ikeda’s first piece featuring human performers since his days collaborating with the Japanese theater collective Dumb Type. For this performance, experimental musicians Stéphane Garin and Amélie Grould will act as “operator/conductor/observer/examiners,” according to his website. In the past, Ikeda has expressed distrust in his capabilities as an improviser and a desire for total artistic control. “When I create a piece, music, installation, or audio-visual concert, my vision is so clear I need control,” he told The Wire in 2006. It’s possible that, with the introduction of human agents, superposition will be even more in touch with the human body because it’s being created by sensitive performers in real time.

Walker audiences may already be familiar with the collaborative side of Ikeda. The Walker co-presented, with the Guthrie Lab, his work with Dumb Type in [OR] in 1999 and Memorandum in 2001—two early examples of the types of immersive spectacles Ikeda has become known for.  Unlike anything that had been seen before in the Twin Cities, the assaultive quality of those performances astonished and thrilled audiences.

In recent years, Ikeda has created a number of massive public art pieces that have maintained the astounding nature of his performances with Dumb Type, while shying away from the shock tactics of those earlier works. His piece spectra, which sent immense beams of white light into the sky, toured multiple major cities in Europe. Every night this October, his audio-visual work test pattern has taken over the forty-seven digital screens in Times Square from 11:57 pm to midnight. Despite the theoretical background of these pieces, their visibility suggests a growing populist sentiment in Ikeda’s work.

Now, none of this is to say that there isn’t deep intellectual complexity embedded in all of what Ryoji Ikeda does. The power of his work is that it’s able to remove truly profound and moving mathematic concepts from the stasis and inaccessibility created by academic jargon. In superposition, Ikeda makes the data that swarms around us visible, audible, and sublime.

The Walker will present Ryoji Ikeda’s superposition Friday, October 24 and Saturday, October 25, 2014 in the McGuire Theater.

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

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

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.

A Basic Guide to All Things Scaffold Room

Ralph Lemon’s new work, Scaffold Room, is truly interdisciplinary. Blurring the line between performing arts and visual arts, it exists in the white cube of the gallery but also includes ticketed, seated performances. Scaffold Room challenges the ways we usually think about and talk about art, which is part of why it’s so exciting—but it can also be […]

ralph_lemon_scaffold_room_2014-15_07_PP

April Matthis during a residency at MANCC, February–March 2014. Photo: Chris Cameron

Ralph Lemon’s new work, Scaffold Room, is truly interdisciplinary. Blurring the line between performing arts and visual arts, it exists in the white cube of the gallery but also includes ticketed, seated performances. Scaffold Room challenges the ways we usually think about and talk about art, which is part of why it’s so exciting—but it can also be difficult to describe in just a few words.

With that in mind, I thought I’d outline the different forms Scaffold Room will take in the coming week, including set performances and Refraction performances, as well as talks, discussions, and open rehearsals. Attending a combination of these events will enrich and deepen your understanding of the work as a whole.

Scaffold Room Performances, September 26–28

Friday, 7 and 9:30 pm; Saturday, 8 pm; Sunday, 7 pm

Experience Scaffold Room as a 90-minute performance within the gallery, featuring artists Okwui Okpokwasili and April Matthis, along with DJ/composer Marina Rosenfeld. These four performances are seated, ticketed, and have a limited capacity. They will have a different feel and structure from the opening kickoff event, so it’s definitely worthwhile to plan to attend both a ticketed performance as well as Scaffold Room Refraction on Thursday night.

Scaffold Room Refraction, September 25, 5–9 pm

The free opening kickoff event, Scaffold Room Refraction, takes place during Target Free Thursday Night. Refraction is a series of performances that invite a deeper examination of the performance experience, including an unpredictable mix of live music and parallel performances layered across the evening. You’ll be free to roam around the gallery space, and come and go as you please. A cash bar in the adjacent lobby will serve as a place to gather, mingle, and discuss what you’re seeing.

Related Event: Opening Night SpeakEasy Discussion, 7–9 pm

The Scaffold Room SpeakEasy takes place in Cargill Lounge, and is your chance to talk about the work with other people, or just listen in. The SpeakEasy discussion will be led by local artists Jessica Fiala, Caroline Kent, and Marcus Young.

Scaffold Room Refraction, September 27–28, afternoons

Refraction performances will continue over the weekend, with a similar format to Thursday night, but will include different parallel performances. These are free with gallery admission.

Related Event: Gallery Talk with Scaffold Room Creators, September 27, 1 pm

Local poet/performance artist Gabrielle Civil will moderate a discussion with Ralph Lemon, Okwui Okpokwasili, and April Matthis. Also free with gallery admission.

Open Rehearsals, September 19–24

Ralph Lemon and his team of artists will offer an ongoing, behind-the-scenes look at the work as it takes shape via a series of Open Rehearsals. Stop by during gallery hours any day before the opening kickoff to see the artists at work. The Open Rehearsals are free with gallery admission (note: certain times may need to be closed to the public, but feel free to call ahead to double check).

Meditation Film Installation, September 24–28

While you’re here, don’t forget to head over to the McGuire Theater to see Meditation, a 2010 film by Ralph Lemon and Jim Findlay that is now part of the Walker’s collection. Meditation screenings are ongoing, and free with gallery admission.

Exclusive Video: Dessa’s “Fighting Fish” as Remixed by The Hood Internet

For a woman bringing a distinctive voice to the male-dominated world of hip hop, Dessa says it was both “brain-scrambling” and grafifying to hear herself as a man—or, more accurately, to witness her voice slowed down so much that it sounded like that of a male rapper. That’s what Chicago’s The Hood Internet did with […]

Dessa. Photo: Hannah Hofmann

Dessa. Photo: Hannah Hofmann

For a woman bringing a distinctive voice to the male-dominated world of hip hop, Dessa says it was both “brain-scrambling” and grafifying to hear herself as a man—or, more accurately, to witness her voice slowed down so much that it sounded like that of a male rapper. That’s what Chicago’s The Hood Internet did with her single “Fighting Fish”: for an album released this June, the Minneapolis poet, writer, and Doomtree emcee shared the vocal tracks from her 2013 release Parts of Speech with other musicians and producers for reimagining. Offering The Green Room‘s readers an exclusive first look at the new video for the “Fighting Fish” remix—alongside the original—Dessa shares her thoughts, both on the remix project and on that first time listening to her voice slowed to man-like levels:

The beat for the original “Fighting Fish” was produced by my labelmate, Lazerbeak. It’s got a driving, aggressive sound; the lyrics I wrote for it are about going for the big win, even against long odds (music career, anyone?). In the Midwest, bold ambitions are often perceived as presumptuous: Who are you to think you can do or be something special? This song swims against that current.

We released “Fighting Fish” on my album Parts of Speech last year. This summer Doomtree released a remix project: we sent a cappella versions of the songs to producers around the country and asked them to build new production around the vocals. My favorite remix came from the The Hood Internet, based in Chicago. The remixed version of “Fighting Fish” is chopped and screwed, the vocals slowed down enough to sound as if they were recorded by a male artist. When I first received the file, I listened to it on repeat in my one-bedroom apartment, stunned. The new version seemed to change the emotional center of the song completely–more melancholic, an added gravitas. To hear my lyrics delivered in a man’s voice was brain-scrambling. The male voice is the featured instrument in most rap music; it’s the instrument to which I’m most accustomed as a listener and a fan. The transposition was at once gratifying (I sound like the artists I like!) and sobering as potential evidence of my own ingrained sexism (Do I grant male voices an authority that I don’t grant female voices–including my own?) After all the sociopolitical considerations subsided, however, I continue to love this remix because it kicks ass musically and it’s a big, bold departure from the original.

We recorded a music video for each version of the song. Both were directed by the team Isaac Gale and David Jensen. A big thanks to those two and to all the artists that contributed on this project. Hope you dig it, too.

Dessa, “Fighting Fish (The Hood Internet Remix)”

Dessa, “Fighting Fish” (Original)

For more from Dessa at the Walker, watch her perform “Bangarang” with Doomtree at Rock the Garden 2012; view the Rock the Garden 2014 time-lapse; see video of the October 2013 reading/book-launch party for her poetry chapbook, A Pound of Steam; or read “2013: The Year According to Dessa.” To see Dessa live, check her out on tour, starting later this week, or at Minneapolis’ Orchestra Hall, where she’ll make her choral debut in October.

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.

Next