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University academic departments tend to work in silos. Center for the Arts Program Manager Erinn Roos-Brown explores how the arts bridge new collaborations across disciplines and inspire educational change in this entry from the ArtsFwd blog.

Feet to the Fire, an environmental studies and arts program

I recently attended the Innovations: Intersection of Art and Science symposium hosted by Wesleyan University, which explored collaborations between artists and scientists and the effects on scientific research, teaching and artmaking practices. The collaboration topics ranged from dance and biology to aesthetic choices in the evolution of bird species, and speakers came from MIT, Virginia Tech, University of Colorado, Yale University and Wesleyan, among others.While the symposium focused primarily on specific examples of collaborations, the larger question I found myself asking was: At a time when science and math education scores are staggeringly low and the goal and expense of higher education is openly questioned, how can the arts be at the core of educational change? It seems that creating deep connections between the arts and sciences at universities may be the answer.

Why should universities support these collaborations?

Alan Brown and Steven Tepper stated that interdisciplinary collaboration on college campuses “tends to be more open-ended – goals are often unclear, ambiguity is high, outcomes are unknown, and participants must develop shared language and ways of working together. Collaboration requires time, patience, openness and flexibility.”[1] So why, if these collaborations are so challenging and time consuming, is it important for a scientist to develop a dance that demonstrates genetic sequence? My takeaway from this symposium answers it in this way – our most complex global problems require multiple intelligences and can’t be solved without engaging artists, scientists, engineers and others.

Science Choreography

Where universities have an edge is that they employ experts from so many fields and could reward the development of cross-disciplinary teams that engage research questions through exploration, experimentation and collaboration. But this isn’t the case, according to the majority of the symposium presenters. They noted that instead of focusing on collaborative research, universities have trended to be siloed – the humanities, the arts and the sciences typically stay within their own cliques. Faculty without tenure regularly decline from participating in such collaborations for fear it may affect their tenure case. Collaborations at these institutions typically only happen on the individual level and are considered “extracurricular” by the university.

Two of the presenters, MIT and Virginia Tech, had a different story. These universities have already embraced arts-centered collaborations at an institutional level. MIT recently founded the Center for Art, Science & Technology (CAST) and Virginia Tech is in the process of building a multi-million dollar art center. These technological-driven universities seem to understand the value of integrating arts into the core of their science-based curriculum. I found it particularly interesting that it was the technology schools, not the liberal arts ones, that have so quickly embraced the arts. It seemed clear to me that these schools, which benefit from new patents and products, understand that the arts serve a critical role – from promoting creative thinking to aesthetic design.

What is the role of the arts on campuses?

While there are arguably many reasons that the arts should be at the center of collaborations at universities, two points caught my attention at the symposium – the nature of the creative process in the arts and the way the arts communicate concepts.

Artists ask for the unexpected, which pushes scientific thinking during the research process. They are interested in creation, whether conceptually or via physical products, and this knowledge aids the principles of understanding for scientists. Artists are trained to take multiple ideas and perspectives, turn them into actions, evaluate failures and try again.

A rendering of the Center for the Arts at Virginia Tech

Artists are also skilled at communicating with audiences, an area where science is sometimes lacking. The arts express knowledge in a more universal way that connects with values, emotions and beliefs. By using these connective processes to communicate scientific knowledge, the arts can spread complex ideas to a wider audience.

How are universities uniquely positioned to foster collaborations?

These collaborations aren’t for everyone, but they would have value at every university. Universities would benefit from new ideas that challenged the current research and education models and used the faculty on campuses as resources for these collaborations. Art and science collaborations should be considered a first step, an experiment of sorts, to rethinking how we teach future generations and how we work towards solving the world’s major issues. By participating in cross-disciplinary collaborations alongside faculty, university students can be better prepared for the future. And, at the end of it all, it seems like the criticism of test scores and university education is really just about that: making sure the next generation is prepared in a way we are not.


[1] Alan S. Brown and Steven J. Tepper, Placing the Arts at the Heart of the Creative Campus: A White Paper taking stock of the Creative Campus Innovations Grant Program. December 2012.

Approximately three minutes into Emily Hunt’s opening night performance of her thesis production, “The Kindness of Strangers,” someone’s cellphone went off.

The audience of 23 viewers, myself included, collectively cringed. Ms. Hunt continued with Blanche Dubois’ monologue from A Streetcar Named Desire for a few seconds longer, before breaking character and pleading with the audience to silence all cellphones. Yet the ringing continued. Our intimate, circular seating formation allowed everyone to stare, horrified, around the audience, searching for the culprit responsible for this painful interruption.

The ringing went on. Discomfort was heightened by Ms. Hunt’s noticeably hurt facial expression. Suddenly, she stood up, now completely out of character from the swooning, inebriated Blanche, and walked over to the onstage bed, one of the few components of the minimal set. Ms. Hunt pulled back the comforter, and there, lying on the mattress, was her own phone—lit up and sounding throughout the theater.

Ms. Hunt answered the call. She spoke in a quiet voice to the person on the other end, before hanging up, apologizing to the audience, and attempting to restart the monologue. After uttering the first line, however, Ms. Hunt meekly asked for the house lights to be turned on. She thanked everyone for coming, but explained that she didn’t think she could perform that evening.

Never have I sat in a theater with a greater feeling of shock, confusion, and horror. I fully felt Ms. Hunt’s embarrassment and shame as she wrung her hands, averted her eyes, and attempted to cool her flushed cheeks.

The extreme emotional reaction Ms. Hunt succeeded in evoking in her audience during the first five minutes of “The Kindness of Strangers” speaks to her adept understanding of what triggers various psychological conditions, in this case, distress and discomfort. Combined with her accomplished acting abilities, Ms. Hunt achieved immediate visceral engagement in her performance, an investment she maintained throughout the remaining production.

Ms. Hunt, who wrote, directed, and was the sole performer in “The Kindness of Strangers,” aimed to utilize this unconventional theatrical format to allow her audience an understanding of the challenges of preparing an acting role. Ms. Hunt, who is a Theater and Psychology double major, aimed to convey that the process of embodying a fictional character requires a deep understanding of human psychology.

Her performance continued: Ms. Hunt explained that the call she had received onstage was from a theater company with whom she had auditioned for the role of Blanche. Ms. Hunt had not been cast in the play; the company’s creative team expressed that they did not believe in her portrayal of the character. Ms. Hunt admitted that she had little in common with Blanche, from the character’s experiences and background, to her time period and ethnicity.

In the remainder of “The Kindness of Strangers,” Ms. Hunt explored the following questions: How does one step in and out of a performance without feeling guilty of deceiving an audience and oneself? How can one commit acts that one would never commit in real life on a stage?

Ms. Hunt demonstrated the challenge and complexity of these questions by first identifying surface level emotions in Blanche’s words. She noted “fear” and “sadness,” then asked the audience to show her what these expressions look like.  Various individuals contorted their faces to convey these emotions, and again, we were encouraged to turn our attention away from Ms. Hunt and towards each other, just as we had when the cellphone went off.

Ms. Hunt observed individuals’ interpretations of these emotions and wrote down the physical characteristics they displayed. “Sad,” looked like a downturned mouth and half-closed eyes.  “Fearful” took the form of wide eyes, and a tight, dropped jaw. Ms. Hunt re-attempted Blanche’s monologue, while imitating audience member’s facial expressions. What came of this activity was her realization that to become a character it is not enough to reenact their emotions. To portray a believable role, an actor must understand the psychological roots of their character’s sentiments.

Ms. Hunt connected this assertion to Leon Festinger’s theory of “Cognitive Dissonance.” In the program accompanying “The Kindness of Strangers,” Ms. Hunt wrote, “Cognitive Dissonance describes what we experience when there is ‘an inconsistency among some experiences, beliefs, attitudes, or feelings. According to dissonance theory, this sets up an unpleasant state that people try to reduce by reinterpreting some part of their experiences to make them consistent with others.’”

Ms. Hunt drew from Festinger’s theory, combining it with the philosophical and methodological teachings of dramatists Bertolt Brecht and Konstantin Stanislavski, to “reinterpret” Blanche’s role. In order to empathize with the character, Ms. Hunt recalled stories from her own life, which evoked in her the same psychological conditions and emotions she had identified in Blanche’s monologue.

“The Kindness of Strangers” alternated between Ms. Hunt frankly addressing the audience, reading passages from texts on psychological theory, and sharing personal memories. This innovative integration of performance techniques brought Ms. Hunt to a psychological condition in which she could understand Blanche’s character, and the audience to a psychological condition in which we could appreciate her gradual and successful transition into the role. By the end of the production, Ms. Hunt had fully slipped into Blanche’s character. She ended the performance with a flawless, deeply emotional and believable recitation of the remaining portion of her monologue. This time, there were no cellphone interruptions.

“The Kindness of Strangers” ran Thursday, February 28 through Saturday March 2, 2013 in the Patricelli ’92 Theater. The performances were in partial fulfillment of Ms. Hunt’s Honors Thesis in Theater.

Take a moment to close your eyes and listen. What do you hear? Take a quick inventory. Now what if you could take those sounds, mix them up and make something new with them?

That’s what we are doing with MiddletownRemix.

MiddletownRemix is a year-long, Middletown-specific sound project presented by the Center for the Arts at Wesleyan University in collaboration with numerous organizations in the community. MiddletownRemix invites everyone in Middletown to record sounds (up to one minute long each) and upload them to the MiddletownRemix website where they are geo-tagged on a Google map. For individuals who do not have access to a smart phone, 10 devices have been made available to checkout at the Green Street Arts Center, located at 51 Green Street. We want to hear the sounds that make up your daily life and create the soundscape of your city.

But you can do more then just record sounds – you can create new ones. After recording your sounds, you can remix them, and any of the other sounds on the site, with the tools on the website, or by downloading and remixing the sounds with your own software. Then, share it with your friends on Facebook or Twitter (@WesCFA #MTownRemix). By revealing the composer within us all, this project can challenge or change perceptions of Middletown. Every week, we are featuring one sound and one remix on our website so be sure to check back often to see if your sound or remix has been selected.

Since the project began in May 2012, Middletown community members have already recorded over 660 sounds and created 75 remixes, and we anticipate gathering over 1,500 sounds and remixes by the “MiddletownRemix: Hear More, See More” Festival on May 11, 2013. The Festival will celebrate the community’s work on this project. Stationed in the North End Arts District, the Festival will include commissions of local sound and visual artists, a flash mob, a gallery walk, a laptop orchestra commission [the world premiere of “MTRX” (2012) by Jason Freeman of UrbanRemix], live remixing and other sound related programming – all of which will be based on the recordings of MiddletownRemix. We believe that if people listen deeply, they will see more.

If you are interested in learning more about the Festival, join us at the Community Health Center, located at 675 Main Street, on Monday, February 4, 2013 at 5pm for a presentation and question and answer session.

Katherine Clifford ’14 attends the Winter Dance Concert, “Impulse,” presented by the Wesleyan Dance Department.

Photo by Kim Ladd ’13.

The Winter Dance Concert, Impulse, took place on December 7 and 8, 2012. It featured works by dance majors Sally Williams ’14, Kim Ladd ’13, Elisa Waugh ’13, Jiovani del Toro Robles ’13, Elle Bayles ’14, and Naya Samuels ’14.

I was struck by the incredible diversity of the pieces: in their range of styles, their themes, and their influences. Winter Dance is choreographed by dance majors, in collaboration with the dancers in each piece [and under the direction of Adjunct Professor of Dance Susan Lourie]. In this way, each piece was shaped by the various contributions and backgrounds of each of the dancers. As a whole, the concert incorporated a wide range of media and interdisciplinary influences through the use of projected images, performed song, breakdancing, and AcroYoga (acrobatic yoga).

How does one sum up movement through words, words that seem so static on the page? Each piece left me with a resounding feeling, reminding me of the power of dance to leave an impact on the audience and to make a statement. I think it will be sufficient to sum up the dance concert by saying a few words about what struck me in each piece. Hopefully, this will be a small testament to the incredible talent and creativity of the choreographers and dancers.

Sally Williams’ piece incorporated projected written word and a kissing motif, in which the dancers made sloppy kissing noises that reminded one of a loving grandmother. On a whole, her piece was interesting, provocative, and had a captivating quality of movement.  Kim Ladd’s piece had a strong group dynamic and a circular unity in the composition of the piece. The dancers started and ended in the same pose, serving as a reference point to the beginning of the dance and all that had passed. Elisa Waugh’s dance was interesting in that there were singers performing on stage, providing background music and context to the dance through song. I was captured by the thrilling music in Jiovani del Toro Robles’ piece, which reminded me of the soundtrack of an adventure movie. The dancers’ movements were bold and exciting and matched the music well. The piece even featured breakdance moves by dancer Dat Tien Vu ’15. Elle Bayles’ dance was beautifully composed and the dancers exuded strength and confidence. The dancers’ interactions with each other reminded me of the trust and support that occurs between close friends. Finally, I would characterize Naya Samuels’ dance by the fantastic contact made between the dancers and the great strength and trust required as the dancers lifted each other and supported each other’s weight in poses resembling AcroYoga. The dancing was fluid, with lingering between movements and shifts in weight, making the movements flow together.

As a whole, Winter Dance spoke to the amazing talent in the dance community. Each piece was remarkable in its own way, revealing the potential of dance to say so many things at once.

Rebecca Seidel attends “Andrew Raftery: Open House,” an exhibition presented by the Davison Art Center, through Sunday, December 9, 2012.

Andrew Raftery (American, born 1962), Open House: Scene One, 2008. Engraving. Courtesy of the artist and Mary Ryan Gallery, New York.

There is only a week left to visit Andrew Raftery: Open House, a five-part series of printed engravings and related work by contemporary artist Andrew Raftery.  Nobody should miss the opportunity to get lost in the boundless details and rich content of Mr. Raftery’s work.

In the five engravings on display, Mr. Raftery illustrates several rooms in a house that is on the real estate market, allowing us an inside view as potential buyers examine the place.  Together, the engravings constitute a single place and moment, viewed from varied perspectives.  Meticulously executed, these scenes offer a compelling snapshot of an upper-middle class American household.  They also explore a familiar interaction—that between realtors and buyers—in an intriguingly non-verbal way.

The figures in the prints are lifelike and dynamic, the architecture precisely proportioned.  It’s almost impossible to comprehend the years of thought, planning, and meticulous preparatory work that Mr. Raftery put into these engravings—the endeavor spanned six years, culminating in 2008.  But spend some time at the gallery, and you will begin to understand and appreciate the depth of his focus.

In addition to showcasing the engravings themselves, the exhibit guides viewers through Mr. Raftery’s preparatory process.  There are over 50 working drawings on display alongside the five engravings.  Among these samples, we see pen-and-ink architectural studies, nude and clothed sketches of the figures who appear in the engravings, and ink-wash tone studies of those same figures.  Mr. Raftery also constructed scale models of the rooms, studying the proportions of both the rooms themselves and the people wandering through them.  These models reveal the astounding thoroughness of Mr. Raftery’s creative process.  They also give you a sense that he enjoyed the challenge of bringing this house and the people in it to life through such exhaustive planning.

The display of all these stages of preparation showcases not only Mr. Raftery’s concern with detail and precision, but also his deftness and versatility as an artist.  The preliminary drawings are masterful works of art themselves.

The exhibit is designed so that for each scene, you have to walk through all the preliminary work before arriving at the final product.   As I walked around the perimeter of the exhibit, I found myself getting anxious to arrive at the published scenes so that I would better understand the context of the preliminary drawings.  While this was a confusing experience at times, the setup was certainly effective in paralleling Mr. Raftery’s process of creation.  It made me appreciate more thoroughly the amount of preparation and thought that went into the final five prints.

In these scenes, the thoroughness of Mr. Raftery’s work extends down to the most minute details.  The engravings feature identifiable brand-name housewares and appliances, such as a Michael Graves/Alessi kettle in the kitchen.  The house’s walls feature known works of art, including Robert Maplethorpe’s “Orchid” and David Hockne’s “Paper Pools.”  Mr. Raftery even gives himself a shout-out, displaying one of his own works of art in the master bedroom.  These details reveal a lot about the homeowners—although interestingly, the homeowners themselves never appear. The house is on display both to the prospective buyers and to us as viewers—and where the house-hoppers see tasteful décor and good architecture, we see reflections of upper-middle class America and consumer culture.  Our voyeuristic vantage point allows us to see a bigger picture, in addition to appreciating the tiny details.  Despite the narrow scope of its subject matter—or perhaps because of it—this exhibit digs deep into a subset of American culture.

The figures in the engravings, while rather generic in their features and physiques, evoke clear sentiments with their body language—feelings of curiosity, uncertainty, and satisfaction all radiate from the paper.  People of all ages walk through the open house: in the first scene, we see a realtor handing something to an older couple in the living room, while a younger couple enters the room from the back.  Other scenes include babies and small children.  The interactions between realtor and buyer, between the old and the young, infuse these engravings with vital energy.  We can see how much thought Mr. Raftery put into these figures through his exhaustive preparatory drawings, a great number of which appear alongside the final engravings.  His studies of form and shadow and position pay off tremendously.

Despite the thoroughness of the engravings, and despite the specificity of so many details, much remains unseen in this open house.  We don’t know the context in which the house is being sold, or the background of the potential buyers.  Questions of family dynamics and cultural climate come into play.  Mr. Raftery infuses a fairly commonplace setting with boundless questions, layering all the exquisite details with pockets of uncertainty and room for speculation.

Mr. Raftery draws inspiration from Claude Mellan, a 17th-century engraver who formed images and evoked tone using parallel lines of varying densities.  This influence manifests itself overwhelmingly in Open House: the images we see are composites of dizzying numbers of parallel lines. Mr. Raftery executes this engraving style perfectly.

In a recent interview at the Rhode Island School of Design, where he resides on the faculty, Mr. Raftery said regarding Open House, “I like this idea that we can look at spaces and kind of read them. I thought the layers of history that are embodied in my style would relate to the layers of history that were embodied in this subject.” This certainly rings true in the exhibit. The form and subject not only compliment one another perfectly—they also enhance one another in unexpected ways.  Engraving is often considered a dated art form, but Raftery’s implementation of formal engraving techniques—especially his use of hatched lines for tone—help him capture a familiar snapshot of modern culture in a realistic and timeless way.

As the preparatory drawings and models make clear, this exhibit is as much about the final products of Mr. Raftery’s work as the meticulous effort that went into it.  To emphasize this, one feature of the exhibit is a video of Mr. Raftery explaining and demonstrating the process of engraving.  He showed how he uses a tool called a burin, with a rounded handle and a sharp steel shaft, to engrave images onto a copper plate.  He also guides us through the process of transferring the work from engraved metal to printed paper.  This explanatory portion is located at the end of the exhibit, immediately following the fifth and final scene. The video enhanced my appreciation of the art of engraving, and of the prodigious skill it requires.  I felt exhausted just thinking about the level of concentration that this type of printmaking requires, but Mr. Raftery displays a genuine delight in the entire process.

With Open House, Mr. Raftery showcases his exceptional skills as both an artist and an observer of life’s everyday intricacies.  In the process, he breathes new life into an age-old art form, offering a lesson in the virtues of focus and precision.

Don’t miss Andrew Raftery: Open House at the Davison Art Center, open through Sunday, December 9, 2012.

Michael Darer ’15 attends a performance by Dither Electric Guitar Quartet in Crowell Concert Hall on November 16, 2012.

Photo by Isabelle Selby.

It’s easy to forget the sheer variability of an instrument like the electric guitar, which has been sequestered in such a distinctive part of our musical psyche, labeled by the deluge of pop and rock that we digest almost mindlessly day to day. We assume that we’re familiar with all the instrument can do, with the heart and soul of its sound because, well, with the sheer amount of music in which it appears, it seems nonsensical to think that somewhere in the musical universe there is an electric guitar that sounds nothing like the one we know. Ridiculous and overblown a comment as this may seem, it’s really the truth for most of us. If someone asked you to imagine the sound of the instrument, most of us would probably settle on similar tones. Maybe one person would realize the harsh dynamic screeching of Rage Against the Machine, while others conjure the more open glassy chords of U2, but in the end, it would be rare for someone to imagine a piece of music that others cannot recognize as coming from the prescribed instrument.

The Dither Electric Guitar Quartet, which visited Wesleyan on Friday, November 16, however, is not content with the homogenous image that guitar music represents to most music listeners. Through complex arrangements, varying in tempo, texture and organization, they’ve striven to reinvent the guitar, and reestablish the mass of sonic possibilities at the instrument’s disposal, for all and any who will listen. Based in New York and founded in 2007, the Dither Guitar Quartet is “dedicated to an eclectic mix of experimental repertoire, spanning composed music, improvisation and electronic manipulation”, a multivalent commitment that they displayed in full disorienting force during their recent performance. I’d like to consider myself someone who is familiar, or at least interested, in a wide range of musical styles, but even I found myself consistently wowed, and altogether lost (in the best way possible) during my time with their music.

Each piece of music that Dither played seemed to wind and fold upon itself, constantly expanding and contracting, reaching piercing ethereal highs and diving into throbbing opaque depths. Sections seemed to split off from the sound of the whole before snaking back around and rejoining the flow of the composition, combining with other, seemingly disparate portions in unique and magical ways. It was almost impossible to assume where a song might be headed, and even if one did end in some place similar to what I’d imagined, the route there was festooned with detours that I never could have anticipated. Few musicians can imbue their work with the sense of organic, wholly transcendent wonder that Dither did, and those who do often require a wide range of instruments. Here, however, with four copies of one tool, the quartet managed to create expansive and varied soundscapes, each so distinct from the next.

Musical improvisation in general has always floored me. As someone who thinks about things almost obsessively, the idea of just imagining and creating simultaneously is unbelievably impressive. As such, Dither was bound to blow my mind. It was impossible to tell which sections of pieces were pre-written and which were off the cuff, how much each player anticipated from his fellows and how much each had to adapt to along the way. But rather than making the songs sound wholly rehearsed, this unreal sort of synchronicity between musicians made every note seem tenuous and energized, every stretch of sound totally ephemerally fundamental. As songs shifted from serrated distortion to stinging pop clarity, every movement, dip, sidestep and leap rang out as monumental and crucial to the integrity of the whole. Listening to music, it’s very easy to discount certain pieces while exalting others within a song, waiting for the moments that touch us and forgetting the avenues that bring us to them. With Dither, there was no danger of this. Every single moment in every single song reached out. There were no half-developed bridges, only existing in order to reach a refrain or a crescendo. Instead, everything on display was just that: on display; on display in magnificent recondite beauty.

It was somewhat intimidating to think about writing up this event, knowing how hard it would be to describe the sound of the experience. Truly, part of the power of the concert was coming upon those moments in the music that seemed to dance around description, remove themselves from any sort of context or known rooting. And that’s what made the Dither quartet so unforgettable: knowing that, even if I were to see them again, I would never recover the exact place that I was moment by moment when I first heard them; knowing that even as I was attempting to understand and remember the music, it was receding back beyond explanation, gradually revealing the next evanescent jewel, so soon to disappear.

Michael Darer ’15 attends a concert presented by vocalist B. Balasubrahmaniyan, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Music; as well as David Nelson, Artist in Residence, and violinist L. Ramakrishnan.

David Nelson (left) and B. Balasubrahmaniyan.

One of the most frustrating things about seeing a great concert is how effortlessly the musicians seem to produce their sounds, while at the same time recognizing how complex and daunting the music truly is. As someone wholly ungifted with any sort of instrument (a deficiency for which I compensate with oppressive, too loudly aired opinions), this sort of dual recognition is especially apparent to me whenever I see truly gifted musicians perform. I find myself awed, annoyed and baffled at how incredibly deftly instrumentalists and vocalists produce their art in all its dumbfounding intricacy, while knowing that I would probably break whatever instrument they’re handling if I so much as attempted to play scales. However, there are some times, in the presence of brilliant music, when even this mental poltergeist is unable to sneak into my perception of a show. Sometimes, that seemingly incompatible ease and complexity meld together. My evening listening to B. Balasubrahmaniyan was such an occasion.

Balu, a vocalist specializing in South Indian music and an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Music at the University, was originally supposed to perform at the Navaratri Festival in mid-October but was, unfortunately, forced to postpone due to illness. It’s a shame he wasn’t able to sing as originally scheduled, for, as someone with little knowledge of Indian music, it would have been interesting to compare his style and material to other acts, but, on the whole, I’m simply glad I got to see him at all.

With Balu that night, was Artist in Residence David Nelson, playing the mridangam (a percussion instrument featured prominently in Carnatic music, which Nelson specializes in) and violinist, L. Ramakrishnan. Sitting in a semi-circle on the stage of Crowell, the three men proceeded to produce two hours of some of the most complex, astounding music that I’ve ever heard.

Before I gush, however, a quick background on Carnatic music:

Carnatic music, which is considered one of the two major types of classical Indian music, is associated mainly with the southern part of India. It is usually performed by three individuals, one of whom is the main performer, while another provides melodic accompaniment, and the third, rhythmic accompaniment. Carnatic music is organized around four main “principles”: relationships in pitch between notes (sruti), cycles of rhythm (tala), the individual note (swara), and the overall structure of the piece (raga). These components pop up both in improvisation and scripted performance and, together, form the essential musical backbone of the genre.

When considering these four ideas, it is hard not to notice the dual emphases on individual sounds and the way in which those sounds fit into the larger sonic landscape. When listening to Balu, though I was unaware at the time of the specifics of each aforementioned principle, this was abundantly clear. Each of the three musicians produced an individually magnificent thread of sound, from Nelson’s alternating, multi-faceted tempos, to the violin’s mournful swoops, to Balu’s dynamically wavering voice. Each portion of the whole displayed unprecedented musical eloquence and, on its own, each was magnificent. However, none were really the “focus” per se. Certainly, Balu was front and center, but even his singing never dominated the trajectory of the music. Rather, the unique sounds created by the ensemble, so unique and driving on their own, flowed into one another like tributaries, bleeding together to form a whole, which constantly evolved, writhed, and drew on the diverse energies of its components. The result was nothing short of mesmerizing.

Leaving the performance, I, for the first time in a while, felt as though I had stumbled upon some sort of fundamental musical aesthetic that, if I had unknowingly been conscious of in the past, had for the longest time remained impossible to articulate. The way in which Balasubrahmaniyan and company had blended their sounds seemed elemental, as natural as the mixing of colors to create something richer. At the same time, though, the three men, the music that they played, functioned with such a respect for the depth of each part that the result seemed to transcend the mixture as well as the ingredients, reaching out past the resources that seemed available to tap into something wonderfully intricate and ethereally unified.

Emma Gross ’15 attended a rehearsal for the upcoming production of Rinde Eckert’s “The Last Days of the Old Wild Boy,” which will run Thursday, November 15 through Friday, November 17, 2012. Performances will be held in the CFA Theater at 8pm Thursday through Saturday, plus a 2pm matinee on Saturday.

Photo by Emma Gross ’15.

In the week leading up to Halloween, I accompanied Sivan Battat ’15 to her evening rehearsal for Visiting Artist in Theater and Creative Campus Fellow Rinde Eckert’s production of “The Last Days of the Old Wild Boy.” Rehearsal was scheduled to run from 7pm to 11pm. When I asked how often these four-hour rehearsals were held, Sivan replied, “Just six days a week. But with opening night approaching, I assume Saturday hours will be added as well.”

I began calculating the amount of time Sivan had spent in the CFA Theater since preparation for the play began in early September and how many more hours she would devote to the production in the remaining three and a half weeks before the performance. Though I was slightly overwhelmed by this work schedule, it was Sivan’s next comment that thoroughly shocked me: “And we have yet to see a finished script for the play.”

Thus was my initiation into the unconventional creative process of director Rinde Eckert.

Mr. Eckert is a Grammy Award-winning writer, composer, librettist, musician, performer and director. He was the finalist for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in Drama and in 2009 received The Alpert Award for his contributions to theater. In April 2012, The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation named Mr. Eckert an inaugural Doris Duke Artist.

Photo by Emma Gross ’15.

In Mr. Eckert’s artist statement, he describes his theater projects as “fiercely interdisciplinary.” He explains: “My work occurs on stage with lights and sound, and usually music, and is deeply concerned with language.  Using various theatrical forms to say what I have to say, I am interested more in poetic gestalt than in narrative, though there is usually a central narrative that I treat as a kind of fugue subject or governing metaphor.  I need to feel I’m learning with each new project, and that each work is a piece of a much larger puzzle.  I think I do my best work in an atmosphere of joy and critical thought, in that order. There is such a thing as soul and good theatre elevates it.”

Wesleyan’s Creative Campus Initiative, with support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, commissioned Mr. Eckert to develop “The Last Days of the Old Wild Boy.” The world premiere of this production will take place in the CFA Theater on Thursday November 15. Additional performances will run through Saturday, November 17.

“‘The Last Days of the Old Wild Boy’ is a story grounded in the experience of the wild child, or a man raised by wolves, who is taken and initiated into the human world,” Mr. Eckert explained. “The piece takes us from the moment the boy is found, through the turning point in his life when he goes back to kill the man responsible for his capture. When the wild child meets this man, however, he finds a broken human being. Consequently, his desire to kill evaporates. The wild child is freed from his thirst for revenge, and his life opens up. The piece is about the education of this boy and his journey, as an older man, to recover his original, less conditioned or acculturated self.”

The night I sat in on the rehearsal, I gained insight into Rinde’s progressive, hands-on, and exploratory approach to developing this piece.

As soon as we arrived at the CFA Theater, Sivan and the seven other cast members changed into their costumes. They emerged in black canvas body suits, complete with a hood and a sheer black flap, which concealed their faces. These outfits also included side pockets filled with chalk. As one actor indicated by sketching a few circles onto his sleeve, the surfaces of the costumes, including the face flap, are entirely chalkable.

“The costumes in ‘The Last Days of the Old Wilde Boy’ are identical to encourage equality among cast members,” explained Assistant Director Claire Whitehouse ‘13. “This is an ensemble production, and gender in this play does not determine character.”

Photo by Emma Gross ’15.

The onstage set included a chalk board that ran the length of the stage, two fifteen foot tall paper man marionettes, close to 200 tiny, rectangular, wooden stools, and three bags of peat moss that hung from the overhead beams. According to one cast member these bags, “were relatively new and their potential had yet to be fully explored.”

Mr. Eckert and the cast and crew arranged the wooden stools into a makeshift platform stage. As an opening exercise, Mr. Eckert instructed the actors to read aloud a partial draft of the play’s script. Roles were assigned and the work was performed with everyone seated on the platform.

Following this reading, Mr. Eckert had the cast switch roles, and recite the text again, this time moving around the set. As the actors performed Mr. Eckert’s work they manipulated the onstage scenery, altered their costumes with chalk, and interacted with one another. Some climbed onto the theater balconies and maneuvered the gigantic marionettes, while others crawled on all fours and rearranged the stools to build walls, pyramids, towers, and cages.

“We have spent a lot of time learning how to utilize our costumes and the set,” said Alma Sanchez-Eppler ’14.  “These items’ malleability and impermanence allows us to explore the relationship between our bodies and the physical space and objects around us.”

Ms. Whitehouse noted this unique rehearsal and production process. “Traditional American theater is produced around a pre-made, completed text. In this play, however, action, movement, and activity with costumes and props are as important as the spoken words. Our rehearsals and specifically the way the actors interact with their physical surroundings inform Rinde’s writing.”

Mr. Eckert noted that while “The Last Days of the Old Wild Boy” will be completed and ready for viewers this weekend, following its performance he will continue developing and expanding it as a theater piece.

“Rinde has been great to work with,” said Ms. Sanchez-Eppler. “He allows us to feel comfortable abandoning normal production steps. Rinde’s leadership, dedication, and enthusiasm for his work have brought me to trust in him and his creative process.”

Mr. Eckert’s work at Wesleyan marks his first residency creating a production with solely undergraduates. “The students’ willingness to engage in what can be a frustrating and amorphous process is exceptional,” Rinde said. “They hold a beautiful combination of intelligence and enthusiasm, in addition to a level of sheer bravery. These kids are brave, which is a great thing.”

The show, like its unique production process, is sure to be an unconventional, yet thoroughly engaging and exciting experience. I highly recommend stepping into the world of Rinde Eckert and “The Last Days of the Old Wild Boy” this weekend.

Rebecca Seidel ’15 reviews “Through Children’s Eyes: Hiroshima,” an exhibition presented at the Mansfield Freeman Center for East Asian Studies Gallery through December 7, 2012.

Imura Tatsushi, age 9, Children’s Day on May 5, 1947

There is something magical about children’s art, something that beckons us closer.  Maybe it’s the uninhibited way that kids tend to put their lives on paper, with earnest lines and splashes of color.  Maybe looking at the art of children evokes nostalgia for us, memories of a purer time in our lives.  The pictures on display at “Through Children’s Eyes: Hiroshima” have all these charms, but they also hold their own as visually stunning pieces of art.  Above all, though, it’s the backstory of the exhibition that makes it so compelling.

In 1947, Japan was still reeling from the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. To aid in the relief effort, the children of the All Souls Church in Washington, D.C. sent a huge amount of art supplies overseas to the Honkawa Elementary School in Hiroshima.  Using those supplies, the children there produced a vibrant collection of artwork.  They drew and painted scenes from their neighborhoods, and captured moments from traditional Japanese festivities.  The children of Honkawa Elementary School sent a box of nearly 50 of their drawings back to the All Souls Church as an expression of gratitude for the art supplies.

After the initial excitement of the exchange died down, the pictures were stored in a church vault and forgotten for about 50 years. But in 1996, the box was rediscovered.  A new wave of interest surrounded the artwork, some of which began the journey back to Honkawa Elementary School in 2007.

A 2011 documentary, Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard, tracked down some of the artists, now in their late 70s.  These people recount memories of war-torn Japan and discuss the paths their lives have taken.  The film chronicles their reactions as they are reunited with their former classmates and with their artwork.

At Wesleyan’s Mansfield Freeman Center, you’ll find a display of some of the original pieces of art, thoughtfully arranged by curator Patrick Dowdey.  There are works by children ages 7 to 12, done in crayons, markers, watercolors, paper cutouts, and more.  There are a few samples of Japanese calligraphy as well, phrases about nature, Japanese culture, and life in general.  The art is grouped according to subject matter.

Looking at the artwork alone, you would never guess that all this positive creative energy arose out of a place still recovering from war, a city totally ravaged by the atomic bomb.  Barely any of the pictures show evidence of destruction, nor do they illustrate feelings of despair.  In fact, most of the artwork is contagiously cheerful, depicting snapshots of life at school and in bustling neighborhoods.

There are only a few pictures that hint at any sort of struggle. In an intriguing twist, a piece of calligraphy accompanying those pictures reads, “America, Our Friend.”

The art bursts with color, evoking senses of depth and movement.  It’s spontaneous and free.  But even beyond illustrating the natural energy of children’s creativity, the artwork on display here showcases unmistakable talent—skills way beyond these children’s years.  Within this relatively small sampling, we find incredibly intricate displays of architecture and storefronts, serene landscapes of rivers and clouds, figures and faces that glow with life.

The individual pieces in this exhibit tell stories of their own—stories of Japanese culture, of natural wonders, of life as a child.  But as a whole, “Through Children’s Eyes: Hiroshima” tells an unforgettable story of compassion across borders and hope in the wake of a disaster.  It’s definitely worth a visit.

Michael Darer ’15 attended a concert by Mac DeMarco, who were promoting their new album, “Mac DeMarco 2.”

On October 25, 2012, Eclectic House paid host to Mac DeMarco, a little known lo-fi band (or, to some, musician with a backing band), following the release of their/his first full length LP, “Mac DeMarco 2” just nine days prior.

Mac DeMarco’s new album, “Mac DeMarco 2”

The show, opened by Featherwood Bee, followed by Yeoman’s Omen, had been one for which I’d been excited since I had heard about it. This past summer, a friend of mine had played DeMarco’s debut EP Rock and Roll Night Club for me and I was immediately intrigued. The record, which presented itself as a stew of styles and textures, some even meshed together on individual tracks, was daring and confident in ways that few debuts are. It hummed with a self-satisfied irony that might have been irritating if attempted by a less assured outfit, but that, in the hands of DeMarco and company, enlivened each song with the sort of defiant mix of humor and anxiety that defines the college experience.

When I entered the show that Thursday, I had not heard DeMarco’s newest release, a circumstance influenced by my forgetting its release date but rationalized as some sort of aesthetic choice to preserve the integrity of the live performance. Why I decided to convince myself of that, I’m still not sure.

I arrived midway through Featherwood Bee’s set, and posted myself up against once of the room’s walls to enjoy the preceding acts. Featherwood Bee has always been one of my favorite student bands and their performance that evening reminded me why. The vocals of Kelly Lee ’14, declarative yet measured mix incredibly well with the expansive rattling of the surrounding guitars, their mixture just barely concealing the driving rhythm of the drum set of Adam Johnson ’14. The resulting sound is unassuming and playful, memorable without being intrusive, such that individual moments in songs can stick out with abnormal vividness, while the rest of the song works subtly below the surface.

While I had to briefly leave the show, causing me to miss most of Yeoman’s Omen, I returned just in time to catch Mac DeMarco go on stage.

Their performance began quite slowly, songs blended and spaced unevenly in a way that prevented me from really settling in to any sort of complacency. After a while, I stopped trying to catch all of the lyrics, which was probably for the best, considering that, between wild and charged guitar chords and the residual chatter of the crowd, they became near unintelligible, and any attempt to seek them amid the mass of noise would most likely have caused me to miss what amounted to an astonishingly deliberate bouquet of sonic arrangements.

One of the most arresting features of DeMarco’s music is the contrast between the smoky, tranquil nature of the eponymous singer’s voice and the energized, at times even feral, nature of the accompanying guitars. The combination is at times hard to take, mostly so upon first listening, but once it grabs you, it will not let go.

The serenity of DeMarco’s voice at times dips into a wonderfully weary deadpan, which makes the music seem at once listless and honed, an effect only heightened by the band’s willingness to jump between seemingly disparate tones, moving from ethereal meanderings to pulsing garage rock in mere seconds.

One of the wonderful things about DeMarco as an artist is how unconcerned he seems with the categorization of his music. There’s no use arguing that one could draw clear lines of influence from his sound to that of other groups, contemporary and otherwise, but considering the sheer variety of influences such an exercise would turn up, it seems trivial. Listening to Mac DeMarco, you get the sense that the music performed is so organic, so sheer and honest; and, that, in an industry of conscious emulation and gimmick, is relief enough to be revelation.

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