Jack Chelgren ’15 reviews .twiddlebuf and the Experimental Music Concert Series

Jack Chelgren ’15 reviews .twiddlebuf and the Experimental Music Concert Series.

One face-stingingly cold night not long ago, I extricated myself, a few minutes behind schedule, from the piles of homework blanketing my bed and hurried across campus to Russell House.  I arrived slightly late, and as I sped through the main gate and up the walkway was unnerved to see that the parking lot was practically empty.  I began to worry I’d come to the wrong place.

Fortunately, I hadn’t—climbing the steps to the front door, I spotted a poster taped hastily to one of the panels: “.twiddlebuf / music for violin and electronics.”  My tardiness was similarly not an issue; I slipped inside several minutes after the show was supposed to start to find the audience standing around in the reception area, munching on cheddar and apple slices.

This was the second concert in a series put on by Wesleyan’s student-run Experimental Music Group, the first of which I went to back in October.  That show featured acclaimed Berlin improvisers Madga Mayas and Tony Buck performing under the name SPILL, and it was incredible.  Using highly inventive extended techniques on their instruments—which are piano and percussion, respectively—Mayas and Buck created captivating and original music, great sprawling pieces at once violent and deeply spiritual.  It was a stunning night.

Having enjoyed SPILL so thoroughly, I went to .twiddlebuf with rather high expectations, and happily, I was not disappointed.  The two concerts were worlds apart from each other both in terms of sound and overall feeling, but they also shared a number of key characteristics that made each one enjoyable in its own distinct way.  .twiddlebuf, like SPILL, is a duo, comprised of electronic artist Sam Pluta and violinist Jim Altieri, and in both groups’ performances this configuration lent an intimate, conversational tone to the proceedings that facilitated extensive communication between the musicians and the audience.  The largely improvisational nature of the music was also critical to its success.  This helped to free up the musical conversation, creating an open, receptive environment for the musicians to share and interact with each other while we, the listeners, looked on, reflecting and just trying to keep up.

The greatest parallel between the two shows, however, was their manipulation of conventional instruments to explore unfamiliar sonic voices.  Mayas and Buck did this acoustically, placing objects and wires in and around their instruments and playing them in unusual ways, by scratching the piano’s strings, for instance, or rubbing large metal gears against the head of the snare drum.  .twiddlebuf took an electrical approach, using computer software and a fancy touch controller called a Manta to harness and distort the sound of Altieri’s violin.  Working effortlessly in tandem, the two of them blew apart the instrument’s traditional sound palette, evoking a myriad of textures and images from a passing train to a shakuhachi flute to the splotchy, moist work of modern electronic producer Balam Acab.  John Cage’s Rozart Mix (1965) was also fresh on my mind from the Alvin Lucier Celebration, and these choppy exchanges recalled that piece vividly for me as well.

Unlike the SPILL concert, which put me into something of a meditative reverie, I left .twiddlebuf feeling energized and invigorated.  I wasn’t very affected in an emotional sense, but in retrospect I don’t think that was the point.  It’s not that Pluta and Altieri’s music is frivolous, or that they don’t their craft seriously as other artists, say Mayas and Buck, do; it’s just different.  As their strange and playful name implies, .twiddlebuf is about experimentation its own sake, and also, arguably, for sound’s sake.  And that’s okay.  We need art with meaning, art that probes our lives and emotions and shows us what we cannot see, but we also need art that knows itself, that explores its own limits and potential and in doing so helps keep progress and innovation alive.

In light of these remarkable first two shows, I look forward to whatever the Experimental Music Group offers next.  My only criticism so far is that they’re too quiet about themselves; aside from day-of posts on Wesleying and a smattering of last-minute signs around campus, there was precious little publicity for either of the amazing and totally FREE little gems they’ve put on.  (Hence the empty parking lot at Russell House.)  But fear not—I recently discovered their group Facebook page, which you can like to hear about upcoming concerts in the series.  Keep an ear out.

To learn more about any of these artists, visit their websites:

Sam Pluta: http://www.sampluta.com/

Jim Altieri: http://tweeg.net/

Magda Mayas: http://magdamayas.jimdo.com/

Tony Buck: http://www.discogs.com/artist/Tony+Buck

Rebecca Seidel ’15 reviews the exhibit “Metamorphosis” (on display through Dec. 9)

Rebecca Seidel ’15 reviews the exhibit “Metamorphosis: The Collaboration between Photographer Robert Glenn Ketchum and the Suzhou Embroiderers”. The exhibit is on display at the Mansfield Freeman Center for East Asian Studies through Friday, December 9, 2011. The gallery is open from noon to 4pm; admission is free.

Step up really close to “Graceful Branch Movement,” the most recent piece on display at the Metamorphosis exhibit, and you’ll get blissfully lost in the intricacy of the stitches, the vibrancy of the colors.  Take a few steps back and you’ll appreciate the depth and unity of the work as a whole.

“Graceful Branch Movement,” a six-foot-tall double-sided silk embroidery based on a photographic print by Robert Glenn Ketchum, hangs from the ceiling at the Mansfield Freeman Center for East Asian Studies, where it’s making its debut.  It is one of five such embroideries on display at the gallery, showcasing a prolific artistic collaboration that has spanned over two decades.

Metamorphosis, curated by Patrick Dowdey, exhibits the collaborative work of nature photographer Robert Glenn Ketchum and the Suzhou embroiderers.  Mr. Ketchum and master embroiderer Meifang Zhang began their first project together in 1986, and have been collaborating ever since.  With meticulous deliberation, they work to transform Mr. Ketchum’s photographic art into pieces of Chinese embroidery.

The fusion results in incredibly textured, seemingly three-dimensional works of art.  The pieces on display at the Mansfield Freeman Center merge the natural beauty of Mr. Ketchum’s photography with the intricate serenity of Chinese embroidery—an art form dating back to ancient times.

Mr. Ketchum says that despite a language barrier that prevents them from communicating conversationally, he and Ms. Zhang share a “common language” of appreciation for the work they seek to create.  This appreciation shines through in their collaborative work.

Creating these pieces takes a lot of planning, discussion, and imagination.  The final products display not only Mr. Ketchum’s original artistic intentions, but also the creative visions of the embroiderers.  The highly technical process of stitching also requires concentration and precision.

“When you’re experimenting with a piece like this, you can’t undo it if it doesn’t work well,” explained Ketchum. “If you do it wrong, there’s no going back and taking it apart.”

“Graceful Branch Movement” arrived at Wesleyan for its international debut from Ms. Zhang’s Suzhou Embroidery Art Innovation Center (SEAIC) in China.  As the exhibit’s brochure states, “Robert’s central vision of the super-real in nature comes out more strongly here than in any other work so far in the collaboration.  Meifang Zhang conveys a particular kind of natural beauty with delicacy and clarity in a way that leaves us enlightened.”

The exhibit spans almost the entire two decades of this collaboration: the oldest piece on display, a three-paneled standing screen embroidery called “Beginning of Time,” dates back to 1994.

The press release for this exhibit calls it “a visual experience you will never forget, featuring silk embroideries that celebrate a unique vision of the natural world.”  The embroideries on display certainly breathe an air of magic into Ketchum’s photography.  It’s the type of artwork that you have to see in person, and once you do, it’s pretty much impossible to turn away.

“I don’t bring these pieces out very often,” Ketchum notes. “They’re fragile and it takes a lot of effort to get a nice display.” Don’t miss your chance to see these creations for yourself while you can.

First Look: “Lift Your Head”, Senior Thesis Production by Sarah Wolfe ’12 (Dec. 8-10)

Shira Engel ’14  and Malik Salahuddin ’13 provide a first look at the senior thesis production by Sarah Wolfe ’12, “Lift Your Head” (Dec. 8-10).

Lift Your Head, a senior thesis production by Sarah Wolfe ’12, is a truly collaborative creative process. She and Mica Taliaferro ’11 and Emma Maclean ’14 followed a trail of inspiration that led them to this final production, which has been influenced by Wesleyan’s multimedia and collaborative approach to theater. From transforming short stories into short plays, to reading Euripides’ The Trojan WomenLift Your Head is what a senior thesis should be – a culminating and productive representation of Sarah’s time at Wesleyan.

Click here to watch a preview video of Lift Your Head created by Malik Salahuddin ’13.

Ms. Wolfe retells The Trojan Women, using various modern adaptations and translations of the narrative to tell the story of Hecuba, her daughters, and Helen at the end of the Trojan War. The Trojan Women has been called by many the greatest anti-war play. These performances will examine its relevance throughout history as told by playwrights including Ellen McLaughlin, Charles Mee, Jean Paul Sartre and Karen Hartman. These performances are in partial fulfillment of Ms. Wolfe’s Honors Thesis in Theater.

Don’t miss Lift Your Head, playing from Thursday, December 8 through Saturday, December 10, 2011  at 8pm in the Patricelli ’92 Theater, located at 213 High Street on the Wesleyan campus in Middletown. Tickets are free, and will be made available of the day of each performance at the Wesleyan University Box Office, located at 45 Wyllys Avenue. Off-campus guests only may call the box office at 860-685-3355 after 10am to reserve tickets to be held in their name until fifteen minutes prior to curtain. On-campus guests must pick up their tickets at the box office. There is a two-ticket limit per person for free ticketed events.

Nate Dolton-Thornton ’15 wins Freshman Writing Contest

“I consider myself a writer in the same sense I consider myself a woodworker: I think it’s a wonderful craft that I would be incredibly content dedicating my life to, but as of right now I wouldn’t hire me out to make your table.”

Nate Dolton-Thornton ’15 sent us an engaging and eye-opening editorial about the other energy crisis: our unsustainable food production system. His contest-winning piece troubles the relevance of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway in the face of the more immediate needs of the masses and provides well-researched alternatives to current, inefficient agricultural techniques that rely too heavily on fertilizers and pesticides.

“While a few powerful world players have realized the potential magnitude of the impending catastrophe if our current unsustainable food systems continue,” Nate writes,  “their reactions seem to be based more on ensuring their own safety in light of coming calamities than on avoiding them. If any truly significant changes are to be made to actually negate this calamity, they must be made at a grassroots level, and they must be made soon.”

The hardest part about writing this piece, Nate told us, was making it controversial enough.  He initially envisioned it as a response to these issues in the form of fiction, but decided that hard facts would be preferable, in this case, to a more conceptual argument.  With the help of his writing mentor, Nate developed nuance in the editorial while retaining a strong argument for making responsible food choices and joining in the effort to promote organic farming.

Nate admires the science-fiction and fantasy writer Ursula K. Le Guin for “the clarity and elegance of her prose, the philosophical and imaginative content of her stories, and her attitude towards writing.” He is also a fan of the storytelling techniques of Camus, Dostoevsky, and Borge, and enjoys reading the works of Astrid Lindgren, E.B. White, Kenneth Grahame, A.A. Milne, most of C.S. Lewis, and Tolkien’s The Hobbit.

We’re looking forward to reading more works by the fabulous freshmen writers who have joined us on campus this year.  Nate’s advice to members of the class of ’15: Write, edit, write, and get a writing mentor!