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Jack Chelgren ’15 on Max Tfirn’s graduate recital “Pieces From Nature”.

Max Tfirn is a tall and spindly grad student with Led Zeppelin hair and a casual, unassuming air.  Out of context, one would more likely take him for the drummer of a heavy metal band than the composer of erudite electronic music.  He was lurking in the audience when I arrived at Crowell Concert Hall last Friday night for his Masters Recital, “Pieces From Nature,” but he made his way to the front of the hall as the house lights dimmed.  Squinting up at us, he asked that we all please turn off our cell phones—not just put them on silent, but turn them off—because the technology he was working with onstage was very sensitive, so much so, in fact, that any cell phone activity could actually cause it to catch fire.  “And we wouldn’t want any pyrotechnics up here,” he concluded.  It was difficult to tell if he was joking—while he seemed completely earnest, the idea of a mixer spontaneously combusting on account of a stray cell phone call seemed more than a little far-fetched.  It wasn’t too much to ask, though, so I joined the small handful of people around me in turning my phone off, completely and utterly off.

Tfirn specializes in music based on L-systems, a kind of formal grammar used for modeling plant growth and fractals.  First proposed by a Hungarian biologist named Aristid Lindenmayer in 1968, L-systems take simple terms called axioms and expand them into long strings of symbols, which can then be graphed as geometric structures. Tfirn then goes a step further, using these shapes and sequences as the structural basis for his compositions.

The six pieces he performed on Friday night were at once varied and similar, amorphous and constant.  They were works of geologic proportions, strata of highly textured sound shifting and evolving like the grinding of tectonic plates.  The opening piece, 32°(F+F)F[+F][-F]F[-F[-F][+F]F], began as the sparse interplay of a handful of tones before sweeping into an enormous hurricane of noise, chaotic and fluctuating, evoking variously an air raid siren, an oncoming train, electric guitar feedback, and the roar of the ocean.  In the listless and agitated Sounds of Auditory Hallucination, Tfirn let loose a high-pitched drone that bored through my skull and swirled around inside it, underpinned by an array of splotches, shrieks, and twangs reminiscent of Morton Subotnick’s Silver Apples of the Moon (1967).  He was joined on vocals by fellow grad student Liz Albee, whose throaty hums and ululations he distilled into a stream of metallic clangs and whistles.  The most conventional display of the evening was A Meeting of Florets, a piece for prepared piano performed by Seung-Hye Kim and Tfirn with a sprightly atonality à la Anton Webern and a spiraling repetitiveness à la Frederic Rzewski’s Les Moutons de Panurge (1969).  Through the insistent reiteration of the seven short motifs that make up the piece, however, Tfirn elicited the same balance of stasis and constant upheaval that pervaded the entire concert, maintaining a prevailingly mercurial air even in this seemingly more traditional composition.  The evening concluded with Florets, a piece for laptop ensemble in which each performer works in real time to match the frequencies mapped visually in an image.  It was perhaps the most intangible of them all, a fog of entangled, slowly rising voices suggesting a vague yet mounting apprehension.

Tfirn’s work is fundamentally interdisciplinary, drawing equally on the linguistic, the visual, and the musical.  A string of symbols becomes the outline of a tree and then the form of a song, each one accentuating intrinsic but otherwise imperceptible qualities in the others.  Ultimately, Tfirn demonstrates the extent to which our experience and understanding of the world is shaped by the lenses through which we perceive it.

For more information about Max Tfirn, or to listen to his music, check out his website or SoundCloud.


Ochoa, Gabriel.  “An Introduction to Lindenmayer Systems.”  Fachbereich Biologie.  School of Cognitive and Computing Sciences, University of Sussex, 2 Dec 1998.  Web.  21 Feb 2012.

An interview with Nik Owens ’12 on dance at Wesleyan by Katherine Clifford ’14. Nik is a Dance major and an Environmental Studies Certificate candidate.

Nik Owens '12

Q: How long have you been dancing and what is your background in dance?

A: I’ve been dancing for about 5 years now. I was a gymnast for 14 years before I started dancing. Before I came to Wesleyan, I danced for a year, during my senior year of high school. I started with jazz classes, then I moved to ballet classes, and I started modern when I got here. When I was younger, while I was still doing gymnastics, I did a lot of hip hop and a little tap. Now I do a lot of modern. I still do hip hop and I still take ballet classes when I can.

Q: What is your involvement in student dance groups on campus?

A: I’m co-director of Precision Dance Company, which is both Precision Troupe and Precision Ensemble, both of which I’m in. [Precision Troupe performs hip-hop pieces once a semester, while the other half, Ensemble, puts on a show choreographed by its members which includes a variety of dance styles]. I’m also a Terp [Terpsichore] Core member. [Terp Core is responsible for organizing the student-choreographed Terpsichore show that occurs every semester.]

Q: What is the process of doing a senior thesis for dance?

A: The base requirements for a senior thesis are 60 to 100 pages of writing and two semesters of choreographic work that you produce. I choreographed a piece last semester called “Mirr(or) Reality”. Generally, dance majors aren’t allowed to be in their own pieces, they just choreograph them, but I petitioned to be in mine. This semester, I’m doing a duet with Sally Williams ’14, who is also a dance major. My thesis is looking it audience and performer dynamics and relationships in different dance contexts.

Q: What dance events should the Wesleyan community look out for, besides of course, your Senior Thesis concert?

A: Yes, the Thesis Concert is a big one (the weekend of April 5-7). Also, you should look out for the Terpsichore Performance: April 13-14, the Precision Ensemble show, which is April 20, and the Precision Troupe show on Friday, May 4. Also, Chunky Move, an Australian-based company is coming to Wesleyan on March 30 and 31 to show their piece, “Connected.” That’s not to be missed. DanceMasters Weekend is also something to look out for [March 10-11.]

Q: What is distinctive about dance at Wesleyan, and how has dancing here shaped your experiences?

A: You get a variety of things in terms of dance here. I believe in the philosophy that everyone at Wesleyan should take at least one dance class or be involved in at least one dance-related show or aspect. Being able to explore your body in that sort of format is something that is very intuitive and special. Dance is something that everyone should participate in at least once and then decide if that’s something they like. It’s a better way to know yourself, and to discover how you think of things and how you process things, so I think dance can be really powerful in that sense.

Q: What is it like being a male dancer, a somewhat rare breed?

A: We need more male dancers! Right now, I only know of three male dancers who are really involved in the dance community; including myself, Matt Carney ’13 (also a dance major) and Cole McNamee ’15 (who is involved in the student groups X-Tacy and Precision Troupe). Those are the only other two male dancers that are consistently involved in dance on campus, and I’m graduating in the spring, so we really need more male dancers to get involved. I would say that if you’re interested in a dance major, they love male dance majors and people who’ve never danced before in their lives. It’s a lot of fun; you get to meet some cool people.

Q: Any further thoughts or advice on dancing at Wesleyan?

A: Just get involved in the dance community; either participate yourself or support your friends who are involved. Dance is pretty big on campus; there’s a lot going on. I think to go through your whole Wesleyan career and not participate in dance in any way is a shame.

Evan DelGaudio '12

Evan DelGaudio ’12 is a senior specializing in lighting and set design for theater and dance. A Theater and Math double major, he is also on Second Stage Staff, and has worked on more than eleven shows as a designer here, from lighting “Yalta” his first year here, to doing set and lights for “Pillowman” this past week, and more shows to come this spring! Sarah Wolfe ’12 sat down to talk with him earlier this week about design, Wesleyan, Second Stage, and the future!

Q. You transferred here from Brandeis. Why did you choose to do so and are you happy with the choice?

I knew when I was starting college that I wanted to be a math and theater double major, and I could have done that at Brandeis, but I really did not like the math department there. And the theater department seemed really focused on their graduate students. People I knew that were very talented as undergraduates had the privilege when they were seniors of assisting a grad student on a design. And I thought ‘that doesn’t sound like a great way to learn.’ I think it was pretty obvious midway through the year that I wanted to transfer. I don’t regret anything about my transferring experience, I think it worked out great. I feel totally integrated into Wesleyan.

"Waiting For Godot" Set

I joined Second Stage right at the end of my first semester in the fall. I knew student theater was something that I wanted to do, it was something I’d done in high school and at Brandeis, so I applied. It worked out well that the Buildings and Maintenance Liaison, who is in charge of scenery, was retiring at the end of that year, so it gave me a role to step up into. I’ve had a great experience on Second Stage staff and I’ll be on it until the end of this semester.

Q. What are your plans for after graduation (the dreaded question…)?

I’ve worked for the last three summers at The Weston Playhouse Theater Company, a small summer regional theater in Vermont. I’m going back for a fourth summer, this year I’m going to be the Assistant Technical Director. They’re summer only, so in September I’ll be looking for jobs, probably in New York or Boston, but definitely staying on this coast. I’ve thought about a lot of things, I’ve thought about going on tour for a while, I think that’s a good thing to do while you’re young, doing a Broadway Across America tour or seeing what kind of permanent employment is available – hopefully designing and doing my own shows on the side.

"Blackbird" Set

Q. Can you talk about your recent experience with “Pillowman”, which kicked off the spring Second Stage season? 

Nate and I knew we were going to “Pillowman” since April, and I think we both see it as our big capstone project. I think the thing that appealed to me about “Pillowman” is that it’s completely free. It’s very much a blending of realities, it allowed a lot.

Q. What’s your first step as a designer, after you’ve committed to doing a show?

It always starts with the text. I’m very glad that I’m a theater major, because I do enjoy reading the plays. People often ask ‘Why do you go to Wesleyan, because you don’t really learn set design or set construction like you would at a conservatory.’ But it’s because I do enjoy the study of theater and reading plays, so it always starts with the text, pulling out the mood, action and theme of this piece, what the story is that this team wants to tell. Talking with the director and really just tailoring the vision to what we’re trying to create in this one piece. And I think from there it’s just read the text a lot. Get to know it really well. For the shows that I did last fall, I really worked over the summer – I thought about “The Last Five Years” almost every day, listened to the music, a song or two, kept it in my head. You’re trying to create a world for this play to take place in, so I just try to completely immerse my brain in it.

"Icarus or an Angel" Set

There’s always some moment in tech week or production week where it finally feels like the vision is up on stage. A lot of the time I don’t enjoy the building or the painting of it. That’s the boring part, I want to see it up on stage. But there’s definitely a time when most of the scenery is up, everything is painted just right, and you see it with the actors on it. I’d say the best part for me is getting to the day when the actors can actually start playing on the set. I can have drawings of things and they look great, I can build something and it could look great, but until someone can walk on it it’s kind of useless.

Be sure to check out the other shows that Evan is working on this semester, including “Mao the Musical” (February 23-25), “Title of Show” (April 19-21) and “Urinetown” (March 10-12).

Do you have uncensored stories that you share with your good friends, that you want to try sharing on stage?


“RISK!”, the live show where people tell true stories “they never thought they’d dare to share in public,” is coming to Crowell Concert Hall for two performances (7pm and 10pm) on Friday February 10, co-sponsored Desperate Measures Improv(e) Comedy and the Center for the Arts and featuring San Francisco-based comedian W. Kamau Bell (Comedy Central).

“RISK!” is looking for a total of 8 storytellers – 4 Wesleyan students, and 4 Wesleyan community members (i.e. faculty, staff, etc. ) – to be a part of these shows!

There will also be an audio podcast created of the performances. The stories are usually 8 to 10 minutes long, zero in on one incident (or series of incidents), and have a beginning and end. They can even be tragic, rather than funny.

Here’s two episodes so you can hear how it works!
Because we’re producing a podcast, “RISK!” creator Kevin Allison (from MTV’s “The State”) will need to see a pitch of your story to consider how it might fit into the show at Wesleyan. Your pitch should be somewhere between 100 and 250 words long. It should include how the story ends, and ideally it should cover these five points:

1) SET THE SCENE – Where were you in life when this began?

2) WHAT GOT THE BALL ROLLING – What incident made taking action necessary?

3) WHAT WAS AT STAKE – What hope or fear drove you? What did you stand to gain or lose?

4) HOW I TURNED THE CORNER – What finally changed this situation, for better or worse?

5) WHAT’S RISKY ABOUT THIS –  Why do you feel it’s daring to be sharing this?

Kevin will let us know if he is interested in hearing more about your story.

The theme for the stories at Wesleyan is “Discovery.” So, these might be stories where a person tried something they didn’t think they’d like, but did. Or when someone didn’t think they had it in them to succeed, but they did. Or when someone was confident they were on the right track, but life gave them a surprise they learned from.

Send your pitches to kevin@risk-show.com

W. Kamau Bell

If you have any other questions, write to Carrie Cohen ’12  ccohen@wesleyan.edu

And you can watch videos of W. Kamau Bell at http://www.wkamaubell.com

 “[RISK! is] jaw-dropping, hysterically funny, and just plain touching.”



“W. Kamau Bell is ferociously funny!”

–Robin Williams


“W. Kamau Bell is the most important guy doing comedy right now. Do yourself a favor and go see him. He’s got the most astute, hilarious and completely righteous material going and he’s going to be a legend in his own lifetime like Richard Pryor and Lenny Bruce. Think Bill Hicks but slightly taller.”
–Margaret Cho


“W. Kamau Bell is in the vanguard of a new era of American comedy for an unsettling, troubling, and strangely hopeful time. Firmly in the fearless tradition of Mort Sahl, Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, and Chris Rock. Comedy as common sense purged of the absurd hypocrisy that is Our America.”
–Vernon Reid of the Grammy Award-winning band Living Colour

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: 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.

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.

“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!

Barbara Fenig ’11 reviews the exhibit “Excavations: The Prints of Julie Mehretu.”

Excavations: The Prints of Julie Mehretu makes the Davison Art Center exhibition gallery radiate with swirls, dashes, dots and splashes of pastel colors. The exhibit is a compilation of twenty prints and is the first comprehensive exhibition from the artist. In the pieces, Mehretu addresses the momentum of civilizations—their inherent creation and inevitable demise.

The works read like fossils, which showcase the creature that once was and its disintegrating present, a diminished shadow of its former self. But unlike fossils, Mehretu’s prints are alive with animated, colorful details. These layered portraits showcase glimpses of city-grids, skyscrapers, rivers, mountains, maps, and weather charts. The images take on voluminous shapes, curling lines, dashes, and vibrant colors to accentuate Mehretu’s study of “the interconnectedness and entropy of modern civilization.” The artist is at once showcasing the evolution of cities, and therefore civilization, while also dismantling the premises of human society. As she adds to the prints, Mehretu’s initial base for the piece—the city grids or weather charts or skyscraper architectural renderings—become enveloped, and often even erased, by cloudlike markings. This layered collage requires the reader to examine each piece countless times before absorbing the artist’s full intention.

Born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Mehretu grew up in East Lansing, Michigan; she has lived around the world in Michigan, Rhode Island, Senegal and New York City. She began printmaking while in a graduate program at the Rhode Island School of Design. Mehretu has delved into various printmaking techniques, including lithography, screen-printing, and chine collé, and uses various types of paper, such as gampi paper, in the exhibit. While viewing Excavations: The Prints of Julie Mehretu, it is evident that Mehretu has thought about each aspect of the piece. From her choice for each piece’s materials to the viewer’s final glance at the piece from across the room, the artist has carefully tried to predict the audience’s reaction to her work. And it is this careful consideration that makes each piece so alluring.

Excavations: The Prints of Julie Mehretu is deeply routed in earthly imagery, from mountains to river streams, skyscrapers to clouds. In Landscape Allegories (2004), the viewer first notices what appears to be a volcano—dashes of lava showcase the trauma within the piece. Yet, upon further examination, the viewer sees the world moving past the volcano and watches the landscape heal. The piece at once emphasizes the catastrophe and the reconciliation. Mehretu is ultimately showing the passage of time, crystallized in each portrait.

Many of Mehretu’s pieces in the exhibit do not use color. When the artist does incorporate color, Mehretu asks her audience to uncover this special meaning within each dot, line, or swirl of color. The viewer ponders whether that orange circle is in fact representative of the sun, or an orange, or some other shape entirely unimaginable before viewing the piece.

When visiting the exhibit, it is important to examine each piece from different distances. Just as Mehretu layers details, sometimes illuminating them and sometimes hiding them, the viewer must inspect each piece in various ways. Rogue Ascension (2002) is the ideal example of this. The piece has an undertone of peach clouded strokes. From afar, the viewer might think that this has been painted on top or within the print; however, the peach layer is actual buried beneath the print, an under-layer—like a fossil—, and viewable through a blurred sheet. Up close, the peach is barely visible, yet from across the room it beams forth demanding attention.

Excavations: The Prints of Julie Mehretu runs through December 11, 2011. The Davison Art Center is open from noon to 4pm Tuesday through Sunday. Admission is free.

Jack Chelgren ’15 considers the performances of “Alvin Lucier: A Celebration.” “Alvin Lucier (and His Artist Friends)” is on display in the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery through December 11. The gallery is open Tuesday through Sunday, noon to 4pm; noon to 8pm on Fridays. Admission is free.

Sitting in Crowell Concert Hall on November 5, listening to the Wesleyan Orchestra performing Alvin Lucier’s Exploration of the House (2005), I found myself wracking my brain for ways to describe what I was hearing.  A number of adjectives came to mind—“cavernous,” “meditative,” even “primordial”—as well as other, more evolved images: The sound of singing wine glasses, a flickering of light on the surface of water.  Yet while these depictions evoked different aspects of the music, none of them truly struck its essence, which was a little ironic, given that Lucier’s pieces draw their strange, otherworldly qualities from everyday spaces and phenomena.  Like his most famous work,  I Am Sitting in a Room (1969), Exploration of the House is created by recording and rerecording sound until nothing but feedback and the resonant frequencies of the space remain.  But unlike Room, which takes the composer’s own speech as its medium, the latter directs an orchestra to perform passages from Beethoven’s Consecration of the House (1822), which are then put through the same distorting process, transforming stately Sturm und Drang into glowing sonic soup.  And while the traditionalist might cringe at the dismantling of a respected masterwork into uncontrolled, alien noise, sitting in Crowell with those waves of turbulent sound shimmering all around me, I could not help wondering if I had ever heard anything like it.  I was astounded by the simple clarity of Lucier’s artistic vision: he had taken a classic, a fixture of Western art music, and made it utterly his own, fashioning the original and organic out of the familiar.  This, indeed, is why Lucier’s music is so challenging to describe, and why, on a certain level, it seems so natural: he shows us what we already know, but in a different light.

In all, the Alvin Lucier Celebration was a spectacular tribute to the life and work of a man who for more than half a century has done as much as anyone in shaping the progress of experimental music.  It was also a testament to the ongoing vitality of this tradition, both in the world at large and at Wesleyan in particular.  “It’s impossible to overstate his influence,” said Dr. Paula Matthusen, when I spoke with her several weeks ago about the Celebration and its significance to the arts at Wesleyan.  Matthusen, who this year took over for Lucier teaching the famous Introduction to Experimental Music, cites Lucier as a major influence on her own work.  “It’s about these very simple processes revealing something magical,”  she told me, reflecting on his music.  “There’s something very poetic about it.”  In 2006 and again in 2008, Matthusen put on a sound installation called Filling Vessels inspired by Lucier’s 1997 piece Empty Vessels, which, like much of his oeuvre, is based on the exploration of spatial acoustics.  Subsequently, just a few days after my conversation with Dr. Matthusen, I had the opportunity to speak with Andrea Miller-Keller, guest curator of the exhibition Alvin Lucier (and His Artist Friends) in the Zilkha Gallery (on display through December 11), who called the Celebration a “major event in contemporary music at Wesleyan.”  Both she and Dr. Matthusen noted that while the Celebration was first and foremost a retrospective on Lucier’s life and achievements, it was also promising as a springboard for the ideas of younger musicians, students and alumni both.  “I’m hoping it’ll be a big shot in the arm, like an intensive learning experience [for everyone involved],” Miller-Keller enthused.  Ultimately, it wound up being just that.  A considerable amount of new music dedicated to Lucier was débuted throughout the weekend, ranging from tributes by genre luminaries Robert Ashley, Gordon Mumma, Christian Wolff, Neely Bruce, and Pauline Oliveros (all of whom were present for the performances) to a flash mob rendition of Lucier’s 1968 piece Chambers by the students of this year’s MUSC 109.

The Celebration’s greatest moments, naturally, came during its four main concerts.  Each of these abounded with fantastic performances, but a handful stood out as particularly memorable.  The gloriously simple Silver Streetcar for the Orchestra (1988), which opened the Solos concert, was such a piece.  Scored for solo amplified triangle, it was performed by Brian Johnson, for whom it was originally written—and it was spellbinding.  Johnson’s incessant, carefully-amplified beating grew into a thick collage of sound, filling the hall with layer after layer of overtones running from the unpitched, metallic low end to the delicate melody of resonant tones that emerged as the music progressed.  Another highlight was the opener of the Ensembles concert, Music for Gamelan Instruments, Microphones, Amplifiers and Loudspeakers (1994).  A number of works performed last weekend were written to explore what Lucier called in the program notes his “fascination with the idea that pitch can create rhythm,” which occurs through the interaction of sound waves tuned at close intervals.  In these pieces, Lucier reinvents harmonic dissonance as a metrical device, harnessing it to open up previously ignored realms of sonic possibility.  Performed by the Wesleyan Gamelan Ensemble, this was the most compelling of any of these explorations, a juxtaposition of the feedback created by holding bonang gongs over microphones with the normal intonations of gendér metallophones.  “Since it is virtually impossible that a strand of feedback will match exactly on any fixed-pitch instrument,” Lucier explains in the program, “audible beats [will] occur.”  The combination of the impressively regulated feedback and the soft chords emanating from the gendérs gave rise to a splendidly pulsating soundscape, hollow yet solid, lustrous yet nocturnal.  Finally, while the entire third concert, a recreation of Lucier’s first performance at Wesleyan, was superb—at numerous points during the show, people literally got out of their seats and walked around to get a better look at the performance—I was most affected by John David Fullerman, John Pemberton, and Douglas Simon’s collaborative tape work Cariddwen (1968).  Like the forgotten evil twin of Steve Reich’s classic Come Out (1966), Cariddwen takes a short, sibilant passage from James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake and chops it up, stretching, jumbling, and overlaying the words into a mesmerizing cascade of speech and noise.

In addition to Dr. Matthusen and Ms. Miller-Keller, I had the privilege of doing a short interview with Lucier himself a week or so before the Celebration began.  I asked him some questions about his music, the event, and the arts at Wesleyan, and then turned to the perennial query that faces every creator of experimental art: How should we appreciate your work?  Lucier answered unhesitatingly.  “There’s something I used to tell my MUSC 109 [Intro to Experimental Music] class,” he told me.  “‘I’m not really interested in your opinions.  I’m interested in your perceptions.’”  He laughed, musing that that sounded a little harsher than he meant it.  “Just listen carefully,” he revised.  But appreciation did not seem to be an issue for the concertgoers I encountered last weekend; quite contrarily, the entire event was characterized by a tone of enormous regard for both the man and his music.  Exploration of the House was the final piece in the Ensembles concert on Saturday night, and after it had finished, Lucier made his way from the audience up to the stage.  As he mounted the steps, shook hands with the conductor and concertmaster, and waved to the crowd, the entire hall got to its feet, ending the night movingly with cheers and a standing ovation.  It was a fitting climax for the evening, and for the Celebration as a whole, for three days dedicated to honoring a man whose influence has changed music at Wesleyan forever and will continue to do so for many years to come.

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