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Music Matters Weekend
March 4-6

featuring Mikel Rouse, Ethel and Grisha Coleman

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Monday, March 14
    READER COMMENT: Note and forward from artist Grisha Coleman
    By Grisha and friend

    These blogger comments are great, very informative and helpful for me to hear what is still confounding to a person looking/hearing with fresh eyes. I wanted to add a blog, a comment that came in from a friend of mine this morning that seemed like a background [blackdrop] to some of the ways that I have developed and been working, could you post it?

    much thanks, grisha

    The Black Equation Form 2.

    I want to write not out of bitterness but rather out of hope and love. The beginnings are always so great, immense and immaculate that I hesitate to start with anything negative. And as always i'm writing from the hip. I didn't study journalism, i'm a guitar player, so bear with me. I think i'm at least somewhat coherent. So here we are in the year 2005 and i actually agree to sit down and write about being black and experimental. The genesis comes from conversations with my wife about the hip shit, the out shit, the beat shit, the pop shit. Basically any form of art is open for our withering debates. It also springs from looking at a magazine devoted to challenging, progressive musics from around the world, and seeing their top 50 list for last year and the only black Americans were rappers (3) and old jazz era men(1living, 1 dead). So i bring up this observation about the lack of a black American presence on the avant garde scene under the age of fifty just to see if maybe i'm not paying attention. I'm constantly fed this steady stream of future thinking folks from Germany, Japan, New Zealand, U.K., Australia, Norway, etc. but when it comes to America all i hear about is the genius that is free folk or if it's black it must be hip hop, or jazz over the age of sixty, or long dead. How many more articles on Albert Ayler do we really need? And as far as hip hop being the future of black American music, well, let's just say that the things Ornette talks about or the things Butch Morris talks about or the things Cecil Taylor, Anthony Braxton, Henry Threadgill, etc talk about, are not the same things that any rapper or producer is talking about. The exception being perhaps RZA five years ago. And believe me, i'm looking, i'm listening. I really want to eat these words. Am i missing something or is there really no young black Avantists? My question is simply that, a question. Is there a black American avant garde under the age of fifty? I speak of the black American because that is what i am and that is what i will be no matter where i go. What does the black American musician / artist do now with the space s/he has been given? Hip hop existed, jazz existed, blues existed, the rhythms of improvisation and resourcefulness are present. Also the awareness of European traditions, Asian traditions, and nature inform our approaches. Technology is within reach, the hype of the interconnectedness of individuals is here. What does the black American do with all of this? What do we do now that sample culture is so prominent? What do we do when success comes before an actual gestation period with our materials? Will we still want to create? How many have written about the absolute need of the American artist or thinker or doer to render completely what this space and time has to offer? Emerson and Whitman laid a certain groundwork for being what and where you are and in that comes an expression which is unique. Nevermind aping foreign traditions, America is still impressive in scope, scale, confidence and arrogance, and our task as artists is to report on what we see. My question is also: where is the next generation of black artists willing to go into this unknown, fertile wood to come back with the new blueprints we so desperately need? Oh, everyone is an artist and everyone wants to be famous and get on the festivals, but i wonder how much homework these people do? I don't want to be a crab, but i thought the "giants" who came before all taught that you must find and develop your own voice. It cannot be a copy of a great that has come before, it must be yours. That is how you must contribute to the world. Over and over i seem to meet new folks and i can't understand why they haven't internalized this lesson? How can you love a Coltrane or Miles or Lee Perry or Sun Ra or James Baldwin or Grandmaster Flash and not see that they changed the world with their singular outlook and expression. They didn't copy anyone. They invented new traditions on the structures and flesh and bone of old ones. New times demand new tactics. We all are influenced, yes, but to copy is the first sin past a certain age. Now, my generation is sitting on all these jewels and it seems like so much time is wasted with how it's gonna look, or what the people are gonna say, or "oh i'm shopping it to the labels." I want to see what the black American under the age of fifty is working on in terms of taking this music, this sound forward. Beyond rock, beyond jazz, beyond electronic, beyond hip hop. I want to hear the effort that is there when looking at the future straight up. My generation is still dependent on old guard record labels and the old guard press for affirmation and that pat on the back. I think it's time to start planting our own seeds now. Where is the black American with a magazine dedicated to the new arts and music? Where is the black American writing the book on the Art Ensemble of Chicago or the Black Artists Group or Don Cherry? Seems we have to wait for a European to do it for us. (Although George Lewis is done with his AACM history and it's greatly anticipated.) Where is the label run by a black American dedicated to more experimental forms of music? There doesn't seem to be any network set up to share ideas and information or just plain spiritual support. Ah, the spirit? Where has it gone? I might hear animated discussions about Supercollider or LISA or beats or gushings about how it is to be just off the plane from some festival in Mexico City or Helsinki or Tokyo, but never about that old dusty spirit. Spirit is what you will need during those dark years of study and practice. Spirit is what you will need when compiling your work in the solitude of a room somewhere with the knowledge that nobody knows you exist. Spirit is what you will need when you're bringing those boxes of CD's up the stairs. Spirit is what you will need when time finally does catch up to you and you make your statement. Spirit is what you will need to keep working.

    posted by sara @ 12:27 pm | Permanent link

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Sunday, March 6
    ETHEL: Thank you, On the Boards!
    By Kate Ratcliffe

    For making me downright giddy. I experience surges of delight and rabid excitement when I not only see proof that contemporary classical music is alive, kicking, stomping, horse hair flying off the bow, but feel passionate energy and interest from both the musicians and the audience dynamic. I moan to say these opportunities are few and far between. I am thrilled OTB is giving voices like Ethel a venue in Seattle.



    I scribbled quite a lot of notes about interesting components of each piece performed, but it was dark, I couldn’t see where I was writing, and consequently I can’t read a word of it. The beauty of this is: it doesn’t matter! Each piece of music Ethel performed was not only interesting in its structure and aural-emotional pulley system, but also had the priceless benefit of being performed by musicians who breath life and passion into every note, every silence. Thank you to the musicians for giving their passion an audience, thank you to the audience for being receptive to this experience, thank you to the cellist for wearing such bold boots to stomp with – classical music ought to be performed with boots such as these.



    It’s musical experiences like this that make me want to wander the streets wearing a t-shirt that states: “Classical Music is Not Dead Ask Me How.” For the love of music everywhere, check this act out!


    posted by sara @ 2:57 pm | Permanent link

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    GRISHA COLEMAN: Sense of Time and Place
    By Kate Ratcliffe

     Grisha Coleman and company’s piece is an awakening of the senses from the moment one enters the performance space. The installation is visually warming with effective lighting, cloth textures, sand, and an informal, embracing spatial orientation of the audience. The aural component furthers the sense of warmth and peace through repetitive, soothing sounds such as the gathering and letting go of small amounts of sand, an evening noise of crickets, and the back-to-back humming of a communal body of four. The first disruption of note to this warming, sensuous experience comes from the awareness of a separate, bound figure, upside down, interrupting the hum and peace of timelessness by blurting out numbers.  

    From this established opening contradiction, jarring juxtapositions begin to unfold throughout the entirety of the performance. The senses are cut into and negated by an academic observation team, the technological disrupts the elemental, and the group is infiltrated by the outsider as the setting leaps from desert to work-out gym with a blurred line of place continuous to the end. I certainly found Grisha Coleman’s work to be thought-provoking and constantly of interest, but soon after the opening setting began to alter, and with each additional component demanding attention, I was so busy trying to notice everything that my senses left the ballpark. This may very well have been the point, (and surely a point worth taking note of) but if it was, it could have made a deeper emotional impression on me if the performance were more concise. I felt my mind wandering off on loose ends, merely noticing one thing and then another. I was glad to see this work, but can also see potential for alteration if a deeper emotional understanding is to be reached.   

    posted by sara @ 2:55 pm | Permanent link

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    By Beth Brooks

    It’s always fascinating to watch when an ensemble is truly in synch. String quartets and dancers get to demonstrate true synchronicity for the rest of us. Once I took a dance class at a conference taught by Moses Pendleton. The idea was to demonstrate to us we all have the instinctive ability to work as an ensemble, a unit. To illustrate his point, he had us all wander around the dance floor and, as he systematically reduced our wandering space, we realized that we could still move around and not collide. From our wanderings, Moses excised movement phrases he liked and pieced it together into an actual choreographed work. Many of the pieces performed last night for Ethel were especially composed for them. And you could see why. The cohesiveness of these four musicians transformed the music; it was a joyful, playful, soulful and thoroughly connected performance. Several times at last night’s concert I would, at certain points in the compositions, experience a visceral twitch. And I wasn’t alone in the audience in having this reaction. This music engages my brain in such a way that I anticipate the crescendo and when it happens, I involuntarily flinch. I often felt like I was reading along – somehow my brain was completely welcoming the sounds as they were received even though I had never heard them before. It was emotionally satisfying in that same way that other forms of music can be more physically releasing. The breadth of the compositions performed last night demonstrated how musically omnivorous Ethel is. So this is new music. This works.

    posted by brooksbeth @ 12:33 pm | Permanent link

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    Grisha Coleman
    By Beth Brooks

    Grisha Coleman echo: :system ActionStation#2 ;/ The Desert I found this whole experience riveting. It is always a fascinating marriage - science and art. In my experience, the most thoughtful theatre audience members are often scientists, doctors and engineers. It’s as though they completely rely on artists as peers to translate their work for the rest of us. At one point, I had a moment of absolute envy – why can’t it be me who gives it all up to be part of this ensemble of accomplished singers and dancers and create an artful exploration of what defines an ecosystem. Maybe the intent of seating me on the floor right on their performance space was to make me itch to join the dance I’ve already been part of for many millennia. Still I’m not sure if I’ve fully digested the performance even as I write this the next morning. It was such a full and thorough immersion. I am still struck by rich blending of voices that often achieved a sound that is both truly new and eerily familiar.

    posted by brooksbeth @ 12:27 pm | Permanent link

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Saturday, March 5
    By Paul R. Moore

    Weblog, Day 12,895. It was a good day. Short. You know- went by fast. No problems really. Ended up going to a concert at On The Boards in Seattle. Found a nice parking spot by the KFC. Got to the theater in time to get a beer and say hello to some friends. The theater was full but I found a seat right in the middle of the house. Then I read the program for a few minutes. I was looking forward to hearing that and new music. Ethel is a string quartet. Ethel are four individuals who play really well as an ensemble. They seem to love contemporary music of all kinds. The pieces they chose for tonight’s program were exciting and accessible. The volume of the sound reinforcement was just a decibel too loud for my taste. I do like to stretch out my sensitive ears when I get a chance, tonight I didn’t. I know what they're going for. They want to rock. They know that audiences are used to extremely high volumes these days. So, if you don’t pump things up they sound weak in comparison to everything else out there. But is this necessarily true? And if so, is it really a problem? Either way, Ethel can and does rock. And by that I mean they perform with sincere gusto and with an exuberant kinetic precision. The only piece I knew was Zorn's "Cat O'Nine Tails". It’s a fun piece to listen to, and Ethel’s strong comic acting skills gave the music a whole new layer of whimsy. I liked the first piece which was not in the printed program. Also I really enjoyed Julia Wolfe’s piece. I’d like to hear those two again. The piece by Scott Johnson with I.F. Stone text was compelling. However, sometimes I worry when I hear midi drums in concert. Why? Overall, I am happy that I went to hear Ethel play at On the Boards. It was a great show. I will look for them in the future. Logging off…

    posted by paulislove @ 11:13 pm | Permanent link

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    By Jean Lenihan

    I fell in and out of love with this work a dozen times in its 70 minute span. It elicits feeling; it’s got a strong, persistent tone. Though its got a raggedy visual aesthetic (the room, littered with hanging sand-filled Gatorade bottles, is imbued with a gritty mud-colored essence that breaks several times into moments of fierce yellow heat), it’s actually an extremely clean and well edited construction. Grisha Coleman and her 4 performers are agile trance-formers: deep in their bodies and their voices, they respond gracefully to the random cues that fuel Coleman’s multi-genre symphonies. I was blown away by the repetitive energy of the choral work (and its gorgeous deliniation of impulse) and the evolution in movement patterns (from an affect-less amoebic quality to full bodied expression using lovely shape, torque and rhythm, along with smart, inventive use of three treadmills.)


    But some of the major flavors in this great stew were a big disappointment. The scientific lecture from an ecologist becomes a successful choral element, but it stops short of poetry. (Instead, when poetry is rightly called for, we get some aggravatingly predictable obscurities, like some booming pronouncements about the return of the Minotaur & a session of Meaningful Questions that gets answered by four indecipherable overlapping voices.) But I think I would have forgiven these trespasses if I’d been better lulled by the installation as a whole. Instead, I couldn’t stop thinking about the further work that might have been done on the piece in order to bring it together for a proscenium stage. (In the installation space all five performers are visible at all times, along with the bank of composers, sound technicians and the lecturer.) Personally, I couldn't still my hunger for at least one shot of the symbolic individuation of life one sees in deserts: the lone plant, the single hill, the solitary set of tracks moving off in the dirt. As an audience member, I was made restless and detached by her everywhere-everything-universe.

    posted by jeanlenihan @ 5:09 pm | Permanent link

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    Mikel Rouse
    By Beth Brooks

    My friend and I wondered about the impact of TV on the shaping of our lives and expectations for our lives as we walked to my car after the performance. Is this the lens through which the world must be interpreted these days? And does it matter if there’s a narrative or is it all about one gesture or maybe the fleeting essence of a gesture? We both recalled old boyfriends who always had the TV on, how the blue TV screen light was a soothing, constant presence in these men’s lives, like a benevolent babysitter, an oracle explaining life’s mysteries through the cult of winning, the canned laugh-track, the smirk and predictable set up at someone else’s expense. Mikel Rouse took his guitar and his video camera and went on the road, traveling through the Delta, capturing stories of Americans from various walks of life. Then he interwove the stories and songs with excerpts of footage from different times in his own life. The result was clearly a deeply personal video diary that he accompanied with live music backed by a pre-recorded track. And the boy sure can play guitar. At the some of last night’s performance, I really wanted the video illustrate the narrative of the song or vice versa and this didn’t always happen. The music was at times inspired, driven, layered and compelling. The earnestness and the intention were there, but I was left wondering and eventually wandering. Sometimes there was a pay off – a nugget of insight. Something of a personal story would come clear. There was a point made, a character explained, an insight revealed. Sometimes the lyrics made me want to make up my own story about the images I was seeing. But on the whole, it just didn’t hang together. So it makes me wonder, why does my mind always need it to make sense? To arrive at ending? Is my expectation reasonable? Do we always need to make a crisp, articulate point whenever the camera starts rolling or the music starts playing? Okay, so it’s was called Music for Minorities, and it was supposed to represent the views of the Silent Minority. (I remember it as the Silent Majority when the phrase was coined.) And these conclusions about the naked pain of loss, about not fitting in, about disappointment and rejection – “These are the impressions of my real world.” “This is a silly tragedy of circumstance and it was too late.” “What you do is what you become.” “I have never found my place.” – they all resonate for vast majority of us. But ultimately it’s never cut and dried at the end, like a TV sitcom or a crisp documentary or a ballgame. Life is messy and complicated and sometimes we need to space out in front of the TV. Or we just need to let the film roll while we’re driving along, wondering what will happen next.

    posted by brooksbeth @ 4:00 pm | Permanent link

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    Mikel Rouse
    By Zeke Keeble

    Over all, I liked the piece. The layers of media (live music, recorded music, and video) were used really well, and a lot of work and care were put into each one. Multi-media performance artwork can be very tricky and dangerous- so many things to focus on! In this piece all three mediums were present almost all of the time, each having more or less equal focus. I would have liked to see the mediums isolated once in a while for the sake of a break from the wash. One's mind goes numb to intricacies when constantly bombarded with stimulus that doesn't breathe once in a while. However, most of the time the blend worked very well. There is a wonderful harmonica duet between Rouse and a person playing on video. Another part has a man on a porch swing speaking, but the tone and pitch of his voice makes it sound like he's singing a melody over the prerecorded and live music. What I especially liked about the denseness of the piece was that it was like thought- dense, meandering and strange. This is what made it work. Rather than driving one idea into everyone's skulls, the piece said, "this is some stuff I've been thinking about. Rouse's ability to play effectively with a recorded track (this is very difficult) was pretty good. However, the synth-string and synth-choral patches on whatever synthesizer he has have got to go. Rouse's proficiency in each of his mediums is very good, and obviously a lot of time, work, and thought went into this work. The piece is rarely moving, but almost always enjoyable

    posted by locustmarrow @ 12:01 pm | Permanent link

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    MIKEL ROUSE: American Landscape
    By Erin Jorgensen

    I never felt particularly American until I traveled outside of the country. Surrounded by another culture, I suddenly felt identifiably American, and was unexpectedly homesick. Mikel Rouse's "Music for Minorites" gave me the same sort of feeling, a look into American consciousness. The music and video were snapshots of the weirdness and lonlieness of American life. There's a certain type of sadness, a "lost" feeling that to me is uniquely American. The music and video captured this feeling perfectly. It's as if you are driving around, spying on people, and there's this perfect soundtrack on the stereo. The music has a minimalist feel, a gradual unfolding and looping back on itself. Kind of Steve Reich meets Elvis Costello. Although some of it is obviously quite complicated, it is all accessible and some of it is very beautiful. The heart of the piece was the song "Life is Just a Passing Phase". The piece became more joyful and playful, but still tinged with underlying sadness. I thought about all the weird surprises you find in America. All the people you meet here that you wouldn't meet anywhere else. Japanese cowboys, truck drivers, guys who invent their own intricate, bizarre life philosophies (and will tell you about them), Baptist preachers, people who are obsessed with marching bands or square dancing or something....everyone together creating the vast strangeness that is America. If you grew up here, you'll understand what I mean.

    posted by sara @ 9:03 am | Permanent link

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