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January 26, 2017

Artist in Residence Spotlight: Appreciating the Whole Performance


simon alexander-adamsThis post is a part of a series of posts from UMS Artists in Residence. Artists come from various disciples and attend several UMS performances throughout the season as another source of inspiration for their work.

Simon Alexander-Adams is a Detroit-based multimedia artist, musician, and designer working within the intersection of art and technology. Simon has composed music for a number of short films, animations, and theatrical and dance performances. His compositions have been performed at international festivals, including the Ann Arbor Film Festival and Cinetopia. He also performs frequently on keyboard and electronics with the glitch-electronic free-jazz punk band Saajtak. Simon earned his MA in Media Arts in 2015 from the University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theatre & Dance.

Sometimes I see a performance that has a clear and direct impact to my work. Performances such as Royoji Ikeda’s superposition and Amon Tobin’s ISAM steered my focus towards multimedia performance that combines music, visuals, and staging, and pointedly influenced my visual and sonic aesthetics. Then there are the shows that are highly impactful, and I know will influence me, but I can’t quite put my finger on how. It’s this type of artistic understanding that grows over a lifetime – the complexity of long forms, the nuance of symbolism, and the power of ambiguity. These shows are undeniably inspirational, yet the substance of their awe is often elusive.

One such performance I saw recently was the Batsheva Dance Company’s Last Work. The movement was highly compelling, and the music and sound design fresh and beautifully unexpected. It worked on all technical levels, and yet this wasn’t what really made it powerful for me. It was the form – the way the piece unfolded – that struck me. Without the quality of the components, the whole would have suffered, but ultimately it was the gestalt that stuck with me more so than a particular element.


Soon after seeing Last Work I dived into developing interactive visuals for Saajtak, a new-music / avant-rock quartet I play with. The challenge was to develop visual content that contributed to a multimedia experience, without overshadowing the musical performance. As our music consists of long, intricate forms, I wanted the visuals to compliment this complexity.

The process, which took place over about a week of work around the clock, felt like a blur. I was in what both musicians and athlete’s alike call the “zone.” While there isn’t a direct relationship between Last Work and my work for Saajtak, Last Work was an important piece, among many others, that contributed to my greater understanding of long forms in multimedia contexts. Seeing the piece also energized me in a way that I leveraged in my own art making. My art draws from personal experience – I fluctuate in waves of intake and expression – absorbing moments of life, and synthesizing them through the creative process.

Video created by Ben Willis, Saajtak bassist and former UMS artist in residence.

Follow this blog for more updates from Simon throughout this season. Learn more about Renegade this season.