Artist in Residence Spotlight: Appreciating the Whole Performance
This 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.
Artist in Residence Spotlight: Transforming Music Notation
This post is a part of a series of posts from UMS Artists in Residence.
Simon Alexander-Adams is a Detroit-based multimedia artist, musician, and designer working within the intersection of art and technology. He has directed multimedia performances that enable connections between sonic, visual, and kinetic forms; designed new interfaces for musical expression; and produced interactive installation art. Simon’s compositions have been performed at international festivals, including the Ann Arbor Film Festival and Cinetopia.
Renegades in art are incredibly important. They remind us that our carefully constructed systems and rule books for life are just that – constructed. They can give us the jolt necessary to become aware of the patterns that enclose our perception, and if we let it, provide the space for transformative experiences.
I believe we all start life with intense curiosity, open minds, and a strong sense of exploration. In a way, it is requisite to organize the mass of sensory information that bombards us as we come into existence. Language develops and solidifies, be it spoken or sung, sonic or visual, coded, logical, emotional, or physical. We learn the rules, syntax, and conventions associated with language – and if we don’t we fail to communicate with one another. In essence, we love rules, systems and predictability.
When I was in middle school, I started taking cello lessons. My teacher taught using the ubiquitous “Suzuki method” that so many early string players remember (fondly or not). Yet, this was not the only method she used. She supplemented this method with fiddle tunes transposed for cello, composition assignments, and improvisational exercises, encouraging exploration simultaneously with traditional mastery of the instrument.
I remember one assignment was to create my own musical instrument, along with a corresponding notation system. I explored my house looking for objects that might be utilized to make interesting sounds. Eventually, I settled on a broken piece of a toy walkie-talkie headset, scraping it along a metal grate by our fireplace in various gestures. I then created a set of glyph’s to represent each gesture, and composed a short piece using my notation system. At the time, this seemed completely normal. Music was already notated using graphic notation (albeit a standardized one); however, there was certainly no notation I knew of to write for walkie-talkie and metal grating. It seemed paramount that one should exist.
Fast forward 15 years or so and I find that I’m still making graphic scores .The difference is that I am more aware of the history of graphic notation – from Earle Brown, to Cornelius Cardew and Iannis Xenakis – and I let what I know of the practice inform my own. While graphic notation was definitely a renegade act in the 1950’s, I don’t see it as one at present since it has been in practice for over 60 years with countless composers making use of non-traditional notation systems. Yet, to some, graphic notation is still very much a renegade act. For those who have a rigid conception of the “rules” of musical notation and believe in a strict adherence to them, it certainly is renegade. Like many things in life, a renegade act is ascribed meaning through social and historical context – both of which differ per individual experience. In a similar way, we might unwittingly perform renegade acts as a child (disobeying authority figures, making graphic scores for household items). It isn’t until we have a concept of the rules that we can intentionally break them, and embody the spirit of a renegade. Ultimately, it becomes a question of intention and perspective.
So, why is it important that we encourage renegade musical and artistic work? I believe it is to question many of the social norms that are ingrained to the point that they have become the background of our existence. In the same way we tune out the noise of an airplane or lawnmower in the distance once it remains long enough, we are great at tuning out any pattern in life that remains constant for too long. Renegade art has the power to expose these patterns to us, allowing us to question our values, actions and way of being. Art can transform us if we let it.
Follow this blog for more from our artists in residence as they attend Renegade performances this season
Announcing 2016-17 UMS Artists in Residence
We are proud to announce the 2016-17 UMS Artists in Residence!
Multimedia: Simon Alexander-Adams
Visual Arts: Ash Arder
Music: Nicole Patrick
Literature: Qiana Towns
Photography: Barbara Tozier
The UMS Artists in Residence program is a public engagement project whereby applications were solicited from regional artists wanting to take “residence” at UMS performances. The program launched during the 2014-15 UMS season.
Five artists (including visual, literary, and performing artists) have been selected to use UMS performance experiences as a resource to support the creation of new work or to fuel an artistic journey. Residents will receive complimentary tickets to select UMS performances; a $500 stipend; gatherings with fellow residents; and behind-the-scenes access to UMS staff and artists, when available. In return, UMS asks that artists share their artistic journeys via residency entrance and exit interviews and on UMS’s blog; participate in select UMS Education & Community Engagement events; and share artistic work generated during the residency when possible.
“While UMS brings incredible performing artists from around the globe to Ann Arbor, we’re also deeply committed to the creative community right here in Michigan,” said Kenneth C. Fischer, UMS President. “UMS Artists in ‘Residence’ ensures that artists creating work right here in our own backyard have access to everything they need to inspire, fuel, and inform their projects. Artists play a vital role in our communities — they inspire us, they challenge us, they provide alternate perspectives. We want to ensure that Ann Arbor and Southeast Michigan continues to be a place where artists are supported and can happily call home.”
Follow these artists’s journey through the season on this blog.
Meet the 2016-17 UMS Artists in Residence
Simon Alexander-Adams – Multimedia
Simon Alexander-Adams is a Detroit-based multimedia artist, musician, and designer working within the intersection of art and technology. He has directed multimedia performances that enable connections between sonic, visual, and kinetic forms; designed new interfaces for musical expression; and produced interactive installation art. 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.
Ash Arder – Visual Arts
Ash Arder is a Detroit-based artist who creates installations and sculptural objects using a combination of found and self-made materials. Through both process and output, this work investigates the relationship between people, objects, and place in order to understand use patterns and value attribution at macro and micro scales. Ash’s work is primarily rooted in urban culture.
Nicole Patrick – Music
Percussionist Nicole Patrick was born and raised in Miami, FL. She has sought a diverse musical training with the intention of exploring a limitless life through the arts. As a member of the Michigan Percussion Quartet she performed and organized an outreach tour throughout South Africa. In 2014, Nicole was a recipient of the International Institute Individual Fellowship grant, which allowed her to travel to Berlin to work alongside Tanz Tangente Dance Company. She continues to compose original music for their works.
Nicole also performs regularly with her band, Rooms, and other indie, improvisation, and performance art groups around southeastern Michigan. She has collaborated and recorded on five albums with Ann Arbor-based independent record label Stereo Parrot. For two years, she has curated a concert series in an intimate house venue in Ann Arbor and is most excited to be co-director and founder of the new Threads All Arts Festival in Ann Arbor. Nicole is an alumna of Interlochen Arts Academy and graduated from the University of Michigan with degrees in Percussion Performance (BM) and Jazz & Contemporary Improvisation (BFA) in 2016.
Qiana Towns – Literature
Qiana Towns is author of the chapbook This is Not the Exit (Aquarius Press, 2015). Her work has appeared in Harvard Review Online, Crab Orchard Review, and Reverie. A Cave Canem graduate, Towns received the 2014 Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Prize from the Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature. She is a resident of Flint, where she serves as Community Outreach Coordinator for Bottles for the Babies, a grassroots organization created to support and educate the residents of Flint during the water crisis.
Barbara Tozier – Photography
Born in Ohio, Barbara Tozier works in photography — digital, analog, and hybrid — with forays into video and multimedia. She settled in Michigan in 1997, after an engineering career that took her to Pennsylvania and the Netherlands. Barbara reconnected with photography in 2009 — she studied with Nicholas Hlobeczy in college — and in 2012 started taking photo classes at Washtenaw Community College, where she went on to earn an Associate’s Degree in May of 2016.
She has exhibited at the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair, The Original and in group shows at 22 North Gallery, Washtenaw Community College, and Kerrytown Concert House. She lives and works in Ann Arbor.
A recipient of the 2014 National Medal of Arts, UMS (also known as the University Musical Society) contributes to a vibrant cultural community by connecting audiences with performing artists from around the world in uncommon and engaging experiences. One of the oldest performing arts presenters in the country, UMS is an independent non-profit organization affiliated with the University of Michigan, presenting over 70 music, theater, and dance performances by professional touring artists each season, along with over 100 free educational activities. UMS is part of the University of Michigan’s “Victors for Michigan” campaign, reinforcing its commitment to bold artistic leadership, engaged learning through the arts, and access and inclusiveness.