Archive for the ‘Press’ Category

UGA student finds “Treasure” with sustainability grant


March 13, 2016
Athens Banner-Herald
link to original article

UGA student finds “Treasure” with sustainability grant
By Kristen Morales

A shipwreck on an island could have been a disaster, but it worked out pretty well for University of Georgia College of Education junior Kelsey Brown.

That’s because the island is the backdrop for an original play by Brown, a communication sciences and disorders and theater major. The idea won her this year’s Sustainability + Arts award from the University of Georgia Office of Sustainability, and the $2,000 grant will allow her and other members of the UGA Children’s Theatre Troupe to produce “Another Kid’s Treasure Island.”

The play is distinct in that it combines the arts with science and engineering concepts, and its ticketed performances this spring will also feature an innovative extra: make-space stations where the audience can create new things from recycled items. The story follows the adventures of three siblings who set out on their boat but get shipwrecked on an island. While there, they meet up with another marooned child and begin inventing things to help with their rescue.

“One of the big things we wanted to do with this project was not only reach out to students, but also bring the sustainability aspect to other theater majors,” Brown said. “Many student-produced shows have very little funding, if any at all, so we can really benefit from thinking outside the box, repurposing and sharing items.”

The Children’s Theatre Troupe is one of Brown’s passions, and she said they have made an effort in recent years to push the boundaries of their shows. For example, a performance last fall for elementary students through the Experience UGA program used projections and digital graphics to help tell the story. With “Treasure Island,” Brown said they plan to take the show on the road for several performances, so the set needs to be portable. And because the students are used to being budget-conscious, using upcycled materials fits with the sustainability aesthetic.

In fact, the bulk of the sustainability grant will instead be used to set up the maker-spaces for the on-campus performances and provide take-home bags for families so they can tinker with their own set of curated recycled materials, such as lights, tape and “tinker cards” to play with at home, Brown said. “Plus books to read and ways you can be more sustainable at home,” she added. “So, we’re trying as much as possible to make it something worthwhile for families to come. We don’t want to just do it for our sake.”

A nugget of inspiration for the show came from a class Brown took with College of Education instructor Gretchen Thomas, who teaches a maker-space class open to all majors. This semester’s class is collaborating with Brown on the play to collect reusable materials and develop the makerspace stations for them.

Although, Thomas contends, Brown likely would have come up with the concept on her own; it was simply the class that helped her connect the idea to the term, “makerspace.” “Kelsey’s really good at seeing the ordinary and figuring out how to make it very different, which is really what making is all about,” Thomas said. “I never would have connected makerspaces and sustainability. And it’s a great way to get families to come out and tinker.”

“Another Kid’s Treasure Island” will be performed April 23 to 25 at the UGA Fine Arts Building, and special outdoor performances at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. April 23 at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia. Tickets are $5 (cash only) for all performances; children younger than 12 are free. The troupe also plans a show at Scottish Rite Hospital in Atlanta and a few other locations around Athens.

Brown said the combination of theater and technology might seem strange, but it’s actually a perfect combination — and one that will please a larger audience. “So many of the concepts in theater are important in engineering, experimenting and even coding. That’s kind of what the original intent behind this collaboration was,” she said. “I’m sure there’s no sustainability or entrepreneurial guru saying, ‘No, we don’t want children to learn this.’ Teachers, engineers and professionals alike are always looking for an outlet to teach STEM skills to the next generation, and theater is the perfect medium.

“It doesn’t happen too often presently because we, as theater students and professionals, are just not experienced in those areas,” she added. “But I see a lot of pairing up in the future, especially in the science field, because theater is a great way to not only grab young people’s attention, but also educate.”

The Sun Ra Arkestra’s Cosmic, Celebratory Jazz

Photo Credit: Milos Radosavac

Photo Credit: Milos Radosavac

February 17, 2016
Flagpole Magazine
link to original article

The Sun Ra Arkestra’s Cosmic, Celebratory Jazz
By Jeff Tobias

In 1952, a decade before the first Apollo missions and 25 years before our introduction to the Rebel Alliance, Herman “Sonny” Poole Blount legally changed his name to Le Sony’r Ra. The pianist, composer and arranger was born in Birmingham, AL in 1914 and was living in Chicago at the time. The name change followed an epiphany wherein Blount realized his actual birthplace was the planet of Saturn, and that he had been brought to Earth in order to help mankind through his music.

In order to accomplish this goal, the man known today as Sun Ra formed the Sun Ra Arkestra. Wearing their signature quasi-Egyptian space uniforms, this sci-fi big band embarked on one of the most consistent and committed musical journeys ever to begin on American soil, even if their roots originate beyond our planet’s atmosphere.

While Sun Ra faced accusations of gimmickry, his catalog of more than 100 albums (many of which were self-released) stands today as one of the most important discographies in jazz. His wholeheartedly-believed interplanetary narrative is a precursor to the Afrofuturism movement that birthed the careers of musicians (George Clinton), novelists (Octavia Butler) and beyond. Sun Ra left the planet in 1993 at the age of 79, but his group has followed in his stead, still working in the same Philadelphia house where their bandleader worked and lived with many of his musicians since the 1970s.

Today, the group is led by alto saxophonist Marshall Allen, who anchors the ensemble to their earliest years. Allen joined the Arkestra in 1958 and became the group’s leader in 1995. He is 91, sports a fiery orange beard and an equally incendiary instrumental scream. When not producing his signature peals of shrieking sax, he uses an EVI (electronic valve instrument) to create theremin-like arcs of tone. Fellow saxophonist Knoel Scott acts as a lieutenant to Maestro Allen, leading many of the group’s call-and-response chants.

Allen is one of several elder statesman of the Arkestra. Saxophonist Charles Davis joined the group in the late 1950s after playing in bands supporting Billie Holiday, Ben Webster and Dinah Washington. As a senior member of the group, Davis has apparently earned the right to skip out on donning the space regalia at his discretion. Other members of the group date their membership back to the 60s and 70s.

Injecting a respectful studiousness and youthful energy to the group, more recent members include drummer Wayne Anthony Smith Jr., vocalist and violinist Tara Middleton and party-starting trombonist Dave Davis. The younger Davis is perhaps the only active Arkestra member with a Twitter account, providing a window into the life of the Arkestra, which might mirror that of any number of Athens bands. A recent photograph from a practice session at the group’s Philadelphia headquarters is accompanied by the caption: “Why are drums and a bike in the kitchen?”

It’s easy to see how the Arkestra has retained an enduring roster. Its very existence has always been anomalous for a number of reasons, but today it stands away from the jazz mainstream as a total outlier: a working group that has real fun. A performance by the Arkestra is not a mild affair meant to elicit a museum-like respect for a dead craft; it’s a continuation of jazz’s origins as social music. Despite the group’s well-earned reputation for experimental excursions, each performance is an honest-to-god party, for those onstage as well as the audience.

While the group has acted as a magnet for talented and adventurous performers, Sun Ra’s musical vision also emphasized omnivorous inclusion across the spectrum of black sounds, absorbing funk, R&B, free improvisation, gospel and African music into the group’s origins in straight-ahead swing. Because of the group’s decades-old history as an active ensemble, they can perform freaked-out ‘70s psychedelic funk and Ellingtonian big band arrangements with equal authenticity.

Over the last few decades, university music programs, critics and other institutional forces have historicized and professionalized jazz. On the scholastic front, this has engendered petty arguments over what can and cannot be considered jazz. In practice, it’s resulted in technically virtuosic but aesthetically conservative albums and performances that are meant to be consumed by the artists’ peers—other jazz musicians. Overall, it’s earned jazz a place alongside abstract art or Joycean prose, something that someone has to try to “get.”

The Sun Ra Arkestra has nothing to do with either of these pursuits. Like another legendary bandleader and composer, Charles Mingus, the Arkestra represents the chaotic truth of the music. Their wild, noisy presentation feels like a more genuine representation of what big bands might have been like when jazz was truly popular music, before it became “America’s classical music.” In addition to “[traveling] the space-ways,” the Arkestra spans time with equal effortlessness, tethering the 20th and 21st centuries together through sheer experience. Their music illustrates the sublime cohesion that can be achieved through dogged unity, urged on in spirit by their leader in absentia.

The highly anticipated Athens performance is being presented by Ideas for Creative Exploration (ICE), an interdisciplinary initiative for advanced research in the arts at the University of Georgia, led by Mark Callahan. In collaboration with cellist and composer Heather McIntosh, Callahan has previously worked to organize the AUX Festival, an experimental music event that echoes the Arkestra’s populist vision for the performing arts.

Opening the show will be the Flicker Orchestra, a cross-section of Athens musicians with a rich history of performing alongside silent films. The group’s overlap with the Elephant 6 Recording Company should come as no surprise, as Athens’ longtime homegrown psychedelic collective is highly inspired by the work of the former Herman Blount and his musical followers.

The Dada Centennial Commemorates the History and Endurance of Experimental Art


February 10, 2016
Flagpole Magazine
link to original article

The Dada Centennial Commemorates the History and Endurance of Experimental Art
By Jessica Smith

Emerging in opposition to the horrors of World War I, Dada was an international anti-war, anti-bourgeois, anti-art movement of artists and poets who largely rejected logic, rationality and the status quo to embrace chaos, nonsense and intuition. The romanticized birthplace of Dada is storied to be Cabaret Voltaire, a nightclub founded by Hugo Ball and Emmy Hennings in Zurich, Switzerland in February 1916 as a nucleus for avant-garde artistic, literary and political activity. Though Cabaret Voltaire was only operated for less than a year, frequent soirees of radically experimental performances of spoken word, dance and live music—often as absurd and destructive as the war existing outside the doors—served as a precursor for Dadaists who continued to reject traditional aesthetics, instead finding artwork as the medium for expressing social and political dissonance.

In celebration of the centennial year of Dada and the ongoing spirit of experimental art, Ideas for Creative Exploration (ICE)—an interdisciplinary initiative for advanced research in the arts at UGA—collaborated with Jed Rasula, Helen S. Lanier Distinguished Professor and head of the department of English, to curate a three-week series of performances themed on the past, present and future. The series uses Rasula’s recently published art history book Destruction Was My Beatrice: Dada and the Unmaking of the Twentieth Century as a resource to connect Dada’s historical milestone to Athens’ own position as a center for experimental art.

“I was deeply affected by Jed’s book, where he follows the lives of the Dada participants and provides a broad context for their activities, really letting their personalities and ideas come through,” says Mark Callahan, artistic director of ICE. “The book allows the reader to see how so much contemporary culture proceeds from the conditions that Dada responded to a century ago; in many ways we are still reinventing and catching up to the core innovations and creative disruptions of Dada.”

Flicker Theatre & Bar will be transformed into Cabaret Voltaire 1916 on Thursday, Feb. 11 beginning at 8 p.m. with a presentation by Rasula and a performance by Italian composer and musicologist Luciano Chessa. Rasula became interested in bringing Chessa to Athens after seeing him perform a program of Italian Futurist sound poetry last year at the Guggenheim. Many of the participants at Cabaret Voltaire were aware of Italian Futurists and became heavily influenced by their sound poetry, making Chessa a relevant component to the night’s discourse. David Saltz, executive director of ICE and head of the UGA Theatre and Film Studies Department, will direct students in reenacting a series of Dada performances based on archival research, such as Erik Satie’s “Trois Morceaux en Forme de Poire,” a piano piece for four hands played by Crystal Wu and Emma Lin. The evening will be rounded out with costumes, set design and other surprises directly inspired by those legendary nights of yore.

On Thursday, Feb. 18 at 8 p.m., the historic Morton Theatre will host a rare performance by the famed cosmic jazz group Sun Ra Arkestra, currently under the direction of 91-year-old Marshall Allen, who joined the Arkestra in 1958 and led the reed section for more than four decades. Following Sun Ra’s 1993 ascension—space is the place, presumably—the group continued to play his classic big-band compositions alongside Allen’s own arrangements deeply rooted in the spirit of his mentor. Organized by Heather McIntosh, ICE Honorary Fellow and curator of ICE’s AUX event and publishing series devoted to experimental art, the evening will open with the Flicker Orchestra performing live soundtracks to silent films from the Dada era.

“Jazz emerged as word and musical style more or less simultaneously with Dada. And in Europe the two were often confused. Dadaists actually would drop in the word ‘jazz’ in posters advertising their events—not that they knew anything at all about jazz… few did,” says Rasula. “Jazz history has its own internal varieties of Dada, whether it’s Charles Mingus’ tunes like ‘All the Things You Could Be By Now if Sigmund Freud’s Wife Was Your Mother.’ Also, the development of scat singing in jazz has affinities with Dada sound poetry, although the musicians are unlikely to have known about [Dada]. However, Mamie Smith and Her Jazz Hounds released a tune in 1923 called ‘That Dada Strain,’ so who knows? The fanciful spirit of Sun Ra’s personality, lifestyle and cosmology make the Arkestra a perfect way to celebrate the centenary of Dada in Athens.”

The Centennial Celebration concludes with a return to Flicker on Thursday, Feb. 25 at 8 p.m. featuring new works by visiting artist Bruce Andrews and live music from Mind Brains. A recently retired professor of political science at Fordham University, Andrews is a New York-based poet and performance artist known as one of the founders of the influential avant-garde “language poetry” movement of the early ‘70s. Student contributions include short plays by members of professor John Bray’s playwriting group; an improvisation set by music doctoral student Scott Eggert on a Pythagorean Lambdoma Harmonic Keyboard and local mainstay Killick on a VO-96 fretless acoustic guitar; and electronic compositions by music doctoral students Cody Brookshire and Hanna Lisa Stefansson.

“Traces of Dada are everywhere, and in performance it’s often detectable through a somewhat anarchic sense of humor like you get in Monty Python. For the original Dadaists, humor was a weapon, as well as a part of being human,” says Rasula. “But Dada introduced other influential things, like the use of chance, the accommodation of any medium to noise or disruption and, above all, an iconoclastic wariness of official institutions, especially art institutions. Hence Dada’s reputation as ‘anti-art.’”

Kit Hughes in Inc.


November 4, 2015
link to full article

link to Kit’s ICE project

How This Entrepreneur’s Fast-Growing Business Started as an Art Project

During art school, I worked on a project where I bought every product advertised in 24 hours of network television. I learned volumes: among other things, most advertising and marketing is simply a bunch of levers and knobs that are pulled and turned to make emotional connections. I wanted to show the power in manipulating those emotional connections. It was kind of like playing with people in a gallery, trying to come up with ways to get them to engage with each other and make them happy. That was the spark for Look-Listen.

Puppety SLAMateur hour brings the medium back


April 30, 2015
Athens Banner Herald
link to original article

Puppety SLAMateur hour brings the medium back
By Kai Riedl

Despite a technologically engulfed world dead-set on consuming the latest frontiers, around every turn is a resurgence in earlier classics.

Depeche Mode blasts over speakers around town, women’s fashion draws every era before 1990 and handlebar mustaches are back. This collective gesture toward earlier forms isn’t lost on one Athenian group — the puppeteers.

Today the Athens Puppetry Group (yes, there is one of those) hosts the Puppetry SLAMateur hour. This rare event offers a wide variety of short performances (less than 30 minutes each) covering a range of subject matters specifically directed at adult audiences. This is not for the kiddies, as themes harken back to earlier times when puppeteers had few boundaries.

But unlike their historical counterparts, the SLAM also offers the chance to experience new technological twists on the medium, such as digital projections and robotic puppets.

The main fuel behind the SLAM is local artist Emily Silva who took a moment to shed light on how puppetry fits into 2015 and what can be expected at Thursday’s performance.

Volume: I love the idea of this whole endeavor, but why puppets and why now?

Emily Silva: I think it’s a partially generational trend. There’s a lot of nostalgia for puppet television and movies we watched as kids and, for me at least, there’s also a backlash against the ever-slicker CGI and visual effects that movie budgets are now poured into. Add to that the relative scarcity of any kind of live theatre in most people’s day to day, and it makes sense that puppets are getting more attention. They are tactile, often handmade and imperfect, and they’re kind of right in your face. People get confused and a little nervous, and very excited when someone approaches them talking through a bug-eyed creature apparently made of old socks. That kind of interaction has a lot of possibilities not just for entertainment, but for education, and social activism.

V: So, our technologically based world has circled back to puppets. For many, I’m sure this is refreshing and I’m curious if there is a tech element to the performance.

ES: We do have some techno-magic planned for the show, specifically in the form of a interactive digital puppet projection named Demetrio created by Caity Johnson. What falls under the definition of puppetry is constantly changing. It will always include the traditional felt and foam standards, but robotic puppetry and interactive programming are just as entitled to their place in that definition. For kids like me who grew up on a steady diet of Dark Crystal and Jurassic park animatronics, there is no question that puppets, robots and computers can and should live in harmony.

V: The description of the performance eludes to adult themes in the SLAM. What are we looking at here, and what kind of themes are we in store for?

ES: One of the interesting things about working in puppetry is challenging the assumption that it is a entertainment medium intended only for kids. On the contrary, lewd humor, sexuality, horror, etc have always been a part of puppetry and continue to be some of it’s most fascinating subjects. We’ll be featuring some puppet-burlesque fusion, a raunchy witch, a new take of Shelly’s Frankenstein, and some sort of dramatic birthing process. Hence, the parental advisory.

V: When you say SLAM, does this imply that Thursday’s performance includes a competition of sorts?

ES: Not exactly, although in many cities where they have monthly puppetry slams, there will be a prize for the audience’s favorite. Having events that regularly would be a great goal for the group moving forward. In this case, though, we use slam just to specify the format of the show. That is to say that it’s made up of multiple short pieces by different artists rather than one longer cohesive narrative, which is what many people expect when they hear simply “Puppet Show.” Also it sounds way more badass.

V: This project has a relationship with Ideas for Creative Exploration at UGA. How did the project get involved with ICE?

ES: This project grew out an event I helped put together in the summer of 2014 and morphed into an identity design project for my senior thesis exhibit. Everyone in the ICE office was extremely enthusiastic when I approached them about the project, and encouraged me to apply for their IdeaLab mini grant, which funds interdisciplinary arts/research projects up to $500 to produce an event, publication or other creative undertaking. It’s been an excellent partnership so far, both in terms of having the funding to attempt larger scale ideas and having some logistical support in the nitty gritty of event planning.

Futurology: Art World Embraces the Internet

November 14, 2014
U.S. News and World Report
link to original article

Futurology: Art World Embraces the Internet
By Lindsey Cook

The increasing real-time connections available through the Internet meant musicians in Athens, Georgia could collaborate with musicians in Java, Indonesia, for a project by Kai Riedl, a musician himself and the founder of the SLINGSHOT Festival.

“Something the Internet has done is really foster translocal creativity between two places,” he says. “We are able to work with dozens of people we wouldn’t have been able to otherwise because we are able to collaborate online with tracks. People are able to work in their own pockets of time and not be a slave to real-time or time zones or geographic constraints, and I think that has just transformed everything.”

Unlike television or phones, the Internet allows for collaboration visually and sonically, that can happen in real-time or can be left and picked up later, which is particularly important for artists attempting to collaborate across time zones.

“It’s starting to challenge what the notion of art is,” Riedl says. “People are able to brush up against such a variety of music, art, technology, whatever it may be, that their personal library of what is possible is being completely expanded. With that comes an explosion of work and an explosion of quality.”

With the explosion of art, some have become overloaded and look for experiences that are more singular than scrolling through Instagram, watching the never ending YouTube or streaming Spotify radio. Too many stimuli may be one reason people are turning back to vinyl, which is experiencing a resurgence of popularity.

Whatever new technologies are coming that we can’t predict, it’s safe to say artists will be on the forefront. By 2025, the spread of gigabit Internet connections will bring authentic collaboration between artists and wannabe artists. Like health and education, art will benefit from video experiences that allow real-time, buffer-free interactions that feel as if participants are in the same room.

“There’s been this vision of the Internet for the past 10 years where a drummer in France can play at the same time as someone in Athens, Georgia, and they could be working together in real-time,” Riedl says. “When those speeds increase and you’re able to do that … It’s already expanded what a band is, but once you are able to collaborate in high quality sound in real-time, I think you’ll see another level of musical expression. And it’s getting close.”

Kai Riedl was an ICE Graduate Research Assistant.