PSU

MusicWatch Weekly: A song and a dance

Irish songs, Latinx bienestar, Balkan Brass, Viking musicians, and the return of Federale

As the great Pacific singer, dancer, composer, percussionist, instrument builder, and calligraphist Lou Harrison loved reminding us, “music is basically a song and a dance.” This week’s selections might be all over the genre map–cumbia psicodélica; twisty Balkan brass; rowdy cinematic rock and other local uncategorizables; clarinets and percussion and laptops; songs from Ireland and World War I; a siege catapult’s worth of jazz–but all of it hews to this basic formula. Sing. Dance. Repeat.

You’re probably going to get snowed in with the cats and the chessboard next week, so now’s your chance to clear your throat, lace up your red shoes, and get into some music.

Tonight, tonight, tonight

We already talked about Blue Cranes and the Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble in November’s monthly column, so hopefully you’ve already bought tickets and hired a babysitter. In case you haven’t, this is your reminder that their Siege of Cranes concert, featuring the tight-knit BC quintet and PJCE’s eight-piece horn section, is happening tonight at Holocene. Get on it, Portland.

You could go up to T.C. O’Leary’s on Northeast Alberta to hear Irish folk songs–and even sing along if the mood strikes you–every month. But the special guests on tonight’s Oíche na namhrán (“night of song”) deserve a mention: Uilleann piper Preston Howard Wilde and harpist Elizabeth Nicholson will join regular host Michael Steen-Orr for tonight’s shindig. No doubt the harp in question is the lovely diatonic variety used by Taliesen and Dolphin Midwives, and that’ll be sweet–but it’s those pipes we’re curious about. You’re probably picturing the noisy bagpipes of countless cheap jokes, but these are different; sweeter, gentler, more Irish. Have a listen to Wilde right now and tell me you don’t want to go order up a Jameson’s and sing along.

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Column Zero: Summer comes alive

Chamber Music Northwest blows its clarinets, Storm Large sings about craziness, Makrokosmos gets nightmarish

We here at Oregon Arts Watch tend to pay a lot of attention to Oregon composers. In a sense, our job is made easier by the problem outlined yesterday by Senior Editor Brett Campbell: we like local composers, living or recent, diverse in gender and age and race and genre. That’s exactly who is often underrepresented in the largest institutions, and—lucky us!—that means we have a journalistic obligation to write about exactly the artists we’d want to write about anyways.

Wolfie

But never mind that for a moment—I want to talk to you about Mozart. We’ll come back to Kenji Bunch and Storm Large and George Crumb and Tōru Takemitsu and all the rest, but for right now I want to take the somewhat contrary position that we should absolutely be happy about hearing Mozart’s clarinet music at Chamber Music Northwest this week.

The pair of opening concerts (Reed College June 24, PSU June 25) are a handy confluence of musical meanings. Outgoing CMNW Artistic Director David Shifrin is, of course, a very fine clarinetist himself, and in past years has dazzled and transported us with gorgeous renditions of everything from Bach and Mozart to Messiaen and Akiho. This season—his second-to-last before handing the reins to Gloria Chien and Soovin Kim for the 2020/21 season—thus fittingly concludes with a whole lot of clarinet music. And, because this is CMNW, the concerts stretch all the way back to the instrument’s first great composer and all the way forward to recent and newly commissioned works by those beloved modern composers we talked about earlier.

But they’ll have to wait a little longer while I justify Mozart to the kids.

Chamber Music Northwest Artistic Director David Shifrin

You probably learned in music history class or here on internet that Mozart was pals with pioneering Viennese clarinetist Anton Stadler, an early virtuoso who sold Mozart on the new instrument’s charms. It’s a pretty weird instrument, essentially three instruments in one body, its lower chalumeau register stretching almost to the bottom of the cello’s range, its upper clarion and altissimo registers covering the violin’s entire range. Its tone is unlike any other woodwind instrument, a “long purply sound” in Berio’s phrase, somewhere between a human voice and a bowed string instrument.Mozart ended up composing plenty of really good music featuring clarinets and their sibling basset horns, and the best of it pairs the Frankenstein instrument with voices and/or strings—an ideal blend of sound colors and expressive possibilities.

Mozart ended up composing plenty of really good music featuring clarinets and their sibling basset horns, and the best of it pairs the Frankenstein instrument with voices and/or strings—an ideal blend of sound colors and expressive possibilities.

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Social engagement: politics, resistance, and art

2018 in Review, Part 5: Oregon ArtsWatch visited creators in all media who are addressing problems ranging from racism to climate change

The world is indisputably in a precarious position — not just politically and socially, but economically and even ecologically. It is a moment of crisis. Artists play a crucial role in moments like these, helping the rest of us arrive at a shared cognition of what is — of seeing, sensing, and feeling that roil of life in a way that clarifies, opens eyes, and maybe even showing us a way forward.

What struck me in compiling this year-end reading list on socially engaged art in Oregon is the extent to which artists strove not simply to see and interpret, but to peel back layers, to reveal what is largely hidden — either by design or by accident — by institutions, by geography, and even by the telling of history. There may be no “new” stories to tell, but too many stories haven’t been heard by those who need to hear them, by people who perhaps want to see, but don’t know how.

So dive into this compilation. There’s a bit of everything: visual art, theater, music, conceptual art, literature. And, of course, the usual disclaimer: The choices here are highly subjective and presented in no particular order, and obviously are not intended to be comprehensive.

 


 

Witnesses in a churning world

Artist Hung Liu says “Official Portraits: Immigrant” (2006, lithograph with collage) is one of three self-portraits representing stages of her life.

Sept. 27: ArtsWatch’s Bob Hicks checked out a fall show at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art in Salem called Witness: Themes of Social Justice in Contemporary Printmaking and Photography. It featured a lineup of artists who look at the world through a lens that is both personal and cultural, and in a way that connects our present moment with history.

“The idea of art as a pristine thing, separated from the hurly-burly of the everyday world and somehow above it all, is a popular notion,” Hicks wrote. “But a much stronger case exists for the idea of art as the expression of the roil of life, in all its messiness and cruelty and prejudices and passions and pleasures and occasional outbursts of joy. Art comes from somewhere, and that somewhere is the world in which we live.”

The article is a mini-tour of the exhibition itself, with nearly 20 pieces accompanied by the artists’ personal statements reflecting the roil and rebellion of their creative processes.

 


 

David Ludwig: Telling the Earth’s story through music

Chamber Music Northwest performs ‘Pangæa.’ Photo: Tom Emerson.

July 27: “Pangæa was the single huge continent on Earth encompassed by one vast ocean over 200 million years ago – eons before dinosaurs, much less humans,” musician David Ludwig writes in the program notes for composition of the same name. “It was an entirely different planet than one we’d recognize today, lush with life of another world.” That’s the world Ludwig interpreted musically in the West Coast premiere of Pangæa, a piece inspired by the ancient Earth, and the threat of extinction as a result of human-caused climate change. Matthew Andrews talked to him about this extraordinary piece of music for ArtsWatch. Best of all: You can listen to it yourself.

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Beyond the walls: A social practice project goes global

Answers Without Words, a photography project, fosters creative dialogue between incarcerated artists in Oregon and photographers from around the world

I am watching a group of men set a scene to be photographed. Ben Turanski, one of the prisoners at Columbia River Correctional Institution, indicates I am witnessing “prison innovation” in the works. He and some others are turning one corner of a classroom space at CRCI into a faux hospice. He twists a long piece of plastic wrapper into a cord, like an IV, attaching it to the wrist of Joshua Wright, who is lying on a makeshift hospital bed. Now done setting the scene, Turanski sits beside Wright and takes his hand.

From several feet away, Ben Hall takes a photo with a digital camera. When I ask him about what is happening, he indicates that the scenario he is photographing is inspired by his time working hospice in prison.

“What changed you in prison and are you happy about that?” question by Sara Lamens from Belgium, answer by Ben Hall in collaboration with Ben Turanski and Joshua Wright, photographed by Ben Hall

Anke Schüttler stands outside the frame, making suggestions about photographic composition. Schüttler—a photographer by trade and an MFA candidate at Portland State University’s School of Art and Social Practice—is one of the facilitators of this art class at CRCI, a minimum security prison housing 595 *mostly* male prisoners in Northeast Portland, Oregon. (I add the caveat because, in my few hours visiting the facility, I was made aware of at least one female-identifying prisoner.)

Schüttler let me know that many of the incarcerated individuals participating in this PSU art class said they would prefer to be called prisoners, hence my use of the word here. Under the umbrella of PSU art class, these prisoners are also working artists-in-residence at CRCI.

For Wright, the patient in the hospice scenario, the title artist-in-residence felt generative. “You were in prison, yes, but you were also in residence,” he reflected. “You’re an artist. You took this time to pursue your craft. That’s a rare and brilliant idea, and to be able to utilize that in this space has been incredibly beneficial,” he continued, noting that the residency has helped keep him on track creatively while in prison, in addition to benefiting him upon his release. Wright is a published essayist and poet, living incarcerated with a terminal diagnosis of cystic fibrosis.

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“[If] someone is asking you a question, like, ‘What’s your favorite place?’, you just go there and take a photo of that place. But what happens if you cannot access that place?” asked Schüttler during the class lecture at CRCI that I attended. Before returning to Germany, her home country, Schüttler will be wrapping up her MFA thesis on a project she initiated at CRCI called “Answers Without Words,” developed in collaboration Roshani Thakore, another PSU Art and Social Practice student, along with the prisoners.

The name of the project is “pretty logical,” says Schüttler.

For the past several months, and with support from the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s Precipice Fund, Schüttler has facilitated an exchange of written questions and photographic responses between incarcerated artists-in-residence at CRCI and photographers from around the world.

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Schüttler originally started visiting CRCI out of intrigue when she and her colleagues were invited by Harrell Fletcher, founder of the PSU Art and Social Practice MFA concentration. “Often times, when Harrell gets an opportunity here in Portland, he invites his students in,” said Schüttler. Harrell, who had done creative work with a prison in the past, was curious about CRCI and had been extended an invitation to visit an ongoing arts-based class there.

“We went, and had such a deep experience,” Schüttler recalled. “I mean, you’ve seen it.”

I have seen it. In spite of so many constraints, the four walls of the classroom contained an environment remarkable to enter into and be present within—at least, to my sensibilities.

“There’s something about these people…They have so much wisdom, and so much talent,” Schüttler continued. “Something that really stood out for me was also this vulnerability. When does that ever happen? A big group of men being vulnerable with each other? And it’s like, the last place you would expect that to happen is a prison.”

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