From The Mountains: Hazel Dickens in Baltimore

A couple of months back, I received a New Music USA Project Grant for a collaborative performance with old-time music duo Anna & Elizabeth, called “From The Mountains: Hazel Dickens in Baltimore”. The premiere took place on April 12th at the Creative Alliance in Baltimore, as part of Anna & Elizabeth’s Crankie Festival. This amazing event focused on pairings of music with scrolling illustrations called crankies. Prior to my piece there were incredible works by Katherine Fahey, Alex Fine, Matt Muirhead, McKenzie Ditter, Chris Owen, and Ashley Minner with youth from the Baltimore American Indian Center, all of which bent the little-known medium of the crankie in new directions.

The overarching theme of the evening was travel and migration. My piece focused on an individual who was part of a large migration of people from Appalachia into the large industrial cities after World War II. Hazel Dickens moved from West Virginia to Baltimore in the 1950′s when she was a young girl in search of factory work. In Baltimore she eventually found encouragement of her talents as a musician, through Mike Seeger and others, and she went on to become the first prominent female musician in bluegrass. She spent most of her life in Baltimore and Washington DC, but continued to identify herself with West Virginia and the struggles of its working people.

To illustrate Hazel’s story, Anna and Elizabeth worked together to create a pair of crankies on scrolls of transparency. Projecting the images by shining flashlights behind them, the drawings could then be superimposed, as well as enabling slow zooms, panning, and other cinematic techniques. In performance, the crankies were operated by Anna and Chris Owen, while Elizabeth sang and recited passages of Hazel Dickens’ narrative. I alternated between playing melodica, banjo, and sampler, on top of a pre-recorded audio collage.

Enjoy this video documentation of the performance, recorded and edited by Kevin Gift.

2014 Projects

Site for the upcoming premiere of "Cantata For A Loop Trail" at Leakin Park in Baltimore, on June 21, 2014.

The year began with a few back-to-back shows in the second week of January. I played an ambient set, as well as an improvisation-on-a-composition preview with soprano Bonnie Lander, plus a more conventional DJ set, for the opening of an exhibition by artist Chris Owen at the Windup Space in Baltimore. I was back the next night to perform with my regular monthly improvised hip hop series, Baltimore Boom Bap Society. Two days later, in the same space, was the premiere of my new piece for Bonnie Lander with live electronics, titled Damascus Mix. We performed the piece on January 11th, as a prelude to Rhymes With Opera‘s staged production of the chamber opera Red Giant by Adam Matlock.

After we performed the piece together in Baltimore, Bonnie went on to perform it independently, with a fixed version of the electronic part, at Rhymes With Opera’s subsequent shows in Brooklyn, NY, and Jersey City, NJ. Here is a nice review from the Jersey City show, with a description of Damascus Mix in the second and third paragraphs.

Damascus Mix takes its starting point from a text cut-up of international news reports on Syria, along with a biblical passage alluding to Damascus. The live vocal part is inspired by the idea of changing stations on a radio, as well as exploring the spectrum between natural human voice and electronically generated sound (the electronic part relies heavily on the use of analog subtractive synthesis as well as granular synthesis with vocal samples). Bonnie and I developed the piece together through email exchanges and file sharing, as well as working together in person in the days leading up to the performance. Here is the electronic part, by itself:
Damascus Mix (instrumental) by Dubble8

Looking ahead, things get a little crazy…

March 14 – 23: Together with MICA Sound Art colleague Jason Sloan, I will be leading a week-long workshop at CMMAS (Centro Mexicano para la Música y Artes Sonoras) in Morelia, Mexico. The title of our workshop is Soundscape & Geography As Sources For Live Electronic Composition. We will bring 6 MICA students on the program, collaborating with local students from Morelia, and develop a collaborative performance project that will be performed on Friday, March 21st at CMMAS.

April 12: I will be collaborating with old-time music duo Anna & Elizabeth (Anna Roberts-Gevalt and Elizabeth Laprelle) on a multimedia performance bridging traditional Appalachian and Hip Hop musical elements, while examining the history of migration from the mountains to Baltimore. More information coming soon. At The Creative Alliance, 3134 Eastern Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21224

May 3: I am organizing and performing on the 5th annual all-night music festival at MICA- The Vigil, outdoors on the Cohen Plaza. Sample the best of Baltimore’s electro-acoustic musicians, experimental chamber music, drone, ambient, downtempo electronica…

June 21 & 22: Premiering my hiking opera Cantata For A Loop Trail with my favorite non-opera company, Rhymes With Opera. The Baltimore performance, on June 21st, will take place in Gwynns Falls/Leakin Park. A performance in New York the following day is tentatively planned for Prospect Park in Brooklyn. Stay tuned. Here is some video of an informal preview of several of the instrumental sections from the piece, which I performed with Ruby Fulton and George Lam this past September:

I am also working on a piece for pianist Jacqueline C Leung, a doctoral student of piano at SUNY Stonybrook. Titled Double Identities, the work will be focused on the cultural intersections and disconnects between the listening modes of Modern Classical music and Hip Hop. Double Identities is conceived for piano and turntable/DJ controller, and will form one part of a concert program that can be presented in schools, focused on the Classical/Hip Hop hybrid idea.

Ongoing this spring is a new class that I’m teaching at MICA- Remix As Performance. This is a class that has been gestating for a long time, bringing together a lot of my observations from experience with sample-based performance over the past 10 years.

Every first Wednesday night at the Windup Space, I continue to co-host Baltimore Boom Bap Society (live improvised hip hop) with Wendel Patrick. Each show features the two of us with a different group of musicians and poets. The series has been documented extensively by Tom Kessler, to whom we owe a huge thanks. Check out his YouTube page here.

A Baltimore Boom Bap Society album is in the works for later in the year.

Summer Transitions

On my plate this summer: teaching my intensive 4-week session of Introduction to Sound at MICA, becoming a first-time home owner in the fabled Baltimore neighborhood of Hampden, welcoming a new baby daughter, and generally drawing my attention inward to the home front. I’ll be taking a short break from my monthly improvised hip hop series with Wendel Patrick- Baltimore Boom Bap Society, after an amazing first 20 months. As I transition into a new family routine and get acquainted with my new space, I’m also expecting to re-focus for awhile on both home studio recording and notated composition, with fewer live appearances in the near future.

Look for a new album in November 2013, continuing and extending some of the territory I explored in “Cloudsplitter” (2012) – focusing further on a fusion of banjo and assorted other acoustic instruments, archival samples, ambient drones and sample-based beats.

Looking ahead further, in Spring 2014 I will be performing my “Cantata For A Loop Trail” with Rhymes With Opera at a series of outdoor locations. More info to come…

A sampling of music from this past year:
In The Pines by Erik Spangler

The Banjo And The Boom Bap by Erik Spangler

Binaural Forest (Live at 2640 Space, Baltimore) by Erik Spangler

The Vigil all-night music festival at MICA (4th annual) – SCHEDULE

The Vigil all-night music festival

Saturday April 27, 2013

6 pm (4/27) to 6 am (4/28)

Cohen Plaza at MICA

1301 Mount Royal Ave., Baltimore, MD 21217

FREE

Hosted by the Sound Art program of the Interaction Design and Art department, in collaboration with the Video and Film Arts, Animation, and Interdisciplinary Sculpture departments

Schedule:

Cloudprints by Matthew Burtner, performed by Sound Art students, X|i|O duo, Kevin Gift and Erik Spangler [networked performance with the composer and Mobile Interactive Computer Ensemble at the University of Virginia]

- 6:00 PM        Brown Center atrium

STEIM Sound Project group -    6:20        Brown Center atrium

Zak Greene -    6:40        Cohen Plaza – EAST

Schwarz -    7:00        SOUTH

Tyler Tamburo -    7:20        WEST

Jonathan Badger -    7:40        NORTH

Essays -    8:00        SOUTH

Oneiric -    8:20        WEST

Tendrills -    8:40        EAST

Whoarfrost -    9:00        NORTH

Out Of Your Head Orchestra -    9:20        SOUTH

Wendel Patrick & Max Beats -    9:40        WEST

Zoe Burke & Karl Ekdahl -    10:00        EAST

[10 - 11 PM - Projected animations by students of Lawrence Arcadias (Animation)]

Erik Spangler & Jason Sloan -    10:20        SOUTH

Microkingdom -    10:40        NORTH

Network Glass -    11:00        EAST

[11 PM - 6 AM - Video art by students of Nadia Hironaka (Video) and Sarah Doherty (Interdisciplinary Sculpture)]

plake 64 & the hexagrams -    11:20        WEST

Beth Brown -    11:40        NORTH

Liz Meredith & John Somers -    12:00 AM    SOUTH

Sam Jones -    12:15        WEST

Miles Clark -    12:30        EAST

Sam Kuo -    12:45        NORTH

Fiona Sergeant -    1:00        SOUTH

Will Schorre -    1:15        EAST

Mike Arreaga -    1:30        SOUTH

Helen Jackson-Adams -    1:45        WEST

Dylan Young -    2:00        SOUTH

Qian Zeng -    2:15        NORTH

Shawn Cook -    2:30        SOUTH

Andrew Kim -    2:45        WEST

Matt Lewicki -    3:00        NORTH

Sydney Spann –     3:15        EAST

Louise Lee/ Gihea Nho -    3:30        SOUTH

Jared Brown/ Adi Shachar -    3:45        NORTH

Cry Baby -    4:00        EAST

Dingding Hu/ Catherine Akins -    4:15        SOUTH

Nicole Lee -    4:30        WEST

Keaton Johnson -    4:45        SOUTH

Ian Privett -    5:00        EAST

Niki Murphy -    5:15        SOUTH

Boone Snavely -    5:30        NORTH

Richelle Vargas -    5:45        EAST

Matt Sullivan  -    6:00        WEST

Cloudsplitter (EP)

Back in October 2012, I released an EP focusing on a hybrid of old-time mountain music and instrumental hip-hop. Cloudsplitter consists of six tracks that I recorded while teaching myself to play banjo, in connection with two other projects: a cantata for a loop trail in the forest, and a soundtrack for a film focused on the lives of mountain people. You can listen to the EP here, or download it for $5 from Bandcamp:

You can also read a review of Cloudsplitter in Baltimore’s City Paper here.

ZeroTime Operations

Composed for Mobtown Modern (Baltimore, Maryland) and Recover Band (Rome, Italy), “ZeroTime Operations” is a graphic score and audio collage based on samples from vinyl records, serving as a foundation for improvisation between ensembles in two different countries and time zones, connected through Skype.

Featuring samples of music by: Microkingdom, Susan Alcorn, Daniel Blacksburg, Sun Ra, Lionel Hampton, Olivier Messiaen, The Art Ensemble of Chicago, Igor Stravinsky, World Saxophone Quartet, Morton Subotnick, Hector Villa-Lobos, The Normal, Santo & Johnny, Ennio Morricone, Miles Davis, Lukas Foss, Daft Punk, J.S. Bach, and Nikolai Chaikin, along with a test tone record.

The performance is imagined to take place in the future, following a collapse of the global economy, a loss of digital communications for 20 years, and a dark era of isolationist and totalitarian governments across the globe. Following a revolution, an experimental reconstruction of global communications has begun, led by musicians who aim to establish a new international mode of musical communication. The only surviving audio recordings from the past are vinyl records. These form the basis for live improvisation, directed by a graphic score and a system of visual cues between the two groups of performers.

Social media communications between participants – performers and audience alike – may guide digging expeditions in each city’s used record stores, as a preparation for the performance. Twitter users are encouraged to communicate about records that will be brought to the performance, using the hashtag “#stickerloop”. Attendees are invited to bring old records featuring any of the following instruments (solo, or as prominent as possible): clarinet, synthesizer, drum kit, or bass guitar. These correspond to instruments that will be played live by the group in Rome- Recover Band. They, in turn will perform with records featuring instruments to be played by a small group Baltimore musicians, presented by Mobtown Modern Sound Lab at MICA.

The full version of “ZeroTime Operations” was premiered as the opening event of The Vigil all-night music festival. Saturday, April 28, 2012, at Maryland Institute College of Art.

The audio with this video is a fixed electronic version of the piece, which could be used in a performance situation without access to the full live electronics. It consists of two separately performed parts. The first of these I played on turntable and Kaoss Pad, running into Ableton Live. I performed the second part on a Traktor Kontrol S4 (digital turntable controller), using both Traktor Pro 2.5 and Max For Live (mapping the jog wheels to control multiple effect parameters simultaneously). Much of my work on the live electronics for this project was done during my time with a group of MICA students in residence at STEIM (Studio for Electro-Instrumental Music) in Amsterdam in March 2012.

Video produced with the assistance of Itay Niv.

Skyline Drive

My studio at Wildacres

During an artist residency at Wildacres in North Carolina back in May, I began exploring some new stylistic hybrids inspired by my newly acquired banjo. The composition that I sketched out during the residency, entitled Cantata For A Loop Trail: Land, Water, Memory, is a long term project for the group Rhymes With Opera, based on poetry by Wendell Berry as well as some recorded elements that will be specific to each location in which the work is performed.

Following my return to Baltimore, I experimented with some samples from the developing cantata that I had recorded on banjo and melodica, as loops to be remixed live in the context of my improvised hip hop series, Baltimore Boom Bap Society. As a byproduct of all this, I composed and recorded a new track, Skyline Drive, on which I played all the various instruments (complimenting the aforementioned banjo and melodica with violin, soprano and alto recorders, Irish harp, classical guitar, and some MIDI instruments). This track will be part of an upcoming EP that will focus on an acoustic instrumentation composed of parts that I perform myself, combining classical, folk, and hip hop elements.

The Vigil 2012

Mapping the cardinal directions to the space of the Cohen Plaza

The Vigil [all-night music festival]

Saturday, April 28, 2012, at 6:30 PM (until 7:30 AM the following day). RAIN SPACE: Atrium of the Brown Center and Cohen Plaza, 1301 Mount Royal Ave., Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore. Free event.

Two years ago I premiered my doctoral dissertation piece, Mandala of the Four Directions, and with it, the first all-night music festival known as The Vigil. Now in its third year on the Cohen Plaza at MICA, The Vigil will feature performances by Baltimore artists and bands including Yeveto, Wendel Patrick, Geodesic Gnome, dead mellotron, Tendrills, jason.sloan, Chris Pumphrey Sextet, Liz Meredith & John Somers, plus performances and installations from students in MICA’s sound courses this semester- Sound Art & Sound Installation Art.

Four stages surround the plaza, representing the cardinal points. Individual performances can thus overlap. At the same time, a few performances (including one by the STEIM Sound Project Studio group: Andrew Scotti, Faith Bocian, Tyler Tamburo, Shawn Cook, Sasha de Koninck, Jason Sloan & myself) will utilize all four sound systems at the same time.

The opening act of The Vigil will take place in the Brown Center atrium- the premiere of my latest piece, ZeroTime Operations, which will use Skype to bring together local performers (representing Mobtown Modern) and a group called Recover Band, based in Rome. I will be assisted with the live electronics by students in my Sound Art class.

Full Schedule for The Vigil:

**Sound sculptures & installations from Jason Sloan’s Sound Installation Art class will be placed throughout the space**

6:30 PM – Mobtown Modern presents the premiere of “ZeroTime Operations”, a networked performance in collaboration with Recover Band (Rome), composed by Erik Spangler [Brown Center atrium]

7:40 – STEIM Sound Project Studio: Tyler Tamburo, Sasha de Koninck, Andrew Scotti, Faith Bocian, Shawn Cook, Erik Spangler & Jason.Sloan
[Cohen Plaza- North, South, East & West stages]

8:00 – Geodesic Gnome [South stage]

8:20 – Essays [West stage]

8:40 – Wendel Patrick [North stage]

9:00 – Yeveto [South stage]

9:20 – Chris Pumphrey Sextet [West stage]

9:40 – Tendrills [East stage]

10:00 – dead mellotron [South stage]

**transition to ambient/downtempo stage of the night**
10:20 – Chang Park [North stage]

10:40 – Liz Merideth & John Somers [East stage]

11:00 – jason.sloan & Erik Spangler [West stage]

11:20 – Ray Van Ha [North stage]

11:40 – Shawn Cook & jason.sloan [South stage]

**midnight until dawn: performances by members of Erik Spangler’s Sound Art class**
12:00 – 4 corners improv I

12:20 – Josh Newcomb [East stage]

12:40 – Zoe Burke [South stage]

1:00 – Itay Niv [West stage]

1:20 – Devon Brown [North stage]

1:40 – James Padham [East stage]

2:00 – Greg Murphy [West stage]

2:20 – Katie Ball [North stage]

2:40 – Amanda McMicken [South stage]

3:00 – Tsai Lian [West stage]

3:20 – Sophie Monosmith [East stage]

3:40 – Joshua Nissim [South stage]

4:00 – Alex Leggin [North stage]

4:20 – Michelle Shen [West stage]

4:40 – Matthew Thompson [South stage]

5:00 – 4 corners improv II

5:20 – Rachel Jones [East stage]

5:40 – Rose He [North stage]

6:00 – Jeremy Cain [South stage]

6:20 – Josh Burke [West stage]

6:40 – Caitlin Reid [East stage]

7:00 AM – Robin Foster [West stage]

7:30 – end

MICA Invades STEIM

MICA sound students Tyler Tamburo, Shawn Cook, and Sasha de Koninck

During spring break at Maryland Institute College of Art, sound concentration chair Jason Sloan and I took a group of five students to STEIM (Studio for Electro-Instrumental Music) in Amsterdam for a 10-day residency. I came to STEIM for an orientation workshop back in 2010, and had been interested in making this residency happen for awhile. Through my discussions with STEIM program coordinator Jonathan Reus, plus Jason and I meeting a few times with the Continuing Studies office at MICA, we were able to make it a reality. We now have a course number for this and will hopefully be making this trip every year. We are also working on how to bring artists from STEIM over to give a series of workshops at MICA, hopefully starting in the next school year.

At the end of the residency, the students had all developed their own instruments, using various types of sensors, and performed on a STEIM Concept Stage show. Incidentally, while we were over there, we learned that we were the first group of undergraduates from any institution to do a residency at STEIM. They truly rocked it.

Check out the video below for a view into the inaugural Sound Project Studio.

On the same show, in residence at STEIM at the same time by chance, were composer/vocalist Ken Ueno and clarinetist Gregory Oakes. Ken and I went to grad school together and had last collaborated in performance in 2004, while Greg and I were meeting for the first time- finally transitioning from Facebook friends to real friends. Jason and I got to do a short improv set with Ken and Greg at the beginning of the Concept Stage show. The video is posted below.

John Cage Remixes: Mobtown Modern Sound Lab

One of the more original options for a Valentine’s Day night out in Baltimore was presented this past February by Mobtown Modern at the 2640 Space, as pianist Adam Tendler was in town to perform John Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano. Tendler performed the work from memory, beautifully and with a real sense of owning it, drawing out those emotional qualities that were still a conscious part of Cage’s music in this early stage.

My role at the concert was in three parts: I was DJing before and after the performance, I played some of my own tracks that I had created the day before and the day of the show based on Cage prepared piano samples, and I set up microphones to record the performance- so that my students at MICA could create remixes or sample-based beats from samples of the recording.

I talked with Adam after the performance about the idea of doing a live remix of the Cage Sonatas and Interludes at some point, and we both agreed that we should make it happen. As a first step toward this collaboration, I made a fourth prepared piano-based beat, this one based on Adam’s performance. In tribute to Cage, my choices for many of the shorter snippets and more percussive bits of sound to use in the patterns were selected by SoundCloud’s display of which tracks from the performance had been least downloaded by my students. The main loop, however, was selected by virtue of my really liking it- very un-Cage.

Here is the EP of all four beats, with the Tendler-based track placed first: