Review: WSG gallery presents: Lynda Cole with North


North 36h x 48w x 2d [beeswax, resin, pigment] / Image courtesy of Lynda Cole, through the WSG Gallery

"North" 36"h x 48"w x 2"d [beeswax, resin, pigment] / Image courtesy of Lynda Cole, through the WSG Gallery

In Lynda Cole’s hands, North is not only a primer in the emotional power of abstract art—it’s ultimately as much a state of mind.

Granted by this local artist’s definition, “north” is a psychological place, but when seen at downtown Ann Arbor’s WSG Gallery, North is as much a time as it is a place. And it’s in this fusing of time and space—both melding a particular state of mind—where “north” resides.

“My future travel will have to have ice in it,” Cole says in her gallery statement. “Where ice is found I encounter stillness, a beautiful quality of light, large horizons of the sea and sky and the color and purity of the ice. These things contribute to a feeling of tranquility I don’t find in most other places.

“On a recent trip to the Arctic during the midnight sun,” continues Cole, “early one particular morning, I looked out over the Arctic Ocean and felt as if I was Alice falling down the rabbit hole. The sea was entirely still with bits of ice in it.

“The light quality of the sky was a pale palette, striped and moody. It felt unlike Earth.”

This moodiness is reasonable as what Cole seems to mean is that “north” is as much an expressive place as it is physical location. But as a depiction of emotion, it might not also be much of a stretch to say it’s rather a way of life: A durable outlook that’s as much equal part exaltation as it is seclusion.

Solitude gets short shrift today. The pace of contemporary life so often hurries our sense of self, the mere act of checking one’s perception of the environment can seem more of a burden than did the leisurely appreciation of the sublime in prior eras not so long ago. And although the exhibit is much more; if nothing else, North encourages a leisurely appreciation of the sublime.

“The paintings in this exhibition are painted with beeswax, Damar resin and dry colored pigments on various substrates,” says Cole of her work’s technical expertise. “Many layers of wax are painted on the substrate and heated with a torch to fuse them to layers below. It’s an ancient technique which has enjoyed a certain revival during the past 50 years or so.”

A certain revival, indeed—fusing her layers of wax with heat to bond her working surface to a high gloss luminosity, Cole’s wax is sculpted and combined with collage material to create swaths of incandescent facture whose flaring textures reflect a subdued solemnity. But it’s also a solemnity with purpose.

The title work illustrates the stunning effect Cole can craft with her materials. “North”—36” x 48” with an impressive two-inch depth—is a meticulous masterwork whose frosty pigments compete with beeswax to create a moody visage of abstracted ice and air. The work’s upper and lower irregular grids flank, yet do not quite contain, a center of competing blue fields whose incandescent depth pull the viewer’s eyes into the composition more by suggestion than articulation.

Not quite improvisation, for Cole’s command of her materials is far too controlled for this laxity, yet loosely enough crafted to allow for nonrepresentational inventiveness, “North” instead reflects an emotional timbre whose resonance strikes a firm expressive state. What’s outwardly rigid in its appearance is also nuanced in its form. For “North” is a kind of painting that requires a contemplative deliberation and willingness to explore the infinity of its surface.

It’s also a call for a thoughtful appreciation of our environs—here and elsewhere.

One of six other such considered paintings on display, North like the rest of Cole’s latest offerings at WSG follows in the unhurried continuum of her art. Her work is a reminder that art nature (like nature) often unfolds meditatively in its own time and in its own manner. We must merely follow in the imaginative manner of our forebears to appreciate splendor on its own terms.


John Carlos Cantú has written extensively on our community's visual arts in a number of different periodicals.


North will run at the WSG Gallery, 306 S. Main Street, through December 6, 2015. The WSG Gallery is open Tuesday-Wednesday, noon–6 pm; Thursday, noon-9 pm; Friday-Saturday, noon-10 pm; and Sunday 12-5 pm. For information, call 734-761-2287.

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Review: Arlo Guthrie: The Alice's Restaurant 50th Anniversary Tour


Arlo Guthrie brought the whole family along to the Michigan Theater

Arlo Guthrie brought the whole family along to the Michigan Theater

He flew us into Los “Angeleez”, then to the City of New Orleans, on to Stockbridge Massachusetts (where the Massacree occurred) and then to Woodstock. It was family night for Arlo and the Guthries, and the capacity crowd at the Michigan Theater loved every minute of music and stories.

I snagged a last-minute single ticket among the few left from everyone’s favorite online ticket marketer (who shall, like Voldemort, remain nameless), and headed up to balcony right for a seat at the rail with perfect sight lines to the stage. What a spectacular and rich venue the Michigan is. I secretly hoped that the mighty Barton organ would provide a processional as we were seated – it did not.

The evening began with Sarah Lee Guthrie who joined her dad’s tour a few weeks ago as an opener. Growing up in her father’s musical world (as Arlo did with his dad Woody) Sarah appeared on Arlo’s work as both a toddler and an adolescent, and has today established a solid singer-songwriter-storyteller reputation of her own since she began recording in 2001. She channeled her dad’s stories on stage, and her grand-dad’s lyrics and music to provide a delightful introduction to a Guthrie generational anthology that was told through the rest of the evening.

The three generations have all written songs especially for children, and Sarah has made a specialty of it in recent years. She delighted the crowd with a spirited sing-along "Go Waggaloo" from Woody’s catalog. She played lovely standards in her own style such as Tim Hardin’s "If I Were A Carpenter", followed with one of her grandfather’s most loved songs "I’ve Got to Know" and finished her portion of the evening with her own "Circle of Souls".

To be clear, Sarah can hold her own, on her own, in any roots, folk, or Americana venue. There’s no need for her to borrow from that legacy to make her performance powerful. She is proud to sing her heritage on stage, and you can see that same family pride in the face of Arlo’s son Abe as he leads the band with keyboard and provides supporting vocals. The rest of the band that supported Sarah and Arlo features drummer Terry Hall, guitarist and vocalist Bobby Sweet, and guitarist Darren Todd.

As Sarah left the stage, the ornately vaulted Michigan Theater did not brighten as it would for intermission. A large screen flickered to life at the rear of the stage as we heard the first chords of "The Motorcycle Song" accompanied by a stop-motion animated short created almost 40 years ago entitled No, No, Pickle. What a delightful way to bring out a vital and still funny-as-hell songwriter, Arlo Guthrie.

Displaying youthful energy and a slightly raw throat strained by touring – Arlo Guthrie hammered out a classics-studded evening of music and stories that kept the capacity crowd laughing and singing along all evening. He first measured the crowd’s age: “For those of you who heard about this concert and asked, ‘isn’t he dead?’… well, I’m workin’ on it.”

While prefacing a story about Woodstock, he quipped, “Well, I remember getting there…” and then told the story of his history-making appearance in front of “more people than I knew I would ever see again in my entire life” while in a significantly altered state of consciousness. It was just what we wanted to hear from an icon of the era, and he kept all generations in the audience enthralled with story and song.

Arlo Guthrie Set List – November 9, 2015 – Michigan Theater

1. The Motorcycle Song
2. Chilling of the Evening
3. St. James Infirmary (Joe Primrose)
4. Ballad of Me and My Goose
5. Pig Meat Blues (Leadbelly)
6. Coming Into Los Angeles

Intermission

7. Alice's Restaurant Massacree
8. I Hear You Sing Again (Janis Ian)
9. City of New Orleans (Steve Goodman)
10. Highway in the Wind
11. This Land Is Your Land (Woody Guthrie)
12. My Peace (Woody Guthrie)

The crowd lit up for the most memorable tunes, including a rousing back-to-the-60s rendition of Coming into Los Angeles to close the first set. The story of the infamous “massacree” – the namesake of Guthrie’s 50th Anniversary Tour – top-lined the second set, and you could tell the audience had not gotten tired of the telling. Somehow, Arlo told the story as though for the first time – so that those listening for the first time would not be short-changed. “If I’d known the song would be so popular, I wouldn’t have made it so long.”

According to Arlo, Steve Goodman gave him a song he had just written, "City of New Orleans", to hand off to Johnny Cash. Arlo recounted that Johnny was concerned that one more train song might pigeon-hole him…to Arlo’s eternal benefit. The words to Arlo’s greatest ballad were on almost everyone’s lips in the audience. Mr. Guthrie also presented himself as an accomplished musician throughout the evening, brandishing a number of acoustic and electric guitars and a keyboard. Most enticing was the blue-to-black Rainsong 12-string acoustic as it jangled its carbon-fiber sound across the theater as if on its own dedicated speakers.

Arlo rolled up the evening with more of his own stuff like "Highway in the Wind", a lesser-known but no-less-special cut from his 1967 breakout album, Alice’s Restaurant. He included a sweet cover of Woody & Janis Ian’s "I Hear You Sing Again" as if he was singing of his own family, and then explained that he lost his wife of 43 years, Jackie, to cancer in 2012. Arlo may still be grieving, but remains wistfully positive on stage. He spoke of their meeting in 1968, and how Jackie knew she would marry Arlo the moment she saw him. You can see the result of their love on the stage with Arlo in Sarah and Abe.

The whole family took the stage for the Guthrie past patriarch’s masterpiece "This Land Is our Land", and Arlo spoke of the song: "as though in the multitudes of re-singing by so many millions of people, the song has now acquired its own spirit and weight in the universe. He bade us goodbye by passing his peace to us – My Peace – from he and his family to the audience".

Arlo and his family are an extraordinary example of the age-old practice of passing on passion and skills from one generation to another. They don’t just want to sing their father’s – and his father’s – songs. It’s not just good folk music or good money or good politics. They must sing them. It’s a family thing.

Many, many thanks to The Ark and to the Michigan Theater for bringing the Guthrie family back to Ann Arbor.

A very similar audio version of this great live event is available on Spotify. Check it out.


Don Alles is a marketing consultant, house concert host, and musical wannabee living in and loving his recently adopted home, Ann Arbor.

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Review: Also Like Life: The Films of Hou Hsiao-hsien Fall 2015 Chinese Film Festival


Dust in the Wind, directed by Hou Hsiao-hsien, kicked off the Also Like Life: The Films of Hou Hsiao-hsien Fall 2015 Chinese Film Festival

Dust in the Wind, directed by Hou Hsiao-hsien, kicked off the "Also Like Life: The Films of Hou Hsiao-hsien Fall 2015 Chinese Film Festival"

Hou Hsiao-hsien’s film Dust In the Wind opens with the puzzling image of a tiny rectangular shape, its top rounded, hovering against a black background. It appears at first to be an animated image, crudely rendered given the film’s 1986 release date. But it quickly becomes clear that we are swiftly traveling towards the image, rather than it floating towards us, and that it’s not a man-made drawing but a depiction of natural splendor. The shape is the light at the end of a pitch-black train tunnel, and the camera swiftly explodes out of the passage to reveal the stunning greens of the lush forest beyond.

This striking opening shot may be the most obvious way Taiwanese director Hou leads us to find beauty in seemingly mundane moments in Dust In the Wind, but it’s certainly not the last. The film screened Monday at the Michigan Theater to kick off “Also Like Life: The Films of Hou Hsiao-hsien,” a series of free screenings running through Nov. 11. The plot of Dust In the Wind is simple, almost pedestrian: a young couple, Ah-yuan (Wang Chien-wen) and Ah-yun (Xin Shufen), seek to escape their impoverished life in a Taiwanese mining town. Mining life has already left Ah-Yuan’s father injured and at the mercy of greedy pharmaceutical providers. Ah-yuan and Ah-yun travel to Taipei, where they take tedious jobs–he as a print shop assistant, she as a seamstress–to send money home and to fund their own night school and eventual wedding. They make a few friends and go out to drink and socialize when they can. Hardly leading a robust life to begin with, Ah-yuan and Ah-yun face their greatest challenge yet when the draft board calls Ah-yuan up for a lengthy tour of military service.

Hou is noted as a major voice in the Taiwanese New Wave cinema of the ‘80s, which emphasized realistic stories of everyday life in Taiwan. As such, having noted the rather bleak circumstances of Ah-yuan and Ah-yun’s lives and their tenuous young love, it’s not too difficult to predict the fate that will befall their relationship when Ah-yuan departs for the military. But Hou finds many a moment of warmth, beauty and wisdom in what could be a much more harrowing tale. He repeatedly frames the exterior of Ah-yuan’s family home in an extreme wide shot, encouraging us to appreciate not only the colorful hustle and bustle on the steps of the home but also the action that takes place in the courtyard beyond. There’s even gentle humor in the tale, as when Ah-yuan’s father accidentally lights a firecracker rather than a candle in the dark. (Ah-yuan’s grandfather, beautifully played by Li Tian-lu, is a repeated source of both sly humor and somewhat dark wisdom.) Hou repeatedly directs us toward the kindness and love in this dark story, from family members comfortably sharing food and drink to Ah-yun quietly nursing Ah-yuan back to health during a bout of bronchitis.

As the title of the film would suggest, the characters seem battered by life’s trials, cast adrift in an uncaring world they have little ability to fully comprehend, let alone control. But in the many warmer moments Hou creates here, he also seems to suggest that the characters are equally ignorant of some of the gifts that are present in their lives. It seems no mistake that Hou follows his spectacular opening POV shot from the train with a shot of Ah-yun and Ah-yuan onboard the vehicle, complacently reading, paying no attention to the spectacular scenery we’ve just been treated to. In a simple but metaphor-laden exchange between Ah-yuan and his grandfather at the film’s end, it’s difficult to tell just how much our characters’ eyes have really been opened. But Hou has certainly opened our eyes to some of the beauty in these difficult lives, and perhaps encouraged us to think differently about our own lives as well.

The “Also Like Life” series will continue through Nov. 11 with the following free screenings at the Michigan Theater:

  • Flowers of Shanghai screens Nov. 10 at 6 pm. Multiple prominent film critics have named this elegant, slow-paced 1998 film following the courtesans and patrons in four different brothels as one of the best movies of the ‘90s. The film stars Tony Leung, well-known for his appearances in Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood For Love and Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution.
  • Good Men, Good Women screens Nov. 11 at 5 pm. This 1995 release concludes a trilogy of historical films by Hou, preceded by 1989’s A City of Sadness and 1993’s The Puppetmaster. The story of a Taiwanese couple who journey to the Chinese mainland to fight the Japanese during the 1940s is told as a film within a film about an actress who is preparing to play the role of one of the main characters.
  • Millennium Mambo screens Nov. 11 at 7 pm. The 2001 film follows a young woman’s work life and romantic entanglements at the beginning of the new millennium. Although Hou uses vibrant cinematography and techno music in his storytelling, his portrait of recent youth culture is dark and somewhat despairing.

Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer whose work appears regularly in the Detroit News, the Ann Arbor Observer, and other local publications. He can be heard most Friday mornings at 8:40 am on the Martin Bandyke morning program on Ann Arbor's 107one.


The “Also Like Life” series will continue through Nov. 11 with the following free screenings at the Michigan Theater: Flowers of Shanghai on Nov. 10 at 6 pm; Good Men, Good Women on Nov. 11 at 5 pm; and Millennium Mambo on Nov. 11 at 7 pm. More information can be found on the University of Michigan Kenneth G. Lieberthal and Richard H. Rogel Center for Chinese Studies page.

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Preview: David Mitchell reading from his new novel Slade House


David Mitchell brings his latest novel Slade House to Ann Arbor this Saturday

David Mitchell brings his latest novel Slade House to Ann Arbor this Saturday / Photo by Paul Stuart

Author David Mitchell will be giving a reading from his newest novel Slade House this Saturday, November 7, in the sanctuary of the First United Methodist Church, followed by a conversation with author and UM faculty member Peter Ho Davies. Fans of speculative fiction may be familiar with Mitchell through his previous novels including The Bone Clocks, number9dream, and, most famously, Cloud Atlas. This event is sponsored by Literati and University of Michigan Helen Zell Writers' Program.

Slade House is an outgrowth of Mitchell's last novel, The Bone Clocks, set in the same universe. It started as a short story that Mitchell published on Twitter. This story, revised and added to, is now the first chapter of Slade House. It might be this that we have to thank for the fact that this novel is by far Mitchell's shortest and by all accounts his most accessible.

As with several of Mitchell's books, Slade House makes use of multiple narrators and crosses through time, each section set nine years later than the previous. Every 40 pages or so we get a new narrator and the degree to which we are pulled into the life of each protagonist is astounding. A fully imagined character with a complete backstory and well-drawn secondary characters emerges in the first dozen pages every time. Each of these stories has a definite ending before a new narrator takes over, so Mitchell doesn't fall into the trap of Italo Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveler of leaving the reader hanging before moving on, never to return (though perhaps this is only a trap for those of us who want those books-within-the-book to keep going). In Slade House, you understand very quickly where each of these stories is going, and the inevitable ending of each.

To some extent it begins to feel like a procedural, a backwards Law & Order where you know the culprit, you know the crime, you know the ending, and it is the main character/detective (one time a literal detective) and the situation that switches out. The result of this is that by the second story you start reading it like a mystery, looking for patterns and clues (was that jogger there the last time? what's the significance of the grandfather clock? why the portraits?).

Slade House is difficult to classify; at first it seems to be a ghost story. But it isn't quite horror, as it isn't horrifying. And though it starts off with the trappings of a classic ghost story, by the end of the first section, it becomes something else, and by 2/3 through the novel, it is apparent that what you are reading is no less than high fantasy. There is a haunted house, sure, and there are ghosts, yes. But the ghosts aren't the thing to be scared of, and what does the haunting is far less malicious than the house being haunted. The final section of the novel and its ending did not appeal to me, but that's a matter of taste, not a failing on Mitchell's part. A high fantasy ending felt a bit like a bait-and-switch to me, but that's because I want my ghost stories to be ghost stories. Those more in sync with epic battles between forces of light and darkness will be more sympathetic to it.

The biggest failing of this novel may actually be how well thought-out its world is; Mitchell has so much to explain about what is happening that at times it starts to feel like the latest Bond villain laying out his whole plan. But this exposition is necessary as Mitchell needs you to understand what is happening for it all to come together. And it never gets bad enough that all of the magic is stripped out (no midi-chorians here), just enough that you get pulled out of the world by it. But the fact that new worlds are created again and again in the span of 240 pages is in itself an achievement that makes Slade House well worth the read.


Andrew MacLaren is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library and the only parlors he haunts are pizza parlors.


David Mitchell's reading takes place this Saturday, November 7, at 6 pm (doors open at 5:15 pm) in the sanctuary of the First United Methodist Church. A copy of Slade House is included in the $30 admission price (this price also includes entry for either one or two people). Tickets are available online.

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Review: Tubas on Film


Octubafest brought film and horns together for Celluloid Tubas

Octubafest brought film and horns together for Celluloid Tubas

There's so much going on in town every weekend, it's easy to overlook the multiple waves of consistently astounding student recitals coming out of the UM Music School. But to do so risks missing some extremely rare opportunities to hear top-notch musicians tackle enormously exciting and engaging work, such as last weekend's simply jaw-dropping Celluloid Tubas performance, put on by the University of Michigan's Euphonium and Tuba Ensemble (UMETE), led by visiting conductor and arranger E. Todd Fiegel.

Fiegel and UM Tuba & Euphonium Professor Fritz Kaenzig met as students and have remained friends ever since; Fiegel arrangements and appearances have been periodic features of Octubafest concerts over the years. Fiegel is a lifelong fan of film and film scores, and has brought his challenging and faithful arrangements of famous film themes to brass ensembles across the country through his Celluloid Tubas and Celluloid Brass series. The program for last Sunday's recital at the Stamps Auditorium on North Campus featured eight of Fiegel's arrangements of famous film themes for Professor Kaenzig's ridiculously talented Tuba & Euphonium students, accompanied by a team of five percussionists, each set of pieces played in sync with video.

It's not unheard of for a live ensemble to play along with a video; in fact there are several touring arrangements of video game or film music, such as the Legend of Zelda tour (that comes as close as that town to the south in 2016), and most of these shows use a digital click track in earphones, or a special video feed for the conductor, to show exactly when each beat must happen for the music to stay in sync with the video. The Celluloid Tubas Show utilized no sync tools at all; Feigel simply watched the video on the screen along with the audience, and conducted the ensemble to keep the music matched up with the action. This was an extremely impressive feat, demonstrating Feigel's deep knowledge of the scenes and the scores, and while not every beat was precisely perfect, the musicianship on display by the conductor and the ensemble was simply staggering.

Starting off with a suite of themes from Bruce Boughton's score for Silverado (1985), the richness and warmth of a Tuba & Euphonium ensemble was immediately on display, very well suited to the panorama-evoking score from the film and the Coplandesque open harmonies that are shorthand for cowboy movies. Beef, it's what's for dinner. Feigel carefully set the stage for each section, explaining what was going on with the plot and how the score amplified and reflected the emotions, while lovingly protecting the audience from spoilers, such as that Kevin Kline would not die in the climactic gunfight against Brian Dennehy.

The next piece was a very famous sequence from 1955's The 7th Voyage of Sinbad: the epic Skeleton Fight, scored by Bernard Herrmann, who went on to score most of Hitchcock's best films, including, as Feigel noted, the music-less score of The Birds. The ensemble did an amazing job with a very difficult piece, and my post-millennial 13 year-old son was also astounded by the quality of Ray Harryhausen's entirely hand-animated special effects. Even all these years later, that post-production Skeleton is convincing in a way of which Jar Jar Binks can only dream.

The first half of the concert featured what Feigel described as "Two vocal soloists at the top of their game," in an arrangement he calls It Ain't Over 'til the Fat Instrument Plays. My son and I had this one pegged for What's Opera, Doc? from the moment we got the program in hand, and we were delighted to be right, with the original vocal performances carefully separated from the original music and accompanied by the power of an ensemble of which Wagner could barely have imagined. Also, it was only 5 minutes long, which Wagner certainly could not have imagined.

The second half began with one of the most famous fusions of animation and music ever produced, Paul Dukas' The Sorcerer's Apprentice. Arranging this woodwind-heavy piece for a low brass ensemble truly showed off Feigel's chops as an arranger, as well as the ranges of the performers, but the truly impressive feat was the timing of the very specific, spread out beats at moments in the short, such as when the splintered broomsticks come back to life, or the final potch Mickey receives at the end of the short. Every single pulse of the music is evident in Disney's animation, and the ensemble nailed them all.

Of course, you can't do a program of Movie Music without something by John Williams, and Fiegel brought three outstanding picks from Williams' catalog. Send in the Clones is the score of the final scene of the otherwise execrable Attack of the Clones, where the famous Imperial March is heard for the first time, a piece extremely well suited to the naturally sinister Euphonium. Then, after a beautiful but undeniably maudlin excerpt from Saving Private Ryan, the ensemble launched into Fiegel's vrOOM vrOOM Scherzo, an arrangement of William's Scherzo for Motorcycle and Orchestra that scores Henry Jones Jr. and Senior's escape from the Nazis. One of the best bits of Indiana Jones music, this piece catches every bump and jostle of the scene with the Last Crusade's Nazi Theme underscoring throughout.

But the most impressive achievement of the evening, and the closing number, was Eine Kleine Tubamusik für Roadrunner und Coyote, a very faithful conversion of Carl Stalling and Milt Franklyn's score for the Roadrunner Cartoon Zoom and Bored. The scoring of a Roadrunner cartoon is so distinctive, from the alternating fury and depression of Wile E. Coyote's efforts, to the signature xylophone blinks of confusion, that despite the unusual instrumentation, the score fit right in, from the Beyooooop to the That's All Folks. But you don't have to take my word for it, here's a video of a performance of the arrangement from a previous Celluloid Tubas show at Umich in 2005:

It was a delightful evening of film, commentary, rich tones, and lots of spit. UMETE is one of the most impressive ensembles on campus, and with arrangers like Todd Feigel pushing their boundaries, it's worth taking the time to see what Tubas and Euphoniums can do, without a full band holding them back.


Eli Neiburger is Deputy Director of the Ann Arbor District Library and was one of the worst Sousaphone players in the Michigan Marching Band.


You can stay on top of what the University of Michigan Tuba & Euphonium Studio is up to on their facebook page .

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Night Vale Book Tour Slays Hundreds


None of the attendees at the Welcome to Night Vale event recall host Dessa Darling or authors Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor devouring any audience members

None of the attendees at the Welcome to Night Vale event recall host Dessa Darling or authors Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor devouring any audience members (CC-by-NC)

It was a dark and stormy night.

Dreary gray clouds dragged themselves across a dreary gray sky. It was cold. It was raining.

Inside there was a shuffle of feet. The scrape of a door. A slight sense of…apprehension? And a sound. A peculiar sound. A murmur of hundreds of voices. A whisper of a thousand turning pages. A low hum. What was that peculiar, whispering, humming sound?

Oh. It was the sound of 500 podcast-obsessed book nerds vibrating in their seats waiting for the Welcome to Night Vale book tour to start.

On October 24th, the city of Ann Arbor opened wide its many sets of alien arms to welcome Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, creators of the popularly creepy and creepily popular Welcome to Night Vale podcast to town. The show is about a fictitious desert town where werewolves, ghosts, and mysterious lights in the night sky are familiar and routine, the weather is music, and the sleepy town’s supernatural goings-on are all calmly broadcast over the radio for everyone to hear.

Hosted by Literati Bookstore, Fink and Cranor came to Ann Arbor for an hour of questions, answers, and a brief reading as part of a nation-wide tour for their newly released novel Welcome to Night Vale.

Included in the price of the ticket were the following essential items:

-One seat (mostly for sitting, but possible for use as a shield against wild beasts, unknown hooded figures, or existential crises)
-One copy of the new book to take home and read to yourself, to your family, or loudly to strangers at the bus stop
-Human contact (optional)

In the auditorium of Emerson School, the authors took their seats on stage and faced the terrifying horde: hundreds of Night Vale fans wearing their most intricate costumes, their most supportive Night Vale T-shirts, screaming their sincerest screams of excitement.

For a fandom that prizes the mysterious, eerie, and monstrous so highly, it was probably the friendliest event I’ve ever been to.

Singer, rapper, and host Dessa Darling provided most of the questions and all of the enthusiasm allowed by law. She opened the event with a simple question for creator Joseph Fink: “If I were to corner your grandmother in an elevator, what would she have to say about Night Vale’s success?”

From there, it was pretty much a delightfully wacky journey from hilarious anecdotes about Welcome to Night Vale's narrator doing podcasts in his underwear to some Super Heavy Serious Metaphysical Stuff.

This was what impressed me most about the event. The questions, the authors' answers, and the brief reading of the book itself all proved the depth of feeling and philosophical thought that the Night Vale universe both creates for and evokes in its listeners.

I don’t know if you knew this, guys, but despite being pretty funny, Welcome to Night Vale is some deep shit.

Sure, the Q & A included questions as simple as “Do you think this book is going to be banned?” (to which Fink replied, “I hope so!”). But there were also questions as complex as asking the authors what it means to have a body, a physical form as a catalyst for all of your interactions with the world, and if our bodies ultimately determine our destinies.

Yeah. See? Deep.

As an occasional Night Vale podcast listener at an event that seemed to consist entirely of fans who had already heard all 80-or-so episodes and devoured half the book in the fifteen minutes between the hardback hitting their palms and the two creators appearing onstage, I realized one thing pretty quickly: the Night Vale fandom is one that makes you want to be pulled down into its gaping maw. The fans at this event cheered at everything. They clapped at everything. They laughed at everything. They told the guy who took to the microphone before the event had even started—the dude who was only up there to tell them the boring rules of safety and not to trample each other on the way out—that they loved him.

They screamed this. Repeatedly. And they meant it.

Between the positively-charged atmosphere of the event, the clearly devoted and downright pleasant fans, and the creators who have put way more thought into their writing than you might imagine, it was enough to make you wonder: Can I please take a bus to this Night Vale place, or do I need to be dropped from a mother ship into their town square?

Based on the brief 3-page reading done by Jeffrey Cranor and the 20 pages I got through while waiting for the show to start, readers of Welcome to Night Vale can expect the usual dark humor, a cast of strange and mysterious characters, an equally mysterious double-mystery, shape-shifters, sentient houses, and a lot of made-up quotes from famous people.

But, as Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “This is the end of the article.”


Nicole Williams is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library. She prefers her meat rare and has never been seen at work on a full moon.

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Music Preview: The Ragbirds Halloween Masquerade with Rhyta Musik


The Ragbirds bring their folk/indie rock concert/party to The Ark October 30

The Ragbirds bring their folk/indie rock concert/party to The Ark October 30

Still working on your Halloweekend plans? Tonight, the Ark welcomes The Ragbirds back to their hometown stage. The hard-working and hard-touring band is built around Erin Zindle, a musician who is as comfortable singing-while-playing violin as she is wielding an accordion.

This last year, Zindle and crew have been hard at work on their fifth studio record with Grammy-nominated producer Jamie Candiloro (Ryan Adams & The Cardinals, Willie Nelson), and this show gives fans a chance to hear much of that material prior to its 2016 release.

The Ragbirds often go all-out to celebrate this spooky holiday, and accordingly, this year’s performance goes beyond just a “show” — it’s a full-on masquerade, for the band and fans.

Rhyta Musik kicks off the revelry with their very own bombastic, vibrant take on traditional Eastern European folk melodies, already a hit around Ann Arbor at this last year's Water Hill Music Fest.

Come already decked out, or arrive early — there will be a special souvenir masquerade mask for the first 250 people.


Mariah Cherem is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library.


The Ragbirds' Halloween Masquerade with Rhyta Musik will be held tonight, Friday, October 30, at the Ark. Doors open at 7:30 pm, show starts at 8 pm. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased online in advance until 3pm or at the Ark Box office.

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Movie Review: That Strange Summer


That Strange Summer examines the VA Hospital Murders and the subsequent trial

That Strange Summer examines the VA Hospital Murders and the subsequent trial

In the summer of 1975, a number of patients at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Ann Arbor suffered sudden respiratory failure. Several patients died as a result. The FBI investigated and two Filipina nurses, Leonora Perez and Filipina Narcisco, were eventually convicted of injecting patients with a drug intended to incapacitate and kill them. This little-known story is the focus of That Strange Summer, a documentary by journalist and associate professor Geri Alumit Zeldes.

In interviews in the film, co-workers express doubt about the pair’s guilt, and question why another co-worker, who was obviously unstable, was not considered as more of a suspect. A victim’s family recounts the shock of these attacks, and the struggle to understand what had happened. An investigator shares the circumstantial evidence used to justify official suspicions. Throughout, the nurses stand by one another despite their shock at the accusations and the gravity of the situation. Their conviction met with protests, and on appeal, their conviction was overturned and the nurses were freed.

Filmmaker Zeldes unfolds this complicated story through archival news stories, FBI documents, and eye-opening interviews with investigators and former VA employees. The film examines stereotypes and perceptions that may have influenced the outcome of the investigation and trial. People in the film keep coming back in amazement that such a thing took place in Ann Arbor -- underlining that distrust of foreigners can exist anywhere, and the story of Narcisco and Perez shows just how far that distrust can go.


Sara Wedell is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library.


That Strange Summer is available to stream on aadl.org. You can also see the investigation and trial unfold through Ann Arbor News articles from the era from AADL’s Old News archive.

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Canoe Imagine ART?!


Turbine by  J. Neil Lawley, Heather Andrews, Jake Proffit, Dustin Lafromboise, and Hausman Metal Works / Allison Buck's Canoe Fan

"Turbine" by J. Neil Lawley, Heather Andrews, Jake Proffit, Dustin Lafromboise, and Hausman Metal Works / Allison Buck's "Canoe Fan"

Fall is fully upon us with the falling leaves, colder temps, and strong winds, but it's still a fantastic time of year to be outside and soak up everything that Ann Arbor's parks have to offer! There are now sculptures located in four of Ann Arbor's parks: Broadway Park, Gallup Park, Island Park, and Bandemeer Park. Canoe Imagine Art (CIA), which debuted in August, is a unique partnership created by ​The Arts Alliance, in cooperation with the City of Ann Arbor (the City) and the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission (AAPAC). CIA repurposes retired canoes and celebrates everything about the Huron River and the City's extraordinary park system. Four works of art were selected through a juried and public vote process.

Jeff Zischke's Canoe-vue / Ray Katz's Tulip

Jeff Zischke's "Canoe-vue" / Ray Katz's "Tulip"

The "Turbine" sculpture in Broadway Park is a kinetic piece that uses the canoes to create a visual wheel that spins and was inspired by the movement and occasional turbulence of the river. Gallup Park has a "Canoe Fan" that evokes the feeling of a rising sun. This piece really showcases the shape of the canoe and heightens it to a different beautiful form. Island Park is home to "Canoe-vue", turning two canoes cut in half into a functional place to sit - sitting in art to observe the art of nature. Lastly, Bandemeer Park is home to "Tulip" - 10 canoes standing vertically and meeting at one point in the middle. This piece celebrates the shape of the canoe while emulating a shape found in nature.

Before the rains turn to ice and the snow we're all hoping doesn't come (fingers crossed, El Nino!) covers the canoes get out there and explore the natural and sustainable art!


Erin Helmrich is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library - when it comes to water she prefers kayaks.

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No Guts, No Story: The Moth's Monthly Ann Arbor StorySLAM


StorySLAM happens mo(n)thly at Circus

StorySLAM happens mo(n)thly at Circus

Every month crowds gather at Circus for The Moth StorySLAM, Ann Arbor's live, local version of the hugely popular NPR radio show The Moth Radio Hour. Just like the show, Ann Arbor's StorySLAM features true, personal stories told by people of all ages, backgrounds, and storytelling skill-levels--as long as they've got the guts to get up on stage and tell.

At this past Tuesday’s Ann Arbor StorySLAM, storytellers had to bring twice the guts--because “Guts” was also this month's theme. Satori Shakoor, creator, producer, and host of The Secret Society of Twisted Storytellers, was StorySLAM's enthusiastic host, welcoming storytellers to the stage and reading brief “times I chickened out” anecdotes submitted by the audience in between stories. Storytellers displayed a wide range of abilities as they shared a diversity of "gutsy" stories. Opener Karin Lindstrom told a dramatic tale of having to kill a beloved horse, while eventual winner Lauren Trimble shared a tearful story of having to identify the body of her dead brother. Other storytellers interpreted “guts” more literally; KT Doud told a story of offending international hosts by refusing to eat intestine soup… and then accidentally furthering the offense with too many tequila shots.

Circus makes a great venue for the event, with its raised stage and combination of tables, chairs, and standing room. It’s fun to see the different abilities of the storytellers and their individual interpretations of each monthly theme. For those who don't faint dead away at the thought of public speaking, it's actually pretty easy to join in on one of these StorySLAMs. Those who wish to tell a story submit their name and 10 random storytellers are chosen to share their 5-minute story with the crowd and with a panel of judges. The StorySLAM winner continues on to compete in a larger GrandSLAM, a storytelling event with winners from StorySLAMs around the country.


Elizabeth Pearce is a Library Technician at the Ann Arbor District Library.


Ann Arbor's StorySLAM is sponsored by Michigan Radio and is held on the third Tuesday of every month at Circus. The event will be back on November 17, with the theme “Gifted,” and on December 15, with the theme “Joy.” Tickets are $9 each for nonparticipants, and you can buy them online in advance or at the door. For more information and Detroit dates, visit the Moth events website.

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