Sonic Cinema: Hydropark's "Circuit 2" features 18 songs to score your imaginary movie

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Hydropark at the Blind Pig, Fuzzfest 2018

Hydropark at Fuzzfest 2018 at The Blind Pig. Photo by Christopher Porter.

Hydropark's second album, Circuit 2, works like one of those vintage British or Italian library-music albums that feature short songs written to set moods in films and TV shows -- tunes with titles like "Creepy Street," "Misty Canyon," and "Blue Veils and Golden Sands."

Those compositions weren't concerned with key-changing bridges or clean denouements. They parachuted people into the middle of a groove and then extracted them before the mood was exhausted.

"The majority of both our [self-titled] first album and Circuit 2 is loosely structured jams, first takes, experiments, or songs we liked but weren't stylistically consistent with each other," said Hydropark guitarist Fred Thomas, who is joined in the band by drummer Chad Pratt, keyboardist Chuck Sipperley, and bassist Jason Lymangrover. "We looked to J Dilla's beat tapes as inspiration for this record. Collections of fragments and the best parts taken from longer recordings that switch to the next song at the first signs of boredom or disinterest."

Fright of the Honeybee: "Hive/Mind ii" at 22 North Gallery

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Honeybee by Jesi Evans Murphy

Golden Bee by Jesi Evans Murphy, mixed media embroidery.

The artists in the juried exhibition Hive/Mind ii at 22 North Gallery in Ypsilanti until September 28 have been thinking about honeybees -- a lot. The subject comes up once a year in September. This is the seventh iteration of the citywide Festival of the Honeybee, which includes honey tastings, musical performances, children's activities -- and this exhibition.  

The years since the inauguration of the festival have been eventful -- and not in a good way -- for this most useful and industrious of insects. As colony collapse disorder forces a public discussion of the damage humans can and do inflict on the environment, the artists of Hive/Mind ii creatively contemplate the relationship between human and honeybee as a metaphor for our relationship with the environment. Jurors Jessica Tenbusch, Elize Jekabson, Nan Plummer, and Maggie Spencer have selected artworks that reflect a range of media and conceptual approaches to the subject. 

Upon entering the gallery, visitors will see a richly colored painting by Kentucky-based artist Michele Newby Armstrong that incorporates the hexagonal cells of bees with what appears to be collaged advertising for the suspected culprit of colony collapse disorder, neonicotinoid pesticides. The artist makes extensive use of stencils that repeat the motif of cell and honeybee, resulting in a pleasing artwork that belies the underlying somber theme. Nearby, ceramic artist Jon Van Eck’s honey bee jug is a black-and-yellow presence. His usually comic tone is subdued here, but still cheerful and technically impressive.

Theater Nova’s "Admissions" is an outstanding, relevant drama 

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Theatre Nova's Admissions

Left to right: Joe Bailey as Bill, Jeremy Kucharek as Charlie, and Diane Hill as Sherri in Admissions by Joshua Harmon at Theatre Nova. Photo by Sean Carter Photography.

Theatre Nova does it again with an outstanding production of a play that is both an intimate family drama and a relevant piece of social commentary. 

Joshua Harmon’s Admissions is a precise, nuanced, and often funny take on the affirmative action debate and how it plays out in the real world. As the University of Michigan has long been at the center of the debate on affirmative action, the play has a special interest for Ann Arbor. Harmon doesn’t take sides; instead, he examines the tensions, the presumptions of white privilege and the hypocrisies of those with the best of intentions.

Sherri Rosen-Mason is the admissions officer for Hillcrest, an elite prep school in New Hampshire. Her husband Bill Mason is the school principal. They are white, well educated, politically liberal, and dedicated to making their school more racially and ethnically diverse.

But what happens when their ideals and good intentions suddenly conflict with the ambitions of their talented, intelligent son who wants to go to Yale.

Happy Halaloween: Exploring horror films in the Islamic world

FILM & VIDEO PREVIEW

Halaloween 2019

Marlon Brando's Perfecto leather. James Dean's brooding teenage rebellion. Marilyn Monroe's ethereal, platinum blonde beauty.

It's a testament to the power of Hollywood that so few words can summon such vivid 20th-century American iconography. 

Even no-frills popcorn fare like The Day After Tomorrow can have "significant impact" on public awareness according to a 2004 Yale study on Climate Change Risk Perception.

But if these pop-culture dreamscapes can embed in the cultures in which they were conceived, what happens when that product is consumed in foreign cultures, especially those with a different majority religion?

Two events at the University of Michigan will explore this question: Dr. Alireza Doostdar, assistant professor of Islamic studies and the anthropology of religion at the University of Chicago Divinity School, will discuss Hollywood Horror in Iran on Tuesday, September 24, at 4 pm in Room 555 of Weiser Hall and U-M's Global Islamic Studies Center and The Michigan Theatre will present Halaloween: A Muslim Horror Film Fest every Tuesday at 9 pm throughout October. Each film is presented free to the public with English subtitles.

Beer captivates and divides a family in J. Ryan Stradal's new Midwestern saga, "The Lager Queen of Minnesota"

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

J. Ryan Stradal and his book The Lager Queen of Minnesota

Author photo by Franco P. Tettamanti

Beer and pie remain constant for characters through rifts, tragedies, and changes in J. Ryan Stradal’s new book, The Lager Queen of Minnesota. The novel follows two sisters, Helen and Edith, as they come of age and make lives for themselves. Yet their paths diverge when Helen taps their father for all the money from the sale of the family farm, which divides the family. Edith becomes known for her pies, hops between service industry jobs, and endures several major losses, all while bottling her feelings about the uneven inheritance. Helen pores over chemistry and learns to make beer in college, and then she grows a large, successful brewery with the help of the farm proceeds. When Edith’s granddaughter, Diana, inadvertently enters the beer business, their paths head toward each other again.

Chapters in this plot-driven yet poignant novel alternate the focus between characters and are titled by various sums of money exchanged within them. The backstory and present lives of the three female main characters are blended throughout the chapters as Diana’s story parallels Helen’s in some ways. It is not only about what is happening or has happened, though. The novel also lingers on nostalgic or emotional moments. When Edith loses her husband, Stanley, the narrator describes that:

Her grief was a forest with no trails, and she couldn’t guess how long her heart would walk through it, as her body walked other places. For half a century, she had seen or spoken with this man almost every day, so his life didn’t end when he died; it found its way into cereal aisles and intersections and post office lines and conversations she didn’t intend.

It’s clear that Edith cares deeply about those around her even as she struggles to get by.

The characters don’t succumb to bitterness despite challenges to support themselves, and they celebrate their successes in an industry that fluctuates based on consumers’ preferences. Beer aficionados and foodies might appreciate the well-crafted descriptions of brewing methods and tasting notes. One passage describes “Grandma Edith’s Rhubarb-Pie-In-A-Bottle” ale as such:

The beer has a fluffy pink two-finger head and smells like malty rhubarb, so it’s certainly not out to fool anybody. ... This beer is flawed, wonderful, and strange in a way only a certain individual could devise, and it renders every other beer on the shelf a faceless SKU.

This review of her beer illustrates Edith’s and other characters’ work ethics and distinct Midwestern traits.

Stradal has first-hand knowledge of the setting, as he grew up in Minnesota. He now lives in Los Angeles and is a contributing editor at TASTE, an online magazine about food and cooking. His first novel is Kitchens of the Great Midwest. He reads at Literati Bookstore on Tuesday, September 24, at 7 pm, and I interviewed him ahead of time.

Encore Theatre's production of the Tony-winning "Fun Home" passes the test

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Encore Theatre's production of Fun House

Sarah Stevens as Big Alison in Encore Theatre's production of Fun Home. Photo by Michele Anliker.

When I first read Alison Bechdel’s 2006 graphic memoir Fun Home -- the basis for a Tony Award-winning musical of the same name, now on stage at Dexter’s Encore Theatre -- I immediately sent copies of the book out to my three closest girlfriends.

It wasn’t Christmas or anyone’s birthday, but I couldn’t contain myself. Bechdel’s groundbreaking, bracingly candid, and bittersweet chronicle of a family tragedy gripped me so profoundly that my first, undeniable impulse was to share her story with others.

The stage musical adaptation -- with music by Jeanine Tesori, and book and lyrics by Michigan’s own Lisa Kron -- necessarily pares Bechdel’s tale down to its essentials, but it’s no less poignant while depicting Bechdel’s gleeful, college-age “coming out” and, shortly thereafter, her closeted father’s sudden suicide.

At Encore, Sarah B. Stevens plays the always-on-stage, present-day version of Bechdel, who’s struggling to sketch out and narrate her family’s history. (The “Fun Home” of the title is the nickname Alison and her younger brothers had as kids for the funeral home that has long been the Bechdels’ “family business.”) As she draws, she remembers various moments from her childhood and college days as they play out in front of her, until she finally can’t resist inserting her present-day self into the last late-night drive she ever took with her father (Daniel C. Cooney), urging herself to say something that will alter the course of what’s about to happen.

Retired U-M professor Bruce Conforth co-authored the definitive biography of blues legend Robert Johnson

MUSIC WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Bruce Conforth and his book Up Jumped the Devil

Decades of painstaking research and meticulous attention to detail have led to the 2019 book Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson, which aims to rewrite and correct the story about the legendary bluesman. Co-authored by retired U-M professor Bruce Conforth and Gayle Dean Wardlow, this book entertains with facts, cut through myths, and lets readers learn about a man who has for too long been reduced to a single (and impossible) anecdote about trading his soul to the devil down at the crossroads in order to play the blues.

“When Columbia released its Thesaurus of Classic Jazz [in 1959], it was the first chance for most country-blues artists to have their recordings on a major label," Conforth says. "Most people didn’t even know that these folks existed. And on this record was Robert Johnson. … The liner notes said that he was the greatest blues musician there ever was, but we had nothing to compare him to and didn’t know anything about him. Almost immediately this mystique formed around Johnson while at the same time people were saying, ‘Oh, we’ll never know anything about him.’”

Conforth, who grew up in and around New York City during the 1960s folk revival, took that as a challenge.

Jazz From Ann Arbor by Mark Stryker

MUSIC PREVIEW

Bassist Robert Hurst - Jazz From Ann Arbor

Bassist and U-M professor Robert Hurst makes the case for being the cover star of a future book.

Mark Stryker will talk about his new book "Jazz From Detroit" at AADL's downtown location on Thursday, September 19, at 6:30 pm. We asked him to recommend some jazz from Tree Town.

Ann Arbor makes a number of cameo appearances in my book Jazz From Detroit. Several recordings highlighted in the text were taped live in Ann Arbor, and a number of the musicians featured in the book have ties to the University of Michigan. (The book itself was published by U-M Press.) Here’s a playlist that takes its inspiration from the Detroit-Ann Arbor jazz connection.

Highway I-94, M-14 & US-23 Revisited: A comprehensive history of Bob Dylan in Ann Arbor

MUSIC

Bob Dylan Ann Arbor concert posters

Left: Concert poster for Bob Dylan's 1964 appearance and Ann Arbor High School (now Pioneer). Right: Poster for Dylan's 1996 concert at Hill Auditorium.

When Bob Dylan plays Hill Auditorium on November 6, it'll be the 12th time he's played Ann Arbor (and the 13th time in Washtenaw County when counting his 2007 concert with Elvis Costello at EMU Convocation Center).

But unlike what is sometimes stated, his first solo show was not September 9, 1964, at Ann Arbor High School (now Pioneer); it was on April 22, 1962, at the Union Ballroom as part of the Ann Arbor Folk Festival. That show is sometimes forgotten about by writers because they have to expand their concert-database searches to find it: Dylan, who had released his self-titled debut LP the month before, was so little known that he was mistakenly advertised as "Bob Dillon," as shown in this ad in The Michigan Daily

Another Daily ad, reprinted in Neil Cossar’s 2018 book Bob Dylan: The Day I Was There, showed Dylan's name spelled correctly and also quotes Jay Margulies about the 1962 concert and its afterparty:

Poet, Princeton lecturer, and former Zingerman's employee Michael Dickman accounts for days line by line in new collection

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Poet Michael Dickman and his books Days & Fays

Author photo by Michael Lionstar.

Days go by in many sorts of ways: hectic, enjoyably, dragging, intensely, calmly, explosively, gratifyingly. They can take on not just one but a range of characteristics. I am convinced that poet Michael Dickman goes through his days attentively if his poems are any indication of how he lives.

Drawing on nature and circumstances, Dickman’s new collection, Days & Days, reveals observations about parenthood, television, love, hotel stays, prescription drugs, and bodies of water. The poems are associative. Lines next to each other may seem unrelated and abstract at times, and then a line a few pages later will relate to a previous thought. The longest poem, “Lakes Rivers Streams,” reads:

          This is the earth & sometimes the earth

                    changes color

          Now I remember they were horses mulching the backyard

The horse metaphor for children continues:

          My horse kids eat something off the ground I can’t quite make out 

and

          What should I do with their withers & fetlocks what should I do with

                    their dressage?

          A parade is nice

These lines capture the variety and vicissitudes of days, whether with children or other topics. One wonders if Dickman is constantly jotting down fragments as he goes through his days and later fits them together into cohesive poems.

Formerly of Ann Arbor, Dickman now teaches at Princeton University. He reads at Literati Bookstore on Friday, September 20, at 7 pm. I interviewed him prior for Pulp.