"Border Crossers" asks viewers to consider a boundaries-free world in the tech age

VISUAL ART PREVIEW

Chico MacMurtrie's Border Crossers

Chico MacMurtrie holds a prototype for Border Crossers at the University of Michigan's Wilson Student Team Project Center. Photo by Robyn Han.

Border walls are only as strong as the robot overlords who can smash them to rubble allow them to be.

Sorry, that line was meant for my dystopian sci-fi novel. Chico MacMurtrie's Border Crossers project has a much more positive outlook.

Natural Process: Hydropark expands on its hypnotic sound for a new EP

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Hydropark band photo

Hydropark blurs the lines between hypnotic 1970s German rock and 1980s British post-punk. Photo by Elliot Bergman.

Evolution is real, but it's usually something that's out of view, the process hidden over the course of many years. But the Ann Arbor group Hydropark evolved before our ears -- and quickly.

The band formed as a trio in 2013 when drummer Chad Pratt, keyboardist Chuck Sipperley, and guitarist/keyboardist Fred Thomas would get together and create noisy instrumental jams that focused more on texture than melody, hammering out aggressive, improvised space rock. You can hear these practice-room freak-outs on four cassettes the group released in 2013-2014, two of which are on Hydropark's Bandcamp page.

Synthcity: U-M professor Anıl Çamcı creates a virtual universe with sound

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Anıl Camcı

Anıl Çamcı is a builder, but the materials he uses aren't wood and nails. The assistant professor of Performing Arts Technology at the University of Michigan creates worlds from soundwaves, constructing sonic cities with software and synthesizers.

This is Çamcı's first year teaching at U-M, coming from the University of Illinois at Chicago's Electronic Visualization Laboratory and, previous to that, Istanbul Technical University's Center for Advanced Studies in Music. But he's already managed to rework some of his compositions to take full advantage of the Chip Davis Technology Studio, a multimedia lab funded by the U-M grad and Mannheim Steamroller founder.

"Ruth Gruber, Photojournalist" exhibit celebrates the brilliant trailblazer

VISUAL ART PREVIEW

Ruth Gruber

In her 105 years on the planet, Ruth Gruber didn't half step anything. 

Born in Brooklyn in 1911, Gruber earned a Ph.D. at age 20 from the University of Cologne in German Philosophy, Modern English Literature, and Art History -- the youngest person in the world at that time to complete a doctorate.

By age 24, she was an international foreign correspondent and photojournalist whose life reads like an adventure book. 

Nairobi Nyatiti: Kamba Nane at Ziggy's in Ypsilanti

PULP MUSIC PREVIEW

Kamba Nane

Ziggy's is a cafe, performance space, and arcade in downtown Ypsilanti that has hosted an appealing wide range of concerts ever since it opened in August 2017, from experimental jazz to hip-hop and indie rock. Most of the performers have been local, but on Friday, Feb. 2, Ziggy's goes international with Kenyan musician Kamba Nane.

Nane plays an eight-string nyatiti, a plucked lyre associated with the Luo people of Kenya. Traditionally the nyatiti is played alone, accompanied only by the player's singing and percussion items attached to his feet. But the Nairobi-raised Nane takes a modern approach to the instrument, playing in groups of all sorts, from jazz to electronica. At Ziggy's, Nane will be accompanied by the RAKA Ensemble, featuring Dave Sharp on bass and percussionists Abbas Camara and Lamine Souma.

Below is a short documentary on Nane and some of his music on Soundcloud:

Black Lives Matter: Ebony G. Patterson's "Of 72" & "...and babies too..."

VISUAL ART REVIEW INTERVIEW

Ebony G. Patterson's Of 72 & ...and babies too...

Ebony G. Patterson's complementary works at U-M Institute for the Humanities address violence, identity, and the forgotten. Foreground: …and babies too… (mixed media, 120" x 58" x 10", 2016). Background: Of 72 (mixed media on paper, 19" x 13", 2011). Photo by Christopher Porter.

On May 23, 2010, Jamaican police and military entered the impoverished Kingston neighborhood Tivoli Gardens, a stronghold of drug lord Christopher Coke, leader of the infamous Shower Posse. The United States had ordered the extradition of the now-convicted Coke, and at least 73 civilians were killed by security forces as they searched for the man more commonly known as Dudus. (He wasn’t captured until June 23.)

Ebony G. Patterson’s Of 72 installation, on view at U-M’s Institute for the Humanities through Feb. 9, addresses this “state-sponsored mini-Armageddon,” as writer Annie Paul called it, and it also explores the complexities of black identity as a whole.

Tangled Dreams: Jim Cherewick exhibition at Ferndale Library

MUSIC VISUAL ART PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Jim Cherewick, two paintings

Some art exhibitions are carefully curated to represent a theme or mark a period of time in an artist's working life. Other exhibitions are based on practicalities, such as Ypsilanti artist Jim Cherewick's show at the Ferndale Area District Library.

The paintings there are "whatever I haven’t sold yet or to show before the owner buys it," he said via email. "Mostly watercolor and ink drawings I’ve been painting lately."

Crayons are another medium in the exhibition, with neither an oil or acrylic painting in sight.

Lift Every Voice: "Out of the Silence" honors African-American classical artists

MUSIC PREVIEW

Out of the Silence collage

Clockwise from top left: William Grant Still's music will be played by pianist Leah Claiborne, Ivalas Quartet, and harpist Patricia Terry-Ross.

William Grant Still didn't write his three-part suite "Ennanga" in 1956 to be performed on the Ugandan harp for which it's named. But it's telling that Grant, one of the most important African-American classical composers of the 20th century, chose to name this gorgeous piece after an instrument from the motherland but have it performed on the more common European harp, alongside piano and a string quartet. He was blending musical inspirations from two far-away continents into a uniquely American sound.

"Ennanga" is just one of the pieces that will be performed at Out of the Silence at UMMA on Jan. 26 as part of a "narrated concert to honor black classical musicians of the past." But the composition is illustrative as an example of the two worlds African-American artists inhabit as they navigate the primarily white classical-music universe.

Surreal Songs Say So Much: Platonic Boyfriends

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Platonic Boyfriends

Left to right: Isaac Levine, Noor, and Klayton Dawson are Platonic Boyfriends.

Have you ever heard a band and just been confused?

That's the effect Ann Arbor's Platonic Boyfriends had on me the first time I listened to the trio's debut album, Pee on These Hands.

That confusion stayed through the second listen. And the third. And it's continued unabated through subsequent spins. But I keep listening, and listening, and listening, which is a testament to Platonic Boyfriends' puzzling uniqueness.

Noor (bass), Klayton Dawson (guitar), and Isaac Levine (drums, lead vocals) create a kind of countrified, performance-art-inspired, lo-fi indie rock that is smart, surreal, funny, disjointed, and sui generis. My simple brain wants to put Platonic Boyfriends in a genre box for easy categorization, but Pee on These Hands doesn't allow it.

Platonic Boyfriends will celebrate the release of Pee on These Hands (CD, cassette, Bandcamp) with a record-release show on Friday, Jan. 26, at a secret location (that you can find on the band's Facebook page). I emailed with Ahmad and Levine about the band's origins, influences, and the serious message behind their song "Don't Move."

UMMA's smaller exhibitions still make a big impact

VISUAL ART PREVIEW

UMMA's Japanese posters

Left: Shigeo Fukuda, Kyogen, 1981, offset print. University of Michigan Museum of Art, Gift of DNP Foundation for Cultural Promotion, 2017/2.88. © Shigeo Fukuda, 2017. Right: Kazumasa Nagai, Ueno Zoo, 1993, silkscreen. University of Michigan Museum of Art, Gift of DNP Foundation for Cultural Promotion, 2017/2.71. © Kazumasa Nagai, 2017.

The main draw at the University of Michigan Museum of Art right now is Matisse Drawings: Curated by Ellsworth Kelly from The Pierre and Tana Matisse Foundation Collection.

And rightfully so since it features little-seen works by two masters. (John Cantu raved about the exhibition in his Pulp review.)

Meanwhile, Aftermath: Landscapes of Devastation is a breathtaking collection of "images of the aftermath of events spanning over 2,000 years of human history -- from ancient Pompeii to September 11, 2001."

But there are several other UMMA displays worth your time, even if there's not enough there there for a full review. 

Here's a look at some of the smaller exhibits currently at UMMA.