Full STEAM Ahead: Intermitten highlights the intersection of art and tech

A lot of folks blame the influx of tech companies in Ann Arbor as a prime reason for the rising rents that have gradually pushed portions of the creative community out of downtown. The Intermitten conference returns June 8 and 9 to remind us that artistic adventure and modern business success don't need to be mutually exclusive or adversarial (even if there's no immediate solution to the rent situation).

Now in its second year, Intermitten brings together speakers to discuss how "how creativity in both art and technology helps us add value to our home, work, and global communities," as stated on intermitten.org. "We're technology people with creative prowess and artistic people powered by tech, and we unite to discover the many ways in which working together and thinking creatively can help us accomplish our goals."

Trevor Scott Mays, co-founder of Intermitten and director of support operations for Duo Security, walked us through the event's brief history, current focus, and bright future.

A Walk on the Wilder Side: Water Hill Music Fest 2017


"A Walk on the Wilder Side" video essay downloads:
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Video essay text:

Every first Sunday in May since 2011, Ann Arbor’s Water Hill neighborhood becomes a giant outdoor nightclub. Bands set up on lawns, porches, and inside homes and play for free as people pack the streets roaming from venue to venue.

The festival, which also gave the previously unnamed neighborhood its name, is heavy on folk, bluegrass, and Americana. But I went to Water Hill in search of the artists who didn’t fit under those umbrella terms. The event has always included music that’s not based on acoustic strings, but according to some longtime Water Hill attendees, this year was particularly low on bands bucking the festival’s perceived standard sound.

Ann Arbor Youth Chorale celebrates 30 years and new auditions


Ann Arbor Youth Chorale

Ann Arbor Youth Chorale celebrated its 30th anniversary with a concert on May 6 at the Bethlehem United Church of Christ.

To evoke Oscar Hammerstein II and Jerome Kern, music was in the air in 1987. Two major children’s choirs were founded in Ann Arbor that year and both are celebrating their 30th anniversaries: the Boychoir of Ann Arbor and Ann Arbor Youth Chorale (AAYC).

“There was a boom in children's choir development in the U.S. at that time,” said Shayla Powell, who's directed the AAYC’s preparatory Descant Choir for 25 years. “The European boy choir is a significant piece of choral music history and in the early ’90s English cathedrals such as Salisbury were beginning to launch girl choirs.”

While the Boychoir of Ann Arbor followed the European tradition for youth-choir membership, the Ann Arbor Youth Chorale charted a path that welcomes boys and girls. “The mixed gender treble choir has been a somewhat unique American tradition,” Powell said. “The Indianapolis Children's Choir, founded by Henry Leck, was the model that our founders looked to for inspiration.”

Rhythm of Life: Stephan Crump's Rosetta Trio


As a member of pianist Vijay Iyer’s trio -- one of the most acclaimed groups in modern jazz -- bassist Stephan Crump gets to play with a great drummer, Marcus Gilmore, all the time. But for his own music, the New York City-based Crump avoided drummers for more than 10 years.

“I love playing with great drummers -- only great drummers,” laughed Crump. But, he said, “with the acoustic bass, there are a lot of expressive areas of the sonic range of the instrument that get covered up really quickly in more traditional lineups, particularly with drums or piano.”

It wasn’t until Crump formed his Rhombal quartet in 2015, which released its self-titled debut last year, that the bassist hooked up with a drummer -- the remarkable Tyshawn Sorey, another frequent Iyer collaborator -- for his own jams. Before that, Crump released a series of duo albums, including two with guitarist Mary Halvorson as Secret Keeper and one each with saxophonist Steve Lehman and pianist James Carney. He also released the trio record Planktonic Finales with saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and pianist Cory Smythe, and three with Rosetta Trio, featuring Liberty Ellman on acoustic guitar and Jamie Fox on electric, which makes beautiful chamber jazz with touches of folk and blues. (Rosetta Trio plays Kerrytown Concert House on Thursday, May 4.)

Electro-Valve Vibes: Justin Walter's "Unseen Worlds"


Justin Walter

Justin Walter jams and loops on the Electronic Valve Instrument (EVI).

The warm, billowing, ambient music Justin Walter makes with the Electronic Valve Instrument (EVI) evokes Brian Eno's work the instant it caresses your ears.

But rather amazingly, Walter heard Eno's pioneering music only recently.

"That is true. So, I listened to a couple of his albums, one of which I liked a lot, Discreet Music," Walter said. "For me, it pointed to the beginnings of Boards of Canada, especially that opening number on Music Has the Right to Children. It also sounded like something I might come up with and I realized that my exploration into the world of ambient electronic music probably would have been very different had I heard this record at an earlier date. Seems like he makes amazing music."

So does Walter, whether he's playing trumpet with the avant-Afro-funk collective Nomo, sitting in with Ann Arbor jazz bands, or wielding the EVI, a wind-controlled synthesizer. His first recording featuring the instrument was 2009's Music for Science Film Strips EP; 2017's Unseen Forces is his sixth. They're all gorgeous, too, featuring languid melody lines hovering over clouds of harmony.

Walter's EVI music is improvised and the songs are selections from those free recordings, which are edited and treated in the studio. "I like to use the unique structure of the instrument to explore how a melody can be created using intuition," Walter said, "which is to say that most of the time I really have no idea what I'm doing."

Well, it sure sounds like he knows what he's doing and we wanted to find out more, so we talked to Walter about improvisation, the influence of trumpeter Louis Smith, and all things EVI.

Dynamic Duo: Musica Nuda at Kerrytown Concert House


Musica Nuda

Look into the eyes of Musica Nuda, feel the virtuoso power.

Every article about Musica Nuda talks about how vocalist Petra Magoni and double bassist Ferruccio Spinetti formed their unique duo in 2003. It was all because a guitarist Magoni was supposed to play a concert with cancelled at the last minute, so she asked Spinetti to fill in -- and they’ve been making music ever since.

This guitar player is never named, but he haunts every article like a ghost.

“His name is Paolo Fazzi. He’s still a guitarist. He has another job,” Magoni laughed. “No, we never played together -- never, ever. But he’s very funny because each time he reads the story in an interview he says, in a way, he’s happy because me and Ferruccio would have never played together otherwise.”

Fazzi’s loss was Spinetti’s eternal gain: Magoni has an amazing voice that fits in any setting, from jazz to French pop to disco -- all of which are in Musica Nuda’s vast repertoire. The duo has released 11 wide-ranging albums, including 2017’s Leggera, but on stage is where Musica Nuda shows its chops and charm. (See the Tuscany, Italy-based group at Kerrytown Concert House on April 29.)

Kitty Donohoe celebrates "The Irishman's Daughter" at Conor O'Neill's


Kitty Donohoe

Kitty Donohoe brings the Irish countryside to the woods of Michigan.

Kitty Donohoe's sixth album, The Irishman's Daughter, was a long time in the making for a variety of reasons: financial, personal, artistic. But the finished result is a testament to her perseverance and talent.

The CD's 12 songs swing from the instrumentals "Leaving the Land / Ships Are Sailing," "Chicago Jig / Chicago Reel," and "Star of the County Down" to the mostly instrumental "Sneaking Up the Hill" and the primarily a capella original "Working for Mrs. O'Leary. "Fish on Fridays" is her humorous ode to growing up in a non-Catholic Irish-American household, and there are also full-bodied interpretations of Irish classics "The Lark in the Morning" (featuring her daughter Callie on harmonies), "Bold Jack Donohoe," and "Bonny Blue-Eyed Nancy" (with her son Jesse singing lead).

Donohoe closes the album with four originals, including "Abe Lincoln's Army," "Sneaking Up the Hill," and "Ireland Song," but it's the closing title track that really marks "The Irishman's Daughter" as a highly personal project.

"This song kind of sums up for me what it was like to be raised by a maverick man, an original thinker, and a truly proud Irish American," Donohoe writes in the liner notes about her dad.

Despite this third generation Irish-American's connection to her ancestral homeland, Donohoe's influences aren't strictly from the Emerald Isle. There are elements of French-Canadian music, with its button accordions and rhythmic rushes, as well as American folk and country woven into her songs and arrangements. Her voice is bell clear, too, with an occasional twang.

Conor O'Neill's Irish Pub & Restaurant in Ann Arbor will host the official release party for The Irishman's Daughter on Sunday, April 30, at 5:30 pm. We talked to Donohoe about the album, her guided trips to Ireland, and The Yellow Room Gang songwriting collective.

Small Town, Big Names: Midwest Literary Walk in Chelsea



It's hard not to get caught up in Rich Fahle's enthusiasm for the Midwest Literary Walk, which strolls through downtown Chelsea on Saturday, April 29, offering readings and author meet-and-greets.

"The lineup for the Midwest Literary Walk this year is one of our very best, and this year represents an amazing array of authors who work or live in Michigan," said Fahle, a member of the festival's organizing committee and the executive producer of PBS's Book View Now.

The free event also includes Washington, D.C.-area poet, author, and former Newbery Medal winner Kwame Alexander, but the majority of the Midwest Literary Walk's roster lives in The Mitten and has a connection to the University of Michigan.

"That lineup includes Peter Ho Davies and Derek Palacio, both of whom teach at the University of Michigan and have books that appeared on many best-of 2016 lists, including The New York Times," Fahle said. "Heather Ann Thompson is a professor of history at the University of Michigan, a National Book Award finalist, and Pulitzer Prize winner. And Airea D. Matthews lives in Detroit but she is the former assistant director of the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan where she also earned her M.F.A."

The five author events are all within walking distance of one another, and there's time between events to duck in and out of Chelsea's downtown stores. The event wraps up at 5 pm, which is the perfect time to grab dinner at one of the town's restaurants, or you can continue the literary chat session at the Chelsea Alehouse, which is hosting the afterparty.

We interviewed Fahle about the Midwest Literary Walk's history, its spirit, and other things to look out for in downtown Chelsea.

Rave On: FoolMoon 2017 in moving pictures


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It's hard to believe FoolMoon 2017 took place a few weeks ago; we're still glowing from the April 7 event and it has nothing to do with the neon paint we still can't get off our bodies.

To keep the FoolMoon vibes illuminated a bit longer, our talented photographer and videographer Tom Smith combined some images from the event with the techno track "bland western charm" from the album chromedecay tracks pt. 2: 2001-2005 by Bill Van Loo. (The Ypsilanti-based Van Loo also did one of our Tools Crew Live performances; check out the videos here.)

As the FoolMoon afterglow begins to fade, keep this page bookmarked for emergency illumination.

Christopher Porter is a library technician and the editor of Pulp.

Tools Crew Live: Mogi Grumbles


MP3 for "Library Jam 1"
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Tools Crew Live is an ongoing video series where we invite artists to perform with gear borrowed from the Ann Arbor District Library's Music Tools collection: aadl.org/musictools.

Mogi Grumbles, the nom de plume of Alex Taam, sounds like a villain in a Superman comic. But the name's origin story isn't quite so heroic.

"It was a nickname given to me around the time I first started publishing my music," Taam said. "From how I understand it, it was a rap lyric originally from my friend Ian. He came up with the name in the song, but then it got dubbed to me because I was such an 'curmudgeon.' ... The name stuck, my label liked it, so there it is."

Those 2009 releases on Moodgadget -- Revolutions Per Minute and the split Worst Friends vs. Mogi Grumbles -- launched Taam's music career, which has expanded into videogame soundtrack work, rescores of classic movies, and studio recording and mastering for other artists.

The two Mogi Grumbles songs Taam composed for the third installment of the Ann Arbor District Library's Tools Crew Live series are called "Library Jam 1" and "Library Jam 2," but they could have easily been called "Retro-Futuristic Sci-Fi Soundtracks 1 & 2." Taam squeezed all the warmth out of the various keyboards he employed, making for a cozy couple of tunes that could easily accompany a voyage into deep space or a daring escape from a postapocalyptic landscape.

These videos were recorded on February 28, 2017, and a few weeks later, Taam answered questions about how he approached this session and the gear he used.