Penny Stamps Distinguished Speaker Series Winter 2019 lineup

Penny Stamps Distinguished Speaker Series collage of winter 2019 events

U-M alumna Penny W. Stamps died from leukemia on Dec. 18, 2018, but her dedication to bringing arts and ideas to Ann Arbor community continues with the school and speaker series named in her honor.

The winter lineup of U-M Stamps School of Art & Design's Penny Stamps Distinguished Speaker Series was announced Jan. 11 with 12 events, primarily at the Michigan Theater and many in conjunction with other performances and events at the university and in the community.

All the Young Doogs: Ypsi trio Doogatron makes electronic music with a human touch

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Doogatron

Building the Perfect Robot: Take one Kyle, add a Stevie, mix with a Mike, and you've got a Doogatron. Photo by Kate de Fuccio/AM1700

Synth music is often a solitary exercise. It's easy enough for one person to program all the music and not have to deal with band dynamics.

Electronic music duos are more common and count influential acts such as Orbital, Mouse on Mars, Autechre, Boards of Canada, Coil, and many more in those ranks.

Less common is a synthesizer trio, quartet, or quintet, but there is a rich history of synth groups, too, from Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk, Harmonia, Throbbing Gristle, Add N to (X), and Hot Chip. The combination of personalities mixed with live playing over sequenced sections gives the music a more human quality, and Washtenaw County trio Doogatron is part of this lineage.

Stevie, Kyle, and Mike -- family names are for families -- make loose-limbed techno that mixes programmed parts on computer and live playing on vintage synths. The group's sound is elastic and trippy even as it's framed by linear rhythms. 

Doogatron's self-titled debut LP came out Nov. 2, 2018, and the group has followed that with a New Year's Day 2019 mix of original tunes, reworked album cuts, and earlier tunes initially heard on Soundcloud. In February, Doogatron will release the first of at least four EPs/singles scheduled for this year. "Each release comes from one continuous recording session," Stevie said, "so each track will serve as a part one, part two, part three experience," starting with "Before Subsidized Time" b/w "After Subsidized Time."

Stevie gave us the lowdown on Doogatron's history, name, and work process.

AADL 2018 Staff Picks: Books, Music, Movies & More

MUSIC WRITTEN WORD PULP LIFE REVIEW

2018 Staff Picks

You may come to the Ann Arbor District Library to pick up a book or movie or sewing machine or electric guitar knowing well in advance that’s why you’ve entered one of AADL’s five locations.

But if you come to visit us and you can’t quite figure out what you want to check out, you might ask someone on staff for suggestions -- and we’re always happy to oblige.

In that way, our 2018 staff picks for books, film, music, TV, podcasts, and more is one massive suggestion list.

We don’t limit our picks to material that came out in 2018; we list things that made an impact on us during the year, no matter when the media was released. Plus, we’ve added a Pulp Life category -- both on the blog and in this year-end roundup -- to note life experiences that we loved in 2018, from parks to restaurants.

So, next time you visit AADL, call up this page on your phone. (Or our lists from 2016 and 2017.)

And if you need help finding the material, or you’re looking for even more suggestions, just ask. We've already started making our lists for 2019. 

Folk favorites Gemini celebrate a milestone birthday at The Ark

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Gemini

San and Laz Slomovits have been Ann Arbor folk-music mainstays since 1973.

The folk-music duo Gemini has been a vital part of the Ann Arbor music scene for more than 45 years. 

Twin brothers San and Laz Slomovits started singing together with their cantor father in their native Hungary when they were very young and started learning instruments at age 7. They continued performing as the family moved to Israel and then the U.S., but things really took off after the brothers formed a folk duo post-college and then moved to Ann Arbor in 1973. For decades they’ve been known for their beautiful harmonies, multi-instrumental talents, and original songs, particularly for youth and family audiences, throughout Michigan and beyond.

Now, the twins are turning 70 and their music is still going strong. They’re planning a “140th Birthday Celebration” on Jan. 3 at The Ark, where the duo has performed countless times over the years. A number of special guests will join the brothers, and the concert will be recorded for possible release. Proceeds will benefit The Ark, where former leaders Dave and Linda Siglin and others have supported Gemini for decades.

“We literally can’t imagine what our music and career would have been like without them. This is a small gesture of gratitude on our part,” the brothers agreed. They answered a few questions about the concert and their career for Pulp.

Herstories: Jessica Care Moore and Ursula Rucker on hip-hop and poetry

MUSIC WRITTEN WORD REVIEW

Jessica Care Moore & Ursula Rucker

Jessica Care Moore and Ursula Rucker are rockstars.

Google that shit. 

On December 11 at the University of Michigan’s Trotter Multicultural Center in conjunction with the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies hosted Jessica Care Moore and Ursula Rucker for an hour-long discussion titled "Herstory: Hip Hop and Poetry." 

Moore, a Detroit native, is most noted for her five straight victories at the "Showtime at the Apollo” competition as well as her publishing company Black Moore Press and her numerous books of poetry.

Rucker, who hails from Philadelphia, has released six albums of her poetry and has collaborated with many well-known hip-hop acts including fellow Philadelphians the Roots. 

On Tuesday the women were resplendent. Moore sported a high-crowned red fedora and a colorful denim jacket adorned with an image of the late Ntozake Shange (Google that shit). Rucker had her hair pulled back and her face framed with black cats-eye glasses. Both women were performance-ready and engaged the audience with their own poetry and, perhaps most importantly, historical perspective.

Sonic Activism: Isaac Levine discusses his new LP, "A Death So Obsessed With Living"

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Isaak Levine and album cover

Photo by Kit Parks; album cover sketch by Hillary Butterworth.

Isaac Levine is a restless creator and organizer. Whether it's fighting against unsustainable development, booking DIY shows at houses and small venues, or making music in numerous bands and solo projects, this Washtenaw County resident's proactive drive is admirable.

Levine's latest recording is the guitar-centric A Death So Obsessed With Living, which is his third album in the past 365 days, following May's auto-chord organ LP Cloudpleasers under his own name and last December's Pee on These Hands with one of his bands, The Platonic Boyfriends.

A Death So Obsessed With Living was recorded in November by Spencer Tweedy, son of Jeff and a member of his dad's band, Wilco. We talked to the Levine about the story behind recording the new album, the themes on his last two LPs, and the pros and cons of living in Ann Arbor.

Isaak Levine + Friends celebrate their record release with a concert at Unity Vibration in Ypsilanti on Friday, December 21.

Beyond 8 Mile: The "History and Future of Detroit Hip-Hop" at U-M

MUSIC REVIEW

Sterling Toles, Jamall Bufford, Khary Frazier

No cyphers broke out during the making of this panel: Sterling Toles, Jamall Bufford, and Khary Frazier talk the history of Motor City hip-hop. 

In June 1990, newly freed political prisoner Nelson Mandela made his way to the United States and eventually to Detroit. Mandela toured the Ford Rouge Plant and UAW President Owen Bieber made him an honorary lifetime member of the union -- experiences and honors that are uniquely Detroit. Mandela’s visit culminated in him addressing a standing room only crowd at Tiger Stadium. But before Mandela spoke, two local rappers, Kaos and Mystro, took the stage and performed in front of the 49,000 people in attendance.

For many in Detroit’s hip-hop community, including Khary Frazier, this was a seminal moment in the development of the D’s niche hip-hop scene.

It was stories like this that dotted the December 4 conversation between Khary Frazier, Jamall Bufford, and Sterling Toles on the U of M campus. The three gathered this past Tuesday in the Dana Building to discuss the "History and Future of Detroit Hip Hop" -- a scene that all the panel participants have had a hand in shaping.

Ann Arbor artist Dani Darling debuts with a new single, video, and name

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Dani Darling

"I manage Annekes Downtown Hair Salon on Main St.," Danielle Davis said. "I'm a true Townie."

But when Davis isn't overseeing people getting their hair done, she's crafting songs as Dani Darling. The artist formerly known as Soulgalaxygirl just released "2:22," her first single and accompanying video under the new sobriquet, and it's a woozy slice of off-kilter R&B. The video features Darling lounging around her place, swiping her way through a bunch of Tinder profiles in search of a soul mate, but the tune itself is more of a true love song.

When Darling performs live, it's in a two guitar, bass, and drums lineup, and her music continues to evolve week by week and won't necessarily sound all that much like "2:22" in the future. But the multifaceted Ann Arborite with strong pipes can light up whatever kinds of songs she sings.

We talked to Darling about "2:22" and future plans with her band.

Wynton Marsalis' annual Ann Arbor appearance is always full of good cheer

MUSIC REVIEW

Wynton Marsalis by Frank Stewart

Wynton Marsalis by Frank Stewart

On November 28, veteran jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis brought the warm winter spirit to Ann Arbor's Hill Auditorium, courtesy of UMS. Marsalis came along with the delightful Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and they played tunes of the season. It was the opening night for their Big Band Holidays Tour and the house was full. 

The music at Hill took on several moods, from contemplative to stirring, with Marsalis introducing each song with commentary, then mostly guiding the band from the back row while also playing with them there. The opener, "Jingle Bells," set the tone for the night and Marsalis played a remarkable solo, his fingers moving quickly as he showcased the instrument's upper range. 

Audra McDonald demonstrated the power of a good song at Hill Auditorium 

MUSIC REVIEW

Audra McDonald

Audra McDonald took her audience on a fascinating tour of American musical theater history Saturday at Hill Auditorium.

She incorporated songs she’s performed in stage productions, some classics from the genre, and some lesser-known gems, both old and new. It all worked together to make a compelling case for the enduring power of musical theater songs.

McDonald is one of our truly great current stage stars. She knows exactly how to connect with an audience on a personal level, and Saturday’s performance, sponsored by the University Musical Society, displayed her extraordinary abilities as a singer. 

Her tone, range, and phrasing are all impressive, but equally effective is the way she inhabits each song, not just singing it but acting it as well. It makes sense, of course, given her accomplishments as an actor as well as a singer -- six Tony Awards, for starters.