Korde Arrington Tuttle and The National's Bryce Dessner examine photographer Robert Mapplethorpe's work through song in "Triptych (Eyes of One on Another)"
By the time the singers, musicians, and iconoclastic images of photographer Robert Mapplethorpe take the stage at Ann Arbor's Power Center on Friday, March 15, everything should be in place for the premiere of a new UMS-commissioned work examining the late photographer's work and legacy through song.
But just a little over a week ago, composer Bryce Dessner admitted some tweaks were still being made.
"With these types of new works, the music and the staging and the piece is always evolving," he said. "The ink is still drying, so we can kind of feel that, which I think is exciting. There are some last-minute changes I'm making to the score. By the time it gets to Ann Arbor, it will have settled more."
"It" is Triptych (Eyes of One on Another), a re-examining of Mapplethorpe's work 29 years after the famous obscenity trial over a retrospective of his photographs in Cincinnati -- and 30 years after the artist died of AIDS -- made a lasting impression on a teenage Dessner.
Produced by Thomas Kriegsman at ArKtype, with music by Dessner, libretto by Korde Arrington Tuttle, and direction by Kaneza Schaal, the show also features Grammy-winning vocal group Roomful of Teeth with soloists Alicia Hall Moran and Isaiah Robinson.
Dessner has a Wiki entry full of impressive composing credits; he's performed with new music giants, like Steve Reich, Philip Glass, and David Lang; and he plays guitar in Grammy-winning indie rock band The National, which also plays Hill Auditorium on June 25 in support of its latest record, I Am Easy to Find.
I caught up with the prolific musician by phone on the eve of Triptych's music premier at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.
Funtime: Photographer Paul McAlpine's "BARE + REAL" captures Iggy Pop at the height of his solo career
Iggy Pop is a photographer's dream.
The Ann Arbor native's sinewy body, hollow cheeks, intense eyes, and manic contortions make for photos that leap with life.
And that's exactly what photographer Paul McAlpine wanted to convey in his new book of Pop pix.
"BARE + REAL is a book about life -- passion, art, music -- keeping your eyes open and friends near," McAlpine said. "The book is filled with wonderful images that I feel have aged well with time."
McAlpine first shot Pop in 1977 at the first American concert of The Idiot tour in the photographer's native Boston. For the next decade-plus, McAlpine toured with Pop numerous times and amassed a huge collection of concert photographs featuring one of rock 'n' roll's greatest frontmen.
The limited edition BARE + REAL is 236 pages of the best of those photos, plus introductions by McAlpine and Pop, all housed in a 12" x 12" LP-sized slipcase.
I emailed with McAlpine to find out more about BARE + REAL and how he came to be Pop's go-to photographer -- or Jim, as he calls the man born James Newell Osterberg Jr.
Randy Tessier Explores New Sounds and Old With Solo EP
Area music fans know Randy Tessier first and foremost as the front man for the popular local band FUBAR, but he also works as a solo artist. Five years back he released a solo album called Hold Me Close, and now he’s following that up with a new six-song EP called Sugar Town.
The EP showcases Tessier’s love for a variety of musical styles, yet all feature his trademark gravelly vocals and guitar. “It’s Too Late” is a new take on old-school soul, complete with a horn section. “He Lifts Me Up” is bluesy rock, while the title song is catchy acoustic pop.
Tessier’s songwriting here is ambitious. “Texas Blues” paints a portrait of a young woman trying to escape, while “A Child Asked Me” is an anti-war song. “Incarceration: Marquette County Jail” includes the great line, “It’s not that I’m a spineless man / it’s just that I need help.”
Personnel varies from track to track, but primary contributors to the record include Chris Benjey, keyboards, producer; Geoff Michael, drum programming, engineer, and producer; Kim French, bass; and Don Kuhli, drums and woodblocks.
Tessier answered a few questions about the new record via email:
Come Together: Ann Arbor Concert Band and the men's choral society Measure for Measure join together for a concert
When we think of Ann Arbor traditions, the usual suspects pop up: Zingerman’s, Ann Arbor Art Fair, Top of the Park, Hash Bash, U-M football.
Maybe the Ann Arbor Concert Band isn’t as high profile as the institutions listed above, but it has been carving out its own tradition by bringing affordable, high-quality classical music concerts to the community for the past 40 years.
The men’s choral society Measure for Measure has also long established itself, singing together since 1998.
These two musical institutions are coming together March 10 at Hill Auditorium to present a concert dubbed “Festive Winds and Voices.”
Miles Okazaki is among the greatest living improvisers on the guitar. An assistant professor of jazz guitar at the University of Michigan, he has his own deep and well-conceived ideas about rhythm, harmony, and melody. A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to sit down with Okazaki to discuss his latest release, a massive six-volume solo-guitar project entitled Work in which he recorded every song by Thelonious Monk -- 70 in total -- with no effects, overdubs, key or time changes.
It’s difficult to overstate the importance of Monk in American music. His approach to harmony, melody, and especially rhythm has influenced virtually every musician who has followed him. It was a privilege to be able to get into the weeds with Okazaki on the topic of Monk’s music.
Our conversation is below, with some edits for flow.
In 2017, former Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker teamed with Pop for a cover of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds' "Red Right Hand," which is the theme song for Netflix's British crime drama Peaky Blinders. Every season features a new version of the tune, and Cocker and Pop recorded their's for season four.
In 2018, Pop joined fellow Trainspotting soundtrack stars Underworld for the Teatime Dub Encounters EP, which was recorded in a London hotel room. Underworld's Rick Smith met up with pop at The Savoy Hotel to work on music for the T2: Trainspotting soundtrack, but the tracks weren't used. Pop's stream-of-consciousness lyrics are not his finest, but Underworld's thumping techno never disappoints.
Now in 2019, Pop is back with two more guest spots: Pan Amsterdam's new single, "Mobile" and Fémina's "Resist."
Kristianna didn't mean to write a concept record about relationships. The Ypsilanti native wrote the five songs on Too Late to Be Sorry over five years "and once I came up with the concept, I placed them carefully in order to tell the story," she said.
The slow-jam R&B tunes are bookended by two voicemails, which tie together the tale.
"The album concept is all about communication, or the lack of, using telecommunication, and is meant to be heard in the track order," said Kristianna. "So the intro is the girl calling this guy letting him know her feelings through these songs, then you hear voicemails throughout the project back and forth from the female and the male perspective. The outro is him calling back after he listened to the mixtape that was made for him, leaving the listener ready for part two."
It may sound like a movie title ripe for a Mystery Science Theater 3000 show, but Robots vs. Aliens is the name of a new multimedia art project by Joe Bauer, an Ann Arbor-based musician and co-founder of the North Coast Modular Collective.
Produced under Bauer's stage name, Verzerren, Robots vs. Aliens is comprised of a concept album featuring modular synthesizers, illustrations, mailed letters and postcards, and performances at Riverside Arts Center in conjunction with the new exhibition Towards/Past the Future, which explores "technology, society, and identity through the lens of science fiction."
Set 100 years into the future, Robots vs. Aliens tells the story of humans and cyborgs living together, but their equilibrium is disrupted when peaceful dispatches from extraterrestrials are misinterpreted. The robots revolt, aliens invade, at the Earth is devastated. But the remaining humans have a chance at redemption when intercepted messages are sent back in time in hopes that people will read them and make different choices to induce an alternative future. This is where the postcards and letters by Bauer and artist Aaron Graff come into play: participants will receive these documents in the mail over a two-week period with the object of piecing together the story and solving the mystery of how humanity can save itself.
I asked Bauer some questions over email about the inspirations and ideas behind Robots vs. Aliens, which you can also listen to below.
Happy birthday, MF'ers: February 22, 2019, was the 50th anniversary of the MC5's Kick Out the Jams album.
To celebrate, guitarist Wayne Kramer posted a new video for the record's title track featuring Leni Sinclair's original promo footage and Cary Loren's edited footage, shot at three different performances in Michigan: Grande Ballroom in Detroit, The Village Pub in Birmingham, and at the Delta Pop Festival at Delta College in Bay City.
In fact, Kramer's been celebrating the 50th anniversary of the MC5 for the past year with a tour, an autobiography, and more videos featuring long-lost or remastered footage of the band, including:
The documentary Half Japanese: The Band That Would Be King begins with a title card that says, "Ann Arbor, Michigan - 1975" and then cuts to a blurry, grainy, backlit film of David and Jad Fair with their friend David Stansky jamming in the Fair family's living room.
The brothers' time living in Ann Arbor was a warm-up run for the primitive rock 'n' roll band that they officially started in Uniontown, Maryland, in 1977 with the car-crash-erific Calling All Girls 7-inch EP. The Fairs couldn't play their instruments whatsoever, but their unholy sound became an inspiration to Yo La Tengo, The Pastels, Beat Happening, Nirvana, and countless other punk-adjacent bands.
Forty-two years later, Jad is still bashing his untuned guitar and singing about love and monsters in Half Japanese, which just released the Invincible album. Meanwhile, David is a retired librarian and, like Jad, a prolific artist.
Jad's wondrous paper cuttings are featured in the 15 videos he made for every song on Invincible, which is far more musical than some Half Japanese offerings but no less sui generis. Check out the video playlist below.