School of Music, Theater, Dance, and Jams: U-M SMTD faculty have been compiling mixtapes during quarantine

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Cassettes photo by Vova Krasilnikov from Pexels

Photo by Vova Krasilnikov from Pexels.

Late winter and early spring is usually a busy time for the University of Michigan's School of Music, Theatre & Dance (SMTD). Students have started working on their final projects, music performances fill the auditoriums of the Earl V. Moore Building, and theater and dance events abound. 

But since the coronavirus pandemic shut down all activity, the SMTD started engaging its audience by offering livestreams of discussions, archived performances, and even yoga classes.

My favorite SMTD offerings are the faculty-compiled mixtapes on Spotify.

Blue LLama and pianist Matthew Ball team up for Pride Month benefit concert for the Jim Toy Center

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Matthew Ball

Matthew Ball promo photo.

The coronavirus has forced clubs and restaurants to figure out ways to survive under duress. Some places struggled and have gone out of business; other places have figured out how to make their businesses work in a reduced capacity.

But almost from the start of the pandemic, Ann Arbor's Blue LLama Jazz Club has navigated the situation with confidence and creativity.

Blue LLama started coping with the new normal by streaming archived concerts from the club -- all performances there are recorded -- and moved into curbside delivery, new live performances streamed from the empty club, and offering free meals to laid-off workers in the community. As Michigan entered Phase 4 in the reopening plan, Blue LLama resumed serving food and having concerts in the club, but it has continued to live stream shows and offering contactless food pickup for those who aren't yet comfortable with hanging out inside with others. (*This writer raises his hand and touches the sun to make it clear he is not ready to be anywhere in public right now.*)

The latest Blue LLama community outreach project during the pandemic is a benefit concert for the Jim Toy Community Center as part of Pride Month.

A new single from Ann Arbor's Dani Darling takes on social-media weirdness during lockdown

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Dani Darling S+M single cover

Ann Arbor singer-songwriter Dani Darling and her bandmates were recording a new EP in a studio when the Covid-19 stay-at-home order began. The Reverie EP is still on track for release this summer, but the first single, "S+M," features Darling solo.

"I found myself with those sessions and more to say, so I went back to doing my bedroom pop, late-night studio sessions," Darling said. "The beat is by a London producer GC Beats. Really just sounded like Dani when I heard it."

"S+M" features jazzy guitar chords over a slow-groove R&B beat with Darling's ethereal voice floating over the mix. She sings playful puns to tell her tale about what it feels like to be a musician in lockdown.

"'S+M' is a snapshot of my experience during the stay-at-home order -- my music career on hold indefinitely, feeling social media shift from a strength to something sinister," Darling said. "If felt like a scramble for the airwaves, like either you shut down and take time for yourself or you dive right in and try to make a wave, make a difference. I wanted to do that because I don't think of my music as purely entertainment -- it's a way to connect and healing is a big theme in this project. So I wanted to make an impact, but it started to feel like an unhealthy relationship. Sometimes you go online and you know you shouldn't; sometimes you go look at someone's [social] media knowing it will hurt and do it anyway. Sometimes people form an unhealthy relationship to you as fans."

Ghostly teams with Adult Swim for two compilations and a new single by Matthew Dear

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Ghostly, Matthew Dear, Adult Swim

The Ghostly record label -- founded in Ann Arbor and based in New York City -- and Cartoon Network's Adult Swim have a long history of curating compilations and releasing exclusive singles dating back to 2009, and the past seven months have brought us three new collaborations.

The Ghostly Swim 3 comp came out digitally in December 2019, but the vinyl isn't expected to ship until July 2020. It features 14 tracks, including "Ikat" by X-Altera (the drum 'n' bass handle for Ann Arbor producer Tadd Mullinex) and "onesix-four" by Superstructure (Ypsilanti's Todd Osborn).

A brand new Ghostly digital-only mix came out via Adult Swim this month as part of the Stimulus Swim project, which was created to support musicians who were supposed to be touring now but can't because of Covid-19. The comp features unreleased cuts and selections from Ghostly's catalog. The sampler points fans toward the artists' Bandcamp pages so they can buy the music, with all funds going to the musicians.

The new doc "Your Friend Andrew W.K." gives a brief but entertaining overview of the Community High grad's life

MUSIC FILM & VIDEO REVIEW

A new 48-minute documentary, Your Friend Andrew W.K., hit YouTube on June 13. It doesn't appear that Italian filmmaker Flavio De Feo interviewed W.K. for the film; instead, he uses clips from other interviews -- from MTV and Vice to Larry King and Glenn Beck -- to tell the story of the Community High grad who's known for three things: uplifting pop-metal music, motivational speaking, and partying hard (in a positive way).

The film is stylized -- with flashy edits and images overlaid as W.K. speaks -- and entertaining, but if you know a little bit about W.K.'s story, there won't be any revelations. And, yes, they do go into the whole "Steev Mike" thing that started in November 2004. It was claimed in various anonymous blogs and even in an alleged hack of W.K.'s site that he was, in fact, merely one of several actors playing the Andrew W.K. character, which was created by a group of creative individuals known as Steev Mike.

More Fun: A soundboard recording of the original Stooges lineup's final concert is coming out on Third Man

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The breakup of The Stooges' original lineup is always pinned one person and one event: bassist Dave Alexander was fired from the band after he showed up at Michigan's Goose Lake Festival in Jackson County too drunk to play.

But a newly discovered soundboard recording of The Stooges' concert shows that Alexander not only held down the low end for the entire show, he mostly played just fine, including the band's full performance of the Fun House album, which came out almost exactly a month before.

Third Man Records is going to release The Stooges' Live at Goose Lake: August 8th, 1970 album on August 7, and preorders are open now.

The label states that the 1/4” stereo two-track soundboard tape of the show was found "buried in the basement of a Michigan farmhouse amongst other tasty analog artifacts of the same era." It could be more Jack White & Co. mythmaking, but it's certainly possible. I've heard rumors of master tapes and other "analog artifacts" by the likes of Blackfoot and Brownsville Station in the basement of 312 S. Ashley, which was the former location of the recording studio under Nalli’s Music Store. (The current tenant is Ann Arbor Music Center.)

You can hear the radio edit of "T.V. Eye" from Live at Goose Lake above, and below is some rare footage from the concert featuring The Stooges performing "1970."

Ann Arbor's Chien-An Yuan produces music, photography, and design steeped in contrasts

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Chien-an Yuan

Self-portrait courtesy of Chien-An Yuan.

Chien-An Yuan's art -- be it music, photography, or design -- immerses your eyes and ears in a world that feels at once orderly and hazy, referential and singular, dark and light. Contrasts are this Ann Arbor artist's forté.

Yuan also runs the 1473 label, which is filled with deep-listening tones that can fill a room with a strange and beautiful ambiance, but most of the music works even better with over-the-ear headphones so you can immerse your brain in mind-expanding sound-art.

1473 has released 15 records so far -- including Yuan's Teeth Marks on the Everett, which features five piano improvisations run through effects and then reassembled in post-production. You can find more of Yuan's music, DJ mixes, photography, design, and his multimedia collaboration IS/LANDS (which was performed at AADL last year) on his website, chienanyuan.com.

We talked to Yuan about his work and his track recommendations for diving into 1473's world of sound.

A compilation of recent music by Washtenaw County artists for Bandcamp Friday

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Bandcamp - Michigan

As Spotify continues to put a minuscule amount of its earned money toward the revenue stream it comes from -- musicians -- Bandcamp has promoted days where the company waves its sales fees so that 100% of the money goes to artists and labels. 

Through midnight Pacific Time today, you have a chance to help musicians whose income has been impacted by COVID-19 -- and many of the records labels and artists are then forwarding the money to social causes.

The previous Washtenaw County artists list we put together for the March edition of Bandcamp's fee-waiving day is here.

We've also been documenting new music from Washtenaw musicians during the time of quarantine, and many of those releases are on Bandcamp:
Volume one is here.
Volume two is here.
Volume three is here.
Volume four is here.
Volume five is here.
Volume six is here.
Volume seven here.
Volume eight is here.

New releases are coming quickly with artists being at home and having access to recording gear, so we weren't able to feature every Bandcamp release we came across only because the music can't stop, won't stop -- but this blog post has to end, so apologies in advance. But you can check out all the releases with Ann Arbor or Ypsilanti tags here and here, along with our quickly curated list below:

U-M Men's Glee Club-commissioned "Seven Last Words of the Unarmed" has renewed urgency

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Seven Last Words of the Unarmed creators

At top, a video still of "Seven Words of the Unarmed" performance by U-M Men's Glee Club, courtesy Chris McElroy, Michigan Media. Bottom left to right: Dr. Eugene Rogers, photo by Myra Klarman; composer Joel Thompson, photo by Laura Emiko Solti.

The names have changed, but the song remains the same.

Nearly five years ago the Men's Glee Club at the University of Michigan debuted a performance of "Seven Last Words of the Unarmed" by Atlanta-based composer Joel Thompson, written to honor seven people killed at the hands of the police: Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, Kenneth Chamberlain, Amadou Diallo, and John Crawford.

But with the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor as recent reminders of police brutality, "Seven Last Words of the Unarmed" has renewed urgency. 

Dr. Eugene Rogers, who commissioned the work when he was director of the Men's Glee Club, has been working on compiling educational resources that complement the composition's focus, and now that material is available at sevenlastwords.org.

New Washtenaw music in the time of quarantine: Volume 8

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Washtenaw Music During Quarantine Volume 8

Another round of new releases from Washtenaw County musicians in the age of quarantine. (Visit our mini-guide on livestreams by local artists here.)

Volume one is here.

Volume two is here.

Volume three is here.

Volume four is here.

Volume five is here.

Volume six is here.

Volume seven here.

Volume eight is below and features music/mixes from Dr. Pete Larson and his Cytotoxic Nyatiti Band, Mike List, JTC (Tadd Mullinex), Mike C, Gray Scot (Child Sleep), MEMCO members, Hannah Baiardi, Little Traps, Kirsten Carey, King Micah the Infamous, Charles Trees, Sean Curtis Patrick, and Mark Lansing and His Strange Brotherhood.