Taking Comfort in Beethoven: The Takács Quartet at Rackham

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The Takács Quartet

The Takács Quartet. Photo credit by Keith Saunders.

“The times are a little tricky right now,” said Geraldine Walther, violist for The Takács Quartet. “In Beethoven’s day, as Napoleon’s army marched through Vienna, times were a little tricky, too. People are thirsty for something to hang on to.”

And that means there’s a real need for Beethoven’s string quartets.

“It’s very troubled music and very tragic, and somehow Beethoven makes a transformation and comes out of the darkness into the light, and we all go there with him and come out again,” said Walther.

“I feel we can center ourselves in art, and especially in this very profound music of another world,” she added. “There’s something about Beethoven. He’s able to convey what it means to be a human being in an all-embracing way everyone can identify with. And we as performers get to experience that first-hand with the audiences. It’s really been a great experience to play the quartets, and to play them now. Everywhere we’ve gone -- London or Berkley, Princeton or Ann Arbor, everyone is thirsty for this.”

AAFF 2017 | All Ages, Animation, Black Diaspora, Globalization, LGBTQ & Sci-Fi

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ALL AGES
"Short Films in Competition 8: Almost All Ages (Ages 6+)
Shorts Program | All Ages
March 25, 11:00am | Michigan Theater Main Auditorium

Cranky Shows: Low-Tech, High Entertainment Paper Theatre
Off the Screen! | All Ages
March 25, 1:00pm | North Quad Space 2435

ANIMATION
Short Films in Competition 7: Animation
Shorts Program | New Media | Animation
March 24, 9:30 pm | Michigan Theater Main Auditorium

AAFF 2017 | Interview with Leslie Raymond, Executive Director

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Leslie Raymond, George Manupelli

Ann Arbor Film Festival Executive Director Leslie Raymond and her husband, Jason Jay Stevens, embrace fest founder George Manupelli at the 50th AAFF.

The 55th Ann Arbor Film Festival gets underway Tuesday, March 21, and as artists and film lovers from around the globe prepare to descend upon the Michigan Theater for six days of mind-expanding cinema, Executive Director Leslie Raymond is on a mission to take the country's longest-running avant-garde and experimental film festival back to its all-inclusive roots.

Founded by George Manupelli in 1963, the AAFF has seen its share of shake-ups over the course of the past decade. From the AAFF v. State of Michigan lawsuit that resulted in part from the controversy that erupted over Crispin Glover's award-winning 2005 feature What Is It? to the departure of Program Director David Dinnell last year, Raymond no-doubt had her work cut out for her when she stepped into this pivotal role.

Fortunately for filmmakers and audiences alike, Raymond was no stranger to either the festival or Manupelli's original vision for it as a place where all voices and perspectives are celebrated. Twenty-five years ago, Raymond began her decades-long relationship with the AAFF as an intern under Program Director Vicki Honeyman, whose enduring 14-year run with the festival was longest anyone has served in such capacity other than the founder.

To take the reigns of a festival as celebrated and prestigious as the AAFF requires genuine dedication, and as anyone familiar with Raymond's impassioned 2009 blog post lamenting the "specialized, themed-programming" that had become a primary focus of the festival during that era, there was little question as to where her loyalties lied.

Flash forward eight years, and Raymond is now in the unique position of being able to turn those criticisms into concrete action. Raymond's deep respect for Manupelli's original vision is evident when listening to her speak about her late friend and the festival he conceived, and together with new Associate Director of Programs Katie McGowan, the executive director is on a mission to steer this ship back on course.

With Ann Arbor still recovering from the devastating windstorm dubbed the "largest combined statewide event in history" by Gov. Rick Snyder less than a week before the Opening Night Reception, Raymond was kind enough to take the time out from her hectic schedule to discuss these issues and more with Pulp.

Storytelling With Lessons -- & Jokes: "Mostly Functional Humans" podcast

PULP LIFE INTERVIEW

Mostly Functional Humans

These Mostly Function Humans -- engineer Matt Dubay and co-hosts Andrew Dooley and Rich Retyi -- held court at Alley Bar on February 28, 2017. Photo by Jenna Beauchamp.

It's the last Tuesday in February at Alley Bar, and Mostly Functional Humans co-hosts Rich Retyi and Andrew Dooley are sitting in a booth, preparing for their live podcast. Friends and fans pour through the doors in a steady stream, and the upscale dive bar takes on a party atmosphere. Back in the booth, the two co-hosts recall the origins of Mostly Functional Humans. Canadian transplant Retyi was working at MLive when he struck up a rapport with Plymouth native Dooley. Almost immediately, Dooley recognized they were on the same intellectual and comic rhythms, and after conceiving the podcast in this very bar, decided to take it into the studio. As luck would have it, the Ann Arbor District Library was more than happy to accommodate by recording Mostly Functional Humans in its podcasting studio. This is where Matt Dubay -- aka Engineer Matt -- enters the picture. The library’s production supervisor was tasked with recording the Mostly Functional Humans podcast. In a way, most of what you need to know about the tone of the Mostly Functional Humans podcast can be gleaned by noting that the two current sponsors are Alley Bar and Literati Bookstore. Literate yet far from pretentious, it appeals to the entire spectrum of listeners in the town that seems to value an IPA nearly as much as a Ph.D.

Ann Arbor novelist Camille Pagán is generating buzz with "Forever Is the Worst Long Time"

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Camille Pagán

Camille Pagán knows that Forever is a mighty long time.

A few weeks ago, InStyle magazine named Forever Is the Worst Long Time by Ann Arbor-based novelist (and health journalist) Camille Pagán as one of "7 Books You Need to Read in February 2017.”

We’re now in March, of course, but Pagán’s new tale of contemporary friendships and romance gone askew offers a temporary escape hatch appropriate for any time of year.

Forever is Pagán’s third novel; her debut was The Art of Forgetting (2011), followed by Life and Other Near-Death Experiences (2015), which was a bestselling Kindle First selection that got optioned by Jessica Chastain’s production company Freckle Films.

Forever tells the story of James Hernandez, a would-be novelist who ends up writing copy for U-M’s business school. (Pagán is a U-M grad who grew up in Dearborn.) Though James falls for his childhood best friend Rob’s fiancee/wife (Lou) upon meeting her, he buries his feelings, delivers a toast at the wedding, and tries to build his own life. But years later, when Rob and Lou’s marriage falls apart, James is torn between what he wants and loyalty to his friend. In the end, he can’t resist acting on his long-repressed attraction, and the consequences for all three are far-reaching and life-changing.

“I didn’t plan on writing this book,” said Pagán. “I’d planned on writing one about a married couple, and I was just slogging through that when I had the idea for the first chapter [of Forever], and in a day or two, I had the opening chapters done. I just felt like, I know who these people are, whereas with the other project, I didn’t know who I was writing about. … With every book it seems like there’s a fire under me, where I had to get the story out.”

No Fixed Narratives: Bassist James Ilgenfritz at Kerrytown Concert House

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James

Michigan native and U-M grad James Ilgenfritz brings his bass back to home for a Kerrytown Concert House solo gig.

Whether he's reframing William S. Burroughs' cut-up prose as opera with his long-running Anagram Ensemble, fusing progressive rock riffing with avant-jazz in electric trio Hypercolor, or bowing his strings with multiple bows and springs on his own, bassist James Ilgenfritz is regularly questioning perceptions and pushing back against sound barriers.

"Music is a fundamentally abstract art form, as it does not have the type of figurative quality words or images can communicate," Ilgenfritz wrote in an email, describing what inspired him to transcribe the work of composer and saxophonist Anthony Braxton for his 2011 debut solo album, Compositions (Braxton). "But we often give in to the temptation to shoehorn music into fixed narratives and the illusion that meaning can be an absolute."

The Brooklyn, New York-based musician grew up in Monroe and studied music at the University of Michigan. He played with several Ann Arbor and Detroit-based groups, including Bill Brovold's experimental rock troupe Larval, before moving out of state to further his musical path.

In January, Ilgenfritz led a string section playing arrangements he'd written for composer and performer M. Lamar's Funeral Doom Spiritual in Brooklyn. The new monodrama written by Lamar with musician Hunter Hunt-Hendrix (of "transcendental" metal band Liturgy) takes place in the future and "explores radical historical expressions and futuristic longings for destruction of the white supremacist world order."

This month, Ilgenfritz is releasing his second solo album, Origami Cosmos (Infrequent Seams), featuring four new solo works for bass written for him by four different New York composers.

On Wednesday, March 15, Ilgenfritz will give a solo contrabass performance at Kerrytown Concert House featuring music from his new album, his Braxton transcriptions, and an old favorite from his Ann Arbor days by a U-M professor.

Tools Crew Live: Bill Van Loo

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Downloads:
MP3 for "A Night at the Library"
720p video, 480p video or 240p video

Bill Van Loo is a polymath.

“The description I use to describe to people what I do is I’m a maker, teacher, musician, and photographer,” he said, “and at any given point in my life, one or more of those areas is going to be more prevalent or in the forefront than others.”

In the late ‘90s and early 2000s, Van Loo was part of the Detroit techno scene, including performing on the Underground Stage in 2000 at the first Detroit Electronic Music Festival, the now-legendary electronic-music event now known as Movement. He released most of his music on his own chromedecay label, and was part of a collective called Thinkbox, which created audio-visual multimedia performances and performed at the Movement Festival in 2003 and Montreal’s huge Mutek fest in 2004.

But for much of the past decade-plus, Van Loo has focused on his teaching career. He’s currently the technology, engineering, and design educator at A2 STEAM, the three-year-old K-8 school that has a heavy focus on project-based learning and tech. At the end of 2016, Van Loo finished his master’s degree in educational media and technology from Eastern Michigan University -- and suddenly found himself with enough free time to bring music to the forefront once again.

Van Loo’s currently working on new material in his home studio and hopes to release an EP or mini-LP on Bandcamp in the spring. We took advantage of Van Loo's sudden return to music by having him be the featured artist in our second Tools Crew Live video series where we have musicians use gear from the Ann Arbor District Library's Music Tools collection to create jams. (Fred Thomas was our first artist, which you can view here.)

Van Loo recorded the videos on January 3 and on February 16 we talked about the songs he performed -- one techno banger, one ambient guitar bliss-out -- and the gear he chose.

Night Moves & Funny Dudes: Matt Braunger at the Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase

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Matt Braunger

Matt Braunger thinks Ann Arbor is a hellhole, which is why he does stand-up here a lot.

Portland-raised, Los Angeles-based stand-up comedian Matt Braunger has been a regular fixture in comedy clubs and on late night talk shows for over 10 years with his brand of introspective observational comedy. Braunger, 42, will be getting married later this year for the first time and is currently working on new material for a new hour-long special during his Enraged to be Married tour that hits Ann Arbor this week.

In the late 1990s, fresh out of college, Braunger moved to Chicago where he worked with improvisational guru Del Close, and along with comedians like Hannibal Buress and Kyle Kinane helped create an alternative comedy scene in a city that didn’t have one. Finally deciding on stand-up instead of improv, Braunger moved to Los Angeles to further his career, eventually landing a spot on the final season of MADtv in 2009.

Since the end of MADtv, Braunger has been a regular on the NBC comedy Up All Night, had a recurring role in the second season of Agent Carter on ABC, and most recently appeared on Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher’s Seeso comedy Take My Wife. Along with his acting appearances, Braunger has also released three comedy albums and appeared as Bruce Springsteen in the Channel 101 series Yacht Rock.

Braunger will appear Thursday, March 9 through Saturday, March 11 at the Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase, and we talked to him about Midwestern comedy scenes, his upcoming special, politics, his podcast, a new Amazon Prime series, and Bob Seger.

Sisters and Saxophones: Tristan Cappel's debut, "Deadbird," was a lifetime in the making

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Tristan Cappel

Alto saxophonist Tristan Cappel will celebrate the release of his debut album, Deadbird, at Canterbury House on March 11.

Tristan Cappel may have never picked up the alto saxophone were it not for his sister.

“My sister is four years older and I always looked up to her growing up, following in her footsteps in any way I could,” said the 21-year-old junior at the University of Michigan. “In 5th grade, band class was an option at my elementary school and my sister, who also played clarinet in the band, urged me to join and play saxophone. Wanting to be like her, I did.”

If you consider the long tail of her influence, his sister's encouragement all those years ago is ultimately what lead to Cappel making his debut album, Deadbird. The LP features eight original jazz compositions by the native of Sterling Heights, Michigan, all composed between ages 17 to 20. He recorded the album at U-M's Duderstadt Center studio and mixed the album himself.

Cappel’s alto sax sound is dry and lean, filled with rhythmic attacks as much as harmonic exploration. His bandmates do a great job of dipping into the avant-garde without falling into wholesale honking, in large part because they don’t need to play extreme for Cappel’s catchy songs to sound edgy as well. His compositions allow plenty of space for rhythmic interplay and chromaticism while maintaining a solid base of hooks and beats that quickly rope listeners into his sound world.

Cappel celebrates the release of Deadbird with a show at Canterbury House on Saturday, March 11. We emailed with the multitalented altoist, who gave long, thoughtful answers to our questions. At the end of the interview, you can stream Deadbird and read Cappel's track-by-track tour of the album.

The Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon aims to balance the scales

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Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon

There will be no shouting at the Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon (because it's being held in a library, shhhh).

Women comprise about 51% of the country’s population. But according to the Wikimedia Foundation, they make up less than 13% of Wikipedia's contributors.

Fortunately, some folks aim to change that.

On Saturday, March 11, the University of Michigan Library, in conjunction with UMMA and the Ann Arbor District Library, will present the Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon from 12-5 pm at the Shapiro Design Lab in the Shapiro Undergraduate Library. The event started in 2014 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and has grown to include over 175 satellite locations.

Ann Arbor organizer Meghan Sitar stressed the need for women-focused editing: “After Wikimedia reported that less than 10% of contributors identified as female, Wikipedia set a goal of increasing that number to 25% by 2015. That didn’t seem to happen, so what you have is a gender bias in what is covered."

Men and women really do see the world through disparate points of view, and those divergences show up in Wikipedia entries.