Tadd Mullinix brings the boom-bap with his X-Altera & Dabrye personas

MUSIC INTERVIEW

X-Altera

When schizophrenic super-hero Moon Knight falls into one of many personalities, it's usually due to trauma or the intervention of Khonshu, the ancient Egyptian god of the moon, who also gave Marc Spector his powers.

When Ann Arbor's Tadd Mullinix creates or resurrects one of his numerous alter-egos, it's due to musical inspiration, not mental illness. 

Whether as hip-hop producer Dabrye, EBM-techno savant Charles Manier, acid-house auteur James T. Cotton, or drum 'n' bass fiends SK-1 and the new X-Altera, Mullinix immerses himself in the persona and electronic-music genres attached to those names.

Top Chefs: Sumkali's new album is a delicious fusion of East and West

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Sumkali

Whether it's with food, art, or music, fusion depends on a natural blending to be successful. Adding cayenne peppers to cherry ice cream just ain't gonna work.

But the music of Sumkali works perfectly, an expert blend of East and West, the ancient and the futuristic.

The Ann Arbor band's fourth album, Dha Re Dha, is a particularly good fusion of sounds and working methods. Recorded over a three-year period, the band says the LP falls into three categories:

1). arrangements of traditional Indian folk melodies, 2) Improvised studio sessions with minimal editing, and 3) Fully composed 'hyper-realistic' original studio creations that were built from the ground up in the studio track by track.

In addition to Sumkali's core members -- John Churchville (tabla), Bidisha Ghosh (vocals), Dan Ripke (guitar), Rich Rickman (bass), Anoop Gopal (violin), and Will Ciccola (sax/flute) -- Dha Re Dha features 15 guest musicians, including tabla giant Pandit Samar Saha and local legend Peter "Madcat" Ruth on harmonica.

Sumkali has honed it sound through monthly gigs at Indian Music Night in Crazy Wisdom's tea room, but those shows focus more on traditional materials. Dha Re Dha extends the band's sound by adding studio manipulation to the mix, allowing Sumkali to turn traditional Indian music into a modern mash-up without ever killing the original roots of inspiration.

It's a legit tasty fusion.

I emailed with Churchville to discuss Dha Re Dha.

Dig This: Los Gatos swing from pure salsa to Latin jazz on their new album

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Los Gatos

Los Gatos have kept the Latin music flame burning in Ann Arbor for some 20 years, with essentially the same lineup most of the time. But there have certainly been some changes along the way.

For one, the band has outlasted two of its important homes for regular gigs, the now-defunct Bird of Paradise and the Firefly Club. It’s also undergone a shift in musical styles: Originally conceived as a purely Latin jazz ensemble, in later years the band has found itself getting deeper into salsa.
In fact, the Los Gatos recently released a new album, Guarachéate! -- its third ever, and first since 2007 -- that focuses primarily on the band’s salsa side. It’s a great snapshot of the band’s current sound and it displays their reverence for the music, their instrumental skills, and their joy in sharing what they love.

“I don’t think we could have predicted the band would last this long,” says pianist Brian DiBlassio, recently reflecting on their history.

The Tea Is Lit: Arbor Teas Summer Reading Series

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Arbor Teas Summer Reading Series logo

The first book about pouring hot water over cured leaves, The Classic of Tea, was written in 780 A.D. by Lu Yu. While it's ostensibly a how-to guide for cultivating and brewing the best teas, Yu couldn't resist waxing poetic over his shrubby beverage:

Tea can look like a mushroom in whirling flight just as clouds floating from behind a mountain peak. Its leaves can swell and leap as if they were lighting tossed on wind-disturbed water. Still others twist and turn like rivulets carved out be a violent rain in newly tilled fields.

Many writers have feted tea since then, from Lu Tung and Marcel Proust to Henrik Ibsen and Alexander McCall Smith, so Arbor Teas dipping its leaves into literature with its Summer Reading Series feels like a natural fit.

Since 2016, Arbor Teas has serialized fiction on its website each summer, beginning with Lauren Doyle Owens' lighthearted marriage drama The Wintree Waltz, continuing with David Erik Nelson's "till death do we part" sci-fi story Expiration Date, and this summer's historical novella An Exchange of Two Flowers by Sarah Zettel, who reads from her work on Monday, June 25 from 7-8:30 pm at AADL's downtown branch.

To find out how a family-owned organic tea company decided to start publishing fiction, I emailed with Arbor Teas' Lea Abbott.

Less Talk, Rock Action: Fuzz Fest 5 at The Blind Pig

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Fuzz Fest 5 logo

Fuzz Fest lets the music do the talking.

I don't just mean the harmonious racket that'll be created by 33 bands performing nearly 18 hours of jams on June 21-23 at The Blind Pig for the fifth edition of this annual event. Well, I do mean that, but because Fuzz Fest has two performance areas in the club -- one on the main stage and one on the floor -- there are no breaks between the bands' 30-minute sets, which means no time for extraneous jibber-jabber.

It's just CONSTANT ROCK ACTION.

Chris "Box" Taylor, the primary person behind this sonic endurance event, is also content to let the music do the talking. When I asked him to name the most memorable things from Fuzz Fests past, Taylor got straight to the point:

Accessing the Future: Petra Kuppers' "Ice Bar" explores disability culture via speculative fiction

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Petra Kuppers' Ice Bar

Themes of women, water, and power intertwine in delightful ways in Petra Kuppers’ latest book, Ice Bar, which features post-apocalyptic science fiction and psychedelic fantasy short stories where many of the characters are disabled in some way or another.

"They might use a wheelchair or have family members in psych wards or they themselves have been institutionalized," said Kuppers, a University of Michigan professor. "Normally in [these genres], disability is either erased or the person is made the bad guy. I wondered what would happen if I used a disability perspective to write my own stories in which [disability] is neither horrific nor celebratory but rather part of human life.” 

Dreamgate brings a homegrown immersive virtual-reality game to Ann Arbor

PULP LIFE INTERVIEW

Dreamgate VR

In a quiet corner of Briarwood Mall zombies are being destroyed, robot attacks are being fought off, and an Ann Arbor-based startup company is showcasing the potential of virtual-reality video gaming.

Dreamgate VR involves up to four game players in a 400-foot arena. Virtual-reality headsets transform the courtyard near Sears into a completely new world -- either a futuristic cityscape or an apocalyptic war zone. 

The company bills itself as “the first free-roaming, multiplayer virtual reality experience” in Michigan. And in less than a year since launching, the effort is already a success, with plans in the works to add a third game and expand to other locations.

Dreamgate founder and CEO Craig Albert has had an affinity for computers since his family bought one when he was in first grade. Growing up, he taught himself how to build web pages and do graphic design. And he played a lot of online games.

Real Love: Beverly Jenkins writes romance fiction to tell African-American history

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Beverly Jenkins

Beverly Jenkins wants to challenge your thoughts about romance fiction.

When her first book, Night Song, was published in 1994, there wasn’t a market for romance novels featuring people of color, and many African-American-focused novels centered on slavery. But Jenkins continued to pursue her vision of highlighting the love stories of black people, often set in the 19th century. Now, 37 novels later, the Detroit-raised Belleville resident is a superstar in romance fiction.

The prolific writer earned the celebrated Romance Writers of America Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017, further cementing Jenkins' status as a legend in the romance market. But Jenkins isn't just about love stories. She has said she wants to show how black people in America have “turned their lemons into lemonade,” and Jenkins continues with her mission to educate folks about African-American history with her emphasis on Juneteenth, the holiday that commemorates the end of American slavery on June 19, 1865.

On Monday, June 18 at AADL's Malletts Creek branch, Jenkins will present "The Historical Background of Juneteenth" from 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm. During this event, Jenkins will talk about, educate, and celebrate this milestone in American history.

I had the pleasure of speaking to Beverly Jenkins about her literary influences, if men read her work, and the importance of providing love stories featuring minorities.

Art Matters: Jenny Robb of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum

VISUAL ART PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Jenny Robb

Funny stuff: Jenny Robb, director of OSU's Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum. Screengrab by Dave Kellett.

As curator of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum (BICLM) at Ohio State University, Jenny Robb may have one of the coolest jobs in the country. With its current holdings of original cartoons, books, manuscripts, and comic strips in the millions, the BICLM is the largest cartoon art library in the world. Started in 1977, the library is primarily a research collection for American cartoon art, but with the addition of three exhibition galleries in 2013, the BICLM is now a destination for comic fans as well. 

After graduating with a master’s degree in museum studies from Syracuse, Robb eventually landed at the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco in 2000. In 2005, she arrived in Columbus where she spent six years under the tutelage of the BICLM’s founding curator, Lucy Caswell, before assuming the role after Caswell’s retirement in 2011. Robb is an expert on political and historical cartoons, and a firm believer in using cartoons to teach history which can be seen in The Opper Project, a collaborative effort between the BICLM and the History Teaching Institute at OSU to provide lesson plans, cartoons, and other materials online for teachers.

Robb will be the keynote speaker on Friday, June 15 at A2 Inkubate, the pre-conference of the Ann Arbor Comic Arts Festival (A2CAF), where she will discuss the issues faced by institutions and artists in collecting and preserving their art both on paper and digitally. On Saturday, June 16, she’ll be hosting “Stories From the Museum” at A2CAF where attendees can hear stories about the BICLM and get an up-close look at items from the collection.

Robb was kind enough to answer some questions via e-mail for Pulp ahead of the festival. 

Good Tickle Brain's Mya Gosling interprets Shakespeare one stick figure at a time

Mya Gosling's stick-figure Shakespeare

What if Cliff's Notes had Cliff's Notes?

Mya Gosling's Good Tickle Brain is a web-based comics series that reduce Shakespeare's works to three panels. Named after a Falstaff line from Act 2, Scene 4 of Henry IV Part 1 -- "Peace, good pint-pot. Peace, good tickle-brain" -- Gosling's stick-figure interpretations of ol' Will's works have garnered acclaim across the web for their wit, particularly her "Which Shakespeare Play Should I See?" flowchart, which has allowed her to transition from being a library cataloger to a full-time comic artist.

Gosling has expanded her focus to include Keep Calm and Muslim On, written by her friend Andrea Annaba, and Sketchy Beta, the world's only rock-climbing comic strip, as well as three-panel interpretations of many other plays and movies. But the website's namesake Shakespeare strip is when I first discovered Gosling's work during last year's Ann Arbor Comic Arts Festival (A2CAF). My kids fell in love with her The Complete Works of Shakespeare in Three Panels book, which inspired them to go on and dive deep into the Bard's full catalog of plays as well as the film and graphic novel versions.

Gosling will be at this year's A2CAF festival June 16 & 17 at the downtown branch of the Ann Arbor District Library, and I emailed with her about all things three-panel Shakespeare.