Muhal Richard Abrams, “The Renaissance Man” of 20th Century Music

Jazz lovers all over the world mourned the loss of a music legend, Muhal Richard Abrams. The New York Times reported that Abrams, 87, was found lifeless on his Manhattan house, October 29, 2017. Dubbed the “Renaissance Man” of 20th century music, Abrams’ roles in nurturing grassroots music through AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) has been widely recognized by critiques and musicians alike. He was known to possess deep understanding of music theory and interest in other disciplines such as spiritualism. He devoted much of his time studying Joseph Schillinger system, a music theory that departs from a mathematical geometry. Perhaps that what made him such an exceptional musician.

Together with Phil Cohran, Jodie Christian, and Fred Anderson, Abrams co-founded AACM, a non-profit organization with a mission to cultivate the next generation through music and education.  The organization is still striving to this day because its members have faith in AACM’s culture and core mission. The organization is central to its members. As Anthony Braxton put it, AACM has become the medium for musicians hungry for new approach, to explore and improvise.  Since its establishment in 1965, AACM has changed the face of the neighborhood, alleviating poverty that once overwhelmed the streets by giving people education. To this day, AACM still manages to produce quality individuals.

AACM’s continuous existence shows that this organization has been aiming at defining the meaning of life. It is free-willed and has been struggling against the mainstream culture by providing people with music education.

As the result, it has produced many outstanding musicians and forward thinkers, such as Anthony Braxton, The Art Ensemble of Chicago, and Henry Threadgill. Braxton is a soulful, unique saxophonist and composer of modern jazz who earned The McArthur’s “Genius Grant”. The Art Ensemble of Chicago is a free-jazz band that immersed itself in counter-culture movement. Lastly is Henry Threadgill, a prominent bass player, composer, and a winner of Pulitzer Prize. These individuals are the proof of AACM’s success in educating society through music.

Left: Art Ensemble of Chicago, Center: Anthony Braxton, Right: Henry Threadgill.

Abrams was a prolific music writer. He had been composing music throughout his life, producing a number of masterpieces. According to Discog, he had released albums from 1968 to 2016, ranging from solo, group/orchestral, and re-mastered albums. He also wrote many commissioned projects for big names such as Kronos Quartet, American Composer Orchestra, Brooklyn Philharmonic, and Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

One thing that we must learn from him is his tenacity. He may not be a famous musician; his pieces may not be easy-listening ones, but he couldn’t care less about it and continued to be do what he believed. This attitude should serve as a salient reminder for us today, when music industry is mainly geared towards money-making and less concern for the arts. Abram’s spirit of putting his art first should inspire the new generation of musicians.

Source:

  1. AACM Panel Discussion.

2. (2014 )NEA Jazz Masters Awards Ceremony & Concert, Part 2 (Anthony Braxton).

3. Muhal Richard Abrams, 87, Individualistic Pianist and Composer, Is Dead.(NYT).

 

Loving Vincent

The World’s First Fully Oil-Painted Film

[Jakarta, LTTW] “We cannot speak other than by our paintings” is a sentence from the last letter written by Vincent Van Gogh himself, which later inspired painter and film director Dorota Kobiela to create Loving Vincent, the world’s first fully oil-painted film about Vincent Van Gogh’s final days.

Derived from re-imagination of 94 Vincent Van Gogh’s original paintings; the filmmakers produced over 65,000 frames of oil paints on more than 800 canvases for the film. “Everything was a painting on canvas”, said Hugh Welchman, co-director of Loving Vincent.

They shot the film with real actors in live action combined with Computer Generated Layout Animatic as reference materials. The recorded film was then handed over to Painting Design Team, which consists of over 80 painters working at studios in Gdansk and Wroclaw. This team of painters meticulously turned each frames into a thick, expressive brushstrokes and colors mimicking Van Gogh’s painting style. Each frame was painted over and over for the movement of the shot.

“No tracing, no nothing. The opening shot, where we come down from Starry Night, took six hours per frame to paint. So you’re talking about two weeks to do a second. It might have taken 20 weeks to paint that 10-second shot – you’re looking at half a year of someone’s life”, said Welchman. Ten minutes fully oil-painted film is great, but for one and a half hours, it is breathtaking – especially when we are in the middle of technological advancement era.

That’s why the filmmakers didn’t just succeed in making fully oil-painted animation, but also pushed the boundaries of filmmaking by combining conventional technique with today’s technology. Another thing that needs to be well-pondered is that the film story was created based on the interpretation of Van Gogh’s paintings and letters, thus the filmmakers must also interpret each paintings and letters, and how one relates to the other. This is the reason why Loving Vincent leaves us flabbergasted.

Loving Vincent’s Official Trailer via Youtube

According to its official website, Loving Vincent took more than 6 years to complete.

The movie was released on September 22, 2017 in the US, followed by screenings and events in North and South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Oceania (Australia and New Zealand) until early 2018.

If you’re still curious about how the film was made, you shouldn’t miss the Loving Vincent exhibition at Noordbrabans Museum in Den Bosch, Netherlands. The exhibition runs until January 28, 2018.

 

Sources: Loving Vincent Official Website and The Guardian

Transcendental Evening with the Art Ensemble of Chicago

@ Café OTO in London, UK.

by Ginastera Sianturi

On Monday the 16th of October, a rather breezy autumn night in east London, the Art Ensemble of Chicago (AEC) transforms Café OTO into a spiritual space, where the world’s sounds meet and gather under one roof. After its successful debut back in February 2017, Café OTO decided to bring the legendary free jazz ensemble back to perform for a 3-night (sold out) residency. Both the young, and those who have been their audience for the last five decade are simply encapsulated and drawn by the ensemble’s virtuosity, improvisational skills, boldness, as well as their rich palettes of colours and textures that still reverberate and resonate to this day.

The ensemble’s multidimensional concept of music, that comes from all walks of life, draws people’s attention for sure. The repetitive layers of music produce natural effects that can put people into a state of ‘trance’, by exploring and experimenting with the conscious and the unconscious state of one’s soul. Hugh Ragin, the man who is in charge of the woodwind section, said that performing in their prime (in 60’s and 70’s) was essentially no different from performing at Cafe OTO 50 years later. He furthered saying that although the setting is different, one thing stays the same, and that is about feeling renewed every time he performs.

Art Ensemble of Chicago – Fly with Honey Bee (Music provided by Vox de Cultura)

The transcendent experience may not be fully integrated into one’s body that has a close and skeptical mind towards the uncharted territory of the human spirits. Many Classical musicians, for instance, struggle to digest AEC music because what they do somewhat against the principles and traditions of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven. A prominent psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung states that consciousness naturally resists anything unconscious and unknown. He also explains in his masterwork “Man and his Symbols” that anthropologists have pointed out that there is a deep and a superstitious fear of novelty among primitive people known as misoneism.

He also argued,” The primitives manifest all the reactions of the wild animal against untoward events, but “civilized” man reacts to new ideas in much the same way, erecting psychological barriers to protect himself from the shock of facing something new. This can easily be observed in any individual’s reaction to his own dreams when obliged to admit a surprising thought. Many pioneers in philosophy, science, and even literature have been victims of the innate conservatism of their contemporaries.”

From the Classical music context, this type of “jazz impromptus” can be difficult to digest and to some extend it can be quite disturbing, leaving the audience with an uncomfortable feeling afterward. Knowledge that has been taught at Conservatoires provides a very limited view of the world because it explains music only from a Western Classical perspective.

Music is a “language”, and therefore, Classical music is just one of the musical languages of the world. Knowing and believing in only one musical language hinder us from having a broader musical horizon, and in a wider spectrum hamper us to gain a better cross-cultural understanding and respect. It is hard for anyone to disagree with Ludwig Wittgenstein who said,” The limit of my language is the limit of my world.” A person’s ability to articulate and express what she or he feels and has in mind is determined by the amount of knowledge and resources of the language(s) that she or he speaks. So if we only “speak” one language of music, then we can be sure that musical traditions in the world will not flourish because each remains within its own compartment. Human expressions will dwindle, and even worse, the musical world will be divisive since pigeonholed knowledge tend to bore views and minds that trivialize others’. Variety of issues happening today already indicate the probability of a more divisive future.

Being divisive is not the only problem we are facing; one’s domination over others is just as onerous. Still in the language domain, English for example, is the most dominating international language in the world. According to Research Trends, 80% of the world’s scientific knowledge is written in English. In many non-English speaking countries, perhaps out of inferiority, English has been embraced as the more important, if not the first, language, leaving national language behind; on the other hand, the people of the native English speakers feel that there is no need to learn other languages since everyone in the world already learn or speak English. So neither domination nor divisiveness will ever give us cross learning atmosphere and attitude. Doing music this way is just the same as beautifying a corpse, in other words, embellishing a subject that will soon be decaying.

In the monotheistic religious tradition, God Almighty gave its prophets miracles, which resonate to the conditions in which they live at a time (e.g.: Moses with the ability to turn his staff into serpent, and Jesus with the miracle to awaken the dead). In Islam, the Muslims believe that the eloquence of the Quran as the greatest miracle of Islam.

In his book “The Heart of Islam”, Seyyed Hossein Nasr explains, “…and since poetic eloquence was the most prized of all virtues for pre-Islamic Arabs, God revealed through the Prophet by far the most eloquent of all Arabic works, the Quran.” He then continues: “Its eloquence not only moved the heart and soul of those Arabs of the seventh century who first heard it, but also moves to tears Muslim believers throughout the world today, even those whose mother tongue is not Arabic, although Arabic is the language of daily prayers for all Muslims, Arab and non-Arab alike. The grace, or barakah (corresponding both etymologically and in meaning to the Hebrew barak), of the text transcends its mental message and moves souls towards God in much the same way that hearing Gregorian Chant in Latin would for centuries in the West deeply affect even those who did not understand the Latin words. Of course, the same can be said for the Latin Mass itself, whose beautiful liturgy was of the deepest significance for some fifteen hundred years even for those Catholics who did not know Latin.”

Invoking Jung, Wittgenstein and Nasr in this writing is to argue that the whole live experience is essential in this context. The sound of AEC moves not only the heart and soul of Jazz enthusiasts but also any other music fans who are interested in sounds’ exploration and improvisation. In order to fully experience and to feel what the music is all about, one must go and watch the AEC live. Such experience can neither be replaced by YouTube nor Spotify, regardless how the two have dramatically changed our perceptions of music in the 21st century. Internet and social media have given us inter-connectivity, but ironically eroded the necessity and values of the real or physical human interaction.

The music kicked off at approximately 8:30 pm; it began with a short moment of silence with all musicians stood and faced to the left of the stage. This could be a ritual and long tradition/gesture of AEC that adds a ‘sacred element’ on to the set. The drone-like sound of woodwind and saxophone immersed gradually to warm up the audience that evoked the function of an overture in a Classical orchestra or Alap in North Indian music as a form of melodic improvisation that precedes Ragas. This introduction produced calm and peaceful effects, serving as a prerequisite language for the audience to absorb the overwhelming, bold, and psychedelic sounds of the AEC that encapsulated the rest of the evening.

AEC is not just about the brilliance and virtuosity in music composing and performing. The evolving composition of its members clearly represents their comprehension on the importance of inter-generational transmission. The line up for this London concert consists of the two founding members, Roscoe Mitchell and Famoudou Don Moye, then the second formation generation, Hugh Ragin and Junius Paul, and the most recent generation, Mazz Swift, Tomeka Reid, and Silvia Bolognesi. It’s amazing how all of them conceptually, musically and technically fit perfectly in the ensemble. The brilliant and brave playing of Mazz Swift (violinist), and Tomeka Reid (cellist), combined with their positive energy, certainly added freshness and oddity of sounds that depict the sound of today’s living in natural acoustics.

When asked about how more divisive the world today, and the fact that we’re still actually struggling with the same issues that his generation fought for during the Counter Culture Movement in the 60s, Hugh Ragin pointed out that there will always be obstacles that we have to face, no matter when and where. By highlighting the significant role of Duke Ellington in the past, he also urged musicians (and other artists) to get together and bring people together so that we can rise above the impediments.

All cultural manifestations, including music, are contextual. Any music serves its own purposes and ideals according to the contexts in which the music was created at the time. Music is a powerful intermediary that addresses current issues that are relevant to and experienced directly by the musicians and societies they live in. In their early years, AEC challenged the issues by going beyond technique, tonality, and even the existing forms. In this London performance, the whole musical set was thoughtfully constructed and spiritually implemented as it managed to reach and communicate with the deeper souls and spirits of the audience. The set resembles a spiritual journey, a “religious” experience that employs Jazz as a vehicle to express feelings and emotions to the fullest extend by using a vast collection of sounds and musical traditions from around the world. AEC had successfully transformed the evening into a transcendental experience.


A BRIEF CHAT WITH HUGH RAGIN OF ART ENSEMBLE OF CHICAGO

Ginastera Sianturi: How do you feel playing now compared to, say, back then in the 70s? Feel any difference with the atmosphere, audience, the vibe and so on?

Hugh Ragin: It’s fresh all the time… I feel renewed every time I play…ha ha ha

I feel energized after the gig myself. It’s been a long day at work, but after listening to your music, I’m up at another level.

Oh that’s beautiful man. That’s the beauty of music, you listen to it, feel refreshed, released…and renewed. I think music does that to me when I practice, when I play. It’s a continuous process, you know.

What do you think of the young musicians today? Especially in the jazz scene…

I think a lot of them learning their history, and keep playing music, and that’s what’s important. I’ve heard a lot of great composers, arrangers, and having seen this, I think the future looks very bright.

Good! It’s great to hear that, because a lot of us didn’t live in the past, but most of the music we create today is still the music of the past.

Yes, but luckily the past was so well documented; with the YouTube, and all that stuff, you can dig down really deep and find out what’s going on. To have young people and listener like you are encouraging; your presence and our sharing are vitamins for the soul, you know.

Let’s talk about the world today a little bit. Compared to the divisive world of the 1960s, it seems like the today’s world is even more divisive, and in a negative way because people are eradicating the values that the 60s generation stood for. We’re still struggling with the same issues, but doing it in reverse, don’t you agree?

Yeaah, but there’s always been that way, you know. It’s nothing new. It seems like these are always gonna be overbearing obstacles, no matter what. This is what music is all about, a way of getting out of the depression smoothly.

Music is a powerful bridge for that, isn’t it?

Powerful man! I was just reading about how Duke Ellington was really linking a lot of people back in the day when he was playing, you know. He was really a catalyst for social justice, by doing what he does with the music.

As a young musician, I feel that we’re losing context today. How do we gain that again back to, you know, where people play music within context, and respond to actual issues that are happening?

Have you seen this exhibition? There’s an exhibition here at the museum; It’s about soul music and art, I forgot the name of it. It’s a great exhibition to check out the history, and an idea of getting the artists back together. Getting people of different disciplines together again; dancers, painters, artists, literary people, musicians, talking and having conversation, just like what we’re doing now, engaging. I think if we ever get closer to that, that’s gonna help bring us back, and that’s gonna be huge. People like you, and me, we have to be on a mission as motivational speakers, get the people involved in this. That’s really our job, that’s the lane we drive in…ha ha ha.

I agree, 100%! The young needs a lot of advise from the past, it’s something we never experience. So, thank you very much for your time, it’s been a great chat!.

 

Akram Khan’s Giselle

Bridging Two Different Centuries in a Refreshing Way

by Irninta Dwitika

Akram Khan’s Giselle returns to Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London on 20 – 23 September 2017 after its successful performances last year. Performed by English National Ballet, Akram Khan brings the 21st century’s context into the ballet of the Romantic period in the 19th century. The simplicity of movement, costume, and set design distinguishes this remake version from the original, yet very mesmerizing.

In contrast with the original version, Khan’s Giselle adapts the romantic story with the abstraction of this globalization era by replacing the community of peasants with migrant workers. Migrants and refugees that have become one of world’s main challenges as well as human inequality are the main issues in Khan’s version.

With no white tutus on stage as they are the iconic costume of the romantic-era version, costume designer Tim Yap creates simple and minimalist style of the costumes that portray beauty and sadness together.

The renowned choreographer beautifully combines classical ballet and contemporary dance with influence of his dance training background, the Indian classical dance form Kathak. The dominating repetitive movements danced in unison gradually build up the strong energy.

Khan’s presence in the contemporary dance world, particularly in the West, has certainly borne fruits to both traditions. Not only that he is able to continue questioning and challenging each tradition, Ballet and Kathak, but also to provide a platform to renovate old ideas as well as integrating both mind and movements in the 21st century global world.

A cross-cultural collaboration is not a new phenomenon in the history of the Arts. From the 9th century Andalusia to Bartok’s folklore to Brazilian Jazz are the concrete proofs. In fact, collaboration in the Arts have been seen as a need or even a necessity; it’s a medium to communicate and to express our emotions and ways of life with languages of the arts (music, dance, painting, etc) that has no cultural, social and political barriers.

If there was a ”flaw” in the performance, it certainly was not about the story, choreography, costume or dancing; instead, it was the unwanted interruption in the early minutes due to the injury underwent by the dancer who played the Albrecht character. The performance was stopped for cast change; in about ten minutes the show was restarted from the beginning. Other than that, this renewed Giselle is nothing but a stimulating and an inspiring piece.

Trailer of Akram Khan’s Giselle via Youtube:

Irninta Dwitika is a ballet teacher at Namarina Dance Academy, and also a dancer at Namarina Youth Dance in Indonesia. She is currently pursuing a Master degree in Dance Performance at the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in London, UK.

I Am Human living in Diversity

“Thanks to J. M Basquiat who inspired me and people who fight against Racism, let’s keep the equality in humanity …” – Adikara Rachman | 170cm x 150cm | Acrylic on canvas |2017

[LttW, Jakarta]. In recent years, diversity that was once embraced as human treasure seems to be taken as a threat to humanity. This far right view has gained followers in many parts of the world, and at the same time caused tensions, conflicts, killings, and wars within and between countries.

Humans are bound to be different due to the order of nature; there’s nothing we can do about it. Our physical (including racial) and cultural differences are the natural results of our adaptation to the environment. However, diversity is not the only thing we share. We also have common possessions: conscience, common sense, logic, intelligence, emotion, human anatomy, etc. It is with these commonalities human should forever manage diversity as as an enriching factor, not a destroying one.

History has proven that diversity has not always been the cause of problems; it has also given the world amazing human inventions that elevates our civilizations over millennia. So why keep insisting that diversity is the root of problems while we know that it can be the answer to the problems? [Desk]