Sounds Take Shape: The Visual World of Music in the Midwest draws together the work of musical instrument inventors, composers and improvisers from Wisconsin, Illinois, and Minnesota to survey the innovative use of both instrument design and visual scores to generate unique approaches to musical exploration. From violins in the shape of fish to painted musical scores that direct musicians into the most complex of musical interaction, this exhibition celebrates both the mysterious and the inspiring relationships between how we visualize sound and music.
This exhibition Sounds Take Shape: The Visual World of Music in the Midwest is dedicated to author/educator/visual artist/musical instrument builder Barbara Lindquist (1930-2013).
Hamid Alwan (Milwaukee)
Douglas Ewart (Chicago/Minneapolis)
Barbara Lindquist (Racine)
Wilhelm Matthies (Kenosha)
Steve Nelson-Raney (Milwaukee)
John Preus (Chicago)
Hal Rammel (Cedarburg)
Kevin Schlei (Milwaukee)
Amanda Schoofs (Milwaukee)
Mark Truesdell (Cedarburg)
Ken Vandermark (Chicago)
Johnny Washday (Milwaukee)
Born in Baghdad, Iraq, Hamid Alwan came to Wisconsin to study civil engineering. His passion for Arabic music led him away from his trained profession to become a master drum maker and percussionist. He has extensive knowledge of Arabic music, especially the nuances and variations in Arabic rhythms. He makes a variety of percussive instruments, including tablas, tars, riqqs, and tabl baladis. Hamid is also a skilled restorer of antique Arabesque furniture inlaid with mother of pearl. All of his works focus on the history, rhythms and performance of Arabic music. Hamid and his wife Kim opened the Village Bazaar in 1972 in Wauwatosa and later moved it to Milwaukee.
Douglas Ewart was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1946. At age ten he started to experiment with sound and uniquely designed musical instruments using tin cans altered to become hand drums along with pieces of wood fashioned into rattles. When his family bought a rug rolled around a piece of bamboo, he seized the bamboo as a potential flute, beginning a lifelong dedication to the construction of flutes, rainsticks, didjeridoos and other instruments made from this remarkable material, all adorned with his original, wood-burned designs and aunting paintings.
Ewart emigrated to the United States in June of 1963 and plunged into Chicago's musical world, studying theory, composition, saxophone, and clarinet at the AACM School of Music. His teachers—pianist Muhal Richard Abrams and woodwind players Roscoe Mitchell and Joseph Jarman—inspired him with their creative drive and their view that music was a life and death matter. In addition to performing and recording with master musicians such as Abrams, Henry Threadgill, Fred Anderson, Anthony Braxton, Anthony Davis, Von Freeman, George Lewis, Leo Smith, Cecil Taylor, Alvin Curran, Roscoe Mitchell, and Mwata Bowden, Ewart has performed his own original compositions all over the world.
Barbara Lindquist (1930-2013) was an active author, visual artist, publisher and bookstore owner, musical instrument builder, and boat builder who lived in the Kenosha/Racine area all her life.
In partnership with Jeanne Arnold, she helped create Mother Courage Bookstore from 1978 to 1983 and Mother Courage Press in 1981. Mother Courage Press published 25 titles that sold internationally, including two that were among the first sexual abuse therapy books for children. They retired the press in 2002. They also started a women's spirituality group in 1982 that joined with the Olympia Brown Unitarian Universalist Church.
She was the author of five published books, three under the pen name of B. L. Holmes and two under her own name. She also illustrated four Mother Courage Press books. As an artist she sold more than 100 works that are in private collections around the country.
Barbara Lindquist studied to be a luthier in her late teens and made two violins when she was eighteen years old. Her interest in musical instrument construction resumed when a friend asked her to repair a broken guitar in the mid 1990s. She subsequently went on to build a total of 59 musical instruments, including six guitars, three violins, three dulcimers, and many other unique hybrid instruments. She played guitar and other instruments and organized the women's band The Depends and also played with the Roadkill band. She was active in the organization LINK (Lonely Instruments for Needy Kids), repairing a wide variety of donated instruments for children's music studies.
Wilhelm Matthies, although born in Ohio in 1959 and raised in South Carolina, has lived in the Midwest for about half of his life. While earning his masters degree in painting and printmaking in the early-80s, he developed a love for new classical music hearing performances of Schoenberg, Berg, and Xenakis as well as performances by student composers and performers.
In the mid- to late-'80s Wilhelm performed in Chicago art galleries using prepared guitars and a prepared mandolin while also listening to free improvisation and free jazz performed live.
In the late-'80s he designed and built several invented instruments that he resumed working on in the 2000's. In 2011 Wilhelm began creating, posting, and collaborating to make music with various artists associated with SoundCloud including Paul Mimlitsch, Mehata Hiroshi (Mehata Sentimental Legend), Megan Lee Karls, Paulo Chagas, Maresuke Okamato, and Matthias Boss using his instrument the kokeka. RiverFoot-Reality Rubs was the first album he released using the kokeka.
Beginning in March 2012, Matthies has been developing another new instrument called the mosesa, creating several albums, first with Paulo Chagas (Lark Markings) with Matteo Marchisano-Adamo (blue lake, gathering shore to be released with Somehow Recordings in 2013), Joel Taylor (dawn still being worked on), Pedro Duarte (fields still being worked on), Sleeping On Lotus Ashes (taking to piece, heaping together), and Marco Lucchi (cliff notes, expanding waves).
Steve Nelson-Raney has been performing his own music since the late sixties. Since then he has given numerous concerts throughout the country and appeared with such musicians as Malcolm Goldstein, Peter Kowald, Ernie Watts, Michael Zerang, Tom Hamilton, Ken Vandermark, and the traditional players of Greek Macedonia. Solo performances have included two in New York City. Nelson-Raney's current work includes continuation of ongoing improvisations for saxophone and piano, composition in various mediums and collaborations with other musicians, writers and visual artists, including two notable collaborative performances with writers Anne Waldman and Tom Raworth.
Saxophonist and pianist, Nelson-Raney was a founding member of the free improvisation trio Audiotrope. He continues to perform with instrument inventor Hal Rammel, guitarist Jack Grassel, and laptop improviser Christopher Burns. He also performs with the Great Lakes Improvising Orchestra.
John Preus spent his early years running barefoot under a cathedral of trees in Makumira, Tanzania, then grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and northern Wisconsin. Preus, in spite of his squandered pastoral pedigree, currently works as an artist, builder, fabricator, amateur writer, and collaborator. He founded Chicago's Dilettante Studios in 2010, which designs and builds cabinets, furniture, and residential and commercial spaces, relying almost exclusively on second-hand materials. He co-founded the art group Material Exchange in 2005. He worked with Theaster Gates as the Creative Director of the Rebuild Foundation, and as the lead fabricator in his studio, leaving recently to focus on his own work.
Preus holds an MFA from the University of Chicago (2005). He studied at La Cipressaia in northern Italy in the early-'90s and at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2002. He has roughly sixteen years of building and designing experience, which includes a two-year apprenticeship with award-winning hand-tool master John Nesset. He is working on an upcoming solo exhibition of his musical instruments at the Experimental Sound Studio.
Hal Rammel is a visual artist, musician, author, and educator. He designs and builds musical instruments for the recording and performance of original compositions and improvisations. His drawings, cartoons, photographs and musical instruments have been exhibited at the Audible gallery, Corbett vs, Dempsey Gallery, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and at the racine Art Museum and Woodland Pattern Book Center. He has been the host and curator of Alternating Currents Live at Woodland Pattern since 1995, and the host of Alternating Currents on WMSE (91.7FM-Milwaukee) since 1992.
Kevin Schlei is a composer, performer, and software developer based in Milwaukee. His work pulls expression from technology, using custom-built instruments, sensors, and performance systems to drive his music. Schlei is a founding member of the Milwaukee Laptop Orchestra (MiLO) and has exhibited installation works and multimedia throughout Milwaukee. He has also collaborated with dance and theater organizations such as the Milwaukee Ballet, Danceworks, and Milwaukee Shakespeare Company, and presented his work at the Spark, BEAF, and NIME festivals.
In 2010 he founded Bit Shape Software to develop musical instruments for the iPhone and iPad that take advantage of their unique interface and sensor technologies. He continues his research into multi-touch instruments, having recently presented his work at the New Interfaces for Musical Expression conference in Sydney, Australia. Schlei teaches computer music at the UWM Peck School of the Arts where he is the Electro-Acoustic Music Center Technical Director.
Amanda Schoofs is a composer, improviser, vocalist, and visual artist. Her compositions extend from the American experimental music tradition and exist in the spaces between diverse artistic practices. At times she uses traditional notation to convey musical ideas, but she has also developed a method of painting performance scores that explore relationships between breath/pitch, timbre/hue, intensity/shade, gesture/shape, noise, and silence. "They are visual representations of sound that deconstruct traditional and contemporary forms of musical notation with erased and layered text, raw mark and intense gesture to achieve equilibrium between composition and spontaneity in performance."
As a vocalist, Amanda fuses extended techniques with traditional forms of blues, opera, chanson, and punk. She has performed and collaborated with exceptional artists like: Fred Frith, Christopher Burns, Shayna Dunkelman, Phillip Greenlief, Steve Nelson-Rainey, Damon Smith, Trevor Saint, and many others.
Schoofs earned an MA in Music Composition from Mills College, where she had the opportunity to work with Joëlle Léandre, Pauline Oliveros, Zeena Parkins, and Roscoe Mitchell. She currently works as a Lecturer in Music Composition and Theory at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Mark Truesdell has been active in Milwaukee music since the late-1980s as a singer-songwriter and with stints in diverse groups including F.S. Camels, Dellmann Trio, Truesdell and Rautmann, 40oz Kings, Lost Pioneers and John The Conqueroo. Guitar/slide, bass, piano, vocals and harmonica are his main instruments along with the recently added Rotella Cosmica and Melodica used in the Once Now Ensemble.
Mark writes: "After an initial burst of creative song writing in my early-'20s and early-'30s, (my) muse wandered off...only recently returning under the assumed name 'Umberto Vata'—composer of ambient experimental space music."
Ken Vandermark is an American jazz composer and saxophone and clarinet player. A fixture on the Chicago-area music scene since the 1990s, Vandermark has earned wide critical praise for his playing and his multilayered compositions that typically balance intricate orchestration with passionate improvisation. He has led or been a member of many groups, has collaborated with many other musicians, and was awarded a 1999 MacArthur Fellowship. He plays tenor saxophone, clarinet, and bass clarinet and, in about 2000, added baritone saxophone to his arsenal, and often favors the instrument, particularly in larger ensembles.
Vandermark has lived in Chicago since autumn 1989. Since then, he has performed or recorded with many musicians (including Hal Russell, Paal Nilssen-Love, Hamid Drake, Fred Anderson, Paul Lytton, Joe McPhee, Joe Morris, and Peter Brötzmann) and performs in the ensembles DKV Trio, Spaceways Inc., The Vandermark 5, and Territory Band among many others in the United States and abroad.
Johnny Washday is a Milwaukee artist and musician who has been making cigar box guitars for the past eight years. He began his musical career at age fourteen, playing teen dances and garage parties. Johnny Washday began his busking career outside of the Oriental Pharmacy in the late-1970s. In the late-'80s he moved from outside the northern exit of the Summerfest grounds to inside the gate setting up his band close to the lake. By sixteen, he was doing club gigs, including, in 1980, with Buck Byron & His Newest Thing at Zak's in Milwaukee. In the 1980s he played with Sacred Order and toured the U.S. with The Crusties.
Cigar boxes in the 1920s and '30s were a readily available source of wood for all variety of homemade objects from wooden picture frames to musical instruments. The cigar box guitar was the first guitar for many of the famous guitarists who went on to change the course of American music. Inspired by this rich tradition, Johnny Washday fabricates guitars from these remarkable objects: "100-year-old wood from 200-year-old trees." In 2008 he was commissioned to make a cigar box guitar for Les Paul which was presented to him at his home in New Jersey. It bore the inscription: "To Les Paul, with love, Johnny Washday."