Interviewed by Molly Wilbanks
In February I went to a show at the Milestone and got to experience some unexpected, awesome energy. Dancers were performing, and there was an excited crowd packed in and watching every move, eager to see what would happen next. It was the Triptych Collective, and they had a whole evening of performance to give, like something I haven’t seen in a long time… I had to find out more. A few weeks ago, I got to sit down and talk with two members of the Triptych Collective, Eric Mullis, and Sarah Ingel, and ask some questions about creative process, and how to perform even if you’ve never performed before. If you’ve seen them live then you already know what I’m about to say– there’s nothing quite like this happening anywhere else in Charlotte.
Be a part of the collective, be a part of the experience: this Saturday, join the Triptych Collective Community Slow Walk in NoDa, beginning at 6pm. And there’s more, be sure to catch “ARTiculating through Action: an evening of reflective performance” Thursday, April 24, 8pm at Neighborhood Theatre.
Molly Wilbanks: When did you first begin to perform as a dancer?
Eric Mullis: A year ago. I came to dance late. I have a background in music, I play jazz drums and mallet percussion. I also have a martial arts background. Chinese Kung-fu, and Tai Chi. I started working with Triptych collective years ago, as a musician. I started collaborating with them, going to all of their rehearsals. Writing music for dance is a very different ballgame. So, I watched what they were doing, and got really, really interested in it. Because the group is collaborative, and very supportive of each other as artists, I expressed an interest in trying dance out, and everyone was wonderful, and now I just can’t stop.
Sarah Ingel: I started dancing when I was very young. At four I made the switch to Tae Kwon Do, so I also have a background in martial arts. About age 13, I made the switch back to dance, and decided that dance was what I was going to choose as my path in life, and what I wanted to do as a career. I started training at that age. For high school I ended up going to the North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem and I was there for three years. Then I went to Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia for my undergrad. From there I started going to the American Dance Festival in Durham. That is where Eric and I started to work together, and that’s when Eric brought me into the Triptych Collective, and we’ve been working together ever since, and that was last year.
Molly Wilbanks: What was the impetus for forming Triptych Collective, and what inspired the name?
Eric Mullis: It was, originally, really informal. It was a group of friends who were all in NoDa (North Davidson area) in some way and it was a group of five people who were all either at UNCC studying dance, or had recently graduated. I met them through playing music. One of them had the idea of doing a Dark Side of the Moon ballet, so we put that show together with a big band and they collaboratively created dance for the show. We performed it at the Neighborhood Theatre, and we just had a blast. It was very well received, and so we decided to keep working together. There were six founding members, and all of them except myself and Caitlyn Swett have moved on. Either moved away, or they’re on to other projects. Since then, we have brought new people in, like Sarah, and other dancers. The idea for the name, for that first show, was because we had three different kinds of artists collaborating- we had musicians, dancers, and a visual artist doing original, live projections, and so it was a triptych. Now, it is more of a collaborative spirit, but originally it was those three types of artists. Since then, we have branched out.
Molly Wilbanks: In what ways do other creative works, such as paintings, music, or writing, inform your creative dance process?
Sarah Ingel: I tend to think of dance-making as research, so I am very inspired when I’m doing my research, by other artists, and by other visual, musical inputs. I also work in multimedia as well, I like to use projections and dance video. The way we work collaboratively is to show a diverse group of artists, and to dispel the distance that people think there is between the different forms of art, because they’re actually quite similar in their process of creation. The way that I create a film is very similar to how I go about creating dance. I don’t think there is as much separation as people think there is, between the different art forms. There are more, and more collaborative works that are coming out, nobody is just a musician, or just a dancer, or just a choreographer. Everybody is becoming a jack-of-all-trades, or a Renaissance performer, of sorts. I think that’s just the way that art is evolving. People are looking for new ways to explore how to express themselves and that is something that comes with layering media, and layering meaning on top of each other.
Eric Mullis: For me it was very interesting, as a musician, watching dancers embody movement, that I was helping to make and seeing that kind of dialogue happen. That was really addictive. To work on some ideas, and bring it to a rehearsal, and see the dancers embody it, it was like drugs. Especially as a musician, it opened up new ideas for music for me, and that is what gradually pulled me in. Now, to be on the other side, feeling music differently, and thinking about how I want to embody it…
Sarah Ingel … it’s all intertwined. We can make dance without music, but it’s not going to be as impactful. It all has to be intertwined for us to be able to get the messages across that we are trying to explain. Also, in the research, you accumulate so many different things that bring meaning to the piece, it’s a natural process of gleaning that happens, at least in my process. Some people have it in their minds, they know exactly what they are going to do, right off the bat, they have the moves, and they don’t need music, or it doesn’t have as much input. But for me, it’s very much a process of gleaning of videos, and music, and what I saw on the news yesterday, and the conversation I had with Eric this morning, it’s very much a process of collecting.
Eric Mullis: I think, for most of us, we get a vague notion of something we want to explore and then we start talking with each other about it. We start to create as we are exploring and investigating it– that vague idea that we have. I think most of us aren’t really sure where it’s going to go and I think that’s why we like to use other media, to help us think about it.
Sarah Ingel: A lot of it comes as fleeting images. For my most recent piece that I did, I knew that I wanted a skirt completely covered in flowers, and that was important to the piece. As I started to make the movements, I thought, ‘okay, I know what this is about now’. Oftentimes I don’t know what the piece is about until I perform it…
Molly Wilbanks: Triptych Collective performances, from what I’ve seen, often invite audience participation whether it’s donating items, or actually performing alongside the dancers. Do you consider your audience as part of the collective?
Sarah Ingle: Definitely. I think it’s important… A performer is making artwork to be shared. I am making my artwork to start a conversation, in order to provoke thought. I think it’s absolutely integral to have the audience there. They’re part of the collective, and they’re a part of the experience that we’re trying to create with our performances.We want it to be very accessible, we don’t want to be up on a stage, or have the artist be inaccessible by the audience. I think it all ties into having artwork that does form around some kind of meaning, and some kind of activism. At Hollins University we practiced what we called conceptual activism. That is something that has really stuck with me for a long time, and something that I try to use in my work, as motivation for meaning and as a reason, otherwise, why are we doing this?
Eric Mullis: Especially because one of the collective’s mediums is dance…for a lot of people dance is usually seen as entertainment. We want the audience to really investigate this with us. There are a lot of people who don’t know how to respond, or view dance, especially modern and post-modern dance. I’ve had this discussion with friends and family, and we, as a Collective, feel compelled to be inclusive.
Sarah Ingle: That’s something I’ve gotten a response about, as an artist. I will tell people, “Oh, you should come to our show”, and they will say, “Oh well, modern dance, I don’t get it”. But it’s not about ‘getting it’ or ‘not getting it’, it’s about what you’re taking away from it. If you’re not taking anything away from it, then I haven’t done my job and I want to hear that kind of feedback. By getting feedback from the audience, that is how we tailor our pieces and become more effective. The audience is part of the collective in that I take their response and then make my piece into something completely different based on what people tell me they were feeling. It’s very important.
Molly Wilbanks: Tell me more about the Triptych Collective Community Slow Walk.
Sarah Ingle: At Hollins University we would do slow walks, with the Hollins Repertory Dance Company, the dance club on campus. It started before I was a student, with a woman named Shani Collins who was a member of Urban Bush Women and an MFA graduate of the Hollins Dance Department. I don’t know what the original reason for the slow walk was, but they used it, while I was there, as a way to commemorate events. We would do a slow walk on the anniversary of 9/11. We would do a slow walk on Take Back The Night, or to commemorate the passing of a professor, or the Virginia Tech shooting, which happened around the corner from us. That was the start of it. For me it was one of these incredibly personal, meditative practices where I could be going crazy in my college life, doing a million things, and then, for an hour, I would take that time to walk across campus, slow down my body, and slow down my mind. That was such a wonderful practice, especially having something to focus on and think about. We come back to social activism, by slowing down our bodies, and slowing down our minds, we actually have a form of activism that happens right there. People are watching us walk very slowly and start to think about why we are doing that. It triggers a line of thought on whatever event we are commemorating. With this particular walk, we’re giving people the option to slow walk for whatever is important to them, whatever they would like to give their time, that hour of a busy day, a busy lifestyle, to commemorate. It can be slow walking for peace, it can be slow walking for equal rights, it can be slow walking to fair wages, or unions, I could list a number of things– more funding for the arts! We’re going to meet in NoDa, and we’re going to take an hour to walk down the street.
Molly Wilbanks: It reminds me of flash mobs, but with the opposite speed.
Sarah Ingel: …the wonderful thing about slow walking is that everyone can do it. People often think, “I’m not a dancer, I can’t do what you are doing”, but actually, you can. This is a way that anyone can do it. In that way we’re also asking people to become political in their own bodies.
Molly Wilbanks: I have a question regarding Poor Mouth, a current performance piece for the Triptych Collective. It focuses on the Piedmont Mill Culture and some of the same issues are pertinent now, in America, with the living wage movement. Did any current events influence the work of Poor Mouth, or is it more historical?
Eric Mullis: Originally, it was purely historical, going back to NoDa as our creative home. NoDa tends to be where we get a lot of community support, we perform elsewhere, but it’s our base. Making a long story short, last summer I was traveling back and forth to ADF (American Dance Festival in Durham) on the train which runs through Charlotte, Salisbury, Concord, Kannapolis, Burlington, and Durham… and on the train line, you see all the abandoned mills, the ugly side. I got really interested in that and started doing some research into mill culture, and specifically, NoDa’s history as a mill village. I got crazy obsessed with that research. The research changed the way I experienced NoDa. It was really interesting to me that I had been involved in this community but not really… those abandoned mills right on the corner, I never saw them. The research really brought them to life. I wanted to make a piece that would encourage people to have that same experience. I feel like NoDa, like every neighborhood, is always going through subtle changes and there’s a question of how it’s connected to its past. I felt that especially after being here for a few years and seeing it change from a bustling arts district to more of an entertainment district… the hope was to really encourage people to think more about this place. At the same time, some feedback I kept getting from audiences was, “wow, it’s the same thing now”. You have people who are struggling for a living wage who are working two part-time jobs, with a kid, and there’s no way they can make it. Or the fact that these mills shut down, and now they’re just in China, and they pay the people next to nothing in China to make the same product. That’s the crazy part, that none of it’s really changed. Originally that wasn’t my intention, but then, in getting feedback from a lot of people along the way of creating it, and performing it, they’ve brought this up, and it’s really–
Sarah Ingle: –sounds like you need to make a Part Two.
Eric Mullis: Yes! It’s interesting because it has to do with the historical sense of this place but also, like you said, those same issues that those mill workers faced, they haven’t changed today, it’s mind boggling really.
Molly Wilbanks: What might you say to a younger person who wants to perform but is shy?
Sarah Ingle: A relevant question, we were just talking about ideas surrounding this, for next season. For me, this is something that did occur to me, in my process of being a dancer. I was told that I didn’t necessarily have the right body type, that I was not really going to succeed. It wasn’t until I went to Hollins University that I discovered that I can make my own path in terms of what I wanted to see in the dance world. That I could be what I wanted to see in the dance world, which was an acceptance of different body types and the idea that, if you want to dance and if you love to dance, then you can dance. In a similar way that we always say, “what is art?”, or “what isn’t art”, there is a similar idea of what can be dance, or what cannot be dance. There are a lot of things that people don’t give themselves credit for. You have a capable, moving body, you just have to allow yourself to act on it. That’s what my piece that I will be performing at the Neighborhood Theatre is all about, called “Efforting Efflorescence”.
Eric Mullis: For me, I was comfortable in my body from a long time of martial arts practice, and then working with dancers, but I remember thinking- I have no dance technique, I don’t have the right training. There was definitely intimidation there, even though I was with a support group. You’re head messes with you, saying, ‘I’m not supposed to do this. I’m not qualified to do this.’ At the same time, what was so addictive, I didn’t know it at the time, but in terms of movement, the vocabulary was all spelled out in terms of self-defense. There are possibilities in there, but they are very specific, and so I got the prospect of experiencing my body moving, but in a different way. On the one hand it was kind of terrifying, but on the other hand, very interesting because it gave me a different way to relate to the way my body feels. It’s a type of awareness. Dance as a form gives you so many possible avenues into experiencing your body in different ways. Culturally we don’t have a lot, we play sports, maybe do yoga, or go to the gym.
Sarah Ingle: Everybody has a movement that is natural to them that they don’t even realize is already there.
Eric Mullis: What is mind-blowing, is that you have that, and if you dig into that, there is a lot to be found. But we do this thing, we tell ourselves, “I’m not a dancer.” My culture tells me I’m not a dancer… but you have a body that has a vocabulary and you can really dig into it, and experiment.
Sarah Ingles: That’s the process of research, that is what makes you a dancer is your investment in that research– how you invest in researching movement. There is a company in New York called Movement Research. That’s the idea I play with and dance about, my investigation of the limits of my body, and the expressiveness of movement.
Molly Wilbanks: I’m inspired to dance now! Well, my last question is, if you could perform anywhere in the world, no boundaries, where would it be?
Eric Mullis: For me it doesn’t really matter where, the space, as long as the crowd, the audience, feels a part of it, and I feel like something meaningful happened, it could be anywhere.
Sarah Inlges: Something that would be so amazingly cool… they actually have a performance up in New York that goes by the title “Sleep No More” which is an old hotel that has been converted into an entire dance-scape theatre, it’s interactive. You can go around the entire space, kind of like a haunted house, you can explore different rooms, follow whoever you want to follow, dig through drawers. Having that kind of immersive experience would be so amazing, taking a house and converting it into a performance space that constantly rotates different people in and out. That would be incredible.
*slow walk press photos by Aspen Hochhalter
He’s at it again folks. Don’t miss your chance to see In Praise of Folly: 5 films of anxiety and tender foolishness, a program of five personal short films, culled from the great Inter-webs by premier Charlotte cinephile himself, Ross Telford Wilbanks. Partnering with The Light Factory, this week’s edition of Free Film Fridays is one of The Light Factory’s first (free) events open to the public in it’s new location, providing your ultimate sneak peak of what is to be a hot, new culture spot in Plaza-Midwood.
Oh. And if you’re a filmmaker (local or not), keep reading for how to submit your film for upcoming Free Film Fridays.
The first Friday of every month The Light Factory showcases a selection of
films from filmmakers off the radar. These films range from topical
documentaries to way-out art films. The common link is that each of the
films declare a personal vision; the filmmaker simply had to make these films. The
program last 60 minutes and has an introduction from curator Ross Wilbanks.
These films are free but donations are graciously accepted to
further support The Light Factory and it’s incoming artists.
**Looking for a chance to screen your film? Please send a brief video clip and description to
info[at]lightfactory[dot]org, or rosswilbanks[at]gmail[dot]com with the subject line, “film screening inquiry”.
In Praise of Folly: 5 films of anxiety and tender foolishness
Edge of the World
by Jill Hackney
This film, set off in some remote distant paradise, pits two girls speaking
in adult tongues. Sometimes they present child’s play, other times one
thinks they might be gods discussing the world beneath them.
The use of Lou Reed’s voice in the opening credits is particularly
Various Missions and Interrogations (A Variation)
by Josh Martin
Like the title says, a series of couched dialogues and repetitions full of
play and self-deprecation. As the repetitions build and layer the effect
intensifies while the pay-off stays allusive. Very reminiscent of Jean-Luc
Godard’s films of the 1960′s.
An outrageous detournement of an 80′s teen movie transplanting the
hetro-normative love story into a teen-lesbian coming of age story. Done in
a series of short vignettes, the dialogue is sometimes re-synched and other
times completely changed. The roughness of the whole production fits its
theme well. More Kristen Anchor is here.
A disturbing escapade by a teenage girl, whose drive for flesh-festishes,
searching for what she thinks is ‘real’, leads to a final tragic ending –
or maybe it’s all staged? Shown in a degraded, color shifting, flickering
video with a full steam of mechanical noise in the background.
Total show time= 60 minutes
edited by Ross Wilbanks.
The splendor with which the people whose houses we visit seem to us to be endowed is no more intrinsic than that of stage characters in dressing whom it is useless for a producer to spend hundreds and thousands of francs in purchasing authentic costumes and real jewels which will make no impression, when a great designer will procure a far more sumptuous impression by focusing a ray of light on a doublet of coarse cloth studded with glass spangles and on a paper cloak. From Volume Two “Sodom and Gomorrah”, Chapter Two.
Max Douy, production designer and set decorator:
“…We have to know how color values are interpreted by different film stocks. We have to be careful. With Technicolor, some colors are strictly forbidden. Reds with a greenish cast are forbidden. They come out black. There are lots of things like that to know. Some blues come out white.”
Joseph von Sternberg at work: shooting portraits (silent clip, 1966)
Interviewed by Molly Wilbanks.
I recently had the good fortune of sitting down with Sonia Handelman Meyer, an outstanding female photographer who happens to be in her nineties. Sonia was a member of the New York Photo League in New York City in the forties and fifties, alongside photographers such as Berenice Abbot, Sid Grossman, W. Eugene Smith, and Lewis Hine. Bearing Witness: New York Photo League and Sonia Handelman Meyer now on exhibit at Mint Museum Randolph, features many beautiful and striking vintage gelatin silver prints by these very members. I was introduced to Sonia by another accomplished female photographer, Carolyn DeMeritt, who joined us during this interview. Your opportunity for a conversation with these same photographers happens this Sunday, March 9th, 3-4pm. Join Mint Museum Randolph for Bearing Witness, a panel discussion with Sonia, Carolyn, and art historian Dr. Lili Corbus.
And please. Don’t miss your chance to see these works in person. Go to the exhibit, get cultured, and be sure to let us know what you think. You have from Now-June 29th to view the exhibit at Mint Museum Randolph. For more Sonia Handelman Meyer be sure to visit her website.
Molly Wilbanks: When did you join the Photo League?
Sonia Handelman Meyer: It was 1943. I wanted to find out what it was all about.
MW: What inspired you to start shooting on the streets of New York City, and were you ever intimidated to photograph strangers?
SHM: I started with a basic course in photography at the Photo League, and then I advanced to Sid Grossman’s workshop and that was street photography. I was very shy but somehow, walking around the street with a camera, I wasn’t so shy anymore. I did a lot of fast shooting, and didn’t communicate with the people I was shooting, except in a few instances. I was never intimidated by any of the people, and I don’t think they were, by me. I was never bothered by anybody. Nobody challenged me, ever.
MW: That was my next question, did you ever encounter hostility because of the camera?
SHM: Never, never, never. Policemen frequently would stop me and say ‘this is not safe, go home’ and I would say, ‘yes, sir’, and go my way.
MW: Did you shoot other kinds of photography before street photography?
SHM: That was really the beginning. Afterwards, my family was building a house in the mountains above New York City, and I became a big nature lover. So, I had lots of nature pictures after the street ones, but not before.
MW: Do you have a favorite image or encounter from your time as a street photographer?
SHM: Hmm, that’s hard.There’s one picture that I have no recollection of taking, I had only a contact print of it, and when it was printed for the show at Hodges Taylor in 2007, and I saw that picture, it became one of my favorites—I love it– the one with the lovers and the little girl, and a young man looking at them with deep affection, the girl is holding an apple in her hand (Love, Harlem).
MW: Were you inspired by any one photographer, in particular?
SHM: In the very beginning it was Dorothea Lange. I came to the Photo League through a young photographer I had met in Puerto Rico, Lou Stoumen- he’s in the exhibition also- when I was working there for the Army during World War II. He was working for the National Youth Administration taking photographs. He showed me his work and I was very excited by it, and that was very influential. Later, when I began to understand what this was all about, I think Dorothea Lange was the most influential.
MW: What was the most influential part about being in the Photo League, for you?
SHM: Sid Grossman’s workshops were stunning. He was a great teacher, and a great photographer too. He was very demanding. The photographs had to say something, they had to be good photographs, they had to be well done, and they had to be done every week. He was very important, but the whole atmosphere at The Photo League was very exciting. We had exhibits by some of the very best photographers from all over the world, and lectures. We put out a little publication called, “Photo Notes” that was known in the serious photographic world as one of the best publications out. I didn’t work on that, but it was outstanding. It was all very inspiring.
MW: It sounds like the Photo League really pushed you to be more of a photographer than you would have been otherwise.
MW: What are your thoughts on street photography now, in the age of cell phones, and digital photography?
SHM: Everybody’s a photographer now. Everybody. Everywhere you go, somebody’s got a phone, taking pictures. I think it’s great, except there’s an awful lot of junk around. I don’t think people are very discriminating. Even when I take pictures- I had friends over the weekend from France, and I wanted an image– I took some pictures of them, they’re terrible. They’re just execution shots. And since this whole thing has happened with me, people are taking my picture all over the place. My picture must be in a million places, how stupid!
MW: I feel the same way as far as the amount of images, and the quality of them. There are so many, but they’re not always that great.
SHM: There’s also some very good work being done. I was very pleased when I was at the Mint, Sunday, with my friends. A young girl came over to me and asked me questions about the photographs. She is taking a course at CPCC, and they had come to see the exhibit. The assignment was to write about one of the photographs, and she had picked the little boy inside the hospital, (Beautiful Boy, Sydenham Hospital) and she wanted to ask some questions about it, and it made me feel so good. When I watch people at the museum, they’re really looking at the photographs, and not just wandering around. That makes me feel good. A lot of people have come over to me and asked good questions, and that’s very satisfying.
MW: When you have to wait to process your film, and when you have to be in the darkroom making your print, it makes it more special.
SHM: It’s a lovely process.
Carolyn DeMeritt: Sonia, I know it’s important to you and I’ve heard you say, that you feel that a lot of what’s happening in your photographs, or at that time, is happening now, politically.
Sonia Handelman Meyer: That’s true. These pictures, the beginning of my work, were taken when the war was still on, and afterwards, the depression was still with us. You go through beautiful streets here in Charlotte, it looks very prosperous, but then you walk through other streets, you find out how people really live, and it’s not so different from what we were shooting then.
Molly Wilbanks: How did you feel about all the politics that happened when the Photo League ended?
SHM: Oh, it was devastating. Attorney General Clark, at that time had published a list of so-called subversive organizations, which included many artist organizations, including the Photo League. It was so destructive, and it was so stupid, it was unfair. People who were attacked by this were people who were looking honestly at the world, representing it. When it got to that point, when that whole era was getting so much worse, and people were losing their jobs, and their passports, the Photo League couldn’t sustain itself any longer. It just… it broke everybody’s heart, as well as their lives. It was the only organization of its kind, and I think there’s never been anything else like it. I hope The Light Factory is going to come into a situation like that- it looks very promising. I’ve seen some of the earlier work from The Light Factory and it’s so encouraging, it’s so beautiful. I’m hoping they will come back to that.
Interviewed by Molly Wilbanks, 2/6/2014
Jeff Jackson is the author of the newly published novel, Mira Corpora. I met with Jeff in a narrow, dim restaurant lit solely by the flicker of eight tiny tea light candles. To find the restaurant I had to follow a hand-written map that Jeff had crammed in a hole, in a stack of bricks, by the railroad crossing on 36th. He wanted to keep this place a secret. I spent the good part of an hour back-tracking through obscure side streets, some dead-ending, and some leading to abandoned warehouse sprawl. The map had been smudged. Somehow or other I found the place, my shoes covered in mud, and a fresh hole in my jeans. I didn’t care. I was excited to talk with Jeff and ask him some questions. (Not all of the above is entirely true).
You can ask questions too, as Jeff Jackson discusses his novel at Pura Vida Worldly Art, 3202A Davidson St., 2pm, Sunday, March 9th. Don’t miss it, and don’t get lost. Get your copy of the book at Pura Vida Worldly Art, or at Amazon.
Molly Wilbanks: When did you first begin to write?
Jeff Jackson: Probably in high school. For a long time, I was a big reader of comic books but not of literature. I didn’t really like writing that much, either. It wasn’t something that came naturally to me when I was younger. They had a great creative writing class in high school and I was surprised by how much I liked it and when I would write, how quickly the time would sort of vanish. I found I could disappear into it.
MW: You write for theater also. How is that different than writing a novel, for example?
JJ: It’s definitely different. It’s so collaborative. I’m writing text that’s meant to be performed. Something that seems like it’s going to be able to live on stage in a way that’s interesting for the audience and exciting for the performers. There are some things that are more literary that I’d love to do, but they just don’t work on the stage. Sometimes I create a play from start-to-finish that will be performed, but then I’m still revising it and taking it apart with the company. Most often, I’ll start with an idea with the director and the play will be written as it’s being rehearsed. It’s not usually a traditional playwriting process. With the novel or short stories, it’s about having an idea, and how it works on the page. I’m not thinking about performance or reading it out loud. And I’m not worried about how it works within the context of a group or if it’s meeting someone else’s needs. It’s fun to be able to bounce between the two modes.
MW: Is it easy to make a living as a writer?
JJ: It’s nearly impossible. And it’s gotten more difficult over the years. I still do some music reviewing and in the 1990s you could get paid good money for a single review. A friend of mine wrote a cover feature and got paid enough to buy a used car. That hardly exists anymore, even at major magazines, due to the free content on the internet. Digital culture is great in terms of democratizing the art process, but it’s also made it almost impossible for many musicians and writers to make a living. Fortunately the publishing industry is about five years behind the music industry and the bottom hasn’t totally fallen out yet. But the more publishers embrace digital culture, the more they’re also embracing pirating and the de-valuing of their products. I know people in their early 20s who are big readers and they never pay for books. They illegally download them. It’s becoming similar to how you can’t find hardly anyone under thirty who pays for music anymore.
MW: If you value writing, then buy some books!
JJ: Absolutely. One of the great things about Two Dollar Radio, who published Mira Corpora, is that their books are beautiful physical objects. They make something that can’t be so easily replaced by the digital realm. Mira Corpora has French flaps and beautiful deckled-edge paper. It offers a real tactile experience. There are always going to be people who just want to have content on their Kindle, and that’s fine, but publishers need to embrace making books that are exquisitely designed objects, that give you what only books can give you, and not just deliver glorified Word files.
MW: What inspires you to write?
JJ: Music is a big one for me. The feeling I get from certain songs or compositions definitely makes me want to write, to translate something of that experience into words. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a raw punk song or an abstract classical composition or a noisy free jazz piece.
MW: Regarding your novel Mira Corpora, I’m curious to know how the title came about, and what it means?
JJ: Well, your husband helped me with the title because he introduced me to the wonderful French experimental film “Mira Corpora” by Stéphane Marti. The book has different sections and when I tried something more literal, it seemed to indicate that one section of the book was more important than another. That was a real problem because people thought “So this section is the key to the book” and ignored everything else. The novel needed a title that emphasized the story as a whole and didn’t create any preconceptions about its contents. I wanted a title where you’d read the book, and the book would give the title its meaning. That’s why I went with the abstract and poetic “Mira Corpora.” It’s an idiomatic Latin expression that means “strange and unusual bodies.” I partially picked it just for the sound: “mira” is “to look at” in Spanish and sounds like “mirror.” And “corpora” is corporeal or “bodies.”
MW: The protagonist’s name is Jeff Jackson, so is your novel fiction or non-fiction?
JJ: It’s a novel, so it’s fiction. It was important that “A Novel” was written prominently on the cover of the book. Almost anything you write has autobiographical elements in it and I’m definitely exploring some of that tension by giving the narrator my name. It was important to me that the book felt emotionally true while not always being factual.
MW: I found it daring that you did that.
JJ: It came about late in the process. Originally the character had a totally other name and I created this biography that was fairly separate from me. As I was writing, this became too distant and clever. I had been writing the novel for so long that I really came to know the character. He earned the right to my name.
MW: Do you read reviews and critiques of your novel, and if so, what do you think of them?
JJ: I read most of them, though I try to skip the negative ones. I’ve been very fortunate that most of the reviews have been positive. It’s been interesting to read other perspectives. There’s a lot of ambiguity in the text, so there have been many different interpretations. I’ve been interested to see what lens critics choose to view the book through. I feel more shielded reading theater reviews because it’s a collaborative project. You feel like other people have your back if it’s a negative notice and it’s easier to laugh them off. Like with “Botanica,” the last play I did, The Huffington Post accused us of sexually objectifying plants. I’m not even sure how you do that. It is definitely more vulnerable reading something that’s just about me.
MW: There was a picture I saw on social media recently in which you’re cutting into your novel with scissors. Can you tell me what’s going on there?
JJ: I chopped the book apart. Ripped out pages and cut it up. I really like making collages, and I hadn’t made any for a while, so I thought it would be fun to make some collages using the book itself. This was right before the holidays and I had the idea that I could make individual collages that used parts of the book itself. If you bought the book as a gift for friends and family, then I’d send you one of these collages. They included a short story about a character who was in the book at one time but was cut from the final version. A sort of shadow presence. There’s something very physical about the act of writing in the novel. People are walking into the page, spitting on it, sticking their finger through it, erasing it. So I thought eviscerating a copy of the book itself was in that spirit. I sent out a number of collages, it helped sell some copies, and it was a fun way to express my gratitude to people. I’m not sure how my publisher felt about seeing the copy ripped apart. I have to say, their books are really well made. It took some serious X-Acto knife skills to take it apart.
MW: Are you working on anything new right now?
JJ: Yes, I’m almost done. It took a long time to find an agent for Mira Corpora and then to sell it, so I started something new as soon as I was done with that book. I’ve been working on this new novel for almost two-and-a-half years. It’s largely about music. My attempt to write the last rock-and-roll novel, to imagine an end point for that genre.
MW: By the way, I want to make a T-shirt on it that says “GERT-JAN”. I don’t know why. I just got inspired to do that, right now. That was my favorite part of the book, with Gert-Jan. It would be black, with white letters on it. You wouldn’t mind right?
JJ: No! It would be awesome.
MW: Now. Time for either/or questions. If you had to choose, for the rest of your life, either/or, what would you choose? Graph paper or a computer screen?
JJ: I hate to say it, but computer screen because that’s what I look at all the time. Wish I looked at graph paper more often.
MW: Ethnic food, or comfort food?
JJ: I’ll say comfort food because that would include a lot of ethnic food as well.
MW: Jazz music or foreign films?
JJ: Why don’t you just cut out my heart instead?
MW: I know you, so that’s a cheater question!
JJ: Molly, it’s seriously brutal.
A recent conversation with Michael Houseman and Ross Wilbanks.
Michael Houseman is the drummer for three keys bands here in Charlotte: Great Architect, the key creative music act; Joint D (pronounced Joint Damage) the best of the agitated rawk bands; and Bo White Y su Orquestra, a fantastic-frenetic afro-pop act balancing the best of experimentation and popular appeal.
Some ideas on ‘What is the Charlotte music scene?’
Ross Wilbanks: I wonder if regional music exists because of the way information is shared. The way I talk to younger guys about bands now, they are very quick to lay out a map of interconnecting bands that influence them. With that idea in mind I think it takes away some of the regional idea. Twenty years ago, bands from a certain region could only, maybe see a local band that wasn’t very good–
Michael Houseman: –but that’s who they saw all the time.
RW: Right. In Charlotte, the music scene, well when I say ‘Charlotte music scene’– you could come to Charlotte and see local music and not run into one of ‘us’, the sub-sect of musicians who are not trying to be– trying to promote the band constantly. There are two kinds of bands here, one kind spends time, um…
MH: …their ambitions are different.
RW: Yeah, and then there is ‘us’ who spend all our time trying to make good music whatever that ends up being. From ‘those’ group of people, it’s fortunately not very cliquish and everyone is helpful. Maybe because it’s still just too small.
MH: Playing in the Orquestra there are bands- ‘oh my god, you’re putting billboards up everywhere, you’re selling your records for like $20′, they were beautiful but $20 is a lot of money in my opinion. We were talking about this, getting things ready for England with Joint D and how like, the first record was ‘what anyone wants to offer’ and ‘we’re glad you have them in your hands’.
RW: Charlotte is one poorly layed-out city. You have to make appointments to meet up with anyone. Nothing happens naturally where people happen to meet and talk out ideas. It all has to be pre-planned.
MH: It’s hard nurturing a punk scene like that. Even The Milestone is 18+. I will say though The Milestone is still one of the best acoustic sounding clubs, definitely in this city if not the whole southeast. I’ve watched some really shitty bands sound really good there.
RW: Yeah! If you sound bad at The Milestone you need to go back to the drawing board.
MH: The room just sounds good, I don’t know if it’s cigarette-laced hardwood or somethin’. But the Milestone isn’t in a community, you have to go out there to watch music and that’s always why I’ve had respect for the Milestone and not really caring if I get paid. As far as I know too, it’s always been owned and operated by people who play music. That says something.
With Snug Harbor you get foot traffic and that’s when it can get a little stupid. They charge at the door which seems normal but I went to Columbus, Ohio recently and it was crazy. In one night, I saw ten shows in and out, and there were no cover charges. The city is gridded out for bike rides, it’s well connected, being set up by the colleges around it, but I still think it’s about promotion too. Bands were getting paid and there were a ton of people around.
On Songwriting, band dynamics, etc.
Michael Houseman: A lot of bands I see are like various noodlings and the players are very good, but very few people know how to write a song, acknowledge how compositions move. It can come from any style, but with a lot of bands it just seems like it’s this part, this part, then this part and there’s no arc to it.
Ross Wilbanks: In film dramatics there is a saying that I like very much and I think it applies to music even better, ‘Whenever you create a situation where anything can happen, nothing means very much.’ This happens a lot in experimental music too, in groups we like even, where a stage is set but the piece isn’t pushed anywhere and you’re left (as an audience) treading water.
I think this is one of the definitions of punk now: pushing the gravity on your music. It’s like, ‘Ok, we have this set-up but how can we affect it in a way that pushes us.’
MH: At the school I teach at, Piedmont, everybody who is there except for this amazing, killer piano player—I wouldn’t be surprised if Davey knew him because he puts on a lot of Brazilian culture events and stuff. Anyways, he’s the only cat at that school who plays music with other people. Everybody else there, the pianists, the guitarist, they just teach, they don’t create. They’re proficient in their instrument but they don’t play out. The way I look at it, you can learn how to play music in two different ways: you can pick it up and suck for a while…
RW: …pick away at it…
MH:…yeah, or you can get trained by someone. But if you get trained by somebody you lose that complete aspect of ‘trying to find it’. You have that challenge there and I can see that with some of my kids but it seems like they ‘get it’ (the lesson) but they don’t get it (the aspect of finding the music). So I tell them, ‘alright I’m showing you these stick control exercises but the only reason I’m showing you this is so that you can apply it’. Thinking about teachers that don’t go to the other side; if you don’t ever make or create you’re not getting the whole point of playing music. You don’t get the craftsmanship of it.
RW: That’s a great point. When you decide to take the first option (to find the music without being taught) which is the one I took; making music with other people, playing out, is that really important step. You have to take all your bedroom ideas and put it out there.
MH: That’s why they have recitals. Not just to show your parents you’ve learned something but so that you can play in front of people.
RW: But to play within the group, I mean the group dynamics are more interesting because—I find it funny because a lot of people can’t take it: presenting their part to a group and having to change it, but this is part of life! You have to spend time in this darkness finding your part and then, almost always, you have to modify it or reduce it, often, to make things better for the group.
It has to be mentioned that you play drums in half the of the best six or so bands in Charlotte. I would guess in the dynamics of playing that Great Architect allows you the most freedom. Similar to Moenda, where we have parts and everybody in the band likes their part and it’s the bands job to make the parts fit, not to change anyone’s part. Is Great Architect like that?
RW: But I have to say some of my favorite drumming you’ve been doing lately has been in Joint D. You really give that band a push into another realm. There are these tiny schisms of drum beats that you’re cramming in there for the tiny seconds you have to play them.
MH: The thing with Joint D is…I started playing in punk rock bands and then I went to some really dark metal stuff before I moved here. But one of the things I did when I moved here was not to play that kind of stuff, and it fit my personality. I like the drums. I didn’t want to approach the drums always as something about beating out my frustration. That’s not the person I am. I like music too! So I was apprehensive about starting a punk thing or anything that was super aggressive.
But Nick and Thomas are super funny. It took awhile but I got used to playing that kind of stuff again. After seeing Brain Flannel and Yardwork, I got to know their styles and thought, “I think I could do this.’ Nick can blast through some chords but also picks up these weird things that I never thought of.
RW: The audience picks up on it too. Ben from Los Noches Cabrones was watching you guys at The Strange House and he picked up on this guitar riff that Nick did which was a a straight rip of an M.I.A. song but you wouldn’t have known it listening to it. It did pop out though.
MH: I feel like I’m the alchemist in the band. I always try to get them to play something out of what they would normally want to do. They will want to do something for a 4-count and I will say, ‘What about 3 and then this little thing and THEN we go into the next part’. That’s the kind of stuff that makes it interesting.
RW: Yeah, the drummer has that power! I was joking with Taylor, (Yardwork, Meat Group) ‘the drummer doesn’t like the part, the song’s over’! (laughter) ‘You can’t do a whole night of interludes’! The drummer has that final say. That’s when you fire the drummer and take the Lou Reed model*.
RW: Right, Thomas is real interesting too because he’s added the bounce again from what he had in Yardwork and that, along with you guys extending the songs into some long, crazy 70′s jam, much more abrasive but has that feel…
MH: …what’s kept us on the punk-cuff of the music is that we’ll write a batch of songs that are more rock and then decide to crank out a bunch of 30-second songs. In the same way The Minutemen would approach a lot of their songs.
*Lou Reed had a reputation for demanding exacting sound from his drummers, for instance, Moe Tucker wasn’t allowed to use cymbals in The Velvet Underground because he felt it ‘Ate the sound of the guitars’.
Some things surrounding Bo White
Ross Wilbanks: I’m trying to remember the origin of playing with Bo.
Michael Houseman: The funny thing is that I’ve been playing with that guy forever but the Orquestra thing will be the first thing that I’m released on. I’m a little offended! (laughter) We had been playing the Duo Select stuff for a while and then he just sat down and made the record in a weekend.
RW: So Duo Select was the first thing.
RW: You have a band environment now with the Orquestra.
MH: Yeah, one thing that’s cool about Bo is that he can come up with a melody and a rhythmic approach quickly and then already have the layers of the song in his head. He’s such a craftsman.
One thing I’m going to push before my exit out is for Brent and Bo to write together. ‘Don’t come in a with a song skeleton, write together’. They can talk about chords and harmonies and say ‘hey play that horn part from the b-side of whatever’ and they each know what they’re talking about. That’s how the good song teams work. Bo is so prolific and it would be good to see how each of his songs would be arranged-
RW: -based on the opinions of someone else in the generative process.
MH: One of my favorite Bo stories is when I moved here. It was the longest break I hadn’t played in music. I was just getting the vibe of the city, it had been three months or so. My friend Tiffany introduced me to Ryan Miller. He said ‘I’m playing in this band you should come out’ and that was my first Black Congo rehearsal.
Then I see my first cut-n-paste flyer and it was Fag Static from Atlanta and Calabi Yau. It was at Lunchbox and nobody was there. Calabi Yau started setting up and then playing and I thought ‘this is crazy!’ Then they say ‘this next song is inspired by Booker T. and the mg’s‘ and I was into them big time.
RW: That song is great but it doesn’t even remotely sound like Booker t!
MH: Totally, and then they play a few more songs, than Bo says, ‘Alright, hello everybody, how’s everything sounding’. He knew everybody in the room and he called me out, ‘Hey I don’t know you, how’s everything sounding’. All I could say was ‘sounds good dude’ and then the next day I’m at practice and Bo comes in with a pocket full of Halloween candy and sees me and says ‘I know you’.
RW: Typical Charlotte. Calabi Yau is the centerpiece for me. When I came in late 2000 I found nothing in Charlotte and then in 2004 or so Calabi Yau started playing and they were the only reason I came out for a long time. Davey was even crazier when I first saw him. I thought he was going to fly off his seat!
The one lament I have about that is that they never had a proper record, of the last material. I just need to get a 1,000 dollars- put it to vinyl.
MH: After I saw them the first time, I probably saw them every time they played in Charlotte afterward and one thing that got me was Robin and Bo playing polyrhythms, on guitar, ON TOP of what Davey was doing. The intensity of that. Davey’s still that way playing in a band with him, I still can’t believe I’m playing in a band with him.
RW: Yeah, I tell him sometimes when he gets frustrated that he’s gonna have to tell me to leave ’cause I ain’t ever leavin’.
MH: The second Davey starts playing you know it’s him and that’s amazing because he’s not playing a tonal instrument. I have a style but there are recordings where I wouldn’t remember that it was me playing drums.
RW: I was just thinking, Bo is the centerpiece of what we’ve been trying to describe in this interview.
MH: He works hard at it.
RW: It ‘s not just his playing which is exceptional but the communication with everyone.
MH: One thing that has been a bummer, telling people I’m moving, is that there are comments like ‘man, it’s over’ and it was like that in Grand Rapids too and …it’s not. You have to stay positive.
RW: You’re right, I think one of the reasons is, that you’re a drummer, and I can’t count on one hand the drummers who would be willing to try and play in the bands we’ve been talking about. We are past the stage as a scene where one person leaves, and it all goes to hell. We have to stop thinking that way.
**black & white images by Molly Wilbanks.
COMING UP some Fab Oversight gleanings for your cultural delight Turn off your computer and get out NOW.
Showing Thursday February 27, 7:30. Crownpoint Stadium 12, 9630 Monroe Road, Charlotte, NC. Presented by Back Alley Films Series.
England: 1648 AD. A small group of deserters flee from a raging battle through an overgrown field. They are captured by two men: O’Neil and Cutler. O’Neil (Michael Smiley), an alchemist, forces the group to aid him in his search to find a hidden treasure that he believes is buried in the field. Crossing a vast mushroom circle, which provides their first meal, the group quickly descend into a chaos of arguments, fighting and paranoia, and, as it becomes clear that the treasure might be something other than gold, they slowly become victim to the terrifying energies trapped inside the field. A Field In England is a psychedelic trip into magic and madness from Ben Wheatley – award-winning director of Down Terrace, Kill List and Sightseers.
In remembrance of Nelson Mandela, CAST presents the Regional Premiere of SIZWE BANSI IS DEAD by Athol Fugard, John Kani and Winston Ntshona. 2424 North Davidson St., Suite 113, Charlotte, NC 28205. Presented by CAST Carolina Actors Studio Theatre.
It’s 1972 in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, and Sizwe Bansi’s passbook gives him just three days to find work. No work and he’ll be deported. That was four days ago. So when Bansi stumbles across a dead body with a passbook, he asks himself – does his identity card really define who he is? Could he give up his family and his name in order to survive? Tickets: 704-455-8542 or http://www.nccast.com/performance/sizwe-bansi-is-dead/
Check out Charlotte’s new POP-UP ART COLLABORATIVE STUDIO, artspace 525! The site will serve as the headquarters for The Wall Poems of Charlotte, which brings poetry by North Carolina-based writers to buildings in Charlotte, and as an art studio for painter Sharon Dowell, Charlotte Magazine’s 2012 Best Local Artist. Stop by artspace 525 after work and experience art. For inquires about workshops and open studio times contact Amy Bagwell at Amy.Bagwell@cpcc.edu. Wednesday, March 5, 7pm. 525 N. Tryon St.
Local author, Jeff Jackson, talks about transforming his childhood notebooks into a novel. He’ll share his creative process of getting from idea to manuscript and the commercial process of going from manuscript to publication. He will also answer questions and sign copies of his novel, MIRA CORPORA, which is available for purchase here. Sunday March 9, 2pm. Pura Vida Worldly Art, 3202A North Davidson St.
* FINALIST for LA TIMES BOOK PRIZE
* Flavorwire: BEST DEBUT NOVEL OF 2013.
* Slate: BOOKS YOU SHOULDN’T OVERLOOK IN 2013.
* Largehearted Boy: FAVORITE NOVEL OF 2013.
* Acclaim from The Wall Street Journal, Bookforum, Vice, Time Out Chicago, and more
-read Fab Oversight weblog next week for a featured interview with Jeff Jackson-
Mint Museum RANDOLPH: through June 29th: Bearing Witness: The New York Photo League and Sonia Handelman Meyer comprises approximately 100 photographs by Photo League members. The Photo League was established in New York City in 1936 by a group of young, idealistic photographers and consisted of a school, darkroom, gallery, and meeting place. However, it was also a place where photographers learned about their position in the world, both as artists and as people. Their dedication to social imagery led photographers into their own neighborhoods, exploring the streets with their cameras, and capturing the lives of ordinary people as they had never before been depicted.
The exhibition features a special spotlight on the work of Sonia Handelman Meyer.
-stay tuned to Fab Oversight weblog for an interview featuring Sonia Handelman Meyer-
Thoughts for Silence
edited by Ross Wilbanks
For this stone-deaf man, since the loss of a sense adds as much beauty to the world as its acquisition, it is with ecstasy that he walks now upon an earth almost become an Eden, in which sound has not yet been created. The highest waterfalls unfold for his eyes alone their sheets of crystal, stiller than the glassy sea, pure as the cascades of Paradise. Since sound was for him, before his deafness, the perceptible form which the cause of a movement assumed, objects moved soundlessly now seem to be moved without cause; deprived of the quality of sound, they show a spontaneous activity, seem to be alive. They move, halt, become alight of their own accord. Of their own accord they vanish in the air like the winged monsters of prehistory.
In the solitary and neighbourless house of the deaf man, the service which, before his infirmity was complete, was already showing more reserve, was being executed silently, is now carried out, with a sort of surreptitious deftness, by mutes, as at the court of a fairy-tale king. And again as on the stage, the building which the deaf man looks out on–be it barracks, church, or town hall–is only so much scenery. If one day it should fall to the ground, it may emit a cloud of dust and leave visible ruins; but, less substantial even than a palace on the stage, though it has not the same exiguity, it will subside in the magic universe without letting the fall of its heavy blocks of stone tarnish the chastity of the prevailing silence with the vulgarity of noise.
–From Volume Three: “The Guermantes Way” from the novel “In Search of Lost Time”, by Marcel Proust.
Sometimes I think, if I just shut up. For instance, I’ve been telling people that really, for the art of the film: sound is an aesthetic error. Maybe so severe a one that even within twenty years, if people have a concept of film as art in twenty years, if it’s worth anything, there might be a general assumption that all the pursuit by artists of the medium to put sound on a film was to be a blind alley. Whereas right now I could illustrate it beautifully by (mouths speaking without making a sound) – I said; just going on talking without making any noise at all. It wasn’t a case where someone removed that noise later — I mean I can make it, sitting here, can move my lips as if I am talking (mimics speaking without making a sound). So one can see, when I’m not actually talking, the extent to which I’m dropping masks over my face. I mean at least it’s my theory, that if the major consideration of film is the visual then the reason sound is a blind alley is because it cuts back sight, so that at the very instance that suddenly sound is removed, or that it’s relatively silent… my theory is that it becomes more possible to see. And at the very moment a word comes in, it immediately becomes more difficult for somebody to see. I suddenly see more when I stop talking. I also get scared. I sometimes think that the real reason that say, aside from the wonder of lip sync, that movies plaster mood music, and everything else over the soundtrack, so that there’s never a moment of silence, is because people are afraid. And with sound pouring into the ears they feel more comforted, lullaby-ed in a sense.
–Transcribed from the film “Legendary Epics, Yarns and Fables: Stan Brakhage” by Steve Gebhardt and Robert Fries