Opening Night for The Magnolia Ballet by Terry Guest! designer’s notes on score and sound

Cast Pictured Left to Right: Sheldon D. Brown, Terry Guest, Wardell Julius Clark

The Magnolia Ballet
Written by Terry Guest
Directed by Mikael Burke
Produced by About Face Theatre
5/20/22 – 6/11/22 @ The Den Theatre, Chicago IL
Tickets and Info: https://aboutfacetheatre.com/show/the-magnolia-ballet/

Warning sound design and music cue spoilers ahead!

This is a ghost story in the swamps of Georgia, USA. To set the scene of this world, playwright Terry Guest has included in his script the most rich environment descriptions that I’ve ever seen. The stage directions for the sounds of this world were so engaging, that I kept forgetting the audience wasn’t going to get to hear these wonderful words! Infact, it was my job to make the audience know and feel what Terry had written in the script through sound design. A tall order for this play. There are many animal sounds and swamp descriptions throughout, the environment is loud, dangerous and ever present. About half the time you’ll be hearing real swamp sounds and the other half of the time you’ll hear swamp sounds that I’ve created on musical instruments such as the cello and pipa lute. There are many different Pipa (Chinese lute) sounds embedded throughout the play which emulate bugs, insects, and frogs. There are also thematic shimmering cello textures which emulate the birds of the swamp, the rustling of animals through swamp waters, trees and vegetation, and recreate the incredibly active life in the swamp. Sometimes you’ll be hearing one or the other, and often times they are mixed together as scenes transition in and out of the real and present moment. Not only will you hear snakes, alligators, frogs, and cicadas in the environment, you’ll be hearing those animals inside the music and sound effect cues as well! For example, there is a terrifying scream in one scene which breaks the action that is actually a combination of a frog sound mixed with a snake sound. There is a door creak which is really an alligator hiss mixed with an acoustic cello creaking sound effect. This creaking cello comes back later to become the sounds of a ship hull and also a burning down house. There is a moment when a dream catches on fire to become a nightmare and the terrifying, distorted crackling you hear are really snakes, cicadas and alligator sounds with distortion pedal, pitch, and tape delay effects. In another scene there are rapid gun fire shots in a video game which are actually all cicada sounds. When Papa is introduced in the play, he is getting off of work at the factory, we hear a jet of steam coming from the factory machines as he opens the window, which is really a snake hiss. There are even a few moments in musical cues where I’ve transformed these animal sounds into musical instruments! In my re-creation of “Ooopps I did it again” by Britney Spears, the keyboard part is actually made from a frog sound that I turned into a musical instrument! Later, we find ourselves in an impromptu history lesson listening to a rendition of the confederate anthem “(wish I was in) Dixie”. As the song plays, we can hear a jangling banjo strumming along to the violin melody, but again, it’s not a banjo, it’s actually another frog instrument that I created! It turns out, you can make a lot sounds and instruments from just frog noises alone – a very fascinating and versatile animal. I tried to find many creative ways to incorporate the sounds of the swamp into each environment, sound effect and music cue.

One of the other special aspects of the Environment sound design for this play involves live mic effects. What’s a ghost story without a ghost, right? Well we have an absolutely phantasmic apparition character, expertly played by Sheldon D. Brown. This shape-shifting spirit is tied to the land, tied to the history of Georgia. He is the ancestors you can hear singing from across the swamp if you are just quiet enough and listen. Throughout the play, the apparition helps to create the world by singing and vocalizing which are accentuated by effects like reverb, octave pitching, distortion, echo delays and more. The apparition breathes the landscape into existence. Sometimes sounding like a snakes and frogs, sometimes like church, and other times sounding like blood and mud.

The Apparition oohs and ahhs throughout the world, singing mostly in a Bb minor pentatonic scale. This minor pentatonic is the the origin scale of African American Spirituals, the Blues, and Jazz. But it goes deeper, the pentatonic scale pops up in nearly every culture throughout the world, from ancient to modern. It is the universal scale of all our ancestors. This Apparition is singing to us from the beyond, where our ancestral spirits live together. The Key of Bb was picked because that is the home key of the Blues. This minor pentatonic scale is specifically chosen for its use by the Commodores in the bridge of their song “Zoom” (one of the ballet pieces in the beginning). This single scale fits over all of the different chords in that bridge; and it’s important to note this, because the shimmering cello and organ swamp chords which are heard throughout the play are sourced from Zoom’s bridge. That’s my favorite part of the song and it happens to be sung by the Commodores with just ooohs and ahhhs! It was just too perfect, I had to use it in this show! The minor pentatonic scale appears in this production not only in “Zoom” by the Commodores and sung by the Apparition throughout, but also in “Untitled” by D’angelo, in Tani’s song “My Love” from Mali, West Africa, and in “Papa’s Blues”. It is a musical thread which is sewn from the beginning to the very end of this play’s tapestry.


Re-Records & Re-Makes
This play called for many specific music cues, which involved me re-making, re-recording, and re-creating a lot of songs from scratch. In the first 2 scenes, we are introduced to two piano plus cello Ballet renditions of RnB classics from Boyz II Men & the Commodores. I chose “Water Runs Dry” and “Zoom” not only because they fit the musical requirement for the cue, but because of the lyric content too. The messages in those songs exactly match with the context of the situation that they accompany on stage – this was very important to me. And every time you hear the themes and variations of those songs (of which there are many) throughout the production, it is for a specific thematic reason which absolutely correlates the lyric content with the character moment. In scenes 3 and 4 the script calls for some late 90’s nostalgia with re-makes of “Ooops, I did it again” by Britney Spears and “Untitled (how does it feel)” by D’angelo. I had an absolute blast re-creating both of these from the ground up, making them feel as close to the original as possible. For Oopps, I created an instrumental version which comes out of the real song’s chorus, and with Untitled, I re-made the entire back track and thematically replaced the vocal part with a church organ. Both of these pieces show up in different ways throughout the rest of the music cues. For instance, in a scene with Papa and Ezekial V debating about the land they live on, there is a heavy blues jam which introduces Papa to the scene. It’s a very late 60’s Jimi Hendrix Band of Gypsies vibe, featuring the late, great Madsion legend Clyde Stubblefield (James Brown’s “Funky Drummer”) shuffling on the drums. The distorted riffs that I am playing on bass guitar are a theme and variations based on a guitar riff that happens halfway through D’angelo’s “Untitled”. It’s also no accident that the 6 feel of Papa’s heavy blues shuffle is directly correlated to the 6 feel slow jam of Untitled. The re-recorded drum part alone from Untitled comes back a few times, for the appropriate atmosphere. We hear the vocal harmony parts from the last chorus of Oops, reappear later on as the main horn and brass parts of a ‘Call of Duty’ style video game soundtrack that I made, because Oopps themes are specifically tied to Danny’s character.

There are also a number of re-records and re-makes of the Gone With The Wind soundtrack as well as some old Dixie tunes, which you’ll understand if you see the show…


Musicians on this Production
Tani Diakite (Mali / Madison, WI) – Vocals, Kamele N’goni
Djam Vivie (Ghana / Madison, Wi) – Jembe
Paddy Cassidy (Madison, WI) – Jembe
Clyde Stubblefield (Madison, WI) – Drum Set
Eric Harland (from Houston, TX) – Drum Set sounds
Brian Grimm (Madison, WI) – Cello & strings, Bass Guitar, Pipa lute, Piano, Organ, Music Production, Composition

I’m so thrilled that one of my favorite Madison based musicians, Tani Diakite was willing to be involved and contribute his beautiful songs to the production. Early on I asked Tani (from Mali) and his drummers Djam (from Ghana) & Paddy if we could record some videos of them performing West African songs and drum rhythms for myself and the Actors to learn from. I had such a blast hosting them at my house for a day to record instructional videos and also to record drumming, clapping and songs which we used in the play. Tani has a joyous voice that always makes me smile. I’ve been wanting to collaborate with him for years and I’m glad we finally had a chance to work on something together!! A huge thanks to Tani, Djam and Paddy for their performances and for teaching us their beautiful song and rhythms.

[I will be updating this post soon with some clips of those videos here]

Please check out Tani’s music, you won’t regret it!


the Elephant in the Room…

I am a straight white male from the north working on a play which celebrates black life and queer love, but also speaks the harmful, painful truths of living a black queer experience in the American south. Why did Mikael choose me to do sound design for this particular play? It’s a conversation we really haven’t had yet, but it was one of the first questions on my mind after I read the play. With so many specific calls for black music in this script, was it really appropriate for me to be the person handling those cues? If I make a wrong move, or pushed something too far in one direction or another, does it become tokenism, cultural appropriation, minstrelsy, or some musical equivalent of black-face? This has been in the back of my mind the entire time. I’m sure on paper alone, some people will feel this way regardless and would check “Yes” to a number of those boxes. I don’t have all the answers on such a massive issue such as this and am always open to criticism, but I can say that all of these musical cues were made from a place of love, empathy and absolute respect. One of the plays Mikael and I worked on together last year at our alma mater Butler University deals exactly with this issue. In “We are Proud to Present…” by Pulitzer Prize winner Jackie Sibblies Drury, we explored whether one can truly tell someone else’s story. Whether our never having lived such an experience automatically negates our ability to “put ourselves in someone else’s shoes” and empathize with that experience. No matter how hard I might try to imagine or how honest my intentions may have been, I have never lived a black queer experience in America. Where does the line get crossed. When is it twisted out of proportion, cultural appropriation, misunderstanding or missing the mark to the point of causing pain to the people who’ve actually lived that life?… Mikael trusted me enough to pick me for this position, so I had to trust him and know that he’d tell me if things were heading in the wrong direction or getting inappropriate.

But the question still remained, especially when Music is such an integral part of Black Culture and along side dance artforms, the single most inappropriately appropriated aspect of Black culture on a global scale – for centuries. This is one reason that I wanted to involve the fantastic African and African American guest musicians that I did (see above), I knew that I wouldn’t feel right if the music was exclusively made by me, a white person.

African American music has been an enormous part of my life, since I was a child. For most people in western culture, the first image of who a “Composer is” (and can be) is Mozart or Beethoven – but for me it was Duke Ellington. I had a children’s book about the life and music of Duke Ellington and his big band. It was filled with water color imagery of Sir Duke playing on stage with his band. These beautiful depictions absolutely captivated my young imagination. It was no coincidence that the first cassette tape I remember owning was a Duke Ellington’s Greatest Hits compilation. So for me, before I knew of Mozart or Beethoven or Bach – I knew Duke Ellington. Duke was my first image of who a Composer is, of what a Composer can be, and how a Composer writes, performs, & records music. He was a Composer, an American Composer, an African American Composer – one of the greatest to ever do it.

This early exposure as a child to the wondrous music of Duke Ellington opened my eyes to Black Beauty, to Black Excellence. But these sorts of cultural exposures shouldn’t be random or happenstance. Culture is learned, culture is taught, culture is passed down. White people must learn to see Black as Beautiful, it’s something that White people need to culturally teach one another to recognize and appreciate and support. Racism is taught, learned and passed down, but so is Love. White people: we’ve got to chose Love and to teach Love over Racism for America to heal. Black Excellence in the Arts shines so bright that you can see it with your eyes closed. See it. Celebrate it. Cherish it. Learn lessons from it. Be inspired by it. Through the words of Terry’s magnificent script, under the direction of Mikael’s nuanced storytelling, through the passionate layers of Wardell & Sheldon’s performances, you are witnessing Black Genius.


Please donate to the relief funds for the victims of the racially motivated murders in Buffalo last week: https://www.gofundme.com/c/act/buffalo-mass-shooting-fundraisers

Or find a way to donate in a helpful way within your local community ❤️


playwright Terry Guest featured as the character Z

Setup Madness (live stream): “Sarangicello” tune-up, string break disasters & setup breakdown + Vardo (trio) live at Al Ringling Brewing Co. April 1st

It was my first ever live-stream, and it ended up being much longer and more dramatic than I originally planned! I was getting my #sarangicello tuned up and ready for last Thursday’s (03/17/22) St. Patty’s Day performance at Al Ringling Brewing co. in Baraboo, WI. Bandleader Chad Canfield, Chickpezio Nazario and I formed a trio version of the steam-punk band Vardo! Unfortunately, as I was getting things tuned up, two of my D strings broke!! Yikes! Follow me on this adventure as I battle against my temperamental sarangicello, all while explaining its unique gut string setup!

If you want to check out what Vardo has cooking, you can come see us play again at the Al Ringling Brewing Company on April 1st, from 6-8pm! Trio style with Rusty Chicken on Violin this time!




June 5th-9th, the 2019 LunART Festival is here!

The mission of LunART Festival is to support, inspire, promote, and celebrate women in the arts through public performances, exhibitions, workshops, and interdisciplinary collaboration; thus enriching our community and creating a welcoming space for learning and experimentation. This international art festival features engaging and accessible events and concerts in Madison, an educational program for emerging composers, as well as community building events for artists. LunART interweaves art forms throughout events, offering diverse and exciting programming, where creativity is queen!

Wed June 5, 6pm free | Overture Center for the Arts
Women Against Hate United By Love Gallery Reception

Join us for a Playhouse Gallery Reception from 6 PM – 8 PM!
Art Discussion with Kelly Parks Snider starts at 6:30 PM!

We are women united against hate. We are mothers, sisters, grandmother and caretakers. We are joined together purposely to shine a light, capture attention, and push back against injustice.

A collective effort of artists and activists, “Women Against Hate United by Love” is a platform, an entry point for a female-led anti-hate campaign united against bigotry, intolerance and racism. The creative building blocks for our artwork and messaging are women’s stories—powerful, tough, revealing stories of injustice, tragedy, strength, and amazingly, hope.


Thr June 6th, 9am free @ First United Methodist Church
From Page to Stage: Emerging Composers Masterclass

Free and open to the public!

The goal of “From Page to Stage” is to support emerging women composers in gaining a clearer understanding of not only expressing their creativity, but also creating clear scores, cultivating relationships with performers, and the art of collaboration. The master class with festival composer-in-residence Valerie Coleman will explore works submitted by participants, while talks about collaboration and the role of the independent composer will offer participants a well-rounded approach to growing their own careers.

Thr June 6th, 7pm $20 @ Maiahaus (402 E Mifflin St)
Only The Words Themselves – Opening Gala Concert

Join the LunART Festival in celebrating women in the arts with our opening gala concert. Featuring chamber music, poetry, monologues and aerial dancing, this concert will be a spectacular showcase of creativity by women artists!

Program:
Kirsten Volness little tiny stone, full of blue fire for flute/alto, clarinet/bass clarinet, violin & cello

Valerie Coleman, Tzigane for woodwind quintet

Barbara Strozzi, L’Astratto, Opus 8.04
Che si può fare, Opus 8.06

Hilary Tann, The Walls of Morlais Castle for oboe, viola & cello

Kate Soper, Only the Words Themselves Mean What They Say for flute & soprano

Special guests:
Andrea Musher – poet
Deborah Hearst – theatre artist
Linda DiRaimondo – aerial dancer + BC Grimm guqin zither


Fri June 7th, 6pm free @ Overture Center for the Arts
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Woman

What does it mean to create art as a woman in the 21st century, and how do our experiences shape what we produce and perform? Join us to hear stories of modern women and their unique personal journeys that led them to lives and careers in the arts.

This is a free pre-concert lecture that is open to the public. Stick around for the 7 PM concert Portraits of Josephine featuring an evening of music and dance.

Fri June 7th, 7pm $20 @ Overture Center for the Arts
Portraits of Josephine – Friday Gala Concert

Join us for a night of music and dance! Featuring a percussive string quintet by composer Edna Alejandra Longoria and a choreographed exploration of rhythm by dancer Liz Sexe & Kimi Evelyn, this concert will have you moving in your seat throughout the evening.

Program:

Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Concerto for trumpet and five players

Valerie Coleman, Portraits of Josephine wind quintet

Edna Alejandra Longoria, Danzas Cautivas for string quintet & piano

Liz Sexe, Lone Sum: Part II (choreographed dance)

Stacy Garrop, My Dearest Ruth for soprano, violin, cello, clarinet & piano

Kimi Evelyn, She (choreographed dance)

Missy Mazzoli, The Sound of the Light for flute, violin, trumpet, trombone & piano

Fri June 7th, 9pm $7/$10 @ Robinia Courtyard
Holding Court – All Women Comedy Show

This lineup of amazing comedians is gonna be a stunner! Featuring local comics from the Midwest who are blazing a trail of funny that will leave you gasping in their wake. Come to the Robinia courtyard where these Queens will be “Holding Court.”

Featuring Vanessa Tortolano, Chastity Washington, Vickie Lynn, Samara Suomi & Cynthia Marie!


Sat June 8th, 10am free @ Madison Public Library
The Multi-Faceted Artist – Panel Discussion

This engaging panel discussion is for anyone interested in the ongoing trend and need for artists to wear multiple hats to succeed and thrive.

This panel will be held in the Bubbler Room of Madison Public Library Central. Free and open to the public.

Led by Valerie Coleman-Page Flutist & Composer, Linda DiRaimondo & Katrin Talbot

Sat June 8th, 2pm free @ Capitol Lakes
From Page to Stage: Emerging Composers Concert

We are extremely excited to welcome our 2019 participants to LunART’s educational program “From Page to Stage: Emerging Composers!” After attending masterclasses and workshops, these 6 talented composers will have their compositions performed by Madison musicians during this free concert at Capitol Lakes.

Program:

Emily Joy Sullivan – Dangerous Curves Ahead for violin, cello & piano

Claudia Sofía Alvarez Cuba – Nada queda (Nothing Left) for soprano & marimba

Shelby Scott – Going Thoughts for piano solo

Veronica Cator – Direction for string quartet

Anna Marcus-Hecht – Transfiguration for mezzo-soprano & piano

Nikea Randolph – Underground for wind quintet

Sat June 8th, 7pm $20 @ Furst Unitarian Society
Gaia – Closing Gala Concert

Join us for our final gala concert of the festival! This program will feature a wickedly upbeat clarinet & piano duo by Eunike Tanzil (who will be here to perform the piece herself!), Clara Schumann’s classic Piano Trio in G minor, and Valerie Coleman’s groundbreaking Afro-Cuban Concerto for wind quintet.

The ARTemis Women’s Choir returns for a second year and we’ll be featuring the artwork of women artists from Studio 84, Inc. and ARTWORKING, two nonprofit organizations that support artists with disabilities.

Full program:

ARTemis Women’s Choir:
Joan Szymko, Eli Eli
Meg Huskin, Oblivion
​Jocelyn Hagen, Moon Goddess
Alexandra Olsavsky, What Happens When a Woman?

Eunike Tanzil, Catching Time! for clarinet & piano

Clara Schumann, Piano Trio in G minor for violin, cello & piano

Valerie Coleman-Page Flutist & Composer, Afro-Cuban Concerto for wind quintet

Andrea Clearfield, Gaia for soprano, oboe & piano


Sun June 9th, 10am free @ Common Ground Middleton
Mooning Around – Poetry Reading and Artist Mixer

“Mooning Around” Poetry Reading and Artist Mixer – no better way to close our 2019 season! Join us for a performance of “One for Mileva Maric (Einstein)” by Andrea Musher, with special guests Sarah Whelan and Jackie Bradley, and poetry readings by The Line-Breakers: Andrea Potos, Eve Robillard, Rosemary Zurlo-Cuva & Katrin Talbot.

Enjoy your morning coffee and brunch while making creative connections with other artists. Open the public and all artists – bring your portfolios, business cards, and get creative!


6/2 | Uncle Valentine (Philly) + BC Grimm, Tarek Sabbar, Raj’r Taim @ Art In

Sun, 6/2 | 7:30pm, $7 @ Art In, Madison WI
1444 E Washington Ave, Madison, Wisconsin 53703

Two electric cellists Uncle Valentine and BC Grimm come head to head for a duo set at Art In + sound scaping analog electronic sets from Madison’s own Raj’r Taim and Tarek Sabbar!

Uncle Valentine (Philly, on tour) + BC Grimm duo set
The solo project of Rachel Icenogle, a versatile cellist based in Philadelphia with a mind for new and interesting sounds. Uncle Valentine thrives in the scratchy, creaky, whirly sounds the cello can make, layering diverse musical textures in a lush groundwork for wild fables about insects and impressionistic stories about human batteries.

Rachel also composes music for puppet shows with Company Aiello, and is also a member of the Philadelphia band Upholstery.  Rachel has performed improvisation with Roscoe Mitchell and has collaborated as a musician with several independent theater and dance groups in Philadelphia (BRAT Productions, Ombelico Mask Ensemble, Transmissions Theater, SWARM, and Birds on a Wire). She also often records cello for other bands, including in the last year on new albums from both Eric Slick and Hop Along.  With a passion for the unique and unexpected, Rachel sets herself apart as a performer, always seeking opportunities to diversify and discover new artistic expression.


Raj’r Taim (Mad)
Live P.A. All analog electronic soundscape. Unique rhythms and catchy synth melodies bring otherworldly yet familiar moods that coax the listener to contemplate the complexities and texture of sound.


Tarek Sabbar (Mad)
Austere electronic music combining motorik drums, bleak ambience, and angular synthesis.