Bureaucrats dance!  First Sample Scene from “Liberty’s Secret”

Andy Kirshner is a professor, composer, performer, and filmmaker who makes work about thorny social, political, and existential questions.

In the spirit of eating less cholesterol, exercising regularly, and calling my in-laws more often, I am endeavoring to update my blog more frequently in this New Year.

Last summer, I worked with ten actors to shoot a sample musical number from my movie-in-progress.  The cast included many UM faculty (including A&D A-list actors Malcolm Tulip, Nick Tobier, and Melanie Manos), while the crew was ably (wo)man-ed by recent A&D grads Adrianne Finelli and Laura Pazuchowski.  We shot 5 scenes, one of which I've finished editing and have posted on the movie website.  Here's a link:

"Connect the Dots"


Be there, Losers!

Emilia Javanica performs the male nude

Kath Weider-Roos is the Creative Arts Producer at A&D. She snaps photos and asks questions.

So this old guy, Buoj iz Jeb, shows up at the All Student Exhibition last Friday night. Silly me, I thought his name was Indonesian or something. Turns out it's perfect gibberish of the sort that Buoj iz Jeb spoke when he first arrived on the scene during Emilia Javanica's undergraduate career. (She is now a graduate student at A&D.)

He has come out of hiding, apparently, this time speaking perfect English, and with a sudden and irrepressible urge to pose as a nude model, despite his lumpy and flaccid body.

During the opening, Buoj iz Jeb posed for the public in the front window of the gallery who were invited to try out their figurative drawing skills on Buoj's various Adonis-like poses.

On everyone's mind was or was not, of course, his peculiar penis made up of stuffed translucent women's stockings, golf balls for testicles (to give them some weight), and pubic hair fashioned out of steel wool. One of the undergrads who was there admitted, "oh yeah, in drawing class everyone always skips the penis. We go to great lengths to avoid looking at it..."

Emilia, the woman behind the man, told me that this was one of her main interests: to see how people would react and how Buoj iz Jeb would behave in an interactive situation. "One person asked him if he was in 'Nam, another one asked how long he'd been a professional model. He has a great sense of humor so he made a lot of jokes that he thought were funny."

"As people walked in the door, it was so interesting to see what they did. Some people actually saw me, turned around and walked out," she told me.

November 19th, the day of the opening, also happened to be "International Make Someone Uncomfortable Day," so really it couldn't have worked out more perfectly.

Sean Darby (MFA '11) wins the prize for the figure drawing!


Emilia just sent me the video from the night, take a look:



TMP 1: Construction

Foam core gladiators, breakdancers, boats and more.

Andre Grewe makes websites for the School of Art & Design.

Last Friday, I was on my way back to my office with a second cup of coffee when I ran into a group of gladiators, breakdancers and pirates on the first floor - and even here at the School of Art & Design, that is something that just doesn't happen all the time.   I eventually figured out that they were students in Matt Shlian's TMP 1: Construction class, and were in the middle of a performance/critique.  I managed to get a few pictures...

The assignment: Student teams had to traverse the street gallery (the hallway outside of Slusser Gallery), staying at least 6" off the ground. This traversal also had to be performative, keeping their audience (the rest of the class) in mind.

The tools: foam core board and glue.  

The teams of students tackled this assignment in pretty amazingly different ways:

A gladiator, complete with foam core armor, shield, and sword danced across the space in really high platform sandals.


The second team created foam core shades and a boombox, and used them along with the music of… um, Vanilla Ice(?!) to stack, unstack, and dance across a series of foam platforms.


A giant foam core music staff became the platform for the third team's Lady Gaga-inspired performance (as seen from above).


In a Pirates of the Carribean-inspired performance, the fourth team got pretty technical: one student piloted a tiny boat that rocked and pivoted on two cylinders to rotate around her teammate.


The fourth team went American gladiator: in a blue vs. red battle, the combatants advanced and retreated in a series of matches.

Pretty impressive stuff, especially on a Friday morning - and this is only the first project! Stay tuned for more TMP 1 images, coming soon!


The Obligatory Gospel Number

Why should fundamentalists have all the fun?

Andy Kirshner is a professor, composer, performer, and filmmaker who makes work about thorny social, political, and existential questions.

One of the fun things about writing a musical, as opposed to say, an experimental multimedia work, is that there is a long tradition of conventions and precedents to draw on.  I guess it's more like being a painter, or a sculptor: there are a million opportunities for wry commentary on previous works, or for tweaking an established tradition (think of all the revisionist takes on the Last Supper for example.)  Or as my colleagues in the Humanities might say, "you get to go inter-textual."

The American musical comedy has been around for about a hundred years now, and because of its ubiquity in high school auditoriums all across America, its a genre that is familiar to just about every one.  What may be less obvious to the casual observer, however, is that there are certain kinds of songs that come up again and again in the "canon."  The "charm song," the "I want" song, the "eleven o'clock" number, and the one that concerns me most here, the "fake gospel number."

country church

Think "Blow Gabriel Blow," in Cole Porter's Anything Goes, or "Sit Down, Your Rockin' the Boat," in Loesser's Guys and Dolls, or even "Trouble," in Meredith Wilson's The Music Man.

And what's interesting to me about these numbers is that because they are so charming and full of energy, they can really be quite subversive, even within a socially conservative a form like musical comedy.  After all, they are satirizing religion.

So as I set out to write my musical about the gay daughter of a fundamentalist who discovers a dark national security secret (more on that later), I knew that there was a great opportunity for a gospel number, and for a little sugar-coated satire of my own.  Conveniently, a lot of your more rabid fundamentalists tend also to be singers (Jimmy Swaggert, John Hagee), so I had plenty of YouTube church services to draw on.

Here's what I came up with.  I hope you enjoy it.

A Little Revival Music.


Sonic Acts 2010 Wrap-Up

John Kannenberg is a first year MFA candidate in the School of Art and Design.

The Game of Life Foundation's Wave Field Synthesis system, a 192-speaker surround sound system.

The last half of the Sonic Acts 2010 conference was just as jam-packed as the first. The third day focused primarily on field recording and music, beginning with one of the figureheads of contemporary R. Murray Schaeffer-influenced recording practice, Barry Truax, lecturing about his own work composing music with environmental sounds. I was particularly interested in his discussions of convolution and its application to the manipulation of the acoustic space of field recordings.

A presentation by Hildegard Westerkamp followed, discussing her long-standing interest in leading soundwalks. Some technical difficulties (see the above video), while unfortunate, actually enhanced the drama of her presentation, an interesting blend of lecture, listening exercises and recitations of quotes about the practice of soundwalks, spoken by people sitting amongst the audience and challenging those present to shift their listening attention to different acoustic spaces.

The interview with Annea Lockwood that followed focused on her return to the sonic spaces of rivers with her new project, A Sound Map of the Danube. Existing as both a stereo album recording and a 2.5 hour long 5.1 surround sound installation, Lockwood's new piece sees her exploring the sonic landscape surrounding the Danube River, her intention being to transport the listener to a specific place through sound. Lockwood initially made her reputation as a composer with a similar piece, A Sound Map of the Hudson River, another piece exploring the sonic mapping of a particular place.

Steven Connor reading "Secession"

The day ended with a panel entitled The Hot Space in Music, revisiting the artists who presented at STEIM a couple of days before but with one notable exception: the panel began with Steven Connor reading his essay Secession, a piece about sound, space, and his own struggles with the auditory affliction tinnitus. One of the highlights of the entire conference for me, his talk was incredibly inspiring in its heartfelt analysis of sound's relationship with space and how a phenomenon like tinnitus can make us question our notions of space.

The final day's presentations consisted of the keynote speech Representation of Space in the Brain by Michael J. Morgan was just as insightful about the way the mind perceives space as it was about how the current trend of 3-D movie technology will ultimately fail just like its predecessors. And the final panel I attended, Spatial Perception featured three very exciting sound installation artists: HC Gilje, Jan-Peter E.R. Sonntag and Jakob Kirkegaard, who discussed their various uses of video and sound in space.

The concerts and film screenings the last two days were equally impressive. Jakob Kirkegaard's Sabulation (see above video) was shown amidst surround pieces by Barry truax, Hildegard Westerkamp and Annea Lockwood.

The Game of Life Foundation held a series of recitals of music composed for their Wave Field Synthesis system, a surround sound system consisting of 192 speakers and eight subwoofers.

The grand finale of the entire conference took place at the Artis Planetarium in the Amsterdam Zoo, where a series of sound performances were accompanied by laser lights (in sets by TeZ and Francisco Lopez) and video, as in the piece pictured above by Paul Prudence, whose video covered the entire planetarium dome and had the audience gasping. A fitting end to a conference about sound art: art that made its audience make sound in response.