Taking Advantage of Ann Arbor’s Music Scene

Like many other students on the U of M campus, I sometimes struggle with boredom. To be bored is a privilege of course, but the feeling is there, and it is palpable nonetheless. By the time the weekend comes and I’m ready to let myself forget about the stress of the past week, I’m always itching to do something fun, go somewhere cool, and eat something good. Usually I can’t do all three of those things, but I compromise with at least one. A lot of times I just go out to parties with my friends, but it’s honestly never actually fun. I have no idea why I still go out every weekend when I’m truly quite introverted and an early sleeper. For some reason I always think, “This time will be different!” even though it never is. I know I’m not the only person who holds this sentiment. 

Recently I realized that I really underappreciate Ann Arbor’s music scene. This town is a top tour destination for a lot of famous artists. Also, the local musicians here are incredible. Have you ever visited the Detroit Street Filling Station when they have live music? I highly recommend it. We are so lucky to have such a rich culture of music on our campus, and the fact that it’s so easily accessible for students makes it even better.

 

You can never go wrong with a University Musical Society concert, especially when student tickets start at just $12. (Seriously, UMS is an invaluable resource on this campus. Never again in your life will you be able to see world-class performances for such an incredible price!) Another opportunity for entertainment on campus is seeing theatre by various student production companies, like MUSKET, whose production of Cabaret will be opening soon. But recently I discovered a new venue on campus that is super cool and very underrated: The Ark.

 

The Ark is located on Main Street near Conor O’Neill’s and Pretzel Bell. It’s currently under construction, but you can find it by the line of people going out the door every night. The acts are usually Americana/roots music artists, but the genres are loosely defined so there’s a lot of variation in what you can hear. Last Friday I heard former U-M music student Jeremy Kittel perform with his band Kittel & Co., and I was pleasantly surprised by the casual yet intimate atmosphere. Tickets can be anywhere from $11-$50, but I did some extra research online and it seems rare that any acts exceed the price of $20. That’s what I like to see, very student friendly!

 

Inside The Ark, there’s a cafe/bar where you can buy popcorn, candies, and drinks to accompany the concert. There is ample seating on three sides of the stage, but the middle of the seating area is reserved for members. You can also sit in tables closer to the stage if you’re into that dinner-theatre vibe. I just think it’s a great place to go that’s low-stakes and unintimidating if you want to enjoy some music. This week they’re actually starting Pre-Sale student tickets for their 42nd Annual Folk Festival on January 25th and 26th, 2019. You can grab those tickets in person at the Michigan Union Ticket Office until November 10th.

Photo courtesy of CBS Detroit.

Realism Must Fall

Last night, I saw the UMS show “Nufonia Must Fall” by DJ Kid Koala. What initially began as a wordless graphic novel has now turned into a full-on performance, complete with puppets, live music, sound effects, and even a pre-show Bingo game.

Image via amazon

The plotline changes significantly between the text and the filmic version (especially the ending), but the basics stay the same: a plain and “old-school” robot repeatedly is bested at his work at the deli by the new and improved, faster model called Hexabot who can make ten times the amount of sandwiches that our protagonist (let’s call him Plainbot) can. Plainbot meets a humanoid woman, Malorie, who is also lonely and works all the time with little satisfaction. After getting fired, Plainbot enters a contest, hoping to write “the best love song of all time.” He’s writing them for Malorie. But SPOILER! He’s super bad at writing songs, to the point of making people throw up upon hearing them, as seen in the novel. But Malorie likes Plainbot for how he is, and they go on dates together (dinner, ice skating, movies, all the old fashioned tricks).

The comic ultimately comes down to being a feel-good love story, as creator Kid Koala and director KK Barrett explain in this video.

In minute 2:23 of this video, KK Barrett remarks on something I’d like to stop and think about. He says that because of the silent novel, silent film, and puppet characters, “You don’t project onto them, but right into them.” This is what Scott McCloud would call “masking” : the use of simplistic, archetypal characters with familiar and minimal details that allows for a stronger emotional connection and easier identification (Wikipedia’s definition).

By using little details, no color and no dialogue, the characters themselves are masks for the “everyman,” save for Malorie’s gender and Plainbot’s android nature. The reader supplies the psychology, the emotion, and the connections between characters and frames. We can even create our own dialogue and background sounds. We are active participants in the creation of the story.

Image via Metroactive

But, then again, I can’t say that I’ve ever been able to empathize with a robot before.

And if you actually slow down and think about the story itself, it’s kind of insane! A girl is basically falling in love with a robot and vice versa. If this happened in real life, serious exams on the woman’s mental stability would take place. The robot’s chip would be taken out to be analyzed, and maybe his body would be sacrificed as “research” at the next DARPA competition.

So why, at the Power Center, were the folks around me “awwing” when Malorie and Plainbot held hands for the first time, when they know a human-robot relationship is obviously weird and a little wrong? Why do we gasp “Oh no!” when Plainbot discovers that Malorie created the Hexabot? Why did I myself feel a flutter in my heart when Plainbot writes on his mixed tape “Lovesong for Malorie <3”? He’s JUST A ROBOT!

The funny thing is that I never questioned the relationship of Malorie and Plainbot while I read the graphic novel, alone in the quiet of my apartment. To me, they were both just characters in a story. Even though Malorie worked in an office cubicle, her lack of a nose and mouth and eye irises blurred the lines between being human and robot. This artistic choice within the novel made it easier to see them as simple, flat, masking characters. It was only until I was sitting amidst the hundreds of other viewers, hearing their responses that I began to be aware of the relationship on the screen in front of me. Suddenly, I saw 3-D puppets who could move their arms up and down, just as I do. Malorie had an expression and was obviously human. There was motion, there was life on that screen.

nufonia must fall production

Photo Credits: AJ Korkidakis

We always are engaging with stories and characters differently depending on the medium it’s shown to us. But in “Nufonia Must Fall,” it was the emotion and “realism” of the piece itself that was altered from paper to film.

 

 

Not that kind of Queen . . .

I be on my suit and tie. Benjamin in hand. Nails painted. This is what I call dressed to the nines. In fact I’m the nines: a cat. Manx? Marx.


I get to my $14 dollar seat and the aisle is worth the price, let me tell you. I get to stretch my feet, bend my legs broken doll style, and stare up and the ceiling that will probably astound me for years to come. What if a lightbulb burns out? A ladder from the balcony does not seem practical. A cherry picker? At Hill?


?


The Oresteia is a trilogy by Aeschylus. Good plays. Amazing plays. Or so my freshman year self said to myself as I bought the tickets and waited weeks filled with anticipation. Each day I had flashbacks to Great Books 191 at 9 am with all of the “honors freshman.” To 2 am nights at the Law Quad while I furiously read Greek tragedy after Greek tragedy–like Gilmore Girls episodes.


I take my seat and gawk at the stage as it filled up with 400+ musicians. Orchestras, choirs, opera stars, conductors all pile onto the wooden floor and I think, “of course Hill Auditorium would break on its 100 year anniversary.” Alas, it proves me wrong. Similar to the audience of which I am a part. I think that I am the only person under 50 in the whole room. Magic. This is my type of crowd, that is, until people weeble and wobble on the stairs and I imagine person after person accidentally flinging themselves off the balcony and onto the main floor: performance art. I mean, I am performing so why wouldn’t others?


The downbeat slashes and strings go flying, lips go buzzing, throats go vibrato-ing, and I am hit head-on with French at its finest: rolled r’s. Catching glimpses of words and hearing the words projected onto the screen I am thrown into the environment every white gay male could dream of: the opera. I mean if I am to be a true queen then this should be my element. My niche. My passion.


What I love about the whole thing is that it is all a staged performance. Or rather trapped-to-the-stage. Everyone is stationary while the air is filled with movement. Easier to focus. The main singers wear outfits of sequins, blue satin, black tuxes, and they stand out of the crowd of students. My favorite part though is when this “avant-garde” opera goes spoken word and the, perhaps, oracle figure starts rapping and screaming in French about blood, and flesh, and murder, and hatred, and gods. Who doesn’t like Greek Tragedy?


*raises hand*


Let me explain: the man behind me erupts during the intermission: “Opera. Is like eggs. Today they’re scrambled. Some like them scrambled. Others like them fried. I like them sunny side up.”


I love Greek Tragedy. Give me a play and I’ll swoon. Give me a book and I’ll faint. Give me a 3.5 hour opera and my knee will start to ache and my eyes will start to get tired and my ears will start to close the world out. There is only so many times I can hear “Praise Athena” before I think about that beautiful ceiling. Or the Benjamin in my bag.


Would I have given this experience up? Hell no! This is probably one of my favorite events I have gone to because not only did I get to listen (and critique) amazing music, see talented individuals, people watch, gaze at architecture, but I was able to feel a part of an audience that I’ve always wanted to.


However.


Today I confess, sadly, that I am not an opera queen. I thought I was a renaissance queen but perhaps I’m just medieval.