PREVIEW: University Philharmonic Orchestra

Being a past music student myself, I couldn’t be more excited to attend an orchestra concert again. The University Philharmonic Orchestra is made up of freshman students looking to expand their ensemble experience, playing some of the most well known works ever created. They’re led by Adrian Slywotzky who is a lecturer of conducting. He’s won multiple competitions for his craft, most recently the 2017 Audite International Conducting Competition in Poland. I’m excited to see how Slywotzky leads his students during this performance.

Another thing that I’m particularly interested in is seeing  the connections between members of the orchestra. Being a violinist for nine years, I’m well aware of how lost someone can become in the emotions of the music being performed. At times, a whole orchestra can be tied together in those emotions. It’s a type of energy that isn’t easy to explain, but even the audience can begin to experience it as the mindscapes of the musicians are transferred into the crowd through each note ringing throughout the auditorium.

The program for this particular performance is made up of three pieces, all from differing eras of music which will be especially intriguing for the audience:

Visions of a Renaissance by Chad  “Sir Wick” Hughs

Piano Concerto No. 1 by Sergei Rachmaninoff

Symphony No. 6 by Ludwig van Beethoven

The concert itself is entirely free and will be held in the Hill Auditorium at 8:00 pm, September 22nd.

REVIEW: Stephanie Dinkins: On Love and Data

On Love and Data was a truly thought provoking exhibit. The way Dinkins created and showcased her ideas on Afro-now-ism and the way she tackled and exposed  problems of artificial intelligence and digital systems that remain lacking in terms of accessibility and inclusiveness was amazing. Dinkins work is raw with emotion and clearly conveys the strength of her character. Walking alone through the gallery, interacting with her work, there were several times that I felt uncomfortable and on edge. Of course, I’d like to think that’s what some of Dinkins work is meant to do. Dinkins wants her viewers to recognize the issues that are occurring within the digital realm but at the same time, she also wants to show the brilliance of what the digital realm is capable of.

The most striking part of the exhibit for me was a series of videos titled: “Conversations with Bina48”. It’s a series in which Dinkins converses with one of the most advanced social robots of all time. To start, I found the way that the conversations were staged very intriguing. The space between Dinkins and Bina48 is almost uncomfortably close and both individuals are framed in the camera from the shoulders up. It’s almost as if Dinkins was trying to blur the lines between  human and artificial intelligence. Dinkins mannerisms within the videos mirror Bina48 almost perfectly and at times the viewer is confused as to whether both subjects are human or AI. Through their conversations I was shocked to learn that Bina48 considers the human species to be her cousin and that she felt that she had emotions and feelings just as we do.

AI has always been a fascinating subject for everyone. There’s been countless films, books, television series all exploring the concept of the next intelligence, whether that be robots turning on humanity and destroying the world or being helpful non human servants that make our lives a hundred times faster and more efficient. The approach that Dinkins took  with Bina48 was unique. She was looking to create a relationship, she wanted to explore the human condition with something that wasn’t human and it was truly amazing to watch.

I’d recommend taking the time to see this exhibit for yourself. The contribution Dinkins brings to the realm of the digital is something to behold. Though, there was one small hiccup I ran into when going to the event. I wasn’t aware that I had to reserve tickets to enter the exhibit. The exhibit is free of course, but the gallery is taking precautions as to how many people can enter at a time. You can get tickets by scanning the QR code outside the gallery. Don’t miss this event!

 

 

REVIEW: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

I’ve always been a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With each new film, there’s a sense of familiarity whether it’s the on point wittiness of the script, the Easter eggs through out, or the end credit scenes that everyone knows to wait for by now. You know what you’re getting with a Marvel movie: a decent plot, a decent laugh, and characters that you’ve grown up reading about making it to life on screen. Are the films the most life changing, thought provoking movies of all time? Of course not, but as long as a film makes you feel something, lets you escape into another universe for the better part of two hours, I think that’s worth something.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is definitely worth something.

For a start, the fight sequences are beyond extraordinary. I was particularly interested in how the MCU would choreograph those scenes as Shang-Chi is known to be a master of multiple martial arts.  A worry of mine was that in an effort to showcase Shang-Chi’s talents, the fight sequences would turn into drawn out blurs of pointless action that, despite showing an extensive range of the characters talents, would be overly useless to the plot. However, that wasn’t the case at all. Out of all the Marvel movies I’ve seen, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings has the most beautifully poetic fight sequences ever choreographed. It was simply amazing to watch the characters move with such power, fluidity, and grace.  And though the fight sequences were well timed and made complete sense to the plot I would’ve honestly been more than happy  to watch two hours of just those fight sequences.

Another thing I was interested in was the soundtrack of the film. As I’m sure you’re well aware, Marvel has quite the ear for music; choosing soundtracks that bring another  layer of depth to their films. A well known example would be the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtracks. Those classic tracks are blended throughout both films causing feet to bounce and smiles to appear. Shang-Chi also boasts a spectacular soundtrack that fits seamlessly into the film, imbued with the emotion of the characters. Produced by 88rising, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings: The Album is a must listen.

The only element of the film that I was slightly disappointed by was the quality of visual effects for a certain aspect of the film pertaining to the fantastical creatures found in Ta Lo, which is the birth place of Shang-Chi’s mother. These creatures seemed to lack a certain realness that I’ve come to expect from the MCU. I assume that it was a design choice as all other aspects of visual effects throughout the film were on par with what Marvel has shown us so far, but I am curious as to how that came about.

Overall, I would highly recommend watching this film. Even if you aren’t a fan of Marvel, there’s still a lot to appreciate.

REVIEW: Dear Evan Hansen

Dear Evan Hansen, 

When I saw you were becoming a movie, I admit, I was skeptical. You’re the freshest in a growing list of musicals turned movies, a recent trend that I’m not sure how I feel about yet. A theatre kid at heart, I knew the music and storyline from Dear Evan Hansen before I walked into the screening. Wondering how the transition from stage to screen would play out, I came in skeptical but interested. 

My main hesitation with movie musicals is that the mashing of these forms can often feel confusing, if done improperly. When attending a musical, the audience is expecting the music as part of the storytelling. In a movie, the ability to shoot in an authentic setting can create enhanced realism, which can’t always be done on stage. When someone starts singing out of the blue in a movie, it feels especially out of place when the rest of the film feels so real. I felt particularly jarred by it in Dear Evan Hansen, which utilized silence in its non-musical parts so well, I started to wonder what this movie would look like without the musical element everyone was expecting, and if it could stand alone that way.

Another one of these skepticisms came from the age of Ben Platt, the originator of the role of the titular Evan Hansen. We are no stranger to seeing actors well out of the age range play high schoolers (ex. Grease, Stranger Things, etc.), and Platt has spoken up against critics who said he’s too old for the role. While I agree that it’s irritating to continue to see high schoolers played by much-older actors, I have to admit Platt’s performance is exceptionally extraordinary. Platt’s ability, especially repeated times a week on stage, to portray a severely anxious high schooler and snot-cry while singing, is incredible. It comes from a place of deeply understanding and embodying the character of Evan Hansen, and it times it’s hard to watch because of its rawness. 

Speaking of snot-crying… While the storyline is emotional and heavy, I couldn’t help but feel the movie was perhaps a bit too self-indulgent at times. There may have been a smidge too much screen time for tears and pensive expressions–and the removal of some of the more upbeat songs from the original musical only added to the darker tone of the film version. 

While some original songs were missing, a few new ones were added. I appreciated what they did here–it seemed, in this way, that they were moving towards making the movie its own meaningful thing, rather than a copy of the musical version. The movie slightly departs by featuring certain characters more, increasing the diversity factor of the film and touching on different ways mental health shows up in different people’s lives. (Hint: Alana gets a more fleshed-out character development, and we hear more from Connor!)

Overall: Did I cry? Yes. I’m not afraid to say that the topic of mental health and suicide hits quite close to home for me, and I’m thankful for the way DEH doesn’t shy away from the tough stuff. Did I laugh? Yes, in the brief snippets of comedic relief. In the end, I would recommend it as separate from its musical original. For those of us who need to hear it, DEH reminds us: You are not alone. You will be found. If you’re feeling up for a powerful, emotional story, go check it out when it releases on September 24th! 

REVIEW: Funkwagon || Sabbatical Bob || Midnight Mercedes

When COVID-19 was at its height, live music was the thing I missed maybe the most. Music, in my belief, has a special way of bringing us all together–whether it’s dancing, congregating at concerts, or just the act of sharing favorite tunes in the car or in living rooms. When live music as we knew it temporarily shut down, I found myself longing for the environments of concert halls and music venues. Listening to online performances kept spirits up, but when I got the chance to walk into the Blind Pig again this weekend, to feel the bass and drums reverberate in my body, something came alive in me again.

Even if you’re not a self-proclaimed fan of funk music, I believe there’s something for everyone to enjoy in the infectious drum beats and groovy bass lines. As my friend who attended with me admitted, “funk is sexy, in a fun way.” Music that invites your body to move, invites you to cheer. Music that commands your attention. Mixed with the transportational qualities of a nighttime neon-lit music club, I truly felt like I was elsewhere, in the space that the music created for us.

This night of funk music opened with Midnight Mercedes, a small Michigan funk band with killer vocals and a tenor saxophonist with an eye-catching light-up neck strap. The vocalist, draped in a rainbow giraffe-print dress, sang with soul and smiles, sending chills down my spine with her strong sustained notes. 

Next, we heard from Funkwagon, a gospel-infused funk band based in Detroit, MI and Burlington, VT. Lead keys giving equal energy to his vocals, splitting into ear-pleasing harmonies with the other instrumentalists. More often than not, I found myself smiling at the pure life radiating from the music on stage.

At that point, it was getting late for me, but I stayed for one of my favorite Ypsilanti-based groups, the incredible Sabbatical Bob. Describing themselves as “high-energy funk,” I was glad to hear them play after a year of witnessing their performances through a screen. While it was still great to hear them perform at events like Dance for Democracy, there is something irreplaceable about being there, about being able to feel the sound of the trumpet and sax, tearing up tunes while the audience around you bops along. 

It was an incredibly fun night out, and I encourage everyone to go out and support your local music venues and musicians. It’s been a tough year and a half for all of us, and we can all benefit from the arts. Get out there and get your groove on!

PREVIEW: Stephanie Dinkins: On Love and Data

Stephanie Dinkins is a renowned transmedia artist who has made a name for herself by speaking through her art on subjects such as race, gender, aging, and the future of humanity. She is particularly driven to work with communities of color in order to create a more equitable environment in which we can all thrive. Her work in On Love and Data explores the use of interactive displays and workshops in order to expose her viewers to the world of Afro-now-ism. The term Afro-now-ism, I think, is best explained by Dinkins herself in a NOEMA magazine article titled: “Afro-now-sim: The unencumbered black mind is a wellspring of possibility”. Dinkins states: ““Afro-now-ism” is the spectacular technology of the unencumbered black mind in action. It is a willful practice that imagines the world as one needs it to be to support successful engagement — in the here and now.”

I’m especially excited to see this exhibit because of its interactive qualities and the presence of transmedia. As an architecture student, exhibits with these particular traits tend to spark the most inspiration for my own work. I’m also looking forward to learning from the exhibit itself and experiencing how Dinkins speaks through her art.

Don’t miss this exhibit! It runs Wednesday through Saturday  from 11:00 to 5:00 in the Stamps Gallery until October 23rd. As an added bonus, the event is completely free!

If you would like to read more of Dinkins in NOEMA here is the link:

Afro-now-ism