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Welcome back, Roomful of Teeth

By Michelle Marrocco

Founded in 2009 by Brad Wells, Roomful of Teeth is a vocal project dedicated to mining the expressive potential of the human voice. Through study with masters from non-classical traditions the world over, the eight-voice ensemble continually expands its vocabulary of singing techniques and, through an ongoing commissioning project, invites today’s brightest composers to create a repertoire without borders.
[from roomfulofteeth.org]

Roomful2011Blog

Since its inception (with the exception of last year), Grammy-winning Roomful of Teeth has come to MASS MoCA every summer to spend a few weeks away from the distractions of everyday life. During its stay here, Teeth (their abbreviation of choice) spends the first week of its residency working with coaches who specialize in two or three specific styles of singing. In the past, these styles have included Tuvan throat-singing, Inuit throat-singing, yodeling, belting, Korean P’ansuri, Georgian singing, Sardinian cantu a tenore, and pop-singing. This year Teeth is focusing on classical Persian singing with Sepidah Raissadat and the vocal techniques of Hindustani music, traditional music popular in northern India, with Warren Senders. I was lucky enough to sit in on one of these coaching sessions.

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As Teeth members filter in to the rehearsal hall, it becomes obvious that this is a family reunion and MASS MoCA is Grandma’s house. As vocalists tend to do, there are the obligatory lip trills and weird noises referred to as warm-ups, there’s chatter around the snack table, and fussing over how big someone’s baby has become (mind you, this baby is adorable and just as much a member of the group as anyone, as she coos along). Eventually all eight members of Roomful of Teeth, along with director Brad Wells, make their way to the circle of chairs in the center of the room. The level of comfort they all feel with each other and with this space is palpable: shoes are off, and smiles are abundant as everyone folds into their seats and prepare to sing.

I slowly realize that all attention is focused on one woman. She’s petite with dark hair, reserved, and soft-spoken, but she commands attention. This is the last day of coaching sessions before the composers arrive on Tuesday, so Sepidah Raissadat answers some last-minute questions and imparts wisdom before launching an improvisation session. While Raissadat strums what looks like a small, four-stringed sitar (which upon further research, I discovered, is actually called a tanbur), Dashon Burton (bass-baritone) begins. As they move around the circle, everyone improvises while Raissadat echoes them on the tanbur and doles out advice for a more authentic Persian sound.

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“I like how we sing and it’s murky and then you play it back clearly,” comments mezzo-soprano Virginia Warnken. “That’s because I know the hierarchy of notes, so I know which ones to pass over,” Raissadat replies in reference to the dastgah, the Persian modal system. The difficulty in teaching Persian music to western, classically trained singers lies not only in technique and scale, but also in communication. Just as languages with different alphabets do not easily translate, neither do musical traditions. During her coaching session, Raissadat struggled to explain, in terms of western music, how the pitch one sings differs when ascending as opposed to descending.  Eventually she resorts to teaching this idea the way she learned it: through imitation. Raissadat and Roomful of Teeth end the session by singing a song they learned together the day before. In a style of music characterized by trills, flips, and complicated vocal maneuvers, the texture created by multiple voices is uncommon and striking. As they sang, single voices wove in and out of the whole and created a texture that was charged by moments of perfect synchronization and moments of collective individualism.

After a half-hour break, during which Teeth chatted, wandered, and refueled, the group returned to tackle its final coaching session of this year’s residency.

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Raissadat has moved over a seat and been replaced by Warren Senders, a middle-aged man with salt and pepper hair poking out from beneath his hat, who immediately reaches over and turns on his drone machine in lieu of a sitar. Without much preamble, Senders spurs the Teeth into a call-and-response singing session; he sings a phrase or a line, and the Teeth echo him. It’s immediately evident that some members are very comfortable with this style of learning, eyes closed as they succumb to the poignancy of the melodies they echo. As a performer, composer, and teacher of Hindustani music for over 30 years, Senders easily shifts back and forth between Western and Hindustani musical verbiage in a way that makes even the most unusual concept understandable . As he sings, he gestures with his hands to clarify the direction of the melody and interjects with advice. After an especially intimidating run, he clarifies by first breaking up the phrase, with hand gestures acting as guidance. “You’ll come down with maximum twiddliness.” Hindustani singing seems to be more fluid and less precise than the Persian music Teeth was learning earlier, but it is also characterized by embellishment.

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Again Teeth is called on to improvise solo. Using only his body language, Warren directs attention to one person, sings a phrase, and he or she echoes. I’m struck by this process and the response to it. Some members flourish, and some are nervous. (I’m reminded of times I was asked to sing solo in school choirs – it’s a frightening experience!) Senders hears the fear and responds, “just make music.” You can feel the tension dissipate. As the session continues, Senders pulls everyone in – “sometimes it’s secret music” – and tells the story of the music they’re studying. He has that kind of presence. He’s a highly charismatic and revolutionary teacher, and he has a knack for pulling singers out of their comfort zone in a way that still feels safe.

For the second week of its residency, Roomful of Teeth will work with composers Michael Harrison (who has three decades of study and practice of Indian music under his belt), Julia Wolfe (who was here in July as a co-founder of Bang on a Can), and singer/songwriter Sam Amidon (who will be here again for FreshGrass in September), informing their compositions with Roomful of Teeth’s new-found knowledge of Persian and Hindustani vocal technique. Be sure to catch Roomful of Teeth’s performance in MASS MoCA’s Courtyard C on Friday, August 29, at 8pm!

Posted August 27, 2014 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Music, Uncategorized, Work-in-progress
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A Kid's Summer at MASS MoCA

By the MASS MoCA Education Team

Kids Camp with Mark Stewart-12

Want to feel like a kid again? Take a look inside MASS MoCA’s summer art camps!

Jen

During the week of July 28, our Melody Makers camp created their own musical instruments and constructed a musical obstacle course.  The Bang On A Can musicians, who were in residence at MASS MoCA during the month of July, came by each day and shared their talents with our campers. The Melody Makers tried out instruments ranging from the musical saw to a one-of-a-kind silent guitar that can only be heard through a stethoscope.

Kids Camp with Mark Stewart-14

This week our Story Spinners campers are creating shadow puppets, character masks, and elaborate sets and costumes to bring their original tales to life.

KidsTable

During the last two weeks of August, art camps will continue with the Garden Gnomes & Fairies and Art Ninjas camps. Campers can expect to create fairy and gnome homes in the forest and hone their ninja skills in our expansive galleries.

Come get messy with us next summer or join us sooner for our February break camp!

Kids Teresita

Teresita Fernández, Black Sun (2014). Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong

Posted August 6, 2014 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Kidspace, Museum Education, North Adams, Uncategorized
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A Day in the World of Art Fabrication: Lee Boroson Edition

By Kelly Cave

Here at MASS MoCA we have an excellent team of art fabricators that assist artists in the creation and installation of their work. Depending on the size of the exhibition,  the museum may hire contractors and interns to provide an extra hand to the full-time fabrication staff. Currently, a fantastic rotation of interns is coming through to assist with the work of Lee Boroson. Boroson’s show will be installed in September, but there’s much to do before we’re ready for that. This particular piece of the exhibition is going to be a giant inflatable made up of thousands of circles that will fill part of our huge Building 5 gallery. Here is an inside look at how the sculpture is being constructed!

So far we have a couple thousand circles sewn in five different sizes. Here they are stacked according to size and pattern of holes cut out on the surface.
The Circles
To make a completed circle we first roll out some fabric and double it up. The fabric is a nylon similar to the material from which parachutes or tents are made. We then place templates of circles on the fabric and trace them with a marker. Next, we put a few pins in each circle to ensure that the two pieces of fabric stay together once the circles are cut out.
pinning
Once the circles have been cut out they are sent over to my good friend, Sergio the Serger. He is a crazy-fast sewing machine that cuts the fabric while making a sturdy seam along the edge. He uses five threads as opposed to a regular sewing machine that only uses two. If you’re interested, I suggest looking up what the inside of a serger looks like because it is very delicate and quite stunning.
sergio
After the circles have been sewn, de-pinned, stacked, and cut with the proper pattern of holes, they are ready to be sealed. We use a special spreadable mixture that’s placed along the outer seam to help fuse the circles together. Sometimes this step can be a little harsh on the sinuses so we like to use respirators as a precaution.
sealing
When the sealing has dried it is time for the final step, which is to put the circles together. We use the serger to make different clusters that build off of each other from large to small. In the photo below we have our confused interns sporting one of these clusters in its deflated state. Turns out you can’t blow up this inflatable like a balloon! 
finished product
Those are all the secrets that the Fab team is willing to give away at the moment, but make sure to get on over to MASS MoCA in the fall to find out what the final product will look like! Lee Boroson’s show will be in the Building 5 Gallery, beginning October 2014 and you can read more about it here. See you then!
Interns pictured: Keenan Cassidy (RISD), Georgia Costigan (MCLA), Barbara Gooding (RISD), Garcia Sinclair (RISD), Nafis White (RISD)

 

Posted June 18, 2014 by MASS MoCA
Filed under Artist Spotlight, BLOG, Exhibitions, Uncategorized
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Hardware 15% off for 15 Years

HARDWARE: the MASS MoCA Store and MASS MoCA by Design are having a store-wide, 15% off sale on May 24th in celebration of the museum’s anniversary. Everything in the stores will be 15% for the general public, and an additional 15% off for MASS MoCA members (who already receive a 10% discount on all purchases). Phyllis Criddle is the Retail Manager/Buyer for  both stores and here she shares her picks for what you should look out for next time you’re at the museum.

wastebaskets

These adorable little plastic bins are ready to gobble up your garbage!  16” tall and designed in Denmark, they are available at both Hardware and MASS MoCA By Design. $36 each. Choose from black, green, blue, or pink.

earrings

These fabric button earrings are designed and made by local artist Emily Morris. No two quite alike, we have plenty of styles and colors to choose from! Only $9 each, available at Hardware.

hats

Direct yourself here! Our new baseball hats feature the exact GPS coordinates of MASS MoCA embroidered on the front, and “MASS MoCA” on the back. Available in both red and black. $30 each.

peacock book

The Spooky Tail of Prewitt Peacock by Bill Peet is a children’s picture book about fitting in… It is for sale at Hardware in honor of Darren Waterston’s work Filthy Lucre, which features several breathtaking golden peacock paintings. $8.95. Paperback.

madspots

Madspots are large, round, reusable stickers which can be used to decorate your house and car with fun and distinction! Designed by Meredith Alex from Portland, ME. Choose from a variety of available colors and patterns at Hardware. Each pack contains 12 spots of assorted size stickers. $32.

bunny hat

This unique pink bunny mask was made by Huck Delsignore from Pittsfield, MA. It is crocheted yarn over a wire frame, with an adjustable baseball hat base inside for comfort. A one-of-a-kind, truly spectacular piece of work. $320 and available at Hardware. Additional one-of-a-kind masks by Huck are available.

Posted May 21, 2014 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Hardware, MASS MoCA by Design, North Adams, Staff, Uncategorized
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15th Year Party: What We’re Wearing

By Julia Melnick
Photos by Olympia Shannon

Sometimes the hardest part about going to a party is figuring out what to wear. Is it casual, business- casual, or semi-formal? Who knows what that means anyway? Lucky for you, MASS MoCA staff members have got you covered with some tips about what they’ll be wearing for the celebration of our 15th anniversary. Our party happens on Saturday, May 24, right here in North Adams because that’s MASS MoCA’s home. We want you to come out in whatever makes you feel the best. One thing’s for certain, though–whatever you wear, make sure you bring your dancing shoes.

Laura Thompson, Director of Education and Kidspace, has been working at MASS MoCA for 12 years. She’s wearing a bright, colorful Lilly Pulitzer dress and her winter boots because you never know if it’s going to be wintery or summery in the Berkshires. A favorite MASS MoCA memory is mowing the lawn around the sculptures in one of the first exhibitions she curated in 2004. Laura is looking forward to the party because it’s fun to go down memory lane with old friends.

Kathryn Tufano can’t wait for the party, in large part because of this awesome pantsuit she found in a second-hand shop on a trip to Phoenix last month. It’s Oscar de la Renta and you will most likely find her showing it off on the dance floor. Kathryn has been at MASS MoCA for over two years as the Manager of Foundation and Corporate Giving. One of her favorite memories in that time has been dancing to Lake Street Dive at FreshGrass last September, and working with the lovely volunteers who helped make the festival possible. As far as the 15th year celebration is concerned, Kathryn can’t wait to see Teresita Fernández’s exhibition, As Above So Below. “I’ve made a conscious decision to to wait until it’s up to go into the gallery. I want to see it revealed at the opening in its entirety.”

Thomas Huston is a Visual Arts Intern who has just reached his one year mark here at the museum. A favorite memory is singing and dancing at Karaoke at the Mohawk Bar last summer. It was accompanied by live music courtesy of Bang On A Can faculty and fellows, at least one of whom will be joining us at the end of May. The multi-talented Mark Stewart will be performing a pop-up show somewhere around campus and you can be sure you’ll find Thomas front and center. He’ll be wearing a black silk sweater, a white button-down shirt, cream linen pants, and his favorite beat-up Converses; however, after learning one of the food trucks is bringing chicken tandoori, he’s rethinking the linen pants.

Matt Guyton is the Master Electrician at the museum and he’s responsible for the mood lighting up in Club B-10 and the awesome light shows at our Hunter Center concerts. Currently in his fourth year at MASS MoCA, Matt had a favorite night with the internationally-acclaimed contemporary dance company Chunky Move. “It was the coolest show and they were really nice and interesting people to work with.” Matt is going to be working hard at our 15th celebration, but hopefully he can catch some of Red Baarat’s set because they were “freaking amazing” when they were here a few years ago. His go-to outfit is black pants with a black shirt, but if we’re lucky he might change it up and surprise us. 

You may recognize Jane Burns from any one of our music, theater, or dance events from the last year and a half. As MASS MoCA’s videographer, Jane is always at the show with her camera snapping footage. She’s looking forward to the 15th year party because she can’t wait to see all the outfits. She will be wearing her Jeffrey Campbell shoes with bright socks, a funky jean jacket, and a sassy new pocketbook. Jane describes her outfit as “muted with pop accessories.” She remembers Dan Deacon’s live 4/20 show in 2013 as one of the craziest events held at the museum in recent years. We can only hope that Jane will bring some of that wild and frenetic energy to the dance floor for sets by DJ Rekha and Red Baraat. 

Art McConnell has been working on the MASS MoCA campus before the museum itself even existed. He was here in North Adams when Sprague closed in 1986, and he’s still here today as Operations Manager of the museum. His favorite exhibition to date was Xu Bing’s Phoenix. “It was interesting to recognize all the tools in the Phoenixes and to see how it was all pieced together. Xu Bing was an interesting guy and he was here a lot, so I enjoyed watching him work.” Art is looking forward to mingling in the lobby at the 15th year party while wearing his signature polo shirt,  and spending time with people he has known for 20 years, who helped make MASS MoCA what it is today.

We hope you will celebrate your museum with us on Saturday, May 24. It all starts with an opening reception for  Teresita Fernández: As Above So Below from 4pm to 6pm. DJ Rekha plays at 7pm, Red Baraat takes the stage at 8:30pm, and then DJ Rekha is back for another set at 10:30pm to help us close out the evening. Top that off with food trucks and cheap beer galore and this is bound to be an unforgettable night.  Can’t wait to see you in the galleries and on the dance floor!

Posted May 14, 2014 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Dance Parties, Music, Parties, Red Baraat, Staff, Uncategorized
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Mike Gordon: All time best

By Meghan Robertson
Artist Services/Company Manager, MASS MoCA
Phish Phan 
Extraordinaire

I’ve been listening to Phish since 1995. My first show was in Hartford, Conn., June 21, 2004.

In 10 years of being the Artist Services/Company Manager at MASS MoCA, I have worked with over 600 visual and performing artists. Yet, I was still speechless when I heard that Phish’s amazing bassist Mike Gordon was coming to North Adams!

Gear!

As if that was wasn’t enough, Mike and his bandmate, Scott Murawski from Max Creek, scheduled a conversation about the of song writing and collaboration process from their new album Overstep — put together after a trip here, to MASS MoCA.

MIKE + SCOTT   mike Gordon - Overstep

It was the only time on their tour they did something like a song dissection! What a huge honor for MASS MoCA and for the only 200 people that will hear from both Mike and Scott directly. A rare experience for any fan.

Crowd Shot

The talk and the show were both incredible!  It was so great to see MASS MoCA full of true fans here, who come together as a Phamily before everyone makes plans for the for the Phish summer  tour. Just another reason that I love my job!

Meg & MG

That’s right, the “All Time Best!”

signed poster  

Posted April 21, 2014 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Uncategorized
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