TECHNE: Empowering women through music technology

Today is the final day of our fundraising drive. As you may have heard, we’re giving 10% of the money raised to a phenomenal organization: TECHNE.

So, what is TECHNE?

TECHNE is a national arts education organization with programming here in Chicago whose mission is to build inclusivity and close the gender gap within creative technology fields. Their primary programs introduce young women and girls to technology-focused art making, in context with musical improvisation, contemplative practice and social justice education.

The more we discover about this organization, the more impressed and inspired we are. So Doyle called up TECHNE co-founder Suzanne Thorpe to go deeper into what makes her initiative so extraordinary.


Doyle Armbrust: What was the genesis of TECHNE?

Suzanne Thorpe: Our origin story takes place at a show [TECHNE co-founder] Bonnie Jones was playing in Brooklyn about nine years ago. A mutual friend introduced us, and in that conversation we quickly divined our way to the question of why there are so few women in the creative improv scene. We talked about how we wished it was different and how we wished it had been different for us when we were younger.

Coincidentally, I had just won my first small grant to teach a workshop, and believing that two minds are often better than one, I invited Bonnie to join me. TECHNE grew out of that one conversation and that first tiny workshop.

DA: What you see as the primary barrier for girls and women getting into electronic music or creative improv

ST: I don’t think there’s a “primary” barrier. Part of it is the social narrative around where women and girls are allowed to have agency. There are huge numbers of educators and employers that have been trained to have this limiting point of view, and they are constantly reinforcing it, whether consciously or unconsciously.

Both Bonnie and I think there is a problem with the way that technology is taught. We’re not going into our workshops and just teaching the technology itself. We contextualize technologies in other activities like contemplative practice, musicking improvisation, craft making, and social justice education. We believe this moves the students to build their own relationships to the technology and then form their own narrative using that technology.

What we try to do is show that technology does not need to be separate from our lives – we can embed technology in the lives we already have.

DA: Do you see a parallel with efforts in the sciences or mathematics, to push back against that pervasive narrative of “girls don’t belong here,” or is there something unique to this musical approach?

ST: Musicking offers the ability to convey certain experiences and ideas while engaged with the technology. It offers the opportunity to engage with a different kind of knowing, and that type of knowing increases agency.

Suzanne guiding a young engineer

Suzanne guiding a young engineer

 
[Musicking] offers the opportunity to engage with a different kind of knowing, and that type of knowing increases agency.
— Suzanne Thorpe
 

DA: And I suppose once you’ve removed that particular barrier to entry, these young performer-composers then have the creative space to express about issues specific to women, if they choose to, in their music.

ST: But music isn’t just a form of expression, it is a way of knowing.

DA: Can you point to a moment when you saw the lightbulb flick on for the first time in one of your students

ST: Yes! Every participant, when they make their first contact mic. None of them arrive knowing what a contact mic is, but when they first plug it in and it works – they are so taken with their own accomplishment. In that moment they have made an imprint on themselves.

DA: When a young woman shows up at one of your workshops, how did they get there?

ST: You’re hitting on an important issue. Most women don’t intuit that this something they would enjoy. When we first started out, we collaborated with various arts organizations, and we’d maybe get four students to sign up for a workshop. So we decided to partner with organizations that already had their own students and were already working on issues of gender inequality in the realm of sound. So we started collaborating with Girls Rock camps around the country.

We’d pick a region of the country and for a month or so we’d go out for a month in the summer and hit as many Girls Rock camps as we could. By being mobile, we started reaching hundreds of girls. 

DA: Are there any other ways those of us inspired by your work can help TECHNE, in addition to making a tax-deductible donation?

ST: Specifically for our Chicago group, we are in need of soldering irons, soldering stations, breadboards, wire strippers, and wire cutters. But also, please help us spread the word!

What It Takes: Behind the Wallpaper

We are fundraising in support of our 2019/20 season, TOTALLY OBSESSED, and thought it would be illuminating to give you a sense of what it takes ($) to make these individual concerts happen. It may be unusual for a fundraising drive, and you already know that ticket sales don’t even come close to covering costs, but perhaps a little transparency will make the case for why those $5 or $20 or $1,000 donations are so vital.

This season we are rebooting one of our favorite projects, Alex Temple’s “Behind the Wallpaper” featuring internationally renowned art-pop vocalist Julia Holter.

The first tour for ‘Behind the Wallpaper’ in 2015  (poster by Justin Santora)

The first tour for ‘Behind the Wallpaper’ in 2015 (poster by Justin Santora)

Behind the Wallpaper tells the story of a person undergoing a mysterious transformation one night in a college science park – a moment that will alter her mundane life, but not necessarily in ways apparent to those around her. Here’s the kicker: the music slips between 19th-century romanticism, indie pop, Weimar cabaret, and Elizabethan music. It’s a gripping and often comically devious piece, but it’s also a glimpse inside the brilliantly divergent imagination and intellect of its author.


We’re presenting this concert at that haven for Chicago cinephiles: the Music Box Theater. Following our performance of Behind the Wallpaper, our co-producers the Chicago Film Society will present short films chosen in conjunction with Alex.

So what does it cost to bring you this unique evening of music and film, featuring an artist (venerable music review site) Pitchfork can’t get enough of?

$10,080.00

…for just one concert on our Chicago season…and this is far from the most expensive show in 2019/20.

This is why your donation is so important. Thank you for taking the time to make projects like Alex Temple’s “Behind the Wallpaper” a reality. We literally couldn’t do it without you.


With gratitude,
Maeve & Clara & Doyle & Russ


Join Our Team – Create Extraordinary Experiences!

Dear curiosity seeker,

We know you love the arts, but what is it that inspires you to carve out a Saturday night, splurge for a babysitter, postpone a Netflix binge, or do battle with Chicago traffic?

Do you seek a much-needed escape into something sublime? Are you angling for a brain-spark that ignites your intellect – or maybe a euphoric escape – after a formidable work week? Perhaps you enjoy staying on top of the art world’s cutting-edge?

Painting to a live soundtrack at ‘Paint Your Feelings’ in 2018  (photo by Daniel Kullman)

Painting to a live soundtrack at ‘Paint Your Feelings’ in 2018 (photo by Daniel Kullman)

 

We’re here for you with more than a dozen events produced around the city every year. Today, we are asking you to support some of the most fun, stimulating and provocative programming in our beloved city of Chicago.

 
The nature walk portion of Tonia Ko’s “Plain, Air” at the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve (2018)  (photo by Daniel Kullman)

The nature walk portion of Tonia Ko’s “Plain, Air” at the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve (2018) (photo by Daniel Kullman)

Premiering Samuel Adam’s “Current” in the vault of the Stony Island Arts Bank at ‘The Modern Salon: South Side Edition’ in 2019  (photo by Daniel Kullman)

Premiering Samuel Adam’s “Current” in the vault of the Stony Island Arts Bank at ‘The Modern Salon: South Side Edition’ in 2019 (photo by Daniel Kullman)

 

We’ve had some big wins this year, from our second GRAMMY nomination, to our appearance on NPR’s “Tiny Desk” series, to our first successful National Endowment for the Arts grant. But what’s most exciting to us is the community of curious, adventurous music lovers (that’s you!) we are building here in Chicago.

Miguel Zenón & Spektral at NPR’s ‘Tiny Desk Concerts’

Miguel Zenón & Spektral at NPR’s ‘Tiny Desk Concerts’

 

Next season we’ll focus on presenting voices that are more often than not underrepresented on classical stages, filling a void left by the legacy musical institutions in this city. And we’ll make space for these artists to tell us their stories - to share their experiences and obsessions, and what inspires them to create the music that’s meaningful to them.

(left to right) Alex Temple, Julia Holter, Nathalie Joachim, Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Shulamit Ran, Lisa Coons

(left to right) Alex Temple, Julia Holter, Nathalie Joachim, Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Shulamit Ran, Lisa Coons

We’re partnering with the Adler Planetarium – and lighting up your inner science nerd – for a new commission from composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir featuring 360-degree video art. We’re releasing a new album with flutist/composer/vocalist Nathalie Joachim that pays tribute to the incredible female singers of her native Haiti. We’re commissioning a new work by Chicago luminary Bernard Rands, along with 9 world premieres by Chicago Composers’ Consortium members, each inspired by Bernard’s music. We’re bringing you unparalleled, immersive experiences through our ongoing Close Encounters and Once More, With Feeling! series, the latter featuring live conversations with Shulamit Ran, Alex Temple, and LJ White.


None of this will be possible without your generosity, which we depend on to dream up, develop, and produce these memorable events, so please don’t just set this letter aside. Because we are a small, nimble organization, whatever amount you are able to give today goes directly into producing the music. Whether it’s $20 or $2,000, your gift makes the remarkable a reality.

 

But wait….there’s more! This year we’re paying it forward by donating a full 10% of funds raised during this campaign to a stand-out organization that we think is doing critical work. TECHNE is a national arts education organization with programming here in Chicago whose mission is to build inclusivity and close the gender gap within creative technology fields. Their primary programs introduce young women and girls to technology-focused art making, in context with musical improvisation, contemplative practice and social justice education.

Phenomenal, right? Your gift today will have a double impact, moving the needle on inclusivity and widening the range of experiences represented on stages across the country. Please consider making your donation today.

With gratitude,

Clara & Maeve & Doyle & Russ

PS - We welcome donations by check, on our website at spektralquartet.com/donate, or on our Facebook page. Spektral Quartet NFP is a 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization, and all donations are deductible to the fullest extent allowable by law.

Chicago Classical Review: Trapani’s musical islands are joined in Spektral Quartet program

“The audience went island-hopping around the world with the Spektral Quartet Saturday night, at the University of Chicago’s International House.

The event was a concert titled “Enchanted Islands: A Travelogue.” The chamber group performed Books I and II of Isolario: Book of Known Islands—a musical atlas of sorts composed by Christopher Trapani—with Book II receiving its world premiere. 

This was preceded by Schubert’s “Rosamunde” quartet. (Rosamunde is set on Cyprus, you see.) 

The Schubert performance was surprisingly light-footed even in the darkest passages. In the opening bars Clara Lyon (playing first violin) clipped the little phrases of the main theme short, exaggerating the rests between them. Then, when the theme returned in the major, Lyon lengthened the final notes, as if the melody had relaxed a bit—a quirky yet effective interpretive touch…”

“But Trapani is a superb craftsman. He wove together the analog and the electronic so seamlessly that it was hard to tell which sounds were coming from the quartet on stage, and which from the speakers.

This integration is a testament not only to Trapani’s skill in melding the two media, but also to Spektral’s precision of playing. “Kalymnos” from Book I included the din of dynamite blasts from an Easter celebration, with Spektral having to land their notes together with the explosions. “Baracoa” from Book II featured a recording of a mechanical organ, with which the quartet had to remain in tightly coordinated dialogue…”

Read the entire review here

Leaving something in the walls, in the floors: The Modern Salon

Leaving something in the walls, in the floors: The Modern Salon

On March 23rd, 2019, we curated The Modern Salon: South Side Edition at the Stony Island Arts Bank. More importantly, we were just one element within of a night of inspiring and provocative art-making alongside creatives from across Chicago.

It was all just so damn REAL. The performers and the audience talked perception, and blind spots, and rigor, and race, and Chicago.

We Made Music – You Made Mosaics!

We Made Music – You Made Mosaics!

So, as it turns out, it’s WAY fun to have our audiences making art right alongside us! We hit the jackpot by partnering with the Chicago Mosaic School for our most recent Close Encounters event – titled Facets of Earth & Sound – and if the participant response was any indication, this was one of the most inspiring and entertaining Chicago-area classical music events of the year.

The Michigan Daily: Zenón and the Spektral Quartet at The Cube

“Much of the concert functioned like a study in contrasts. Often the quartet would lock into a tight and controlled pattern, almost hocket-like, providing a backdrop for Zenón to improvise fluid and athletic lines above, below, around and within the quartet’s music, the rigidity of the quartet starkly different from the saxophone line. At other times the contrasts would be sectional — at one moment all the musicians might be sawing out a line in fierce melodic and rhythmic unison (like in“Milagrosa,” which near its end was quite reminiscent of Messiaen’s famous “Dance of Fury” movement in “Quartet for the End of Time”), and in the next they might break out into a joyful and light latin-inflected groove, as if spontaneously.

One thing that felt like less of a contrast than might be thought, however, was the blending of different musical traditions. The juxtaposition of jazz and the seething string harmonies hardly felt like juxtaposition at all — the music’s disparate influences blended seamlessly together. Zenón’s smooth improvisation over the strings interwove easily with the textures, and at times members of the quartet matched this spontaneity of sound with improvisatory sections of their own, as Zenón confirmed to me when I asked him afterwards.

Zenón and Spektral Quartet together were fascinating together, and this type of concert is exactly the sort of programing that helps keep a contemporary arts organization alive and vibrant in the modern world.”

Read the entire article here

INSTRUMENT UPGRADE ALERT! Grancino, Serafin, Goffriller, and Guarneri...

INSTRUMENT UPGRADE ALERT! Grancino, Serafin, Goffriller, and Guarneri...

Pinch us…we must be dreaming.

One of our newest board members, Joe Bein, has opened up the instrument vault at Bein & Fushi, and let us select four very fine, old Italian instruments for our upcoming concert on February 17th. For those of you who don’t know, Bein & Fushi is one of the premiere purveyors of rare violins, violas, and cellos in the world, and the shop has brokered many of the most significant instrument sales…ever.

NPR Tiny Desk Concerts: Miguel Zenón feat. Spektral Quartet

“Saxophonist Miguel Zenón is a big thinker — that much is clear from his recorded output, with its deep and inspiring connection to the folk traditions of his native Puerto Rico. But you also get that sense from his turn behind the Tiny Desk, where we can watch the concentration on his face and those of his adventurous band, the Spektral Quartet. This is life-affirming music with curious twists and turns, expertly performed by amazingly talented musicians.

There are two ways to marvel at the stunning unison playing that comes about three-quarters of the way through "Milagrosa." First, listen with your eyes closed. The notes cascade at a such a fast clip, it can leave you breathless. Now, watch with your eyes open: It's a joy to see Zenón and his band read the notes from the page, at times sneaking in visual cues with smiles just below the surface. It must be such a pleasure to make music like this.”

Read the entire article here

San Diego Tribune: Best jazz albums of 2018, from Wayne Shorter and Henry Threadgill to Myra Melford and Miguel Zenón

“On his 11th album as a solo artist, the splendid saxophonist Miguel Zenón fuses jazz, chamber-music and various idioms from his native Puerto Rico to create a sublime synthesis.”

Read the entire article here