Tag Archives: Berkeley

Artist Feature: Vernell Anthony Davis

Vernell Anthony Davis

Response is the feeling you get once your moment of reflection hits and many times you catch yourself jotting ideas for that next project or tweaks to make your craft better.

– Vernell Anthony Davis

Leading off with some basics, where are you from? And where are you at? 

VAD: I was born at Oakland Kaiser and raised in between Berkeley and Oakland for the most part of my life. I have a gigantic family and a majority of them reside in Berkeley so most of my days were spent being exposed to all walks of life and being influenced by different cultures and ways of living. I grew up going to Church, Jewish Synogugoes, Toast Masters and doing various activities because my parents believed in exposing us to the world and letting us build our own story. We made our mark in Berkeley by owning one of the best Barbeque restaurants in the East Bay called KC’s Barbeque. I don’t come from your typical city boy background. We’ve really taken on this whole western style meets city life by having a southern style barbeque restaurant and owning an entire ranch with horses, pigs and chickens. Once I graduated from Berkeley High School I made my way down to Los Angeles where I lived for almost seven years while also traveling to various countries like Spain, Morocco, India & Sri Lanka. I recently found myself back to the familiar streets and neighborhoods that started it all for me. Berkeley will always be home for me but I’ve found myself longing to venture out into the unknown once again.

What does Reflection and Response mean to you?

VAD: My definition of reflection is everything that has influenced and gotten me to the position I’m in today. Reflection is my DNA, my purpose, meditation, my peace and joy. Reflection is the gathering of thoughts and mapping out a plan of pursuit.

After reflection naturally you respond and build on the inspiration. Response is everything thats impacted your life and caused things to transpire the way they do. Response is the feeling you get once your moment of reflection hits and many times you catch yourself jotting ideas for that next project or tweaks to make your craft better. Hearing certain instruments and notes in a song can really strike a chord in you. You can’t help but respond to good music.

How does your song Lavish fit in with that definition?

VAD: I recently wrote a song titled Lavish. I was sitting in my friend Sam’s room having never written in my life and he says, “hey start singing to these chords” and proceeds to pick at the guitar. The feeling was pretty weird. The song is just a reflection of my feelings on paper. I was so accustomed to singing songs by other artists and portraying how they felt but once you write your own it brings you that much closer to the music. I found that I enjoyed the writing process and I learned that so many things can come from it. I anticipate writing more.

Lavish is a song about your current or future love. I want my wife to know that she’s the one I was destined to be with and the one I vow to love forever. I don’t want her to feel as though she’s alone on the journey but to know that I’m going to lavish her with love every day of the rest of my life. I know many partners in relationships may carry doubts that their significant other really loves them or if they’re just going with the flow of things until a better opportunity springs forward. This is a song to reassure one’s love and to encourage that person to walk in confidence. You are loved.

What else have you been working on recently? What are you looking to work on next?

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Artist Feature: Joanna Poz-Molesky

Joanna Poz-Molesky

JUNTOS addresses the need for human connections to inspire one another to create positive change and simultaneously to heal suffering…By using community outreach in art, I hope to offer expression, inspiration, healing, sharing, and most importantly, love.

– Joanna Poz-Molesky

Leading off with some basics, where are you from? And where are you at?

JPM: I was born in Berkeley, California and currently reside in Oakland. Although I spent most of my life there, I’ve also lived in Guatemala and New York City. 

I recognize that as artists, we all share part of our story and message. I was born into a bi-cultural household – my father a Maya from a rural village in the Guatemalan highlands who finished high school, my mother an ex-nun with her Ph.D from a middle-class San Francisco family. I realize that as a bi-cultural woman, life presents me with wonderful opportunities to experience the richness and understandings of various heritages as well as offers me possibilities to communicate with these cultures. I recognize art as my way of celebrating my heritage as well as sharing my knowledge, especially with those living in isolation.

What does Reflection and Response mean to you?

JPM: I really do believe that if anything has a chance to create a more peaceful world, it’s art. We don’t decide to be artists: we are called. Our voices are all so different – each stemming from past experiences, how we view our environment, time we share with individuals, and cultures we are surrounded by – but each voice speaks to its own truth. We have a responsibility to respond to hate, violence, and pain we humans bring this world. If we use our varying voices to speak to these issues, we shine light that becomes truth and beauty. I have come to recognize artists as therapists for the soul, spiritual versions of chiropractors. Art is healing and we are its vessel. Sometimes, we too are the ones that are in need of this healing and when we create and share, we gain strength and knowledge.

How does your work fit in with that definition?

JPM: My work is not an individual piece of art. I founded and direct JUNTOS Collective – a non-profit dance company that empowers individuals and inspires community building across national boundaries with a strong focus in Latin America through teaching, learning, and exchanging dance.

JUNTOS Collective

JUNTOS Collective

JUNTOS addresses the need for human connections to inspire one another to create positive change and simultaneously to heal suffering. It is the first collective comprised of university students at various competitive dance conservatories dedicated to creating community across international borders through dance. In partnering with various communities in Central America and the United States, JUNTOS introduces an innovative method in which participants maintain and strengthen national and international relationships while encouraging individuals to become persons serving others. JUNTOS recognizes the many problems humanity faces and attempts to reconcile differences, offering a new method to create change.

JUNTOS Collective

JUNTOS Collective

By using community outreach in art, I hope to offer expression, inspiration, healing, sharing, and most importantly, love. Being in love does not consist of loving everything; being in love with life and with what you do exerts kindness, imagination, drive, how you live your life and can lead to a compassionate and honest world. I propose to offer a piece of this love with my company. I hope to inspire others to share love, weave communities, people, and differences together to create a more peaceful world.

JUNTOS Collective

Who or what inspires you?

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Artist Feature: Danny Lubin-Laden

Danny Lubin-Laden

I have always been fascinated by the power of having a [brass] band that is able to play on the street with no amplification and have such a moving effect on the audience.

– Danny Lubin-Laden

Leading off with some basics, where are you from? And where are you at?

DLL: I grew up in Berkeley California, and I’m currently living in the Fruitvale neighborhood in Oakland, California. I spent about 6 years living in New York, where I was studying music and working. In July I moved back to the Bay Area.

What does Reflection and Response mean to you?

DLL: I think Reflection and Response are very interrelated in the field of arts. Reflection as a musician and composer is super important to artistic growth. I look back frequently at songs and sketches of songs during my time with Brass Magic and really try to dissect the song, identifying my original voice and separating it from my attempt to recreate a sound that I had heard elsewhere. Both are super important to tap into. I’m always reflecting and analyzing and using those perspectives as a basis from which to respond by pushing forward. I’m always looking to hone my craft and achieve a more original sound. Luckily with Brass Magic, we function more as a collective, so we are able to bounce ideas off each other.

How does your piece Continuous Movements fit in with that definition?

DLL: Continuous Movements was one of the first songs I wrote for Brass Magic. I’ve revised it many, many times but I think it is a super solid example of the sound the band was developing. It is a prime example of how reflection and response has been important to what we do. When I first wrote the song it had somewhat of a New Orleans brass band feel. Over time I have tweaked it so much that it no longer sounds anything like that. It’s still definitely danceable, but the horn writing is completely different from something you would hear in New Orleans. I feel as though the most important thing in music for me is to try and build off the music I love and not to repeat or recreate it. This has been why Brass Magic continues to evolve.

What else have you been working on recently? What are you looking to work on next?

DLL: Brass Magic is currently working on putting out another EP. This will most likely be something we just put out online. We printed our first CD in September 2013 and since then we have really focused on writing a whole new songbook for the band. I feel as though the sound of the band is the strongest it’s ever been. We have really dissected what we are doing and what we want to be doing more of.

In addition to playing with Brass Magic I have also been working on music with Kaila McIntyre-Bader, the awesome singer in the band Big Tree. She is such a talented songwriter with such a terrific voice, that I’m having a great time writing songs with her. Hopefully we will be putting out songs this year. We are still trying to come up with a band name that fits the music we make.

Who or what inspires you?

DLL: I am inspired by a wide variety of things. I grew up studying jazz and that became my whole world. I was blown away by the power of improvisation and its ability to transform a song and take it to the next, highly idiosyncratic level. We are still trying to integrate the aspects of jazz that we value into Brass Magic. Although jazz was once dance music, some of its danceability has been lost over the years. We are trying to capture some of those powerful rhythms in our music.

I also love brass band music, whether it be all of my favorite New Orleans bands or the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble. I have always been fascinated by the power of having a band that is able to play on the street with no amplification and have such a moving effect on the audience.

Is there anything else you would like the Collective to know?

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Artist Feature: Annie Rigney

Annie Rigney

[As a dancer] I enjoy putting myself in physical situations where I’m not sure how my body will respond. For example, allowing myself to be perpetually off balance, no matter how subtly,  in order to be in a constant state of fall and recovery, where each action that follows is a response to the previous one.

– Annie Rigney

Leading off with some basics, where are you from? And where are you at?

AR: I grew up in Berkeley, California on sunshine, meyer lemons, and an infinite number of ballet classes. I majored in dance performance and choreography at SUNY Purchase, in New York and after graduating, moved to Tel Aviv, Israel, to follow my dreams of dancing with the Batsheva Ensemble. This led me to a contract with Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollack Dance Company, the following year, with whom I had the opportunity to tour and travel the world. We performed in theaters in Israel, Norway, Macau, Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia, Ecuador, Japan, Malta and the U.S.. After almost 4 years abroad, I’m finally back living in Brooklyn, New York, a place that is home to many of the people I love.

What does Reflection and Response mean to you?

AR: I think that reflection and response are the essence of the artistic process. An artist reflects on his or her experiences and feelings, and then funnels them through whatever medium he or she chooses, be it music or paint or movement, in order to create a piece of work: a response.

What interests me most about this question, is understanding the ways in which I use reflection and response in my body when I dance. When I think of the word “Response”, I think of my nervous system and my sensory system and how they respond to stimuli. How this response of the nervous system creates an instantaneous action; a movement. I’m interested in making myself available for things to happen to me when I move– for my body parts to affect and respond to each other. For example, if I rotate my forearm far enough, the rotation of the shoulder and the twisting of my spine are both almost inevitable responses. It’s a chain of events that happens out of necessity. I enjoy putting myself in physical situations where I’m not sure how my body will respond. For example, allowing myself to be perpetually off balance, no matter how subtly,  in order to be in a constant state of fall and recovery, where each action that follows is a response to the previous one.

Similarly, “reflection” can be a look back or a processing of something that has already occurred, but it has another meaning–it can be an echo. The act of reflection in sound is when a sound wave bounces off of a surface and returns. Movement can behave in the same way. It can create an echo. I’m interested in riding this echo; listening to the memory and resonance of an action in my body and allowing my whole sensory system to process it. I often ask myself “What does the movement feel like?” while I’m performing, to help keep me in the moment. Cold, tense, empty, sweaty, or powerful, these are all physical sensations that have abstract connections to emotion. I guess the ultimate point of it all in dance, is that an audience gets an emotional response to viewing the physical events happening within the body of the performer. Ideally, it makes the viewer feel something. Feel alive.

How does your work fit in with that definition?

AR: I’m in the very early stages of a solo for myself…it’s untitled at the moment.  After becoming so deeply embedded in the community and aesthetic of Israeli modern dance, I now find myself back in New York, with an ocean separating me from the dancers and people who formed and defined most of my professional career thus far. Now I feel I can begin the real process of reflection. From this distance, I can decide what in my dancing I want to hold on to and take with me. What was someone else’s vision of me, and what is my own? I think in the research for this solo, I’m trying to understand myself in this new context of NYC. How will I chose to move, now that I am filled with  knowledge that I didn’t have 4 years ago, last time I was New York? It will be a solo about sorting and searching and re-searching. Unwinding myself and my habits or familiarities. The time I’m spending in the studio is really just an exploration of how I want to move now. I hope that the solo will be some sort of  response or answer to the questions I’m posing for myself. But we’ll see! I’m more interested in what I don’t know yet…

What else have you been working on recently? What are you looking to work on next?

AR: I’ve been working as a practitioner in a method of therapeutic bodywork called the Ilan Lev Method. I am very excited to introduce the Ilan Lev method to New York as it’s mostly being practiced in Israel and is fairly unknown over here. I fell in love with the work during my time in Israel, and I find it to be revolutionary in the way that it can help people who are suffering from pain, as well as being a source of never-ending inspiration for my work as a dancer and choreographer.

Annie Rigney - Ilan Lev

In the method, we use gentle movement to create a rich and thoughtful dialogue between the patient and the practitioner. In this way, new maps and pathways are formed between the body parts and movement is restored to parts of the body where communication was cut off or blocked, due to pain, injury, or emotional obstacles. From Ilan, my teacher, I learned that the body has immense capabilities to heal itself, that pain is not an enemy but an indicator that there is a problem, and that movement can surpass physical limitations, break down emotional barriers and undo old patterns or habits. The possibilities are endless when you learn to let go, and when you release yourself into mess (“Ballagan” in Hebrew) and chaos. From chaos we can find the things we didn’t even know we didn’t know; a possibility will arise that wasn’t there before, a possibility that is usually the solution to the pain. The method has also taught me the value of laziness—something that many years of dance instruction was specifically designed to combat. Now I understand that laziness is a wonderful tool we possess to actually become more efficient. To do less, and with less effort, and to get bigger results. It’s something that’s very important to hold on to and remember in a city as busy and hectic as New York.

I recently started dancing for LeeSaar the Company, and I’m happy to see where it will take me. Lee Sher and Saar Harari are a couple of Israeli choreographers who started a dance company in Israel, and in 2004, brought their company here to New York. Beginning to work for Lee and Saar has made many things in my life come full circle. I left New York immediately after graduating to dance with the Batsheva Ensemble, where they train in Gaga- a movement language rooted in sensation-based improvisation, with no mirrors and no pre-determined form. When I joined Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollack Dance Company, the work took me into a different direction entirely. Pinto and Pollack’s bizarrely imaginative and magically twisted aesthetic allowed me to explore my theatrical side. I found parts of myself hidden in mysterious characters and ways to stretch my body’s ability to tell a story. Working with LeeSaar feels like a sort of strange homecoming. I’m coming home to the States, where I can speak the language more fluently, and I’m returning to the movement language of Gaga: the raw and textured aesthetic that first grabbed my imagination and ripped me quickly away from the world of ballet. It’s a welcome comfort for me in this new chapter to wake up each morning and begin the day with an hour of Gaga- or a meditation on my bones, my flesh, and my groove.

Who or what inspires you?

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Artist Feature: Perry Young

Perry Young has been a dope actor and performer since we met back in Berkeley during our high school years, and he continues to tear up the stage in NYC and around the country, having recently performed as part of the musical In The Heights. Perry talks with us about the consciousness of reflection that leads to awareness in the present, while he views response as one’s intuition to get where they want to be. The Coming World, another one of his recent works, locates its characters in deep Reflective dialogue and Responsive action as they traverse difficult circumstances. Moving forward, Perry is also looking to work on an original web series dealing with his reality of moving to NYC as an artist. Check out the interview for more insight and info!

Perry Young

Leading off with some basics, where are you from? And where are you at?

PY: Born and raised in Berkeley, CA. I’ve had the pleasure of living and performing in several cities and countries, as well as touring all over the US with the musical In The Heights. I’m currently growing my mustache in Brooklyn, NY.

In The Heights

What does Reflection and Response mean to you?

PY: Reflection to me has an inherent feeling of the past, a look back on where I was and where I am today. There’s an almost meditative quality to reflection, a consciousness that you are aware of where you’re at in the world and how you got there. Response is your own gut feeling to where you are, where you want to be, and the steps you’re taking to get there. They’re both equally important – reflection being the potential energy and response the kinetic.

How does your work in The Coming World fit in with that definition?

PY: I recently worked on a play entitled “The Coming World.” The play largely dealt with the in-between – the words on the tip of your tongue that you just can’t seem to utter, and the actions that we lay awake at night thinking about but never take. It followed three characters and how they responded to the weight of their circumstances when they were pushed to the edge of reason. What are they willing to fight for, what do they regret about what they’ve done and how do they cope with loss? In that sense, the show very much can be broken down into Reflection and Response. There was a very reflective quality to the play as the characters dealt with certain tragedies that arose and their own responses/feelings of responsibility for what has happened in their lives.

The Coming World

What else have you been working on recently? What are you looking to work on next?

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Artist Feature: Max Nelson

Max Nelson is a Bay Area based web designer and visual artist. He has worked with various aspects of design including illustration, logos, and image layout. Max discusses the interconnected nature of Reflection and Response as the feedback loop between the brain and the images we encounter. He discusses the role of Reflection and Response in his piece Talking Type, and showcases a handful of other works from his archives.

Max Nelson

Leading off with some basics, where are you from? And where are you at?

MN: Berkeley, CA is where I was born and raised. Still basically just crushing it in the city of B-town…I need to GTF outta here.

Max Nelson - "Watercolor Fingertips"

Max Nelson – “Watercolor Fingertips”

Max Nelson - "Turquoise Gemstone"

Max Nelson – “Turquoise Gemstone”

 

What does Reflection and Response mean to you?

MN: Well a reflection is an aspect or image of a thing, cast onto another thing. A response is essentially a directed reaction. The two combined remind me of  like, a brain with an image projected onto it from like, a projector. The image is like a volcano or something.

Max Nelson - "Swept" (Click the image to check out the piece in full)

Max Nelson – “Swept” (Click the image to check out the piece in full)

How does your piece “Talking Type” fit in with that definition?

MN: I’ll choose the typographic guide ‘Talking Type’ – I did the marker version one night in college. It was probably about 3am, I’d been studying a shitload of typography, and with all that in my system (reflection), I busted that out in sharpie in like 15 min. (response). Years later I found the pages and liked them and decided to type them out in Photoshop.

Max Nelson - "Talking Type" (Click the image to check out the piece in full)

Max Nelson – “Talking Type” (Click the image to check out the typographic guide in full)

What else have you been working on recently? What are you looking to work on next?

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Artist Feature: Billy Buss

I first saw Billy Buss playing onstage with the Berkeley High Jazz Ensemble a number of years ago, ripping the trumpet during a jazz solo, using a mic that was hooked up to a distortion pedal that I had thought could only be used for rock music. It’s stuck with me all this time as an incredible example of the interconnectedness of musical genres. Billy went on to study at Berklee College of Music and Loyola University in New Orleans, and now lives between Boston and NYC. In our interview, he talks about utilizing the medium of music to explore deep within ourselves as people and peers and practices this exploration through his debut album of original material, Scenes From A Dream. Billy hustles on the daily organizing and performing shows while also teaching trumpet and piano. Peep the dialogue below!

Billy Buss

Reflection is the time we take to ponder, analyze and justify the past. Response is how we utilize the present to bring meaning and potential to the future.

– Billy Buss

Leading off with some basics, where are you from? And where are you at?

BB: I grew up in Berkeley, CA. Currently, I split my time between NYC and Boston, MA.

What does Reflection and Response mean to you?

BB: Reflection is the time we take to ponder, analyze and justify the past. Response is how we utilize the present to bring meaning and potential to the future. For me, the artistic process serves as an introspective microcosm of this system.

How does your work fit in with that definition?

BB: Any musical composition of mine that makes it to paper embodies this approach. Most start either with a melodic idea, concept, feeling, or emotional or spiritual observation and are developed and thusly titled from there. The title track from my debut album, “Scenes From A Dream,” encompasses the over-arching theme explored throughout the CD as a whole. Dreams are projections of our subconscious and often explore, without prejudice, the deepest, darkest (and brightest) corners of our mind. Much like the composers of Romantic Classical music such as Wagner, Beethoven or Debussy, I strive to create music that can elicit a whole spectrum of emotion or thought from the listener. And much like dreams, my music can (and should) be open to many interpretations.

What else have you been working on recently? What are you looking to work on next?

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Artist Feature: Michael Summer

Michael Summer, one of our fellow Berkeley High School alumni, is a saxophonist whose journey has taken him through Santa Cruz , Berklee College of Music in Boston, and now New York City. Highlighting the importance and strength of Reflection and Response listening, Michael stresses the centrality of using his ears in his creative process. He also brings up the beauty that can result from artists who learn the difficult task of stripping away desires to participate in creative dialogue. A recent New York transplant, he’s been working in various local musical spaces, including playing with Tiger Speak , The Love Experiment, and MoRuf. We look forward to hearing more from these bands along with Mike’s plans to record solo material later on this year!

Michael Summer

Reflection and Response really is about listening for me. It’s a hard art, and seems to be a creative tool that is being less and less stressed these days. Whether it be in music, physical or digital art, dance, poetry, or day to day conversation and interaction, truly listening and being aware of what’s out there can be a very difficult thing to do.

– Michael Summer

Leading off with some basics, where are you from? And where are you at?
MS: Born in Oakland, CA and spent my high school years in Berkeley. Moved on to Santa Cruz for three years where I studied physics and later got involved in music and studying the saxophone. After living in a beach paradise, scooted off to frigid Boston where I went to Berklee College of Music and did jazz studies. Moved to Harlem in November of 2013 and moved to Brooklyn 2 weeks ago. I’m finally feeling settled into this glorious madness of a city.

What does Reflection and Response mean to you?

MS: Reflection and Response really is about listening for me. It’s a hard art, and seems to be a creative tool that is being less and less stressed these days. Whether it be in music, physical or digital art, dance, poetry, or day to day conversation and interaction, truly listening and being aware of what’s out there can be a very difficult thing to do. The world of facebook statuses and twitter posts has made it easy to broadcast and yell out to the ethersphere with a minimum amount of dialogue and discourse at times. Honest interaction can be tough to come by. So whenever I’m playing with a group of musicians, or trying to help run a rehearsal, I really try to do my absolute best to listen for what the music needs and where everyone is falling into place in the moment that is being created. I love to make improvised music with friends and really create a conversation. If you can remove ego, the need to be self-satisfied, and put aside the hunger for validation, you can make some amazing things happen. It’s one of the hardest things to do in my opinion. And most people, myself included, are scared at times to open up in that honest way without letting your human desires get in the way of honest expression. It’s amazing to witness when it happens though, and an incredible thing to be a part of. This dude Thundercat gave one of the best performances I’ve ever witnessed about a month ago that left me on cloud nine.

One of my favorite interviews is with Bruce Lee where he discusses honest expression.

How does your work fit in with that definition?

MS: I’m in a hip hop group called Tiger Speak that I’m very excited about. We’ve been together for a bit now, and I think the concept of listening is really coming together for us. I can be a pain in the ass sometimes during rehearsals, trying to get the “mix” just right be it dynamics, fills, intonation, form, flow, or improvisation. Of course, micro-managing a piece of music or a group of musicians can be mighty dangerous artistically, so you really have to have a balance of letting people go and doing their thing and reining in the group as a whole. It’s really the collision of the technical and the artistic, the age old battle (or harmony) of the classical versus the romantic approach.

What else have you been working on recently? What are you looking to work on next?

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Artist Feature: Laurel MacKenzie

A linguist by training and professor in Manchester, England by trade, Laurel MacKenzie uses the space of her Feature to look at the language people use and how we understand words. She presents thoughts on how instantaneous Reflection and Response occurs and doesn’t occur when we hear each other speak. As an educator Laurel utilizes large lecture classroom settings to provide an opportunity for data collection on language and has created various language maps of the United Kingdom with her students. She drops ill knowledge throughout this piece on how our brains practice Reflection and Response just as sounds reach us-before any creative mediums lead to expression.

Laurel MacKenzie

I investigate the variation that is inherent to language: cases where our language gives us multiple ways of saying something, and we have to make a conscious, or just as often subconscious, choice of which one to use at any given time. We’re most familiar with this kind of linguistic choice where words are concerned…[however,] I study linguistic choices on an even more minute level, in the way we pronounce the words that we use.

– Laurel MacKenzie

Leading off with some basics, where are you from? And where are you at?

LM: I grew up in College Station, Texas, a small town with a big university, a lot of cows, a ton of wide open spaces, and not much else. I did undergrad degrees in French and Linguistics at UC Berkeley (woo go Bears!) and a PhD in Linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania before taking up my current job as a linguistics professor at the University of Manchester in Manchester, UK.

I feel very lucky to get to have a foot in two countries at once. I go back to the US frequently to visit family, and with only 5 hours’ time difference between the UK and the East Coast, I never feel like I’m very far away. At the same time, after a year and a half here, I’m starting to pick up on cultural knowledge and feel more integrated. The result is not that I’ve given up my American self, but rather that I’ve been able to augment it with a new body of knowledge that I’ve gained the UK. I see it as a gift to get to be able to coexist in two cultures. 

What does Reflection and Response mean to you?

LM: My first thought was that this sounds a lot like what we do in academic work. As a linguist, I study and analyze the patterns found in language. This can be as straightforward as listening to the way someone pronounces their vowel sounds and using that to identify where they come from, or more complicated, like studying a body of linguistic data, finding the patterns or relationships it displays, and then using those to generate theories about how language is stored in the brain. Everything I do in my research involves reflecting on data, and responding to what I find in that data.

But I also thought about how reflection and response are involved on a much more subconscious level every time we receive some sort of sensory input. I study language, but I’ve also been a musician since I was a child, playing piano, viola, and carillon (tower bells — another Go Bears! shoutout to the UC Berkeley Campanile), so I’ve always been interested in how we perceive and interpret sound. Whenever we receive an auditory stimulus, whether it be music, speech, or any other sound, split-second reflection and response processes occur, allowing us to make sense of what we’ve just heard. Our brains are amazingly good at this. When you think about it, speech is really messy and complicated: we talk fast, we omit sounds and syllables, different people pronounce words differently depending on where they come from, and even you yourself will pronounce a single word differently depending on where in a sentence it occurs, whether you’ve said it before, how long you’ve been talking, and how comfortable you feel with the person you’re talking to. Yet in the vast majority of cases, we understand exactly what’s been said to us, even if it wasn’t pronounced in the same way we would have pronounced it ourselves. Those reflection and response processes are always going on under the hood, picking apart the sounds that we hear and turning them into something meaningful.

Our brains are also really good at knowing when reflection and response are not necessary. Take the role of pitch in language. In some cases it’s essential to be attuned to the pitch of someone’s speech: imagine the difference in intonation between “That’s a GREAT idea!” said enthusiastically, and “That’s a GREAT idea” said sarcastically. The words are the same in each case, but the pitch patterns are different. Our brains need to be constantly reflecting and responding to these up-and-down pitch patterns that we hear in speech, in order to make sure that we get the right meaning in cases like this. But in other cases pitch differences are completely irrelevant. For instance, some people have high-pitched voices and some people have low-pitched voices, but when we hear a speaker with a low voice, we don’t immediately think “Wait, why is their voice so low? What do they mean by this? Is there something they’re trying to convey?” Our brains can filter that kind of variation out, without wasting time trying to look for any meaning in it. This kind of thing fascinates me, and makes me feel so lucky to get to have a job where I can engage with smart people who are thinking and talking about it.

How does your work fit in with that definition?

LM: I have to say that much of my academic work actually focuses on the aspects of language where reflection often isn’t involved at all — it’s all response, and it’s an impressively subconscious and automatic response, at that. I investigate the variation that is inherent to language: cases where our language gives us multiple ways of saying something, and we have to make a conscious, or just as often subconscious, choice of which one to use at any given time. We’re most familiar with this kind of linguistic choice where words are concerned: for instance, if your professor or your boss gave you some good news, you might say you were “delighted,” but if the good news came from your best friend, you might be “stoked.” I study linguistic choices on an even more minute level, in the way we pronounce the words that we use.

Recently I’ve been interested in the way we can contract verbs in English. If I wanted to prove to you that Manchester isn’t always the grim, gray, rainy place it’s made out to be, I might tell you “The weather’s beautiful right now, the sun’s shining, the forecast for Saturday’s showing 60°, and the tree outside my window’s finally in bloom.” (All true, by the way!) Or I might tell you “The weather is beautiful right now, the sun is shining, the forecast for Saturday is showing 60°, and the tree outside my window is finally in bloom.” The words are the same, but I’ve changed how I’ve pronounced the verb is. Every time we use the verb is in a sentence like this, we have a choice to make: do we lop off the initial vowel and turn it into the ‘s contraction, or do we pronounce the whole word? It sounds like a mundane question, but the cool thing is that, when you actually study people’s choices, you start finding eerily similar patterns.

One thing I’ve discovered is that people are less likely to use the ‘s contraction the longer the subject of their verb is. So if you lined up hundreds of people and got them all to describe the weather exactly as I just did, you’d discover that most of them would choose to say “The weather’s beautiful” and “the sun’s shining” — with contractions — but that most of them would also choose to say “the forecast for Saturday is showing 60°” and “the tree outside my window is finally in bloom” — without contractions. No one ever sits us down and teaches us that that’s the way English works, but somehow we all find ourselves converging on that particular pattern without any reflection at all. The fun and tricky part of my work now is to reflect on why we’re doing that, and where it came from.

What else have you been working on recently? What are you looking to work on next?

LM: One of the most fun parts of my job is that I have a captive audience of students who are ripe for collaborating with. I’ve been trying to use the large (100+ students) lecture classes that are the norm here at Manchester to my advantage, as a way of crowdsourcing data collection. Because our students come from all over the UK, I got them to help me carry out a study last year of regional dialect variation in the British isles: the UK equivalents of the famous “pop/soda/Coke” and “y’all/you guys” divides. My students passed out surveys of a “Do you say X or Y?” nature to their friends and families, and then one of my brilliant undergraduates compiled our findings into this awesome series of dialect maps, which got a great writeup in VICE Magazine’s Motherboard blog back in December (along with a lot of other attention in the UK media). We’ll be updating and improving these maps in the near future, and I just got some funding to start up an outreach program whereby undergraduate volunteers go into local high schools and use the maps to teach students about linguistic variation and dialect diversity.

Lexical Variation: Evening Meal | This map shows which words UK speakers use when referring to the evening meal.

Lexical Variation: Evening Meal | This map shows which words UK speakers use when referring to the evening meal.

Phonological Variation: Foot - Strut | This map shows which UK speakers rhyme the words 'foot' and 'strut.'

Phonological Variation: Foot – Strut | This map shows which UK speakers rhyme the words ‘foot’ and ‘strut.’

Who or what inspires you?

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Artist Feature: Noah Garabedian

Bassist and composer Noah Garabedian is originally from Berkeley, has lived in Los Angeles, and now resides in Brooklyn. It was a long time coming, but we were able to catch up with Noah recently at Hank’s Saloon in Brooklyn, where he played with his group The Slim Tones – a flat-out incredible set featuring their signature honking-tenor rhythm and blues. A hardworking craftsman, Noah plays with multiple groups spanning an eclectic range of sound and genre, including – along with The Slim Tones – Big Butter and the Egg Men, The Amigos Band, and the Rebirth Project. In the following dialogue, Noah breaks down his approach to music and discusses his current and future projects. Keep an eye out for a couple New York engagements this weekend and The Amigos Band’s upcoming tour in Southeast Asia in March. Check it!

Noah Garabedian

Everyone experiences countless provocations of the senses everyday, and reflection is the moment one takes to acknowledge its occurrence. Response is the way one acts after that experience.

– Noah Garabedian

Leading off with some basics, where are you from? And where are you at?

NG: I’m from Berkeley, CA, and I currently live in Brooklyn, NY after 5 years in Los Angeles.

What does Reflection and Response mean to you?

NG: Reflection is the process of digesting material that has penetrated one’s exterior and provoked a reaction; whether it be within or out for all to see. Everyone experiences countless provocations of the senses everyday, and reflection is the moment one takes to acknowledge its occurrence. Response is the way one acts after that experience.

How does your work fit in with that definition?

NG: My current ensemble that I compose for is called Big Butter And The Egg Men. It is a sextet comprised of bass, drums, two tenor saxophones, alto sax, and trumpet. The compositions and sound of the group combine several influences of mine. I cannot help being influenced by experiences of my past, not only musical, and those inevitably show themselves in my writing and improvising.

As a music student, you are constantly told to understand and respect the history, the tradition, and the rules. Then you are told to throw it all out and to be creative and original. I suppose my own compositional process and my own approach to making music on the bandstand, is a response to my reflections of the past or just old habits I developed by rote.

What else have you been working on recently? What are you looking to work on next?

NG: I am currently excited to be working on two other projects. The first is The Amigos Band. We play all types of American music – country, Cajun, blues, and jazz. We just released our first full length album, Diner In The Sky, and on March 10 we will be representing the US State Department as musical ambassadors on a 5 week tour throughout Southeast Asia. The second project I am working on is called the Rebirth Project. The music I am currently writing for this project is traditional Armenian folk music, mixed with improvisation, and combined with a contemporary compositional aesthetic.

Who or what inspires you?

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