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Artist Feature: Alex Ruger

Alex Ruger

You can only change where you are by truly knowing where you are, questioning your motivations and why you’re doing what you’re doing, being brutally honest with yourself. There’s no room for self-deception or ego in an artist’s life.

– Alex Ruger

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

AR: I grew up in central Indiana, studying piano and guitar and a bit of viola. I played in some bands–progressive rock, funk, jazz, lots of stuff. There wasn’t really a point where I “decided” that I’d be doing music for a living–it was just the obvious choice and always has been, so I went straight to Boston’s Berklee College of Music after graduating high school. My first two years at Berklee were mostly spent studying jazz guitar and working towards being a sort of jack-of-all-trades guitarist, but after a horrendous bout with tendinitis nearly ended my career before it had even began, I changed my focus to what, in retrospect, was my passion and goal all along: composition (and more specifically, writing music for movies, TV, and video games). After a couple years adjusting to my new trajectory, I graduated Berklee and moved to Los Angeles back in September 2013. Since then, I’ve been working for a few composers–including Bear McCreary and Penka Kouneva–and as a freelance composer, as well as balancing the odd producing, arranging, or mixing gig. I’m falling in love with the cultural and artistic melting pot that is LA–and the fact that I can go surfing pretty much any day is a nice plus.

What does Reflection and Response mean to you?

AR: Refinement. Self-awareness and mindfully whittling away the unnecessary is an important and ongoing process for me–not just in my music, but throughout my life.

With regards to writing music, John Mayer said it better than I can. I’m paraphrasing, but he once said something to the effect of, “When you write, it’s like when you were a kid, throwing glitter on to a plate covered with glue. But it’s only when you shake off the glitter that doesn’t stick are you able to see the pattern it’s making.” That’s the fun part–shaking off the stuff that doesn’t stick.

When making music, that process is fun, but when you’re whittling away at yourself, it’s hard, and only recently have I begun to the see the patterns–thought processes, motivations, etc. You can only change where you are by truly knowing where you are, questioning your motivations and why you’re doing what you’re doing, being brutally honest with yourself. There’s no room for self-deception or ego in an artist’s life. And none of that introspection matters if you don’t have the courage to change and put what you’ve learned to work. It’s all about working towards a more refined version of you, and hopefully your art will reflect that.

How does your piece “Christmas 1914 in No Man’s Land” fit in with that definition?

AR: A great example of this is actually one of my non-film pieces, entitled “Christmas 1914 in No Man’s Land” (inspired by the Christmas Truce of World War I). It was a beautiful near-miracle that occurred right in the middle of what is quite possibly the nastiest war in human history–the two sides stopped fighting and enjoyed Christmas together. But it’s also a sad story–they began fighting again the next day. So the crux of the piece is an emotion that’s hard to describe–bittersweet comes closer than anything else, but it’s still not quite right. I guess that the saying, “Where words fail, music speaks” isn’t just some dumb phrase to put on refrigerator magnets!

To achieve this weird intersection of emotions, I really had to reel myself in and make sure that I wasn’t stepping on my own toes. Certain phrases needed room to speak, while others needed to be interrupted by the next one. Every note really mattered–it took a lot of “shaking off the glitter” to come to the end result. Even though I recorded it nearly a year ago, I’m still very happy with it. The number of things I want to go back and change is unusually low.

Alex Ruger - Conducting What else have you been working on recently? What are you looking to work on next? Continue reading

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Artist Feature: Nichole Speciale

We connected with San Diego-based visual artist Nichole Speciale through our friend Andrea Harris. Nicole goes in on Reflection and Response, detailing the graphic representation of these processes in her piece Repeat After Me, focusing on the interaction of various surfaces and mediums. Additionally, she delves into her fabric work, On Gravity, which provides two different viewing options that each inform the other to provide a complete understanding of the piece for the viewer. This is a visual artist that practices ill artistic and multimedia expression and we’re juiced to have her words and pieces represented as part of the LIFESTYLE Collective below!

Nichole Speciale

I’ve had this ongoing project called Repeat After Me, which is about considering the plane of the canvas or the paper as a closed system, and as soon as a mark or shape is made in an art material another reflection or translation of that shape is made in thread.

– Nichole Speciale

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

NS: I am originally from Boston, MA and about 3 years ago, I moved to San Diego to go to graduate school, which I am currently finishing up.

What does Reflection and Response mean to you?

NS: I would have to say that my practice is largely based on this concept. I’ve had this ongoing project called Repeat After Me, which is about considering the plane of the canvas or the paper as a closed system, and as soon as a mark or shape is made in an art material another reflection or translation of that shape is made in thread, which becomes a more difficult task because to make a shape composed of straight lines you have to move back and forth through the plane of the paper or canvas.

I have also been doing an ongoing project with a flutist where we have a continuous feedback loop where I’ll reflect on the music she has played and respond through the making of an object and then she will reflect on my work and respond musically. So, to define the terms for myself – I would say that Reflection is a process of seeing/hearing and then internalizing only to turn back to the original occurrence and present your own version, much like holding up a mirror to the original act. Response is something delivered that does not have to emulate the original, but can carry a thread of the original with it in the returned action.

Repeat After Me (in Response to Rachel Beetz, flutist)

Repeat After Me (in Response to Rachel Beetz, flutist)

How does your work fit in with that definition?

NS: I’ve included a drawing from the Repeat After Me series, which I touched on in the my last answer, and have included my piece On Gravity, which is a two-sided work on stretched fabric made with sewing pins and nails. I feel this work fits in with this definition in that you can only take in one side at a time, while knowing that both images exist at once. And in viewing each side you have to consider the other to make sense of the whole piece.  The front of the canvas creates one impression with subtle color changes and soft textures and in response, or maybe an inverted reflection, the back side with the colored heads of the pins is like a bejeweled surface, and is surprising, but can only be surprising because of the reverse side.

On Gravity (front)

On Gravity (front)

On Gravity (back)

On Gravity (back)

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

NS: I have been collaborating with a different musician than the one I mentioned earlier and we have been making ‘sound paintings’ where we embed speakers in stretched fabric or canvas to extend the surface of the painting via sound. The one I am currently working on is about 5.5’ x 3.5’ stretched canvas and I have been sewing 2 large coils of speaker wire onto the surface. We’ve got magnets that turn those coils into speakers. So we are working on figuring out what sound should be coming from that piece… very exciting.

Pie from Scratch - In progress (speaker wire and thread on canvas)

Pie from Scratch – In progress (speaker wire and thread on canvas)

Who or what inspires you?

NS: I am very inspired by investigation of the universe. So I will often read things by Carl Sagan or Neil deGrasse Tyson or Brian Greene. I also love watching NASA TV or poking around on their website. I also get really excited by 80s and 90s art that looks like it was the product of AV club, like Gretchen Bender or Nam June Paik.

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

NS: Hmmm… Well, I recently learned that wasps basically make their nests from paper maché… how cool is that! They started it!

Shout out to…?

NS: Andrea Harris for suggesting me to the collective!

And my music collaborators: Curt Miller and Rachel Beetz!

Redshift Blueshift (ball point pins on speakers)

Redshift Blueshift (ball point pins on speakers)

Check out more of Nichole’s artwork on her website: http://nicholelizspeciale.com/home.html

Reflection and Response.

 

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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: Naïmah

I had the good pleasure of meeting Naïmah at a local coffeehouse in Greenpoint, Brooklyn a couple weeks ago. A Washington D.C.-based singer-songwriter, Naïmah is currently working on her own EP, writing songs for a handful of other artists, and playing shows in the DC and New York areas. We’re happy to welcome her to the Collective as she discusses her understanding and application of Reflection and Response, the creative process behind her song Wolf and I, and various other topics. We’re looking forward to a lot more dope work from Naïmah in the months and years ahead! Check out the dialogue below.

Naimah

Support each other. I’ve witnessed too much animosity in the art world, especially jealousy-driven. Everyone has their own gift, their own individual way of looking at something, and at the end of the day, no one can replicate that.

– Naïmah

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

N: I’m from Washington, D.C., and after going to boarding school in Boston, and college at USC in Los Angeles, I’ve made my way back to the District. A bit surprising to some, as I’m emanating those California vibes “for sure”, but it’s nice to be home and planting my roots and growing where I first got started.

What does Reflection and Response mean to you?

N: Within the harmony of those two actions I find the creative process at its best.  The thing about art as I see it, or at least how I approach my music, is that it is always a response to a reflection on a moment, a person, a feeling, and so on.

Whether I realize something is on my mind or not, songwriting helps me navigate through that process of reflection, and to figure out just how much that subject meant—or means—to me.  Each song is me saying, “This is my response about X. This is how I feel.”

And the incredible part is when that individual reflection and response, my response, captures the way someone else might also feel in their own reflection, or to allow them to see their feelings in a new light.

It’s hard to make this intangible transaction into a tangible explanation, but I hope that all makes sense.

How does ‘Wolf and I’ fit in with that definition? 

N: It doesn’t get more “reflection and response” than in Wolf and I. Well, it does, but prior to writing the song I’d been in a phase of day-dreaming and imagining and writing songs based on these scenes I made up when, after a trip to New York, I was headed back home on the bus, feverishly free-writing in my notes on my iPhone (let me say how restrictive auto-correct and that little screen is) as I attempted to capture how I felt about the events that had just occurred, and all the moments and experiences making up my relationship with this particular person and situation.

Wolf and I is a love song in its most basic interpretation, but I think the fact that it’s really so much more than that below the surface is why people have been able to connect with it. It’s about perception, the way you look at something, the good and the bad all at once.

Wolf is a simile I used to describe someone and something both close and distant, endearing, and in the process of change; and Wolf and I was my reflection, my attempt to articulate, all these thoughts in some kind of compact organization that I could store them in.

Since writing the song, I’ve opened back up to the realization of how important reflection and response is, and how my songs come to life when they are created in this frame of mind.

Photo by Alexandra Howland

Photo by Alexandra Howland

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

Continue reading

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