Sight & Sound: A New Way to Experience UMMA's 'Collection Ensemble'

The next evolution of Collection Ensemble in UMMA’s historic Jonathan and Lizzie Tisch Apse is taking shape virtually this spring with the introduction of Musical Labels — a project in collaboration with students at the U-M School of Music, Theatre, & Dance.

Working with Chamber Music Department Chair Matt Albert and composition faculty member Roshanne Etezady, groups of students worked together to create new and original musical works, as well as new recordings of existing works, to accompany each grouping of art in UMMA’s Collection Ensemble installation. The tracks were recorded, mixed, and finalized this spring by Slypup Productions.

Now, the tracks are available for you to enjoy in a series of new video tours of the Collection Ensemble exhibition, allowing a chance to hear them as they were intended: alongside the works of art that served as their inspiration.

"Through this collaboration, students engaged with and reacted deeply to the ideas, materials, and forms of the artwork,” said Albert. “The process of selecting or creating music that has specific resonances with the art is a rich, creative experience for our students. And their tracks really add another dimension to UMMA’s collection for visitors.” 

Select a track and stay a while:


Title: Void (2020)

Composer: Morgan Elder (Performing Arts Technology, BFA; 2023)

From the composer: Void is inspired by two sculptures, Flora (1850) by Richard James Wyatt and Nydia, the Blind Flower Girl of Pompeii (1861) by Randolph Rogers, as well as by the photograph print Basílica do Palácia Nacional de Mafra (2006) by Candida Höfer. Together, these works convey a variety of messages including those regarding the beautiful architecture of the building photographed and the significance of the church when separated from the individuals who fill its physical space. Another idea that the composition works to emphasize in the visual pieces it accompanies is how great emptiness or vastness can also be a source of discomfort or eeriness when scaled in comparison to an individual. With unpredictable rhythms and phrasing, no sense of a harmonic resolution, and airy timbres, the music creates an unfamiliar and vast sonic environment in which the listener can consider these alternate interpretations of vastness represented by the combined works.

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The Cosmos & Me

Title: Expanses (2020)

Composed and performed by Aislinn Bailie (Master of Music in Performance - Bassoon, 2021) and Emily Yang (Bachelor of Fine Arts in Performing Arts Technology, 2020).

From the Composer and Performers: This piece is inspired by Jordan Eagles’ mixed-media piece TSBC3. This musical piece is built out of bassoon multiphonics and timbral trills, which are left untreated at the beginning of the piece and are progressively modified with ring modulation, reverb, and distortion as the piece progresses. The electronic manipulation transforms the action of a breath into a continuous, multiplied sound and progressively defamiliarizes the vocal, bodily quality of the bassoon. The tension between acoustic sound and its manipulation and constraint by electronics mimics the internal tensions of Eagles’ assemblage, which combines materials that are literally bodily (blood) with copper, resin, and plexiglass.

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Water Protocols

Title: Wade in the Water, traditional spiritual, arranged by Moses Hogan.

Copyright (c) 1997 by Hal Leonard Corporation. International Copyright Secured. All Rights Reserved. Performed by the U-M Chamber Choir at UMMA in October 2019 under the direction of Eugene Rogers.

This recording of Wade in the Water was performed live at UMMA in October 2019 by U-M Chamber Choir, under the direction of Eugene Rogers. The program, conceived in connection with Collection Ensemble, included sacred and spiritual music and played on the installation's celebration and critique of community, faith, and the spaces that hold us. “Wade in the Water” is a spiritual that was long associated with the Underground Railroad before it was published in 1901 as part of New Jubilee Songs as Sung by the Fisk Jubilee Singers. It was selected as a response to the focus work of the Water Protocols section, Chasing a Slaver by Robert Hopkins. The title informs us that this is a troublesome work, thinking about how many, many ships brought over African people for slavery, and many people died while crossing these waters. The term “water protocol” is actually a medical process for people who have dysphagia, or struggle to swallow.  In this section, we are looking at things that might be “difficult to swallow”. 

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Come See About Me

Title: Sketches of Self (2020)

Performers: Joshua Catania, piano (BFA Jazz and Contemplative Studies, ‘23) and Meg Brennan, flute/alto saxophone (Masters in Improvisation, ‘21)

From the composers and performers: "Sketches of Self" honors the themes of identity and tradition which imbue the "Come See About Me" collection. Drawing inspiration from the varied textural palette of the collection, the opening of the piece casts a gentle, rippling musical landscape which evolves into edge-of-your-seat, sporadic interplay. Based on the same underlying compositional material, the two distinct sections meld into one broader musical statement. In a similar way, composition and improvisation coexist harmoniously in the piece as the two elements inform each other symbiotically in performance. As a sonic installation, the piece aims to further highlight the idea of unity in diversity within the collection.

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Light Details

Title: speak no evil (2020)

Composed by Ari Sussman (Doctor of Musical Arts in Composition 2021). Performed by Jimmy Cunningham (Bachelor of Music in Performance - Viola, 2021) Megan Rohrer (Master of Music in Performance - Violin, 2020).

From the artists: This audio excerpt derives from a violin and viola duo I composed in the summer of 2019 entitled speak no evil. The work is a reflection on my relationships with people, whether platonic, romantic or professional. speak no evil can be deductively split into two distinct sections: the first section is a musical “transcription” of three text messages that I received within the last year, one for each of the aforementioned types of relationships. The second section (the section heard on this recording) synthesizes my ever-expanding perception of these relationships with bursts of colorful and vibrant sounds and chords oscillating between the violin and viola. It is within these sounds in that when I originally composed this, I imagined flashes of light pouring into and illuminating a room. This imagery is all the more pertinent now; I cannot help but imagine flashes of light kaleidoscopically pouring into a cathedral from all angles flooding the nave, the chancel, and the sanctuary. Light is optimism, vision, faith, hope, and love. It is important to continue to fight off the darkness, regardless of the Holy Being(s) you may or may not follow. I hope you can hear the light within the music, and see the light through these stunning works of art.

View on YouTube

Constructing a Scene

Title: Co-Constructing (2020)

Composed and performed by Virago: Sofia Carbonara (Bachelor of Music in Performance - Percussion, 2020), Wesley Hornpetrie (Specialist of Music in Performance - cello 2018), BethAnne Kunert (Master of Music in Performance - Saxophone, 2019), Megan Rohrer (Master of Music in Performance - Violin, 2020), and Kaleigh Wilder (Master of Music in Improvisation - Saxophone, 2019).

From the artists: “Co-constructing” is an improvised piece pondering the phrase “remembrance has a rear and front” in relation to our experience as collaborative, creative musicians. In this track, each player initially contributes a single sound to the soundscape, and musical ideas grow naturally and collectively from those seeds. As improvisers, we are constantly co-constructing with each other, evolving and adapting in real time, both sharing and listening.  The freely improvised music we create as Virago is both deeply personal and also deeply communal. Each of our remembered pasts shape our playing-- we embody our personal listening, musical training, cultural biases, relationships and lived experiences, feelings and realizations, obsessions and personalities. All five of us bring these seeds that grow together as we co-construct in the present.

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Community Blocks

Title: CrOsS-SeCtIoN (2019)

Composed by Akari Komura (Master of Music in Composition - Voice, 2021). Performed by Akari Komura and Matthew Koester (Doctor of Musical Arts in Performance - Saxophone, 2022).

From the Artists: This musical piece is inspired by two paintings, Untitled Cube (1969) by Alvin D. Loving, and Simpsonville (1980) by Edward Avedisian. There is a sense of conflict in nature of the two works where Avedisian’s piece appears energetic in vivid colors and shapes, while Loving’s three-dimensional work has more geometrical strictness. Such conflicting balance of the two artworks is reflected in the compositional structure of the piece in terms of control of timbre. While the electronic part is in a fixed form, the acoustic instruments have an open structure to explore timbres that are determined by the performers in their own interpretation of graphic notations. In connection with the idea of building community blocks, the samples in the electronic are daytime city sound collected in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The exchange between the acoustic timbre exploration and everyday sound gestures in the electronics invites you to experience a new exchange between you and the painting.

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Sunday, Sunday

Title: Sunday, Sunday (2020)

Composer: Joe Chrisman (Bachelor of Music in Composition - Piano, 2023). Performed by Joe Chrisman, Phillip Buchman (Bachelor of Music in Jazz Studies - Drums, 2023), Aaron Snyder (Bachelor of Music in Jazz Studies - Saxophone, 2023), Ryan Venora (Bachelor of Music in Jazz Studies - Trumpet, 2023), and Ben Wood (Bachelor of Music in Jazz Studies - Bass, 2023).

From the artists: This piece is based on the painting Lumberville Streaks I (c. 1970) by Jon Carsman and the photograph Ice House (2010) by Gregory Holm. The painting provided the form while the photograph provided the contour and harmonic choices. Because of the painting's stark contrast of dark eerie shadows and a light comforting home, the music combines a soft rhythmic shuffle with a vibrant and soaring "chorus.” The melody oscillates sharply to reflect the stalactites and stalagmites of the ice and the chords are harsh like the abandoned environment depicted in the photograph.

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Title: Potential Confessional (2020)

Composers: Noah Fishman (Master of Music in Composition - Bass, 2020) and Julia Foran (Bachelor of Music in Performance - Viola, 2020).

From the artists: “Potential Confessional” is a structured free improvisation by Noah Fishman and Julia Foran. Noah and Julia met in Mark Kirschenmann's 'Creative Arts Orchestra’ course at U-M before beginning their collaboration on this work. Based on the shape of the space at UMMA and the allusions to Catholicism and social living spaces within the art, Noah and Julia were attracted to the notion and practice of confession. With Noah on electric bass and Julia on viola, the sound is low and resonant yet textural and detailed: The viola provides an etherial, spiritual sound, while the bass keeps things more grounded. “Potential Confessional” combines scratches and extended technique on viola, harmonics on both instruments, and foley sounds from small beads, inspired by the confession practice. The intention was to create a sound that would feel textural and relatable, colorful and songful, intimate despite the massive space.

View on YouTube

This project is part of an on-going partnership between UMMA and the U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance. Audio recording and production by Slypup Productions. QR Codes in gallery provided by Scanova QR Code Generator.

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