From The Mountains: Hazel Dickens in Baltimore
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Final Update: Video of “From The Mountains” In Performance
The premiere of “From The Mountains: Hazel Dickens in Baltimore” took place on April 12th at the Creative Alliance in Baltimore, as part of Anna & Elizabeth’s Crankie Festival. This amazing event, organized by my collaborators Anna & Elizabeth, focused on pairings of music with scrolling illustrations called crankies. Prior to my piece there were incredible crankies by Katherine Fahey, Alex Fine, Matt Muirhead, McKenzie Ditter, Chris Owen, and Ashley Minner with youth from the Baltimore American Indian Center, all of which bent the little-known medium of the crankie in new directions.
The overarching theme of the evening was travel and migration. My piece focused on an individual who was part of a large migration of people from Appalachia into the large industrial cities after World War II. Hazel Dickens moved from West Virginia to Baltimore in the 1950’s when she was a young girl in search of factory work. In Baltimore she eventually found encouragement of her talents as a musician, through Mike Seeger and others, and she went on to become the first prominent female musician in bluegrass. She spent most of her life in Baltimore and Washington DC, but continued to identify herself with West Virginia and the struggles of its working people.
To illustrate Hazel’s story, Anna and Elizabeth worked together to create a pair of crankies on scrolls of transparency. Projecting the images by shining flashlights behind them, the drawings could then be superimposed, as well as enabling slow zooms, panning, and other cinematic techniques. In performance, the crankies were operated by Anna and Chris Owen, while Elizabeth sang and recited passages of Hazel Dickens’ narrative. I alternated between playing melodica, banjo, and sampler, on top of a pre-recorded audio collage.
Enjoy this video documentation of the performance, recorded and edited by Kevin Gift.
Tonight is the premiere performance of From The Mountains: Hazel Dickens in Baltimore on Baltimore Crankie Festival, hosted by Anna and Elizabeth at the Creative Alliance in Baltimore. Rehearsals have been going very well and I’m really excited to present this piece tonight. Anna Roberts-Gevalt and Elizabeth LaPrelle have designed a pair of hand-cranked picture scrolls (crankies) on transparency, which will be projected via flashlights and superimposed on a screen. Elizabeth will be singing on top of my sample collage and live melodica/banjo parts, while Anna will be operating one of the crankies along with artist Chris Owen.
The performance will be documented on video, and I look forward to sharing it on Vimeo in the near future. I will post the link on here once we have it. In the meantime, you can hear one section of the piece that I have posted on SoundCloud, a remix of the Hazel Dickens a cappella “Pretty Bird”.
Moving Forward – Links between Appalachia and Baltimore
I’m very honored and grateful to have been awarded this project grant from NewMusicUSA! This grant will enable us to professionally record and create a music video documenting this work the way that allows it to be shared with the widest audience possible. Anna & Elizabeth and I are excited to be able to work with videographer (and amazing musician) Kevin Gift, to film our piece as we lead up to the premiere performance at the Creative Alliance in Baltimore on April 12th. “Hazel Dickens in Baltimore” will be one of a number of pieces focused on themes of travel and migration, as part of Anna & Elizabeth’s Crankie Festival that evening.
Anna & Elizabeth (who are currently on tour), and I are currently collecting and distilling our ideas for the piece long-distance via a private blog, where we are assembling snippets of song lyrics, old photographs, and video footage related to both Appalachia and Baltimore. Thinking about the sense of double identity and questions of home and belonging for people who have migrated, and about what makes a healthy community. Also considering the economic as well as cultural links between the rural and urban worlds.
On the level of musical organization, I have been working on assembling a structure of audio clips that I can mix, process, and re-sample in the live performance (using Ableton Live 9/Max For Live). This web of audio clips combines samples of Hazel Dickens’ songs, some drones and small riffs that I recorded on fiddle, parts I recorded on melodica and on banjo, field recordings, bits of spoken oral history, a granular synth using real-time sampling of moments from Hazel’s songs, and a few drum parts and bass lines for one particular section.
In the performance, Elizabeth will alternate singing some fragments from Hazel’s songs and speaking her words from an interview about her life in Baltimore after moving from West Virginia. Anna will also sing, while she and I will play multiple instruments in conjunction with the samples that I will trigger.
Video, projected text and drawings will components of the visual dimension in performance, which Anna & Elizabeth are planning at the moment.
Looking forward to sharing this journey!
“From The Mountains: Hazel Dickens in Baltimore” is a multimedia collaboration between composer/electronic musician Erik Spangler and old-time ballad duo Anna and Elizabeth. The 20-minute composition will incorporate spoken narrative (based on an interview with the country singer Hazel Dickens, as transcribed by Geoffrey Himes, late in her life), field recordings exploring the transition from a rural to an urban environment, video projection, hand-cranked scrolls, and a musical score that bridges old-time music (fiddle and ballad singing) with urban hip hop-infused beats and turntablism. The composition will be premiered in April 12, 2014 at The Creative Alliance, in Baltimore. A professional recording and music video version of the work will also be produced and made available online.
A track from my EP “Cloudsplitter”. Banjo, melodica, and vocal samples are from a song that I wrote based on Wendell Berry’s poem “What We Need Is Here”, recorded in my car while camping at Big Meadows in Shenandoah Valley National Park. Back in Baltimore I took this material in another direction.
An excerpt from a group improvisation on my monthly series Baltimore Boom Bap Society, focusing on live improvised hip hop in collaboration with other genres. I perform DJ electronics here along with an ensemble that includes fiddler Anna Roberts-Gevalt, with whom I will be collaborating on the proposed project.
Final track from my EP “Cloudsplitter”. All instruments played by myself- melodica, fiddle, banjo, guitar, Irish harp, recorder, electronic kick, clap, and bass synth. Another example of my interest in combining rural and urban folk music traditions.
Start and End Dates
03/01/2014 — 04/12/2014