FILM: September New Releases

◗ Blue Jasmine reviewed by Lucy Morrell

In Blue Jasmine, Woody Allen departs from his usual humor and instead delivers a portrayal of a socialite whose life collapses with the fall of her scheming Wall Street husband (Alec Baldwin). Having exhausted the last of her money, Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) arrives with upper-crust sensibilities and a medley of prescription drugs in San Francisco where she must “slum it” with her adopted sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins). The film cuts back and forth between Jasmine’s idealized past and imperfect present, in which both she and Ginger struggle with life and romance.

Cate Blanchett is phenomenal as Jasmine, an atypical Woody Allen protagonist. The comical neuroses that seem to plague most of Allen’s characters are replaced in Jasmine with severe mental illness and denial. Blanchett is convincingly afflicted, her whole being radiating a sense of instability. Blanchett’s performance leaves little room for relief, though, as Jasmine’s perspective becomes an increasingly uncomfortable headspace for the audience to inhabit. Even flashbacks to less psychologically volatile times are painful to watch, with the old, moneyed Jasmine being incapable of interacting with her sister across economic and social barriers.

Blue Jasmine

Cate Blanchett & Woody Allen On The Set Of “Blue Jasmine”

In the few scenes when the perspective shifts away from Jasmine, the audience sees Ginger with various men, including an ex-husband (Andrew Dice Clay), a hot-blooded fiancé (Bobby Cannavale), and a dodgy lover (Louis C.K.). None of these men live up to Jasmine’s warped standards of class, leading one to believe that only sleazy men and troubled women populate this film’s world. Few of the characters are likable; even Jasmine—so incredibly portrayed by Blanchett—is at best watchable.

The characters simply cannot grow in this film centered around self-destruction and resignation. Allen seems so set on making the audience realize the cyclic nature of relationships and life choices, that real development is curtailed or pointless. The film lacks humor and hope, but in the end it might be worth watching merely to see characters played by fantastic actors stumbling around and making an absolute muck of their lives.

◗ Riddick reviewed by Lucy Morrell

As the third theatrically released movie in the series, Riddick is by far the least nuanced. It exists only to perpetuate, rather than develop, its title character. The premise even seems like a poor amalgamation of the earlier films, with the monsters from Pitch Black and the bounty hunters from Chronicles of Riddick. Now stranded on a hostile planet, Riddick (Vin Diesel), an escaped convict, triggers an emergency beacon to lure bounty hunters to the surface so that he might steal their spacecraft.

Two groups of bounty hunters respond, and it becomes quite clear in the course of a few minutes of inane dialogue, that none of these characters is going to be compelling or dynamic. Santana (Jordi Molla) an incompetent loudmouth leads one, and Johns (Matt Nable), well-equipped and straitlaced, commands the other. While they are disappointingly unoriginal, the true travesty of character comes with Dahl, played by Katee Sackoff. The only female character in the film, she is reduced to her sexuality in the most stereotypical way possible. She can throw some punches and shoot big guns, so of course Dahl has to be a butch lesbian, who doesn’t sleep with men but rather slaughters them. That doesn’t stop any man, though, including Riddick, from aggressively propositioning her. Riddick through his obvious and superior display of virile ability is able to “turn” her, so that in the final scenes Dahl (backlit like a feminine angel) straddles him and promises to fulfill his masculine desires.

From "Riddick"


The characters, specifically Dahl, and the scenarios within the film seem to exist only to make Riddick into a hyper-masculine ideal. He is well nigh indestructible (e.g. he cauterizes a giant hole in his chest and climbs a rocky cliff) and has a predator intelligence that all of his pursuers lack. He can tame wild beasts, build up immunity to venom, and set his own shattered leg, all of which he can do with no more than a grimace. In previous movies, his abilities were at least tempered with vulnerabilities, like feeling guilt and responsibility for the well-being of another human. In this film, his only connection is to an alien dog.

Riddick is not clever or original even within its own series. It is reduced to the barest of stereotypical frameworks, but at the same time, there is still the occasional thrill that comes with the foreknowledge of destruction at the hands of an indomitable fighter.

American Politics and Blomkamp’s Failed Dystopia: An unfair review of Elysium by Justin Chandler

There’s this point in Elysium, after learning about main character Max DeCosta’s childhood (orphan, raised with Spanish-speaking children, by Spanish-speaking nuns, in a Spanish-speaking community) where adult Max is walking to work in apparently the same neighborhood and you wonder: Why the hell doesn’t this guy speak Spanish? Why not even an accent? He was speaking fluent Spanish like…five minutes ago. What just happened?

From "Elysium"

On Elysium In “Elysium”

If you’re like me, you probably realize the obvious answer: it’s because that’s not Max! That’s Matt Damon, playing the character of Max DeCosta in Neill Blomkamp’s follow-up to District 9. Sadly, neither this explanation nor any other you come up with is likely to overcome the disappointment and boredom you’ll feel if, like me, you sit through the whole thing, barely able to keep from wondering whether Grown Ups 2 has shown that car wash scene yet. Regardless of whether you’ve seen it or not, what follows is a brief summary, followed by a far from exhaustive list of all the dumb stuff Elysium does.

Elysium takes its name from a ring-shaped satellite that, in the future, is populated by the super-rich and orbits around a wasteland called “Earth.” The people on Elysium are greedy, mostly white, have awesome tanning-bed machines that heal them, and throw fancy parties. That’s about it. Oh, and they also hate the poor  people from Earth (all minorities) who fly spaceships into the big open area on the side of Elysium that looks either glass encased or like a vacuum deathtrap, but turns out to be an artificial atmosphere.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, the poor people get harassed by robots and work various menial jobs for companies owned by people on Elysium. It’s a lot like America, actually, or the way that a myopic and liberal writer might conceive it. Max DeCosta (technically Matt Damon as Max) happens to be one of those workers. He’s a lifelong thief who, after a stint in jail, has given up his life of crime to work a really crappy factory job for no discernible reason.

That is, until Max gets totally screwed over by his boss and gets radiation poisoning. The only hope for Max comes by way of Spider, a sort of thug boss who agrees to help Max get to Elysium and use the healing bed thingy if Max helps Spider catch somebody really rich.

Long story short, Max goes through with it, a bunch of talking and strangely Call of Duty-inspired fight scenes ensue and, at the end, Max realizes that he’s going to die and that his only option is to sacrifice himself so everyone on Earth will be granted citizen status on Elysium.

It’s a really great thing for somebody to do, no doubt. But by the end of the movie, we’re bound to have more questions than answers, the biggest of which is, if it’s as easy as sending a bunch of spaceships down to Earth to help people, why didn’t the rich people do that way sooner?

Of course they couldn’t, because these rich people aren’t people at all. They aren’t even actors playing rich people! They are one thing only: “bad guys.” No one on Elysium shows the slightest hint of concern for the people on Earth, whereas the people on Earth—even thug bosses like Spider—end up turning out to be considerate (albeit sassy) human beings.

This is a problem, mainly because Blomkamp’s goal for Elysium has nothing to do with being conceptually inventive or action-packed. His real goal is to make us think. But it fails, primarily because it adopts the divisionary close-mindedness it intends  to critique. Rather than treating its enemies like valid and identifiably human humans (the way it treats the poor), it treats them like heartless Scrooges. At no point do we wonder what Max’s boss is like, his hopes and dreams, whether he’s ever lost someone he loved. The same goes for megalomaniacal Secretary of Defense Jessica Delacourt (Jodie Foster). Thoughts about who they are as people never cross our mind; they are defined and doomed by their affluence.

So what do we do? If—as Blomkamp recently claimed in an interview—greed is hardwired into our DNA, then what? Blomkamp’s explicit answer is “change the human genome.” Easy enough.

Another answer is that the rich could share the wealth. But in no way is Elysium an appeal to those it demonizes. Who, watching Elysium, is going to say, “Hey, that rich jerkwad reminds me of me!” No one will, not because we aren’t jerkwads now and then, but because the jerkwads in Elysium are nothing but.

You can’t show people (whether they are the rich or Republicans or Hipsters) anything if your starting premise is that they are ignorant, crude caricatures of real humanity. Real dialogue requires dialogue, not demonizing. Blumkamp did it in District 9, when he took a bumbling, self-centered jerkwad and put him through the ringer. By the end of the movie, Wikus is us. We’ve come to identify with him through his torturous ordeal. He’s still the same person, thinking only of himself, but he’s a jerkwad who recognizes it. Wikus’s nearly final statement, as he sacrifices himself not for all of humanity but for an alien father and son, is a sincere recognition of this inner division: “Go now, before I change my mind.” But it is the complexity of Wikus that makes it possible for us to identify and in some ways change with him.

But this isn’t Blomkamp’s plan for Elysium. The answer it offers? Human sacrifice. Matt—er, Max—sacrifices himself for the greater good. But this is equally false, not because heroes don’t exist, but because the situations that we face  are more complex than a movie like Elysium can possibly imagine. Max’s death allows a computer code to be overwritten, allowing all of humanity to be granted citizenship in Elysium. But here, in the real world, there is no computer code that can be overwritten. There is no quick fix. It takes more than one person to save us. The real answer lies in dealing with each other, with our selfishness and selflessness.

So why can’t someone on Elysium feel for someone on Earth? Or vice versa? There is no reason. The paradox of living is that we do so for ourselves and for others, and the beautiful thing about art is that when we are least selfless, it can change us, can make us feel linked with other people. One of the times when this can happen is when our art captures the complexity of the human experience. But Elysium fails to change us, to even make us think, because it embraces a separatist mindset, because it depicts the real battle as one between “us” and “them,” rather than what it actually is: a single body, confused, and fighting itself over what is wrong and how to make it right.

The Ryder ◆ September 2013

MUSIC: Béla Fleck

The 13-time Grammy Award winner is coming to the IU Auditorium ◆ by Hannah Waltz

[Béla Fleck and the IU Jacobs School of Music Orchestra led by Giancarlo Guerrero will perform at the IU Auditorium on October 30.]

This October Bloomington will host one the most accomplished and versatile banjo players of our time, Béla Fleck. Renowned for adapting the banjo to virtually any musical genre, including bluegrass, rock, jazz, world beat, classical, and more, it’s no surprise that Fleck has been awarded fifteen Grammys since 1998. In fact, his thirty Grammy nomination nods in a variety of categories make him the first musician to have been nominated in so many musical categories in Grammy history.

But the gamut of his career extends beyond the Grammys. Fleck has collaborated with a wide range of musicians, often collaborating in bands, as he did with the New Grass Revival and his own band the Fleckstones. Although Fleck has performed alongside headliners like Dave Matthews and Phish, he’s no back up man. In September 2011 The Nashville Symphony Orchestra commissioned Fleck’s first stand-alone banjo concerto The Impostor, ten years after Fleck’s album Perpetual Motion, which he worked on with friend Edgar Meyer, won two Grammys.

Even with these milestones of musical grandeur under his belt, Fleck shows no sign of slowing down his creative momentum and continues to compose and tour today. Ryder asked Fleck a few questions about his life and the banjo the way he sees it.

Ryder What would you say was the most unique musical setting in which you incorporated the banjo? What other instruments were you playing with? What made it so unique?

Béla Fleck It’s hard to say… I guess at one time the Flecktones were the most unique setting, but followed by Perpetual Motion, with classical soloists, and Throw Down Your Heart, with African Musicians, duos with Chick Corea, playing with Indian and Chinese musicians on Tabula Rassa, and now with Symphony orchestra  and String Quartet – I’d say that I love to find unique settings for the banjo, and I don’t intend to stop looking for them!

Ryder You are the epitome of musical genre versatility—do you feel like you’re entering a new world when you cross genres? Or are they all more related in your mind, more so than some might think?

BF Well, I am certainly the limiting factor in each of these settings. They could do much more complex things if I weren’t playing! I can only play what I am capable of today, and keep trying to expand myself by putting myself in situations where I must learn and I must rise to the occasion. I pretty much play the same in every setting – as much like myself as I can figure out how to do. And so that relates the idioms insofar as how they relate to me, I suppose.

Ryder What would be a genre of music that the banjo lends itself to that is perhaps unexpected to untrained ears?

BF It would sound fine in most music. It can be a great rock instrument, really adding to the groove, if it’s the right beat. And in classical music it brings a timbre that no other instrument has. That is why it works so well in the orchestra, which is a group that supplies as many different distinct sounds as possible in one group.

Ryder You have been performing with the Fleckstones for 25+ years. What is it about the group makes it work so well as a unit.

BF Everyone in the Flecktones is an inventor, a leader and a composer. And we all like to confound expectations as to what is expected from our instruments. So we are like minds, and it isn’t easy to find collaborators who think as similarly as we do, especially considering how different our backgrounds are.

Ryder What part has musical collaboration played in your career? Who are your favorite musicians to play with?

BF Collaboration is one of the most exciting things to me in music. And the people that I get to play with are such phenomenons. Chick Corea, Edgar Meyer, Zakir Hussain, Marcus Roberts, Chris Thile, Victor Wooten, Howard Levy, Future Man, Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Dave Mathews, Brooklyn Rider, Nashville, Cleveland and Philadelphia Orchestras…Holy Cow, I get to play with the best!

Ryder You’re credited with having changed the sound and performance of the banjo—(if you agree) how would you say that you have done that?

BF I don’t know that that is really true. I have played the banjo in lots of settings though, and been able to get the banjo into the public eye pretty often. I am glad that I get to play music that I am proud of, and that it reaches out to enough people that I get to keep doing it!

The Ryder ◆ September 2013

FILM: Freaky, Funny, Dirty

Nelson Lyon’s The Telephone Book comes to the IU Cinema ◆ by Russell Sheaffer

[The Underground Film Series will screen the 1972 film, The Telephone Book, at the IU Cinema on October 4 at 6:30pm.]

In 1982, John Belushi went on a drug binge that ended in his untimely death; Saturday Night Live writer Nelson Lyon was there and it destroyed his career. Lyon, who wrote for Saturday Night Live between 1981 and 1982, had a sordid relationship with the film industry after Belushi’s death. For most people, the simple connection between Belushi and Lyon made up the extent of their knowledge about the latter, he had trouble finding work, and his filmography remained thin. In fact, Lyon’s only feature-length directorial effort, a sex romp titled The Telephone Book (1972), seemed to be facing a demise similar to his own; it had been forgotten amongst the many other films and filmmakers who made work in the flourishing New York City film scene of the 1960s and 70s. With the recent restoration of The Telephone Book, however, Lyon’s little-known gem has attracted a new-found cult following, giving fans and scholars alike the chance to reevaluate Lyon’s life and work.

From "Telephone Book"

Norman Rose in “The Telephone Book”

In 2012, Nelson Lyon passed away at the age of 73 years old. He’d had a fascinating life, but his filmography was short and his once promising career as a filmmaker had proved less than glorious. Lyon had been living and working in New York City during the flourishing underground film scene of the 1970s, he’d been a part of Andy Warhol’s art studio called The Factory, but his name never found a home amongst the greats. He had a brief moment of critical success with The Telephone Book in the 1970s but, after his stint writing for SNL, he ended up making trailers for other people’s movies and nothing quite compared to his short, albeit disastrous, time in the spotlight.

When it was released in 1972, The Telephone Book screened theatrically in New York and Los Angeles and was deemed a “bleakly brilliant” film for “sophisticated adults” by the Los Angeles Times and “one of the freakiest, funny, dirty movies ever made” by its own promotional posters. Produced by Merv Bloch, the film was paid for with money Bloch had made designing promotional materials for films like 2001: A Space Odyssey and, as its advertising suggests, The Telephone Book is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. On a surface level, the film is a wonderfully entertaining adventure that follows a young woman, Alice, as she searches the streets of New York City trying to find “John Smith,” a man that she’s fallen in love with over the telephone. John, her telephone-lover, spends most of his time making obscene telephone calls to housewives, grandmothers, and adolescents all over New York City and he has made quite a name for himself.

On her quest to find “John Smith,” Alice runs into an onslaught of various sex-obsessed characters from a stag filmmaker planning his comeback to a deranged housewife to two regulars of Andy Warhol’s Factory, Ultra Violet and Ondine. This array of porno character types and pop culture icons keeps the film moving along at a ludicrously quick and delightful pace, climaxing with an animated sequence that is nearly impossible to describe. Shot in high contrast black and white, The Telephone Book is in a category all its own, simultaneously a critique, a satire, and a part of the explosion of theatrical pornography that swept the country in the 1970s.

From "The Telephone Book"

Sarah Kennedy In “The Telephone Book”

In 2010, just two years before Nelson Lyon passed away, The Telephone Book was rediscovered and began a revival tour that has taken it around the country, playing to audiences who had never heard of the film, much less Nelson Lyon. In retrospect, the film has been called “a brilliant and lamentably neglected gem of early-’70s underground filmmaking” by Slant Magazine and The Chicago Reader’s Ben Sachs noted that The Telephone Book “conveys a youthful enthusiasm and a curiosity about what can be done with film comedy,” a sentiment that I agree with whole-heartedly. Thanks to the film’s newfound cult status, we’re presented with a promising, young filmmaker whose dreams were crushed too quickly and whose work was pushed aside amidst a series of phenomenally unfortunate circumstances. Retroactively, we are finally able to recognize Nelson Lyon for what he was: a talented, culturally savvy voice that was able to provide biting critique of a system while simultaneously being a part of it.

The Telephone Book is rated X and, as such, IDs will be required and no one under the age of 18 will be admitted. The screening is free, but ticketed. More ticketing information.

Other upcoming programs in the Underground Film Series include a night of shorts titled “Exploding Lineage: Queer of Color Histories in Experimental Media,” co-presented with the Black Film Center/Archive on October 11 at 6:30pm, a family-friendly program of Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion animated fairy tales on October 19 at 3pm, and a not-to-be-missed program of west coast underground short films from the likes of Kenneth Anger, Maya Deren, James Broughton, Barbara Hammer, and James Franco on October 25 at 7pm.

The Ryder ◆ September 2013


An original rock score by the Bloomington band M enlivens F.W. Murnau’s silent vampire thriller ◆ by Stephen Simms
[Stephen Simms is a founding member of the legendary, mid-90s Bloomington band, M. In a rare comeback appearance, they will perform their original score to F.W. Murnau’s classic silent film, Nosferatu at the IU Cinema on Sunday, October 27th at 6:30 pm. The film and performance are a co-presentation of the Cinema and The Ryder.]

My father is a very patient man and when I was 13, he agreed to take me and some of my geeky friends to the first science fiction convention held in Indianapolis in 1981. As part of the convention, science fiction films were shown on the televisions in every room. It was around midnight, hopped up on Coca-cola that I first saw F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu. Even though it was on a tiny Trinatron and I was a maturing lad, it pretty well scared the hell out of me. I loved the shadows and the exaggerated facial expressions. Nosferatu was very different than the vampires I had seen on television. He wasn’t sexy and well dressed like Lugosi or Christopher Lee. He was an alternate dark portrait of uncontrolled id – base, ugly, and frightening.

While the special effects are nothing by today’s ridiculously CGI heavy standards, they still give me shivers. From a crazed coach ride to the Count’s castle to the ghostly Nosferatu materializing to a sickly sailor who later walks through a wall carrying his coffin, I was and still am mesmerized. Max Schreck played the towering, hook-nosed, vampire. It wasn’t until later I learned that the word schreck meant fright – very appropriate.

From "Nosferatu"

Fast forward to 1988. I was studying electronic composition at Roosevelt University and living in the Herman Crown Center, a downtown dormitory shared by Columbia College, Roosevelt University, and the School for the Art Institute of Chicago. The basement of the 17-story building contained a snack bar and a practice space that you could reserve for a few hours at a time. One night while out for a soda I saw a light on in the practice space (a rarity) and peering through the window I saw a young guy in a comb-over mohawk tearing into a massive set of drums with a level of energy that I had never seen. The fusion of quartz clock timing with wild polyrhythmic drum fills made my composer-self quite excited.

I stared through the window in amazement as I heard him play along with Neil Peart, Billy Cobham, Narada Michael Walden, and others. I had no idea then that we would be periodically making music together for the next 24 years. We became fast friends, eventually sharing space together in a tiny closet that the administration called a room. We challenged one another musically, often waking up in the morning to The Mahavishnu Orchestra’s “Noonward Race” or “Crisis” by Jaco Pastorius. At this time I was a serviceable rhythm guitar player, a mediocre pianist, and a terrible trumpet player who longed to play the bass.

I had music and musical ideas in my head, but I was frustrated that I didn’t have a fluid musical voice the way that Bennett did. During the summer of 1989, I moved briefly to Bloomington to take some additional music classes and almost fail a French reading course. I met some of the members of the unique and amazing Bloomington band, The Belgian Waffles. I loved those guys right away because the musical ideas were as important if not more important than the notes (something that I had been trying to learn in Chicago). The Waffles did it all: harnessing sounds from a shortwave radio, playing plumbing diagrams, writing a song about the Star Trek episode in which Kirk fights the Gorn. They relied in many cases only on their ears and minds to spontaneously guide the size and shape of their musical improvisations.

Later I graduated from Roosevelt with a Master’s in Composition and moved to Bloomington to study music theory, hoping to better my compositions through an exploration of the ideas behind music.

I bought a bass and reconnected with the Waffles who were getting musicians of all sorts together to improvise and drink bourbon on Thursday nights in Tony Woolard’s large basement. The group ended up being known as the Torture Chamber Ensemble. It was a fitting name because the one rule these long jam sessions had was that nobody could play their primary instrument. These sessions were all about listening to one another and trying to make something musical from what you had been dealt. I played saxophone for the first time in Tony’s basement. I still have fond memories crashing and playing in the 4th of July parade, proudly sliding a trombone up Walnut street using a small cymbal as a wah-wah occasionally slapping it against the bell for emphasis.

It was during these experiences that I met a thoughtful religious studies major, with incredible ears and a masterful melodic sensibility which he executed with what seemed like ease on his Paul Reed Smith guitar. His name was Jason Bivins. Occasionally between basement sessions, Jason and I would revert back to our primary instruments and improvise. He was crazy talented and had a lot of experience playing in bands, blending hard rock and avant-jazz. I had only played the bass in public two or three times at this point and was flattered that he wanted to make music with me. Someone remarked that the melodic parts of our improvisations reminded them of Baroque music. Even now, I am not entirely sure what to make of that remark, but when Jason sent me email in the Spring of 1995, asking if I wanted to hang out and play, I was excited and keen to see where it would go. We met a couple of times playing quietly and fleshing out melodic bits we thought were interesting. It was agreed that it would be much more interesting if we could find a drummer. The quiet dynamic we had established was to change radically.

As luck would have it, Bennett was working as an X-ray tech in Colorado and having a miserable time his then-girlfriend. I told him that I was living in a 5-bedroom place with only 2 roommates and that he should come to Bloomington, move in with us, and start a band. A few days later Bennett arrived and I realized that I was going to need a more powerful amplifier.

On June 14th, 1995 Bennett, Jason, and I played together for the first time and we liked it. Sitting on the porch, we knew we had a band. I managed to convince them that we should just call the band M, a name that was innocuous and open for interpretation: the wonderful Fritz Lang film, Monk, Mingus, Miles, Mozart, Motorhead, Mental Masturbation, Mute, Music. Perhaps the tipping point was when we noted that in Star Trek all habitable planets were of class M. We decided that when people asked what the M stood for, we would give a different response each time. That sounded like fun, so everyone was on board.

With the support and assistance of the Waffles and local therapist, poet, and musician, Eric Rensberger, we had our first gig at the what is now known as the Ivy Tech Waldron Arts Center and were off to the races. A young composer friend said that our music was what happens when math rock and free improvisation have a baby. We played regularly at Second Story, the Bluebird, and a wonderful record store in Louisville called Ground Zero.

Late in the Summer of 1995, I started working on a shot-by-shot examination of Nosferatu using techniques I had learned from music theorist David Neumeyer. I mostly focused on what characters were in the shot and what the action was like that connected shots together.

David had also introduced me to Erno Lendvai, a music theorist who studied Bela Bartok’s music extensively. He had some interesting ideas about the golden mean and its presence in Bartok’s music, particularly in his Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta. If you have an evening to waste sometime, ask me about this (a personal hobby horse of mine). Lendvai’s other contribution to Bartok scholarship was the articulation of what’s called a tonal axis system. Lendvai divides the octave in half mathematically claiming that Bartok used a tonal system based on that division. For example, Lendvai says that in the key of A, both the chord A and Eb could serve a tonic function and that a secondary tonal axis (perpendicularly crossing the line between A and Eb on a diagram of the circle of 5ths) exists connecting the keys of C and F#. Our happy-go-lucky protagonist, Hutter, got the key of A while the evil Nosferatu received the other side of the axis, Eb. The key of C is equidistant from A and Eb, a minor third apart from each, so I assigned that to Ellen, married to Hutter but seemingly drawn to the repulsive Nosferatu. So, we had keys assigned to characters, more or less, and needed melodic ideas to tie things together.

Earlier that summer, I found a Bruno Ventura guitar strung with nylon strings sitting on the curb waiting for the trash. It had a hole in it where the back had become detached and was covered in white latex paint. I was raised not to take anything from someone else’s trash bin without asking. Hilariously, the owner of the house decided that he wanted to sell the guitar. He asked for $5.00 and I wouldn’t offer more than $4.50 wanting to feel like I got a deal of sorts. Jason and I wrote the melodies for our score by passing that acoustic guitar back and forth while watching the film over and over again.

Once we had a tonal framework with melodies, Jason and I brought Bennett onboard to fill in the gaps and to give some rhythmic character to what we had done. Bennett’s bowed cymbal in conjunction with Jason’s delay pedal made for some eerie listening and was just what I had hoped for. We spent hours in my big kitchen rehearsing, our eyes transfixed to the tiny TV atop my rolling kitchen island.

We needed a film, a projector, and a venue. I rented a 16mm print of Nosferatu from a fellow in NYC and rented the Monroe County Public Library’s auditorium. All we needed to do then was to keep practicing, promote, and hope that someone showed up.

My friend Chuck offered to be our projectionist and helped us get things set up the day of the performance. Once all the gear was in place we were ready for a practice run-through. The film started to roll. We played for about a minute and realized that the print we received was running at a much higher rate of speed than the one we had been rehearsing to. We were nothing short of freaked out and were going to have to speed things up somehow. At this point we had an hour or so to play with the print and were able to make a game plan – cut impulses to repeat things and watch one another with a higher than our already high degree of attention. We made it through somehow and the audience seemed to really like what we had done. We actually made some money much to our amazement.

Wouldn’t it be cool if we could do this again, but not have to worry about renting the film or the hall? Enter Peter LoPilato and The Ryder film series. I was an adoring fan of The Ryder even before I moved to Bloomington. While attending Wabash College in Crawfordsville, I would occasionally drive to Bloomington to check out something wonderful – Swimming to Cambodia with Spalding Gray or Home of the Brave by Laurie Anderson (neither of which are on DVD – a terrible shame). Peter offered us a chance to play several dates in late October as part of the film series… for four wonderful years. Our last show and the last time I played publically as a member of M was for The Ryder in early November of 1999.
Jason moved away to North Carolina where he has become a tenured professor of religious studies. Bennett is now a high school science teacher that drums professionally on evenings and weekends. I gave up music theory for a career in IT, working on the high performance storage system that backs the Big Red II supercomputer.

Over the years Peter would suggest that “the lads get back together.” It was a tempting idea, but reuniting would prove difficult. Years became a decade and then some. But as I’ve said, my father taught me to be patient. And then the IU Cinema opened. Jon Vickers, director of the Cinema, has done so much in his role to provide members of the Bloomington community with truly amazing cinematic experiences. I had no idea that we would have a chance to play at the IU Cinema, but I sent mail to Peter and slipped Jon a DVD document of one of our 1999 performances. I was both surprised and elated to hear that Jon and Peter were interested in scheduling us for this fall. This was an offer that our geographically challenged band could not refuse. So I hope you’ll come to see us perform our score for Nosferatu on October 27th at the IU Cinema. We’re not sexy and well-dressed like other bands but we’ve got big ears and know how to rock.

The Ryder ◆ September 2013

FILM: Sirius Matters

◆ by Jeff Becker

[The Ryder Film Series will screen Sirius on October 18, 19 & 20. Jeff Becker will introduce the film and  answer questions after the screenings.]

Work on our documentary, Sirius, was well underway when an unthinkable tragedy happened: a gunman opened fire in a Sikh temple killing six people. Among them was Satwant Singh Kaleka, director  Amardeep Kaleka’s father. Kaleka went to Wisconsin to be with his family and friends. He appeared on national news shows on all of the major networks. He said that the FBI told him his father attacked the shooter in the lobby, resulting in a “blood struggle.” He fought to the very end and suffered gunshot wounds while trying to take down the gunman. “It’s an amazing act of heroism, but it’s also exactly who he was,” Amardeep Kaleka told a CNN reporter. “There was no way in God’s green Earth that he would allow somebody to come in and do that without trying his best to stop it.” Work on Sirius could easily have ended with this tragedy, but after a short break to help organize relief efforts for the other temple victims, Kaleka returned to finish the film.

"Sirius" Poster

I flew out to visit my friend Marta (not her real name). A mutual friend had introduced us almosta year ago because she had questions about night vision equipment and he had seen my night vision videos. I found out that Marta was having ongoing up close and personal experiences with extraterrestrial (ET) beings. She is an artist and has drawn pictures of the various ET beings she has seen and made a sculpture of one who has visited more regularly.

Marta and I watched several of my night vision videos, then Marta left the room for a moment. When she returned, she mentioned that she had just heard on odd noise whizzing by her ear, a noise that she associated with ET communications. It wasn’t long after that we heard the “thump thump thump” of a low-flying helicopter. We rushed outside to see a dark green helicopter moving away from a position directly over her house. Marta said helicopters often showed up after her encounters, and that they weren’t supposed to be flying low over residential areas.

Since she lived next to multiple military bases, one could chalk this up to coincidence. If I hadn’t had similar experiences myself, and heard of many others, I would be skeptical. The fact is, the US military and intelligence services have a serious interest in the extraterrestrial presence, one that is thoroughly documented yet vigorously denied. This cover-up and the reasons for it are among the many subjects related to UFOs touched on in Sirius. I was in Los Angeles for the world premiere held on April 22nd.

Although I’ve been interested in space travel and the possibility of other intelligent life “out there” most of my life, it wasn’t until 2007, the year my wife and I moved to Bloomington from the Denver area, that my interest in UFOs, extraterrestrial intelligence, and all that implies, became almost an obsession.

In the fall of 2008, I decided to check out a project called CSETI (Center for the Study of Extraterrestrial Intelligence), founded by Dr. Steven Greer, that claimed to teach people how to contact ETs and become “Ambassadors to the Universe.” His contact techniques work! Most of the odd and interesting images and video clips in Sirius are from CSETI expeditions.


Stephen Greer

I was so inspired by my experiences with CSETI that in the spring of 2009 I met up with some other people in Bloomington with CSETI experience and organized a contact group. The group has been meeting regularly ever since. I’ve had many mind blowing experiences that have changed the way I think about the universe. I’ve documented these experiences and the experiences of my contact group as one chapter of my book Paths to Contact: True Stories from the Contact Underground.

Amardeep Kaleka decided to make Sirius after a meeting with Dr. Greer and learning about the information he had collected over the last 30 years. There is a culture of ridicule around this subject, and being labeled a “UFO nut” is not the best way to advance one’s career. From statements he made just before the Sirius premiere, it was clear that Kaleka’s belief in the importance of this subject outweighed any such risk. As the Emmy award-winning director documented in Sirius, the science and technology behind how UFOs work have the potential to change everything, making all existing energy sources obsolete, revolutionizing transportation, and changing how we view our place in the universe. Vested interests have a lot to lose.

Because of the subject matter of the documentary, it was decided early on that conventional ways of funding and distributing Sirius would not work. A crowdfunding approach was used, and Kickstarter was used as the primary means of attracting donations. Credits in the movie were among the incentives offered for donations. I have a “Producer” credit by virtue of my financial support for the project; I was not directly involved in production of the movie. Sirius attained its goal of over $250,000 in donations, making it the top crowdfunded documentary film to date, according to Sirius producer J.D. Seraphine.

While there is some presentation of evidence that UFOs exist, that’s not really the goal of this movie so much as its starting point. As Professor Ted Loder says, it’s time for scientists to accept this reality, get over it, and start investigating the obvious questions: Given that UFOs exist and are visiting the earth, how are they getting here? What does that mean as far as our understanding of physics? How can they possibly move the way they do, intangibly. What are they using for energy sources? Why the cover up?

Some of the answers are not easy to take. This movie pulls no punches. You will hear from military men, and government officials who have seen recorded evidence of UFOs and experienced the cover up in action. You will learn about secret projects that are beyond government control, operating above the law. You will learn about people who have been “silenced” for getting too close to the truth, and about new energy technologies that have been suppressed for undermining vested interests. On the positive side, you will see inventors demonstrate a magnetic device that reduces the force of gravity, something the current laws of physics don’t predict. You will learn about the results of DNA analysis of an odd little creature that leave scientists still pondering just what it is. And lots more.

If you want to know more, watch Sirius. Then look up at the sky and ask our friends from the stars to send you a greeting. Maybe you will see something you’ve never seen before.

The Ryder ◆ September 2013

Swanberg Takes The Stares

A Sampling Of The Microbudget Maven’s Work ◆ by Craig J. Clark

[Joe Swanberg will introduce his new film, Drinking Buddies, on October 24 at the IU Cinema.]

No matter what anyone thinks of his work, the last thing Joe Swanberg could be accused of is laziness. The auteur behind the new comedy/drama Drinking Buddies, Swanberg has spent the past decade turning out films at a pace unheard of since Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s heyday. In the past three years alone he has written and directed ten features, many of which he also photographed, edited and acted in. In between he contributed a short to the horror anthology V/H/S and has acted in at least ten other films, including Adam Wingard’s home-invasion horror film You’re Next (which, like Drinking Buddies, will be screening at the IU Cinema in October). When he was just starting out, though, Swanberg kept to the much saner schedule of one film per year, the earliest of which dates back to 2005. That was when he co-wrote, produced, directed, photographed and edited Kissing on the Mouth, in which he also played one of the four leads. That’s a lot of hats for a first-timer to wear, but if there’s any filmmaker who embodies the D.I.Y. spirit, it’s Swanberg.


Joe Swanberg

Not yet 24 at the time of his debut, Swanberg cast himself as the roommate of rudderless college graduate Kate Winterich, who drifts into a physical relationship with her photographer ex-boyfriend (Kevin Pittman) but has no plans to get back into a relationship-relationship with him. This we know because she confides in her best friend (Kris Williams, soon to become Mrs. Swanberg), who lets slip that they’ve been seeing a lot of each other. As a matter of fact, we get to see quite a lot of everybody in the cast since Swanberg has something of a no-nonsense approach when it comes to shooting sex scenes. The result is a film that feels incredibly voyeuristic and even borderline pornographic at times, but that’s one way for a low-budget independent to stand out in a crowd.

From "Drinking Buddies"

Olivia Wilde & Jake Johnson In “Drinking Buddies”

For his follow-up, Joe Swanberg co-wrote, produced, directed, photographed, edited and starred in LOL (2006), a film about the myriad ways modern technology can sabotage a relationship. Among its case studies are Kevin Bewersdorf, a musician who books a nonexistent tour of the Midwest so he can attempt to hook up with a girl he’s only talked to online, his friend Swanberg, who finds it next to impossible to end a conversation on the phone or online, and his friend C. Mason Wells, who’s visiting from out of town and fields a number of calls from his absent girlfriend. The women in their lives (who in most cases would be justified in wringing their necks) are Brigid Reagan, who is becoming disenchanted with Swanberg because he pays more attention to his computer than he does to her (he doesn’t even notice when she undresses right in front of him), Wells’s off-screen girlfriend Greta Gerwig, who is only heard over the phone and seen in grainy camera phone pictures, and Tipper Newton, a girl who meets Bewersdorf at a party and unwittingly facilitates his Internet hook-up. I expect it goes without saying that few love connections result from these interactions.

After playing a marginal role in LOL, Greta Gerwig vaulted into the lead with Swanberg’s Hannah Takes the Stairs (2007), which the two of them co-wrote with Kent Osborne. In it, she stars as a recent college graduate and aspiring playwright who’s marking time by interning at a Chicago-based production company. At the start of the film she’s seeing an aimless slacker and frustrated musician (Mark Duplass, a director in his own right), but it isn’t long before they’re broken up and she’s on the rebound. Rather unwisely, she rebounds with one of the company’s in-house writers (Andrew Bujalski, also a director), whose potential book deal for his personal blog is distracting him from the television pilot he’s supposed to be writing with Osborne. Then the chronically dissatisfied Gerwig drops Bujalski and takes up with Osborne, which is where the film leaves her, but there’s no guarantee that their relationship is going to be any more lasting.

From "Hannah Takes the Stairs"

Greta Gerwig With Mark Duplass In “Hannah Takes The Stairs”

Next up for Swanberg and Gerwig was Nights and Weekends (2008), which is pretty much the definition of a two-hander since they not only co-wrote and directed it, but save for a handful of scenes, they’re just about the only actors who appear onscreen. To some, that might seem like the height of narcissism, but they don’t exactly show themselves off in the most flattering light. A couple in a long-distance relationship, they’re floundering because they don’t get to spend enough time together and when they are in the same time zone there’s tremendous pressure on them to make what little time they have count. Minor disagreements blow up into major arguments and moments of intimacy are reminders of how much really separates them. Anybody who’s been in that situation should be able to see the writing on the wall long before they do.

While Gerwig moved on to supporting roles in Ti West’s The House of the Devil and Noah Baumbach’s Greenberg, Swanberg stayed in his groove, writing, directing, photographing and editing Alexander the Last (2009), his fifth feature in five years and one that was actually produced by Baumbach. It’s about a married actress (Teeth’s Jess Weixler) who’s cast in a provocative play opposite a hunky actor from Tennessee (Barlow Jacobs) who makes her think about straying from her musician husband (Justin Rice) while he’s away on a tour. She sets Jacobs up with her photographer sister (Amy Seimetz), possibly in the hopes that it will make him unavailable, but their director (Jane Adams) and playwright (Josh Hamilton) seem intent on making rehearsals as uncomfortable as possible for all of them.

Uncharacteristically, 2010 came and went without a new film from Swanberg, but he made up for it in a big way by releasing six in 2011 (some of which are easier to track down than others). The first one out of the gate was Uncle Kent, which he wrote and produced by Kent Osborne, who essentially stars as himself. An unattached animator (his actual credits include such shows as Adventure Time and Spongebob SquarePants) who’s just turned 40 and has trouble maintaining relationships, a typical day for Osborne is spent hanging around with his musician friend Kevin Bewersdorf, playing with his cat, smoking pot, and talking to strangers on Chatroulette. He breaks his routine, though, when he plays host to a visiting journalist half his age that he met online.

Ostensibly in town for a meeting, which she has extended to an entire weekend hanging out with Osborne, visitor Jennifer Prediger has no illusions about their chances of hitting it off as a couple since she already has a boyfriend back in New York, but that doesn’t prevent her from doing things with him that could be construed as leading him on. Starting with a kiss, which they only do for the benefit of an anonymous guy playing with himself on Chatroulette, they soon progress to comparing their masturbation techniques and responding to a Craiglist ad posted by a woman looking for a three-way (Josephine Decker). It’s when he tries to get some two-way action going that Osborne gets shut out, much to his frustration.

2011 also saw the completion of Swanberg’s long-gestating Silver Bullets, which was an unusually protracted production for him. Shooting began in late 2008, and he didn’t complete the film until just before it premiered at the South by Southwest film festival. Furthermore, he essentially shot and edited two different versions of the film before settling on a story that satisfied him, a sure sign of artistic growth. Instead of being the straightforward werewolf film that its title suggests, though, it revolves around a young actress who gets cast in one.

Kate Lyn Sheil stars as the actress in question, who’s thrilled to be playing the younger version of Jane Adams, an insecure actress who shares the prologue – and her worries about putting on weight – with Larry Fessenden (who later auditions for a role in the werewolf film). For her part, Sheil’s relationship with her boyfriend (Swanberg, playing a frustrated filmmaker) deteriorates after he casts her best friend (Amy Seimetz, also the film’s producer) as his girlfriend in the low-budget drama he’s shooting concurrently with her film. Meanwhile, Sheil’s director (Ti West, essentially playing himself) clumsily puts the moves on her, which she’s slow to rebuff. Even if they go no further than a little kissing on the mouth, the damage has been done.

If Silver Bullets is relatively chaste by Swanberg’s standards, he went in the complete opposite direction with Autoerotic (2011), which may very well go down as his most sex-obsessed film yet. Co-directed with Adam Wingard, the film is broken up into four parts, which Wingard, Swanberg and their co-writer Simon Barrett populate with couples with all kinds of emotional baggage and sexual hang-ups. In the first, Lane Hughes plays a guy who’s so fixated on the size of his penis – which, for the record, is fine by girlfriend Amy Seimetz – that he sends away for enlargement pills and is so happy with the results that he abruptly breaks things off with her so he can play the field. Next up, Swanberg plays a guy who has very specific ideas about how sex with his girlfriend (Kate Lyn Sheil) should go, which may or may not have anything to do with her subsequent overwhelming urge to masturbate constantly. When she confides in a friend (Chris Hilleke), she recommends autoerotic asphyxiation, which doesn’t seem like the safest solution, but at that point Sheil is game for anything.

Being game is also at the heart of the third segment, in which a very pregnant Kris Swanberg finds she can no longer achieve orgasm, which makes her husband (Frank V. Ross) feel inadequate. When a girlfriend (Josephine Decker) offers to help out, Ross thinks he’s in for a three-way, but the girls have other plans. Then, in the final segment, Wingard plays a sleaze who masturbates furiously to the sex tapes he made with his ex-girlfriend (Rosemary Plain), who calls him up out of the blue so she can pick up the last of her stuff, but what she really wants is for him to delete “those movies” since she’s getting married. Wingard isn’t inclined to do anything so selfless, though.

The anthology format carries over to the found-footage horror fest V/H/S (2012), which exposed Swanberg to an entirely new audience (his roles in Ti West’s Cabin Fever sequel and Adam Wingard’s A Horrible Way to Die notwithstanding). It helps that he contributes to two of the segments, first as an actor in West’s “Second Honeymoon,” in which he and his wife (Sophia Takal) videotape themselves on a tour of the West and have some scary nocturnal encounters with a masked stalker. He then takes the reins of “The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger,” which is presented as a series of Skype video chats between a young woman (Helen Rogers) who worries that her apartment is haunted and her boyfriend (Daniel Kaufman), who worries when she starts acting erratically and tries to keep her calm until he can come visit. Apart from its unnecessary twist ending, “The Sick Thing” is one of the best parts of V/H/S, leading one to imagine what Swanberg could produce if he tried his hand at a full-on horror feature. It’s certainly something he should ponder the next time he’s out drinking with his buddies.

The Ryder ◆ September 2013

Lucy & Cricket

Service Dogs Give Young People with Disabilities a New “Leash” on Life ◆ by Adria Nassim

I remember the day very well. The sun beat down on the paved road that snaked through my parents’ expansive southern Indiana subdivision. It was midday Easter weekend of 2010 and I carried a thick text of famous plays in my hand. I was home from college for break and thought I’d go do some assigned reading by the lake since the weather was so nice, but I soon forgot about this. I realized I was lost. Lost in my own neighborhood at age 24, with no idea how to get back home.

I stood there a while trying to think of the best thing to do but the more I thought, the more anxious I became so finally I resigned myself to simply standing there in hopes of someone finding me. After waiting for about twenty minutes a jogger came by.

“Hey,” he said. “I’ve seen you standing there. What are you doing? Waiting on a friend or something? Going to babysit somewhere?”

“That’s a pretty big book for a little kid like you,” he said changing the subject. “Do you go to Highland Hills?” he asked, referring to the local middle school.

“No sir, I’m home from college for break actually.”

“Oh.” long silence. So, you going somewhere then?”

I decided it was best not to skate around the issue any longer. As I opened my mouth, I threw up a silent prayer: “Please don’t judge me.”

I took a deep breath… “Sir, how much do you know about autism and learning disabilities?”

That night, my parents and I would sit down to have the discussion that would change my future. “Adria,” my mother said, “I think it’s time we get you a dog.”

Enter Lucy, now a three-year old yellow Lab privately trained by John Senac of Bloomington’s Canine Companions, to assist with disorientation due to severe nonverbal learning disability and  anxiety disorder. She finds the house when given a verbal cue as well as assists in fostering social connections and acting as a social bridge in the community due to difficulties posed by mild autism.

Before I had Lucy I, like many people with autism had very few friends and had difficulty carrying on conversations with others. Now, I have so many friends I can’t even count them all. For the first time in my life, I’m faced with having to choose one social outing over the other because my calendar is so full.

Senac said the best part of training a service dog is “always seeing the gratification the owner has in the final results.”  Normally, a service dog will come pre-trained to his or her partner through either a national service dog agency or a service dog school. But in Lucy’s case, Senac said, “I got to see both you and Lucy develop together. The hardest part has been the small setbacks of the handler doing the training. When I train a dog every day, I know each little miss and mistake that needs more work or improvement, but I only had weekly meetings with you to both teach you technique and new tasks and also try to tackle mistakes. We have come a long way from the puppy who chewed on something in my car to the dog that can have a field trip of kids bombard her and not even flinch.”

There are several different types of service dogs. Common breeds trained for service work include: German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, and even Standard Poodles and Dobermans. Senac said, “there are a lot of breeds that can be service dogs, but it all comes down to can they do the work and do they have the drive to do it. Most dogs are evaluated on health and temperament as they are young and training. Plain and simple, the dog has to be healthy enough to be in public and perform the task at hand. From a temperament perspective you can’t have aggression, timidity, anxieties, fears, etc. and from a drive perspective, a dog has to want to do or enjoy certain things. For example, if a dog has no drive at all to retrieve, he may not be the best helper dog for picking things up and returning them to his owner.” Most service dogs are fully trained between the ages of 24 and 36 months depending on how highly involved their task requirements are.

In order to qualify for a service dog, the disability does not have to be visible to the naked eye. It simply must be documented by a medical professional and significantly interfere with the individual’s ability to function on a daily basis and lead an independent life. The first guide dog school in America, The Seeing Eye, opened in 1929 followed by Canine Companions for Independence in 1975, which is still active today in several parts of the country and provides hearing alert and mobility service dogs to children and adults with disabilities.

In 1990, the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act granted full public access to individuals accompanied by service animals, recognizing that these dogs undergo rigorous training and are not pet dogs. They are trained on specific work or tasks that assist their handlers to better cope with a disability or medical condition.  Dogs can also be trained to anticipate an oncoming seizures detect low blood sugar due to diabetes, assist with flashbacks and nightmares caused by post traumatic stress disorder, or, in the case of former IU student Michelle Lazar, provide balance and stability while walking due to a brain injury. All of these diagnoses are invisible, and yet every day, dogs are being trained to better the lives of the people who live with them.


Michelle Lazar & Cricket

Michelle was in her sophomore year at IU in the fall of 2011 studying neurological rehabilitation when she suddenly collapsed at her internship at Bloomington Hospital. Doctors discovered an arteriovenus malformation, (AVM) or a tangle of blood vessels within the brain that diverts blood supply from the brain tissue directly to the veins. Michelle suffered a stoke and missed the spring semester. “I was in the hospital for six months,” she said, “and I had to have my mom do everything for me, which was really annoying. I knew I wanted to get back to IU and we didn’t even know if that was going to be possible, but I knew I had to try. I knew I had to push myself, so, my doctors recommended getting a service dog.”

Michelle’s next-door neighbor’s cousins train service dogs for people with mobility issues. Lazar applied to My Angel With Paws and later flew to Deland, Florida to meet Cricket, a golden retriever specifically trained for walking assistance and to provide stability for Michelle on stairs. She and Cricket were matched in May of 2012 and went through a two-week training camp together at the facility and then went back to IU in August.

“My experience at IU was really great. Cricket made it easier for me to be social because people would see her and then automatically start talking to me.”

Michelle’s, who, before she was initially matched with Cricket was using a cane to get around said, “I didn’t have that many friends at IU from the summer and there would be fire alarms in the middle of the night at Smallwood and I would have to get myself out and down those stairs all by myself.” But she says once Cricket came into her life things became “so much easier. She gave me back my independence by helping me to get back to Indiana. Cricket never leaves my side. She makes me feel safe. I know I’m not alone anymore.”

The Ryder ◆ September 2013

Your Guide To Lotus Fest 2013


All the World’s on Stage ◆ by Paul Sturm & LuAnne Holladay

The 20th Lotus World Music and Arts Festival will fill the venues and streets of Bloomington from September 25-29. Lotus at 20 means brilliant musical performances, inspiring and engaging visuals, a Saturday night parade, family-friendly arts in the park, and an exuberant street scene.  The Festival includes ticketed showcase performances on Friday and Saturday nights, plus free events including a concert at IU, the annual Arts Village on 6th Street, and the popular Lotus in the Park concerts and workshops on Saturday afternoon at 3rd Street Park. Admission to Sunday’s annual World Spirit Concert is the $5 Lotus Pin for 2013, based on art from the first Festival in 1994. (Purchases of the collectible pin support Lotus’s free programming.) Artist Karen Combs designed both the original 1994 Lotus art and this year’s signature design.

This anniversary shindig wouldn’t be complete without special hoopla apropos to 20 years. Lotus at 20 is obliging with three concert events leading into the weekend fête. It begins with an African Showcase concert on Wednesday, 9/25 at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater (BCT), featuring Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba, and Noura Mint Seymali. Two concerts are scheduled for Thursday, 9/26: the traditional opening concert at the BCT, this year featuring Monkey Puzzle and Frigg; and a free-admission Lotus+IU Campus Concert at Alumni Hall in the Indiana Memorial Union, featuring Pan-Basso, Funkadesi, and Nomadic Massive.

Part of the Lotus at 20 celebration is the Power of Pattern arts outreach project, which created a new backdrop for the BCT stage. Designs for the backdrop were selected from more than 400 submissions from across the community. Members of the public will be able to see the backdrop up close at a free pre-concert reception on Wednesday at the BCT. And the Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center Galleries once again devote exhibit space to a Lotus-related exhibition: World Blues: Shades of Indigo on view September 6-28, free and open to the public.

Venues involved in Lotus at 20 include:

See the online venue map and official events schedule.

The Lotus at 20 roster of performing artists tops 30. The list includes a handful of returning favorites, a strong Nordic contingent, some fine West African musicians, adventurous folk fusion from Central and Eastern Asia, hip-hop from Montreal, bhangra brass from Brooklyn, exquisite vocal music, magnificent Indian classical music, and some great Bloomington-based bands.

Artist Profiles & Performances

Amjad Ali Khan with Amaan Ali Khan & Ayaan Ali Khan India

Amjad Ali Khan is a master of the sarod, a lutelike instrument important in Indian classical music traditions. A sixth-generation sarod player (his sons are the seventh generation of Khans to play), Amjad Ali Khan is part of a long line of makers and players. He says, “You could say it’s my family instrument; whoever is playing the sarod today learned directly or indirectly from my forefathers.” Although he has collaborated with musicians from other artistic and cultural traditions — most notably for Lotus audiences, singer-songwriter Carrie Newcomer — Khan focuses on classical Indian music, which includes ragas.  To best appreciate the Khans’ performance, sit and stay awhile, and get lost in the artistry.

  • One show only: Saturday, September 28, 7-8:15pm, BCT

Arga Bileg Mongolia

The seven-piece group Arga Bileg introduces jazz improvisation into Mongolian folk music traditions.  The ensemble includes polished musicians, composers, and choreographers; their sound is elegant and compelling.  Traditional Mongolian music is strongly influenced by nature, nomadism, shamanism.  Arga Bileg combines these influences with contemporary Western jazz techniques, creating a unique combination of East and West, and keeping their native musical tradition lively and inventive.

  • Friday, September 27, 7-8:15pm, BCT
  • Saturday, September 28, 12:15-1pm; free, 3rd Street Park
  • Saturday, September 28, 10:30-11:15pm, BCT

Barbara Furtuna Corsica

This brilliant vocal quartet — one of the most-requested Lotus artists — makes its second Lotus appearance at the 20th Festival. Steeped in the ancient vocal practice of Corsican polyphony, Barbara Furtuna perform a repertoire of classic songs from sacred tradition as well as those of their own making. Their soulful, intricate interweaving of harmonies is a soaring vocal experience not to be missed.

  • Saturday, September 28, 8:45-10pm, FUMC
  • Sunday, 9/29, 4-5pm, BCT

Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba Mali

Malian musician Bassekou Kouyate is a master of the traditional West African spiked lute, or ngoni. His eight-piece ensemble, Ngoni Ba, combines the energy of a rock band with the soulful call-and-response dynamism of a gospel group. “A virtuoso picker and musical visionary whose work blurs the lines between West African and American roots music, Bassekou has jammed with Bonnie Raitt and Bono, and won praise from Eric Clapton…” (Subpop). He recorded his recent album, Jama Ko (translated: “big gathering of people”), during a military coup in Bamako. Like many other Malian musicians in the recent past, his music is a call for peace and unity for the people of his country.

  • Wednesday, September 25, 7-9pm, BCT
  • Friday, September 27, 8:45-10pm, ION Tent

Christine Salem France: Réunion Island

Christine Salem sings maloya (traditionally sung by men), the African-influenced music of the Creole descendants of slaves who once worked the sugar plantation of Réunion Island, in the Indian Ocean.  With powerful percussion — which Salem also plays — and call-and-response singing, maloya was used in ceremonies that brought participants into trancelike states in which they hoped to speak to ancestors. Although Salem doesn’t perform the same trance music on stage, she draws strongly on its forms.  Maloya was long banned by French secular and religious authorities on the island; the ban was only lifted in 1981. “They thought trance music was the devil’s song,” Salem says “but it’s great music.”

  • Friday, September 27, 7-8:15pm, ION Tent
  • Saturday, September 28, 8:45pm-10pm, ION Tent

DakhaBrakha Ukraine

DakhaBrakha comes from Kyiv, Ukraine, and the quartet’s name means “give/take” in the old Ukrainian language. Their sound is anything but old, however. Reworking their native folk music and song with Indian, Arabic, Russian, Australian, and African instruments, the band’s music is built on a foundation of distinctive, powerful vocals. They began at Dakh Theatre for Contemporary Arts in Kyiv, and they have always taken an avant-garde approach to tradition, experimenting with the structures and order of folk music, and introducing experimentation and improvisation. “This is a phenomenal Ukrainian outfit, mixing genuine, ethnically specific material with minimalist jazz and the precision of techno-beats; they’re making the natural folk music of the future” (fRoots). DakhaBrakha’s compelling music will linger long in memory; it’s a must-see premiere for Lotus at 20.

  • Friday, September 27, 10:30-11:45pm, ION Tent
  • Saturday, September 28, 10:3o-11:45pm, ION Tent

David Wax Museum USA: Boston

The David Wax Museum’s eclectic sound has roots in Mexican and American cultures. David Wax has immersed himself in Mexico’s rich traditional music, learning son styles from the form’s living masters.  Suz Slezak was reared on American roots music in Virginia — old time, Irish, classical, and folk. The two met in 2007 and began blending their unique musical perspectives — Mexican folk and American roots — with indie rock. As a gringo spin on real-deal Mex-rock like Café Tacuba or Zoé, David Wax Museum is pretty fly for dos estadounidenses. Their sonic mestizo is perfect for the Lotus cultural gumbo.

  • Friday, September 27, 8:45-10pm, FPC
  • Saturday, September 28, 7-8:15pm, ION Tent

De Temps Antan Canada: Quebec

De Temps Antan — the trio of Éric Beaudry (vocals, guitar, mandolin, bouzouki), André Brunet (vocals, fiddle), and Pierre-Luc Dupuis (vocals, accordions) — has been exploring and performing traditional Quebecois songs and instrumental music for more than a decade, and they’ve each played the music for most of their lives. Their wicked good playing and joyous harmonies embody the energy and joie de vivre of Quebec’s “kitchen music” tradition. After a crowd-pleasing performance at the 2009 summer Lotus concert, De Temps Antan returns for Lotus at 20.

  • Friday, September 27, 10:30-11:45pm, FPC
  • Saturday, September 28, 2:30-3:15pm, free, 3rd Street park
  • Saturday, September 28, 10:30-11:15pm, The Bluebird (21 and older)

Debo Band Ethiopia & USA: Boston

The 11-member Debo Band is led by Ethiopian-American saxophonist Danny Mekonnen, and fronted by vocalist Bruck Tesfaye. Since their inception in 2006, Debo Band has won raves for their groundbreaking take on Ethiopian pop music, which incorporates traditional Ethiopian scales and vocal styles, American soul and funk rhythms, and instrumentation reminiscent of Eastern European brass bands. National Public Radio’s All Songs Considered reviewers frothed, “They play [Ethiopian pop] without any sort of… precious reverence… they play it like it’s NOW, as music of right now, and they play it with incredible energy and passion and excellence; and it just totally rocks; it’s amazing.” Another barnstorming global party band to keep our Lotus at 20 tent peeps mad-dancing.

  • Friday September 27, 7-8:15pm, Soma Tent
  • Saturday, September 28, 7-8:15pm, Soma Tent

Edmar Castaneda & Andrea Tierra Colombia

Bogota-born Edmar Castaneda is a master of the arpa llanera, or Colombian folk harp. Castaneda’s skill and talent on his instrument is truly virtuosic. He plays with vigor, precision, and the improvisational flair of a jazz master. Castaneda is joined onstage by his wife, jazz vocalist and poet, Andrea Tierra; together, they deliver thrilling and memorable sets. “Producing cross-rhythms like a drummer; smashing chordal flourishes like a flamenco guitarist; collating bebop and Columbian music; he’s almost a world unto himself” (NY Times). Castaneda’s performances are like nothing else in contemporary folk music.

  • Two Shows, One Night Only: Saturday, September 28, 7:30-8:15pm & 10:30-11:15pm, FCC

Frigg Finland

Frigg is at the forefront of a new generation of musicians using the deep folk traditions of Norway and Finland as a launching pad for new, fresh string music. With a bank of four fiddles, upright bass, guitar, and mandolin, Frigg plays some of the most exciting music you’ll ever hear: a lyrical, often break-neck style they call “Nordgrass” (blending Nordic fiddle styles and American bluegrass). When they first came to Lotus in 2004, they were relatively new on the Nordic string scene. Nearly 10 years later, they tour the world all the time, and they’ve made lots of friends and fans in Bloomington. Traditional music on acoustic instruments — but supercharged; the Frigg sound is powerful, exhilarating, and perfect for our Lotus at 20 celebration.

  • Thursday, September 26, 7-9pm, BCT
  • Friday, September 27, 8:45-10pm, BCT

Funkadesi USA: Chicago

The funky and irresistible sonic mix of Funkadesi comes from the diverse cultural and musical backgrounds of its members, who first came together almost 20 years ago to work Indian improvisations over reggae and funk grooves. They’ve won six Chicago Music Awards since then. A Funkadesi set is a non-stop musical excursion traveling from reggae, to bhangra and Bollywood, to Latin American rhythms and rump-bumping grooves, to territories beyond (and bodacious). The musicianship is tight and dense, with loads of percussion, bass, guitar, sitar, keyboards, flute, sax, and vibes. The vocals are exhilarating. Funkadesi takes great pride in being a Lotus mainstay — they’re the second-most frequently-booked Lotus band, and this year marks their seventh appearance at the Festival.  Lotus at 20 gives up the funk with our second city soul brothers: Funkadesi time is always par-tay time.

  • Thursday, September 27, 8-10:30pm, free, Alumni Hall
  • Friday, September 28, 10:30-11:45pm, Soma Tent

Janusz Prusinowski Trio Poland

Making their Lotus debut, the Janusz Prusinowski Trio (actually larger than a trio) plays traditional village music from central Poland; but they also work elements of that musical tradition into new treatments. The mazurkas that are the heart of much Polish village music — a musical style that has been sung, played to, danced to, and improvised on since the sixteenth century — take on new life with JPT. “These guys play with high skill and all the fire and rhythmic energy of the village musicians they’ve learned from” (fRoots).

  • Friday, September 27, 8:45-10pm, FUMC
  • Saturday, September 28, 4-5pm, free, 3rd Street Park
  • Saturday, September 28, 10:30-11:15pm, FUMC

■ Japonize Elephants USA: Bloomington

A Japonize Elephants performance is a magical experience. The Elephants have been experimenting and collaborating for 20 years, beginning as a local B’ton band.  They’re a “wild, Appalachia-by-way-of-the-Middle East hyper-speed gypsy caravan that’s as baffling as it is inspiring and hilarious” (Secretly Canadian). Their adventurous, tremendously appealing music sounds mysterious, rollicking, and vaguely familiar to the casual listener. But for the audiophile, the Elephants’ influences are clear: Frank Zappa, Ralph Stanley, film scores, jazz, Eastern flavors, country, space pop, and more. “Listening to Japonize Elephants is like being at a supersonic hillbilly hoedown that has been mysteriously transplanted into a Transylvanian cartoon” (Denver Post). They started here in B-town, and they’re back for Lotus No. 20.

  • One Show Only: Saturday, September 28, 8:45-10pm; The Bluebird (21 and over)

Jefferson Street Parade Band USA: Bloomington

The Jefferson Street Parade Band is a Bloomington original, part of the renaissance that has given brass and marching bands new life in the last decade. They draw on songs and rhythms from West Africa, New Orleans, Eastern Europe, and Latin America: drums, brass, and even electric bass (thanks to a battery-backpack rig). This summer, they led the Lotus Fest contingent in our 4th of July Parade (and won best musical entry for their efforts). Every day is a parade, every parade is a party, when JSPB leads the way.

  • Two Shows, One Night Only: Saturday, September 28, 7-8:15pm; Bluebird (21 and over) & 8:15-8:45pm, free, Lotus Parade

Kardemimmit Finland

The four young women of Kardemimmit are all singers, and all play the Finnish national instrument: the kantele. They perform traditional Finnish songs as well as their own modern, original folk music — adding to a long and dynamic musical tradition. If you’re new to the kantele, think zither or dulcimer; the quartet play both the 15-stringed and 38-stringed varieties. The distinctive sound of this plucked acoustic instrument, combined with their assured yet delicate vocal harmonies, makes Kardemimmit a stand-out contemporary Nordic ensemble. With Frigg, they give the 20th Lotus Fest its strongest Finnish flavor ever.

  • Friday, September 27, 10:30-11:45pm, FUMC
  • Saturday, September 28, 3:15-4pm, free, 3rd Street Park
  • Saturday, September 28, 6:30-7:15pm, FCC
  • Sunday, September 29, 3-4pm; BCT

Leyla McCalla USA: New Orleans

Leyla McCalla, the daughter of Haitian emigrants, studied cello at NYU, and moved to New Orleans, where she fell in love with Creole music and culture, spent time busking, and eventually played with the Carolina Chocolate Drops. A multi-instrumentalist as well as a singer, McCalla will soon release a CD that reflects her “personal exploration of African-American and Haitian history through song” — songs written to poetry of Langston Hughes, Haitian folk songs, and original work. Lotus at 20 marks McCalla’s debut in B-town.

  • One Show Only: Saturday, September 28, 8:45-10pm, FCC

Lily & Madeleine USA: Indianapolis

Teen-aged sisters Lily and Madeleine Jurkiewicz became a YouTube sensation when their first original song, In the Middle, generated more than a quarter million views (their first CD is set to be released in October). Their sweet, poignant harmonies transform covers into songs seemingly from another time, and their original songs have a timeless feel, too. They’ve been featured on and NPR Music, and they’ve recorded a song with fellow-Hoosier John Mellencamp. Their star is on the rise. Lily is a student at IU, and Madeleine is still in high school, but somehow they find time to tour sold-out shows. Come see what the buzz is about.

  • Two Shows, One Night Only: Saturday, September 28, 6:30-7:15pm & 7:30pm-8:15pm, FPC

Liz Carroll & Jake Charron USA: Chicago

In 1975, when she was only 18, Liz Carroll won the All-Ireland Senior Fiddle Championship. In 2011 she was awarded the Cumadóir TG4, Ireland’s most significant traditional music prize. Carroll is one of few Americans to capture these prizes of Celtic traditional music. She plays old Irish tunes as well as her own compositions, and she has done much to keep Irish fiddle traditions lively and evolving. That work was recognized on this side of the Atlantic with a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Carroll is revered as one of Irish America’s premier musicians, a fitting treat for Lotus at 20 audiences. Carroll will be accompanied by Canadian musician, Jake Charron, on guitar and piano.

  • One Show Only: Saturday, September 28, 7-8:15pm, FUMC

Lotus Dickey Song Workshop USA: Bloomington

Grey Larsen, Janne Henshaw, and Mark Fedderson — all of whom knew Hoosier musician and songwriter Lotus Dickey (1911-1989) — will lead a workshop where you can learn some of his best songs. The Lotus World Music and Arts Festival was named in part for Lotus Dickey, whose humble, gentle, creative spirit inspired the festival and its mission. The workshop is an occasion to celebrate Dickey’s contribution to the art and life of Indiana, and to enjoy the power of voices united in song.

  • One Show Only: Saturday, September 28, 1:45-2:30pm, free, 3rd Street Park

Monkey Puzzle USA: Bloomington

Monkey Puzzle was part of Bloomington’s a cappella scene in the 1990s, sporting a repertoire that spanned African folk music to American pop covers. The group dispersed and moved on from B-town, but Lotus hosted two reunion concerts in the early 2000s.  For Lotus at 20, MP members Nils Fredland, Nicole Kousaleos, Jerry McIlvain, Daniel Reed, and Dan Schumacher are reuniting again for an encore performance.

  • One Show Only: Thursday, September 26, 7-9pm, BCT

Mr. Taylor and His Dirty Dixie Band USA: Bloomington

Mr. Taylor and His Dirty Dixie Band is homegrown hipness; all of the members are students in the IU Jacobs School of Music. They play delicious Dixieland jazz, traditional style (think New Orleans, early 1900s); with Benjamin Taylor on trumpet, Justin Knapp on clarinet, Victor Ribadeneyra on trombone, Otis Cantrell on guitar and banjo, Douglas Olenik on tuba, and Bridget Leahy on drums.

  • Two Shows, One Day Only: Saturday, September 27, 1-1:45pm, free, 3rd Street Park & 8:15-8:45pm, free, Lotus Parade

Nomadic Massive Canada: Quebec

The cultural landscape of Nomadic Massive is Argentinian, French, Algerian, Haitian, Chilean, Barbadian, Grenadan — it reflects Canada’s amazing ethnic diversity. These nine independent artists describe themselves as “musical nomads.” They rap socially aware poetry in English, French, Creole, Spanish, and Arabic, and combine live instrumentation with electronic sampling. This Montreal-based collective makes its Lotus debut, bringing dynamic, funky, high-energy “pass the mic” throwdown sounds to our Lotus party tent scene. Bust a global rhyme, word nerds; mosh hard, millennial gypsies!

  • Thursday, September 26, 8-10:30pm, free, Alumni Hall
  • Friday, September 27, 8:45-10pm, Soma Tent
  • Saturday, September 28, 8:45-10pm, Soma Tent

Noura Mint Seymali Mauritania

Mauritania’s Noura Mint Seymali performs a blend of Afro-pop and desert blues that draws on deep traditional roots and reflects the fusion of Arab and African cultures inherent in Mauritanian life. Her ensemble has traditional instruments at its core — ardine (harp), tidinit (lute), and t’beul (bowl drum) — with Western bass and drum kit to round out the sound. In her home country, the style is called trade-moderne. In Bloomington, we call her music perfectly Lotastic.

  • One Show Only: Wednesday, September 25, 7-9pm, BCT

Pacific Curls New Zealand

Pacific Curls (Kim Halliday, Ora Barlow, Jessie Hindin) fuse Scottish folk fiddle, traditional Pacific Islands instruments, and songs in Maori and English to create “a delicate balance of shade, weight, propulsion, and introspection” ( Pacific Curls performs truly “world” music, swinging from familiar Celtic tunes to more contemporary fusions with island beats and jazz-inflected, multilingual vocals. They’re among the new, exotic voices gracing Lotus at 20.

  • Friday, September 27, 6:30-7:15pm, FPC
  • Friday, September 27, 7:30-8:15pm, FPC
  • Saturday, September 28, 10:30-11:45pm, FPC

Pan-Basso USA: Bloomington

Local band Pan-Basso has been tapped to kick-start the IU+Lotus Campus Concert at Alumni Hall in the Indiana Memorial Union. Their high energy playbook of great tunes will get this free-admission dance-fest moving.

  • One Show Only: Thursday, September 26, 8-10:30pm, free, Alumni Hall

Red Baraat USA: Brooklyn

Brooklyn-based Red Baraat took Lotus by storm when they first played the Festival in 2010, and we’ve been trying to get them back ever since. Founded by dhol-player and band MC, Sunny Jain, this band mixes hard-driving North Indian bhangra beats with jazz, hip-hop, and phat brass funk to bring the party of parties. Red Baraat recordings are amazing; Red Baraat live shows are phenomenal and soul-stirring: a sweat-fest dance frenzy, regardless of your age.  Don’t fight the funk, Lo-people; RB jams monster beats with mad energy. “A fiery blend of raucous Indian bhangra and funky New Orleans brass; the result is completely riotous” (Village Voice).

  • One Show Only: Saturday, September 28, 10:30-11:45pm, Soma Tent

Roberto Fonseca Cuba

Havana-born pianist and composer Roberto Fonseca is known throughout the world for his remarkable music. Jazz, R&B, and the Latin and African rhythms of Cuba come together in Fonseca’s performances.  Fonseca’s music is dance-jazz fusion: strong beats supporting melodic ballad lines played with pristine clarity “like a Cuban Keith Jarrett, [diving] into a perpetual-motion ostinato to carry bluesy lines and modern-jazz clusters” (NY Times). He transforms the sounds of Cuban culture into club music for jazzers. Lotus at 20 is thrilled to host Fonseca’s premiere appearance in out town.

  • One Show Only: Friday, September 27, 10:30-11:45pm, BCT

Sonia M’Barek Tunisia

Tunisian singer Sonia M’Barek is known worldwide for her exquisite renderings of maluf, Tunisian court music traditionally performed by men. She also dips into her own variations on popular music from Egypt and Lebanon, and other musical genres rooted in the centuries-old traditions of Al-Andalus (that part of the Iberian Peninsula governed by Muslims for more than seven centuries prior to the time of Columbus). “Once you know the grammar and understand the tenets of a musical language, you can open to other traditions like Western classical or jazz,” M’Barek says. “Music becomes a way of speaking to other traditions, not only those in the Arab world, but in the West as well.”

  • One Show Only: Friday, September 27, 8:45-10pm, FCC

Srinivas Krishnan, Abbos Kosimov, Homayun Sakhi, and Friends India, Afghanistan, & Pakistan

No musician has appeared more at Lotus Festivals than percussionist Srinivas Krishnan, who plays the tabla, ghatam, mridangam, dumbek, and bodhran, and is known for bringing diverse world music ensembles together on Lotus stages. This year, he is joined by Uzbek percussionist Abbos Kosimov on the doyra (a frame drum, with jingles, that is common to Central Asia music) and Afghan musician Homayun Sakhi on the rubab (a double-chambered plucked lute with origins in Afghanistan and Pakistan). With special guests, percussionist Jamey Haddad and violinist Dr. M. Lalitha, “Srini” is always a festival fave and his performances are consistently sublime and memorable.

  • One Show Only: Friday, September 27, 10:30-11:45pm, FCC

The Once Canada: Newfoundland

Perfect vocal harmonies and uncomplicated, elegant acoustic melodies are the hallmark of The Once, a band whose name is a Newfoundland phrase that means “imminently.” Tapping into traditional music, they also perform original songs and even do a cover or two (see what they do to Queen’s You’re My Best Friend). By turns melancholy, funny, and soulful, this trio relies on the power of their voices and acoustic instruments. Featuring singer Geraldine Hollett, with Phil Churchill and Andrew Dale on guitar, mandolin, fiddle, banjo, bazouki, and vocals, The Once has a gentle, commanding presence on stage and in your heart.

  • Friday, September 27, 6:30-7:15pm, FCC
  • Friday, September 27, 7:30-8:15pm, FCC
  • Saturday, September 28, 8:45-10pm, FPC

Väsen Sweden

Väsen is three Swedish guys — Olov Johansson on nyckelharpa, Mikael Marin on viola, and Roger Tallroth on guitar — who play beautiful, muscular, exhilarating string music. While Marin’s viola weaves around Johansson’s nyckelharpa line, Tallroth’s driving guitar adds a solid base to the other strings. Theirs is the sound of a living folk tradition. Bloomington likes Väsen so much that we named a street after them (temporarily). Lotus staffers love Väsen so much they’ve twice created “teams” to underwrite their appearances. It couldn’t be Lotus at 20 without Väsen to complete the party. “The sound may be traditional, but the attitude is completely modern, mixing up the ideas of folk, the virtuosity of prog, and the humor of the insane asylum into a Cuisinart of acoustic bliss; visualize whirled music” (Wired).

  • Friday, September 27, 7-8:15pm, FUMC
  • Saturday, September 28, 8:45-10pm, BCT

Lotus Festival tickets for all admission-based events can be purchased in person at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater Box Office and at Bloomingfoods locations, by phone at 812-323-3020, or online.

The Ryder ◆ September 2013

We Are The World

Why We Need Lotus Fest More Than Ever This Year ◆ by Paul Sturm

Bloomington’s Lotus World Music and Arts Festival turns 20 this year. Over the course of two decades, Lotus Festival has become one of the most important arts events in Bloomington and the Midwest, now annually attracting 11,000-plus attendees and utilizing more than 500 volunteers. Through the years, Lotus Festival has broadened its scope, adding free concerts, visual art components, and interactive all-ages activities that have become requisite elements in the Lotus gestalt.

This anniversary year — Lotus at 20 — features an amazing roster of remarkable talent: 32 musical performers and ensembles from across the globe. Lotus at 20 also has been expanded to five days (September 25-29) with two additional concert events: an African Showcase and an IU+Lotus Campus Concert.

Twenty years of celebrating the diversity, beauty, and joy of music from cultures around the world: That’s impressive. Twenty years of continuous successful operation is a great accomplishment in any arts discipline, even more so in the esoteric field of world music.

Most remarkably, everything is consistently superb in Lotus land.  Each year’s artist bookings by Lee Williams carefully balance musical styles and cultures and even instrumentation. Each festival schedule strategically mixes extraordinary artistry in performance and opportunities for communal creativity. Each facet of the Lotus Festival microcosm is perfectly attuned to the aesthetic context in play.

I don’t know how they do it and so I admire the Lotus staff and the festival all the more for reliably producing a thoroughly conceived and intricately interwoven creative happening. I love Lotus for its people, its street theater, its gentrified boheem vibe. Most of all, I love Lotus for its truly and wholly global cultural diversity.

I’ve been an avid listener and collector of world music since high school. The exploration of new sounds — harmonies, rhythms, instruments, voices, languages, melodic lines — has been as natural and essential to me as breathing. I’m delighted, intoxicated, rejuvenated when discovering musical sounds so unexpected that my brain seems to spin. I want a world as culturally vibrant and hugely variant as our global artists provide. I find solace in the wonders of an undefinable, unattainable musical horizon. But that’s me.

Not everyone enjoys, or desires, or even tolerates music and arts that are exotic, unfamiliar. Most people don’t, to be candid. And that’s OK; that’s the way we are. If in the past I once was hellbent on changing American aesthetic tastes, that phase has long passed. I’m comfortable with our postmodern You do you and I’ll do me compact.

And Then We Had Our Summer Of Hate

Across our country, the George Zimmerman saga let loose an eruption of hate-speak and reprehensible commentary from individuals as varied in demographic segment as our big bad-ass nation could muster. The topic clogged and consumed traditional media, Internet media, social media, and conversations face-to-face and virtual. The trial and verdict invited a nationwide exhale of angry opinions and ill-informed remarks more accusatory than productive, intentionally hurtful and argumentative.

Coinciding with — perhaps emanating from — the Zimmerman vitriol was a startling tsunami of angry tweets from viewers of the 84th MLB All-Star Game, maligning Marc Anthony’s performance of God Bless America. Most were critical of having a “foreigner” singing this patriotic song: “Marc Anthony singing God Bless America on the MLB Allstar Game…am I the only person that finds that un-American” (all sic) tweeted an MLB fan; “Why is a Mexican singing ‘God Bless America’??” and “Shouldn’t an AMERICAN be singing God Bless America?” wrote others. Anthony is a New Yorker, born and raised — of Puerto Rican descent, not Mexican — and none of that even matters.

A similar flood of hate-tweets were made last June when a San Antonio-born 11-year-old Latino mariachi singer, Sebastien De La Cruz, sang the national anthem during the NBA finals.  “Mexican kid singing the National Anthem now that’s pretty fucked up! #AmericaFirst” tweeted a viewer.

These overt displays of xenophobia extended further than the divisive race-focused commentary we witnessed around the Zimmerman ordeal; these insults were also framed in angry, self-righteous nationalism (and were erroneously nationalistic at that).

I was surprised and appalled by the rampant jingoism as much as — perhaps even more than — the disgraceful racism. I shouldn’t be. I know that, as a national people, we’re not yet “past it” in issues of racial, cultural, sexual, political diversity.

So I found myself reflecting with increasing frequency on Lotus Festival, and everything about the festival that makes it so easy for us to access diverse musical traditions from around the globe. Lotus doesn’t simply represent or exemplify multiculturalism — like an important illustration of some attribute to which we might aspire. Lotus embodies and integrates internationalism at its very core. When we participate in all that Lotus offers, we immerse ourselves in a healing multicultural balm; we step through a wonderful and fleeting gateway to deepened appreciation of our huge world, and our country’s patchwork quilt culture.

I like to think that by understanding different cultures, nations, peoples we strive to be our best selves, our most empathetic selves, our most human selves, and I believe that fostering a welcoming multicultural community is when we are most American, not least. We need Lotus Festival, as we need each other.

If you’ve not yet given yourself the treat of experiencing international music in its vast array of sounds and styles, you need only attend one of the many free Lotus events. For those who revel in all the global goodness that is Lotus Festival, you’ll find Lotus at 20 a delight beyond measure.

The Ryder ◆ September 2013