Rotunda In The News

Jawnts: From Russia, with protests

Jake Blumgart
Posted: Sunday, April 26, 2015, 1:09 AM
In February 2012, five members of the anarchist punk collective Pussy Riot stormed into the hugely symbolic Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. The women, dressed in neon balaclavas, screamed out a few lines of profanity-studded lyrics before they were kicked out.
It wasn't the first time the women brazenly demonstrated their feminist, anti-Putin politics, but this time the authorities cracked down. Three of the women were arrested and received prison sentences of two years apiece.
Their case garnered great sympathy in the West, and far more media attention than the rest of the country's opposition movements. Celebrity musicians mistook Pussy Riot for an actual band and rallied support. In Russia, their cause was often viewed less sympathetically, as their case overshadowed the dozens of other activists locked up around the same time. And Vladimir Putin played up their actions as an assault on the church, rather than against him. Nonetheless, the Pussy Riot case has become emblematic of an increasingly repressive Russia.
The story is told in Natasha Fissiak's 2013 documentary Pussy Riot: The Movement.
"I'm from Moscow, I go there every summer, and I follow the events, but I've never been really exposed to it so much," says Fissiak, who moved to the United States from Russia 10 years ago. "You can see with Pussy Riot that they are these very young, bright university students. I couldn't believe the unfairness, the harshness. It just blew my mind away. You hear about these cases, but it was just happening before my eyes."
Fissiak and producer Carole Keeney Harrington gathered a team and went to Russia to interview family members, other dissidents, and academics who studied the event. They visited the prison where Nadia Tolokonnikova was held, and interviewed Katia Samutsevich, who was released early. Original footage is laced with archival footage.
"Any type of human-rights movement starts with just a few people and slowly grows," says Fissiak. "They've changed my perspective on a lot of things in Russia. I think they made me braver. I think it will just take time."
Pussy Riot: The Movement will be shown at the Rotunda, 4014 Walnut St., Tuesday at 7 p.m. Entrance is free and Fissiak will answer questions afterward.

Young Women Learn About Music and Electronics in Hands-On Workshop (performance at The Rotunda)

By Cherri Gregg

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A Fishtown nonprofit that teaches girls confidence through musical self-expression held a concert this week.

The “Girls Rock Philly” participants performed Tuesday on instruments they made from scratch during a two-day workshop.

The instruments were simple.  One was a contact microphone soldered to a cable connected to the bottom of a cardboard box.

“Any object that they put inside the box and then played on that surface, the contact mike picks up the vibrations from that object — that’s how you make themusic,” explains Suzanne Thorpe.

Thorpe (conducting, at left, in top photo) is one-half ofTechne, a musician duo that’s holding rock-and-roll summer camps along the east coast. Their goal: to get more girls involved in music technology.

“They’re learning about basic signal flow and basic circuitry, and basically how sound and electricity are related,” Thorpe says. “Their process of exploration and creativity seems to be boundless.”

The girls spent the summer in Girls Rock Philly’s summer music institute, and the workshop — titled “Electronic Music Powered by Girls” — took their learning to the next level.

“Not only are they playing an instrument, but they are learning the process of how to create it and how sound works,” said Diane Foglizzo, director of Girls Rock Philly.

The girls put their instruments to work at a concert at the Rotunda performance space, 40th and Walnut Streets.  They performed as part of a new and experimental music festival hosted by the Philadelphia-based experimental music group Bowerbird.

“When you start a new instrument that you don’t know much about, you can do a bunch of random things that sound very good,” says Tracy Gresham, one of the ten young ladies who took part in the workshop.  The 17-year-old plays flute, guitar, piano, and bass, and was one of eight girls who took the stage.

“It was really cool,” she says.  “I put rubber bands on a box and I stretched them out and learned the different pitches.  I really learned the inner workers of guitar.”

“I’ve played guitar, keys, drums, and clarinet,” says Kayla Henry, 13.  But did she think she could make an instrument out of these throwaway material?

“Not at all, but I really enjoyed doing this,” she said.

And from the sounds of all the applause, the audience really enjoyed listening to the end result.

For more information on the “Girls Rock Philly” program, go to

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Girls Rock Philly helps young musicians break sound barriers

By Peter Crimmins

Girls at a summer workshop for rock and roll in Philadelphia are not just learning how to play music, they are learning to make the instruments they will play. 

At the Girls Rock Philly headquarters in Fishtown, a half-dozen girls ranging from 12 to 18 are being introduced to the basics of circuitry, how sound and electricity are related, and the business end of a soldering gun.

"They are learning how to solder, and learning to build something, and learning about sound and the creation of sound," said Diane Foglizzo, director of Girls Rock Philly. "That's something we do a little, but it's exciting to bring folks in who already know how to do that, and tie that into what we're doing."

Foglizzo brought in Suzanne Thorpe and Bonnie Jones, aka TECHNE, two electronic musicians spending the summer touring rock and roll summer camps up and down the East Coast. To teach the science and engineering of music, they come loaded with cables, wire cutters, extra solder, and bags of Pop Rocks candy.

First they teach girls to wire a contact microphone, which picks up vibrations through touch. That's where the solder comes in.

Then they put that mic into a cardboard box and introduce, for example, a thwacking rubber band, a soft-bristle paint brush, a stainless steel scrubber pad, and a paper cup of water crackling with Pop Rocks. The contact mic picks up the vibrations through the carboard box, and sends those vibrations to an amp.

The result is an improvisation of sounds not normally heard in natural acoustic space. The experimental, found-sound music is nothing like guitars or bass.

"The instruments are without gender, in any cultural contexts," said Thorpe, noting that they girls can stake their musical path without taking on male-dominated tropes of rock.

"It's not like men are known for playing boxes with contact mics on them," said Jones.

The teenagers of Girls Rock Philly will be playing their homemade electronic instruments at a public concert at theRotunda at 4014 Walnut Street in West Philadelphia Tuesday evening as part of The Gate series by the experimental music presenter Bowerbird. The free concert begins at 7.

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This Friday: “All Sound is Queer” at the Rotunda

June 18th, 2014 | 11:45AM | By Shaun Brady
Curated by filmmaker and sound artist Catherine Pancake, the All Sound is Queer event takes its name from a 2011 article penned by Matmos’ Drew Daniel in The Wire. In that piece, Daniel rebuffed the idea that LGBTQ identity should be tethered to explicitly “queer” music, whether that means Lady Gaga, house music, or pride-sneering punk. Instead, the creation of any sound art, he argues, represents a “queer” sense of creative exploration away from the norm. Make music, he suggests, and you’re automatically disrupting the status quo.

Daniel will be one of the artists on the bill at this free Bowerbird-presented show at the Rotunda in West Philadelphia on Friday June 20th, which was designed as “both a response and continuation” of that essay. The evening will also feature music, readings, and sound works by a host of artists who place experimental music in service of identity politics, including musician and artist Keir Neuringer, Alex Smith, Ex. By. V. (featuring Leah B.), writer and poetMegan McShea, John Eaton, and artist and composer Jules Gimbrone (pictured above).

Go here for more information about the event.

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Nick Millevoi: The Rotunda Album

by Geo

Through non-traditional tunings, feedback, extreme volume and noise, Philadelphia-based guitaristNick Millevoi has made it his mission to experiment with and expand upon the sounds of the electric guitar. Millevoi will be releasing his fourth instrumental solo effort—the fuzzed-out avant-gardeNumbers on the Sidethis Saturday at the Pageant: Soloveev Gallery in Queen Village. The record release show is the penultimate date on Millevoi’s current US tour with fellow Philadelphia guitarist and Numbers on the Side engineer Eric Carbonara, who helped Millevoi record the album in West Philadelphia’s 103-year-old Rotunda last July. Along with a vast number of other collaborations, Millevoi also co-leads noise-rock-free jazz trio Many Arms and makes one half of the duo Archer Spade. Our Derrick Krom spoke with Millevoi about experimental music, the creative process and his many influences.

What got you interested in playing guitar? How did you eventually find your way into exploring the experimental side of the instrument?

Well, I’ve played the guitar since I was 8-years old at this point, so it’s something I’ve always done. Probably when I was 18 or so I got really into jazz because I felt like that was the musical direction for me to get into. I heard A Love Supreme by John Coltrane and thought that free jazz was the coolest shit. But, I still wasn’t really sure what I was going to do with that information. Then I remember, my freshman year in college, I had gotten really into jazz guitarist Bill Frisell. Somebody told me that Bill Frisell was in a band that played a song called “Pigfucker.” That was Naked City, and I got the Naked City album and was like, “This is the coolest.” It made sense to me because I was a rock guitar player and not a jazz guitar player and Bill Frisell was playing like a rock guitar player. So I thought, “This is the cool shit that I gotta check out.” I continued to be really psyched about jazz and got really into playing free jazz guitar, but that’s where it started. That’s what got me into playing weirdo experimental guitar playing.

How is creating a piece of music that is experimental different than, say, if you were to create or craft a traditional pop or rock song?

It isn’t. It’s no different. You know, it’s just about being honest about what you’re hearing and being honest about the music you’re trying to create. I don’t set out to make music that’s totally weird or anything like that, it’s just that’s what I feel like I have to add to guitar music. The things I have to add and the things you hear, you would classify it as experimental or avant-garde, but I don’t think about it. I don’t set out to be weird about it. So, I think in that way it’s just like when you’re writing a song, if you’re writing a song and you’re writing it from your heart, it can come out in any style.

Your latest album Numbers on the Side was recorded in The Rotunda in West Philly. How did that building play a role in your creative process?

The building played a huge role in the sound of this album. Really, the album was created because of the building. My good friend Eric Carbonara—who I’m on tour with right now—had the idea that it would be cool for me to do a recording there. We actually both recorded in there at the same time – he also recorded some stuff for his next album. We did it in the sanctuary, this giant room. It used to be a church, I believe, a long time ago and it’s huge. So Eric invited me in to do it and we just spent an afternoon in there where I had some ideas about what I was trying to accomplish, but a lot of it is improvised through the room. I didn’t really come in with set material or anything super specific because I really wanted the room to play a role in it. I didn’t want it to just be that I came in and said, “I want this song to sound this way.” I wanted the room itself to just really influence the music. So, Eric put mics throughout the room. There’s some close mics on my guitar but then there are mics right in the middle of the room and mics completely on the opposite end up on the balcony. People are already sending me messages asking me about the effects that I use and stuff like that, but I didn’t really use that many effects on my guitar. A lot of the effects are created because of the way the room is miced-up and the way I could react to sounds like that. The reverb in there is so long that I had time to react to it and play against the sound that was happening. The room absolutely impacted the album and made it what it is. If I went and recorded that album in a different place, it wouldn’t have come out like that at all.

By being involved in a number of different bands and working with an array of artists, how have your various musical projects and collaborations influenced your playing up to this point?

You know, I try and be involved in projects where each project is a unique approach. In that way, everything is really able to influence my playing and influence what I’m working on. Take for example what I do with Many Arms. It’s super busy and a lot of it is really extreme and it really contrasts with what I’m doing on this new album, which is longer and more spacious. In both cases, I’m trying to make a really full, big sound. In Many Arms, I’m just one part of a much bigger picture, so I’m playing fast and it’s busy and that creates this big mass. But when I’m doing it just by myself, I’m playing feedback and I’m trying to fill up the space in a much different way. It’s not necessarily about just notes as much as it is sound mass—which isn’t to say I’m always trying to make a huge mass of sound. On this tour right now it’s very different because I’m not just playing stuff that’s right from this album. I’m playing a set that kind of encompasses a lot of things I do. I’m playing some acoustic guitar and that comes from a recent project I did with Archer Spade, which is my duo with Dan Blacksberg. We were doing this project as a trio with this visual artist Erik Ruin and I had this idea to play acoustic guitar and it was great, it was amazing. It was the first time I ever performed on acoustic guitar in any considerable form. Now that influenced me to bring my acoustic guitar on this tour because I just had so much fun doing it. Last year, right before Numbers on the Side was recorded, I had just finished up doing a project with Many Arms where we worked with our good friend Toshimaru Nakamura who plays feedback through a mixing board. I learned a number of things from him in a short period of time and I think that working with him absolutely affected the way I approached recording this album because he has a really open approach and just lets the sound develop and I thought, “this is a great thing to just kind of let into my music and I’m gonna see how that effects what I’m doing.”

Being based in Philadelphia, how has the city of Philly influenced you, your music and your playing?

I think that places really affect the music you make. I’ve lived in Philadelphia all my life. I’ve never left, and I feel like the music that I make is Philadelphian. My approach to it is different than friends of mine who make similar kinds of music from, say, the west coast or friends of mine who make similar kinds of music from Europe. It’s hard to pin down what exactly the sound differences are, but I think it’s in there, I think the place is really important. Sometimes it has to do with the place itself, the city, what everything looks like, how everything feels. In a lot of ways, I feel like that’s part of my music. I think most people would agree that I make pretty dark music and you know, we live in an urban area on the east coast. There’s a lot of different stuff going on and it’s a gritty city. I love Philadelphia and I only mean this in the best way, but it’s a dirty city. It’s old, there are cars everywhere, there’s always stuff crumbling and being rebuilt. So I’m sure that’s in there. I’m sure I’d make very different music if I lived near the beach or something. The biggest influence is probably the people that are around. I think the people that are part of the community are really great and I think we all influence each other. I wouldn’t have those collaborations that I do if I lived somewhere else. It’s also that music is what I do for a living. I teach guitar lessons and I just play and tour and if I lived somewhere more expensive, I probably wouldn’t be able to do that. I’d probably have a day job. I think Philadelphia is a great combination of being near everything and having a lot going on while also being affordable. I don’t really have to worry too much about my guitar lesson business because the people who want to study with me can find me and it’s really special that I can approach it that way. If I had to be advertising for lessons all the time, I wouldn’t have enough time to concentrate on my music or even on the quality of lessons I’m giving. I love teaching, and I’d rather be concentrating on the actual teaching than trying to find new students. I can be more open and comfortable with what I’m doing, and that’s something special about Philadelphia for sure. I think people outside of Philadelphia know this and the ones who don’t might be starting to figure this out. Whether that’s good or bad, I don’t know. We’ll find out.

What does your future look like when it comes to music? Where do you want to go with your playing and what do you hope to accomplish?

Well, I hope to just keep doing more of what I’m doing. I have collaborations with people who I really admire and I really respect and I hope to do more of that. I feel very honored that I get to put out as many releases as I do and that there’s an audience for it. I have six albums coming out this year, which is really crazy to me. I just want to keep up the momentum. I want to keep collaborating with people and keep moving forward. Just keep going, keep pushing it, keep collaborating with the people who I admire and inspire me and finding even more of them to work with.

Numbers on the Side will be released physically as a split-CD with doom/noise band Onibaba on April 26th and can be purchased digitally via Millevoi’s Bandcamp.

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