Pure Imagination

Pure Imagination

Michael Bashaw, Sō Percussion and DECA Students Collaborate for One-of-a-kind Performance

By Tim Anderl

Walking through the dusty hallways of the a former sewing machine factory, the more than a century old building where Michael Bashaw keeps his studio, it is difficult to imagine the wondrously inventive sculptures, installations, collaborations and music that have taken place here.

For those unfamiliar with Bashaw, he is perhaps one of Dayton’s most rare artistic and musical treasures, if not one of the most inventive musical geniuses of our time.  He began his career in 1972 where he taught at the Living Arts Center in Dayton.  During the early days of his career he incorporated a wide variety of media into his work, including film, musical instruments, spoken word, poetry and more.  And many of his career highlights have followed the path of incorporating music and visual art.  Not only is Bashaw a gifted sculptor who turns trash heap treasures into incredible sculpted spectacles, but he is also a prodigious musician.

Emerging from the dusty hallway into Bashaw’s sun-lit studio, which offers a stunning view of the Dayton skyline, dozens of incredible creations reveal themselves.  And on these creations, Bashaw performs expert feats of musicianship.  He and his massive, hand-built sound sculptures have travelled to numerous performing arts venues across the United States and Europe.  He has performed alongside the Dayton Philharmonic and the Sarajevo Philharmonic orchestras and he has written soundtracks for film and television, with collaborators including his wife Sandy and his ensemble, Puzzle of Light. They have performed in venues all over the U.S.

Not only is Bashaw talented artistically, but he also has a gift for sparking the creativity of students in and outside of the classroom.  Like a multimedia Willy Wonka, Bashaw has provided golden tickets to his imaginative, artistic and musical world to at-risk students, and students from Dayton’s Muse Machine and Dayton Art Institute programs in the past.  More recently, he’s been involved a collaboration with high school students from Dayton Early College Academy and Brooklyn’s Sō Percussion.

Sponsored by the University of Dayton’s College of Arts and Sciences and in honor of the Arts Series 50th Anniversary, the collaboration involves art education and culminates in a public concert at the Dayton Art Institute on Thursday, April 12.

“The project that Eileen (Carr) has been organizing for us, which she’s sort of co-producing with DECA, is a show we’ll be playing in that cool gallery space at the Dayton Art Institute,” said Josh Quillen, a member of Sō Percussion.  “We will be playing a piece called “Drumming, Part 1,” as well as some original music.  Then we’ll also be collaborating with Michael and the DECA students on some pieces for that show as well.”

Since 1999, the quartet consisting of Quillen, Eric Beach, Adam Sliwinski and Jason Treuting (three of whom are from Ohio) have created experimental original music and performed all over the world, including concerts at Carnegie Hall, Brooklyn Academy of Music, and have gone on tours in the United Kingdom, Russia, Germany, Spain, Italy, Australia and more.  In addition, the group has become increasingly involved in mentoring young artists.  In 2010 they created the Sō Percussion Summer Institute on the campus of Princeton University to offer a two-week chamber music seminar for college-age percussionists, and in 2011 they became co-directors of a percussion department at Bard College Conservatory of Music.

Quillen said, “The lynch pin of this whole thing has really been Michael.  Not only is he just an awesome guy in general to hang out with and know, but he’s also an amazing craftsman.  While we are bringing a lot of our own equipment, he’s built these incredible instruments out of huge pieces of metal and we’ll be using this opportunity to play whatever instruments he’s able to bring.  Working in his studio, with these grandiose and wonderful instruments, has been like walking into a playground for both Sō Percussion and the students involved.”

Earlier this year Sō Percussion and Bashaw conducted an introductory session at DECA to practice deep listening skills in an open-ended free-form session.  In February, Sō Percussion returned for two days of sessions during which the students practiced improvising and learned about dynamics and polyrhythms.  In March, Bashaw conducted additional sessions with the students in his studio.

“Though not all of the students are trained musicians, all of them have played like they are,” beamed Bashaw.

“There were a lot of students who came from musical families and had more musical backgrounds than from what I came from,” added Quillen.  “They all sort of had their own take on music and what it means to them, and we saw their skills develop incredibly over the course of a few days improvising with each other.  The way they approached the instruments and attacked them without bringing any sort of musical baggage to the table was really fun to watch and reminded us of why we’re doing this.”

About a month after the performance at Dayton Art Institute Michael Bashaw heads to Columbus on May 9 to receive the 2012 Governor’s Individual Artist Award during a formal awards ceremony and luncheon.

“I’m honored and a little nervous because I have to give a short speech,” admitted Bashaw.  “The good thing has been that it has caused me to reflect a lot and think about all the other artists and students that I’ve had an opportunity to work with.  They have taught me so much and, for me, that’s what it has been about.”

(The concert takes place at the Dayton Art Institute on Thursday, April 12. General admission for the collaborative performance is $15, tickets for DAI members and UD alumni, faculty and staff are $10 and student tickets are $5. Purchase your tickets through the UD Box Office in the KU lobby or call 937-229-2545.)

Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Anderl at TimAnderl@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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