Watching Sound Unfold: documentary Paper Mirrors and psychedelic rock band Delicate Steve to kick off TEDxUMass

Madeleine Zehnder ’13
Contributing Writer

Last fall, armed with a set of murals, the members of arts collective The Brio Life drove to Stockbridge, Mass., looking for a musician who could translate their images into sound. They arrived, hopeful, at the studio of Delicate Steve, where guitarist Steve Marion and his band members scrutinized the murals and proceeded to improvise, their vivid, often futuristic music echoing and elaborating aspects of the visual art.

Months later, the collaboration produced Paper Mirrors, a documentary that seeks to capture moments in which what we hear and what we see share a creative thread. The film premiered April 4 at 7:30 p.m., in UMass’s Bowker auditorium, preceding live performances by Delicate Steve and The Brio Life musician Hokes. Audience members not only attended for free but were also eligible to enter to win tickets for the TEDxUMass conference on April 13, which will include talks by hip-hop artist Toni Blackman and Boston Globe columnist Scott Kirsner.

The Brio Life was founded in 2011 by current UMass senior Dylan Brewer together with Bobby Addimando, who met Brewer through the UMass Drumline. Addimando, who performs as Hokes, also engaged the artist RAF (Adrian Febres), and the group has recently begun working with 16 year old Danish photographer Oliver Thorsen, who consulted with videographers Mariah Muscato and Kadyrose Druar on the documentary. Brewer describes The Brio Life as a “creative collective”: the group functions as a record label, creates audio-visual installations, and curates a blog featuring interviews, narratives inspired by music, and more.

Paper Mirrors developed from Brewer’s interest in the idea that “music inspires art inspires music.”

“I knew I wanted to create an experiment with this visual-integration concept in the form of a documentary from the beginning,” Brewer says. “Paper Mirrors is a metaphor for this concept, in which “mirrors” represent the duality of the audio and visual art.” “Paper” references the malleable quality of the final product: as audience members synthesize image and sound, their interpretation of the work’s meaning undergoes manifold variations. Origami will feature prominently in the concert experience.

As Brewer explains, the visuals in Paper Mirrors function much like a soundtrack, albeit with music and imagery occupying reserved roles. Film music affects how we react to onscreen action, often working at an unconscious level; Brewer believes that visual artwork can similarly open up new ways of hearing music.

The band Delicate Steve has been featured in Pitchfork, Stereogum, NPR, CMJ Top 20 in 2012 and recently toured Europe. Their music’s strange blend of electronics, shimmering instrumental layers and energetic cross rhythms manages to be lyrical and trippy at once, but the real reason to hear the group is Steve Marion. Though his guitar playing is virtuosic, he rarely forsakes a sense of playful inventiveness: listeners must be alive to surprising pattern shifts and sudden moments of activity.

Brewer was thrilled to have engaged the band for his project and emphasized that Delicate Steve’s performance at the concert experience on April 4 is one “not to miss.” We may know how the music sounds, but it will take Brewer and his collective to show how this sound looks.

The Brio Life presents: “Paper Mirrors” Documentary Premier and Audiovisual Experience, April 4th, 7:30 PM, Bowker Auditorium, UMass, FREE. For more information, visit http://www.thebriolife.com.

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