April 10, 2012

Beats & Pieces creates "Legacies" of sights and sounds

Cables and wires coiled around bare feet, bright lights of glittering machinery, and rows of a mesmerized audience, wooed into a silent sway by hypnotic wailing vocals, graced the first floor of the Southside Hub of Production on Thursday night as part of Beats & Pieces’ Legacies exhibition.

Electroacoustic artist K. Serra opened the evening lineup with a moody, ethereal style that fused her classical training as an opera-singer-to-be with her later interests in electronic sound. The lights quickly dimmed as a ghostly background beat filled the room. The artist created loops one after the next using unconventional “instruments” such as towel racks and other household items, integrating these beats into the final song, the effect being an improvised, highly personal performance that both shaped and encouraged audience engagement.

Legacies also featured a performance by SHoP regulars Fuzzy Moon, a jazz and alt-fusion band made up of alums from Northwestern; Dastardly, a band that puts a Chicago spin on bluegrass and jazz; and Eigenfunk, a soul and jazz group with Hyde Park roots, however, K. Serra truly captured the crowd.

As the music intensified with piercing vocals that mirrored the spiritual wailing of a church choir, any sort of audience noise faded out in awed admiration. Audience participation was still there of course, but it consisted of gentle corporeal swaying and gazes fixed unblinkingly towards the source of the music. And K. Serra did not hesitate to elicit laughs or whoops of approval through lighthearted and lively banter uttered between tracks. But as the audience resettled with each new song and let the hypnotic sound take its full effect once more, the room’s activity quickly fell into a cyclical pattern of silent, growing appreciation punctuated with energetic bursts of claps and cheers between songs.

Sitting in the front row, no more than a couple feet from K. Serra’s massed assortment of equipment, I had a hard time pulling my gaze from another source of artistic entertainment that required arguably as much talent as the sound echoing throughout the room. With each new instrumental loop recorded and introduced into the music, every change of tempo and different background beat, K. Serra was flipping a sea of switches on and off with her bare toes. This she did mechanically, intuitively, while the rest of her focused on strumming tunes on the electric keyboard and producing enchanting vocals. K. Serra’s performance was as stunning visually as it was aurally and, through its appeal of both sight and sound, served as an excellent representation of Legacies theme.

Beats & Pieces concerns itself with the integration of performance and visual arts, ultimately treating the two fields not as two separate entities, but rather two parts of a whole. Each brings its own sensual delight—the former sound and the latter sight—but, as K. Serra and other artists demonstrated that night, it is rare that these two areas do not overlap. While musical artists awed the crowd with aural delights, spoken word artists painted stunning images with their voices; meanwhile, visual arts pieces collected especially for this exhibition from both U of C students and members of the larger Hyde Park community filled the walls and rooms of SHoP’s first floor. The artwork and performance pieces themselves drew from a wide variety of origins, with many artists drawing from their own personal, ethnic, and religious identities to create a collection of artistic expression mindful of its worldliness. Guests were invited to amble about the gallery space while keeping an ear open to the lush sounds produced by live bands.

During fall quarter, Beats & Pieces put on a similar exhibit at the SHoP entitled Origins. Like Legacies, Origins promoted the idea of visual and performance-based art as a symbiotic pairing, with each art form enhancing the other. Likewise, both shows made use of the SHoP’s homey interior and function as a space of communal gathering and sharing of artistic creation. However, as their titles might suggest, each annual exhibition comes with its own distinctive meaning. While Origins is presented in the beginning of the academic year, Legacies is held toward its end, and is mindful of the changes and developments Beats & Pieces has undergone every school year.

This year, Legacies was particularly significant as it marked the culmination of another year of Beats & Pieces’ productions: “Much of the board is graduating from the college at the end of this year, and many of the artists featured within the exhibition are also fourth-years of the college,” said Thomas George, co-president of the RSO. “Legacies was intended to sort of double as a collection of what the graduating members of the RSO and the artists involved wanted to leave behind as a legacy all of their own.”

But Beats & Pieces is far from curtain’s close: in its five-year standing, such instances of change are endemic. And with each generation’s exit, another rises up to take center stage, resulting in a club whose basic aesthetic ambitions remain the same but whose nuances are constantly developing in flavor, which is as much determined by club members themselves as by the natural changes of artwork submitted from year to year. Despite Beats & Pieces’ own internal shifts, the show must go on—and it will. Look out for next autumn’s Origins exhibition among other events no doubt rife with art, food, music, and, of course, change.