Today we're going to hear from artist, musician, composer, and producer EW, who's known for her varied use of classical and modern instrumentation. Her work reaches pop and chamber music and explores concepts around human relation to the natural world rooted in a love for both. Her short films and projections weave imagery of contemporary dense, extreme weather and effects of climate crisis, alongside protest footage from the AIDS coalition to unleash power, an international grassroots political group working to end the AIDS pandemic.
Emily's latest album, This World is Too___ For You, was released last March and has been hailed by NPR as breathtaking, mind-blowing, and visionary. I sat down with Emily before one of her performances for a conversation about art and the future.
EW: Hi, my name is EW, and this is always the hardest thing to do, but I'll try to describe my work a little, which is grows, I hope, always growing but always with the center around music and moving interdisciplinary into video art and always influenced by literature and poetry and critique and history.
JW: That's perfect.
JW: And what are some of your favorite instruments to play or musical endeavors?
EW: so I am a violinist by training and have been playing violin my whole life so I kind of often enter music through that lens, but you know, I'm a producer so I'm always trying to find ways to encounter sounds, and whether that's by finding the right people to play the thing really well, or by me kind of trying to find a way into different instruments or, you know, I'm interested in synthesizers and drum machines and…But I love acoustic instruments as well. So I kind of like to blend those.
JW: Nice. Tell us what are some of your intentions for the future, both for yourself and then maybe as an artist and a community member.
EW: A personal intention for myself and my work is to remain curious, and not to be cynical. And I guess that kind of bleeds out a bit into my intentions around how I want to approach being a member of a community and an activist, you know, to educate myself and…but to be a force for curiosity and, you know, wanting to be...Well, you know, we were talking about something last night, which is the ability to experience wonder, and I think my way into wonder is often through experiencing other people's art but it can also be of course, through the natural world. That's like the best starting place, I think.
JW: And what are you working on these days? Any fun projects going on?
EW: well, I put out a record that took a lot of time to make, to conceive of and to create and took like two years so it came out in March. And so it's almost like you cut...You have to really come down from something like that, especially after taking it on the road. And so my way of coming down from that was to gently hold each of the songs in hand by making these really minimalistic recordings of them, so shrinking them from this much more grand arrangement into either an acoustic guitar or an electric guitar and a voice, no other instrumentation.
So I spent my summer doing that, and perhaps also to avoid the, project that I'm staring at now, which is ambitious in a different way. Though, I think it will also involve collaborators. The initial concepts are around creating songs and essays, which are in conversation with one another. And some of the concepts are quite daunting. And there's like some darkness to them because they're examining how climate change crisis is related to AIDS crisis and the movements that came up around AIDS crisis , and just like looking at how we can learn one from the other. And so those ideas are of course, they're hard ideas to think about on a daily basis, but…So that's what I'm looking at now.
JW: Wow. And so you imagine there will be maybe something like an album with a book?
EW: I think so, I think so.
JW: Nice. That's really exciting.
EW: And also daunting, just from a practical standpoint of having to be a writer...
JW: Outside of writing lyrics.
EW: Privately, I've always written but, you know, privately, so...
JW: an essay feels more formal, for sure.
EW: Sure. Absolutely. But it kind of started because I…There was an event that happened where an activist took his own life in protest of environmental injustice, and I was so struck by the act itself, but also by the lack of response to it. And so I had never written an essay before in like a formal way, but it was almost like I had to do it, not for anything other than just the act of sitting down and organizing my thoughts. So that's kind of how the whole thing began.
JW: Wow, so that was kind of the genesis of the project?
JW: Amazing. And what were some of the themes of your previous album, the one that came out in March?
EW: well, so that album is a lot about human beings relationship to the natural world. It's about facing your own apathy around the world in which you inhabit and take from and trying to reverse that. And and also a willingness to have to look around instead of to isolate, and kind of this idea of community and needing one another. It's the only way out of this problem, you know, of climate crisis and a lot of other problems frankly, as well, soo…
JW: definitely. Do you find yourself thinking about the future when you're making your work?
EW: absolutely. I mean, particularly this album, like, again, it's a scary thing to live inside for a while. I have a song called Eulogy For The Lucky, which is kind of this idea of the earth shaking us off of herself, and what will be lost in that and just sort of sorrow around that. But I think there's a lot of songs that are about looking at one’s self and really seeing your place in the problem, you know, especially as an American consumer.
EW: And how all the systems you know, that benefit us also are cutting us as well.
JW: Is there anything you'd like to share with our listeners about your identity that might have informed your perspective on the future? So sometimes people are thinking of things like class or race, disability, size, sexuality, religion, things like that.
EW: I mean, I can't help but come through a queer lens, much of my work and much the way I see the world, but also a queer lens of a person who was raised in a Christian household, who has a queer father who didn't come out until much later in life. Those things really inform my perspective, my worldview, of course, and can't get away from them.
JW: Definitely, for better or for worse.
EW: For better or worse,
JW: Could you tell us about some ideal futures, some best outcomes?
EW: I mean, it's sometimes hard for me to picture frankly, but I think it is a world in which we have a much more symbiotic relation to the natural world. And you know, I think that does involve a willingness to live more closely, which sometimes is at odds with my desires as a kind of loner type person. But I don't know, I think I could get used to it, if it meant survival.
JW: as long as there is like a bullet train into the forest or something, you could go out in nature [Laughter]
EW: I mean, I would just…I would like for us to imitate the thing that knows what to do, which is the natural world, more closely. And I feel like as speaking generally or quite detached from that way of being and obviously, all of the anti-capitalists things that need to happen, I don't need to repeat. You know, you should go to elizabethwarren.com, sort of suss it out.
JW: There, our recommended resource for further reading is www.elizabethwarren.com. Thank you. What role do you think art plays in the creation of that future?
EW: Imagination, I think is a big part of it. Imagination, accountability, I think those are two, for at least the work that I make, I think that's part of it. And the visualization of the past, and then that bleeds over into that imagined future, I think as well.
JW: Tell us about your creative routine or process.
EW: Well, when it's working well, it involves a fair amount of reading. A fair amount of nonfiction, I would say, although, I do love novels, and they're kind of more of an escape rather than a way in, but all of those things are part of the process, if that makes sense.
EW: And so, you know, I…And I like to be in my body so I'll go from a run or a swim. I've recently gotten into rock climbing. And so if I can get into my body and out of my head a little bit, and then it allows me to enter other people's work. I find like, entering other forms of art is always a spark for me, in unexpected ways. It's like there's so much there for us, you know, it's just opening ourselves to it. And getting outside of a habit, not being open to it, you know, I think that's part of the routine is creating a way in.
And then then you kind of just can…Through that, it's a way into the work itself, making the work itself. It's such a strange, you know, walking into the space, wherever it may be of writing the music, there's always a barrier that you have to kind of cross and then when you do you can really, really lose yourself in this way, and also meet yourself, you know, it's quite profound and it's difficult to describe, I don’t think. I only know how to set up the experiment, not how to conduct it, if that makes sense. So the conduction is just being inside of it. And of course, you have to rely on skills you've picked up along the way. You know, whether it be the technique of playing an instrument or software or whatever, and those are just like, there for you. So you've got to nourish those as well so that they will be there for you in the moment of oblivion, you know, but that's how I get in.
JW: I feel the same way completely. I'm primarily a poet. And so I'm finding my way into a poem is like that where you finally you're like, “What am I doing?” And then, at one moment, it's like, “Oh, here we are.”
EW: And then you're just weightless, totally.
JW: Is there anything you've learned about making music that you apply in other areas of your life?
EW: I try to think about that in terms of trusting the preparation in life. Certain things you know work, even if you don't feel like doing them or they're difficult to get into, like, just trusting like, if I open this book or if I enter this talk or whatever, then like, that's the way in. And so I tried to trust certain boundaries that you set. I think in art, it's easier than it is in your personal life.
JW: Unfortunately, I found that to be true.
JW: Do you have any certain audience in mind when you're making your work or, like a certain market that you find really, really connects with your work? Market’s [inaudible 15:28] audience?
EW: I mean, I definitely want thinkers, you know, to like, get in there with me, people who are interested in ideas, you know, that's the audience that I wish to try in the most, I guess,
JW: And do you have any special certain moment from a feedback from experience like that or something that are really connected with your art?
EW: there's this poet named Mary Ruefle, who it's more that I'm connected to her art does. She's written a few books of poetry, but she wrote this book called Madness, Rack and Honey, that's a book of lectures but loosely, I mean, they could be spoken, but the ideas are... It's just so brilliant. And I wrote her a letter to tell her how much that book meant to the record and send her the record and we've begun a small correspondence. And she is just so lovely, her way of communicating. She's like, from another planet or something. But she sent me a book and put a drawing of something from the record cover inside. And another thing that she wrote to me was that, “Musicians are lucky because they get to use the word play and the rest of the artists have to keep it a secret.” So, that kind of interaction, I mean, that's once in a lifetime, I guess.
EW: That's the ultimate, right? Someone you admire, getting to engage with them around work. It's amazing.
JW: That's a beautiful observation, the freedom of play, being able to claim that. This is more of a fun question about the future.
JW: If you could invent any new object or tool or structure or system, what would it be?
EW: Oh, man, I mean, I guess, maybe at I would want to remove a good tool that could remove distractions, particularly those of like a digital nature. So a way to like, close yourself to that itch, you know, and really be inside of something else experiential. That's my invention.
JW: Cool. What advice would you have for emerging artists?
EW: Read, listen, and just stay curious and trust that... I think, at least my experience has been just this, I'm just carving out a world for myself the best I can, you know, and that is the goal is the ability to continue to carve out the world, that there's not some, like reaching a plateau is the end, you know? And that's what keeps you up, that's what keeps the work interesting is the ability to keep growing. So, that's the goal, you know, it's a continual.
JW: And when should we expect your album and essay collection?
m,. Probably 2021.
JW: That's a perfect timeline.
EW: under our President Elizabeth Warren, right?
JW: Oh my goodness. Yes. What a celebratory. Maybe you can play the inaugural.
EW: Right. I was there for the protest, so perfect for the inaugural as well.
JW: Well, thanks for your time.
EW: Thank you for your really thoughtful questions. I've enjoyed chatting with you.
JW: Of course. Have a beautiful rest of your weekend. I can't wait to see you play later.
EW: Thank you. Thank you so much.
If you'd like to see and hear more of Emily's work, go to www.emilywellsmusic.com.
This episode was co-sponsored by the Arcosanti Urban Laboratory. Thank you to our production assistants, Natalie Nelson and Jillian Barthold, and to our sound engineer, Mat Larimer.
Musician and creative coder Helen Spencer Wallace discusses memory, vulnerability, resilience, healing, and how she made her interactive sculpture, the Brain Shrine. Listen to the whole episode on iTunes or Soundcloud: Future Prairie Radio S2E1: Brain Shrine with Helen Spencer Wallace ▶️🎶⏳
In our second-to-last episode of season one of our podcast, musician and mathematician Vivian Tylinska discusses her Russian futurist-inspired transcendental black metal project, Victory Over the Sun.
"I like to make music that is complicated...to use math, to use the ideas that were developing in the 20th century in classical music using the language of metal. There is definitely correlation between math and music in terms of music being sets of pictures, the frequencies, the way elements interact. Over the last year, I’ve been very interested in microtonal music, which uses notes that are not the 12 notes that are most common in Western music. We get different relationships between tones, which gives you different flavors and qualities of chords. That can give you very different range of emotional feelings that don't exist in Western music. There's math in that, the way that you choose the notes, the way that you arrange things.
Rhythmically, there are also complicated rhythms that have more large scale structures. What I've been doing this year is, I will take off the frets on a guitar and fill them in and cut new frets in. I use 17 tones instead of the usual 12. You get different flavors. 17 is nice because you can do similar stuff that you can in 12 but there are alien sounds, there are foreign and dissonant sounding intervals, which I think are really interesting. Whenever I show people microtonal music, at first, they’re like, 'This just sounds bad and out of tune.' I’m like, 'No, but it's a different tune!'
My solo project is called Victory Over the Sun, which is the name of a Russian futurist opera from 1917. It's designed by this Soviet artist, Kazimir Malevich with text by other Russian futurists. I've been very interested in Russian futurism. Italian futurism was closely associated with fascism, which I absolutely condemn; I have no interest in Italian futurism. Russian futurism is what fascinates me most. I am working on a new project about Kazimir Malevich called 'The Objectless World', based on his ideas about art as pure emotional expression and a non-objective representation of feeling."
Hear the whole podcast episode on iTunes or SoundCloud: Future Prairie Radio Season 1 Episode 11: Victory Over the Sun.
For our latest podcast episode, we interviewed ceramicist Jackie Gow. Jackie makes narrative, symbolic ceramic art as well as laser-etched tableware and planters. She’s a student of International Migration and Public Policy at The London School of Economics and Political Science and previously worked on the Family Reunification Program for the International Rescue Committee, where she represented and advocated for her clients’ human rights.
We visited Jackie at her art studio in what used to be the immigration building of Seattle. Jackie’s art is quite relevant to discussions of the future as we grapple with a federal government shutdown while divisive rhetoric around the potential construction of a southern border wall rages on. We can’t have sensible discussions around options for our future without looking, at least in part, through the lens of the past, and ceramics are one of humanity’s oldest art forms. Jackie spoke about her art practice, the American dream, sustainability in ceramics, and her favorite form of tableware, a hybrid of a bowl and a plate that helps reduce food waste and is suitable for meals from many different cultures and cuisines.
Given her passion for human rights and migration policy, we released her interview on the 74th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. After the interview, in honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, we share a few fundamentals of universal human rights.
Hear the whole episode here.
See more of Jackie's work here.
For the latest episode of Future Prairie Radio, we interviewed artist, illustrator, and GIF queen Courtney Brendle. Courtney discusses GIFs, the future of visual communication, using art to make tech more human, and of course, how to make a GIF.
Check out the whole thing on iTunes and SoundCloud: Future Prairie Radio Season 1 Episode 9: A Thousand Words with Courtney Brendle.
See more of Courtney’s work here.
Amber Case is an artist and designer who studies the interaction between humans and computers.
Amber looks at how our relationship with information is changing the way cultures think and act, and how they understand their worlds. Amber's work in the field of cyborg anthropology and user experience design led to a two-year fellowship at Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society and the MIT Center for Civic Media. Amber is the author of two books: “Designing with Sound” and “Calm Technology: Design for the Next Generation of Devices”. Amber’s TED talk, “We are all cyborgs now,” has been viewed over one million times. Amber was featured among Fast Company’s Most Influential Women in Technology in 2010, was the co-founder of a location-based software company acquired in 2012, was named one of National Geographic’s Emerging Explorers and was listed among Inc. Magazine’s 30 under 30.
Along this journey, just for fun, Amber founded CyborgCamp, a conference on the future of humans and computers. I caught up with Amber there, at the tenth anniversary of CyborgCamp, where we stole some moments away in a sunny corner of a little classroom. We enjoyed a wide-ranging discussion on career, creativity, class, the theory of time, and time management.
Listen to the whole episode here.
Find out more about Amber here.
This month’s Future Prairie Radio episode features interviews conducted out and about in the streets of Portland, Oregon.
The artists of Future Prairie spent a day interviewing the public in celebration of International PARK(ing) Day, an annual global event that occurs on the third Friday in September and has been taking place in Portland since 2006. PARK(ing) Day supports creative placemaking by allowing people to temporarily convert on-street parking spaces into interactive public spaces. This year, eighteen parking spots around Portland were turned into unique spaces such as a bubble park, a miniature salmon stream, an art studio, a putt-putt golf course, a letter-writing lounge, a bike-fixing station, and more.
We set up a mobile podcasting studio on NW 11th Ave between Couch and Davis right outside the largest independent used and new bookstore in the world, Powell’s Books, and we asked people, “What do you envision for the future of our city?” Produced in collaboration with the City of Portland and the Bureau of Transportation.
Listen to the whole episode here.
Find out more about PARK(ing) Day here.
Our music for this episode is by Maiah Wynne.
Pick up any business forecasting magazine today and you’ll read about how the future of business will be defined by collaboration. For our latest podcast episode, I wanted to get beyond that catchphrase and find out what it looks like to professionally collaborate from someone who’s in the trenches.
Natalie Rose Baldwin is a highly-decorated brewer and a multipotentialite with many interests and pursuits. In her teenage years, she trained to become a professional skiier, then she studied biochemistry at the University of Colorado in Denver before beginning a career in beer making in Portland, Oregon, where she’s become one of our brightest and most collaborative beverage industry leaders. Not only that, but she’s a gender-bending queer woman who mentors members of her communities and co-founded the Lady Brewer Girl Gang, a professional association of women helping to shape the future of the brewing industry.
In today’s episode, she talks about some of her favorite collaborations, how to be a good peer to your collaborators, why the communities pubs create are important, and the history of women making beer.
You can hear our whole conversation here.
You can follow Natalie's adventures in brewing on her Instagram, and you can find out where to taste her beer at breakside.com.
Our music for this episode is by Lenore.
I was thinking of home when I first learned about supercities. What feels like home to you? Do you feel a certain civic pride? In this nebulous landscape of ever-shifting political boundaries, is home a state or a nation, or is a racial or a religious pride, or a regional one, based not on the lines we draw but on a shared natural or cultural beauty? Imagine if a group had the power to take your home and redefine it, to give it a new name, assess its worth and potential, and redesign its map, structure, and systems. In the long dance of history, this has happened many, many times, and it's happening again, now, in China.
The Chinese government recently announced their intention to move forward with a long-term urban development strategy they've been considering for years. The plan will foster the rise of enormous economic regions called supercities, anchored around large central urban cores like Hong Kong; Shanghai; or Beijing, and encompassing a number of surrounding, smaller cities. Kind of like a county, but WAY bigger than any county you've ever seen or heard of. By the year 2030, China's nineteen planned supercities will be connected by 26 high-speed train routes. There's a possibility that governance models would shift to mirror the supercities. Many urban planners and economists predict supercities could transform China into the wealthiest, most productive country in the world. To explore the context of a supercity, I interviewed Vivek Shandas, an urban studies and planning professor, fellow of the Institute for Sustainable Solutions; and founder of the Sustainable Urban Places Research Lab.
“If our intent though is to create identities, cultural identities of people who share a common vision and share a common interest in seeing a place thrive in their own way…a supercity may be difficult. What would it mean for a community to maximize for happiness? What would it mean to really authentically think about people's self-identified state of wellbeing? That would include health, how well your physical body is, how well your mental body is, how well your spiritual body is, your community or family or whatever you identify with as your group, your kin — how intact is that? What if we were to think about happiness indexes that were about our human health and wellbeing, in the broad sense, and maximize towards that?"
You can hear our full conversation here.
Check out Vivek's work here.
In this episode, we explore how best to live while in a body. It seems we’ve been living with a mind, body, spirit split for a while now. Assuming we are comprised of these three component parts, it’s in our collective interest to learn more about them and how best to navigate our time here.
Brain mapping and new research into AI neural networks promise to deliver a future where we can shed our bodies like a snake shedding skin and step into a house of our own choosing. I wonder though, how we feel ready to go ‘round inserting our consciousness willy-nilly into any old sheath when we have hardly learned to cope with the everyday burdens of existing in our current flesh.
We are gifted or afflicted with bodies that, more often than not, don’t align quite right with our perception of ourselves. This is troublesome because the body is a form of self-expression, a dynamic manifestation of our attitudes, aspirations, our trials, our tone, our choices. If you've been furnished with a body that reflects your innermost workings, I applaud you, but I know that I for one, the I, the me who names myself, would like to find a way to be happier while existing in a body. How should a person be?
Here to help me examine this question is Beck Beverage, an artist, musician, dancer, and certified personal trainer who owns a gym called Sweet Momentum. Beck has a quiet joy about him that draws clients who’ve struggled with illness, chronic pain, body dysmorphia, eating disorders, and many other issues I’ll group under the broad umbrella of “Body Feelings” to seek training with him.
I’ve never met someone who explores movement like Beck, who perches on the tip of a rock to find the stillest stillness, lowers himself off limbs of trees to hang in the breeze, and walks barefoot across the forest floor, attending, listening. Or maybe I’ve met hundreds of people like Beck — children — stainless, fresh humans who move with curiosity and ignorance and are happy to report back to you on every feeling they encounter. Beck shares his personal embodiment journey and offers tips for ours.
You can hear our full conversation here.
Check out Beck's gym here.