People spill out of seats, onto steps and out through the doorframe of the back room of the Manhattan Inn. Lights low, tables topped with candlelight, the dark wooden room is warm and intimate. The gorgeous white baby grand is in its usual position under the chandelier draped with cascading moss. But every Monday night in April, it shares the spotlight with instruments like the saxophone, violin, harp and drums, setting the stage for The Hum.
Curated and produced by HYPNOCRAFT, The Hum brings together over thirty musicians for first-time collaborations against a backdrop of video art projections. The shows start at 10:30pm. Rachael Pazdan, founder of HYPNOCRAFT, has chosen and paired artists from a range of genres, including punk, indie, hip hop, classical, folk, and jazz. In preparation for the series, she challenged them to create new works.
For audience and artists alike, the project has been inspiring and expansive. “I loved to see the sheer quantity of people in the room,” said Caroline Davis (Maitri) who attended previous nights in the series and will perform on the final night, Monday, April 27. The Manhattan Inn’s cozy and inviting atmosphere allows the audience to see their work in a rare, up-close environment.
“We can be stubborn about the kind of music we listen to,” Davis observed. “I’ve broken down some of my stubborn walls and hope the audience will become more open to the music they listen to as well.”
“The shows have been beautiful so far, but what I personally feel is the triumph of this project is its ability to bring all different kinds of women together and facilitate new bonds and collaborations,” said Pazdan. “I’ve heard from several artists that they rarely get the chance to specifically work with other women in music, and I’m proud that this project can do that for them,” she continued. She “noticed an absent platform for women making music in Brooklyn and wanted to create shows that would organically fit into the concert climate and not stand out as something like Lilith Fair,” as she explained in an interview with Brooklyn Magazine.
“[Collaboration] turned out to be an eye-opening and wonderful experience,” said Amelia Bushell (of Belle Mare), following her collaboration with Teletextile on Night One, April 6. Bushell met Pamela Martinez, a member of Teletextile, a couple of weeks before the show to begin planning. “As soon as Pamela brought the sound of the harp to our music, Thom [Servidone of Belle Mare] and I looked at each other with our eyes wide open and the biggest smiles on our faces,” Bushell recounted. She loved the way that Belle Mare’s sound matched up with Teletextile’s avant-pop and indie art rock leanings in the joint compositions.
“I’d thought about incorporating the harp into our music, but this experience allowed us to discover how well it fits in,” she continued. Such discoveries are one of the things Pazdan hoped for as she was organizing the series, especially as many of the artists did not know each other’s music before the residency. “Over the course of a few weeks I think we made an impact on each other musically and personally [through collaboration],” Martinez said. In addition to Belle Mare + Teletextile, Renata Zeiguer (Cantina) + Cassandra Jenkins and Shilpa Ray + Deva Mahal collaborated on Night One.
Deli E Neblett + Ashley Jackson performed together on Night Two, April 13. Living in Adams, Tennessee and Brooklyn, respectively, they normally work as solo artists and did not meet in person until just before the show, adding a hurdle to their preparation. “When we actually met we had very different approaches. She works orally and I’m classically trained. I write everything down and have charts,” Jackson said, adding, “I decided to do this because I wanted the challenge.” Neblett, whose set with Jackson represented her first time performing in New York, echoed, “Ashley and I process music very differently and hear sounds differently, but once it came together it just coagulated into a beautiful array of blues, oranges, and magentas!”
During the duo’s performance, Jackson enchanted the audience with her use of a screwdriver and spoon to create a more contemporary sound on the harp. “It’s technically in the score of the piece. As the 21st century went on, composers were looking for new ways to challenge sound and the way sound is traditionally made. It’s cool, different, and not something I get to do everyday,” Jackson glowed.
Neblett’s music is haunting and introspective and, together at the show, they created music that was ethereal and hypnotic. Hannah Epperson, Elizabeth & the Catapult, Indigo Street (Shy Hunters) + Shelley Burgon also performed on Night Two, with projections created by Sofy Yuditskaya.
Alex Nelson (The Oracle Room) + Alyse Lamb (EULA), who performed on Night Three, April 20, have “sat around campfires drinking whisky on a number of occasions,” but this project was their first opportunity to make music together. To prepare, they shared their demos and unreleased material, then picked their favorite ones to arrange and perform, creating an entire set of songs never heard by an audience before. “I [was] really happy to work on some of my songs that have been waiting patiently to see the light of day,” said Nelson. “Demos can be pretty personal,” Lamb added, “so I was a little nervous at first, but all my nerves turned into excitement.”
I asked them what surprised them about the collaborative process. “It [turned] out even better than I expected. I’m going to kidnap Alyse from EULA and take our duo on an international tour, so that will be surprising for her,” Nelson joked. “I knew Alex to be a superb musician, but I was really surprised at how quickly she picked up the vibe/mood of my songs. Mood is very important to me, and it’s extremely difficult to find someone that connects on the same level. I couldn’t be happier,” Lamb said.
Last Monday’s set was packed with artists. Along with Nelson + Lamb, Teeny Lieberson (TEEN) + Zoe Brecher (Brainfreeze) + Jen Goma (A Sunny Day in Glasgow) and Sarah Pedinotti (LIP TALK) + Kalmia Traver (Rubblebucket) + Kaila Mullady + Jordyn Blakely (Invisible Familiars) played against a backdrop of projections by Carmen Osterlye.
During the final night, this coming Monday, April 27, the audience will hear the output of Cat Martino (Stranger Cat) + Erin Fein (Psychic Twin), Jen Goma (A Sunny Day in Glasgow) + Cassandra Jenkins + Caroline Davis (Maitri) and Xenia Rubinos + Indigo Street, with projections created by Laura Batczak.
Goma, Jenkins and Davis play in disparate musical genres. To overcome this obstacle, they decided what the collaboration’s common aesthetic would be by creating a mood board together, while they played videos of their own music and those of their favorite musicians. Without that meeting, “[o]ur set would [have felt] discombobulated and unstructured, without a thread pulling us together. We found songs that we all really like,” said Davis. “Once we knew we all were enthusiastic about working together then it was kind of nice not to have any preconceived notions or expectations because that’s when interesting things happen,” said Goma.
The ad hoc gang will be performing a mix of original music and covers, including the beautiful siren song from O’ Brother, Where Art Thou?, “Don’t Leave Nobody but the Baby.” They will sing it a cappella like Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch, and Alison Krauss did.
To snag a seat for the whole set, get there early to claim your spot. Come with an open mind, leave with a night you can float home on.
I truly believe that collaboration and crossing musical genres enriches not only the artists themselves, but the people who are experiencing it in the audience. It’s a huge, palpable force. – Alyse Lamb
I hope this kind of thing continues. I hope this kind of thing can be a kind of festival in a bigger venue and that we could have multiple days of the event in a row. That’s what I would hope for the future of it. I love that we are a female cast of characters, but we’re not putting the emphasis on that. I’m really excited. This is an exciting opportunity for me and I’m very honored to be a part of it. – Caroline Davis
I thought to myself, “Wow, her voice soars higher than the boldest and baddest of eagles.” – Alyse Lamb after a mutual friend showed her Alex Nelson’s early demos