An Interview with Colin Palombi and Paul Giallorenzo

Ten x Ten 2015 continues with a Recording Performance this Thursday at 9pm at Elastic Arts, 3429 W Diversey Ave. #208. Billie Howard of Homeroom Chicago interviewed Ten x Ten curators Colin Palombi and Paul Giallorenzo about the evolution of Ten x Ten, the use of improvisation in both visual and musical arts and what we can expect from the final product.

Colin and Paul will be on Vocalo radio tonight, March 16th, at 5pm. If you're in the Chicago area, tune in to 90.7, 91.1, 89.5fm or stream online at vocalo.org.

Billie: Ten x Ten has covered many different musical genres over the years. What made you choose jazz or improvisation this time around?

Colin: Jazz and improvisation had been discussed as a possible Ten x Ten theme for several years, but it just wasn't the right time until now. In 2012, when Spudnik and Homeroom first decided it would be a good idea to bring in a guest curator for the music, Homeroom was already experimenting with a jazz series called Physics for Listeners. Because of this it was kind of on and off the table at the same time. In the end, I think Homeroom wanted to try something new. It was at this time that I suggested working with Dan Sully, a spoken-word and hip-hop artist that had a productive history working with members of Homeroom. It felt like the right choice at the time because it opened up new possibilities and relationships for both Homeroom and Spudnik. A similar scenario unfolded in 2013 after a few casual conversations I had with Seth Boustead of Access Contemporary Music. It wasn't long before all three organizations were building the project in a really exciting direction with contemporary classical music. We learned a lot from those two editions, so when it came time to choose a partner for the current Ten x Ten, I think in a lot of ways we felt it was time to approach the jazz scene. Homeroom's long-running friendship with Elastic made it a pretty natural choice.

Billie: How did you go about choosing the visual artists for this year's Ten x Ten? Did you collaborate with each other to think of good visual/sound pairs beforehand?

Colin: It's interesting, but the individual musicians and visual artists have never been considered at the same time. The theme has always been determined first, and then the respective organizations reach out to the artists and musicians they feel will make good participants in a project like this. I worked closely with Angee Lennard and Spudnik to arrive at the final ten artists that were invited. We had a few strategies for choosing the participants; one was identifying artists we thought would be challenged by theme in an interesting way. Some we already had in mind, others we found through recommendations by by past Ten x Ten artists. Those recommendations were really helpful in the process, and I'm excited that many of the artists participating are people I didn't know before.

Paul: I chose musicians that are both improvisers and that I thought would also bring a compositional approach to leading an improvising ensemble, since each of us is composing and playing in the group. I knew that the nature of the project required flexible yet disciplined musicians, and I'm really pleased with how the process and interaction has turned out so far. Also, I wanted to choose musicians that have played at Elastic and would represent the organization well (by well, I mean accurately), and I also wanted to choose a somewhat wider range of experience levels among the musicians. It was also nice to have the musicians be familiar with some but not all of their fellow players. Colin and I and the rest of the programmers collaborated on pairing the musicians and artists, but not until after all the musicians and artists were chosen.

Billie: Each musician is paired with a visual artist to create a collaborative print and recording. How are the pairs chosen?

Colin: The pairs weren't determined until after all 20 participants were confirmed and committed to the project. This commitment was a real leap of faith by the artists and musicians, and we're thankful for their trust.

Paul: We sent out a questionnaire that queried the folks on verbally describing their process and aesthetics as well as practical matters such as do you prefer to work during the day or at night. We used that info but we also just talked about personalities and styles, as I knew all the musicians already and Colin knew the artists. That approach was particularly helpful when the artists or musicians didn't answer the questionnaire. 

Colin: The surveys helped inform our choices, but we also knew a lot about each participant as an individual as well, so we felt pretty confident that we made good matches.

Billie: Although it is still early in the process and production, how has 2015's Ten x Ten differed from past Ten x Tens?

Colin: This year is really building on the success we've had in facilitating genuine collaborations between the artists and musicians in the past. Last year we felt we were able to encourage equal input into the process by providing the 101 lecture at the start of the project. We've done that again with Graphic Notation 101, but have also raised the bar by asking both artists and musicians to be transparent in their process and asking that they both bring something to the table at a series of public workshops and performances. There has only been one performance so far, but we've already seen the participants move outside their comfort zones and equally bring something unique to a shared piece. Some highlights include instruments being used as mark-making tools, mark-making tools being used as instruments, and capturing the musician's movements through pinhole photography. I'm excited to see the works in progress at the upcoming show at Elastic. 

Billie: Have you had any breakthroughs or interesting moments with the various artists?

Paul: I think just seeing how each musician and artist pair responded to the direction we gave them has been extremely interesting - we tried to give directions that we're somewhat strict while we also left a lot of room for openness and creative exploration, and watching the process unfold in these really different and unpredictable ways, both between the musicians and the artists, and the musicians within they work the ensemble, has been very eye-opening for me as a improviser/composer.

Billie: Ten x Ten seems like the perfect fit for Elastic Arts--which produces both gallery shows for artists and hosts live music throughout the year. How does Ten x Ten fall in line with Elastic Arts' mission?

Paul: The mission of Elastic is to support and present innovative and non-commercial music and art across media, to encourage crossing boundaries and venturing into uncharted, or less charted, territory, and this project fits in really well. We're constantly trying to find points of connection between different disciplines, as a way to unify and pool resources and audiences among different communities and art forms that have a lot in common aesthetically and philosophically, but maybe not so much practically. Combining art and music in a meaningful way can be difficult! Yet it's an interesting challenge, and working with Aaron, Seth, Angee, and Colin, who are such talented programmers, has made it really worthwhile so far.

Billie: What can we expect to hear at the upcoming Recording Performance and on the final recording that will be released in September?

Paul: Because we're using the same ensemble for all 10 pieces, and the primary intent is use improvisation, I imagine and hope that the final recording will sound like a unified work with 10 different movements. And that it will be loose yet structured, with each musician's voice coming through as composers and improvisers, while giving the overall work a unified identity.

Billie: Do you have any goals or dreams for where Ten x Ten might go in the future?

Colin: Narrative folk tales/music with mandolins, wash-boards, and large-scale comics/maps... something completely different from this iteration.