Composer, flutist, and CUBE cofounder Janice Misurell-Mitchell had a breakthrough in 1991 with After the History, a ten-minute solo for flute and voice that combines her radical politics and restless virtuosity. A provocative piece of agitprop inspired by the fall of the Berlin Wall, it updates the Schoenbergian speech-song to incorporate extended flute techniques like overblowing, tapping, and flutter tonguing. The text, written by a colleague, hums with the activist optimism of the 1960s, which is when Misurell-Mitchell’s political identity was forged; she believes apathy to be the arts’ worst enemy, and After the History echoes some of the century’s greatest voices of protest, from Brecht to the beat poets to hip-hop. Her subsequent compositions have shared this ambitious range, aggressively appropriating and transforming bits from non-Western music–Brazilian, west African, Arabian–and espousing “global village”-style communal ideals. The Gift of Tongues, her latest, is a collaboration with Catherine Slade, a professor at Columbia College who specializes in Afrocentric theater, and it takes its text from the description of the Tower of Babel in the Book of Genesis. Misurell-Mitchell’s talent for blurring the lines between speech, song, and instrumental music should help her evoke the story’s many languages: she’ll scat, croon into her flute, and break apart words, playing with their syllables to reconstruct the meaning of the text and thumb her nose at the Bible’s endorsement of patriarchy. Her piece is part of “Spirits and Shadows,” a program presented by CUBE (Composers United by Economics) and the MASS Ensemble (Movement and Sonic Sculpture). She’ll also play her flute in an excerpt from fellow CUBE founder Patricia Morehead’s opera in progress, Black Hawk Speaks, and in Capoeira, a marvelous mosaic of Afro-Brazilian rhythms by Luiz Anunciacao. Friday, 7:30 PM, Columbia College, 1014 S. Michigan; 312-554-1133. If you’re reading this on Thursday, January 21, you can catch a performance of the same program tonight at 7:30, also at Columbia College.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jon Randolph.