INTERVIEW WITH CHARLES RICHARD-HAMELIN

Montreal pianist Charles Richard-Hamelin (photo by Elizabeth Delage)

Montreal pianist Charles Richard-Hamelin (photo by Elizabeth Delage)

By Anita Malhotra

Acclaimed Montreal based classical pianist Charles Richard-Hamelin first made his mark on the international music scene in 2014 when he won second and third prizes respectively at the Montreal International Musical Competition and Seoul International Music Competition.

The cover of Charles Richard-Hamelin's most recent album

The cover of Charles Richard-Hamelin’s most recent album

The following year, his status as an important interpreter of Chopin was established when he was awarded the silver medal and Krystian Zimerman Prize at the 2015 International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw, one of the most prestigious piano competitions in the world. 

As a soloist, Richard-Hamelin has performed with major orchestras in Canada as well as with the Warsaw Philharmonic, Singapore Symphony Orchestra, Korean Symphony Orchestra and Orquesta Filarmónica de la UNAM (Mexico).

He has also toured Japan six times and has appeared in many prestigious festivals around the world. In addition, he has recorded eight solo, concerto and chamber music albums featuring the music of Chopin and other composers, four of which were nominated for Juno Awards. His latest album, released in early April by Analekta, features Chopin’s 24 Preludes and Andante spianato and the Grande polonaise brillante.

Anita Malhotra spoke with Richard-Hamelin, who was at his home in Montreal, by phone on April 14, 2021. 

AM: How did you go about preparing to record your most recent CD and why did you choose to record Chopin’s Preludes?

CRH: Since the competition, I’ve been learning a Chopin recital every season, especially because of my tours abroad. And usually when I play a certain program, I play it in concert over 50 times before recording it.

Charles Richard-Hamelin (photo by Elizabeth Delage)

Charles Richard-Hamelin (photo by Elizabeth Delage)

That was the plan, before the pandemic. I was about to play the Preludes as the second half of my recital program throughout 2020 and then record them in November and December.

That plan didn’t come to fruition, but we still held the recording dates. So instead of touring with the Preludes and gaining that experience on stage, I had time at home to work solo and in-depth.

That style of working brought me back to my student days, when you have a lot of time at the piano to study the score and recordings, and to seek help from people you trust. I think it was a good choice for these pieces, which need a very strong concept in order to work because they’re so short and condensed. From the very first note of each prelude you have to know exactly what you’re going for.

And why the Preludes? Basically, through the competition, I had the chance to record many CDs, many projects, with Analekta. My association with Chopin is pretty strong now, and I set a goal for myself a few years ago to play in concert and perhaps record the entire Chopin repertoire.

Slowly, but surely, I’ve been doing that, with the concertos and my very first CD, which had some of the late works, and now the Preludes. It’s a bit of a daunting task to work on the Preludes, especially since the discography is so big with those pieces. But at the same time, by now I have developed my vision, or a way of playing Chopin that’s my own, that I think remains true to what he wants. 

Daguerreotype image of Chopin from approximately 1849 by Louis-Auguste Bisson (public domain image from Wikipedia)

Daguerreotype image of Chopin from approximately 1849 by Louis-Auguste Bisson (public domain image from Wikipedia)

AM: Could you say a few words about the Preludes? 

CRH: What Chopin achieves is that you have the impression that these are very different pieces – very contrasting pieces. At the same time, you still feel by the time you get to the very last one that you’ve been through one story told in 24 different chapters. And some of the content is the most experimental Chopin gets. Like No. 16, which is like an etude, is really impressive and virtuosic. Or the “Raindrop” or No. 13 or 6 or 4 sound a bit more like his nocturnes.

But there are other ones like No. 14, 2 or 22, which are very violent and very dissonant and extreme. There’s something very disturbing about that music – jumping from one very tender moment to extreme violence in the next part. It’s a real trip through Chopin’s mind. And of course we know he wrote most of it in Mallorca on a very disastrous vacation with Georges Sand, with tuberculosis. And I think all of that is probably reflected in the music in some way. 

AM: What were your earliest memories of music?

CRH: I’m a musician thanks to my dad. My father was an amateur pianist. When I was four, he gave me my first piano lessons. We had a very bad upright piano at home and he clumsily tried to teach me a few things. I remember the first piece he taught me was the Bach Minuet in G. That’s fairly difficult for a first piece without learning how to read music. After two or three weeks I was able to play it with only 15 minutes of practice every day, so he thought that I had some potential.

Richard-Hamelin in 2019 holding 2 Félix awards he won that year (photo courtesy of Charles Richard-Hamelin)

Richard-Hamelin in 2019 holding 2 Félix awards he won that year (photo courtesy of Charles Richard-Hamelin)

My cousin was studying with a teacher in Joliette – Paul Surdulescu, who’s a Romanian immigrant – and my dad went to him. I met him and he became my only teacher from age five to 18, which is pretty rare. So I think I owe most of what I do and what I am as a musician to him. 

AM: How did you get to the level that you did so quickly?

CRH: I wouldn’t say it was quick, compared to today’s standards. When I was starting to be known it was because of the competition in Warsaw, but I was 26 at that point, and most people competing were about 19 or 20.

Poster for a 2017 event paying tribute to the piano teacher Paul Surdulescu

Poster for a 2017 event paying tribute to the piano teacher Paul Surdulescu

So I think the key to my version of success is patience and passion. I’ve always loved what I do. I never overworked myself when I was young, too. I had lots of time to play video games and have friends and waste time.  

Only when I was 16 or 17 did I start to practice more hours every day because the music I was playing was getting more difficult.

I owe my first teacher a lot because he always assigned me pieces that were just enough of a challenge so that I could learn things but I could also play them well. And I did small competitions really early on. I was lucky – in Quebec we had many small regional competitions, so that prepared me to do my first international competitions when I was 24. It was a very steady climb up. 

AM: As part of your studies, you did a Masters at Yale with the renowned Russian pianist Boris Berman. Did you ever consider staying in the US?

CRH: No. I had good fun there and the level was a lot stronger than what I had in Montreal, and that was good for me, but generally the US was a bit shocking when you’re from here. The differences of class and how poverty is everywhere, even in a prestigious school like Yale.

Richard-Hamelin performing in 2016 (photo courtesy of Charles Richard-Hamelin)

Richard-Hamelin performing in 2016 (photo courtesy of Charles Richard-Hamelin)

Before going to Yale, I was really comfortable in Montreal. Actually, it was more of a decision whether or not to live in Europe after the competition.

I could have chosen that route, but I’m a lot happier here. I’m very much a Québecois – very at home in my city in Montreal, with my girlfriend and my friends and everybody I know. I think it’s important in life to have a place you feel like it’s home.

AM: How did you go about preparing for the Chopin competition?

CRH: By 24, it was pretty late to start doing international competitions, but I felt ready and applied to a bunch of them and I got refused. So I gave up the really small ones. I went for bigger ones like the Montreal one and the Seoul one, and they accepted me and I went on to win prizes. And I think that gave me the courage to apply to such a big competition.

I was lucky in many ways because the Montreal competition that I won the year before gave me many recital opportunities throughout Quebec and Ontario, in series that were quite prestigious. I got to play Chopin recitals all through the summer before the actual competition and I played them in stressful environments.

By the time I went on stage in Warsaw, I had this advantage over younger kids who didn’t have that opportunity. And when I went there everything went like a dream. I was in Warsaw for a whole month and it was a really beautiful moment in my life. 

Richard-Hamelin on stage at the International Chopin Piano Competition in October 2015 (photo courtesy of Charles Richard-Hamelin)

Richard-Hamelin on stage at the International Chopin Piano Competition in October 2015 (photo courtesy of Charles Richard-Hamelin)

AM: What was the experience of competing there like?

CRH: The hardest thing was the first round, actually. You had to play etudes, which are the hardest thing, and you go on that stage for the very first time. It’s a big deal, with cameras everywhere. The first couple of minutes it’s all panic mode, but usually what I do is I wait for the first thing that goes wrong. It can be a slight mistake, but sometimes it feels huge. By that time usually I tell myself, “Well, okay, that’s it. I’m out of the contest.”

And then I just start having fun and I pretend that I’m out and might as well just enjoy myself in this beautiful acoustic and piano and music. There was something very humbling about playing this music on that stage in that city. I tried to make it about Chopin – the history of the city, of this composer, of this competition. It’s much bigger than me, and taking me out of the equation made it a lot easier. 

After my first round, the audience clapped for a minute and half when I was off stage, and that’s always a good sign. Then there were the reviews from journalists in Warsaw, and everybody was really positive about me. So with each further round I had more and more confidence, and that really helped for the finals, because the concerto I played was my first time playing it with a symphony orchestra.

So I really needed that courage and that innocence or naivete. If my future self had told me, “You know, if you win second prize you’ll get to travel the world and tour Japan many, many times,” I would have been unable to play a note. And I’ve lost that innocence now that I’ve played a lot and there are more expectations from me. 

AM: What were the highlights of your touring after the competition and what were some of the challenges?

CRH: One huge highlight was I got to replace Pollini in a recital in Prague in June 2016 for the Prague Spring Festival, which was an amazing concert. My tours in Japan are one of the things I treasure most. I’m very grateful that the competition gave me this opportunity to develop fans over there.

Posters promoting concerts in Japan given by Richard-Hamelin in 2018 (photo courtesy of Charles Richard-Hamelin)

Posters promoting concerts in Japan given by Richard-Hamelin in 2018 (photo courtesy of Charles Richard-Hamelin)

I’ve toured six times in total. I’ve also been there just for fun with a few friends. It’s a place I really love. I love everything about it – the food, the people, nature, the cities. One of the things I am really sad about the pandemic is I missed a tour last year, and this year as well, as I was supposed to go in June. But I’m really looking forward to going back there. 

The challenges were that early on, sometimes I would get offers that were impossible to refuse – prestigious things – but sometimes they were in the same week as other things I had agreed to.

Like one stretch of concerts, I remember, was hell. I had to play Brahms No. 1 with the Montreal Symphony in Quebec on a Friday. Saturday, I flew to Poland to do a full recital.

Richard-Hamelin autographing CDs in Poland in March 2016 (photo courtesy of Charles Richard-Hamelin)

Richard-Hamelin autographing CDs in Poland in March 2016 (photo courtesy of Charles Richard-Hamelin)

And then that night I slept maybe two hours and took two early flights to the south of France to play the Chopin No. 2 at noon and again in the evening for 2,000 people. So basically it was five days, three countries, two concertos, one recital and very little sleep, all of that being jet-lagged. That was a big ordeal and made me realize where my limits are. 

AM: How many hours do you practice every day?

CRH: I always say between 0 and 8. During the pandemic it’s been between 0 and 9 or 10, because early on I didn’t practice for weeks because I could, and you usually can’t allow yourself to do that.

Charles Richard-Hamelin (photo by Julien Faugere)

Charles Richard-Hamelin (photo by Julien Faugere)

And then sometimes there’s a new piece I want to learn, and because of my obsession and because we were in lockdown I would basically do three hours, lunch, four hours, dinner, and then another three hours.

It was possible to just work all day like that. I think the key here is to practice well – being very concentrated and turning the phone off and really being in the moment, and practicing not just fast and mindlessly, but really aiming at the problem and being smart about it. 

AM: You mentioned in one of your interviews that you were interested in cinema. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?

CRH: When I was 16 or 17 I was not a movie buff at all but I saw Taxi Driver, the Scorcese movie with De Niro, and that blew my mind. It just really hit me at that point. I was kind of a lonely teen as well. It made me realize a bunch of things I never considered when you watch a movie, like editing and scoring. So it made me go deep into the filmography of the people involved in it.

Charles Richard-Hamelin (photo by Elizabeth Delage)

Charles Richard-Hamelin (photo by Elizabeth Delage)

And one film at a time I discovered a lot of things after that, like a snowball effect. Lately I’ve been watching Mike Leigh movies from British cinema and those have been really inspiring for me. So I guess it’s another passion of mine, and it’s a passion that works well with my lifestyle. There’s a lot of downtime when you travel so I can pass the time watching movies on my laptop and in the airplane or hotel rooms. 

AM: What are some of your upcoming projects?

CRH: There are more recordings coming up – more planned projects with Analekta that I can’t really talk about, but are exciting to me.

These days it’s so hard to announce anything for live concerts. One thing that was really sad for my own life in the pandemic was that I was supposed to have my debut in London at Wigmore Hall in July. That was cancelled, of course, like everything else in those days.

So I hope that after I get fully vaccinated and we are past the worst of this period, I will have that chance again. So that’s my big hope for 2022 – that and going back to Japan. And more concerts in front of people. I did two of them in late March with Andrew Wan and it was so fun to play for people again.

And starting again in late May I have five dates in Montreal and some in Quebec City, and hopefully many festivals have dates in the fall in Europe, which almost all the time, if I do recitals, I will include the Preludes.

For more information about Charles Richard-Hamelin and his work, please visit charlesrichardhamelin.com or analekta.com.

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INTERVIEW WITH DANI KRISTINA

Singer-songwriter Dani Kristina (photo courtesy of Dani Kristina)

Singer-songwriter Dani Kristina (photo courtesy of Dani Kristina)

By Anita Malhotra

Twenty-year-old Toronto-based singer-songwriter Dani Kristina wrote her first composition when she was only five years old, her first break-up song when she was six, and since then has written more than 600 songs in a variety of genres and released several music videos.  

In October, she released her first EP, Aura, which features her soulful and powerful voice in five evocative songs chronicling her inner conflicts and journey as an artist. The EP was co-produced by Grammy nominated producer Trevor James Anderson, who also produced her 2019 debut single, “I Wanna Belong.”  

Anita Malhotra spoke with Dani Kristina about her music via Zoom on December 21, 2020.  

AM: How did you get started in music? 

DK: I started playing piano and writing music at the age of five because my sister started taking piano lessons and I always looked up to her. And just as I started, there was this competition for compositions in my music school. I ended up writing my first composition at five and winning the competition, which was really good for my self-esteem.   Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH CHRIS JORDAN

Photographer and filmmaker Chris Jordan on Midway Atoll, where he documented the effect of plastic waste on albatrosses in a photo series and a film (photo courtesy of Chris Jordan)

Photographer and filmmaker Chris Jordan on Midway Atoll, where he documented the effect of plastic waste on albatrosses in a photo series and a film (photo courtesy of Chris Jordan)

Seattle-based photographer and filmmaker Chris Jordan’s works are infused with a passion for highlighting environmental and social issues as well as a desire to convey the beauty of the natural world.

Several of his photo series document mass consumption and consumerism, including Intolerable Beauty (2003-2005), which draws attention to industrial waste in America’s shipping ports and industrial yards, and Running the Numbers, two series of photographic mosaics that cleverly transform sobering statistics into visual representations.

"Cans Seurat" (2007) by Chris Jordan, depicting 106,000 aluminum cans - the number used in the US every 30 seconds (photo courtesy of Chris Jordan)

“Cans Seurat” (2007) by Chris Jordan, depicting 106,000 aluminum cans – the number used in the US every 30 seconds (photo courtesy of Chris Jordan)

Jordan’s desire to portray the effects of plastic waste on the environment led to his series Midway: Message from the Gyre (2009-2013), which starkly documents the impact of plastic waste on albatross chicks. Building on this theme, he went on to make the stunning poetic documentary Albatross (2017), which depicts the beauty of these birds and their life cycle as well as the tragedy that befalls their progeny.

A photo from Chris Jordan's 2011 series "Ushirikiano" depicting a Borana toddler in front of his home in Gotu Village, Kenya (photo courtesy of Chris Jordan)

A photo from Chris Jordan’s 2011 series “Ushirikiano” depicting a Borana toddler in front of his home in Gotu Village, Kenya (photo courtesy of Chris Jordan)

A recipient of the 2011 Prix Pictet (a global award in photography and sustainability), Jordan has exhibited all over the world and has given several TED and TEDx talks. His film Albatross has been viewed over a million times.

Anita Malhotra interviewed Jordan, who was in  remote area of southern Chile making a documentary on lithium mining, on July 15, 2020 via Zoom.

AM: Can you tell me about your early photographs?

CJ: My early work was all done under the influence and teachings of my dad, who was a photo historian. His interest in photography was in formalism: beauty for the sake of beauty. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH ALAN COURTIS

Argentine musician and sound artist Alan Courtis (photo courtesy of Alan Courtis)

Argentine musician and sound artist Alan Courtis (photo courtesy of Alan Courtis)

By Anita Malhotra

The work of Argentine musician and sound artist Alan Courtis (also known as Anla Courtis) is all about expanding musical, artistic and social boundaries.

With a background in teaching music to people with disabilities as well as a communications degree, he co-founded and plays guitar in the groundbreaking experimental band Reynols, which integrated a former student with Down’s Syndrome as its drummer and singer.

Courtis has composed a wealth of electric and acoustic experimental music and has also collaborated in live improvisations across a wide variety of genres and media with musicians all over the world.

Still from Alan Courtis' 2009 live internet collaboration with Pauline Oliveros (photo courtesy of Alan Courtis)

Still from Alan Courtis’ 2009 live internet collaboration with Pauline Oliveros (photo courtesy of Alan Courtis)

He has released over 300 recordings, many of them in non-digital format, and some of them collectors’ items. He also teaches at several universities and music schools in Buenos Aires.

Courtis’ latest release is Telematic Concert, a live internet collaboration from 2009 with the renowned American experimental composer Pauline Oliveros, whose written work he has also translated.

Anita Malhotra spoke with Alan Courtis, who was at his home in Buenos Aires, by Zoom on June 5, 2020.

AM: What are your earliest memories of music or sound?

AC: I’ve always been curious about sound and music. My brother, who’s a little bit older than me, brought home a lot of music My parents were more into classical music and some Argentinian folklore, but later my brother was also into rock, jazz, soundtracks, contemporary, electronic, field recordings, etcetera, so I heard quite a wide range of musical styles.

Alan Courtis as a child in 1974 (photo courtesy of Alan Courtis)

Alan Courtis as a child in 1974 (photo courtesy of Alan Courtis)

AM: Were there any musicians in your family?

AC: My father played a little bit of Argentinian folklore on the guitar, but he was a doctor – a cardiologist. My grandfather came from the Czech Republic and he was a piano player and also played violin and viola. In the Czech Republic, music is very important.

AM: You had some formal musical training in Western music. Could you tell me a bit about that?

AC: I studied classical guitar and piano as well as theory and composition. At the same time, I was playing rock, improvising, and doing experimental stuff in the late ’80s and early ’90s, so I was doing a little bit of everything. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH MARK KURLANSKY

Bestselling American author Mark Kurlansky (photo provided by GL Portrait / Alamy Stock Photo)

Bestselling American author Mark Kurlansky (photo provided by GL Portrait / Alamy Stock Photo)

By Anita Malhotra

Acclaimed New York Times bestselling writer Mark Kurlansky is best known for his meticulously researched and entertaining histories on topics that may at first seem mundane but become springboards for fascinating journeys through time and across continents.

Kurlansky has written extensively about food (including cod, milk, salt, oysters and salmon), as well as places (Havana, the Caribbean), peoples (Basques, Jews), cultural moments (1968), ideas (nonviolence), and more.

Starting his career as a playwright, he became a foreign correspondent in the mid-’70s, writing for several major American newspapers while based in Paris and then Mexico. He began writing non-fiction books in the early ’90s, achieving his first major success with Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World (1997), which was both a New York Times and international bestseller.

Kurlansky's 2020 book "Salmon: A Fish, the Earth, and the History of Their Common Fate"

Kurlansky’s 2020 book “Salmon: A Fish, the Earth, and the History of Their Common Fate”

Kurlansky has written 33 non-fiction, fiction and children’s books, including four more international bestsellers: Salt,1968Food of a Younger Land and The Basque History of the World. His latest book, Salmon: A Fish, the Earth, and the History of Their Common Fate, was published in March by Patagonia.

Anita Malhotra spoke with Mark Kurlansky, who was at his office in New York City, by phone on April 28, 2020.

AM: Salmon is your 33rd book, and you’ve written about fish several times before. Why did you choose salmon as a topic this time?

MK: In 1997, I wrote a book about cod at a time when the northern stocks on the Canadian Grand Banks had collapsed and people for the first time were thinking about issues of overfishing and fishery management. Actually, when I was a commercial fisherman in the 1960s it was all fishermen ever talked about, but now the general public was becoming aware of it. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH ZHOU BING

Chinese documentary filmmaker Zhou Bing (photo courtesy of Zhou Bing)

Chinese documentary filmmaker Zhou Bing (photo courtesy of Zhou Bing)

By Anita Malhotra

Renowned Chinese documentary filmmaker Zhou Bing has directed and produced over 100 documentaries, many of them on historical and cultural topics.

After completing a PhD in art history at Nankai University, he worked for CCTV (China Central Television) for 20 years. In 2014, he launched his own company, Sun Media International, which has offices in Hong Kong, Beijing and Los Angeles.

Zhou Bing’s award-winning productions include Dunhuang, Forbidden City, When the Louvre Meets the Forbidden City, The Bund, A Century with Cars, South of the Ocean, Millennium Bodhi Road and Snow Leopard.

They have been broadcast on CCTV as well as internationally on National Geographic, History, Sky TV, NDR Fernsehen, ARTE and elsewhere.

Protestors in Zhou Bing's 2020 documentary "Hong Kong Moments" (photo courtesy of Hot Docs Festival and Zhou Bing)

Protestors in Zhou Bing’s 2020 documentary “Hong Kong Moments” (photo courtesy of Hot Docs Festival and Zhou Bing)

His most recent film, Hong Kong Moments, follows seven Hong Kong residents (a front-line protestor, police officer, volunteer paramedic, taxi driver, tea-house owner, and two candidates in local elections) during the protests that took place in Hong Kong in 2019.

The film is being shown via digital streaming at the 2020 Hot Docs Festival Online until June 24.

Anita Malhotra spoke with Zhou Bing, who was in Los Angeles, on May 29, 2020 via Zoom and with translation by Executive Producer Ricky Choy.

AM: Why did you decide to make a film about the Hong Kong protests?

ZB: I am a new immigrant to Hong Kong but I love Hong Kong, and have always wanted to make a documentary about Hong Kong. Three or four years ago I had the idea to make a documentary with people from different backgrounds to show their life in Hong Kong – their dreams and hopes. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH MANFRED BAUMANN

Austrian photographer Manfred Baumann (photo courtesy of Manfred Baumann)

Austrian photographer Manfred Baumann (photo courtesy of Manfred Baumann)

By Anita Malhotra

The photos of Austrian photographer Manfred Baumann have a kaleidoscopic range from portraits of glamorous models and international celebrities to hard-hitting portraits of those at the margins of society; from animal and landscape photos to street photographs.

Actress Madeline Zima (photo by Manfred Baumann)

Actress Madeline Zima (photo by Manfred Baumann)

Beginning his career photographing models for books and calendars, he segued into celebrity photography, doing portraits of a long list of celebrities that includes Sir Roger Moore, Tony Curtis, Kirk Douglas, Angelina Jolie, Lionel Richie and Natalie Portman, among others.

A desire to shine a light on unconventional subjects led to some ground-breaking projects, including Alive, featuring portraits of the homeless; End of Line, a photo essay on the last journey of death row prisoners in Texas; and Special, about developmentally disabled people.

An animal lover, Baumann is an Honorary Ambassador for Jane Goodall and an ambassador for PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals).

"Mustangs" (photo by Manfred Baumann)

“Mustangs” (photo by Manfred Baumann)

Baumann is also a frequent collaborator with National Geographic and an official Leica photographer.

Anita Malhotra interviewed Manfred Baumann, who had just returned to Vienna on the last flight from Los Angeles during the Covid-19 pandemic, by Skype on March 26, 2020.

Manfred Baumann posing with actor Danny Trejo (photo by Manfred Baumann)

Manfred Baumann posing with actor Danny Trejo (photo by Manfred Baumann)

AM: When did you first get interested in photography? 

MB: I got my first camera when I was 10 years old from my grandfather – I think it was Christmas. My grandfather was a photographer and I was always looking at his pictures and was interested in his camera. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH NASCA UNO

Nasca Uno in front of the mural he created for the 2019 Berlin Lollapalooza music festival (photo by Anita Malhotra, Sept. 7, 2019)

Nasca Uno in front of the mural he created for the 2019 Berlin Lollapalooza music festival (photo by Anita Malhotra, Sept. 7, 2019)

By Anita Malhotra

27-year-old muralist, painter and illustrator Nasca Uno (alias Armin E. Mendocilla) is best known for his lush, colourful murals featuring striking imagery of indigenous people and ethno-political topics from around the world.

A tribute (untitled) by Nasca Uno to the indigenous Andean people of Latin America (photo courtesy of Nasca Uno)

A tribute (untitled) by Nasca Uno to the indigenous Andean people of Latin America (photo courtesy of Nasca Uno)

Based in Berlin, he began developing his craft when he was a child, doing street graffiti and later murals in his hometown of Munich. His distinctive style is influenced by American and Japanese comic strips and by his Peruvian heritage (his mother is Peruvian).

Nasca Uno’s work is often commissioned and has appeared all over Europe as well as in Peru, Cuba, the Philippines, Morocco, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia and Indonesia, among others.

Last year, he was invited along with several other artists to create a mural for an art wall at the 2019 Lollapalooza Berlin festival.  Anita Malhotra spoke with him on Sept. 7, 2019.

Nasca Uno working on his mural for Lollapalooza Berlin on Sept. 7, 2019 (photo by Anita Malhotra)

Nasca Uno working on his mural for Lollapalooza Berlin on Sept. 7, 2019 (photo by Anita Malhotra)

AM: How did this project at Lollapalooza Berlin come about?

NU: I got a request two months ago from an agency that was collaborating with SEAT, the festival’s official partner, and they asked me to do a mural painting for the festival. The festival is about music and people, and we were asked to interpret those elements visually. We were supported by the Spanish spray paint brand Montana Colors, and I painted alongside some very cool artists. In the end it was a beautiful project and I had fun working on that mural. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH CHRISTOPHER BAUDER

Light artist Christopher Bauder and DEEP WEB (photo by Ralph Larmann)

Light artist Christopher Bauder and DEEP WEB (photo by Ralph Larmann)

By Anita Malhotra

German artist and designer Christopher Bauder has married his love of light with technology he invented to create large-scale, otherworldly installations and performances that combine kinetic light with electronic music.

SKALAR, by Christopher Bauder and Kangding Ray, at Kraftwerk Berlin in 2018 (photo by Ralph Larmann)

SKALAR, by Christopher Bauder and Kangding Ray, at Kraftwerk Berlin in 2018 (photo by Ralph Larmann)

Among his award-winning works are SKALAR (2018), a large-scale installation created with musician and DJ Kangding Ray; DEEP WEB (2016), a monumental installation and live performance done in collaboration with electronic musician Robert Henke; and LICHTGRENZE, created in 2014 with his brother Marc, a filmmaker, for the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Bauder’s installations and live performances have been presented in Germany and around the world, including at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum of Design in Zurich, MUTEK festival in Montreal and Mexico City, and numerous other venues and festivals.

An audience experiencing SKALAR at the CTM Festival in Berlin in 2018 (photo by Ralph Larmann)

An audience experiencing SKALAR at the CTM Festival in Berlin in 2018 (photo by Ralph Larmann)

He is also the founder of the companies WHITEvoid, the design agency that produces his shows, and KINETIC LIGHTS, which manufacturers and distributes the light systems used in them.

Anita Malhotra spoke with Christopher Bauder at his office in Berlin on Sept. 10, 2019.

Christopher Bauder at his office in Berlin on Sept. 10, 2019 (photo by Anita Malhotra)

Christopher Bauder at his office in Berlin on Sept. 10, 2019 (photo by Anita Malhotra)

AM: When did you first get interested in light?

CB: I was basically always interested in light. Even as a kid I started collecting candles and lighters and matchers in a drawer under my bed. I was three or four when my mom caught me collecting them.

I was fascinated with all kinds of light and that’s what I could get my hands on. Later, I started experimenting with light bulbs – with my own fixtures, desk lamps and table lamps. Then I got to know LED and other technologies, and it basically developed from there. It was a continuing love that I have been sharing until today.

AM: What is the fascination about?

CB: It’s the materiality of the light itself. I’m very interested in the output of the light. For example, a laser has a very iridescent, otherworldly, alien kind of look to it. You think you can touch it because it looks so real, but it’s not really there. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH JEFTA VAN DINTHER

Choreographer and dancer Jefta van Dinther (photo by Nina Andersson)

Choreographer and dancer Jefta van Dinther (photo by Nina Andersson)

By Anita Malhotra

Dutch-Swedish choreographer Jefta van Dinther’s work is driven by his explorations of the physicality of the moving human body as it interacts with light, sound and materials, and the sensory affect of these explorations on the audience.

A graduate of the Amsterdam School of the Arts, van Dinther was a dancer before becoming a choreographer in 2008. Since then he has choreographed 10 works, four of which are currently touring in Europe: Plateau Effect (2013), Protagonist (2016), Dark Field Analysis (2017) and The Quiet (2019). 

A still from Jefta van Dinther's "Plateau Effect" (photo by Jubal Battisti)

A still from Jefta van Dinther’s “Plateau Effect” (photo by Jubal Battisti)

Based in Berlin but with close working ties to Stockholm, van Dinther has received numerous grants and awards, including the Swedish Theater Critics’ Dance Award for Plateau Effect.

Anita Malhotra spoke with Jefta van Dinther in Berlin on Sept. 5, the day before Plateau Effect received its Berlin premiere by the city’s prestigious Staatsballett.  

Jefta van Dinther on Sept. 5, 2019 at the Relish Restaurant in Berlin following his interview with Artsmania (photo by Anita Malhotra)

Jefta van Dinther on Sept. 5, 2019 at the Relish Restaurant in Berlin following his interview with Artsmania (photo by Anita Malhotra)

AM: When did you first become interested in dance?

JvD: My interest in dance as an art form started when I was 17, when I was brought to a studio by chance by a friend in Stockholm. It was an open class – a jazz class – to see if you wanted to start one of those evening hobby courses.

The teacher was so enthusiastic about me that he immediately pushed me to start dancing four times a week. I had danced before, but that was the turning point for me becoming really serious about it.

The reason I became serious about it was that I was in Gymnasium – senior secondary school – in Sweden and I was on a track of becoming an academic. I was very good at everything at school, and it came easily to me. I found that dancing was the only thing that I really had to work hard to achieve. It felt like getting your hands dirty – in a very complete sense. So from one day to the next, I decided to join that program. And a year and a half later, I did an audition for a dance academy. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH DIANA SCHNIEDERMEIER (INTERACTIVE MEDIA FOUNDATION)

Diana Schniedermeier of the Berlin-based Interactive Media Foundation (© Interactive Media Foundation)

Diana Schniedermeier of the Berlin-based Interactive Media Foundation (© Interactive Media Foundation)

By Anita Malhotra

Diana Schniedermeier is a Managing Director and Executive Producer at the Interactive Media Foundation, an award-winning, non-profit company based in Berlin that produces culturally and socially relevant productions in a variety of media.

Their innovative projects include Inside Tumucumaque, a breathtaking VR installation that allows participants to “see” from the perspective of five animals in the Amazon rainforest; Baukraft, a Minecraft contest aimed at improving social conditions in an overcrowded Berlin neighbourhood; and Das Totale Tanz Theater, a stunning VR installation inspired by Bauhaus concepts in which the participant interacts with hundreds of digital dancers on a multi-story virtual stage.

Anita Malhotra spoke with Diana Schniedermeier on September 9, 2019 about the Interactive Media Foundation’s work at its office in Berlin.

AM: Can you tell me a bit about the Interactive Media Foundation?

Diana Schniedermeier at her Interactive Media Foundation office in Berlin (photo by Anita Malhotra)

Diana Schniedermeier at her Interactive Media Foundation office in Berlin (photo by Anita Malhotra)

DS: The Interactive Media Foundation started in 2013 and we are a team of experts from digital media, from narrative, from film, from games, and what we are trying to do is find expressions for topics that are relevant to society. These might be cultural topics, ecological topics, or health topics, for example.

When we start to research a topic that is interesting to us, we always have two questions: to whom do we want to communicate, and how do we have to communicate it so that it reaches people intellectually and emotionally? And so we have done graphic novels, motion graphic novels, games, and have been doing VR for a few years.

Then we look for partners: technological partners, partners for distribution, for financing, because we are a small company. Our main role is thinking about the topics, how to convey them, and who to work with. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH PATRICK WATSON

Montreal musician Patrick Watson (photo by Patrick Gouin)

Montreal musician Patrick Watson (photo by Patrick Gouin)

By Anita Malhotra

It’s hard to imagine a more authentic, sincere musical voice than that of Montreal singer-songwriter Patrick Watson (also the name of his band), who will release his sixth studio album this fall.

Audiences connect with him on a highly personal level, as shown by the heartfelt comments left on his YouTube videos by fans and the warmth of audiences at his live shows.

Watson’s musical approach was influenced by growing up in the small Quebec town of Hudson, where he sang in local church choirs.

After studying music at Vanier College, he toured as himself and as a band with such artists as James Brown, John Cale, Philip Glass, The Cinematic Orchestra, Amon Tobin and Feist. He and his band have also toured extensively internationally in their own right.

Patrick Watson's second album, Close To Paradise, won the 2007 Polaris Music Prize (photo courtesy of Patrick Watson)

Patrick Watson’s second album, Close To Paradise, won the 2007 Polaris Music Prize (photo courtesy of Patrick Watson)

Releasing his first album in 2003, Watson won the Polaris Music Prize in 2007 for his second album, Close to Paradise, and went on to release Wooden Arms (2009), Adventures in Your Own Backyard (2012) and Love Songs for Robots (2015).

Several of his songs have been featured in movies as well as in TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy, The Walking Dead, and Orange is the New Black.

Watson is also a soundtrack composer and recently created the sound and music for Gymnasia, a haunting virtual reality piece co-produced by the National Film Board and Felix & Paul Studios, and directed by animators Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski (aka Clyde Henry Productions).

Anita Malhotra spoke with Patrick Watson by phone on June 11, 2019 about his work on Gymnasia, his approach to music and his current projects.

AM: How did you get involved with doing the music and sound for Gymnasia?

PW: Chris and Maciek work for Clyde Henry Productions and I usually do all the music for their films. We got involved in VR because Felix & Paul Studios had asked Chris and Maciek to test out a camera of theirs – to do a little short.

We did this very humble video of me playing in my studio. In the initial test they noticed that a certain type of simplicity was really crucial. The whole thing is meant to feel like you’re sitting there, and at one point I look at you. If it’s done well, the effect of being alone with someone in VR is a strange experience, even before you start adding any kind of fancy stuff. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH SANDRA BEASLEY

Washington, D.C. poet Sandra Beasley (photo by Milly West)

Washington, D.C. poet Sandra Beasley (photo by Milly West)

By Anita Malhotra

Sandra Beasley’s poetry is striking, surprising, clever and funny – and often inspires the reader to learn more.

Based in Washington, D.C., Beasley is the author of three poetry collections – Theories of Falling (2008), I Was the Jukebox (2010) and Count the Waves (2015).

Her poetry has been published in dozens of magazines and journals, including Poetry, Black Warrior Review, Ploughshares, The Gettysburg Review, Blackbird and Oxford American and she has won numerous awards, most notably the New Issues Poetry Prize and the Barnard Women Poets Prize. 

In spring 2019, she held the John Montague International Poetry Fellowship sponsored by Ireland’s Munster Literature Centre and University College Cork. 

Beasley, who holds an MFA in creative writing from American University, is also a non-fiction author and book editor.

Beasley's 2015 book of poems, "Count the Waves" (photo courtesy of Sandra Beasley)

Beasley’s 2015 book of poems, “Count the Waves” (photo courtesy of Sandra Beasley)

Her memoir Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life was released in 2011, and she is the editor of Vinegar and CharVerse from the Southern Foodways Alliance (2018), an anthology of poems about Southern food. She is an Adjunct Professor at the University of Tampa’s low-residency MFA program.

Anita Malhotra spoke with Beasley, who was at her home in Washington, D.C., on May 20, 2019.

AM: What are your earliest memories of being drawn to the written word?

SB: Probably the simple request to be excused from dinner early at my grandmother’s house.

I would usually beg to get away from the adult conversation and they’d send me downstairs. And downstairs usually meant picking up one of the books, or one of the Reader’s Digests off the table, and reading.

Sandra Beasley as a young girl celebrating her birthday (photo courtesy of Sandra Beasley)

Sandra Beasley as a young girl celebrating her birthday (photo courtesy of Sandra Beasley)

For many years my favorite first poet was Emily Dickinson, in part because there was a brown softcover reader of Emily Dickinson’s poems – I think it was one of my uncle’s college textbooks. That was the first one I would go to when I got away from the dinner table. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH ALISON SNOWDEN AND DAVID FINE

David Fine and Alison Snowden at their Vancouver home (photo © Chad Galloway)

David Fine and Alison Snowden at their Vancouver home (photo © Chad Galloway)

By Anita Malhotra

Vancouver-based animators, directors and writers Alison Snowden and David Fine received some very good news recently – an Oscar nomination for their most recent animated short film, Animal Behaviour.

The film, produced and distributed by the National Film Board of Canada, is a humorous look at what happens when a new animal joins a canine-led therapy session for five animals (a leech, praying mantis, pig, cat and bird), who are struggling with their natural instincts.

Still from "Animal Behaviour" by Alison Snowden and David Fine (photo courtesy of the National Film Board of Canada)

Still from “Animal Behaviour” by Alison Snowden and David Fine (photo courtesy of the National Film Board of Canada)

Snowden and Fine, a husband-and-wife team, have been working together since they met in the early ‘80s at England’s National Film and Television School.

Their films include the Oscar-winning short animation Bob’s Birthday (1994) and the Oscar-nominated shorts Second Class Mail and George and Rosemary.

Alison Snowden and David Fine at the National Film Board studio in Vancouver (photo by Katja De Bock)

Alison Snowden and David Fine at the National Film Board studio in Vancouver (photo by Katja De Bock)

They also created the animated TV series Bob and Margaret (1998-2001), for which they served as executive producers, writers, and in Snowden’s case, voice actor. Other TV series they created were Ricky Sprocket: Showbiz Boy and Shaun the Sheep.

Anita Malhotra spoke to Snowden and Fine, who were at their Vancouver home, by phone on Feb. 8, 2019, two weeks before Oscar night on Feb. 24, 2019.

AM: Congratulations on your Oscar nomination and the other awards you’ve won so far for Animal Behaviour. I understand you’ve just come back from Los Angeles. What were you doing there?

AS: They have a luncheon for the Oscar nominees. It’s a more relaxed atmosphere and they take a big group photo of this year’s nominees, and it was really lovely. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH CAMILLE SEAMAN

Self-portrait by photographer Camille Seaman (© Camille Seaman)

Self-portrait by photographer Camille Seaman (© Camille Seaman)

By Anita Malhotra

Photographer Camille Seaman is best known for her stunning photos of polar ice and habitats as well as for her dramatic photographs taken while storm-chasing. Her unique style is informed by her Native American heritage and its emphasis on connection with and respect for nature.

A TED Senior Fellow since 2011 and a frequent public speaker, Seaman has received several awards, including a 2006 National Geographic Award and a 2014 John S. Knight Journalism Fellowship at Stanford University.

Three books of her work have been published, and her photos have appeared in National Geographic Magazine, The New York Times, Newsweek and Time Magazine, among others. 

Seaman recently moved from California to Ireland, where she is working on her first novel. Anita Malhotra spoke with her by phone on Dec. 3, 2018, a few days before she left for Antarctica on her latest photographic project.

The Last Iceberg Series III: Blue Underside Revealed II, Svalbard, July 5, 2010 (photo © Camille Seaman)

The Last Iceberg Series III: Blue Underside Revealed II, Svalbard, July 5, 2010 (photo © Camille Seaman)

AM: Can you tell me a bit about where you grew up and your childhood?

CS: I grew up on Long Island. My family on my father’s side are indigenous to Long Island. We’ve been there for thousands of years – part of the Shinnecock tribe. And my mother is black and Italian, so she came from New York City out to the island and met my dad and they got married. Continue reading

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