An Electrifying Evening of Kindred Cultural Collaboration

Saul Williams and Mivos Quartet
Saul Williams and Mivos Quartet

by A. Scott Galloway

Are your thoughts simply an echo of how you feel?
Are your feelings as good as thoughts?
Can you distinguish between the two?

Imagine having your most profound existential musings and quiet introspections matched thought for thought by a string quartet… At Ford Theatres on September 6, as part of the provocative IGNITE @ the FORD! series, hip-hop poet Saul Williams will perform with neo-classical Mivos Quartet, a string ensemble devoted to performing works of contemporary composers and presenting new music to diverse audiences. The two will perform in the most intimate of settings, with the audience seated on the stage. The centerpiece of the concert will be a rare revisiting of Williams' acclaimed 2006 work NGH WHT (The Dead Emcee Scrolls: The Lost Teachings of Hip Hop), originally written for the Arditti Quartet with music by Swiss composer Thomas Kessler. Though the content of the text of Williams’ poetry for the remainder of the evening is under wraps, the process by which it was set to music is divulged here by Lauren Cauley Kalal. “In LA, we’ll be playing three pieces with Saul,” she explains. “For two of the works - Kessler’s NGH WHT and Ted Hearne’s The Answer to the Question that Wings Ask - the composers set existing texts of Saul’s to music. For Saul’s Coltan as Cotton, we worked with him to develop a structured improvisation to complement his text. We experimented with and decided on specific sound worlds, techniques, musical colors and, in some places, pitch sets. Each performance of this work is unique. Every performance, we are influenced by the energy on stage, making decisions in the moment and reacting to each other’s sounds and timing.”

The collaboration between the two began in 2014 in preparation for Ecstatic Music Festival at the Kaufmann Music Center in New York. Since then, the provocative pairing has performed together at Ear We Are Festival in Biel, Switzerland, Acht Brücken Festival in Cologne, Germany, Duke University, and at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C.

Begun in 2008 as prolific performers also heavily invested in education, workshops and the advancement of awareness of fresh music beyond the standard classical repertoire, Mivos Quartet has been hailed as “one of America’s most daring and ferocious new-music ensembles” by The Chicago Reader

Saul Williams, who has performed in over 30 countries with invitations spanning the Sydney Opera House to the Louvre, has previously collaborated with creatives that include ballerina Misty Copeland, rockers Nine Inch Nails and jazz composer Dave Murray, to name only a few. Williams says of his artistry: “I have worked at becoming more expressive, thoughtful, harmoniously balanced and courageous enough to live my life as a poem. My writings simply chronicle my journey and vision. They are the residue of the work that I’m doing on myself.”

Within the tumultuous times that America, and indeed the world, are facing as it pertains to concepts of tolerance, diversity and transparency, we are consistently reminded by the art world that people share more commonality than differences. We are surely stronger for sharing our cultures than keeping them apart. The mashup between Saul Williams and Mivos Quartet is a fiery reflection of what can be wrought when the best of two worlds are woven as one.  

“Working with Saul is one of the artistic highlights of my year,” violinist Kalal enthuses on behalf of herself and her quartet mates Olivia De Prato (violin), Victor Lowrie Tafoya (viola) and Mariel Roberts (cello). “The energy that he creates on stage is contagious. It’s impossible not to be deeply moved by the power of his words…and this power is always evolving. It’s an absolute honor to work with Saul. After every performance I leave inspired to create more meaningful art.”

This Saul Williams and Mivos Quartet performance takes place at the Ford on September 6. For tickets and more details, click here.