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Arts & Life

Composer Mikel Rouse

Life as an artist isn't always the most financially rewarding endeavor, but if you could quantify critical acclaim, Mikel Rouse would be among the nation's wealthiest.

By KCUR Online

Kansas City, MO –
Mikel Rouse's work has been called innovative and transformative since he first jumped into the New York art and music scene in the early 1980s.

"If being an innovator means you're broke most of the time, then yes, I would say I'm an innovator," said Rouse. "Certainly my approach of blending both different genres of music with media and performance would at least be considered unique."

On April 27, 2011, Rouse will receive the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance's Alumni Achievement Award.

In the early days, he led Broken Consort, a new-music ensemble, and Tirez Tirez, an alternative-rock group that once opened for Talking Heads. According to The New York Times, "(he) helped to pioneer what would now be deemed post-classical music more than three decades before the term was coined, fusing the sound, instrumentation and volume of rock with classical music's complexity and scale, and the repetition of Minimalism."

Most recently, the New York composer, performer and director opened "Gravity Radio" (YouTube), a staged song cycle which premiered at the Brooklyn Academy of Music Dec. 7. At about the same time, an exhibition of his notebooks, manuscripts and video art opened at the Margarete Roeder Gallery in SoHo.

The next day, he released two CDs, "Recess" and "Corner Loading (Volume 1)." Soon afterward, "Passport: 30 Years Drawn on the Road," another exhibition of his sketches and watercolors, opened at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. A film retrospective opened at the library Dec. 15, and Dec. 16, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater revived Ulysses Dove's "Vespers" set to Rouse's "Quorum."

In a recent profile in The New York Times, the paper further described Rouse:

He is best known for a trilogy of operas on popular culture and mass-media saturation: "Failing Kansas" (1994), based on the murders in Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood;" "Dennis Cleveland" (1995), inspired by television talk shows; and "The End of Cinematics" (1996), a dreamlike elegy for art-house film. Like those works, the 14 songs of "Gravity Radio," issued last year on Exit Music, have a pop-inspired directness and surface sheen that can disguise their contrapuntal and metrical intricacy. Interspersed among the songs are simulated news reports read by an actress, with lines borrowed seemingly at random from the song lyrics ? an effect paradoxically unifying and disorienting. Adapting the album for the stage, Mr. Rouse explained during a recent interview in his Times Square studio, partly had to do with economics.

In His Words:

"I was interested in a diverse approach to my education.? I never liked the idea of specialization.? At the time I attended the Conservatory, it was across the street from the Kansas City Art Institute, where I was studying film and painting.? Worlds apart and just across the street."

"I try to create an environment where audiences are co-collaborators.? It would never occur to me that an audience should respond a certain way or that music should be made a certain way."

"I wanted to create large works that utilized the formats available today, even if it was not yet common to use those formats in theater and live productions.? I was also interested in creating a visual language (a metric language) that corresponded to the multilevel approach in the music.? This visual language would act as a cue, or even a visual conductor to the music."

"I had been working on 'Dennis Cleveland' (talk show opera) for six months before it dawned on me that the piece wasn't about television; it was television.This approach, effectively breaking down the fourth wall completely, answered every question I had about the piece instantly. A way to break away from the stereotypical use of video in performance, to the use of television roll-overs as comments on opera subtitles.? A truly revolutionary staging.? I had a fairly respected career up to that point, writing both songs and chamber music, but DC opened up a whole new path.? A path that I've been on now for 15 years."

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