Who, among devotees of the New York contemporary music scene, doesn’t know Andie Tanning Springer? Over the past decade, the Alaska native and Brooklyn resident has established herself as an indefatigable MVP in an expansive network of musical adventurers, playing as a core member or a hired gun in far too many ensembles and settings for her to number. The violinist is probably best-known as a member of groups like Hotel Elefant, Transit, Red Shift (which she founded), and James and Andie (with guitarist James Moore); for her work in the experimental-theater outfit New York City Players; and as the moving force behind her home state music festival, Wild Shore New Music.
She’s so busy, it’s no wonder it took this long for the performer to conjure up her debut solo recording: a “visual album” (à la Beyoncé) that in many ways tracks her pilgrim’s progress through Gotham’s musical wonderland of colorful, gifted personalities and innovators. The stylistically diverse Dandelion is not only a scrapbook of Springer’s experiences and influences, but also an open and always surprising collaboration with composers and video artists whose spirits are illuminated through the violinist’s intrepid musicianship and exploratory nature. Whether digging into the violin’s raw emotional power, as she does on the title piece, or playfully detonating the Top 40 in collaboration with her late friend, composer Matt Marks, Springer lets her talent erupt in a multitude of modes, including vocals and spoken text—evidence of her ongoing immersion in avant-garde theatrical performance.
But what sounds like a perfectly coherent, wholly realized concept album turns out to be more like a patchwork quilt, stitched together scrap by scrap, over many years, until the seams fade into the vivid hues of fabric. National Sawdust Log spoke with Springer about Dandelion in advance of a release party scheduled for Dec. 8 at Cloud City in Williamsburg. The video version of the album will stream from her website (andiespringer.com) starting that same day, with an audio-only version available to purchase via Bandcamp.
NATIONAL SAWDUST LOG: It was surprising to learn that your album has been in the works for a few years. Tell me a little bit about its origins, which seem to parallel your own journey into the New York contemporary music scene.
ANDIE SPRINGER: I met [composer] Mary Kouyoumdjian about a million years ago. We started working together through an early version of an ensemble she was running, and we just really hit it off personally and artistically. This is the first time I had worked with a composer specifically on a piece for me. I was really new to New York and getting into the new-music scene, and that is not where I had seen myself going—when I was an undergrad, especially.
We started talking about how to make sense of my life as a violinist, coming from the Suzuki violin world in Fairbanks, Alaska, and here I was in New York City playing all this crazy stuff… trying to reconcile that path. She and I started talking about it, and we created “Dandelion.” All of the source material for all of the electronic sound, it all comes from all of the video recordings of all of my recitals from when I was a kid. My dad recorded all the recitals I had ever done, from like six to eighteen. He sent me all of them home videos of my whole life. That was a wild ride, watching all those videos in the span of two weeks. We made this piece. I was really happy with it. The video was not originally going to be part of the piece, but now it seems inextricable, it’s so beautiful.
How did you first land in New York?
I did undergrad at Carnegie-Mellon. I worked with Andrés Cárdenes, concertmaster of the Pittsburgh Symphony. I really loved working with him; however, all I knew, going into college, was the idea of getting an orchestra job. I didn’t know anything else to do with violin, other than be a soloist or chamber musician… and I’m not the kind of person to become a soloist in the classical sense. I thought, OK, maybe I’ll do chamber music or be in an orchestra. But over the four years of my undergrad, it was a slow realization that that was not for me. I was starting to feel I needed more ownership over my music. Also, I’m very social and I knew I could never stay in a practice room practicing orchestral excerpts forever. But I didn’t know what else to do, so i left undergrad in this crisis.
I had some auditions for grad school that I didn’t go to. I thought, if I don’t know what I want to do, where do I want to be? And the answer was New York. I had family here. And I thought, I’ll live in New York while I’m young. Twelve years later, I’m not young anymore.
So I ended up going to NYU. I thought I’d try everything I possibly can. Through my advisor, I met Todd Reynolds, and started working as his assistant. [In 2007], Todd introduced me to Bang on a Can Summer Music Institute. It totally changed my life. I didn’t even know that world existed. I felt like I found my home, musically speaking. It welcomed me into a network of musicians who I started working with. I founded two ensembles, Transit and Red Shift, and I met [guitarist] James Moore, who was totally life changing. He’s a very important person in my artistic life here. It snowballed from there.
Whenever I’ve watched you play, I tend to just enjoy the performance and the music so much I don’t really think about the technical aspects – which I think is how it should be – but some of these pieces really serve as a platform for your ferocity as a player. Is that element something you deeply wanted to express here?
The composers were able to work with my style of playing and my strengths and they had those details in mind as they were writing. I do think I have a strong technical background because of my classical training, and my work in experimental theater has pushed me and totally expanded my skill set. That being said, I’m not who you’re going to hire to play a Tchaikovsky concerto with an orchestra. I don’t have those sorts of skills. I’m not going to be the most refined person all the time.
What you’re hearing on the album is a lot of opportunities to get dirty, to get that dirty sound, and really get it out there. That’s something about Mary’s music, and something she’s really pushed me to do, starting with “Dandelion,” is you’re not supposed to sound “nice” or “good” in this moment. It’s about that dirty sound. The grit. I love how she really brought that out in me, and I’ve kept that. She’s the first person to really push me in that way.
Springer talks about each of the five pieces on her album, and the videos that illustrate them:
“Dandelion” Composer: Mary Kouyoumdjian Video: Nikolai Antonie
It was the piece that started it all. It’s a study of how did I get here. It’s very, very personal. The video is by Nikolai Antonie, who was also a member of the video collective Satan’s Pearl Horses—they did videos for Newspeak, Ted Hearne, and Matt Marks, so they’ve done some really beautiful work. And Nick was my partner at the time, so it just happened naturally. We were looking through all those videos to get sound for the piece, and [thought] how can we not use these videos, too?
The images are so strange and interesting, of me as a child. He pulled out each little element of performance, and brought out the ritualistic aspect of those recitals. You see me walking out on stage over and over and over, the bow, the tuning, the first note, the different parts of the bow. When you watch it, it’s hypnotizing, and very, very beautiful. When the first performance was given ,he designed the video to be played on an old TV. When we premiered it in Boston, Mary and I were taking the bus and I was hauling this old television set with me all the way to Boston to play it. It looks great on a TV, but it’s hard to see.
“The Warmth of Other Suns” Composer: Leaha Maria Villarreal Video: Jonah Rosenburg
There’s also a book of that same title about the Great Migration of the African-American community from the south after slavery. There’s a beautiful quote about when you leave home for any reason, and you’re looking for that warmth of another sun, this new place that you can call home. Leaha had come from California, so she also was feeling far-flung from her home and looking for a new place. We were thinking about that same concept. I love her piece, too, and I loved the prettiness of it and the textures she creates. It’s really fun to play. What you’re hearing is the solo violin line, but I’m playing on top of six or seven prerecorded violin lines that are also me playing.
The story of the video is interesting as well. I was asked to do a set by Diana Mino. She was invited me to play a set at her house concert series. At the event was a painter named Melanie Reese. It was Diana’s idea to have Melanie do a live painting to a piece, so she improvised on the spot the first iteration of what you see in the video, that blue circle. When it came time to make the video, Melanie came over to my house, and brought her paper and her paint. We did a few takes on paper; they were really beautiful, but I felt she was constrained by the borders of the paper. So on the last take, I said, fuck it, let’s just do it on my wall. So she painted that on my wall. It’s still in my apartment—I love it. I’m so happy we did that. I got left with this wonderful artifact.
“Mixtape for the Summer of ’63″ Composer: Matt Marks Video: Michael Carter
So Matt’s piece… It’s really funny: He would work with a soloist and say, “Tell me a piece [of music] you’re ashamed to love.” And then he makes a piece about it. Matt, I’ve known him forever. He approached me. I came to him with a list, and most of them were from the Dirty Dancing soundtrack. He had never seen Dirty Dancing. He was like, “This seems like a great opportunity for me to watch the movie… why don’t we remix the whole fucking thing?” Sounds like a great idea! So he did.
It’s a fun piece. It’s hilarious. It’s everything Matt’s music is. It’s intense and it’s dark at times, but with such humor. Matt’s best friend, Michael Carter, is also a video artist, so it made a lot of sense to ask Mikey to do the video. He videotaped me playing the piece a few times, and he made this beautiful collage. It’s been interesting revisiting it since Matt died, especially the end. Matt’s there in this hazy black-and-white grayscale sort of shot—it makes me feel it’s ghostly at this point. It’s almost seems as if the video was made after he passed away. But it was made a while ago. It’s also such a treasure because Matt’s voice is in there, too. His voice is in the electronic track, and when I perform, I sing with him. I can’t believe I have this beautiful relic, this piece of art that makes me feel I can be connected with Matt.
Tell me more about your affection for Dirty Dancing.
I just love it. I was introduced to the movie relatively later in life and thought it was amazing. My friend saw it at a stoop sale, the Dirty Dancing Legacy Edition double-disc set, and got it for me. It’s just such a great movie. I love all the music from it, like “Hungry Eyes.” I don’t know if it would be considered super-high art.
“Windeye” Composer and video: Jacob Richman Text: Brian Evenson
Jacob Richman is just a delightful person, so wonderful, and is a very. very good friend. He lives out in Providence and I’ve known him for years. Jacob has this really cool piece for bass and voice that I really was into, and I thought he and I could work together. It’s the only piece that doesn’t involve electronics, and I perform it acoustic, just violin and voice.
Jacob has done a lot of immersive theater pieces and storytelling. I’m really interested in storytelling through music. I started working with Jacob on the piece around the same time I started working with New York City Players, and through that was using my actual voice in performance for the first time, which is something I’ve done a lot more since then. I was very nervous, but excited, to have a piece like that where I would be speaking and singing as well.
It’s a cool, creepy story. We were on the bus out to Providence and Jacob read me the short story by Brian Evenson, and it’s super-ghostly and cool, and also brings in these themes of reminiscing about childhood and reflecting on an end. Like, are your memories real? It harkened back to my experience making “Dandelion,” the feelings I was having watching those videos as an adult. Memory is a very strange thing and the story of “Windeye” really talks about that a lot.
Jacob also made the video, and that sets the piece apart. It also uses videos from my childhood. This is interesting, too, because there’s not a live version currently and it’s also a sound collage. We brought in Emily Hope Price, who is an incredible musician, to lend her voice to it. We recorded the vocals at midnight when I was really sick, so I was really glad to have some support.
“Wilderness” Composer: Eric DeLuca Video: Anthony Plasse
The process was totally different than the others in that Erik wrote a series of cells and snippets that I recorded on violin and viola, and then he collaged them into the piece. So at the time of recording I had no idea what the piece was going to be. I think that’s a testament to the trust I have in Erik as a composer and artist.The video artist was someone I have not actually met named Anthony Plasse, and he lives in France. That was the most recent video [made for the album] and it’s not at all what I would have thought it would be, but I really love it, and I love that juxtaposition of exploring the concept of wilderness but using an amusement park. To me, it brings up those feelings of being anonymous in a crowd.
Do you prefer to use the video component when you play live, if possible?
Yeah, I think so. “Dandelion” for sure. I keep saying to everyone especially involved in this project, I’ve learned so much over the last five years working on this, and one of the things is that performing with electronics is really stressful. Also, because I’m exploring a different route in my solo performance, doing more with my voice, more theatrical things, it’s been awhile since I’ve performed a lot of the pieces. I’m not actually performing any of the pieces live on Saturday; I’m framing it more as a screening. They work really well as music videos, and it takes the pressure off of me.
Six years later, now that the album is done, how do you feel about it all?
I’m really excited. I’m a little scared. It’s so personal. Also, I recorded these pieces so long ago. I’ve changed. My playing’s changed. But all in all, every time I go back to it, I’m really proud. It’s something that started more as an artifact and it came together as a very beautiful album. It kind of magically works together in a way I couldn’t have anticipated. It just works somehow. Yes, it’s very autobiographical, but really what it is for me personally is such a beautiful tribute to the relationships I formed with everybody involved. They had such a huge impact on me as a performer. I would not be who I am without any of those people.
It’s a solo album that’s really not.
Exactly. I’ve been struggling with it. I keep saying “my album” because I have to, but I don’t feel like it’s just mine.
Andie Springer celebrates the release of Dandelion at Cloud City on Dec. 8 at 7:30pm; details here.
Steve Dollar is a freelance journalist and critic for the Wall Street Journal and other publications.
Classical music coverage on National Sawdust Log is supported in part by a grant from the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation. The Log makes all editorial decisions.
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