Nicole Mitchell (b. 1967) is a creative flutist, composer, poet, conceptualist, bandleader, and educator. Finding her voice through her involvement with Black Arts Movement institutions in Chicago, Mitchell was a co-founder of Samana, the AACM’s first all women ensemble in 1992. She started working with Hamid Drake and David Boykin in 1996, and by 1998 had established her renowned Black Earth Ensemble, soon after to enlist the likes of Tomeka Reid and Joshua Abrams for her ongoing creation of vibrant, soulful spiritual jazz that bridges the familiar and the unknown. Taking cues from her mother’s interest in Afrofuturist literature, Mitchell in 2008 recorded Xenogenesis Suite: A Tribute to Octavia Butler and regularly incorporates elements of sci-fi libretto in her work, speculating into future climate meltdowns and the racial politics of imagined utopia-dystopias. Mitchell was once enticed to join the Sun Ra Arkestra, but her development in Chicago has instead led to collaborations that have included the recording of Liberation Narratives with poet Haki Madhubuti and playing with the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Mitchell was the first woman president of Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians and is currently the William S. Dietrich II Endowed Chair in Jazz Studies at the University of Pittsburgh.
Blank Forms has curated a program of music and poetry as part of Josiah McElheny’s new solo show, Observations at Night. McElheny’s sonic sculpture, “Moon Mirror,” will function as both an acoustic reflector and an open stage-like platform for performances, as part of an exhibition of optically dynamic paintings and sculptures inspired by cosmic revolutionary figures like Joe McPhee and Sun Ra Arkestra singer June Tyson. Tyson’s optimistic communication of the potential for world-building beyond the painful alienation of presiding earthly visions serves as the focal point for the series’ interrogation of how music and poetry might illuminate new pathways of resistance to our troubled political climate. An international assembly of artists from a diverse spectrum of creative improvising idioms have been selected to use McElheny’s parabolic structure as a catalyst for explorations of both acoustic feedback and social interaction between performers and audiences from heterogeneous cultural spheres. Featuring performers pulling inspiration from black American free jazz as well as experimental music, deep listening, and folk traditions of Korean, Japanese, Iraqi, Indonesian, and Persian music, the surreal convergence of mysteries of light and sound proposes that we might today not only pass through what can feel like a dream or nightmare state but find something here, visible or audible in the twilight that can lead into a cosmic future.