Four/Four Presents Take Digital Music & Dance Collaborations to Open Air For In-Person Summer Series

Photo Credit: Mark Mann

The past year has added deeper dimension to that old adage about making lemonade. In other words, life has thrown a lot of lemons our way since last March, for better or for worse, and what to do with them is up to you. Such was the case with Rachael Pazdan and Loni Landon of Four/Four Presents, a new NYC-based curator platform that seeks to bridge the gap between the live music and high-art dance communities through linking independent musicians with seasoned dancers to create collaborative performances. What began as a live venture pre-pandemic quickly pivoted to accommodate our new style of living with recorded video performances, and is slowly transitioning to a live performance model that meshes with our new normal.

Their combined experience, long friendship, and well-earned clout in their respective industries intersected to make them the prime candidates to take on such a challenge – in general, live music and dance are both separate, niche communities. Pazdan danced growing up, and though she still considers it a passion, she is best known for her work in NYC’s live music scene. She’s worked as both an in-house talent buyer at venues like LPR and The Bell House and a freelance events presenter in her own right, producing The Hum, a concert series celebrating female and gender-nonconforming artists. Landon is a Juilliard-trained dancer and highly sought-out choreographer, having produced work for The Joyce Theater, the American Dance Institute, and more. Prior to collaborating with Pazdan on Four/Four, she co-founded The Playground, an initiative designed to give emerging choreographers the space to experiment while also allowing professional dancers to participate affordably. In other words, these are two women passionate about entrepreneurship in the arts and celebrating female and otherwise marginalized creators, themes central to Four/Four’s mission.

The name comes from the 4/4 time signature, something utilized by both musicians and dancers, to further emphasize the pair’s shared vision. “We wanted to create a space for dance and music to co-exist in a contemporary, cool way that’s not on like, a Proscenium stage, that’s not at Lincoln Center,” Pazdan explains, add that the end goal here is “making dance way less esoteric and super-accessible in the way music is really accessible. The thing I’ve said a few times is that we want people to watch dance the way they listen to a record.” And while they seek to make dance something less intimidating to outsiders, they also want to introduce dancers to new music, combining these separate audiences into one larger, more supportive arts community. “It’s connected us with so many artists. I’ve learned about so many new musicians and composers and people, and that’s what it is,” Landon adds. “We wanted to connect people and artists, even if it’s online. I think it’s important that we can create new connections and make new art.”

The concept came about nearly four years ago, when Pazdan and Landon collaborated on an LPR-presented performance by Landon’s company at Knockdown Center. They found a space and began plans for the first live Four/Four event in February 2020 – in the final weeks before our lives changed indelibly into what they are now. Once the lockdown hit they realized they needed to adapt in order to bring their vision to life, or to take these unprecedented lemons and make the lemonade, as it were. They ended up with Tethered, a video compilation of recorded dance performances set to curated music, which they presented projected on an outdoor screen at Public Records in Gowanus this summer. “It was kind of serendipitous because Public Records got in touch with Rachael, and they were moving all their content online,” Landon explains. “There were so many amazing artists just sitting around, out of work, including both Rachael and myself, and we were both like ‘Okay! Let’s just do this!’” 

As far as lemons go, the pandemic offered up one unexpected benefit in particular – dancers who would normally be unavailable due to busy touring schedules suddenly found themselves sitting at home, stationary. “So many artists that we were probably never going to be able to get to do stuff were just available, and at home, not doing anything,” Pazdan says. “So we were connecting with artists literally all over the world. We had dancers in Israel, and where else? Spain, Amsterdam, Norway… That was kind of the plus side to the pandemic, that we had access to artists we normally wouldn’t have access to.” And on top of that, they did not have to factor in the exorbitant cost of flying these performers into New York City, a constant albatross hanging around the necks of all independent events producers. 

In other words, their optimism in the face of an otherwise hopeless situation is what ultimately made their project a success. They could have sat watching the news in those first few dire weeks of the pandemic, so soon after they decided to move forward with the project at all, and decided it wasn’t worth the trouble. But they chose to think on their feet, combining the best aspects of high art with a DIY ethos to produce something new and entirely unique. They worked together to assemble choreographers and contributing musicians, gathering the music first and sending it to the dancers with some instructions, then collected all the videos, which Pazdan learned to edit and patch together in light of budgetary limitations. “Being a freelancer I’ve learned how to create my own opportunities. You can’t wait for people,” Landon says. “If you want to create something you just have to do it… It’s not going to be perfect in the beginning but you learn by doing and just putting the energy in, you see that energy come out.”

As the weather warms and vaccination becomes available to all New Yorkers, Pazdan and Landon are already making moves for Four/Four’s sophomore summer. In collaboration with Audiofemme, they are producing a series of outdoor events called Open Air: four live, site-specific performances in New York City from June through September of this year. Utilizing spaces like Greenwood Cemetery and Brooklyn Bridge Park, among others, these events will bring to life – quite literally, as they are live events! – the original shared vision of Pazdan and Landon. They will be free to the public in line with Four/Four’s mission of creating accessible, equitable, and joyful events for everyone. Each performance will begin with a traditional music set, followed by a presentation from the choreographer and dancers, and conclude with the premiere of a new, original collaboration between both.

Ultimately, they want Four/Four to work with music and dance presenters alike, an unprecedented intersection of these communities. As we enter the New Normal of live performance, it would seem there’s no better time to challenge our perceptions of what live entertainment can be. 

Follow Four/Four Presents on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram for ongoing updates.

Em Boltz of Enchanted Forest Premieres Two New Tracks Composed on a Synth Built From Scratch

Photo Credit: Juliette Rando

Over the last year, many of us have picked up new hobbies to fill the endless expanse of time between the initial lockdown and the present, the uncertain future of when life will go back to “normal” and what that even means at this point. No longer do we measure time in minutes, days, or weeks, it would seem, but rather through loaves of sourdough bread and craft projects and how long it took your tomato plant to produce fruit last summer. Em Boltz, one half of Philly experimental electronic duo Enchanted Forest, is no different than the rest of us, except they spent their year delving deep into the world of modular synth construction.

A recipient of the Audiofemme Agenda Artist Grant, Boltz used the grant money towards the completion of an ambitious project – a recreation of the Buchla Music Easel (the iconic Additive Analogue Synthesizer spoken of in reverent tones since its incarnation in 1973) using Eurorack modules. If that sounds like a foreign language to you, that’s okay – it does to me too. The most important takeaway is that the true Buchla Music Easel will run you over $3,000, whereas you can get pretty close to creating your own for much less.

Essentially, Boltz has been scouring the internet for elements that help to imitate the Easel’s unique sonic possibilities, bits and pieces like oscillators, low pass gates, and spring reverbs, and patching them together to try and produce the organic, “magical acoustic space” that only the Buchla itself offers as a compact package. Using a Eurorack format as the base allows the user to customize their desired experience as it has no set signal flow, so that one can gain the most from whatever singular modular components they desire.

A sneak-peek at Em Boltz’s set up, courtesy of the artist.

Boltz’s interest in the Buchla was born of their love of psychedelic and krautrock music, as well as the compositions of artists like Suzanne Ciani and Terry Riley, both of whom included the Buchla in their musical repertoire. “This isn’t by any means a precise replica of the Buchla,” Boltz explains. “And I’m still very much learning how to navigate modular synths, but this is like my intro to it as well. I’ve just been slowly adding modules and integrating them into this Eurorack that I’m creating, which has been overwhelming definitely, but also super exciting… It’s been interesting, building a synth, because I feel like my approach to music is so intuitive, and I’ve been reading so much and trying to recreate this thing.” 

The challenge is further magnified by Boltz’s background in the humanities; as a poet and an English student at Kent State University, they had no formal background in such a technical practice. They’ve largely depended on YouTube and web forums to amass the necessary knowledge. “I feel like I learn something new every day,” they say. “I’m constantly trying to watch videos of other people talking about their set-ups… because essentially you’re recreating what someone [else] has created when you go buy a synthesizer, so there are all these different variations of what you could do… the possibilities are limitless.” The goal here is to recreate the uniquely organic sounds the Buchla is capable of – a “60s zingy vibe,” or an “acoustic funk,” for instance, according to one video I watched to try to get a handle on this. The Buchla, even as a replica, makes what Boltz says is “the trippiest stuff. It’s the simplest way you can put it.”

So far they’ve been successful, utilizing the makeshift Buchla to write and record the latest Enchanted Forest release, a visual album appropriately titled Research, out on Dear Life Records on June 18. The tracks, and their accompanying videos, focus on the intersection of the natural and digital worlds; “a lot play with nature because I just love nature, and I feel like that’s something I see through all the work I do, like poetry, music, writing,” Boltz says. “Making things that sound like they’re created in nature, which is what’s so cool about working with analog gear. It’s this really organic sound to it that really aids that.” 

Today, Boltz shares what they call “abstracted visuals” for two of the LP’s tracls – “The Tap” and “Open Window” – premiering exclusively on Audiofemme. On “Open Window” you can hear the sound of birds chirping layered under the synth effects. Though they are already using the synthesizer to produce music, it seems as though the project could carry as long as long as Boltz wants it to, acquiring new pieces of equipment and patching them into the existing set-up.

Enchanted Forest began as a Boltz’s solo endeavor, but it has recently expanded to include Noah Jacobson-Caroll, who Boltz met in 2017 when both played guitar in dark pop group Corey Flood. Research was written and recorded through email correspondence over the last year. “This band started in May 2020, so it’s only ever known COVID,” Boltz says. “The new album is all recorded through this karaoke machine, at least on my part. It’s all just us sending stuff back and forth.”

As far as what’s next, they say, “We’re already working on another album. We don’t stop.” Enchanted Forest intends to continue to collaborate remotely, because Boltz says they’ve “really come to enjoy creating this way.” And with seemingly endless possibilities, Research seems like an intriguing prologue to what Em Boltz and Enchanted Forest will create as time goes on. “Honestly it’s the best album I’ve ever made, which feels really good.”

Kinlaw Builds a Monument to Movement and Change with The Tipping Scale

Photo Credit: Cameron Tidball

I stumbled upon the expansive world of prolific multidisciplinary artist Kinlaw many years ago, when I promoted a show with her then-band SoftSpot at the now-shuttered Brooklyn DIY space Shea Stadium. This goes to show how deeply ingrained they have become in the NYC music and arts community; since then, the composer, choreographer, and artist (who uses both she and they pronouns) has made a name for herself with both solo performances and productions with as many as two hundred performers, gracing institutions like MoMA, Pioneer Works, National Sawdust, and more. Last Friday she released her first solo album via Bayonet Records, The Tipping Scale – a stunning, dynamic dark-pop album that nearly forces you to move despite the heavy themes it tackles.

As an artist whose primary medium is choreography, it comes as no surprise that Kinlaw’s process for writing this record was anything but orthodox, beginning with mere movement. “Years ago, working with a band, [songwriting] would start with someone having an idea and then suddenly there’d be a lot of sound, and quite a lot of noise, and then [we’d] kind of shape it down,” she explains. Their songwriting process as a solo artist happens nearly in reverse. “The entry point for a lot of these is really super quiet,” they explain. “I would start with a gesture, and let it build until a memory attached itself to it.” Different gestures intuit different sounds, associating smoother gestures with vowel sounds and those that were more “crinkled and quick” with consonants. “It’s all just a huge trip but it works for me,” she says. “It makes it so I don’t feel intimidated by the songwriting process. It makes it so that I feel like I’m making material that feels of the moment to me.”

The depth of The Tipping Scale is such that it’s difficult to articulate in words; Kinlaw refers to it as “an introspective and very strange dance party.” Wrapped in pop music that is both accessible but somehow wholly original, it combines lyrics deeply personal to Kinlaw with universal themes like loss, regret, identity, and more than anything else, change. The title itself is a metaphor for change, the idea of an ever-present slipping in and out of change, and the acceptance of it, what they describe as a constant “pull-tug” between past and present versions of ourselves. The songs are fluid, ripe with meaning never meant to sit stagnant, but rather to evolve with the listener and their environment.

For instance, Kinlaw says, “What I might have written ‘Blindspot’ about initially, is not always what it’s going to continue to be.” The video for this track was directed by her dear friend Kathleen Dycaico, who provided a mirror to reflect these ever-changing meanings. “I think working with Kathleen was a really really great thing for me, because I’m able to see that the relationships I have with other people so often parallel the ones I have with myself,” Kinlaw says. “And so even the difficulties or the grief, or the loss or the frustrations I have with things, relationships that have died, I can see them mirrored so clearly in so many things I experience on my own, with myself.”

Change is a strong theme on the album, but also configured heavily into how Kinlaw has released and promoted it; the events of the past year altered their intentions regarding The Tipping Scale. She began filming the visual component as an alternative to the live performance it was supposed to be, and the realization that a performance would not happen as soon as she had hoped. “People who were part of the developmental phases, I told them the album was a script. And that really for me, the reason I was doing it was so I could create a live show in accordance with the script,” she explains. “So for me to make a record was a really exciting thing because, like, how fabulous to have a new starting point to spend a lot of time and consideration on these songs and to allow them to have another phase, like when you do the performance.”

While I have no doubt that whatever live performance Kinlaw would have crafted (and will certainly craft, once we’re allowed live performance again) would have been powerful in its own right, I would argue that the transition to produced videos has opened up a previously unimaginable realm of possibilities for these songs. The medium provides her a vehicle to really delve into the meaning of change, the different characters she portrays and the different worlds she inhabits. Like Kinlaw says, “Music videos are great – you could do anything in three to four minutes. Whatever world you say, then that’s the way it’s gonna be.”

As a visual metaphor, hair factors strongly into these videos, changing from track to track and sometimes in the middle of the video. In “Permissions,” they crawl from a wrecked vehicle in a choppy red wig. In “Blindspot,” she and her childish counterpart begin with sleek ponytails before they take turns chopping at each other’s thick blonde braids, until Kinlaw emerges with her hair curled. In “Haircut,” her hair remains natural, but they articulate this sentiment in lyrics: “There’s a rule/That when you cut off your hair/You let the old things go.”

The strong imagery resonates with anyone who ever got a new haircut in the midst of a bad break-up, or hacked some ill-advised bangs with a pair of craft scissors on some uneventful childhood afternoon. “I think it brings to mind a lot of the symbolic ways that we try to cope as people, and it’s been interesting, since writing [‘Haircut’] and talking about it with some folks,” they say. “It’s been really interesting to see people be like, ‘Oh yeah, I totally get it,’ and they’ll tell me a story: ‘Oh I chopped off my hair that one time in like 2005, I was so upset’… I guess it’s just like identity, and an extension of, and memories. I’m also really quite stubborn with my hair, like I refuse to cut it for long stretches of time.” This last statement is thick with irony, given the artist’s dynamism and penchant for constant reinvention.  

Reinvention can surely be at least partially attributed to Kinlaw’s commitment to a rigid therapy practice. I felt it reductive to ask an artist of Kinlaw’s caliber who her sonic influences were in the creation of The Tipping Scale, and I told her so when I asked, to which they unsurprisingly responded, “I can honestly say I don’t [have any].” Rather, warning that what she would say might be construed as “cheeseball,” she listed therapy as their greatest influence in the writing of this album, particularly EMDR therapy, which utilizes binaural sounds to create a pattern of eye movements and from that, spawn memories. “That, to me, is what spawns storytelling,” they say, “understanding firsthand what the crazy connection is between a body and your thoughts, and sound, and how sound influences your body.”

Pop music can be its own kind of therapy, a means of transporting oneself across energy levels and moods, something anyone who has ever turned on Top 40 radio to dance away the blues knows well. Describing pop music as a “raft boat,” Kinlaw explains, “I purposefully chose pop music because I wanted to feel like I could move, dance, party forward into the next chapter of my life. The juxtaposition of having these confessional songs paired with pop sounds was a really strange space that I wanted to learn more about.” But did the process of setting traumatic memories to music designed to lift the mood provide therapeutic relief for the artist? “I don’t know, but it’s like I wanted to float these songs on the lens of pop because I hope it will make me feel better,” they say. “Talk to me in a year and I’ll tell you if this worked out for me or not.”

As far as what’s next for Kinlaw, more videos are on the horizon. For someone with such sweeping vision, the creative possibilities are endless and the only limitations are financial. A recipient of the Audiofemme Agenda Grant, Kinlaw put some of the money toward filming their videos – and in doing so, employed many struggling artists and musicians who are out of work due to the pandemic. “That’s what it’s been about for me since the beginning. My friends are the most talented people on Earth. They’re such mindful and smart artists, so it’s really easy for me to get a team together who I love,” Kinlaw says. “I’m hoping I can figure out how to finish the rest of this, because I do intend on having more videos.” Whatever worlds Kinlaw imagines for next, there’s certainly no doubting her determination; as she sings in “Blindspot,” “I get what I want/Cause I know that I deserve it.”

Follow Kinlaw on Instagram and Facebook for ongoing updates.