Interplay – Astronauts, etc. with “In the Park Dilated”

Aug21_Astronauts etcOne of the most difficult parts of fulfilling a commission request is finding the middle ground between being too literal or too obscure when following a theme or topic.

Within our 2016 local artist commission series, where 10 bands and dance groups have been asked to create new works of art based on the theme “In Concert with Nature”, it could be easy to head down the literal route (it’s tempting to throw in mentions of trees, sunshine, and grass). To avoid this road bump, the next and final group in the 79th season’s series chose to ignore the fork in the road altogether by writing a stimulating instrumental piece that envisages nature without verbalizing it.

Read on below to hear how Astronauts, etc‘s Anthony Ferraro came up with the new piece and to listen to a demo recording of “In the Park Dilated”. Visit Stern Grove Festival this Sunday, August 21, when they open the stage at 2 p.m. for The New Pornographers in the final concert of the 79th Season!


“In the Park Dilated” sheet music

Stern Grove Festival: This commission is a new experience for you as an artist. What do/did you anticipate being the most challenging aspect of it, and what are you most excited about with this process?

Anthony Ferraro: Initially what made me anxious was the idea of writing the words for the commissioned song. Writing directly about nature seemed potentially trite, but interpreting the theme more abstractly seemed potentially disingenuous. So I opted instead to write a song without words, with pen and paper, on the stage where it would be performed. This allowed me to believe I was following the theme as faithfully and simply as possible.

SGF: The commission focuses on the relationship between the artist and the environment. How does the environment/venue you perform in influence your creative choices and how does it influence how you interact with the audience?

AF: It is a tricky business to delineate the border between external environment and internal experience. All that I can say is that, sometimes, being in a beautiful place makes you more explicitly aware of a beauty that is always present and waiting to be noticed no matter your surroundings.

SGF: A major part of Stern Grove Festival’s mission is providing free access to the performing arts for the public, often to artists whose work they are unfamiliar with. How will this focus on accessibility (in terms of free admission and exposure to unfamiliar artists or genres) influence your creative process or performance?

AF: I like the idea of playing to a different crowd and in a different setting than usual. Normally your audience is restricted to those people of drinking age who don’t mind staying up very late, often on a week night, in very loud room with a lot of commotion.

SGF: Stern Grove Festival is committed to artistic diversity and San Francisco is known for its vibrant and diverse arts community. How would you describe the sound of San Francisco?

AF: Sonically, I think San Francisco is still trying to figure out what it wants to say right now. On one pole is a cohort of artists disenfranchised and disillusioned by the financial difficulty of living here, and on the other you find a group energized by the new collaboration of music and technology. Sometimes I feel I exist on both poles at once.

Interplay – Hieroglyphics

Hieroglyphics logo

Hieroglyphics is an Oakland-based musical collective of underground hip-hop artists whose individual careers skyrocketed in the early 90’s, but later came together to form their own group and hip hop recording label to take control of their careers. Since its evolution in 1997, Hieroglyphics has matured into a preeminent force in the american hip hop scene and is one of the most prolific groups that hails from the Bay Area. As a participating act in this season’s local artist commission series, members of the 9-piece Hiero crew came together to create a new song inspired by the theme “Interplay: In Concert with Nature”. The piece will debut this Sunday, July 3, on stage at Stern Grove Festival.

We were invited to visit and interview original Hiero members Casual and Phesto Dee (also of Souls of Mischief) at their Oakland warehouse and recording space. Listen below for their perspectives on being an artist in the Bay Area, performing at Stern Grove Festival, and what words of advice they have for young musicians.