2018 MECA Artists

ST. PAUL, MN – The AmericanComposers Forum is pleased to announce the results of the Minnesota Emerging Composer Awards (MECA), supported with funds from the Jerome Foundation. Three area creative musicians have been selected to receive Minnesota Emerging Composer Awards (MECA). Each selected musician will receive $3,000 to pursue a new project that will help them take the next steps in developing their careers. The MECA program, now in its 10th year, seeks to identify artists whose work falls outside the American Composers Forum’s typical granting and panel processes. ACF announced an open call to nominate original, creative musicians with significant potential working in MN. The selected candidates are invited to describe a project that will boost their career and artistry, to be completed within the following twelve to twenty-four months. The panelists for this year were composers HyeKyung Lee (Granville, OH), Ingrid Stölzel (Lawrence, KS), 2015 MECA artist Dameun Strange (Saint Paul, MN), and Michael Woods (Clinton, NY).

About the winners

Jarrelle Barton 

Jarrelle Barton is an American Guzheng performer, teacher and composer based in Minnesota. Jarrelle first heard the Guzheng when he was 13 years old and instantly fell in love with its sound. A year later he acquired his first Zheng and studied on his own then he began lessons with master Li Jiaxiang.

Jarrelle was taught in the traditional and contemporary schools of music and is now sharing Guzheng music with a “Jarrelle Flavor” and yet still keeping the strict structure and rhyme of the pieces he plays. A well-known and respected Master named Gao Baijian has named Jarrelle, the “Jarrellephenomena.” Jarrelle continues to be an active performer and guzheng teacher and has many plans for the instrument in the future.  

Regarding Jarrelle’s MECA project, he states “The first project will be a piece for Chinese orchestra with a version for western orchestra in western music notation. My idea is to compose a 25 to 30-minute piece that would show the many possibilities for the Guzheng with orchestra. I plan on using some techniques from my piece gazing at the moon on a foggy morning. I also plan on learning a bit more about western music instrumentation and theory so that I can open my mind to more ideas for composition, so that my musical foundation is stronger. I have several unfinished compositions that I’d love to share as well. My unfinished pieces don’t fall into any genre of music and yet I feel that they are understandable to the listener, some pieces use traditional chords and traditional techniques while other pieces use techniques I created for the Zheng. There are six major schools of Zheng music and each school uses techniques from that local province. I have studied mostly the Chaozhou school of music and my musical accent is very Chaozhou so I’d like to also experiment with creating Jazz music with a Chaozhou flavor and play Chao Zhou folk music with a Jazz style, which I think will work quite well musically.”

Alex Bissen 

Alex Bissen is an electroacoustic musician and sound designer who performs and collaborates as IOSIS. Working primarily with hardware synthesis means and techniques, Alex creates gnarled soundscapes and lush atmospheric and ritualistic sonic experiences. Initially conceived as a fully improvisational entity, IOSIS has morphed into a flexible and malleable platform for expression that is equally capable and liable of operating from a strictly compositional or boldly improvisational approach. The music of IOSIS welcomes elements of drone, noise, and ambient musical forms and textures alongside more traditional compositional structures and considerations. Most importantly, IOSIS exists asa vehicle for constant experimentation and redefinition of boundaries and perceptions of what is and what is not possible in his chosen mode of musically performative and emotionally transmutational artistic practice. 

Alex’s background prior to the 2014 conception of IOSIS involved playing bass guitar and electronics in more traditionally arranged rock or metal bands. Alex has been increasingly involved with each annual iteration of the Drone Not Drones 28-Hour Drone, both from a stage-management and operations perspective as well as from a performance standpoint as IOSIS. Alex has been invited to perform at the Sound / Simulcra series where he performed a solo set as well as an improvisational duo set alongside musician, composer and series cofounder John C.S. Keston. IOSIS has shared bills with a diverse set of artists and bands including Low, Loscil, Pallbearer, Rosetta, Marriages, LeeRanaldo, Nels Kline, Mind Over Mirrors, Will Oldham, Chuck Johnson, Paul Mezger, Tim Kaiser, and Circuit Des Yeux.

With the Minnesota Emerging Composer Award Alex will be composing a new body of music that will be the score to a selected film. Alex will then be partnering with a local cinematic venue to have the film screened while he executes a performance of the live score alongside the film. The resulting amalgamation of sonic and visual movement will blur the bounds between what is traditionally expected of the disparate film-screening and musical performance practices, juxtaposing the rigidity of the prerecorded film with the experimentally performative methods and artistry that comprise the foundation of IOSIS.  

Jen Bluhm 

Jen Bluhm is a Twin Cities-based performing and recording artist, Award-nominated film composer, freelance vocalist, multi-instrumentalist and Neurodiversity/Mental Health Advocate. Bluhm is known locally as Waltzing On Waves, singer-songwriter & World Cabaret artist. 

Having been trained in Classical Voice Performance, she knows her voice well, accessing techniques & devices from many different styles of music from Opera to Roots. Her unique style is influenced by music from the Golden Era of Hollywood & French Cabaret to the music of Patsy Cline & Willie Nelson, two of the many artists whose songs she grew up hearing her mother and father sing in their Country-Western cover band. This year, Jen has enjoyed partnering with several music and art-loving Twin Cities organizations. 

She immensely enjoyed her time as Artist in Residence at the Good Arts Collective, performing in and curating four consecutive weeks of shows featuring a new vocal composition written around each week’s theme and showcasing other local musical acts that she admires. Along with a residency at Black Dog Lowertown, Jen was honored to participate as the soprano soloist in the Swing Sisterhood Big Band’s Celebration of the Music of Mary Lou Williams at St. Thomas University and was invited back as Jazz Central Studios and Swing Sisterhood Big Band presented The Sensational Six, a night celebrating original Vocal Jazz compositions andJazz Standards.  Jen was happy to be asked to premiere a new work by local Jazz composer, Kari Musil, as well as debuting one of her original pieces. She also accepted an invitation to perform at the Ted-X UMN Event, A Tale of Two Cities, and has most recently participated with the newly formed B-Sides Artsong Collective as their featured artist. Waltzing On Waves has frequented the stages of venues including Vieux Carré and Black Dog in St. Paul, and The Warming House, The RedRoom, and Aster Cafe in Minneapolis; and while a songwriter and performer at heart, Jen Bluhm/Waltzing On Waves is currently building her reputation as a recording artist at Droptone Studio where she is working on her first full-length album. Jen has released two singles this year and aims to complete the album in early 2019.

Regarding her MECA project, Jen states “I am a Neurodivergent. That means my brain processes and thinks in ways that are considered to be outside of that which is deemed typical.  I also have children who are Neurodivergent. In light of this, I have found myself with the passion and opportunity to use music as a platform through which to advocate and educate my listening audiences and social media followers. I have begun, and plan to continue, to compose and expand a song cycle that revolves around the experiences and thought processes of Neurodivergent humans, along with the often Co-occurring Mental Health challenges we face. I find the Art Song genre to be a beautiful fit for this creative endeavor.  I intend on using this award to acquire the much-needed hardware and software that will allow me to compose, notate, and communicate my musical ideas for the purposes of future performance, potential collaboration, and documentation via recording and/or sheet music. Over the course of the year, I will complete the composition and arrangement of the existing eight songs and will compose two additional songs for a total of ten pieces in this collection of genre-bending Art Songs that shed light on and invite thoughtful engagement with the beauty, depth, and complexity that is Neurodivergence.” 

About the American Composers Forum

The American Composers Forum is committed to supporting composers and developing new markets for their music. Through granting, commissioning, and performance programs, ACF provides composers at all stages of their careers with valuable resources for professional and artistic development. By linking communities with composers and performers, ACF fosters a demand for new music, enriches communities, and helps develop the next generation of composers, musicians, and music patrons.

Founded in 1973 as the Minnesota Composers Forum, the organization has grown from an innovative regional initiative into one of the nation’s premier composer service organizations. ACF programming reaches composers and communities in all 50 states and helps composers engage communities with music as a source of inspiration, self-reflection and delight. This engagement takes the form of groundbreaking composer residencies, designed to engage communities in the creative process and broaden the contexts in which new music is written, performed and heard. It means innovative approaches to teaching music while nurturing the next generation of composers, performers and audiences. ACF supports composers’ artistic and professional growth through a rich variety of programs and services, including commissions, performances, readings, and fellowships. The more than 1,000 members include composers and performers, presenters and organizations that share ACF’s goals, and individuals and institutions with an interest in supporting new music. Members come from both urban and rural areas; they work in virtually every musical genre, including orchestral and chamber music, world music, opera and music theater, jazz and improvisational music, electronic and electro-acoustic music, and sound art.

Program Funding

The JeromeFoundation, created by artist and philanthropist Jerome Hill (1905-1972), seeks to contribute to a dynamic and evolving culture by supporting the creation, development, and production of new works by early career artists. The Foundation makes grants to not-for-profit arts organizations and artists in Minnesota and New York City.

For further information contact:
William J. Lackey
Vice President of Programs