Local Current Blog

Origin/Outcome: Dirty Projectors’ Olga Bell to create a new Russian soundscape at the Walker Art Center

Photo by Eric Lippe, courtesy Walker Art Center

In an age of infinite connectivity, the realms of art, music, and technology grow more indistinguishable with every new and interesting project. Musicians have become more innovative in their use of visual and technological media: think of Beyoncé with her recent “visual album,” and Arcade Fire’s interactive online videos.

Olga Bell—who has worked under her own name, alongside Tom Vek as half of Nothankyou, and with Dirty Projectors—is the musician and mastermind behind Origin/Outcome. She similarly incorporates diverse musical influences, technology, and visual elements into the piece, to be performed at the Walker Art Center on February 13 at 8 p.m. “I think everything benefits from reaching across various aisles and departments and boxes that people put things in,” Bell told me in a phone conversation. “Music is a sonic expression of contemporary art.”

Origin/Outcome is defined by intersecting influences and manifestations, where cultural heritage meets contemporary media, where classical music meets high-tech pop, and where music meets one of contemporary art’s biggest venues. “I’m really excited to be premiering this piece at the Walker,” Bell said of the Minneapolis landmark. “The Walker is one of my favorite museums in the country. Saying ‘museum’ doesn’t even really do it justice. It’s an institution. I’m very excited.”

The presentation is built around “Krai, a nine-movement song that the Walker describes as a “love letter to Russia,” with each movement representing a different Russian territory that Bell (who was born in Russia and grew up in Alaska) discovered in her early research. “From there I guess the first person I turned to was my mother, who has incredible knowledge of Russian folk music and various subcultures all across Russia.” Bell’s mother once worked for Radio Moscow, and provided musical connections as well as insight. “She had access to these amazing recordings, and some of her friends who were still working [at Radio Moscow] were able to help me mine this awesome raw material that may not have been accessible had I not had those radio connections.”

The performance also includes both musical and visual contributions from local and national artists, including video projections by MGMT’s Alejandro Crawford. “Video is pretty important in the creative landscape today,” said Bell, whose own music videos include light masks and face mapping on “Chase No Face” and gender-bending dress-up on “Oyster.”

Although they’ve both worked and toured with Dirty Projectors, Origin/Outcome also represents a sort of debut for Bell and fellow musician Angel Deradoorian. It’s “the first time that she and I are going to be showcasing our original material together,” Bell explained. Deradoorian’s work also reflects a mingling of cultural influences. “She was born in America but she has a very strong connection to her Armenian heritage,” Bell said of Deradoorian. “Her music definitely has an Armenian sound to me. I don’t know if she would say the same thing, but having Angel sing on ‘Krai’ is going to be really awesome.”

Though Origin/Outcome will incorporate a number of elements, “Krai”—a Russian word that can be translated as “edge”—is expected to be the star of the show.

“I really wanted the centerpiece to [be] ‘Krai,’ which incorporates a lot of Russian traditional music elements, so that’s the ‘origin'; and of course the ‘outcome’ would be poppier music that we’re doing, and the presentation of new music.” Bell, who grew up playing classical piano and later explored electronic compositions, said. “Everything is sort of the outcome of an origin, right?”

KT Lindemann is a senior at the University of Minnesota, Morris, pursuing studio art and Spanish. She is a native of the Twin Cities and is a wannabe musician, artist, and music writer.