Creating a community-centered social change initiative through music

In summer 2018, Nathalie Joachim and Allison Loggins-Hull (known together as Flutronix), began a two-year residency at Carolina Performing Arts, to create the project now known as Discourse, which has grown into a community-centered social change initiative and a new musical work by the artists premiering at CPA.

The seeds of Discourse were planted in response to the fear, uncertainty, and frustration dividing the US. Now, Flutronix has created an emotionally resonant new work in which the voices and personal stories of Chapel Hill are brought to vibrant life.

Commissioned by Carolina Performing Arts, Discourse draws inspiration from—and incorporates—individual stories from this place for a stunning immersive musical performance. Originally set to premiere in spring 2020 at CPA’s CURRENT ArtSpace + Studio, Discourse is being re-envisioned by the artists as a musical experience that can take place outdoors with appropriate social distancing measures in early spring 2021.

The research process for Discourse yielded a depth and breadth of material that exceeded the confines of an evening-length musical work, and so Loggins-Hull and Joachim partnered with the University Libraries to create a companion installation, which is also being rescheduled for spring 2021.

The audio-visual exhibition pairs two galleries in the North Carolina Collection with oral histories collected by Flutronix. The Sir Walter Raleigh room and Early Carolina room, along with materials from the NCC collection, provide some historical context for rich, individual narratives of Lumbee identity and systemic homelessness, respectively—both topics covered in the musical performance.

The artists’ local collaborators include: the University Libraries, Community Empowerment Fund, the Marian Cheek Jackson Center and the Southern Oral History Program.

More on flutronix’s work

“In our first year of being Flutronix, we didn’t play any concerts,” Nathalie Joachim recalls. “We had to figure out what to play. Before we came around, there wasn’t a lot of music for two flutes and electronics.” Flutronix, the duo of Joachim and Allison Loggins-Hull, is not unique in that regard. Every ensemble with non-standard instrumentation—not a string quartet or piano trio or Pierrot ensemble—grapples with the question of what music to play. One solution, embraced by groups like Eighth Blackbird (of which Joachim is also a member), is to commission piles of new works from other composers, following the traditional division of labor in classical music between composer and performer.

Joachim and Loggins-Hull, both composers in their own rights before forming Flutronix, chose a different route: writing all of their music themselves as composer-performers. For Joachim, that choice was as much a practical decision as a manifesto: “In western classical music, composing is a very insular, individual process for everyone. When you’re writing smaller-scale music, it’s process that’s largely un-edited. Every other type of writing that happens, a writer works really closely with their editor in shaping their thoughts and guiding the process a little bit.” She contrasts that with the highly collaborative process in the rock and pop worlds, observing that “So many of the greatest rock albums happened by a band sitting themselves in a studio for many weeks at a time around the clock writing together.” Given that the duo’s stylistic ambit extends well beyond classical music to encompass rock, electronic, hip hop, R&B, jazz, soul, world music, and beyond, the choice makes sense.

At first, they wrote pieces individually. Almost everything on their eponymous first album from 2010 was written by either Joachim or Loggins-Hull. Their first collaborative composition, the album-closing “Brown Squares,” started out as an experiment. “I remember being apprehensive about it,” Joachim recalls, laughing. “Allison came over, and we were sitting in my home studio. We just started writing, and next thing we knew, we looked up and we had a piece. It just worked. The piece almost wrote itself.”

Both women were excited by the results, so their next album, 2014’s 2.0, was almost entirely co-written. Having someone to bounce ideas off allowed them to go places they wouldn’t think to otherwise, to sharpen ideas and discover unexpected solutions. “We rely on each other a lot to push how we normally think about writing because our approaches are very night and day,” Joachim says. “We have very distinct styles and voices, and we approach how we think about music in very different ways, but they are extremely complementary.”

In 2015, Joachim joined Eighth Blackbird and moved from New York City to Chicago, and Loggins-Hull gave birth to her daughter, moving the duo to reevaluate their compositional process. Having established a sound and a repertory, they decided to refocus their limited writing time on larger projects that responded to the current social and political climate. Discourse is their first such attempt at expanding their collaborative vision even further.

A Sneak Peek of Discourse by Flutronix

Though Discourse by Flutronix couldn’t be presented in our 19/20 season as planned, Nathalie Joachim shares a small piece of the performance from her living room.

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