Exhibitions , San Francisco

Wadada Leo Smith: Ankhrasmation: The Language Scores

Over the past 50 years, contemporary jazz and creative music pioneer, composer, educator, and visual artist, Wadada Leo Smith, has continually developed a his own unique musical language. Titled Ankhrasmation—a neologism formed of “Ankh,” the Egyptian symbol for life, “Ras,” the Ethiopian word for leader, and “Ma”, a universal term for mother—the language scores eschew (and at times, incorporate) traditional musical notation in favor of symbolic compositions of color, line, and shape. These vibrant constructions are filled with energy and mystery, providing creative guidance for the seasoned improviser while allowing musicians to bring their own expertise and strengths to their performance.

Three sets of scores comprise the exhibition, representing three different stages of Smith’s evolution in his Ankhrasmation Language: the complete twenty-two panels of iEacigmei (1971); five never-before exhibited panels from Luminous Axis (2002), and three panels from Kosmic Music (n.d.), which have been recently acquired by Kadist. The scores are animated by a listening station for the complete recorded album of Luminous Axis and an excerpt from Robert Fenz’s 16mm film, Butterfly (1996).

Wadada Leo Smith was born in Leland, Mississippi in 1941 and trained with the U.S. Military band program, Sherwood School of Music, and Wesleyan University. A faculty member at The Herb Alpert School of Music at California Institute of the Arts until his retirement in 2013, Smith also taught at the University of New Haven, the Creative Music Studio in Woodstock, NY, and Bard College. Smith currently performs with the Golden Quartet, Silver Orchestra, and Organic ensembles, and his compositions have been performed by other ensembles including AACM Orchestra, Kronos Quartet, San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, New York New Music Ensemble, and California E.A.R. Unit. Recent awards and commissions include MAP Fund Award for “Ten Freedom Summers” (2011), Chamber Music America New Works Grant (2010), NEA Recording Grant (2010), Fellow of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation (2009-2010).

This is the first event in the series Abstract Languages: Three Musical Events involving this exhibition, a screening, and an evening of live performances conceived by and taking place between KADIST, The Wattis Institute, and The Lab. Many thanks to everyone at The Wattis and The Lab for making this series possible.

Special thanks to John Corbett and Corbett vs. Dempsey for loaning iEacigmei to the exhibition, Robert Fenz and the Renaissance Society, Chicago, and to Hamza Walker for inspiring this collaboration.