Fellows Friday: Q&A with Bhob Rainey

Bhob Rainey, 2013 Pew Fellow. Photo by Colin Lenton.

As part of our “Fellows Friday” web feature, we focus on the artistic lives of our Pew Fellows: their aspirations, influences, and creative challenges. This week, we speak to 2013 Pew Fellow Bhob Rainey, a soprano saxophonist and composer, one half of improvisational duo nmperign (with trumpeter Greg Kelley), and leader of the BSC, an eight-member ensemble that uses both acoustic and electronic instruments.

What do you most daydream about when you are working?

Having someone else finish whatever project I’m working on. Or finishing it in my sleep. Of course, this only happens at those points where I start to daydream during a project—a period that usually follows one of intense, obsessive engagement.

How does residing in this region contribute to your artistic practice?

Although I grew up here, I’ve only been back relatively recently, (after 18 years elsewhere). My impressions are still those of an outsider.

I’ve found it difficult to see much momentum or sense of cohesion within the “experimental” music community. There are a number of people doing interesting work, but their efforts do not appear to be translating into a lot of local energy. There is no shortage of shows, but the overall feel is one of fragmentation and low stakes. I would like to be wrong about this. If I’m right about it, I’d like to help change it.

On the other hand, I’ve had numerous opportunities for cross-discipline collaborations that are incredibly interesting and fruitful. The degree of artistry, vision, and effort present in the theater and dance communities, for instance, is impressive and inspiring. I had hoped to find this cross-discipline work when I came back to Philadelphia, and I’m pleased that it has already begun for me.

When did you know you were going to be an artist?

I’m not sure that I’m an artist now. I feel that artistic practices are, at their core, experiments in being human, and it’s a shame when they become confined to merely making art. That said, when I was 17 and got lucky enough to be sent to the Pennsylvania Governor’s School of the Arts, where I met a lot of people my age who were deeply engaged with a variety of artistic disciplines, I started to feel like it was a good idea to stop pretending that I wanted to be an “engineer.”

What images or things keep you company in the space where you work?

Years ago, when I was essentially floating from couch to couch, I bought a wooden egg man with a clock in its mouth. It was made by a dentist who had some sort of breakdown, moved to Peru, and made a career out of carving these things. Interestingly, the egg man, whose mouth is absurdly large and wide open, has no teeth.

I had hoped that this object would provide some sort of anchor as far as living conditions go, and perhaps it eventually did. Its causal role is difficult to nail down with any certainty.

Grants & Grantees

“You can do what you want within the space of the paper,” says visual artist and 2009 Pew Fellow Ben Peterson. “Whereas in the three-dimensional world, there’d be limitations.”

Collaborators & Colleagues

Professor of ethnomusicology at Harvard University, Richard K. Wolf specializes in the veena and mridangam Indian instruments, and has conducted extensive fieldwork in South Asia.

We speak to choreographer and dancer Jumatatu Poe who has produced such provocative, experimental dance works as the Center-funded Private Places.

In August 2011, the Philadelphia Inquirer hailed Opera Philadelphia’s transformation as a “haven for new opera.”

The Unofficial Guide to Audience Watching Performance is an evening-length autobiographical dance, the culmination of Philadelphia-based breakdancer Raphael Xavier’s 30 years of experience in hip-hop genres. Xavier, a 2013 Pew Fellow, plays with the rhythms of rap, break dancing and narrative to draw parallels between the performer’s body and the stage itself.

Grants & Grantees

Founded in 1992, Astral Artists plays a vital role in the discovery and development of gifted classical musicians.

Grants & Grantees

Nicholas Kripal is a visual artist and a 1999 Pew Fellow.

Grants & Grantees

Network for New Music brought renowned composer John Harbison to Philadelphia for a week-long mini-festival that celebrated his career of classical- and jazz-inspired chamber music.

Grants & Grantees

Built on a foundation of public dialogue and interaction, the Re-Place-ing Philadelphia project used art as a lens for viewing the city and its history.

Grants & Grantees

Shanti Thakur is a media artist and a 2001 Pew Fellow.

Grants & Grantees

Opera Philadelphia presented the East Coast premiere of a new opera by composer Kevin Puts and librettist Mark Campbell, which went on to win the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for music.

In an essay accompanying the program booklet for Chopin Without Piano, Swarthmore’s Allen Kuharski contextualizes the performance within Polish culture and political history.