An exhibition of musical instruments and graphic scores by Midwestern artists


This exhibition is dedicated to Barbara Lindquist (Racine, WI).

Barbara Lindquist (1930-2013) was an active author, visual artist, publisher and bookstore owner, musical instrument builder, and boat builder who lived in the Kensoha and Racine area all her adult life.

In partnership with Jeanne Arnold, she helped create Mother Courage Bookstore from 1978 to 1983 and Mother Courage Press in 1981. Mother Courage Press published 25 titles that sold internationally, including two that were among the first sexual abuse therapy books for children. They retired the press in 2002. They also started the women’s spirituality group in 1982 that joined with the Olympia Brown Unitarian Universalist Church.  She was the author of five published books, three under the pen name of B. L. Holmes and two under her own name. She also illustrated four Mother Courage Press books. As an artist she sold more than 100 works that are in private collections around the country.

Barbara Lindquist studied to be a luthier in her late teens and made a violin when she was 18 years old. Her interest in musical instrument construction resumed when a friend asked her to repair a broken guitar in the mid 1990s. She subsequently went on to built a total of 59 musical instruments, including six guitars, three violins, three dulcimers and many other unique hybrid instruments. She played guitar and other instruments and organized the women’s band, “The Depends,” and also played with the “Roadkill” band.  She was active a wide variety of women’s spiritually circles as well as in the organization LINK (Lonely Instruments for Needy Kids), repairing a wide variety of donated instruments for children’s music studies.



Paintings and musical instruments by Douglas Ewart, including, in the corner, the Oxygen Drum Roving.

A few photos from our opening event Sunday, August 4.


Linda Binder playing fishidole by Barbara Lindquist.


Duo featuring Linda Binder with Mark Truesdell playing 3-string canoe paddle by Barbara Lindquist.


Amanda Schoofs discusses her visual scores “Cowboy Mouth” and “Ink Makes a Sound.”


Kevin Schlei demonstrates the visual interface of his multi-touch synthesizer app, TC-11.


Mark Mantel plays headboard tongue drum designed by John Preus.


Johnny Washday talks about the history of cigar box guitars.


Wilhelm Matthies demonstrates his Mosea 3A.  A variation on this instrument, the kokeka, is displayed behind him.


Hal Rammel plays amplified palette.

Sounds Take Shape: the Music of Surprise

Sounds Take Shape: the Music of Surprise

 Sounds Take Shape: The Visual Art of Music in the Midwest focuses on the interplay between our visual and auditory experience of music.  In an era when musical expectations for wider audiences are rarely challenged, a survey of the imaginative ways the tools of music (instruments and scores) may lead us into unexpected musical experiences is an opportunity to be celebrated.

Musical instruments are designed to offer sounds – their pitch, dynamic range, and timbre – in an accessible fashion.  They do not necessarily dictate the type or genre of music to be played.  An instrument’s cultural history governs our expectations, for example, that a banjo is for bluegrass music (in spite of its African origins) or that a cigar box guitar won’t be used for playing something by Bach.

Looking at music from an instrument’s point of view offers a way to cross genres, defy expectations, and open up a music of surprise.  When an instrument doesn’t quite match anything we’ve ever seen before, then we are in for an even more unpredictable adventure.  When a violin looks like a fish what will its music sound like? How does a leather guitar sound?  When a piece of sculpture is made from a bicycle wheel, how is that even a musical instrument?  Does it play jazz?  Will we hear Bach again?

Scores provide a map for navigating from one sound to the next, how a performance begins and where it might end.  A score, through a wide variety of graphic detail and organization, may offer the performer widely varying latitude.  The building blocks of conventional notation (the musical staff, bar lines, sharps and flats, etc.) may provide clear evidence that this score describes a complex piece from the classical repertoire or perhaps an easily recognizable popular song.  Breaking up those elements of notation in unusal ways may, however, give the performer a remarkable opportunity to change the piece of music from one performance to the next, an invitation to never perform that music in quite the same way twice.  Equally, finding ways to score a performance by only relying on symbols, washes of color, scratchy surfaces, smears of ink, or even using written descriptions that may ask more questions of the performer than they answer, invite us, both audience and performer, to embark on a musical discovery together.

Sounds Take Shape: The Visual Art of Music in the Midwest celebrates imaginative play, the music of surprise.  Whether our musical tastes and experiences lead us to or, perhaps even, away from classical music, rock, jazz, or free form invention, if we seek music that embodies the unique and unexpected, sounds from the perspective of their visual art may well be a path forward.

– Hal Rammel, July 2013

Graphics from an iPad multi-touch synthesizer by Kevin Schlei


The glyphs in these images are generated during performances of the iPad multi-touch synthesizer, TC-11. Each represents a relationship between the touches and the screen, or the touches and one another. The collection of all the relationships drives the sound of the synthesizer. The graphic display has undergone significant changes during the app’s lifetime, and is a continuously evolving project.

Kevin Schlei, July 2013

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In 2010 Kevin Schlei Bit Shape Software to develop musical instruments for the iPhone and iPad that take advantage of their unique interface and sensor technologies. He continues his research into multi-touch instruments, having recently presented his work at the New Interfaces for Musical Expression conference in Sydney, Australia. Schlei teaches computer music at the UWM Peck School of the Arts where he is the Electro-Acoustic Music Center Technical Director.

The rotella cosmica by Mark Truesdell


[Photo by Dean Johnson]

Mark Truesdell writes:

I’ve been active in the Milwaukee music and art scene since the late 1980’s as a singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, composer and visual artist.  Guitar/slide, bass, piano, drums, blues harp and vocals are my main instruments… along with the Rotella Cosmica.

Active projects include:

  • The Spirals – a duo/trio with my wife Candice Nokes and sometimes drummer Carl Raven
  • Umberto Vata – composer/producer of collaborative ambient experimental space music
  • Once Now Ensemble – improvisational group featuring “everything from all continents, all eras, all species!”
  • Dumb Terminal Project – Garage-fi drums, guitar, cello trio featuring the voluminous song catalog of Rob Gerbasi

I enjoy merging my visual art and music together whenever possible in forms like in gig posters, hand printed cd covers or silk  screened t-shirts or Sun Ra inspired stage outfits.

The Rotella Cosmica is a natural progression of this instinct by combining artistic ” found objects” into an actual working instrument.

My young nephew Sam visited our home one afternoon in the summer of 2008 and knowing how much he enjoys spinning  objects like pinwheels, I took an old bicycle wheel and secured it horizontally on a thick board so he could enjoy it that afternoon. We had a great time watching it move and hearing the sounds of various objects striking the moving spokes. I puzzled over the best way to incorporate that sound and motion into my music for several months.  Then in January 2009 my wife encouraged me to attend a workshop at Woodland Pattern called “Creating an Ensemble Voice: A Workshop in Collective Musical Improvisation” led by Hal Rammel. The description for the event encouraged the use of homemade instruments. The pending workshop was all the inspiration I needed to put the Rotella Cosmica into motion.  The improvisational group “Once Now Ensemble” were the participants of that workshop and we still play together today.  I often use the Rotella Cosmica when performing with Once Now.

Musical instruments by Hamid Alwan


Drums by Hamid Alwan.

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Born in Baghdad, Iraq, Hamid Alwan came to Wisconsin to study civil engineering. His passion for Arabic music led him away from his trained profession to become a master drum maker and percussionist. He has extensive knowledge of Arabic music, especially the nuances and variations in Arabic rhythms. He makes a variety of percussive instruments, including tablas, tars, riqqs, and tabl baladis. Hamid is also a skilled restorer of antique Arabesque furniture inlaid with mother of pearl. All of his work focus on the history, rhythms and performance of Arabic music. Hamid and his wife Kim opened the Village Bazaar in 1972 in the village of Wauwatosa and then moved it to Milwaukee.



Musical instruments by Douglas Ewart


Oxygen Drum Roving by Douglas Ewart

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Douglas Ewart was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1946. At age ten he started to experiment with sound and uniquely designed musical instruments using tin cans altered to become hand drums along with pieces of wood fashioned into rattles. When his family bought a rug rolled around a piece of bamboo, he seized on the bamboo as a potential flute, beginning Douglas Ewart’s lifelong dedication to the construction of flutes, rainsticks, didjeridoos and other percussion instruments made from this remarkable material, all  adorned with his original wood-burned designs and haunting paintings.

Ewart emigrated to the United States in June of 1963 and plunged into Chicago’s musical world, studying theory, composition, saxophone, and clarinet at the AACM School of Music . His teachers, pianist Muhal Richard Abrams, woodwind players Roscoe Mitchell and Joseph Jarman, inspired him with their creative drive and their view that music was a life and death matter.  In addition to performing and recording with master musicians such as Abrams, Henry Threadgill, Fred Anderson, Anthony Braxton, Anthony Davis, Von Freeman, George Lewis, Leo Smith, Cecil Taylor, Alvin Curran, Roscoe Mitchell, and Mwata Bowden, Ewart has performed his own original compositions all over the world.

Graphic scores by Amanda Schoofs

Amanda Schoofs Composer InkSound

We’ve used Amanda Schoofs beautiful score “Ink Makes a Sound” for our banner on this page.  Here is a full view.

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Amanda Schoofs is a composer, improviser, vocalist, and visual artist.   Her compositions extend from the American experimental music tradition and exist in the space between diverse artistic practices. At times she uses traditional notation to convey musical ideas, but she has also developed a method of painting performance scores which explore relationships between breath/pitch, timbre/hue, intensity/shade, gesture/shape, noise, and silence. “They are visual representations of sound that deconstruct traditional and contemporary forms of musical notation with erased and layered text, raw mark and intense gesture to achieve equilibrium between composition and spontaneity in performance.”

As a vocalist Amanda fuses extended techniques with traditional forms of blues, opera, chanson, and punk. She has performed and collaborated with exceptional artists like: Hal Rammel, Fred Frith, Christopher Burns, Jason Hoopes, Ryan Gregory Tallman, Shayna Dunkelman, Phillip Greenlief, Steve Nelson-Rainey, Damon Smith, Trevor Saint, and many others.  Amanda Schoofs earned an MA in Music Composition from Mills College, where she had the opportunity to work with Joëlle Léandre, Pauline Oliveros, Zeena Parkins, and Roscoe Mitchell.   She currently works as a Lecturer in Music Composition and Theory at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.