The Culturalist: February 2017

A month's worth of indie-folk, intellectuals and improvised instruments

Shook Twins | Feb. 2

LITTLE ROCK | There’s just a special sound that’s produced when family members sing in harmony, made all the more significant if the family members happen to be identical twin sisters, as is the case with the Shook Twins. But Katelyn and Laurie Shook’s strikingly similar voices aren’t the only tools in their bag. Employing mandolins and upright bass on the same stage as drum machines and a repurposed-telephone microphone, the songstresses blend folk, soul, pop and dance music for a sound that’s all their own. It’s a family affair that reinvigorates the indie-folk genre with a little bit of quirk and eccentricity, while still remaining true to the Americana tradition. (

Dr. Marc Lamont Hill: Hip Hop Generation Intellectual | Feb. 13

CONWAY | Five years ago, when an interviewer with asked him why, as a public intellectual, he chose to appear on television, Dr. Marc Lamont Hill answered as follows: “I believe that in the 21st century so much how people engage the world is through images–through television and the Internet–and for me television becomes an opportunity to intervene and offer a different perspective. So much of what’s on television doesn’t show Black people’s humanity, they only show us as a social burden, as violent, as anti-intellectual. So I think my presence in the space can offer a different image of who we are.” He hardly need have said as much. Though he’s been a regular fixture on cable news since earning his Ph. D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 2005, the Philadelphia native has done considerably more than hug tight to the airwaves. A prolific writer and advocate, he’s authored a number of academic papers and books (his most recent was Nobody: Casualties of America’s War on the Vulnerable, from Ferguson to Flint and Beyond), taught at Columbia and Morehouse (where he’s now a distinguished professor of African American studies), and been an exceptionally important voice in an atmosphere that’s increasingly antagonistic to people of color. In effect, he’s a voice we want to hear—no matter where he’s coming from. (

Protest Sign, Brownsville Texas by Richard Misrach, 2014. Pigment print, 25 x 33 1/4 in. Courtesy of the artist.

Border Cantos: Sight & Sound from the Mexican-American Border | Feb. 18 – April 24

BENTONVILLE | What does the border sound like? There’s the wind, the sand, the birds. There’s the scuff of migrant shoes and the rattle of used shotgun shells. There’s the rough-sounding scritch and scratching, the clacking of tin cans and glass bottles. And as Border Cantos, which debuted at the San Jose Museum of Art in February 2016, shows through 42 photographs and 42 “instruments” which replicate those sounds, there’s still more. A collaboration between the composer Guillermo Galindo and the landscape photographer Richard Misrach, the exhibition employs an equal mix of all-but-entirely unpopulated, large-scale photographs, and a cache of found objects-turned-musical instruments to give the viewer some sense of what it’s like along our southern border. And for as unfathomable a presence as it is—just shy of 2,000 miles between the U.S. and Mexico, some 700 of which are are cordoned off with sleek metal fencing often at odds with the nature of the surroundings—the exhibit makes it all look and sound a little closer. (

Third Coast Percussion | Feb. 23-24

FAYETTEVILLE | Heard one xylophone and you’ve heard them all, right? That’s what we thought, too, until we happened upon some YouTube footage of Chicago-based Third Coast Percussion in action. Our first reaction? It’s mind-boggling the sonic texture four guys can muster not just with cowbells and xylophones, but colanders and coffee cans. Upon further investigation, however, what stood out most was that the music extracted from those instruments—the result of a much-studied process that’s involved everything from partnerships with astronomers and engineers to exploratory treks around the world—seemed at once thoroughly modern and utterly ancient. And, as the New York Times noted, “commandingly elegant.” (

Arkansas Symphony Orchestra’s River Rhapsodies: Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio | Feb. 28

LITTLE ROCK | When Tchaikovsky’s benefactress Nadezhda von Meck first asked her composer to write a piece for piano, violin and cello, he initially refused, explaining that he abhorred the combination of piano with these stringed instruments—outside the context of the orchestra, of course. But a year later, without further prodding from von Meck, Tchaikovsky had a change of heart. “I will not conceal from you that I have had to do some violence to my feelings before I could bring myself to express my musical ideas in a new and unaccustomed form,” he said in an 1881 letter to von Meck. “I wish to conquer all difficulties, however; and the thought of pleasing you impels me and encourages my efforts.” Those efforts proved successful, as the composer’s Piano Trio in A minor continues to be a chamber-orchestra favorite, in addition to being one of the more difficult pieces he ever composed for the piano. This month, a small ensemble of Arkansas Symphony Orchestra musicians takes on the piece—along with a contemporary composition, John Adams’ First Quartet—for their River Rhapsodies Chamber Music Series performance at the Clinton Presidential Center. (