Winter Study 99s facilitate artistic experimentation

As I cracked open the door of Hubbell 303, the acrid winter wind swept under the doorway and through the cracks in the windows, and an immediate blast of sound wrapped me in a deluge of bass and misery.

Photo of Pete Mertz '12 and Aidan Lawrence '14
Pete Mertz ’12 (left) and Aidan Lawrence ’14 (right) cut and scratch their way toward their next Winter Study dubstep creation.

I could tell already that this was not what I had signed up for. A chest serving as table occupied the center of the room, not only housing an entertainment console but even constituting a centerpiece extraordinaire. On top lay an Ableton mixer, a turntable and a laptop open to Virtual DJ. A pair of speakers blasted a remix of “We Found Love” by Rihanna mixed with Ludacris’ “Move B*tch.” The bass wobbled and trembled across the room, reducing conversation to screams in the seconds between beats. Pete “Richard Queso” Mertz ’12 sat on a futon straddling an Xbox controller while his partner in crime, Aidan “Johnny Fromage” Lawrence ’14, pressed buttons and turned knobs on the mixer. A synthesizer loomed ominously in the corner. This is bat country.

Opening with the typical, I asked Mertz where he finds inspiration. My question was nearly inaudible, as Mertz barked at the television, which displayed a recent Halo conquest. The bass resounded and echoed down the hallway. As Lawrence looked up from the mixer, he asksed “What kind of response do you want?”  “Whatever’s honest,” I said.

“The process can’t really be forced,” Lawrence said. “We found that out early on. We have fun and really feel the music. It’s a living process, and we try not to stifle it.” Mertz took the laptop, changing the songs Lawrence, a.k.a. DJ Prometheus, had been working on. “It’s nice to be able to live the process of writing and creating music instead of trying to break it down to theory or routine,” Lawrence said. He continued to feed the stream of music that shook the room, forcing knick-knacks to topple from their dusty perches onto the wooden floor. Each note was meticulously crafted to mold with the next. What was once bass and drum layered over a track had been formed into a careful song with drive and vision. In the 15 minutes I had sat in the room watching the two work, they had alternated in taking the hammer to the anvil, pounding out the meticulous details, matching chord progressions with sound and lyrics. “It’s a very musical art form, and I feel like a lot of people don’t get that,” Lawrence said.

Mertz and Lawrence were preparing in the hopes of showcasing their music on Sunday, during a concert they hope to hold in the Director’s Studio of the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance, and all I can say is get ready. The “Dubstep Production” course created by the pair is counted among the handful of independent Winter Study projects funded by the College, or 99s, aimed at furthering artistic statements in and around the campus. Students, driven by the strange and fantastic visions of their particular muses, have the opportunity to create original works of art, while the College facilitates their project by offering time and resources.

Jung Chan Yee ’13 finds himself in a wholly different situation than the dubstep duo, in “Documenting Immigration.” Through Skype, I contacted Yee in Atlanta, Ga., on a mission quite unlike other projects I had encountered.

“I’m writing about the struggle of a Korean immigrant living on the streets of Atlanta,” he said. “We forget about the flux of Korean immigrants into the United States. I’m trying to document it.” Yee had clearly been emotionally affected by his work thus far, seeming almost uncomfortable as he mentioned his findings. “It’s been difficult coming to terms with the condition of some of the people who live in this country,” he said. “The great economic achievements we’ve made are set back by the poverty that exists. Trying to reconcile the comforts that most Americans enjoy with the deplorable conditions experienced by the few has been difficult. The process has been heavily involved, and I’ve spent most of my time in Atlanta on the streets, interviewing store owners and homeless men and whoever I can find willing to give a little bit of their story. I piece it all together after.” When I remarked on the depressing nature of his work, Yee simply responded, “Someone has to say it.”

Indeed, the College has historically sponsored such projects in order to give a voice not only to the students who have taken an interest in the arts or in creative expression but also to anyone willing to put time and effort into a project with depth and meaning beyond disciplines and books, reaching out of the purple bubble and into the human experience.