Detroit house guests create an album for the Motor City

Detroit house guest and musician Dorit Chrysler. Courtesy of ADULT.

The Knight Arts Challenge Detroit is accepting applications through 11:59 p.m. tonight, April 13, for the best local ideas for the arts. Here, writer Mary Chapman caught up with past winners of the electro band ADULT.

Detroit, with its vast stretches of quietude, is decidedly unshowy. But looks, as they say, are deceiving. In this case, they belie a rich arts scene that’s vibrant and growing. It just helps to know where to look. RELATED LINKS

In this case, it’s the New Center area, where Adam Lee Miller and Nicola Kuperus, a husband and wife electro-music duo, enjoy this diverse historic district north of downtown. Its mostly quiet, tree-lined streets are a mixture of older houses and modern condos and townhomes.

But what that couple is up to is anything but conventional. Thanks to a 2013 Knight Arts Challenge award of $40,000, the two, who make up ADULT., is in the midst of bringing six musicians to town to cut an album in their home.

“The idea grew very organically over many years,” Miller said. He said each time he ran into musician Douglas McCarthy, the notion of a residency would come up. “But we had no idea how to make it happen. Then Knight Foundation announced the contest, and we said, ‘Let’s try it.'”

Although the project will ultimately produce an album on the Ghostly recording label titled Detroit House Guests, the Knight award was mostly for the collaborative experience, which includes having visiting musicians engage their host city.

“It’s amazing that the process is what the foundation’s interested in,” said Kuperus, who was born in Detroit but spent years in various other places before returning in 1994 to attend what’s now the College for Creative Studies.

The duo is halfway through having one musician monthly in its 4,000-square-foot abode, which the two spent seven years renovating. In addition to McCarthy, the others are Shannon FunchessMichael GiraDorit Chrysler, Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe and Lun*na Menoh. They all live out of state.

Miller said there were four requirements for prospective artists. Each had to be both a vocalist and musician; be active in their career; have toured extensively and at least have met the duo.

“We wanted people who could adapt quickly to an environment,” explained Miller, who grew up in small-town Indiana but moved to Detroit in 1989. So far, seven songs have been written.

Chrysler is a master of the theremin, an early-electronic instrument controlled without the performer’s physical contact. While in town, the New York resident conducted three workshops for children at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, followed by a concert.

Lowe, a vocalist and modular synthesizer operator, volunteered to perform at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in suburban Bloomfield Hills with Biba Bell, a Detroit-based experimental dancer who is also a Knight Arts Challenge winner.

He said he had worked with Bell before, but now feels like he knows her. “Before, we didn’t have a lot of time to get to know each other. So, this was nice.”

Typically, when a musician tours, he or she has only a few hours in their host city before they’re back on their way, Miller said. But so far, the duo has enjoyed hanging out with their fellow artists. They’ve dined and sipped coffee in the West Village, for example, and toured the Fisher Building, famed United Sound recording studio and the Techno Museum. One early morning, to avoid waking her hosts, Chrysler walked to a cafe near the couple’s home.

 “I also liked getting a feeling for the city,” she said, adding that she found Detroiters to be very friendly, and knowledgeable about music. She had only visited the city once, many years ago.

Said Lowe: “We had quite a lot of interaction with the art scene, and a bit of the academic scene and the techno scene. We met restaurateurs. It was all very beneficial to the whole process.”

Then there’s the work, which so far has gone swimmingly. “But it is very intense,” Kuperus said. “Because you’re living together, you’re having breakfast together, and when you’re done with the studio you’re watching Netflix together.”

Added Miller: “That’s part of the reason we wanted people to live with us. In some strange way it forces everyone to be in the same mood.”

“I thought the collaboration was a really bold and unique idea,” said Chrysler, who lives in New York and had only met the duo in passing.  “To take someone you don’t know into the privacy of your own home, it was an extraordinary experience, but so natural and fluid. They really were very gracious hosts, and also extremely professional. I feel bonded with them now forever.”

Lowe, who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., said the group worked an average of nine hours daily. “We have different ways of working. For example, I tend to go to bed late, and rise early. But when you’re working with someone you’re living with, you’re going to have the same rhythms,” he said. “Plus, we all have pretty even temperaments.”

Because of the collaborative process, Miller said the final recording will inherently reflect Detroit’s spirit. “Detroit always figures out a way to do it,” he said. There’s no way to make money off records anymore, so we thought it would be impossible to do this kind of collaborative record. Then we found a way to do it. That’s Detroit.”

“And the more Detroit puts out great cultural works of art, the better the city is.”

Mary Chapman is a Detroit-based freelance writer.