FreePlay Duo Combines Performance with Davson Art

Photo by Nicole Williams

The Berrie Center celebrated the combination of visual and auditory art on Friday, when a capella group FreePlay Duo performed. The group, comprised of recognized musicians Suba Sankaran and Dylan Bell of Toronto, Canada, was invited to perform in collaboration with the artwork of Victor Davson, who is a New Jersey artist and the art director of Aljira in Newark.

The show was intimate, with rows of chairs set up on the Sharp Theater’s stage, close to the performers. Bell expressed that he wished the performance to be informal and interactive at the beginning of the show, and the seating situation helped achieve that feeling. There were a little over 10 people in attendance.

“FreePlay Duo” performed original works like “Sankofa,” but also put their own twist on classic songs like “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye,  “Jailhouse Rock” by Elvis Presley and “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” by Paul Simon. The songs selected by the pair tied in with the visual works of Davson’s “Dub Factor” series, in which he paints directly on top of vinyl album covers.

The two musicians started off by performing “Sankofa” in different keys. The duo sang the melody in harmony, with Sankaran beginning with the melody and Bell beatboxing along. The song then transformed, as both began to beatbox, and finally ended with the pair singing back and forth to each other.

Later in the performance, Bell explained the technical aspect of a capella performance, describing how they are able to perform with more than two voices through a technique called looping, with the help of such programs as GarageBand.

“Technology is not supposed to overpower the performance, it’s supposed to enable the performance,” said Bell.

While performing  “What’s Going On,” a slow-paced song, Bell began with the melody and Sankaran kept the beat by tapping her chest.

After the song, Davson, who was sitting in the audience, was invited to talk about his story and work. Davson first heard “What’s Going On” in the difficult year 1979, a time when the population of the U.S. was dealing with the aftermath of the Vietnam War. To Davson, records are “artifacts” that can be configured in interesting ways.

There was a Q&A session before the pair performed a cover of  “Fireflies” by Owl City. 

The performance was unique, marrying contemporary music technology, a capella singing and visual art.