Utilizing Public Access TV

MNN Diaries: Lenore Von Stein

Jan 17, 2014Community Media, MNN Diaries, News and Views, Programming HighlightsBy Lee Walker Helland

It’s time for another exciting installment of MNN Diaries, our web series offering a peek into the hearts and minds of the talented producers behind our network’s ground-breaking programming.

January’s subject personifies MNN’s trademark creative diversity and innovation. Lenore Von Stein, creator and host of “The Facts,” combines public access television with what some might consider an unlikely venture: “art music” – or, what Lenore calls in her ever-compelling way, “living paintings.”

A composer and musician who grew up in New York, Lenore studied at CUNY’s Brooklyn College Conservatory of Music and founded 1687, Inc., a nonprofit that seeks to support today’s abstract expressionists and “create music and art that stretches the possibilities of expression and encourages creative thinking.” “The Facts,” a weekly program that mixes music, singing, vocalizations and spoken word with Lenore leading as writer/producer/musician, showcases music and vocals in ways that break with tradition and offers spoken free-form explorations of the creative process, art, philosophy, politics and more. The show is so entertaining that MNN’s blog series “Chuck’s Picks” once summed it up in three compelling words: “ragged, cerebral, hilarious.” It’s not to be missed!

Proud to be able to offer talented, outside-the-box artists like Lenore a platform for their crafts, we asked her to write. And write she did – a fascinating essay on the creative process, how fine art helps bolster health and progress, and the ways in which community media can help her distribute her work. Plus: Check out how other MNN producers inspired her to create her show. Read on.

What led you to MNN?

I am a musician and direct a non-profit music and art corporation, 1687, Inc.. I look for venues and handle public relations, distribution, and fundraising. I like taped shows because the record of the work and the work are one in the same – makes my job easier. I sometimes miss a live audience, but I also like working in the controlled atmosphere of a TV studio.

I write art music and am currently integrating stories and improvised music into the mix. I sometimes call them “living paintings,” because I want them to move seamlessly like a movie. This is very difficult to book, and audiences were scarce pre-MNN. I needed a way to develop this work and reach a broad audience. I regularly watch ”Democracy Now” on MNN, and one Friday evening I stumbled on an MNN art show, “Norivision” – it was charming and relaxing. I became a regular viewer.

I investigated the process of producing a show for MNN and moved forward. Lots of organizing, and roadblocks – we’ve chronicled some on 1687’s Arts and Business Log so that we can keep track as well as provide information to other people. It has been a long eventful five years working at MNN; for the last four we’ve produced a weekly series, “The Facts.” “The Facts” is also available 24/7 on the web on our website, Facebook, and Twitter pages as well as Blip, YouTube, and iTunes.

What have you learned—about the craft, about yourself—while creating a TV show at MNN?

Half-hour episodes of “The Facts” (as in, what are the facts?) interweave original artworks (made of composed and improvised music, stories and video art) with the making of the artwork – e.g. motivations, influences, and process. Each episode stands alone, in addition to developing story lines through the series’ three distinct episode types: finished artwork episodes, rehearsal episodes and discussion episodes.

We developed some of our techniques before we got to MNN, e.g. using live and improvised music and text to tell a story in one nonstop set – like a one-act play.

At MNN we needed to produce more work in a shorter time. The problem was creating quality artwork – the difference between making something good or making it fast. Limited resources and personnel time also meant we have to tape two episodes at a time.

My solution, which also led to the name of the show, was to reveal the picture behind the picture – for example, broadcasting rehearsals and non-musical discussions relevant to the artwork. We are mindful of TV and the web as information and disinformation tools, creators as well as reactors to cultural currents. We aim to give the audience insight into our positions and influences, help them find commonalities with circumstances that may seem alien, as well as provoke thought and criticism.

How would you like your show to impact your audience?

Growing up in New York City, TV played a central role in my exposure to fine arts and complex ideas. Educational TV provided a light in the forest, a sharp contrast to entertainment TV (which, on the contrary, often added blank walls and confusion to my intellectual and emotional yearnings).

We are working to fashion a more dynamic cultural conversation – broader, deeper, more opinionated and contentious. Music that comes out of this caldron, just as in past eras, may not be easy to hum or dance to, but might talk to other parts of our insides about what it is to be alive, as opposed to drifting on the surface, buffered by circumstances but not investigating them.

My goal and that of the artists I work with is to be as honest and smart as we can in order to convey something meaningful, with meat on its bones. I particularly like it when the show provokes a listener to think more about something that is important to them.

Music is central to the “music-stories” we are making on “The Facts.” I think the whole series is one long piece of music, even when we are talking. The music is not in a particular genre. I want the audience to hear new sound patterns – they are not likely to have heard music like this before. I think the music is easy to understand, though it may be hard to hear at first; this music calls on the audience to suspend expectations and listen.

I’d prefer people to watch a whole episode, but from audience comments and web statistics we know many people watch segments. Lots of people don’t listen to a whole CD, and I’ve built “The Facts” to be rewarding in small chunks.

How has MNN changed your life, present and future?

I’ve been able to develop my work – something every artist is looking to do. But we need support, and that is in short supply. MNN has helped fill that gap, given us a home base, and made it possible to distribute work to a broad audience.

Both as a consumer of other people’s artwork and as an artist, I think fine art is vital to health and progress. In the U.S., new complex music is mired in academic provisos and funding concerns. Musicians need to earn a living, and that often curtails innovation – time spent on a low- or no-paying art project is time that could be spent making money playing more conventional music.

We think the production space, equipment, expertise and broadcast time provided by MNN, coupled with the Internet’s reach, is a potential game changer that can make it possible for independent artists to create serious work and build an audience. That’s what we are trying to do and model for others.

I watch a lot of TV and movies, and I want to make movies. Most of my producing experience prior to MNN was with live performance and audio recordings. At MNN I’ve learned and continue to learn about creating and maintaining a camera, audio, and editing crew. There are about twenty people involved in making this show.

The camera and video editing have opened a new world of expressive possibilities. Music is a multi-dimensional art form like three-dimensional chess; pictures add another dimension. There is lots of work ahead: stimulating and frustrating, creative and mundane. It is really exciting.

In three words, why do you love the work you do at MNN

Can Be Truthful

Check out “The Facts” on Blip, and watch the show every Wednesday at 5:30pm on MNN4 (TWC 67, RCN 85, FiOS 36) and MNN.org.

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