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Luce Foundation Center for American Art

Luce Unplugged | Mix Tape

Luce Unplugged

Luce Unplugged is a monthly concert series that pairs live, acoustic music by D.C.-area musicians with works in the museum's collection. Each concert features an "opening act"—a staff-led talk on an artwork selected by the featured group, after which the headliner performs an hour-long set.

Check out our Luce Unplugged "mix tape" below. For more information on Luce Unplugged, as well as other programs in the Luce Local Artist Series, please visit our calendar page. See images from past performances on Flickr and follow our Pinterest board for this music series!

Star FK Radium: "Training Wheels"

Georgia Stele

Georgia Stele by Jesús Moroles

Star FK Radium, which performed in November 2010 and August 2011, chose Jesús Moroles' Georgia Stele to accompany their second performance. This is what guitarist Bill said about the artwork: "I am a skyscraper buff. The piece reminds me a lot of the power and awe that is inspired by a 50 or 100 story office building." (Original music provided by Star FK Radium)

Aaron Thompson: "Misty Eyes"


House by Russell Gillespie

Aaron Thompson performed in January 2011 and chose Russell Gillespie's House to accompany his performance. This is what he said about the artwork: "Most of my music starts from the idea of a place, and the things that happen there, the people, and the memories it holds become the song. A house can be a metaphor for all of that." (Original music provided by Aaron Thompson, "Misty Eyes" © 2011 Twilight Parade)

Stripmall Ballads: "Mississippi John Hurt"

Stripmall Ballads performed in May 2011 and chose Edward Mitchell Bannister's Untitled (moon over a harbor, wharf scene with full moon and masts of boats) to accompany their performance. This is what lead singer Phillips Saylor said about the artwork: "Untitled (moon over a harbor, wharf scene with full moon and masts of boats) captures my imagination with its dark stillness and haunting wisps of waves quietly lapping the shore. It creates an ideal setting for a ballad to unfold." (Original music provided by Stripmall Ballads)

Lightfoot: "Pow Wow"

Jitterbug II

Jitterbugs II
by William H. Johnson

Lightfoot performed in June 2011 and chose Jitterbugs II to accompany their performance. This is what lead singer Jess said about the artwork: "I selected this piece because I studied the works of William H. Johnson during my undergraduate program at Howard University. I was drawn in by the color and movement of this work. I love the abstract interpretation of two dancers seamlessly melting into one another while surrounded by horns. The use of trumpet and flugelhorn in my music is an important element to Lightfoot's sound; thus I felt connected to the warmth and rhythm of this piece." (Original music provided by Jessica Louise Dye, 2012)

John Davis of Title Tracks: "Winners Cry"

The Angel Israfel

The Angel Israfel by Claude Buck

John Davis of Title Tracks performed in December 2011 and chose Claude Buck's The Angel Israfel to accompany his performance. This is what John said about the artwork: "The mingling of spirituality and fear is something that has always appealed to me. Buck's painting is a beautiful mixture of awe and foreboding, something that is always abundant in the world." ("Winners Cry" performed by Title Tracks, Written by John Davis, (P) Ernest Jenning Record Co., by agreement with Bank Robber Music)

Dance for the Dying: "Echo"

Nude with Goldfish

Nude with Goldfish
by Elsie Motz Lowdon

Dance for the Dying performed in January 2012 and chose Elsie Motz Lowdon's Nude with Goldfish to accompany their performance. This is what lead singer M.C. said about the artwork: "The painting was unexpected and sweet, and was also amusing to me because I had just spent a frantic 24 hours completing a painting of a goldfish after a long period of not painting at all. I appreciate the simplicity of the subject and the cool colors with all lines pointing to the fish bowl with the pop of orange being the focal point, and yet having very little detail itself. This is a piece I would enjoy every day if it were in my home, imagining myself as the lady meditating on the contents of the bowl." (Original music provided by Dance for the Dying, "Echo" © 2011)

The Torches: "To The Grave (For Luce)"

Life Mask (Abraham Lincoln)

Life Mask (Abraham Lincoln)

by Priscilla Roberts

The Torches performed in February 2012 and chose Priscilla Roberts's Life Mask (Abraham Lincoln) to accompany their performance. This is what they said about the artwork: "We all assumed the image was of a death mask until we saw the title of the piece, and that initial ambiguity is striking. Like the stories and songs that we draw our inspiration from, something that is meant to celebrate a life brings to mind death in the same moment. And happy birthday, Mister President." (Original music provided by The Torches,

Birdlips: "One in Seven"


by Will Barnet

Birdlips performed in May 2012 and chose Will Barnet's Positano to accompany their performance. This is what band member Lindsay said about the artwork: "Our music deals with borders and boundaries, traversing the shadow worlds where dreams and reality overlap. In Will Barnet's Positano, the dark shapes have a heaviness to them that is almost oppressive, yet the bright spaces in the canvas seem to hint at the transcendence possible beyond." (Original music provided by Birdlips)

Shark Week: "If You Want Me To Stay (For a While)"

Le Voyeur

Le Voyeur
by Man Ray

Shark Week performed in May 2012 and chose Man Ray's Le Voyeur to accompany their performance. This is what lead singer Ryan said about the artwork:"'Le Voyeur' is scribbled above the eye hole of Man Ray's piece by the same name and if you look inside there's nothing to see except inside of the cigar box. Works like this really flipped the idea of art up on its head . . . I suppose any musical influence or similarities between Man Ray's Le Voyeur and Shark Week would be strictly conceptual. The idea that there are unconventional ways to make a statement can be seen in a lot of music, including ours. More importantly, like May Ray, I think we aren't afraid to make a mockery of anything." (Original music provided by Shark Week)

Deleted Scenes: "A Litany for Mrs. T"

Deleted Scenes performed in June 2012 and chose Misha Reznikoff's The Solidity of the Road to Metaphor and Memory to accompany their performance. This is what they said about the artwork: "The lyrics of our singer, Dan Scheuerman, often roll out autobiographically-inspired struggles in the areas of existentialism, religion, self-medication, hope and death. Musically, our band gravitates toward eclecticism and tension in our song crafting approaches. We chose Misha Reznikoff's The Solidity of the Road to Metaphor and Memory because it directly overlaps with a few of Dan's lyrical themes, and in a broader sense, it does an excellent job representing the beauty and wonder that can arise from an intense inner struggle. The result is something that is wildly eclectic, but yet the painting manages, by just enough, to not come off as unfocused. We like to toe that same line." (Original music provided by Deleted Scenes. Courtesy of Park The Van Records.)

René Moffatt: "Demons on Your Sleeve"

Acupuncture Pitchfork Style

Acupuncture Pitchfork Style

by John William ("Uncle Jack") Dey

René Moffatt performed in July 2012 and chose John William ("Uncle Jack") Dey's Acupuncture Pitchfork Style to accompany his performance. This is what René said about the artwork: "I chose this because of its conceptual nature. Regardless of the artist's inspiration, an idea is presented here, executed in the painting, then left up to the viewer to decipher, conjure up feelings, perspectives, and interpret. I like the parallels between a conceptual painting and my songs [in] which I usually strive to present a concept and I enjoy music the most when an idea is presented." (Original music provided by René Moffatt)

Pree: "Lemon Tree"

Jacobia Hotel

Jacobia Hotel

by William H. Johnson

Pree performed in August 2012 and chose William H. Johnson's Jacobia Hotel to accompany their performance. This is what lead singer May Tabol said about the artwork: "We selected William H. Johnson's Jacobia Hotel due to its vivid, dreamlike overtones and the impression left on the onlooker that the structure, while darkly beautiful and nearly menacing, could fall apart at the drop of a pin. Our album, 'Folly,' was created in a succession of houses in the District in various stages of disrepair and foreclosure under a cloud of regret for past choices, the uneasy freedom tied to unemployment, and an unshakable feeling of apprehension as to what the future may hold. This disquieting atmosphere worked its way into the patchwork of recordings in 'Folly,' for which we've found a striking visual parallel in Jacobia Hotel." (Original music provided by Pree)

Alex Minoff: "Hard Labour"



by Herman Hartwich

Alex Minoff performed in September 2012 and chose Herman Hartwich's Meditation to accompany his performance. This is what he said about the artwork: "Like Bresson's Balthazar, Herman Hartwich's Chico is a study in empathy. Are we to 'meditate' on Chico's miserable existence (as he appears to be), or on that of the artist, who has put another living creature in shackles? Likewise, as a singer, I put my own anguish on aural display. To invite scorn? Almost certainly not. Instead, I hope to offer the perspicacious listener a reprieve from their own interminable despair–at least for three-and-a-half minutes." (Original music provided by Alex Minoff)

Olivia Mancini: "Lone Traveller"

An American Puzzle

An American Puzzle

by Lloyd G. Schermer

Olivia Mancini performed in October 2012 and chose Lloyd Schermer's An American Puzzle to accompany her performance. This is what she said about the artwork: "Lloyd Schermer's An American Puzzle looks like 'Lone Traveller' in typeface. Like the song, it's a collection of people and places, symbolizing a great patchwork of American ideas and thoughts and dreams." (Original music provided by Olivia Mancini/Astra Via)

Fire and the Wheel: "Balloon Ride Ending in a Swim"

The Wreck

The Wreck

by Harrington Fitzgerald

Fire and the Wheel performed in December 2012 and chose Harrington Fitzgerald's The Wreck to accompany their performance. This is what singer and guitarist Joey said about the artwork: "The Wreck resonates with us because it evokes the same kind of tumultuous feeling we try to put across in a lot of our songs—holding on in rough waters." (Original music provided by Fire and the Wheel)

kindlewood: "Give & Take (Album Version)"

Mountain Blossoms, Volda

Mountain Blossoms, Volda

by William H. Johnson

kindlewood performed in March 2013 and chose William H. Johnson's Mountain Blossoms, Volda to accompany their performance. This is what frontwoman Kelci said about the artwork: "The bright blossoms contrasting against the dark background made me feel hopeful, made me think we have the choice to illuminate rather than blend in. I like to think our music shines some light." (Original music provided by kindlewood)

Wytold: "Intrigue"

Night Leaf

Night Leaf

by Louise Nevelson

Wytold performed in April 2013 and chose Louise Nevelson's Night Leaf to accompany his performance. This is what he said about the artwork: "I love the contrast between nature and modern technology in Night Leaf, which is also present in my layering of melodies and rhythms on the six-string electric cello. For me, the geometrical variations in each section of Night Leaf correspond to the plucking rhythms and harmonies I overlay in 'Intrigue'. Through the course of the composition, each layer unfolds adding to the overall urban-yet-natural mood." (Original music provided by Wytold)

America Hearts: "I Like Bad Music"

America Hearts performed in May 2013 and chose Brother of the Van Buren Family by an unidentified artist to accompany their performance. This is what frontwoman Jess said about the artwork: "I like the idea of the boy being an unknown subject who is related to the first American-born president. Captured in a small keepsake painting, like a Polaroid, the boy looks privileged and innocent, like Kirsten Dunst playing Marie Antoinette." (Original music provided by America Hearts)

Vandaveer: "Mary Of The Wild Moor"

Moses in the Bullrushes

Moses in the Bullrushes

Henry Ossawa Tanner

Vandaveer performed in June 2013 and chose Moses in the Bullrushes by Henry Ossawa Tanner to accompany their performance. This is what frontman Mark said about the artwork: "This piece has a calming, somber quality. The spectrum of blues, the lack of overt facial features, the sober body language, the moonlit water, the gravity of the situation . . . All of it reflects resolute calmness and great sadness at once. That dichotomy is striking. And, then, on a very basic level--blue is my favorite color." (Original music provided by Vandaveer)

Black Hills: "Glass"

Black Hills performed in October 2013 and chose George Catlin's Sioux Indians on Snowshoes Lancing Buffalo to accompany their performance. This is what frontman Aaron Estes said about the piece: "It reminds me very much of growing up in western South Dakota. Not that we chased buffalo around, but a lot of the local art focused on similar themes and styles. Plus it looks like home. It's cold and isolated, and ruthless, but beautiful. It sort of takes my mind away, and I like feeling that isolated beauty. I try to make music that makes me feel the same way." (Original music provided by Black Hills)

Luray: "The Wilder"

Luray performed in December 2013 and chose Henry Ossawa Tanner's The Good Shepherd (Atlas Mountains, Morocco) to accompany their performance. This is what frontwoman Shannon said about the piece: "For our acoustic set at the Luce Center, I chose The Good Shepherd for a few reasons, mainly emotional and instinctive--like the impulses and inspiration that were the impetus of 'The Wilder'. The softness and pastel tones when you first look at the painting look blurry and slowly take shape; and what is revealed is something beautiful and moving and undeniable. This canyon was there long before you, and will remain long after you and your children. This striking awe is what inspires me about nature and the feelings are what I hope to capture in my songs, especially on this record, since creating something out of nothing (writing songs) was an act I hadn't done in a long time. Each song was a discovery." (Original music provided by Luray)

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Luce Unplugged

Luce Unplugged is a monthly program and songs will be added to the mix tape on a rolling basis.