Smile Politely

Honoring Herbert Brun

The School for Designing a Society is hosting a series of eight events from October 1st through December 11th as a way to honor and track the influence of Herbert Brün and his wife Marianne. Brün, a German immigrant who faced Nazi persecution as a child, taught at the University of Illinois from the early sixties up until his retirement and was one of the original pioneers of electronic music.

This Thursday, October 22nd, the school will host Allen Otte and Bonnie Whiting, percussionists and composers. “We have a live performance by Al Otte, who is considered one of the best experimental music percussionists in the world,” said Susan Parenti, president of the Herbert Brün Society. “He’s coming with Bonnie Whiting, who’s considered one of the rising stars of the new wave of women percussionists, so they’re doing a whole concert here.”

The independent school is located in Urbana in what is referred to as “the Herbert Brün House” on Franklin Street. The building is filled with books and includes a modestly sized performance space. They’ve already put on several events in the series so far. Parenti said, “People come and play and talk about their lives but they’ll also kind of track what ideas they learned from Herbert or the environment around them. Many of these people we’re having as visitors are people I grew up with mentally in the sense that we tried projects together. They are artists and activists. Anyone who’s come here so far has a passion to connect their work with how society’s going and how to make society better.”

The school itself is geared towards art and activism, but the current series of events is specifically geared toward respecting Brün’s influence on the artists who are performing. “We’re always trying to bring change into the society to make it a desirable place, and we do it by means of making something: a play, cartoons, graphics, or whatever. So that’s a continuation of Herbert,” said Parenti, who received her doctorate from U of I and was also heavily influenced by Brün. “When I went to school I was desperately looking for someone to influence me. I wanted to know things, but knowing was not enough. I wanted someone to change my life. Herbert Brün was that person, as was his wife Marianne.”

On the importance of the event as a whole, Parenti returned to the theme of influential teachers. “I think just the idea of tracking influence, that someone bumps into someone in the 60s or 70s and this person’s a teacher and a thinker. It’s important for educators to think about the consequences of influence, rethinking what it means to be a teacher. That definitely is important because this guy and his wife clearly changed people who are now changing the world for the better. Even asking people, who influenced you? Have you ever had a teacher who changed your life?”

Live tickets for the Otte and Whiting event are $12 or, according to Parenti, “however much you can pay.” (But come on, pay the twelve dollars!) Or if you want to stream the event, the cost is $8. When the series is over in December, the video recordings of the shows will also be made available in an archive. Otte and Whiting will be performing at 7pm this Thursday at 122 Franklin St. in Urbana.

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