Cuba, Music and Visual Compositions

Faculty member explores Cuban culture through digital music and photography.

Mark Sullivan of the Michigan State University College of Music is working to build awareness of Cuban culture through concerts and photography that blend traditional with modern sensibilities.

“I realized there was a striking difference between what I encountered in Cuba and the things I had been told about what Cuba was like,” says the associate professor of composition. “My basic idea was to provide visual and acoustic snapshots of what’s been going on in Cuba for the past few years.”

Sullivan visited Cuba in 2013 as a guest in Integrative Studies courses that were part of MSU's Culture and Sustainable Development in Cuba program developed by music colleague Ricardo Lorenz and retired MSU School of Planning faculty member Rene Hinojosa. While there, he observed classes, met with Cuban cultural organizations, and discussed a range of collaborative projects in the arts that would involve MSU. He also took nearly 6,000 photographs.

Returning to campus, Sullivan set about organizing events to showcase contemporary Cuban composers as well as current images from Cuba.

“My goal was to reflect the surprising combinations of modern, traditional, and avant-garde sensibilities that exists in Cuba today,” says Sullivan. “Cubans are highly engaged with all the arts, making the art scene exceptionally cosmopolitan.”

In the fall, Sullivan featured original music by seven women composers through “Acoustic Portrait of a Scene: Cuba Electroacoustic Music.” The concert took place in Hart Recital Hall, and consisted of playback of digital works through a sophisticated sound and video system.

“Cuba is a pioneer in this type of music,” Sullivan explains. “The pieces involve a broad array of sound sources that the composers put together into different musical structures, including Afro-Cuban music, nature sounds, and speech.”

Sullivan also examined the intersection of traditional and modern worlds through “Cuba: First Times Never Come Again.” The fall exhibit through the MSUglobal Knowledge and Learning Innovations Center explored Cuba’s traditions and transformations through photographs that blended documentary and abstract styles.

“I felt there was a story that needed to be told to people who have never been to Cuba,” he says. “The more I was there, the more I realized that it’s hard to tell what’s going away and what’s coming into being.”

Click here to listen to more of Sullivan's experiences in Cuba here through a recent interview with WKAR's Current State. You can view more of Sullivan's photography here.

Watch the video that aired on BTN about Cuba. “Opening Doors. Inside the forbidden country of Cuba.” 

Study Aboard Program

“Music and Sustainable Development,” in Havana, Cuba.

Participants in this program experience Cuba's rich culture; study music and national identity, music and entrepreneurship, and music and transculturation; attend workshops and performances; and fulfill course requirements: Integrative Studies (Social Science, Arts and Humanities), Music, Geography, Social Science, Urban Planning. This program is being offered in collaboration with Colegio San Geronimo, University of Havana, Oficina del Historiador (Havana, Cuba).  For more information, email program leaders Rene Hinojosa or Ricardo Lorenz.

Topics filed under:

Share this: