Nathalie Joachim and Allison Loggins-Hull, the two women who make up the flute-and-electronic-music duo Flutronix, have always fostered an omnivorous, voracious interest in listening. The Juilliard-educated Joachim grew up playing the flute, but also in the listening booths at Tower Records. There, she spent her allowance on everything from Underworld to Beethoven, depending on what struck her interest that week. This two-pronged approach to a musical education was one part disciplined and exhaustive, one part free and eclectic. In Flutronix, those approaches manifest in hypnotic and virtuosic recordings that hop between R&B, jazz, classical, and electronic influences with ease.
This summer, Joachim and Loggins-Hull retreated to Wisconsin to begin a new kind of sound exploration, scrolling through and listening to recordings from the Southern Oral History Program’s (SOHP) Soundcloud archive. The duo had recently kicked off a two-year residency commissioned by Carolina Performing Arts and involving a broad swath of campus and community collaborators including the SOHP and the Marian Cheek Jackson Center. Throughout the residency and culminating commissioned performance, titled Discourse, the native New Yorkers will use this substantive set of historical resources to illuminate universal concepts as interpreted by their singular musical sound.
Discourse is a project that Loggins-Hull and Joachim had longed to find a temporal and spatial home for. During their first visit to Chapel Hill, the duo connected with their friend, the artist and activist Toshi Reagon, who was a visiting lecturer and artist at UNC-Chapel Hill working on a powerful opera adaption of Octavia Butler’s science fiction masterpiece, Parable of the Sower.
“It was really moving to see how strongly the community came together to experience and participate in the show,” says Joachim.
The Parable of the Sower performance, along with experiencing the Jackson Center’s historical audio tour, which uses community voices to describe the changing footprint of Black Chapel Hill, left the duo inspired. They were ready to begin their own work and to engage with both historical and current tensions within the local community, using art as an explanatory and interpretive framework.
“I really do feel that artists have a way of tapping into what is in people’s hearts and on their minds and discovering ways for that to be processed,” says Joachim. “It is something people struggle with: how to process what we’re living while we’re living it.”
On Friday, Flutronix will share the first piece of Discourse, which takes as its text a 2010 SOHP interview with Civil Rights activist and former Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) member Willie Blue. Joachim says that Blue’s story gave testimony not only to his work but how he faced “the dangers of engaging in democracy.”
Loggins-Hull and Joachim spent time listening deeply to Blue’s story of attending SNCC’s Freedom School political organizer boot camps. The final piece of Discourse, also titled “Freedom School” will include clips of Blue in his own voice as well as Joachim singing his words, over music they hope is equal parts rebellious, tender, proud, and sorrowful. Joachim says she and Loggins-Hull saw it as a challenge to investigate the emotional and structural touchstones that make a song an anthem and to then create their own. This detour wasn’t necessarily planned, but this is part of what makes the Discourseexperiment exciting for the duo.
“You also have to trust the process of what the project shows you that it wants to be,” says Joachim.
Trust in the process (and the evolving nature of creativity and experience) has also allowed Joachim and Loggins-Hull to navigate their own decade-long artistic partnership. While both in New York, they could walk over to each other’s houses and work at all hours of the day and night. With Joachim now residing in Chicago, where her ensemble Eighth Blackbird and the associated Blackbird Creative Lab is based, Flutronix uses periods of intentional focus such as the Wisconsin retreat to create and tend to creative work. Joachim says that choosing to commit to Flutronix has pushed both her and Loggins-Hull in a positive direction
“So often you run into young artists who say ‘oh yeah, we tried to do this thing for a few months but it didn’t really work out,'” she says. “Allison and I, really from the first moment that we met, were committed to this mission that has now built into a business. We’ve continued to make that commitment to each other over time, and when you deeply commit to a project, you see results.”
With strong collaborations and supportive spaces, artists can push themselves out of their comfort zones to create brave new works. Flutronix often repeats this sentiment of liberation to young artists during K-12 educational programs and master classes. During their residency at UNC-Chapel Hill, they will be embedded artists in a course covering the topics of music and politics.
They spend time in these spaces because they know their presence as black women, classically-trained artists, genre-dissolving experimenters, and socially-conscious creators, is important, and that its impact is real. As Joachim says, if she had seen a group like Flutronix when she was in elementary school, it would have changed her conceptions of her own capabilities much earlier in her life.
“It was a very, very, very long time before I saw anyone that looked like me [performing]. And it’s still a very rare occasion,” she says.
Part of the Flutronix mission is also to showcase how an instrument that has spent much of its history associated with the classical canon and associated implications of stodginess can lend itself and its conventions to a rich musical landscape.
“I don’t want to get too deep into nerd-dom, but Allison and I have definitely attended many a flute convention,” Joachim says with a laugh. “Usually Flutronix is the only thing of its kind happening in that kind of setting. We really do embrace our traditional side, but love all these other styles, and we’re not inhibited at all by the idea of piecing it into what we want to create.”