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Social Art Project captures college memories in collaboration with campus community

(Andrea Grigsby/Illustrations director)

By Eli Countryman

May 28, 2020 12:37 a.m.

Duets typically involve only two people.

But staying true to its name, Social Art Project found a way to put the “social” in social distancing with its Spring Sing performance.

The duo, officially composed of fourth-year students Matthew Gilbert and Alena Abella, will play “Carole,” an original song about maintaining relationships despite physical distance. Though Gilbert, a musicology student, selected the tune before the shift to online learning, he said COVID-19 has brought the song’s message into a new context for seniors. The online performance will include video and audio submissions sent to the duo by fellow students to capture the song’s message about community existing across distances, he said.

“People are isolated right now, but students are missing out on potentially their last quarter and are missing their friends,” Gilbert said. “So (the song) has taken on a second meaning of ‘Can we still love each other and be part of a community with each other when we’re not seeing each other day to day?’”

Spring Sing’s transition to virtual performances left the duo responsible for submitting a video to accompany the track. Seeing an opportunity to create a sense of community, financial actuarial mathematics student Abella said they decided to reach out to students for short video clips that capture experiences from their time on campus, like a crowd rushing the basketball court after a game-winning shot.

“Winter quarter was our last quarter being at UCLA and we didn’t know it,” Abella said. “Now ‘Carole’ has kind of evolved into a love song to UCLA and how we’re navigating what it’s like being far away. Because of the meaning of our song and the name of our act, we wanted to create an actual social art project.”

The clips will not just represent the experiences of one particular friend group, but instead will capture many different facets of the campus community, Gilbert said. To achieve their goal of displaying diverse stories within the video, he said he asked students to promote the submission request on social media – ultimately reaching students with about three degrees of separation from the duo.

But the social collaboration inherent to its performance will reach beyond the visuals.

As a duo, Social Art Project was originally supposed to feature only the members’ voices while Gilbert played the guitar. But Gilbert said he sent the recorded performance to friends and encouraged them to layer on new instrumentation as they saw fit, hoping to capitalize on the freedom afforded by the online platform.

“(Gilbert) asked me if I was interested in adding a little of my music to the song (they) recorded,” said fourth-year ethnomusicology student Sebastian Jones. “So I used what I had at my disposal in my bedroom here.”

Some of the instrumentation he sent to Gilbert includes bass, guitar and electric piano. And while the final mixing is up to Social Art Project, Jones said he made sure his additions didn’t play too many notes within the range of its vocals. The song finds beauty in its existence as a simple recording between the two performers, not overdone chords or lyrics, he said. Random Voices A Cappella will also lend its vocals to later parts of the track, Gilbert said, but the singing will still mostly be done by Abella and himself.

The jury was originally out on whether Social Art Project would be allowed to compete with this version, however. It had to get permission from Spring Sing to include the additional vocals and instrumentation because a duet is typically just two performers. But Gilbert said the additions eventually got approved and will be included in the performance.

Despite this original uncertainty, Gilbert said the digital medium has allowed the duo freedom to experiment with how it wants to present ‘Carole.” Social Art Project’s goal is to reignite the sense of community within a now-virtual UCLA through the performance, Abella said.

“I hope our act, video and song are able to bring the community together,” Abella said. “It’s a narrative I feel like a lot of UCLA students can relate to. We all come from different backgrounds from a lot of places in the world, and we’re all trying to maintain those relationships that can be pretty distant.

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Eli Countryman | Alumnus
Countryman served as a senior staff writer. He was previously the 2018-2019 Music | Arts editor and an A&E reporter.
Countryman served as a senior staff writer. He was previously the 2018-2019 Music | Arts editor and an A&E reporter.
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