black’s backbone

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2019 Interactive Performance Series at The Wilmette Theatre, Wilmette, Illinois

As the persona NAE, the artist developed and performed a series of interactive live music shows as a part of the Chicago-based collaborative Black’s Backbone. Black’s Backbone is a collective of seven artists, each bringing unique perspective and skill in fields of visual art, music composition, audio engineering, songwriting, video game programming, and live music performance.

We debuted this interactive experience, called “First Contact” at The Wilmette Theatre in 2019 in the Chicago area. Other iterations of the project were exhibited at community events and exhibitions including The Wilmette Library, The Palatine Library, North Park University, The Wilmette Park District, and The Wilmette Chamber of Commerce.

“First Contact” by Black’s Backbone was featured in The Chicago Tribune, The Wilmette Beacon, DePaul University Newsline, and DePaul University Radio.

The Official Trailer for First Contact by Black’s Backbone at The Wilmette Theatre

Over three years, Contag worked with Creative Developer Nathan Glynn and Artist and Audio Engineer Ryan Black (REB Records) to design an interconnected series of original video games (mini-games) that audience members played during each original pop song performance by members of Black’s Backbone on stage. The games were projected on the theatre screen behind the band.

Host and Programmer Nathan Glynn narrated First Contact with a series of essays and collaborated with Ryan Black and JaNae Contag on the development of the original video games.

Between song performances, Nathan Glynn (as host and game programmer) delivered spoken short essays that illuminated the positive influences of technological innovation in our everyday lives, and called the audience to question their own relationship with technology through the video games as well as spoken word.

Audience members used motion sensing devices, MIDI controllers, and an electronic drum kit to control visuals on screen while engaging each original video game we designed.
Black’s Backbone members performed in front of the theatre screen. In this original game, audience members used an electronic drum kit to hit number sequences that resulted in glitter explosions in the virtual world on screen.
Ryan Black Blizzle Blacks Backbone
Black’s Backbone frontman, Blizzle (Ryan Black) performed an original song called “Fixin’ to Fail” about learning from failure.
NAE at Black's Backbone
NAE read aloud and responded to live messages from audience members while soliciting advice for online dating during her original song, “Get Off on Ur Msgz.”
NAE sings with Black's Backbone
With the NAE persona’s burner phone number projected on screen, she invited intimate audience engagement during the show.
NAE sings Strip! with Black's Backbone
NAE sang her original satirical synth pop song, “Strip!” while inviting audience members to play a video game where they have to “shop” by swiping an imaginary credit card over a motion sensor to collect clothing items, food, cosmetics, gas, and more in combinations.
Nathan Glynn reads names at Black's Backbone
Nathan Glynn drew names from a box to call audience members, going by their own “persona” names, on stage to play each original video game.
Black's Backbone at Maker Fest Wilmette Library
The “Artbeat”, our programmed MIDI electronic drum kit and the game we developed was a featured part of our exhibition at the community event Maker Fest at The Wilmette Library.
Black's Backbone Artbeat at Maker Fest Wilmette Library
The Artbeat has painted numbers on each pad that glow under a mounted black light. Users view the monitor connected to the kit while their progress is displayed on the large projector.
Ryan Black with Black's Backbone at Maker Fest at Wilmette Library
The mini game “Catbot” features interaction with a virtual cat, by waving hands over a motion sensor. The scene was created by NAE, by fragmenting paintings by Toronto-based artist Jieun Kim.
Black's Backbone presents original video games at Steam Fair Palatine Library
Community members played the mini games at the community event Steam Fair at The Palatine Library, where Nathan Glynn and NAE introduced the games and how to play.
Nathan Glynn Ryan Black JaNae Contag at Maker Fest Wilmette Library
Nathan Glynn, Ryan Black, and NAE (JaNae Contag) introduce their work at the community event Maker Fest at The Wilmette Library.

Black’s Backbone released our debut album, Spiral World in 2020 and it is available on all music platforms.