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Ryan Lott, also known as Son Lux, is a musician and composer who works in collaboration. His assignment for this week offers an opportunity for YOU to collaborate with his music.

Sarah then explores how collaboration is found among many artists, and showcases Merce Cunningham's collaborative relationship with John Cage.

1. Download and listen to the piece of music that Ryan wrote:
2. Collaborate with Ryan by responding to it in any medium of your choice
3. Upload your collaboration using #theartassignment
4. Fame and glory (your work might be featured in a future episode)

Find out more about The Art Assignment and how to submit your response:

We're back in Brooklyn today to meet with the intensely creative musician and composer Ryan Lott, who writes and records under the name Son Lux. He's made three solo albums, including Lanterns in 2013 and We Are Rising in 2011, which was made in response to a challenge from NPR to make an entire album in 28 days. Ryan is no stranger to collaboration, in fact, it's at the core of just about everything he does.

He's worked with Sufjan Stevens and Serengeti, with Lorde and with members of Punch Brothers and Arcade Fire. He's performed at Carnegie Hall with the Young People's Choir of New York, has composed for a number of dance companies, and has arranged for a number of films including Looper in 2012.

Ryan's work is densely layered and he has the remarkable ability to synthesize the talents of a wide range of people. He's working on a new album and he's about to head out on tour, but we've caught him in his home in Brooklyn and he'd like to form a new collaboration, with you.

Hi, I'm Ryan of Son Lux and this is your Art Assignment.

A lot of people refer to me as an electronic musician, which, um, is a little bit misleading, because most of my music, most of the materials in my music are actually acoustic and their origin is acoustic, and I explore the potential of acoustic sound, with digital signal processing. Um, which sounds really fancy, but basically just means that like, I just mess with sound, um, with computers and the tools at my disposal that are digital to, um, find really interesting things that were maybe hiding inside of acoustic sound. You know, I'm a pianist and I sing and I play some other instruments um and um I have a slew of friends who are amazing at their respective instruments, so I consider, as a composer, I consider all those things as my tools, you know. But ultimately I harness them all um, in some form or fashion.

One thing that's special about music is that um it plays well with others, you know? If has um it pairs really well with dance it pairs really well with visuals it pairs really well with story. Um and uh it both supports and is enhanced by other art forms. I love the idea that like a piece of music can have a certain life inside of my mind and in my studio um and then as soon as it gets out in the world it takes on a whole different life, you know, a new life.

So here's what we're gonna do. We're gonna collaborate. I'm gonna write a piece of music and then you're gonna respond to it. If you're also a musician maybe you can remix it, maybe you can embellish it with your own arrangements, add to it. If you're a dancer uh how about you make a dance if you are really good at Vine uh how about you make a series of Vine videos. If you do stop motion, claymation uh do something like that. Huh. Uh. Anything. Just respond to it. Um, this is a collaboration between you and me. Um. I'll bring myself to it and I want you to bring yourself to it.

JOHN: So Sarah, as you know, I'm a huge fan of collaboration. You and I collaborate on this project, I collaborate with my brother a lot. I once collaboratively wrote a novel with my friend David Levithan. Also, I'm a huge Son Lux fan so this assignment is perfect for me.

SARAH: I am also a huge Son Lux fan, but I'm curious how would you characterize your collaborations?

JOHN: Well, I always imagine collaboration as like two people in the same room all the time and there is a lot more independence in my collaborations a lot more space, I guess I would say.

SARAH: And I think that's what this assignment with Son Lux brings up is that there's a way to collaborate quite independently where you create this great thing together but it's developed quite separately. Um and it actually reminds me of the, the ongoing collaborations between music and dance um and especially the work of Merce Cunningham uh sort of America's foremost modern dancer and choreographer uh and his partnership with John Cage.

Merce Cunningham joined forces with many artists throughout his career, but his most indelible collaboration occurred with his life partner, famed experimental musician John Cage. They created many works together, but one of the discoveries that guided them was actually the separation of music and dance not allowing either art form to be subordinate to the other. The work shared the same time and space but each element was created separately and brought together at the moment of performance. Artist Robert Rauschenberg was brought into the mix for the work Minutia from 1954. For it they used Cage's existing music for piano 1-20 and Rauschenberg created a free standing environmental object. Merce and his company's dancers moved around the object through it and under it. The choreography determined by chance processes and consisting of small abrupt movements.

Scholar Roger Copeland suggested that Cunningham's way of working can be understood as a part of the collage aesthetic of modernism. The disparate elements could coexist in a layered open ended composition.

Cunningham and Cage found a way of working together that kept the integrity of each of their contributions and you have the same freedom to determine the rules of your own collaboration with Ryan.

When you respond to another art form, um, it-- something chemically happens differently in your brain as it relates to your own creative process. You know if you're creating something out of your own urges out of thin air you're gonna come up with something and I'm sure it'd be great. But there's something else that happens a different kind of mental process, a different kind of creative process when you create something in response to someone else's art and I think that's kind of what makes this project unique which is um and a lot of the Art Assignments is that there is something to respond to and in this case it's a piece of music that I will create out of thin air - my inspiration of course will be that it will be part of a collaboration - but um what I create out of thin air then you um, uh, your challenge, if you choose to accept it, is uh is to respond to it. And, and chances are something will emerge that will surprise you and it'll help unlock something that is there but just maybe needed a nudge.

[SARAH offscreen]: And not that they're divorced from each other [laughs] oh sorry he doesn't like the question.

RYAN: Yeah. He's like. He's always talking about this.

SARAH: Um, yeah [continues laughing]