The Innocents is social justice advocacy through performance art. The work is an effort to delve deeply into the most current issues surrounding the core subject of wrongful imprisonment and exoneration, as well as a commitment to connect with the communities in which it is performed. We have embraced our role as advocates through the realization that our work cuts to the emotional core of the human experience surrounding these issues.
Using a variety of found-object and home-made instruments, electronic soundscapes, and spoken texts, we (performer-composers John Lane and Allen Otte) have devised a one-hour dramatic soundscape comprised of at least seventeen individual tableaus which endeavor to explore various aspects of the issues surrounding wrongful imprisonment and exoneration in the American criminal justice system: mistaken identity, incarceration, injustice, politics, psychology, and resilience.
The texts spoken in the work are derived from a variety of sources: various historic prison diaries/poetry, interrogation transcripts, Google autocomplete, Thomas Jefferson, Jax (a female prisoner in the Oklahoma State Prison system), Mark Godsey (former NY prosecutor, author of Blind Injustice), captured Chicago police scan chatter, among many other sources. In an effort to make our work relevant, each major performance has originally crafted tableaus (texts and or music) that directly resonate with the local communities in which we are performing.
Some of the pieces are meant to be uncomfortable – a bit too long, momentarily chaotic and confusing, difficult to understand, provocative. Others are simple and direct: melodic and in familiar genres, lyrics recited to percussive accompaniment. Working on an emotional level, our idea is to shine a light on this subject—as if through a prism—in hopes that various aspects surrounding it may briefly come into focus for each of us.
American society’s struggle with mass incarceration is a volatile and divisive issue. While it disproportionately affects people of color, specifically African American men, wrongful conviction is a subset of mass incarceration which resonates across all lines of race, class, political affiliations, age and gender. We have performed this work in a version specially made for educational settings – a public charter school with a range of ages, public high schools, and community colleges. Our experience in these environments is that a non-partisan socio-political issue, presented not as didactic instruction but rather as creative art delivered with the highest level of expertise and commitment, elicits from these younger audiences stimulating, thought-provoking comments and questions, demonstrating palpable engagement with the issue.
Allen Otte was, in 1972, a founding member of a group whose premise was that percussionists should be able to behave in our time just as string quartets had done since the time of Beethoven. He came to the University of Cincinnati in 1977 with the Blackearth Percussion Group and in 1979 founded the world-renowned ensemble, Percussion Group Cincinnati. Professor Otte teaches classical and contemporary percussion, eurhythmics, various literature seminars, and coaches and conducts traditional and contemporary chamber music. In addition to his now Emeritus position at the University of Cincinnati, he has also been adjunct professor of eurhythmics at the Oberlin Conservatory. His students are members of major symphony orchestras and service bands, contemporary ensembles, and hold positions at universities throughout the country.
Otte has regularly taught, given master classes, and presented his own creative work—solo and collaborative—throughout the Americas, Europe and Asia. With John Lane he performs their creation The Innocents throughout the United States, including at The MLK Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, the Contemporary Arts Center of Cincinnati, and for a conference in conjunction with the Innocence Project of Texas, the Global Center for Democracy and Journalism, and The College of Criminal Justice of Sam Houston State University. His work in this area has led to other invitations, including a residency in Roosevelt University’s Performing Social Justice Program. Recent guest faculty engagements include the Banff Center for the Arts, the Amsterdam Conservatory, and a creative development residency with the Indianapolis Symphony as instructor in eurhythmics. For ten years he was a coach in the Grandin Festival for Vocal Chamber Music, and for several summers, the Opera Theater of Lucca, Italy.
His broad percussion expertise is reflected in frequent guest artist appearances such as the 2012 Carnegie Hall Tour of the Nashville Symphony Orchestra. Amongst many regular invitations as soloist to the Percussive Arts Society’s International Convention, in 2000 he appeared as marimba soloist for their Focus Day on the Marimba. He is percussionist with the early music quartet Trobar Medieval; with the improvisation trio Vaster Than Empires (sound sculptures, plus Erica Dicker, violin, Paul Schuette, electronics) he has appeared in university venues, but also in clubs and various alternative spaces in major centers including Chicago and New York City.
In addition to the recorded work of Percussion Group Cincinnati, a CD of 5 collaborative works of Otte and computer music composer Mara Helmuth is available on EMS; Vaster Than Empire’s first release, on the Chicago label Parlour Tapes, came in 2016. Allen Otte and his colleagues in Percussion Group Cincinnati were inducted into the International Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame in 2017.
John Lane is an artist whose creative work and collaborations extend through percussion to poetry/spoken word and theater. As a performer, he has appeared on stages throughout the Americas, Australia, and Japan. Recent credits include performances at the Hokuto International Music Festival in Japan, Percusión en Escena International Percussion Festival in Bogotâ, Colombia, as concerto soloist with the National Symphony of Panama, and as a featured international guest artist at the Antarctica Music Festival at the Australian National University.
As an advocate of social justice, John has presented numerous concerts and educational workshops with his duo project with Allen Otte, The Innocents. To date the duo has performed at Innocence Network Conference, Woody Guthrie Center, Oklahoma City University, University of Washington, Wayward Music Series (Seattle), Cincinnati Contemporary Art Center, University of Georgia, Georgia State University, The Center for Civil and Human Rights (Atlanta, Georgia), Oberlin Conservatory, Cincinnati Contemporary Art Center, Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Ohio University, University of Akron, Kent State University’s Vanguard New Music Series, Shawnee State University, Sam Houston State University (Huntsville, Texas), and the Percussive Arts Society International Convention.
Commissioning new works and interdisciplinary collaborations are integral to John's work. Over the last few years, he has been connected with a number of composers including Danny Clay, Graham Leak, Peter Garland, Mark Applebaum, Yo Goto, Emiliano Pardo, Mara Helmuth, Christopher Deane, Marc Satterwhite, John Luther Adams, Kyle Gann, Michael Byron, Wen Hui Xie, Kazuaki Shiota and David Farrell. John has a number of collaborations with poet Nick Lantz, worked with interdisciplinary artist John Roach, and has created original music for dramatic productions by Victoria Lantz, dance works by choreographer/dancer Hilary Bryan and composed original music for granite sculptures by Jesús Moroles.
John is a Yamaha performing artist, and endorses Innovative Percussion, Zildjian Cymbals, and Evans Drumheads. Currently, John is the Director of Percussion Studies and Professor of Percussion at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, TX. He taught previously at the University of Wyoming and held fellowships at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music and the University of North Texas.