In celebration of the completion of their 53rd season, the New Music Circle will be hosting a local showcase today, May 11 at the William A. Kerr Building. Curated by NMC concert programmer Jeremy Kannapell, the evening's schedule includes performances from local acts including: Joseph Raglani, Kevin Harris, Patrick Boland, Nathan Cook, Chicago's Olivia Block and an 8mm film by Kannapell himself.
Focusing on a variety of contemporary experimental music from the region, the showcase will serve as a platform for artists new and old to offer their own personal take on the wide spectrum of improvisational and experimental performance. Through an assortment of percussion, Patrick Boland (of the Conformists) will be performing one of the movements from "Rebonds" by forerunning avant-garde composer Iannis Xenakis. In an exploration of the world of modular synthesis, Kranky recording artist Joseph Raglani and Floating Laboratories founder Kevin Harris will both perform their own respective sets with new modules and condensed set-ups created solely for this event. And, Kannapell (also known as Ghost Ice) will be screening a new 8mm film, complete with sound accompaniment. Pre-show and post-show DJ ambience will be provided by local experimentalist Nathan Cook (of artist collective close/far family).
An announcement of next year's line-up will take place after the concert's end. An after-party will follow, where concertgoers can partake in free food, drink, and a raffle of prizes and gift certificates provided by local businesses for a $10 donation.
This season's final concert will also feature a performance from contemporary composer and sound installation artist, Olivia Block. Known for a unique mix of field recordings and electro-acoustic processing, Block creates an organic patchwork of abstract sound and reassessment of digital media. In this performance, she will be performing "electronic and processed sound for four-channel mix" in a four-speaker arrangement. We spoke with Block about the importance of the organizations like the New Music Circle and solo performance vs. collaboration.
Josh Levi: The New Music Circle is running out its 53rd year, making it one of the oldest organizations in the U.S. dedicated to avant-garde and experimental music. As an artist who performs in this realm, why is it important to support these types of organizations? What similar groups have you encountered in Chicago?
Olivia Block: Musicians, composers and sound artists are making less money now than I have ever seen (who would have thought that possible). I think there is a misguided belief among certain ideological circles in this country that art endeavors serve little purpose in society and aren't worth supporting, which makes me so sad. All of the composers and musicians I know mostly work for free or end up paying for something after an event. This is particularly true in the U.S. because there is simply very little support for the arts now. Many artists are now turning to Kickstarter and similar donation programs to raise funds for projects. When there is an organization like New Music Circle that can actually afford to bring an artist and pay that artist a fee, I definitely appreciate it. I know how difficult it is to keep something like that in operation. In Chicago, ESS and Lampo work with The School of the Art Institute to bring artists, but it is still very difficult to raise funds. I love that the New Music Circle has been in operation for 53 years. That is very impressive indeed, and crucial for the community.
You're known for your solo efforts/installations, in addition to countless collaborations. How do you approach each? Do you have a preference in terms of improvisation vs. composition?
I consider my solo work to be much more detail-oriented than collaborative work. I obsess over the process when I am working on a solo piece, and it generally take a long time. Collaborations are like a nice hiatus from my own obsessive nature. I don't judge the work as much. I just like to see what unfolds between myself and the other person or people. It was fun to do the collaboration with Greg Kelley because I felt like I was trying to find commonalities between us and explore those places. I also took advantage of the opportunity to try some new techniques on the piano. When I was younger I was in a band. I tried to control everything and everyone in the band was miserable. So I decided that now when I work with others it's best to try not to be controlling.
Sometimes I am surprised by the music that transpires. The collaborative compositional process is usually much faster -- although my piece with Kyle Bruckmann took a really long time.
Collaborative performance in particular is much more fun for me than solo performance in some ways. It's nice to have that tension and the give and take with someone else during a show. I generally feel I do my best work as a solo artist but I grow in unexpected ways in collaborations because I learn from my collaborator's approach to the work.
I think improvisation and composition both fall within the larger category of composition. One method is spontaneous and one is a longer process. My preference depends on the context. In live shows I tend to improvise more than in the studio, so that I am responding to the audience and atmosphere in some way. Generally, I prefer a balance between the two techniques. I find that when music is completely improvised I feel like it sounds aimless at times, while a work that is completely planned might sound too rigid and all of the exuberance is sucked out of the music. So using both forms of composition works best for me.
For full details of the evening's activities, please visit the New Music Circle website.