In the opening chapters of his celebrated book The Rest is Noise, critic Alex Ross writes of a turn-of-the-20th-century New York that was almost completely devoid of American music. Concert halls at that time were filled with European virtuosos playing European warhorses. American composers, when rarely heard, did their utmost to sound European.
Skip to the end of the book, and one finds an early 21st-century New York that has been transformed into an American musical mecca. American composers are now filling theaters, concerts halls, old warehouses and abandoned grain silos with the steady, pulsating sounds of post-minimalist music. Much of this music is plugged in, taking advantage of digital sampling, MIDI interface for computers and Internet music code. It’s high-tech American music for a global Information Age.
Nashville-based composer Kyle Baker has found considerable inspiration in Ross’ book. He talks of it frequently. And he has aspirations of turning Nashville into the sort of downtown Manhattan that Ross described. Baker’s primary transformational tool is Soundcrawl, a five-day multi-media composition festival that starts this evening (Saturday, Oct. 6) at the Arcade and the Brick Factory.
Baker and fellow composer Aaron Doenges came up with the idea for Soundcrawl about five years ago, when both were graduate composition students at Belmont University. “We noticed that Nashville’s visual artists were getting their works before the public at the Arcade and its first Saturday Artcrawl,” Baker says. “Our music was mostly being presented in an academic environment and was not getting out into the general public.”
Not content to write faculty-lounge music, Baker and Doenges created a partnership with Artcrawl four years ago, and Soundcrawl was born. From the beginning, the annual festival caused confusion. “Critics kept wondering whether we were an art exhibition or an electronic music festival,” Bakers says. The befuddlement was understandable, but it was also based on a false premise, namely, that music and visuals are necessarily separate and distinct entities. But sound and image are no more separable in a work for piano and video game than they are in opera. The two are interdependent parts of an organic whole.
By the way, the example of a piano and video game work was not hypothetical. The fourth-annual Soundcrawl opens tonight (Saturday, Oct. 6) at the Arcade with artist/composer Brian Franklin’s new piece called The Essential Mortal Kombat. Franklin has engineered a way to play the famed fighting game using a pair of pianos. The game is interactive and the score is the game. Mortal Kombat is on view from 6 to 8 p.m.
After the Artcrawl, the proceedings move to the Brick Factory, 209 10th Ave. South, where electric violin virtuoso Tracy Silverman will set up his amps for an evening of his usual electronic eclecticism. Silverman plays a six-string electric instrument of his own design, and over the years has premiered such works as John Adams’ The Dharma at Big Sur and Terry Riley’s Palmian Chord Ryddle – which Silverman played with the Nashville Symphony last May at Carnegie Hall. Silverman is a natural fit for Soundcrawl, since he was postmodern before postmodernism was cool. His performance starts at 9:30 p.m. and is $20.
Soundcrawl’s main exhibition event takes place Sunday, Oct. 7 at the Brick Factory, with the sights and sounds of 26 new-media compositions running simultaneously along with live performances. There will be a violin and laptop duet, an interactive dance that uses Microsoft Kinect to respond to the dancers, a work for guitar and electronics, and Lanier Sammons’ 11 Measurements, which uses atmospherics and information from the audience to create sound. The exhibition is from 5 to 8 p.m.
One of the most venturesome events in an adventurous festival takes place Monday, Oct. 8 from 6:30 to 8 p.m., when Benton-C Bainbridge and Tony Youngblood join forces for the premiere of FastMapping. Bainbridge, a video artist, will project objects from the audience in real time, while Youngblood accompanies him musically. That event at the Brick Factory is $10.
Soundcrawl continues Tuesday, Oct. 9 with the Nashville premiere of Tim Hinck’s latest string quartet (6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Brick Factory; $10). It concludes Wednesday, Oct. 10 with the work of Robbie Lynn Hunsinger, whose work features classical woodwinds with sensors that trigger multimedia elements. The event is 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Brick Factory and a $10 donation is suggested.
For all of Soundcrawl’s efforts, Nashville is still lights years away from developing the sort of new-music scene found in New York. Yet there are signs that things are at least moving in the right the direction. Zeitgeist Gallery continues to amaze the senses and delight the imagination with its terrific and venturous Indeterminacies series. Moreover, the Nashville Symphony, ALIAS Chamber Ensemble and Blair School of Music have all steadfastly embraced contemporary music. What Soundcrawl needs now is a bigger audience and some generous patrons. No doubt, the festival will have to bang on more than a few cans to attract their attention.
For more information about Soundcrawl, click here.