Listeners were treated to 10 hours of adventurous new music Saturday at the first Oh My God! My Body! My Ears! concert at the Trunk Space.
“New music” broadly refers to contemporary classical music, as well as avant-garde or experimental music like electroacoustic improvisation or drone. The event, organized by composer and flutist Elizabeth Kennedy Bayer, brought over a dozen musicians from Arizona and other states together.
Bayer started planning the event in October when she joined the new music ensemble Crossing 32nd Street for a performance of Steve Reich’s “Music for Eighteen Musicians” at Paradise Valley Community College.
“Everyone knows Phoenix is so spread out,” Bayer said. “It’s hard to meet people. There were a lot of people that I had never met before the day of the concert. There were so many fantastic composers who had never even heard of each other.”
“Hopefully this will be something that can bring all the different groups (of musicians) together,” Bayer said. “There’s not a central place for contemporary classical or avant-garde or experimental music to come together and find an audience (in Phoenix).”
The concert took listeners through a remarkable diversity of styles. Bayer’s solo flute performances and Jason Mitchell’s electroacoustic sound collages were motifs that ran through the program. Along the way the audience heard clarinet, saxophone, guitar, piano, an impassioned poetic tribute to Ariel Sharon and much more.
“Every concert is a chance to be an ambassador for your music,” Mitchell said. “For any sort of experimental music, you have to reach out to the community. Once the community hears something, and they like it, they’ll search it out on their own.”
Clarinetist Josh Bennett performed both solo and with the group Static Announcements. For Static Announcements’ final piece, the group invited audience members to contribute to the music by improvising through yelling, playing piano and making any sound they liked.
“One of the ways that we can encourage people to think about and experience this music on their own is to encourage them to be part of the event,” Bennett said. “We invite people to clap, to yell, to scream, to hit things, to play stuff, whatever, because we’ve created the space where a sound collage can exist in real time.”
Young students from Rosie’s House, a nonprofit music academy for children in central Phoenix, attended the concert’s opening with teachers from the school.
“We think it’s really important to expose kids to all kinds of music,” said Julia Cannon, program manager for Rosie’s House.
One of Bayer’s major goals for the concert was to expose listeners to new music.
“I grew up in a small town where I never heard anything like this,” Bayer said. “One of my missions as a composer is to make music available to people. My goal was to have an event that makes the avant-garde stuff approachable.”
Bennett said that the label “avant-garde” has been perceived as unfriendly or deliberately obscure in art and music, but that the concert was an opportunity to correct that perception.
“There’s a stereotype that we’re all smoking long cigarettes and wearing berets and we don’t care about our audience,” Bennett said. “That couldn’t be further from the truth. Most of us are just down-to-earth people who just have some crazy ideas that we want to get out to the world.”
Bayer said that much of the planning for the concert — costs, set-up and scheduling — will be easier on the second go-around next year. For instance, the concert was speckled with downtime while electronic performers set up equipment. Bayer noted these intervals could be filled with acoustic performances.
And along with rounding up performers for next year, Bayer is commissioning new compositions, including a piccolo quartet.
“I’m pretty freaking excited about it,” Bayer said.
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