Tag: dublab

dublab — Notes from the Archipelago

NMBx dublab co-branded web header showing Jonathan Hepfer playing mallet percussion

[Ed note: Founded in 1939 by Peter Yates and Frances Mullen in their modest Rudolf Schindler-designed Silverlake home, Monday Evening Concerts (MEC) is the world’s longest-running series devoted to contemporary music. Originally envisioned as a forum for displaced European emigrés and virtuoso Hollywood studio musicians to sink their teeth into the most challenging solo and chamber music of the day (such as the works of Charles Ives, Alexander Scriabin, Erik Satie, John Cage and Béla Bartók), MEC has blossomed its way to international acclaim for its presentation of demanding, uncompromising and poetically-charged music – whether new or ancient.

For eight decades, musical history has been made at MEC, whether it was the American conducting debut of Pierre Boulez, world premieres of compositions by Igor Stravinsky, Arnold Schoenberg and Harold Budd, the early-career performances of future classical music icons such as Michael Tilson Thomas and Marilyn Horne, or the first Los Angeles appearances of artists like Marino Formenti, the Arditti and JACK Quartets and Steve Reich and Musicians. — Alejandro Cohen]

In 2015, I arrived in Los Angeles to become the Artistic Director of Los Angeles’ celebrated contemporary music series Monday Evening Concerts. At the time, I was finishing a doctorate in the performance of contemporary music at UC-San Diego. My life as a musician (I was, and am still, a percussionist and conductor) up until that point had revolved around academic institutions and what one might call ‘music of the hardcore avant-garde.’ So, when I arrived in Los Angeles, for the first time in my adult life, I found myself suddenly in a very different intellectual environment than the ones I had been accustomed to since I was a teenager.

By and large, thankfully, I made new friends quickly. But when the subject of what I did for a living would come up in conversation, I never knew quite what to say. Stating that I directed a contemporary music series meant virtually nothing to anybody I spoke to. So, instead, I would say that I ran a classical music concert series. Realizing that this immediately fired their synapses to Mozart and Beethoven, rather than Cage and Radigue, I would ask my friends to envision the paintings in the Louvre, and then the paintings in MoMA. Once that difference clicked for them, it became much easier to describe the type of work I was involved with. (The dissolution of representational imagery in visual arts roughly matches the timeline of the dissolution of tonality and pulse in classical music.) I would say that like visual art, classical music has an aesthetic trajectory that takes it through many different movements and vogues over the decades and centuries, and that MEC was focused largely on musical works produced since the Second World War.

Amongst my new friends, what I would consistently find is that they were incredibly intelligent, curious, open and creatively brilliant. They were highly accomplished and successful photographers, directors, dancers, designers, actors, producers, etc… They didn’t necessarily know any of the reference points I would mention, but they could sense that there were intense, beautiful and urgent ideas contained therewithin. They seemed to share my hunger to find the sublime in music (that nebulous term I continue to use even though I know is taboo), whatever form that might take.

Moreover, these friends helped me realize to what degree academia had instilled a myopia in my own conception of music. As I drifted further and further from the world of graduate studies, I became less and less interested in music as a siloed art form, and more and more interested in music as an important part of the cultural fabric of its time. As a consequence, I found myself paying close attention to how my friends responded to the works I presented at MEC. Quickly, I learned a great deal about both the surface and content of the works I cared about. Further, occasionally my friends would reveal to me their own enthusiasm for a given composer that I had – in the academic sense – considered to be rather lightweight. Suddenly, I found myself listening to their music with different ears. After two decades of austerity, I discovered that, as my friend and mentor Hamza Walker might say, ‘I like ice cream too.’

Something else I discovered was that these same folks all seemed to harbor an almost instinctive respect for what I did, even if they didn’t quite understand what it was. Very often, I’d find myself on a dance floor where New Order or Rick Ross would be blaring and realizing – everyone in here has some version of the ‘I played clarinet in middle school and I loved it!’ story. Everybody I knew, it turned out, kept that part of them very closely guarded, and they remembered that era of their life with a great deal of fondness. So, this typically engendered a generosity on their end that I found both touching and surprising. I always had just assumed that nobody cared about the type of work I did except for my immediate colleagues.

I wanted to offer this playlist as an intentionally unkempt, unruly, sprawling overview of works that have made an impression on me over the past twenty-five years of research in this field. I have preserved works I loved as a teenager, works I loved as a graduate student, works I loved while I was studying in Germany, works I have learned to love in the past seven years, works I continue to investigate, and works I perhaps myself may not love, but think are nonetheless deserving of recognition.

Certain tracks you may love immediately. Some you may despise. Some may be vexing or bewildering. That’s okay! I’m with you too. This material is challenging, but like Joyce’s novels or Tarkovsky’s films, it can be incredibly rewarding. Perhaps even transcendent, euphoric, or revelatory. And not understanding this music?…Well, that’s kind of de rigueur in this neck of the woods. Don’t worry, you’re in good company.

This playlist is intended as something of an ocean. Put on your goggles and snorkel and start exploring. As Hamza might say, ‘get in, the water’s fine.’

dublab — Qur’an Shaheed: live performance at dublab for NewMusicBox

Qur'an Shaheed in front of a digital piano.

Qur’an Shaheed (b. 1992, Pasadena, CA) is a pianist, poet, singer and songwriter based in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles, CA. She has been playing piano since the age of four, trained extensively in classical and contemporary music. Since 2012 she has been developing her practice as a songwriter alongside her solo piano and ensemble work. She released the album Process, with producer Jesse Justice and Preference Records, in 2020 and regularly performs in and around Los Angeles. Her sound is innovative, highly personal, and experimental, incorporating elements of improvisation as well as neo-classical and neo-soul techniques.

This live performance by Qur’an Shaheed is part of New Music USA’s web magazine NewMusicBox “Guest Editor series” which aims to celebrate a plurality of voices from across the nation and will feature exclusive content written, produced, or commissioned by a rotating artist or organization. The series kicks off with dublab. NewMusicBox, edited by Frank J. Oteri, amplifies creators and organizations who are building a vibrant future for new music in all its forms and has provided a vital platform for creators to speak about issues relevant to them in their own words since 1999.

The dublab partnership will feature new weekly content from at least 15 different voices through January 2023, presented in conversations, DJ mixes, articles, and live performances all exploring the current landscape of music composition.

The Guest Editor is the first such series in the magazine’s 23-year history and reflects New Music USA’s aim to deepen its impact across the many diverse music communities across the United States. This aim is also demonstrated by NewMusicBox’s ongoing “Different Cities, Different Voices” feature that spotlights music creation hubs across the nation.

dublab – Composing to the Tempo of Time: The Philosophy of Musical Transcendence in the Ancient Griot World 

Tana Yonas sitting on the floor against a wall

A whole mosaic of global folk traditions offers contemporary musicians and composers a rich palette to pull from and evolve. Though have the engines of popular music culture unknowingly skipped past the heartbeat of what makes the music of these cultures so powerful? The implications of the surge in interest in West African traditional griot music in the United States, Europe, and throughout Africa in the past decade offer much in this analysis of how cultural intersections affect the study and experience of music. In the case of the griot performers, they are born into an order of mystic historians that codify music and poetry with the intent to cultivate public knowledge within an oral tradition going back centuries. This intimate look into the soulful mechanics of the ancient griot music culture will explore their comprehensive philosophy of music composition and what leaders in their community fear are the rapidly fading temporal threads that link them to their ancestors.

To properly contextualize the ethos of griot music today, it’s important to begin with the Mandinka people of the powerful Mali Empire in the early 13th century, established by the first king, Sundiata Keita. Griots, also known as jelis in the Mande language, were not only the living scrolls of history for the royal court but also worked with a singular patron as a trusted advisor. Keita himself was advised by a griot named Balla Fasséké Kouyaté, who played the n’goni. This stringed instrument, made of a singular gourde, goat skin, and wood, is the predecessor of the beloved North American Bbanjo and was used to induce meditative states that would assist leaders in decisions regarding governance and conflict. Kouyaté’s lineage still keeps his teachings alive through a direct line of descendant masters who trace their teaching back to him.

Sirfio Sissoko is a jeli and kora player living in the United States, and his father was the great Gambian kora player Djelimady Sissoko, and his brother Ballaké Sissoko is regarded as one of the greatest living musicians playing the instrument. He shared “that at first, it was just singing. there was no instrument. But from there, they said, ‘We have to find an instrument to create a melody. To make it something nicer instead of just preaching.’ So we turned it into music so that everybody could get into it, not only the king but the society in general.”

The empire and the resulting Mande culture expanded outside the plateaus and plains and across the West African Sahel to rule over modern-day Senegal, southern Mauritania, Mali, northern Burkina Faso, western Niger, the Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, the Ivory Coast, and northern Ghana. There are currently over 11 million Mandinka people across these regions, and griots still live and work for the people in their communities. Each jeli learned in the musical tradition, commonly has one particular specialty in either singing or with a range of instruments; the kora is the most sonically distinct.

The kora is a stately instrument. Its large wooden staff towers over the player and is held together by the stubborn tension of its 21-25 nylon strings. The strings themselves are most commonly made out of fishing line. The player sits or stands with the kora directly over the center of their body, and both hands are used to play strings over a large rotund gourd that amplifies and resonates its piercing tones, producing notes with a harp-like quality. There is nowhere where the kora is more important than in the Gambia, where it’s the main accompaniment to jeli storytelling. For Sissoko, the “kora is very intimate,” he added, “It has a very soft sound. We sometimes use pickups and play with a band, but the kora is mellow. When we used to play it for the kings in the empire, it could be played in the middle of the night when they were meditating together and talking.”

Since language wasn’t ever used to record the empire’s victories, document rituals, or share the kingdom’s lore, curious researchers have had to go to the former lands of these ancient West African communities to hear these stories. Dr. Thomas Hale taught African Literature at the University of Pennsylvania and worked to document the great epics enshrined in the minds and souls of griots’ songs in the early ‘80s. Tooled with a borrowed audio recorder, he traveled to Senegal, and while on the search for history, he also witnessed the telling of an extensive catalog of songs detailing family lineages and a world of the ceremony. Griots act as “a cultural glue in two senses. To link the past to the present, and second, you can’t have any kind of function or event without them,” Hale shared. Each song is composed with an inextricable lesson, as a living repository molded by time.

The tuning of the kora itself is as malleable as it is dynamic — A likely result of the absence of written language. There are 4-5 standard heptatonic tunings, with 7 notes in each octave, although the player can adapt those tunings to suit the pitch of their own singing voice or that of an accompanying vocalist/instruments. This encourages the player to explore an endless array of options and expands what they can experiment with sonically. There would be little benefit to finding the same tuning as another player since compositions were never notated, though some standards did call for a particular scale. Whether the player was using one of the standard tunings or if they elected to create one, each string was typically tuned relative to the bass string. One standard tuning is known as Silaba, and it’s the most similar to the western major scale. The picture below illustrates the Silaba tuning and how the strings are arranged with the bass note at the bottom of the diagram.

A diagram showing the tunings of the strings of the kora as they are arranged on the instrument (on the left and right).

Lucy Durán is a London-based professor of ethnomusicology, filmmaker, and music producer and warns, “the whole notion of composition is very tricky in cultures of oral tradition.” She’s immersed herself in Mande music since the 1970s and has watched as the world simultaneously discovered and fell in love with the kora particularly. She has also produced several records for another kora master, Toumani Diabate. Even though there is a certain measure of tradition musicians are expected to adhere to, evolution is expected. And in Durán’s experience working, “with Jeli kora players and musicians, there is a certain stock repertoire. It’s a bit like the blues if you like. But then, how do you make it your own, and what are the ethical issues around that?”.

In the case of the brilliant record she named and produced in 1998 for Diabaté and Ballaké Sissoko called New Ancient Strings, they recorded “reworkings of the standard old repertoire, but in a very individual way. There was a bit of rivalry between Toumani and Ballaké, as they had grown up together and lived next door. There’s a wall that separates their houses, but they have very different personalities and different ways of playing. And they were quite competitive,” Durán Shared. One composition called “Kita Kaira” was previously played by Diabaté’s father and Batrou Sékou Kouyaté in the landmark 1970 French recording that translates to Ancient Strings; demonstrating how compositions develop in jeli music. Toumani Diabaté recorded the same song in 1988 and even gave the record the same name, and the juxtaposition of each in three different decades shows how lineage, style, tradition, competition, and musical growth relate to one another in their culture.

“Kayra” performed by Sidiki Diabaté and Batrou Sékou Kouyaté (1970)

“Kaira” performed by Toumani Diabaté (1988)

“Kita Kaira” performed by Toumani Diabaté and Ballaké Sissoko (1988)

Competition is celebrated among jeli players and can push musicians to go deeper to produce moments of ecstasy in themselves and in spectators. In the jeli tradition, these ecstatic moments can inspire players into a temporary or permanent state where they are a nagaraya, or master. Competition is only one route to mastery, but at the core is the ability to transmit history. For Sirfio Sissoko, when asked what is behind great music, he shared, “It’s the message. You have to attach the message to it. And if you can change or touch a few hearts,” then according to his tradition, you’ve succeeded. In part, this is supported by how the music is taught, and why so many musicians who primarily have a western education have difficulty learning many folk traditions, and that is certainly the case in Mande music. In classical music education, details of rhythm, pitch, and harmonic principles are written by a composer in a classically academic and predictable way. For many African musical traditions, like in the case of the jelis, special attention is placed on how the rhythm feels in the body, communal or personal history, connection to spirit, and the perceived sonic language of each instrument.

In the case of the kora, you can tell a story with the instrument alone. It is wholly possible to play the kora in a way that sounds beautiful, but it would sound like gibberish to jelis learned in the way of the instrument. Sirfio Sissoko explains, “for example, let’s say you’re having a good time in Mexico, and we are having dinner. I could create something about it, and play it with my kora. So am I speaking in my language, and I could let you know what the kora is saying.” There is an essential layer that gets stripped away when music or instruments from this culture are played out of context and without the foundation of the tradition. After all, there’s real power in music.

“They say that in the old days, the great masters could break open a door, or all the leaves would fall off the trees. It’s an acknowledgment of the power of music, and we all know that music has power. If music didn’t have power, why would the Taliban ban it? They ban it because they’re afraid of it. Why are women not allowed to sing in public in Iran? Because they’re afraid of it. Women have powerful voices and can move people,”, Durán shared. And that is acknowledged in the Malian discourse. Part of why Malian music has become such a global phenomenon so quickly was because in 2012, when a jihadist alliance announced itself in Mali and immediately banned all music, they effectively forced musicians in the country to seek exile in foreign lands in places like the European Union. This affected other communities like that of the Tuareg people, whose music saw the same rise in popularity in the same period.

The culture has shifted to take advantage of the economic opportunities that came with this, and “Now, when you look at the whole idea of who is great and who you need to sound like and who you need to learn from, it’s likely to be the person who goes on stage and plays to a full stadium; not the person who plays more lyrically and perhaps more beautifully and with more soul, but is only attracting audiences of a hundred,” shared Durán. She added that if musicians don’t have “15,000 followers, they’re a nobody.”

Children wishing to learn these instruments are traditionally taught solely by masters in the family, though most griot children now supplement those learnings with recordings and what they see on the television on their cellphones, “and the reality is that nowadays everyone learns from recordings. Most people don’t learn face to face, and there aren’t very many masters left,”, shared Durán. She added that a child might be talented, but many times they’re “a complete carbon copy of one of the popular singers of the time and singing them exactly as they’re singing on television note for note. Even dancing exactly the way.”

Though still, children learning griot music are also saturated from childhood by the hundreds of standard classic songs that officiate weddings, bless births, and console those overcome with sorrow. They join their families in their duties and are able to experience the distinct character and place of each composition, and this is a large part of what has kept this tradition intact. The compositions themselves have less concern with the entertainment value of a song and instead focus on history and how to translate that into sound. This puts the culture at odds with the undiscerning and commerce-minded algorithms that rule today’s digital world.

To many who currently stand guard to the preservation of ancient traditions globally, this is a shared and undeniable reality. All over the world, interpersonal ties and customs are being exposed to an overwhelming barrage of not only images and sounds shared on social media, but also to the values that are implicitly shared by them. This disproportionately impacts communities like that of the Mande people, whose entire culture historically rests on oral traditions, making them more vulnerable to the visuality and the predatory psychology of apps like Tiktok, Instagram, and Facebook.

A thoughtful discourse is necessary to process the influence of the quickly changing economic conditions of folk traditions, and their exposure to a popular culture that has little consideration of its influence on communities newly integrated into global forums. Sirifo reflected, “I don’t want to lose it, and I will do everything in my power to keep that fire going. It’s okay to be open to other music, but at the same time, you want to keep the sense of your instrument and the culture behind it. Unfortunately, that’s fading away so rapidly with money, fame, the big stages, and everything else. And it’s a shame.” And though Durán wholeheartedly agrees with Sirifo, she admits, “there’s always, in every musical culture around the world, a resistance of the older generation to what the young generation is doing. And I think that’s healthy. And if it weren’t like that, then music would just die. There have to be young rebels who go against their parents and their elders.”

There is an undeniable quality to the traditional style of instrumentation for the kora. The focus is not on hurried fingers dancing on its strings and begging for applause. Instead, when an intent listener hears the meditative strums of a master, there is a palatable ease to the spirit that can take them “home,”, in the most meaningful interpretation of the word. The risk of this passive erasure threatens much more than the entrancing melodies of griot traditions since, in their societies, music is the only conduit that connects them with their societal values, rights of passage, and ancestral histories.

dublab – Jeremiah Chiu & Marta Sofia Honer: a live performance at dublab

Jeremiah Chiu and Marta Sofia Honer

This live performance by Jeremiah Chiu and Marta Sofia Honer took place at the dublab studios featuring some of the music they composed together as part of their recent album, Recordings from the Åland Islands, out now on International Anthem.

Jeremiah Chiu is Los Angeles-based artist, musician, educator, and community organizer. Chiu’s hybrid practice often operates under his studio moniker, Some All None, where projects lie at the intersection of art, music, technology, and publishing. Chiu is Full-Time Faculty in the Graphic Design Department at Otis College of Art & Design, a recording artist on International Anthem, and a resident DJ at dublab.

Marta Sofia Honer is a viola and violin performer, session player, and educator in Los Angeles. Working in both classical and contemporary fields, Honer’s versatility in different musical settings has garnered her credits alongside Beyoncé, Ms. Lauryn Hill, Chloe x Halle, Angel Olsen, Fleet Foxes, including four Grammy nominations. She regularly records for film and television and is a recording artist on International Anthem.

Video by Eli Welbourne
Edited by Maddi Baird

dublab – Natural Soundscapes

Noah Klein in a park

Dublab co-founder Mark “Frosty” McNeill visits Griffith Park to chat with Noah Klein, co-founder of the Floating collective which hosts a weekly series of roving soundscapes and soundbaths activated in unique and natural spaces. During the course of their conversation, Klein discusses his personal musical practice, history of community organizing through the lens of music, deep love of nature, and dedication to creative placemaking.

Launched during the thick of the Covid Pandemic, the Floating series was just what Los Angeles needed—an invitation to come outside and hear the city in new ways. Through a weekly series of roving soundscapes and soundbaths activated in unique and natural spaces, the Floating collective have opened up Angelenos’ ears and spirits to the wonders of the environments around them.

These all ages happenings are generous affairs both for the audience and performers who are encouraged to embrace the indeterminacy of outdoor performance and expand into the infinite potential of the moment. Floating succeeds in merging the ambience of the city with the intentionality of sonic artistry and as collective co-founder Noah Klein puts it, “Finding the threads between soundscape and landscape.”

dublab co-founder Mark “Frosty” McNeill sat down with Noah Klein to discuss his personal musical practice, history of community organizing through the lens of music, deep love of nature and dedication to creative placemaking. Their conversation took place under a canopy of trees at Trails Cafe, in Griffith Park over a chickpea salad sandwich and cold beverages.

This program is part of New Music USA’s web magazine NewMusicBox “Guest Editor series”, which aims to celebrate a plurality of voices from across the nation and will feature exclusive content written, produced, or commissioned by a rotating artist or organization. The series kicks off with dublab. NewMusicBox, edited by Frank J. Oteri, amplifies creators and organizations who are building a vibrant future for new music in all its forms, and has provided a vital platform for creators to speak about issues relevant to them in their own words since 1999.

The dublab partnership will feature new weekly content from at least 15 different voices through January 2023, presented in conversations, DJ mixes, articles, and live performances all exploring the current landscape of music composition.

The Guest Editor is the first such series in the magazine’s 23-year history and reflects New Music USA’s aim to deepen its impact across the many diverse music communities across the United States. This aim is also demonstrated by NewMusicBox’s ongoing “Different Cities, Different Voices” feature that spotlights music creation hubs across the nation.

dublab – Maddi Baird’s West Coast/Los Angeles Composers Mix

This mix illustrates the ways west coast & primarily Los Angeles based composers from the past and present experiment with timbre, tone, electronics & genre to create a distinct sound that can only be found through the geographical & natural landscape of the west coast.

maddi baird dublab / new music usa tracklist:

harmonium #1 – james tenney
solar ambience | insects – anna friz
+ – 3.33$
blood moon – cate keenan
in the night sky – maggie payne
quatre couches / flare stains – pamela z
super passiflora – galdre visions
little jimmy for two pianos and two percussion- andrew mcintosh
version 1 – r. pierre
logistical improbable structure (cave painting) – zane alexander
ritual residue – folded worlds
pinion- madalyn merkey
mourning dove – sam gendel
under lower fig tree – maya lydia
untitled (joshua tree) – maddi baird ft. blake brownyard
traces of a dream (jupi/ter recycle) – marine eyes
blues fall (live) – michael pisaro-liu & julia holter
deep hockets – deep listening band
aubade – tashi wada with yoshi wada & friends
a study in vastness – ana roxanne
magdalena – sarah davachi

Maddi Baird is a Los Angeles-based composer, sound artist, and dj using performance and installation-based works along with empirical forms of research to explore the multifaceted ways in which humans relate to themselves, each other, and the natural world. They are actively examining the connections between tone, timbre, and acoustics as a means to further explore sound behaviors in collective environments. Their work is enhanced through their role as a dj, which illuminates the intimate connections humans have with their physical bodies through sound. Working with archives of extinct and endangered sounds, they create immersive, textured soundscapes that use the evocative power of sounds to elicit “mood,” an experience that they distinguish from emotion because it is shared by both human and non-human agents. They are currently pursuing an MFA in Experimental Composition & Sound Practices with an emphasis in Integrated Media from California Institute of the Arts.

dublab – Who Gets to Compose?

As we launch dublab’s collaboration with New Music USA, we welcome the opportunity to feature the work of many musicians we believe represent the current landscape of contemporary music composition. Through a series of weekly editorial pieces, radio programs, live performances captured on video, and interviews, we hope we can not only shine a light on these artists and their work, but also bring up questions that are uniquely relevant to our current times.

When New Music USA approached dublab to be the first guest editors of NewMusicBox, both organizations wanted to frame this four-month collaboration under an overarching theme. After discussing various approaches, there was one question staring us right in our faces – when looking at the long history of NewMusicBox and New Music USA’s founding organizations, and the contrasting programming of an organization like dublab, it became obvious that this collaboration represented a clash of the times or juxtapositions of musical philosophies. Traditions, perceptions and the very questions at the center of it all: Who is a composer? What is a composer? And what is the role of a composer in this day and age?

As the Executive Director of a media arts organization like dublab, we have experienced first-hand the importance of perception. Since its beginnings in 1999, dublab’s approach when it came to categorizing music was always under the self-made label of, “Future Roots Radio”. With that label we wanted to emphasize that all music belongs to the same tree, where the music of the past is the roots of today’s music and the music of today will be the roots of tomorrow’s music, regardless of genre or place of origin. Our intention was to break down perceptions of highbrow versus lowbrow music, hierarchies, and categorizations that can all be practical at times, but also limiting in understanding how music creation flows, how interconnected all music is, and how it is conceived throughout history.

I think it is necessary at times to make distinctions and label music and music creators for their place in time, in society and in history, however, with new technologies, and the sweeping changes in social dynamics of the past years, it is more evident than ever that what it used to be no longer is, and what it is, is not exactly what it is. Confusing? Yes, absolutely, but so are the times we live in. When your phone can be a flashlight, your car can be a taxi and your home can be a hotel, so is the composer of today. Technology has put in question who is a composer, and what the role of a composer is. We can no longer refer to the archetypical image of the “ivory tower” composer when we think about an individual composing music. By that I am referring to that image you are thinking of right now of the Beethoven-looking man sitting at a table pouring what comes from the genius of his mind onto paper. That image has been outdated for many years, yet we continue to embrace this perception with consequences that affect musicians and the music industry in profound ways.

In speaking of the past few years alone, composers have learned to borrow production techniques, instrumentation and elements from idioms where their creators are not necessarily seen as “composers”, but more as “producers,” “beatmakers,” “sound designers,” or simply “musicians.” Despite this, composers continue to enjoy the benefits (as they should) of such distinguished title that includes public acknowledgement in arts institutions, commissioning of jobs, and grant opportunities, to name a few. When looking into the ecosystems of musicians where their main work is related to genres considered to be part of popular music, underground culture, or nightlife entertainment, their careers rarely cross paths with the world of art institutions, grants, and commissions. This stark division between the two doesn’t go both ways: The composer’s work can use electronic arrangements from a synthesizer that resembles techno music and yet be considered a composition that ends up in a movie soundtrack, yet if a hip hop producer adds strings or samples of classical music, their music most likely won’t be funded by a grant from an arts organization. The point here is not to blame anyone or point fingers, but look at our general attitudes and the expectations we have from each other and ourselves that end up defining how we seek and provide funding, and how we judge, place value and determine what belongs where in the wide musical spectrum.

A 30-year long road is a long road to travel, but fortunately that road is getting shorter.

With all being said about the divisions described above, more than ever we are seeing conversations, collaborations and cross-pollination taking place between “art institutions” and “night clubs”. What used to take 30 years for art to travel from the streets to the museums, now seems to be acknowledged by the institutions within the lifetime of the artists, and sometimes even as immediate as it is created.

With the emergence of social media, music streaming platforms, the democratization of music publishing and the affordability of equipment to produce quality recordings, the tools to empower those separating the “composer” from the “producer” have been getting narrower and so are the definitions that separated the two. More than in the past years we are borrowing from each other and we learn to use the tools that work at every stage of our careers – from instrumentation, sound palettes, and studio techniques, to how we fund and promote our work.

Here at dublab, we welcome the opportunity from New Music USA as a way to move the conversation forward. As we look towards the end of 2022 and what is to come in 2023, we hope this four-month collaboration will serve as a place to highlight the above-mentioned differences and similarities between the traditional and the contemporary, where one ends and the other begins; or simply how it all belongs to one. Just like New Music USA reached out to dublab for its unique take on music, we look to them for guidance and perspective. It is only through diversity in every sense of the word that music composition can evolve and to support the inclusion of those that may have never considered applying for a grant to fund their work. This diversity can also uplift genres that once belonged to older generations and patrons of the arts, and in turn bring new and younger audiences to an opera house or to a classical music concert and spark a renewed interest and wave of energy that is so needed in art institutions.

A new era is upon us, whether we recognize the signs or not, and it is up to everyone that is part of this ecosystem to open up the doors to the “ivory tower” and share directions to the underground warehouse party. The corridors that lead to creative paths and careers are as diverse as those that forge them; therefore, we should make sure that everyone enjoys the rewards, the respect, and the opportunities that these generate. With these thoughts I welcome you to our collaboration with New Music USA, and I hope you find infinite inspiration in the articles, DJ sets, conversations and live performances that we will feature in the coming months on NewMusicBox.