Counterstream Radio is your online home for exploring the music of America’s composers. Drawing upon New Music USA’s substantial library of recordings, our programming is remarkable for its depth and eclecticism. The station streams influential music of many pedigrees 24 hours a day. Keep listening and discover the sound of music without limits. Click here to open Counterstream Radio.
BAE BAE takes us into a labyrinth of sound, a hazardous journey filled with techno, afro riddims, vocal ballads and ambient samples. The mix is the kind of set you will hear at Hood Rave, the underground party she curates in LA.
The hyperbolic black femme, BAE BAE translates her empathy to the decks. She blends r&b, house, club, jungle, garage, dancehall and more, foregrounding black music genres and sensuality. She throws a monthly black and queer centered party in LA called Hood Rave.
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.
For our latest edition of Different Cities Different Voices, a series from NewMusicBox that explores music communities across the United States through the voices of local creators and innovators, we are putting the spotlight on Omaha, Nebraska. The series is meant to spark conversation and appreciation for those working to support new music in the USA, so please continue the conversation online about who else should be spotlighted in each city and tag @NewMusicBox.
First, an introduction from our New Music USA program council member Amanda DeBoer.
Amanda DeBoer (photo by Aleksandr Karjaka)
Growing up in Omaha, my first memories of live performance include a touring Broadway production of Jesus Christ Superstar and the annual Omaha Community Playhouse production of The Christmas Carol (legendary around these parts). I performed in my first community theatre production when I was 13 (Brigadoon at the Ralston Community Theater), and the Dundee Dinner Theater production of Fiddler on the Roof when I was 14. After that, I lived and breathed high school show choir and theater until I moved to Chicago to study at DePaul University when I turned 18.
I moved back to Omaha for love in May 2012, and hadn’t been involved in the local music scene at all after leaving, so I didn’t have much context for what to expect. I was energized and ready build something of value in a community of artists and appreciators that often feel invisible. I was convinced (and remain convinced) that outsider art belongs everywhere and to everyone, and felt driven to dedicate my life-force to experimental performance in the middle of a very conservative part of the world. With a little luck and a badass team (much love to the originals, Stacey, Kate, and Aubrey), Omaha Under the Radar pulled off our first annual festival in 2014 with a budget of less than $8,000. For nearly 10 years, often by the skin of our teeth, we continued to showcase local and national artists at our annual festival, concert series, and educational workshops. And now, I’m both excited and heartbroken to announce that my husband and I will be moving our family to Chicago in 2023 and passing on the organization, in a new form, to my co-founder and co-organizer Stacey Barelos.
When I moved home, I quickly realized that I had much to learn. Omaha Under the Radar was curated through a free application process, and we always received a fascinating mix of applications. Since there wasn’t a big local community for contemporary classical music, we connected with theatre folks, jazz musicians, electronic artists, indie rock kids, and all sorts of people that we never would have connected with if we’d stayed siloed in one niche genre. Our goal was to feature 50% local and 50% non-local artists at every festival, to encourage a cross-pollination of individuals, to carve pathways for local artists to build connections outside Nebraska, and to put a spotlight on the artists doing beautiful, high-level work in the region.
Aside from steak and Warren Buffett, Omaha is often recognized for its indie rock scene including artists like Conor Oberst and the folks at Saddle Creek Records. There has historically been a robust jazz scene in North Omaha, where there has been an arts resurgence thanks to folks like Brigitte McQueen at the Union for Contemporary Art, Marcey Yates at Culxr House, Dana Murray at North Omaha Music and Arts, Michelle Troxclair and the folks at Benson Theater, and others. There is a small but mighty experimental music scene comprised of curious minds and musical omnivores that you will also find sitting in with rock bands and popping up at singer-songwriter open mics (shout out to Aly Peeler, the queen of Omaha open mics). It all feels loose and fluid in the way that small communities often do. Everyone borrowing and sharing and popping up in lots of projects.
Omaha artists and organizations have an outsized impact when evaluated against the resources available locally. Thankfully, some of the larger organizations like KANEKO, Nebraska Arts Council, Amplify Arts, and a handful of others have dedicated their resources to uplifting the local community. Without them, I’m not sure Omaha Under the Radar, and many other small organizations, would exist. We’re lucky to have some fantastic music and art venues like The Slowdown, The Jewell, The Bemis Center for Contemporary Art, Waiting Room, Reverb Lounge, Project Project, Pet Shop Gallery, and more. The independent artist community is exceptionally intrepid and inventive, finding inspiration and ways forward where there seem to be none. Starting venues in old car washes and all sorts of unlikely (and possibly ill-advised) places. Pulling events together out of thin air. Building community and growing the audience one person at a time.
As happy as I am to enter the next chapter of my life, I am also gutted to be moving on from this community. It sometimes feels like “us against the world” around here, and I’ll miss the comradery that comes with pooling our resources and building something progressive in a decidedly unprogressive place. Cities like Omaha, and the local artists that make the community vibrant, deserve to not only be seen, but celebrated and supported. The folks in this article are all artists, organizers, curators, and educators who show up for the community and build new pathways. They breathe life into any project or collaboration they are part of and make connections between people and ideas where they didn’t exist before. All cities need people like them, especially these smaller scenes which can thrive and grow based on the presence of a single person.
Outsider art belongs everywhere and to everyone.
Omaha to me has a lot of room to grow and a lot of room for everyone to try out their ideas. There are many creative corners that have yet to be filled.
Mary Lawson a.k.a. Mesonjixx
There isn’t much of a “music industry” here to maintain a large creative population, but if you are an individual who works in larger markets, you can make Omaha a home-base and navigate the country with ease.
Because of its too-big-to-be-small and too-small-to-be-big size, the scene gets a little more porous than perhaps other (bigger) cities and I love that.
Without the weight of a storied experimental music scene, Omaha is delightfully game for anything and everyone.
If anything, the small town atmosphere led to my developing into a composer as well as musician, free to pursue my interests in a non-competitive setting.
What keeps me in Omaha is a sense of home, community, affordability, fun, and the possibly-hard-to-understand endless opportunities that abound in Omaha.
Mary Lawson a.k.a. Mesonjixx (photo by Bridget McQuillan)
Mary Lawson a.k.a. Mesonjixx
Omaha seemed like a natural progression from Lincoln. I was considering living expenses and it was the best option for me at that time. Not only financially was I considering Omaha, but being close to family. Most of my family live and work in Lincoln.
Omaha’s music scene is different from other scenes I’ve experienced in other places because of the room that there is for growth. Omaha to me has a lot of room to grow and a lot of room for everyone to try out their ideas. There are many creative corners that have yet to be filled. Working for The Union for Contemporary Art and Hi-Fi House were such gifts when I first moved to Omaha in 2018. It was in these spaces that I was able to get to know the working artists in music and visual art. Having the opportunity to professionally develop my DIY grassroots-curatorial style at The Union has really illuminated for me how important my work as an artist/arts administrator and advocate is to me. Hi-Fi House was a safe space for me to share ideas and to speak openly about the injustices that I observed, been witness to and in ways experienced as a Black femme in music, in Nebraska. I hold both organizations and their leadership with deep gratitude and respect. Omaha needs to continue to honor these creative spaces by supporting the work and the artists that show up for them.
The challenges in the last two years have been finding how to integrate all that we learned about accessibility challenges in music and art/culture, oppressive systems at play in all of the spaces and places we want to share and enjoy art/artistic expression, humanity and our need to fight for equality for all…public school education and historical truth/FACTS!
It seems like there has been quite the dip in interest when it comes to being responsible for each other in the ways that we were being introduced to, during the first two years of the pandemic. There is no pursuit anymore to repair, reckon and confront oppressive systems that keep us in a cycle of failing each other. We need to be reminded of how necessary we all are, and how no oppression or struggle of one group of people is superior to another and that the only way to change that which does not serve us all, is to work slowly, thoughtfully and with unwavering care.
Mesonjixx: “August Manchester”
BXTH: “Dear Little Brother”
I was born and raised in Omaha. Right when I was ready to move to NYC, I heard of some great individuals working on a building a recording studio, the place I was trying to find full-time work in. I stayed and helped them grow what is now known as Make Believe Studios.
I think the biggest advantage of Omaha’s music scene is that we can manifest (literally) anything more affordably. The climate and opportunities allow entrepreneurs to build businesses efficiently. There isn’t much of a “music industry” here to maintain a large creative population, but if you are an individual who works in larger markets, you can make Omaha a home-base and navigate the country with ease. There is still a ton of room for the city to grow, and that comes with establishing more businesses that focus on the music industry specifically.
Couple of examples: Bemis Center was able to acquire funding to build and operate a venue called LOW END which focuses on showcasing talent based in the experimental sound art and music realm. We’ve been able to bring artists from all around the world. This is very new to the Midwest coming from a city of our size. Bemis also does a great job taking care of the artists that come through. Midwest hospitality is a very real thing.
Make Believe Studios recently launched a software division and has teamed up with Sontec and Metric Halo to develop game changing software for audio engineers. People have been copying Sontec’s work for years but never got the official endorsement until Make Believe stepped in. They are the first and only to accomplish this.
Omaha had a very unique rollercoaster ride the past two/three years. I can say that this year was one of the busiest I’ve had in a very long time. I’ve had to say “no” more than “yes” and I think that was a reaction of businesses and projects that were paused in 20-21 then resumed this year. We didn’t come out of the situation unscathed, but having a smaller population made it much less stressful to navigate for the creative community than a major market.
We The People: “Misunderstood”
We The People is a group I worked very closely these past few years as an engineer and performer. Eddie Moore is one of the kings of KC. Tracks from this album ended up on the TV show “Bel Air”.
Dinner Party: “Freeze Tag”
Dinner Party is comprised of Terrace Martin, Robert Glasper, 9th Wonder, and Kamasi Washington. Terrace is an Omaha native and drives a ton of influences from our jazz scene. This album was mastered at Make Believe Studios. Had a great time listening to this one being worked on.
The Real Zebos: “Indie Girls”
The Real Zebos is an Omaha based band that has really taken off. They have proven to have a strong work ethic and very creative drive to make songs that are fun to listen to. I think they will be the next to rise from the city. I had the pleasure of working on their first record. The follow up titled “no style” is where this single lives.
I chose to move back to Omaha following living in the suburbs of Philadelphia during high school because college was cheaper, I was dating someone living in Iowa, and had played bass in a band in Omaha (where my mother and grandparents live) over winter break – so, to put it simply, it made sense. I continued to live here through undergraduate and graduate school and now have built friendships and a community that feel supportive and encouraging. It is comfortable and familiar.
I think Omaha is different, particularly pre-pandemic, in that a rapper and a punk band and outsider folk artist and a singer-songwriter could be on the same bill and folks are generally like “sweet”. Because of its too-big-to-be-small and too-small-to-be-big size, the scene gets a little more porous than perhaps other (bigger) cities and I love that. I feel like I’ve been pretty privileged in this regard but, in general, I also think getting a show booked is a lot easier in Omaha than in other major cities – the barrier to entry seems less restrictive. This has been true for my solo project Little Ripple, which can be midi guitar or sampler or acoustic guitar or electric guitar depending on the set, the diminished 7th freaky pop trio I’m in called Sgt. Leisure, and the “rock music band” Thick Paint I play guitar in which is currently split between here and Atlanta. Lastly, the experimental music scene in Omaha has strong support despite what can otherwise be a consumerist and dull city culture in general, largely due to the work of Amanda DeBoer-Bartlett and Stacey Barelos in hosting Omaha Under The Radar which has hosted folks from all over the country (world?) for many years.
I think there are a lot of pros and cons to how the pandemic hit the Omaha music scene – I feel that change was necessary but I also feel that folks are still trying to make sense of it, at least myself. To be real, I was really living it up during the pandemic: sleeping 9 hours a day, running, focusing on art, and not really working. The biggest challenge for me, both before, during, after (?) the pandemic is finding an artistic community that feels authentic and cohesive, again – pros and cons. I think there are definitely strong “scenes” here but never have felt I really fit into any of them. I think, as a result of the past 2 years, folks have begun to be more intentional about building community, having lost it in some ways, and I see the little ways in which those seeds are manifesting now, which is nice. An example of this that comes to my mind is Mary Lawson (aka Mesonjixx) who is hosting shows in every day spaces around big topics, like housing justice, and partnering with the organizations and artists around these things, super inspiring.
I had entered into my career as a psychotherapist within the past 2 years so there has been some reidentification and soul-searching about who I am as an artist/therapist/person. I don’t know if I’ve really overcome these challenges yet – the more questions I ask the more questions I find. If anything, I think the work I’m doing is to be more comfortable in these challenges, in the not knowing, than any particular solution itself.
My shared track for myself is “see what you say” by Sgt. Leisure:
or, for a solo track, “You See” by Little Ripple:
I grew up in Omaha but moved away for a number of years, never imagining that my future would be in Nebraska. After recent visits home, I discovered that Omaha was much more vibrant than the city I had left. I decided to give it another try and was ecstatic that I did. Omaha continues to be a place that surprises. Luckily for me, I arrived at the same time as the launching of the Omaha Under the Radar festival and am so thankful to Amanda DeBoer Bartlett for the opportunity to be involved. Then in the second year of the festival, I launched Soundry, an adult education workshop that introduces people to the world of experimental music. Now in its eighth year, the program has since expanded to workshops throughout the city and region.
What’s great about Omaha is that it’s open to experimentation and discovery. Without the weight of a storied experimental music scene, Omaha is delightfully game for anything and everyone. Unique venues
that help facilitate this discovery include Kaneko, an interdisciplinary cultural center in the heart of downtown, or smaller multipurpose cultural venues such as Project, Project and the Union.
Ironically, the key to the COVID experience was and has been collaboration. While so much of my previous compositional output was created in a solitary way, I have discovered the joy of working and
creating new works with others. While this seems antithetical to the months of isolation, Omaha creatives really came together in new ways, particularly by being innovative with technology. I find now that there’s a special bond with any and all of these people and that the relationships
from that time were solidified through the struggle we shared.
“Joan Gets Covid” – A collaboration between myself and Jay Kreimer, a multidisciplinary artist based out of Lincoln, Nebraska.
“The Trip” by Dereck Higgins
Dereck is an Omaha legend and an inspiration for all artists in the city. His style is eclectic or as Omaha magazine states, Dereck is “Omaha’s own post-punk Prometheus”. This track is from his album Psychedelic Sound.
I’m a native of Omaha and that has a lot to do with why I stayed. It’s home turf. Omaha is not widely known for anything musical but it has quite a rich history. My parents were musicians so I grew up around the likes of Buddy Miles, Preston Love and Wynonie Harris. We had guests in our home like John Coltrane (yes) and Rahsaan Roland Kirk. Being exposed to a wide variety of music through my parents set me up for a long journey of listening, playing, learning and growing.
I’ve been active in the music scene since the 70’s firstly as a bass player and notably a black man playing rock music. This was newsworthy, the state is very red. I have not allowed this to deter me and as a result I have played everything from jazz to blues to rock to metal to punk to electronic to total improvisation. If anything, the small town atmosphere led to my developing into a composer as well as musician, free to pursue my interests in a non-competitive setting.
During COVID I focused on completing a new album which was released in 2021 (Future Still). The lack of gigs was noticable and I augmented my composing and recording with some commissions for dance that were performed the following year.
Excerpt B from AM 2: The “C” Sessions
Dereck Higgins: “Ramped”
James Schroeder: “Mesa Boy”
I am an Omaha, NE based photographer, community organizer, and gallery operator. I am the Co-Founder and Director of BFF Omaha (formerly known as “Benson First Friday”), and have also had a hand in establishing and operating the Benson Creative District, Petshop Gallery & Studios, the MaMO Gallery,
the BFF Gallery, Trudy’s artist studios, the New American Arts Festival, PETFEST, and have been involved with Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards and Benson Out Back.
I was born and bred in Omaha, attending Omaha Public Schools and then graduating from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Although I call Omaha home, I have traveled extensively and lived part-time in many places around the world including New York City and Cadiz, Spain. What keeps me in Omaha is a sense of home, community, affordability, fun, and the possibly-hard-to-understand endless opportunities that abound in Omaha. Omaha is a very supportive community for entrepreneurs and anyone with a passion project, which has definitely played a role in my residency here.
Omaha has always had a thriving music scene, and it was definitely one of the reasons I chose to call Benson my home for many years. When I moved back to Omaha from NYC in 2009, Benson had 4 or 5 music venues and a tight-knit community that welcomed me into its arms. Seeing live music and interacting with musicians and creatives on a day to day basis was a blast – and inspired me to directly support the music scene myself and to begin supporting Omaha’s visual artists too. In 2012 I co-founded Benson First Friday, now called BFF Omaha, along with two DIY artist-run spaces: Petshop and Sweatshop. Sweatshop took off as a popular underground live music space, hosting local and traveling shows almost nightly. Sweatshop taught me everything there was to know about live music, working with musicians (if you know, you know), and overall operating a venue. To fund the space, we hosted “SWEATFEST” in 2013 and 2014, which were all-day music festivals encompassing local and national musicians, and other oddball fundraising tactics like spaghetti wrestling. The vibe was very gritty and very DIY. Sweatshop ended its run in 2015, but BFF took over the space, expanding Petshop Gallery next door, and reviving the original music festival fundraisers (in 2017 I think?) as what they are known as today: PETFEST.
PETFEST has lived on as BFF’s largest fundraiser since then, even during the COVID-19 pandemic. In August 2020, PETFEST was Omaha’s (maybe Nebraska’s?) first live music festival since the pandemic had begun. To avoid a super-spreader we limited entry to 50 tickets, required masks, moved to an all outdoor set up, encouraged social distancing, doused everyone in hand sanny, and used those contactless thermometers at the gate. Although it was a pain in the ass, it ended up being a beautiful gathering of community members and instilled hope for a revival of live music beyond the pandemic. We were determined to be present, persistent, innovative, and alleviate ourselves from the then sad solitary zoom-confined world that it was. We’ve continued to remain innovative with all of our programming over the past two years, allowing PETFEST to develop into a program beast of its own. For more on PETFEST and BFF Omaha, I encourage you to listen to an interview with myself and Zach Schmieder, PETFEST’s music booker, on Riverside Chats.
A Sweatshop staple from back in the day – Plack Blague: “Queer Nation”
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.
Different Cities Different Voices is a series from NewMusicBox that explores music communities across the US through the voices of local creators and innovators. Discover what is unique about each city’s new music scene through a set of personal essays written by people living and creating there, and hear music from local artists selected by each essayist. The series is meant to spark conversation and appreciation for those working to support new music in the US, so please continue the conversation online about who else should be spotlighted in each city and tag @NewMusicBox.
An Introduction by Ami Dang
(New Music USA’s Director of Development)
Ami Dang (photo by Missy Malouff)
When I think about music in Baltimore, the words that come to mind are energy, vitality, and transcendence. Baltimore is a place where truly original ideas flourish. No artist in Baltimore lives here because they’re making a lot of money or getting a lot of commissions or opportunities. These music creators live here because they’re inspired every day. This place is fertile ground for truly original artmaking.
Baltimore has a rich tradition of experimental techniques and cross-disciplinary, experiential arts that can’t be confined to one artistic medium, genre or style. Classical music joins forces with experimental film and puppetry. Dancers meander through multimedia installations featuring improvised sound art.
As Infinity Knives and Amy Reid both mention here, music concerts are typically curated in a way that brings together a plurality of voices. It’s more often that experimental hip hop, punk music, and avant rock would share a bill in one evening with a drag queen emcee-ing the show than a program featuring one type of music. Neither medium nor genre matter; innovation and experimentalism are paramount—rather than notoriety and prestige.
I would be remiss, however, if I didn’t share the reality of the silos that do, in fact, exist in the music community. Baltimore is a majority Black city, and the arts circles that I move in are mostly white. We have so many talented Black and queer musicians and artists—pay close attention to Jamal Moore’s account of the Black avant garde arts scene in our city—but many of them continue to struggle with a lack of support and resources. Over the past few years, the arts community has become slightly more integrated, and more queer and Black (and other BIPOC) artists have received support from local funding opportunities and various resources. However, there is still a divide that persists. As Director of Development with New Music USA, I am particularly passionate about building a more equitable future for new music—a future where artists from all backgrounds are supported so that their work can reach audiences far and wide.
It is often the artists from privileged backgrounds whose work is recognized outside of Baltimore and who are supported on a national or international level. While creativity is abundant among diverse artists of many backgrounds, we lack the music industry infrastructure, i.e. record labels, publishers, management, booking agencies, arts attorneys, publicists, marketing services, and more, that support many artists (of all backgrounds) in larger metro areas. It is simply easier for music industry professionals to witness the work of, connect with, and ultimately, support artists in larger cities due to proximity.
But ultimately, this dearth of opportunities to commodify creative product is exactly the reason that the work created here is authentic. As Allison Clendaniel touches on in her narrative below, creative work in Baltimore It hasn’t been created isn’t produced to please anyone or fit into a certain style, medium, or genre dictated by funding interests. While we reward innovative and artistically brilliant work, we cannot ignore that the funding and systemic privilege that bolster it almost always comes first. In turn, these accolades yield further recognition—and displace others who were already at a disadvantage. The arts are not exempt from systemic oppression.
Here in the US, very little unrestricted support exists for individual artists, especially compared to Europe, where artists receive government funding, healthcare, and free or subsidized opportunities to further their education. Baltimore is one of the few cities left in the United States where space is truly affordable. The abundance of empty, dilapidated warehouse and residential space that results from industry that folded decades ago provides ample opportunities for creative play, performances, happenings, space to turn dreams into reality and collaborate in large numbers.
Sadly, while Baltimore continues to be a more affordable place to live relative to most cities in the US, DIY venues have folded left and right. In the aftermath of the Ghost Ship fire in Oakland, California in 2016, Baltimore’s warehouses began to shut down due to safety concerns, and the pandemic has further squashed opportunities and resources to revitalize non-traditional spaces as sites for creative activity. Bonnie Lander, Stephen Santillan, and others further elaborate on the changing landscape of live/work arts spaces in Baltimore in this essay.
Still, I have hope. Artists in Baltimore (or the ones who stay in Baltimore, anyway!) are resilient and approach their work in unique ways. Crisis breeds innovation! All of the artists mentioned in this article are masters of their crafts but with the Baltimore spirit—their artistry is often experimental, innovative, inspiring and doesn’t sound like anyone else.
Over the past decade and a half with urban renewal and gentrification, Baltimore remains with a large African American populace that encompasses a wealth of African American music and arts in all formats from Black Avant Garde to mainstream.
There’s not much money to be made in Baltimore, so there’s not as much influence of money on Baltimore art. That means the arts here rely on human-powered resources like time, dedication, and sheer force of will, not dollars.
Allison M. Clendaniel
Though this is true for many cities, Baltimore has a way of calling people back to make their work here, with tree-lined neighborhoods that are racially and economically diverse.
I especially love that there’s a large (and organically grown) black and queer artist base.
Tariq Ravelomanana (a.k.a. Infinity Knives)
A whole generation of arts spaces are beginning to fall to the prospect of development, and our once un-gentrifiable city is changing. As access to housing and facilities becomes restricted to those who have, Baltimore’s arts community is feeling the squeeze.
It has been a supreme privilege to be a part of such a smart, elevated, eccentric community.
Baltimore's openness to new experiences, exciting performers, and the possibilities of interdisciplinary collaborations are still inspiring to me today as they were when I first arrived.
Baltimore isn’t a big city you move to in order to “make it”, so there is a feeling of trust behind what people are doing here.
I think something that really separates Baltimore from other cities is our rawness. That goes for both performers and people who attend events.
Jamal Moore (photo by Larry Jackson)
Baltimore is the native soil where I was born and raised, and I returned in 2013 after living in Boston and L.A. for over a duration of 11 years. Affectionally called “Charm City” and colloquially “Bmore”; Baltimore is a very eccentric city filled with phenomenal creative arts that are often shadowed in the negative light due to its misfortune of urban plight. It is through my music that I have created a path of success and chose to return to Bmore to give back to the community and teach the youth of what I have obtained. On a constant basis I instruct that music can be an option and tool used to negate the systemic path of the prison to pipeline infrastructure. To always challenge oneself and not be afraid to think outside the box and feel you must stay within mainstream aesthetics.
The new music scene In Baltimore is unique compared to other cities I have traveled and toured in across the U.S. No matter which background or subgroup of artistry one is involved with, there is always cross pollination of the scenes with every artist working in all formats. Over the past decade and a half with urban renewal and gentrification, Baltimore remains with a large African American populace that encompasses a wealth of African American music and arts in all formats from Black Avant Garde to mainstream. You can always attend on any given Sunday with ideal weather, the historical Park Vibe drum and music circle in Druid Hill Park which has ran for over 50 years as a central hub for Black Arts. It is here where you get a chance to experience the sounds of exploration with artists experimenting with handmade instruments repurposed from found materials to poets, MCs and vocalists improvising over traditional rhythms from the African continent and diaspora along with hybrid rhythms or song. Often, those who are transient to Baltimore via academia isolated in school hubs may discover or learn of this community. It is here where you get a chance to explore, experiment and learn improvisation in the Black Avant Garde tradition opposite the idiosyncrasies of academia.
Since the beginning of the pandemic a few artist communities have collapsed completely while some remain ongoing in smaller spaces. The Park Vibe music circle still operates with musicians adhering to CDC guidelines. Baltimore historically always had a sensibility of Kujichagulia (Self Determination) and Ujima (collective work and responsibility) not solely restricted to the African American community but similarly across other ethnicities in the city. The pandemic may have stopped major events such as “Artscape” or “Afram” which are two major festivals highlighting art across all disciplines, but it did not stop true artists from their daily grind. It pulled everyone together closer, creating and hosting their own events in smaller gatherings especially during the warmer months.
Despite the challenges of the Covid pandemic, I personally have maintained balance and harmony. At the beginning of the pandemic, I lost a tour, contracts in education, and quite a few gigs. With all this happening at once I remained at peace and never stopped creating. Many colleagues who solely relied on live performances begin to break down mentally. It is with the pandemic that I realized from introspective meditation, to reverse the energy and take this time to go within and create more than ever, utilizing this time at full capacity. There was the notion of the world coming to a halt, yet the planet never stopped rotating and mother nature kept on with her daily routine.
Coming from a background of learning to use limited resources, making do with what you have and expand in all directions, it was easy to embrace technology with online performances. In fact, I had already done this eleven years prior when it was less common and frowned upon by colleagues that regarded it as folly. Little did they know this would be one key component of surviving as an artist later down the road.
While humanity is almost at a two-year mark of the pandemic, the direction where we are truly heading is still uncertain. One can speculate it may or may not return to what was once before. Music is a universal language and healing force of humanity and I believe, as in the beginning of the epic of creation of human existence, we will always continue to create new music and beyond in this continuum.
Here is an album I recorded with Nik Francis as The Mojuba Duo:
And here’s a local artist I recommend:
Allison M. Clendaniel
Allison M Clendaniel (photo by Sam Torres)
When I first came to Baltimore for my fancy Classical Music Degree, I was adamant about leaving it one day to find some better-funded, more legit place. Hah! The best-laid plans and all that… I’m happy to report that I’ve lived, worked, and thrived in Baltimore for 14 years and counting.
During my third year of conservatory, I realized the cut-throat academic culture was an inauthentic and uninspiring environment for me to exist within. With that awareness, I sought out the large community of art-making people living and making work in Baltimore. I was struck by the unjuried art happening within warehouse spaces around town, and when I finished my schooling, I dove in head-first. I began acting and creating theatrical sound design with a collective of DIY theatre makers, I joined a group of singers who specialized in renaissance music, started singing in a bunch of different bands, and became a session musician for rappers, rock musicians, jazzers, and the like! I feel so lucky to live in a place where anything that might pique my interest is within my reach and where I am met with open arms.The people in Baltimore are committed to serving and uplifting their communities, giving time and creative energy to create the future they want to see.
Baltimore is also a place to practice patience and compassion daily. Baltimore arts are to the left of capital — which is itself both bad and good. There’s not much money to be made in Baltimore, so there’s not as much influence of money on Baltimore art. That means the arts here rely on human-powered resources like time, dedication, and sheer force of will, not dollars. Ultimately, Baltimore creates a culture of experimentation, mutual respect, and a deeper understanding of work and the work of the folks who are deeply invested in the community. This is what drives my work as artistic director of Mind On Fire.
Mind on Fire is a notated music project I started with my co-directors Jason Charney and James Young in 2016. In the simplest terms, it’s a group of like-minded artists who want to facilitate high-quality music-making for our community. Our goal is to present all art with equal gravity and importance regardless of performance practice or history; to unify the appreciators of the Baltimore arts scene; and create a comfortable and welcoming environment for people to have new experiences. We strive for artistic excellence and be active and thoughtful members of our community, using our skills as presenters and performers to be a creative resource for the city at large.
We’ve been lucky to collaborate with many notable artists around town, not only musicians but also performance, visual, and theater artists: Wume, Infinity Knives, Ada Pinkston, Soul Cannon, and Elizabeth Downing, just to name a few. We performed amazing work from a variety of composers, including Missy Mazzoli, Jamal Moore, Alexander Schubert, Alex Temple, and so many more. We’ve been featured in the BSO New Music Festival, with Dan Deacon on stage and in film, and been lucky to work directly with The Pratt Library System, one of Baltimore’s greatest resources.
The past two pandemic-laden years have been everything all at once! I feel that I lost everything; and gained even more. It’s tough, y’know, presence is required for ephemeral art to exist. Accepting that art-making was being forced unceremoniously into a different experience entirely broke my brain for a bit. I cocooned for the better part of a year and a half, save the occasional Mind On Fire virtual event. Now, I’m beginning to emerge again. I feel like an optimized version of my former self. I have a greater understanding of how to love and be endlessly curious about my own thoughts, my own work, my own boundaries, and my own abundance!
Mind on Fire also had a helpful slow-down. Pre-pandemic, we were doing 15-20 shows a season, and frankly, I was exhausted by it and wanted to quit. We’ve been able to curate such incredible video work that likely wouldn’t have been captured in such a permanent way on one of our live shows during the shutdown. I feel emboldened by everyone’s spirit and desire for connectedness.
It’s hard to choose a single piece that best represents my work here in Baltimore. This collaboration between Mind On Fire and Infinity Knives is one of the most ambitious events we’ve put together. This piece was recorded during that marvelous period when covid numbers had subsided a bit, and holy moly! It was glorious to be in the room with everyone for a moment.
Tariq Ravelomanana: In the Mouth of Sadness
There are so many people here who inspire me. I’m wary of naming only one person because I feel like part of a large interconnected web of magical-human creators here. The person who has been most consistently present and inspiring during my time here is my collaborator, mentor, and friend, Liz Downing. Liz is the most magical, patient, and sparkling soul I’ve ever met. She’s particularly good at painting, singing, laughing, improvising, and listening. Anything Liz touches shimmers and is full of thoughtfulness. Her latest collaboration with Greg Hatem (another true Baltimore hero) is a beautiful celebration of her work. These songs are all at least 20 years in the making. You can check it out here:
Reach out to Mind On Fire if you’re ever in town. There is always something good happening!
I came to Baltimore in 1983 from a small town in Alabama to study painting with Grace Hartigan at the Maryland Institute College of Art. The Institute Graduate Program offered teaching positions for new graduates, so I stayed. During this time I began to develop relationships with people from other art disciplines. Working with a filmmaker, set designer, operatically trained singer and choreographer, we created musical art performance plays in the trio Lambs Eat Ivy, touring with sets strapped atop a Subaru. Always, I was happy to return to Baltimore, where there were loft spaces with room to create and a fertile inspiring community.
The music scene in Baltimore is metamorphic, changed and influenced by the confluence of artists moving through. Graduates from the music, visual arts, and theater departments stay around taking advantage of this creative energy, expanding their vision through collaboration. Baltimore is, during non pandemic times, a destination for touring groups with a large variety of venues. These touring groups make relationships with local musicians and all the circles become wider. Though this is true for many cities, Baltimore has a way of calling people back to make their work here, with tree-lined neighborhoods that are racially and economically diverse.
Being a musician and painter, I was able to survive during the early days of the pandemic by delving into my painting practice. Having a porch and yard, I was able to make music with neighbors. Bringing her fiddle over, neighbor Susan Alcorn, usually a pedal steel guitarist, would improv with me as I bowed my banjo and sang, for hours, even into bitter temperatures. Vocalist Allison Clendaniel and I would create sound pieces on the porch and throughout the neighborhood. Early in 2021, I began a project with arranger and instrumentalist Greg Hatem in which the core work was done, each of us in isolation, creating tracks and sending the files back and forth. The resulting album is called, Curving Tooth. Local Festivals offered online shows such as Shakemore Rock Festival, High Zero Experimental Music Festival, Mind On Fire, Black Cherry Theater Puppet Slams. These requests for entries gave me reason to film musical porch performances with comrades of “Molesuit Choir” and to develop new skills. To create work entirely in isolation, I set up a camera on a tripod in my studio and created puppets, which I made by cutting out painted characters. I had the puppets interact with each other, casting shadows on their painted backdrops, moving the puppets and singing to the soundtrack.
Though artists, musicians, writers are likely to thrive during a pandemic, the lack of a physical audience was difficult. The need to be in the physical presence and share reactions to work is a vital part of creation. This underscores the beauty of Baltimore’s live venues, Normal’s Books and Records, The Current Gallery, The Crown and so many more, which feed the community with friendships, inspiration and reason to continue.
Infinity Knives (Tariq Ravelomanana)
Infinity Knives (photo by Amanda Lee Letts)
I actually didn’t choose Baltimore. My mom and grandmother were more or less living here because it was a relatively affordable city. We were pretty poor. I moved in with them in 2005-06. I was living in Johannesburg beforehand. I’ve made the city a headquarters of some sort. I leave often and come back every few years.
I’ve always loved the mixed bills we’ve had. In a single night, you’d have a metal band opening followed by a folk band and eventually closing off with a neo-soul artist. I know this, because I was in the folk band! I especially love that there’s a large (and organically grown) black and queer artist base. The young and emerging artists are accepting of diversity and they don’t treat it as an oddity. This was not always the case a decade ago.
It took a really long time to establish myself here. Unreasonably long, considering the fact that my music hasn’t changed in the past ten years. There was a monopoly on the “scene” by mostly affluent white art people. Their music was awful. I was never made to feel welcome or appreciated. No one wants to admit it now, but people were openly racist too. I was eventually taken in by the emerging black queer dance scene where I was finally heard out.
As far as the pandemic; it hasn’t been too different for me from other working artists around the states. Fickle tour dates and delays on vinyl releases…the works. Personally, the stimulus checks and a five hundred dollar grant upgraded my equipment just enough to dip my toes into soundtrack and sound design, which is what I mainly do for money. That’s another “scene” that is oversaturated with the no-sauce and no-seasoning crowd. I’m a more than able composer, but it seems as though, like everything in the arts, is solely reserved for the connected and wealthy. Not sure if “overcomed” is the word I’d like to use, but rather improvising, or even better; ghetto rigging. A concept I’m very familiar with.
The Black Power Paradox by Infinity Knives and Brian Ennals
The Ride by Jupiter Rex
The boomerang effect has been explained to me many times. Someone leaves Baltimore for greener pastures, only to return years later with a renewed appreciation for the arts community and the opportunities it provides. I understand it because it happened to me. I returned to Baltimore in 2017 after a 9-year hiatus to explore all the facets of my artistic endeavors: classical soprano, new music performer, experimental musician and improviser, composer, concert curator and educator. Due to a mix of affordable living and a thriving, close knit, DIY artist community, Baltimore is the perfect place for a self-motivated artist who wants to create, collaborate, and belong.
In the four years since I have returned to Baltimore I have been inspired by my friends and colleagues who care deeply about their art and work as hard as they play. The local culture is brewed in experimental art and music, which means that local shows can be as wild as they are bad, and sometimes, completely mind blowing. When our city is thriving (read, not in a pandemic), there are shows every night of the week in galleries, bars, houses and warehouses across the city, often multiple per night.
Since returning to Baltimore, I have been able to upkeep an active freelance career in new opera and composition on the East Coast, even in a global pandemic. I have performed and collaborated with countless local artists. I volunteer with experimental music collective High Zero Foundation, host social justice events and concerts at the 2640 Space, and work as Assistant to the Community Chorus of Peabody. I’ve performed with local new music presenter Mind on Fire and perform as a regular chorister/soloist at Emmanuel Episcopalian in downtown.
I am grateful to live in a city where I can afford stable housing, work with dedicated artists, and have access to physical space for projects, collaborations, and concerts. But in the past few years I have seen my city suffer some unfortunate changes that many artistic communities are struggling with right now: our art spaces are closing. Most recently the live/work warehouse space that I called home since my relocation is up for sale. The H&H building in downtown has provided live/work space for artists for the past 20+ years. Huge shows, concerts, dance parties, theater, visual art, performance art, and more have happened at this space. Eclectic groups of musicians, actors, theater troupes, painters, sculptors, videographers, photographers, illustrators, composers, dancers, and puppeteers have all called the H&H home. It’s looming closure is deeply grieved by our community.
The H&H is not alone in its closing, a whole generation of arts spaces are beginning to fall to the prospect of development, and our once un-gentrifiable city is changing. As access to housing and facilities becomes restricted to those who have, Baltimore’s arts community is feeling the squeeze. It’s up to our local governments to ensure these spaces do not disappear and up to us to loudly vocalize our support for the local, underground arts scenes that bind our cities together.
Here’s a clip I made for the Red Room in Your Room improvised music series during lockdown:
My avocation as an experimental musician in Baltimore began when I was about 11 years old and was part of a larger sensibility which I could not have described at the time; a deep, eccentric interest in phenomenology of experience, a perverse (or at least highly skeptical) approach to structure, and a willingness to embrace contradictions and paradoxes as source material. How I got there is a long story beyond this short essay. The emotional center of the activity was a desire to exit the prosaic world—a dangerous motivation, and one not tied to a particular methodology or ideology.
Baltimore was and continues to be an exciting place to develop those interests. In the ’80s, as a teenager I fell into a rich avant-garde scene which was equal parts influenced by happenings/Fluxus, language writing, experimental music, and utopian political currents. As an experimental composer/performer I became one of its youngest members. Frequent collaborations with unusual figures like ultra-nonconformist tENTATIVELY a cONVENIENCE, instrument inventor Neil Feather, and L.A.F.M.S. transplant Peter “Pan” Zahorecz in the Baltimore of the ’80s and ’90s led to a scene that drew international figures to the city for collaboration. This was the richest and most sophisticated universe of inspired weirdos I could have asked for—though not an entirely cushy, or comfortable scene. The story of that amazing time remains to be written.
In the ’90s I became the saxophone student / protegee of Jack Wright, a crucial force in North American free improvisation, and toured extensively with him, providing a new focus in instantaneous music making and virtuosic technical considerations, which layered on to the rest of what Baltimore had given me. In turn, the networks derived from that touring formed the basis for a larger free improvisation engagement, leading to hundreds of collaborations through the ’90s and ’00s, and the formation of my record label, www.recorded.com (now on its 25th release). It was also this time that I became a philosophy student and music producer for Henry Flynt, the unusual American philosopher, founder of Concept Art, and inventor of Electronic Hillbilly Music. Both those relationships had a huge impact on the development of my sensibility.
It was during this time that I convinced my business partners in Normal’s Books and Records to let me use the storage room as a space for experimental gigs on a regular basis, which I ran by myself for the first year and was the launch of www.redroom.org, a storied experimental music space that since 1996 has presented over a thousand concerts of experimental music, along with language, philosophy, performance and film. The collective that I formed to run that space went on to realize the www.highzero.org festival, an international festival since 1999 that is both one of the most inspired institutions of free improvisation but also a crossing-ground of all the varied subcultures of experimental music. The clashing range of sensibilities, in combination with exaltation and sophistication are all hallmarks of the Baltimore scene; one with a shocking large and consistent audience for experimental culture.
Though still connected with all those activities, in the last decade, I moved on in my own work to develop the concept of “Relabi”—a cultural form based around “always slipping the pulse,” attempting something in relation to tempo that the Escher Woodcuts are in relation to depth and space. Again, paradoxes as experience-generators. The idea of confusing the issue of “is there a tempo or not” has become an obsession for me and a new form of dissonance. Expect an LP, Baltimore Relabi Style, in the coming years, full of special guest and odd gambits.
Baltimore, “the ambiguity city,” turns out to be one of the best places to care about this sort of ineffable stuff, and it has been a supreme privilege to be a part of such a smart, elevated, eccentric community. It has been exactly what I, as an individual, needed and also a major love of my life.
I came to Baltimore area by a chance, via Germany, Israel, and Canada. After I completed my studies in Neues Musiktheater with Mauricio Kagel in Cologne, I was practically stuck in Germany without being able to return home since the war in former Yugoslavia was still going on. The new music scene in Cologne was fantastically exciting, with pieces programmed at all concerts no matter how small or big the venue or who the performers or the audiences were, but the negative public opinion regarding the war in my home country was so intense that it was just impossible for me to continue living there. I got an opportunity to go to Israel, and very soon found out that although there was a great appreciation for traditional classical music, there were not many opportunities in contemporary music performance for someone who just recently landed there. I then applied for a six-month residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity in Canada, and it was in their library where I came across the Towson University’s graduate program in interdisciplinary theatre which accepted the students from various artistic backgrounds and gave them practical training in self-produced theatrical performances. And so I went to Towson in 1999, where I also took composition classes (mainly in electronic sound) from Dr. William Kleinsasser.
While still at TU, I was invited to join the Baltimore Composers Forum. The primary focus of the organization was to program the new music concerts featuring local composers who wrote in a variety of styles with strong classical or jazz backgrounds. There was no real connection among the members other than showing up for the concerts when their music was performed. In 2008, my colleague Keith Kramer and I took over the leadership and slightly restructured how the organization was to be run, which has remained up until the present: from the all-membership meetings where concert ideas are freely exchanged, to scheduling events in spaces other than traditional concert venues, to reaching out to other local artists and collaborating with them – the most successful dance event Sound in Motion was held last year for the 6th time. Our main focus is to reach diverse audiences and present a variety of local ensembles through our compositions, but the most significant change for us was that we gave the performers the freedom to choose which works will be performed at any event, rather than it being decided by the Board.
When the pandemic started, Baltimore Composers Forum was a little bit stuck in a limbo; as current president, I kept postponing our vocal concert for 3, then 6 months, then cancelling it altogether and switching it into a virtual event. We all had a steep learning curve in how things in this new-normal performance reality are supposed to function: from utilizing our website as a virtual stage; to dealing with the logistics of putting together a virtual vs in-person concert; to finding the musicians and videographers who felt safe enough to rehearse and film the music; to finding venues that would be open to the idea of someone filming in their otherwise shut-down spaces; to figuring out how royalties work for virtual performances, etc. Some of the online concerts, like Sound in Motion VI, were very successful, and because with each online event we were able to reach much wider audiences, even internationally, it was decided that when we get back to live concerts we should still keep one portion of our concerts virtual. As for me personally, I was juggling homeschooling my two young daughters, taking care of everyday chores, running Baltimore Composers Forum, and finding a time to compose. As many of our current members, I have moved away from Baltimore, and now am a part of our greater Maryland base that is continuing to be active in the Charm City’s new music scene. Baltimore’s openness to new experiences, exciting performers, and the possibilities of interdisciplinary collaborations are still inspiring to me today as they were when I first arrived.
I have started at the beginning of a lockdown a series of very short virtual compositions (1-2 minutes) inspired by and featuring very mundane every-day objects as a sound inspiration such as an electric toothbrush, children’s talking books, and a musical jewelry box.
The first one, titled B(rushed) Moment can be watched here:
White Noise for prerecorded text in 8 languages, musique concrète and sound effects (text by Juanita Rockwell in collaboration with Anna Maria Delinasiou) can be heard here:
I recommend my fellow Baltimore Composers Forum Keith Kramer’s Amalgam:
I grew up in Baltimore after my family moved here from the Philippines in 1982. I fell in love with art and music in my teens and have since met like-minded people here who have become longtime friends and collaborators. They are a big reason why I continue to call Baltimore home. For the past 25 years, I have been writing and performing music in both collaborative and solo settings, some of which have allowed me to tour throughout the United States and Europe. Outside of purely musical works, I have written music for theater and dance productions, art installations, and have also been a member of DIY theater ensembles as well. With the help of grants, a longtime collaborator and I were able to hire Peabody Conservatory students to play some of our compositions and I’ve also had ensemble performances made up of just friends.
One of the most important things about Baltimore for me is that the music scene feels like an actual community. Baltimore isn’t a big city you move to in order to “make it”, so there is a feeling of trust behind what people are doing here. There are a lot of people here making art and music with a pure kind of motivation. That same genuine impulse is apparent in the effort to put on events and performances, too. When Baltimore artists do become well known, they remain very much in the fiber of the community, instead of being treated differently. I think one of the reasons the community is so healthy is because of its strong vibrant DIY spirit. There are a lot of highly motivated people and many dedicated independent warehouse spaces. The importance of these cannot be overstated. I’ve been lucky to witness a wide variety of performances at these events, from English improv group AMM, to the late Baltimore Club DJ, K-Swift, to DIY ensemble performances of music by Louis Andriessen and Terry Riley, to the Sun Ra Arkestra performing at an independently funded festival, just to name a few. Outside of the DIY scene, establishments like the Peabody Conservatory, MICA, the Maryland Film Festival, as well as other smaller galleries and venues also host their own program of events, adding to the mix, and helping to create a flourishing community. The diversity and supportive nature of this community has kept me inspired and motivated to keep creating and experimenting.
The live music scene shutting down, has personally been one of the more challenging parts of the pandemic. When watching live performances was part of my routine, it added inspiration and a balance. As far as my creative practices, some personal projects were put on hold, but also some new avenues of exploration opened up. My work has always had a live element in mind, but during the lockdown I shifted my focus to experimenting with the film music medium, which also helped me build up a portfolio. I did work on some collaborative projects but found it hard to be productive when working through emails and file sharing. Fortunately my wife, Wheatie Mattiasich, is one of my collaborators, and we were able to record an album in our home studio. This work will be released on vinyl in 2023. As of late, I’ve shifted my focus back to writing live music, with the optimistic hope that shows and concerts will become increasingly safer and more abundant. I’m very much looking forward to being an audience member again, and to also be part of this city’s very communal musical dialogue.
And this is the selection I am making of another artist:
Amy Reid (photo by Kata Frederick)
I have lived in Baltimore my whole life, it’s what I call home. My practice is rooted in building community and connecting with people through music. Because of that, and being close with my family (chosen and biological), I am deep-seated here. I moved from Baltimore County to Baltimore City when I went to college at MICA and fell in love with the warehouse/nightclub music scene in 2006 and never left. It was my first time going to legendary spaces like the Paradox, experiencing Baltimore club music in person and that was really life changing. There were also underground spaces hosting bills with Beach House, Rye Rye, Future Islands, Naeem, Dan Deacon, DDM, TT the Artist and other legends in the making. During this time I became really close friends with another Baltimore musician, Abdu Ali who started throwing these amazing parties called Kahlon which hosted Princess Nokia, Juliana Huxtable, and Jungle Pussy, to name a few. These experiences fueled my passion for collaborative music making and curatorial work.
I think something that really separates Baltimore from other cities is our rawness. That goes for both performers and people who attend events. We’re not afraid to go all out, get weird, be flamboyant, and move our bodies. In my band Chiffon, we make dance music and it always took me out of my element to go to a city where it was difficult to get people moving or to be vocally receptive. Another thing I love about this city is how we have such a range of genres here, some really niche ones, and how they are all frequently represented on one bill. It’s not out of the ordinary to attend a show with a noise/electronic musician, dj playing dance music, rapper, indie band, or a combination of all of these. I think it’s also important to note that our city forces us artists to be resilient and resourceful. We don’t have a large variety of venues and we definitely have a lack of queer centered spaces. Despite all of that, I have seen the LGBTQ music scene explode which has been really exciting for me as a queer identifying musician. TT the Artist’s film Dark City Beneath the Beat does a really great job capturing the high energy, soul, and spirit of Baltimore.
The pandemic has obviously been difficult for everyone. For me, making music is how I connect with people so it has been challenging both mentally and financially. It has been two years of trial, error, and sometimes succeeding in finding ways to share space with people through music as safely as possible. In addition to being a musician, I am also an events curator. Baltimore based musician, Pangelica, and myself makeup GRL PWR–a platform dedicated to cultivating community and elevating the visibility of women, trans, queer, and non-binary artists. Every year around Halloween, we organize a grandiose drag show, SWEAT and the pandemic challenged us to find a creative way to still make this happen. We wound up renting out a space, gathering a film crew, and putting on an outdoor show with djs, local drag performers but no live audience. Airing the first virtual rendition of SWEAT was successful in gathering our community together in a celebratory digital space. Musically speaking, the virtual world opened up new possibilities for collaboration. As part of a residency at the Merriweather District in September 2020, I assembled a sample pack for a project titled Future Canopies. The pack included field recordings, improvisations and through a digital open call, I invited artists to re-interpret the samples by creating new compositions. I wound up receiving tracks from Brazil, California, New York, and beyond. This time has me reflecting on how to cross borders/boundaries and be a cheerleader for the global recognition that Baltimore City deserves.
Our goal with user-generated playlists is to give you the power to curate the music you love on our New Music USA platform. You can now save, organize, listen to, and share videos and recordings from both projects and profiles by using playlists.
Using playlists is simple and intuitive. When you are logged in and on a profile or project page, if you see a video or sound recording that you want to add to your playlist, just click “Add to Playlist.” Once you do that, you can access your playlist at any time by navigating to “My Playlist” underneath the user tab at the top right of the page. The recordings you’ve added will now appear in your playlist.
Our friend and colleague Nicole Chamberlain agreed to curate a playlist inspired by the upcoming Midwest Clinic with works that she sourced from across the New Music USA platform. She put together this fantastic list featuring tracks from Alex Shapiro, Molly Joyce, Jennifer Jolley, Emily Koh, Alan Theisen, Russ Zokaites, and more! Nicole’s picks are helping us get pumped to experience Midwest Clinic through and through. Click the link and join us in the excitement.
About Nicole Chamberlain
Atlanta Composer and Flutist Nicole Chamberlain (b. 1977) has composed numerous works for flute and has won NFA’s 2017 Flute Choir Composition Competition, 2016-2018 Newly Published Music Awards, The Flute View Composition Competition, Areon Flutes International Composition Competition, finalist in the Flute New Music Consortium Competitions, and finalist for the Kappa Kappa Psi’s 2018 Female Band Composition Competition. She has been commissioned by the Atlanta Opera, Georgia Symphony Orchestra, Gonjiam Music Festival, Oklahoma Flute Society, Atlanta Flute Club, and many others. An album of her music, Three-Nine Line, released in 2018 by MSR Classics. Learn more about Nicole at www.nikkinotes.com
One of the exciting ways to use the New Music USA platform is user-generated playlists. Our goal with playlists is to give you the power to curate the music you love on our site. You can now save, organize, listen to, and share videos and recordings from both projects and profiles by using playlists.
Using playlists is simple and intuitive. When you are logged in and on a profile or project page, if you see a video or sound recording that you want to add to your playlist, just click “Add to Playlist.” Once you do that, you can access your playlist at any time by navigating to “My Playlist” underneath the user tab at the top right of the page. The recordings you’ve added will now appear in your playlist.
Our friend and colleague Vanessa Ague agreed to curate a Halloween-themed playlist with works that she sourced from across the New Music USA platform. She found some great tracks that include performers such as Atlantic Guitar Quartet, Eighth Blackbird, Nadia Sirota, Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, and more! Vanessa’s picks are helping us get into the Halloween mood. Click the link and take your Halloween listening to the next level.
Ah, Thanksgiving: a holiday as rich in calories as it is in cultural significance. Depending on whom you ask, it’s either the greatest culinary day of the year, a twisted celebration of American colonialism, or the annual site of uncomfortable conversations with that conservative uncle of yours. For the turkeys, it’s mass carnage. For the vegetarians, it’s slim pickings. And for retail employees, it’s the beginning of the end. What’s the proper soundtrack for a day that means so many different things?
I’ve always loved This American Life’s annual Thanksgiving episode. They call it the “Poultry Slam,” and cobble together a bunch of stories that have some tenuous connection to poultry. Why reserve the tenuous connections for public radio alone? Why not canvas the work of Chicago composers for music that’s as complex as Turkey Day? Ira Glass, eat your heart out:
For the selfish and gluttonous: Are your niece and nephew fighting over the last piece of pie? Feel a pang when your spouse polishes off the last of the stuffing? James Blake can relate. Check out Chris Fisher-Lochhead’s arrangement of his song “I Never Learnt to Share,” written for and performed by the Spektral Quartet.
For the anxious and ambivalent: Alex Temple, The Travels of E.C. Dumonde. With its mysterious incidents taking place in Oklahoma cornfields or advertising-obsessed towns in California, this eerie piece is perfect for those who experience ambivalence (to say the least) when road-tripping to their towns of origin.
For the hunters: Jenna Lyle, How To Accidentally Kill a Crow. This stylish, humor-filled chamber work was inspired by the composer’s adventures shooting crows in her grandfather’s backyard in Georgia. There’s nothing quite like spending time with family.
For the argumentative: If the two saxophones in Eliza Brown’s Apart Together are sparring relatives, you’ve got a ringside seat for their brawl. The composer writes: “Like an ill-fated family gathering, it begins with a burst of energy and connection, periodically erupts into conflict, and peters out in a state of mutual alienation (the decoupling of the instruments from the performers’ mouths).”
For the birdwatchers: There’s a wintry Americana stillness to Luke Gullickson’s 2014 EP To Evening Lands. (Full disclosure: I played and sang a bit on this album.) It’s thankful music in any season. Check out the final track, Daedalus and Perdix.
For the spiritual, part 1: James Falzone, With Notes Almost Divine. Just when you thought this wide-ranging clarinetist and improviser couldn’t surprise you anymore, he has an original Advent hymn available as a downloadable PDF score on his website. Why can’t I download more composers’ work to sing with my friends around the table after a few glasses of wine?
For the spiritual, part 2: Augusta Read Thomas, Prayer and Celebration: a warm, gorgeous, brief chamber orchestra piece originally composed for a high school orchestra in Concord, New Hampshire.
For the Polish, and for those who miss Lee Hyla: This year’s holiday marks the first Thanksgiving that the late Boston/Chicago composer’s many admirers will spend without him. Listening to Hyla’s brilliant Polish Folk Songs is both pure delight–evoking an important Chicago ethnic community–and a reminder of someone deeply missed.
For the nervous host: Are you anxious about producing a holiday spread for, say, five adults and two children for the first time? Or is that just me? Well, one of the most crucial Thanksgiving decisions one can make is what music one grooves to while chopping, peeling, simmering, and stirring. I’m going with Chicago trumpeter Marquis Hill, who just made the city proud by winning the Thelonious Monk Competition, one of jazz music’s most prestigious prizes. While you’re looking forward to the major-label release that’s part of his winnings, any of his gorgeous SoundCloud tracks are sure to soothe your nerves.
For anyone with a soul: Imagine if, in the year 1825, Beethoven was at your Thanksgiving table. When it was his turn to say what he was thankful for, he would grunt, “I’m grateful I’m still alive” and then compose this. It would be–and still is–kinda hard to compete with the Heileger dankgesang.
Valentine’s Day is here, and for contemporary music enthusiasts, it can be hard to compile the proper twitterpated playlist. After all, laypeople are constantly referring to our favorite pieces as “scary movie music.” Don’t they know we’re just as romantic as the next guy? When we’re cut, do we not bleed?!
I started thinking about what makes new music erotic or romantic, and decided to ask my Facebook friends and Twitter followers the same question. Some of their responses were just weird enough to include…and some were just weird. From openhearted to kinky, we’ve got some pretty wide-ranging ideas of what romance is. Without further ado, here’s your 2014 playlist of avant-garde baby-makin’ music.
What’s sexier than the human body? Few composers explore this question better than Jenna Lyle. We can neither confirm nor deny rumors that Lyle’s upcoming doctoral dissertation will include microphones placed inside certain unmentionable orifices. While you’re waiting for that excitement, check out her duo Aqualung for some sensual girl-on-girl-on-violin action. (Full disclosure: I’m the violinist in this video.) Lyle here explores “the intimacy and claustrophobia of closeness to another in parallel with the intimacy and claustrophobia of being alone with oneself.” What’s more romantic, or real, than that?
You know it. I know it. The phenomenal composer and conductor Matthias Pinscher is a heartthrob on the podium and on the page. Exhibit A is his Songs from Solomon’s Garden, which takes as its text some of the oldest sex poetry in Western civilization. The throbbing (yes, throbbing) trumpet solos were reportedly written especially for his paramour in the New York Philharmonic. It’s not every day we get to know a living composer Biblically.
Is your Valentine’s Day more bitter than sweet? Or is it, er, another taste altogether? The unfailingly raunchy Matt Marks set a text entitled “I tasted another woman in your mouth” for his song cycle I[XX]. As you might expect, this audio is NSFW.
Thanks to Chicago composer Morgan Krauss, getting in the mood tonight will not be a problem for any of us. Just imagine you’re in a darkened concert hall listening to her Gravity of Shadows: two female vocalists ooh-ing, sighing, and breathing their way through four sensual minutes. The flutes sound just as transfixed, focused and ecstatic as the humans. Are you tingly yet? (h/t Doyle Armbrust)
Let’s not forget the classics. Morton Feldman’sPiano and String Quartet, like great love, creates a sense of deep attunement and intimacy. The piece’s opening sequence has a sense of suspended timelessness, like two lovers lingering over every touch. But at an hour and twenty minutes, the piece more closely resembles a long, mindful marriage than a fling. (h/t Dave Reminick)
Thanks a lot, Jonathon Kirk: I’ll never think of hockets the same way again. When I asked friends to name their favorite “sexy” pieces, Jonathon chose Meredith Monk’s“Hocket” from Facing North. This vocal duet evokes either the rhythmic call-and-response of lovemaking or a couple in a lifelong repetitive conversation. Or both.
Things get kinky when the conversation turns toward Georges Aperghis. His quintetCrosswind, performed here by Chicago dynamos Anubis Quartet and Nadia Sirota, has a raw and ravaging energy, punctuated by yelps of unfulfilled longing and, let’s be real, sucking sounds. Though Crosswind feels more like an orgy than the more intimate couplings on this list, there is an innocent, charming little love song nestled in around 5:40. (h/t Seth Brodsky)
But perhaps, dear readers, you’re tired of weird. Perhaps you’re ready for real love. Two of contemporary music’s favorite lovebirds, writers and advocates Larry and Arlene Dunn, recommend “How Important It Must Be,” a kind of lifelong-love song by Maria Schneider on a text by Ted Kooser. While this particular song from Scheider’s Winter Morning Walks isn’t available for free streaming, the equally beautiful “Walking by Flashlight” gives a taste of the song cycle’s tender jazz sensibility.
Finally, for those ready to face the question of love and mortality, I offer up the sad and gorgeous musical legacy of perhaps the greatest contemporary music love story of the past decade. Composer Peter Lieberson was married with three children when he met mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt; they fell in love while working on the premiere of his opera, Ashoka’s Dream. After their marriage, he wrote his Neruda Songs for her. The piece was recorded just eight months before she died of breast cancer; sadly, Lieberson himself has also since passed away. The final Neruda Song begins with this text:
My love, should I die and you don’t
let us give grief no more ground:
my love, should you die and I don’t
there is no piece of land like this on which we’ve lived.
Hold your loved ones close, dear readers, and read a poem or two. Happy Valentine’s Day.
Feb 14, 2014
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