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Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - Sounding the Alarm for New Music
by Gillian Ellis


Deciding exactly what is and what is not “new music” can be tricky, admits OU Assistant Professor Miles Brown. Generally speaking, it is art music composed after the midpoint of the last century, but “for example, a new work that sounds like Brahms is not considered new music.”

If you find yourself intrigued by this, or you are already a new music cognoscenti, you are not going to want to miss the upcoming concert by Alarm Will Sound, one of the country’s premier new music ensembles, who will perform in Varner Recital Hall on March 30 at 8 pm. The 20-member ensemble is one of the country’s foremost exponents of new music. They have performed at Carnegie Hall and at many other prestigious venues both in this country and in Europe. The (London) Financial Times described their performance at the Barbican as “equal parts exuberance, nonchalance and virtuosity” and The New York Times called Alarm Will Sound “the very model of a modern music chamber band.”

On March 30, the ensemble plan to play John Orfe, Dowland Remix (Flow My Tears); Charles Wuorinen, Big Spinoff; John Adams, Son of Chamber Symphony; Aphex Twin, Cliffs arr. Caleb Burhans; John Cage, selections from Song Books; Aphex Twin, Omgyjya Switch 7 arr. Evan Hause; Aphex Twin, Gwely Mernans arr. Ken Thomson; Aphex Twin, Cock/Ver 10 arr. Stefan Freund.

But a concentration on a repertoire of new music is not the only thing that makes ensembles like Alarm Will Sound different from the generation of freelance musicians that came before them. Digital technology and communications, things we all take for granted today, make it possible for artists of all kinds to self-promote and manage their own business as never before. Musicians, actors, singers, painters, composers, writers, dancers, artists of all kinds are shaping their own careers in ways that were never thought possible before.

How this new business model operates is explained very well in a recent NPR story by Lara Pellegrinelli, which focused on Claire Chase, flutist and Executive Director of International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), another leader in the growing new music movement. She explains, “Are we the generation who waits for the phone to ring? No. Do we wait for someone to say, ‘here's your amazing opportunity to do this project you've been dreaming of that's totally risky, that no one else would produce?’ No. We do it for ourselves and we do it for one another." In short, today’s artists have to be entrepreneurs. You can hear the story in full here. 

Miles Brown plays bass with Alarm Will Sound. Like most other members of the ensemble, he attended the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York which is where they first began to play together, producing a unique style from their diverse experiences in composition, improvisation, jazz , early music, and world music.

The ensemble gave their first concert in New York in May 2001, and in subsequent years they have grown artistically and organizationally. Today the band can be heard on five recordings and just this season they have played in both Poland and Italy, as well as at locations around the US. Their reputation continues to soar. Their performance of 1969 at Zankel Hall in March 2011 was a top-ten pick by Time Out New York. Developed by Andrew Kupfer, Nigel Maister, and Alan Pierson, 1969 tells the story of John Lennon, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Paul McCartney, Luciano Berio, Yoko Ono, and Leonard Bernstein, all striving for a new music and a new world amidst the turmoil of the late 1960s. You can see and hear a video performance of Matt Marks’s arrangement of "Revolution 9", a section of 1969, here.

There is lots of information about Alarm Will Sound on their website, including bios of the musicians and more clips of them playing. There is also a brief history written by Gavin Chuck, their managing director, which ends with these words, “The individual members of Alarm Will Sound have a shared history of pushing our limits. We grew up artistically together starting from our student days at Eastman. As we've added new members we continue to grow together with a deep commitment to new music and to each other. That's why we think of ourselves as a band rather than an orchestra. We're constantly brainstorming new ideas about projects that engage us, arguing about what works and what doesn't, trying things we haven't tried before, and sometimes making it up as we go along. It's because of that shared history and commitment that we are comfortable taking artistic risks with each other. We're going to go through that door.”

The Department of Music, Theatre and Dance is very excited to be able to hold open “that door” to an adventurous world of contemporary musical performance for a metro-Detroit audience and we invite you to join us there. Tickets are $20, $10 for students. As always, complete ticket information is available at oakland.edu/tickets or you can call our ticket service at 1-(800) 585-3737. There is no service fee on advanced ticket purchases.

Photo: Alarm Will Sound, photo by Justin Bernhaut
Newsletter photo Alan Pierson conducts Alarm Will Sound, photo by Cory Weaver