In this year’s “Best Of Nashville” issue, the Nashville Scene just recently awarded Indeterminacies “Best Contemporary Classical Series” and I wholeheartedly agree with their assessment! Indeterminacies is the brainchild of architect Lesley Beeman and visual artists Lain York, based at the Zeitgeist Gallery, which shares its space with Manuel Zeitlin Architects in picturesque Hillsboro Village. The storefront gallery shows contemporary work from local and international artists while the firm is responsible for some of the most beautifully modern buildings in Nashville. A synergetic dialogue between fine art, architecture and design has been the defining principle of Zeitgeist/MZA since its opening in 1994 and has increasingly utilized the gallery as a venue for cutting edge music, dance and experimental performance art. The series derives its name from John Cage’s idea of “indeterminacy,” art as “processes whose outcome is not predetermined” and, to that end, audience participation is actively encouraged. In an interview with Theatre Intangible, Lain York stated their artistic “goal is to push someone else into carrying the conversation further” while Lesley Beeman spoke of the desire to build a “library of criticism for new music” through “a critical dialogue” between composers, performers and listeners. As you can see, Indeterminacies is much more than a mere concert series.
On Tuesday October 11, Indeterminacies continues with a program of music by Andrew Raffo Dewar performed by Pulse New Music Ensemble and guitarist, Brady Sharp, who will play “Box With Strings” (2003) a composition of prepared electric guitar (!). Your humble blogger will be moderating the discussion and I’m very pleased (and surprised!) to have been asked to participate. The music is certainly right up my alley: Mr. Dewar studied with Anthony Braxton, one of my biggest heroes, and plays (woodwinds) on some of my all-time favorite records, including Braxton’s mammoth 9 Compositions (Iridium) 2006 box set (Firehouse 12) and 12+1tet (Victoriaville) 2007 (Victo) as well as Bill Dixon’s final magnum opus, 17 Musicians In Search Of A Sound: Darfur (AUM Fidelity). But he’s also a respected composer in his own right as well as an ethnomusicologist and Assistant Professor of Interdisciplinary Arts at The New College & School of Music at the University of Alabama. There is wonderful CD of his music entitled, Six Lines of Transformation, available on Porter Records, and is highly recommended. The works presented on October 11 are exquisite examples of “ergodic notation,” graphic scores which transcend the confines of traditional notation and require the musician’s own imagination and creativity to interpret. It is not exactly improvisation—the instructions are quite explicit—but the result is, well, indeterminate. It is sure to be scintillating evening of music and, hopefully, enlightening discussion.
I recently had an opportunity to chat with Lesley Beeman and Lain York about the Indeterminacies series and they graciously allowed their words (and image) to be published on the blog:
RC: This season’s Indeterminacies line-up is suitably eclectic: On September 13, the Portara Ensemble performed David Lang’s Pulitzer prize-winning vocal piece, “The Little Match Girl Passion”; on October 11, Andrew Raffo Dewar presents some of his “ergodic” scores performed by the Pulse Ensemble and Brady Sharp; and on November 8, the season concludes with a program featuring theorist/composer John Latartara. Can you tell me a little about how you came up with this year’s schedule of events?
Lesley: This is the fourth year we've been doing events like this in the gallery, although they've had different titles. It seems that each year's concept grows from something in the year before. This year's series grew out of a program we did about critical thinking with Jonathan Neufeld and Matt Walker [director of ALIAS Chamber Ensemble]. Long story short-er, short-ish, this year we set out to try to build a library of criticism of new music. So, we combine new music by local composers with critics to engage us in a rigorous discussion of the music. The first person we contacted was John Latartara whose striking electronic music introduced me to an exciting new genre of music.
Lain: Conversations outside institutional confines overwhelmingly indicate that folks want to talk and be more engaged; they want more focused conversation and are not short on opinions. It seems, however, that when a platform for these conversations is presented it takes some doing to get people (a) to the venue and (b) get them sharing. In 2006, “dialogues” related to visual art group shows sought to “confront” a studio community that was frustrated on a number of levels. Results were mixed but at least we were all set on a trajectory. Not sure if it is that we are in the South but shoes are still a bit too tight. Hopefully this year’s Indeterminacies will continue to see the conversations that folks say they want to see tabled. Would love to see more area outfits playing with formats that will induce “sharing” in both physical and virtual space.
RC: You have taken a step in that direction, with last month’s program being streamed from Indeterminacies Facebook page and I assume that will continue in the future. In the interview with Theatre Intangible, Lain described the Indeterminacies program as a “dialogue” and an attempt to “push the conversation further.” To that end, the presence of a moderator and an audience participation segment is an integral part of each event and I’m honored to have been asked to host the Andrew Raffo Dewar program. I understand it is something more than just a Q&A with the composer, yet audiences (and composers and musicians) can be difficult to draw out. How do you envision the ultimate Indeterminacies program? Where does the “conversation” go from here?
Lesley: Art, architecture, music, design fundamentally search for something new or a new way of looking at something familiar. Conversation is a critical part of this enterprise. The ultimate Indeterminacies program would engage the presenters and the audience in that search.
RC: Well, I’m happy to do my part! For me, one of the things that is so refreshing about the Indeterminacies events is hearing serious, cutting edge music is presented in a contemporary art gallery space. One of my bailiwicks is that most people—including many musicians—do not consider music to be “art.” The proof is in their general contempt of modernism when it comes to music. Nobody who wants to be taken seriously in the fine art world would be caught dead making jokes about, say, Cy Twombly, yet John Cage is still grossly misunderstood and forever controversial in the “classical music” world. Painting, sculpture, theatre, film, architecture have all canonized and cannibalized their modernist heroes and moved on; meanwhile so-called “classical music” is confined to the narrow confines of a misconstrued 19th Century. Is music in an art gallery different from music in a concert hall? Is music art?
Lain: First of all, I have always felt that John Cage is a painfully underrated visual artist. Love hearing him mentioned in the same breath as Twombly (Twombly being Kingboss as far as I’m concerned). If “art” is a vehicle for expression, association, and conversation I certainly think of music (writing, film making, choreography/dance, skateboarding, etc.) as art. The gallery has always been interested in curatorial projects by artists. The idea of exhibitions in a physical, institutional gallery space for viewing visual art critiquing and deconstructing institutional gallery spaces for viewing visual art is, I believe, very timely. Through curated exhibitions and performances, the space plays with the idea of “programming” making the shows and the space itself a nexus for showcasing particular studio practices, networking the shows themselves, and for visual artists working in particular media. It’s there to deconstruct and define in new ways the nature of these physical spaces and the influences they have on what was shown on the walls (and vice versa)and should directly affect how these works are translated into more formal/traditional venues. In the age of virtual space, people gathering in physical spaces has new meanings and in a relatively small cultural market traditionally lacking in institutional support such as Nashville, this can be a lot of fun.
We have all been seeing artists/musicians/writers/film makers, etc. interacting in interesting ways for years and the argument for/against compartmentalizing and specializing is taking on new meanings. The tools available now on the internet for individual expression and sharing are making these very exciting times. Museums, concert halls, cinemas, etc. (and the canons they reflect) are all having to absorb new vocabularies introduced on the periphery. Kicking and screaming in some instances.
RC: I, for one, very much appreciate the work you’re doing to push things forward! When Theatre Intangible asked who some of your influences are in your own art, Lesley replied: “John Cage’s book ‘Silence’ is the best book on architecture ever written.” Well, that statement sort of blew my mind! Discovering that book while at the Conservatory changed my life forever! I’ve re-read it many times and it is certainly one of the best books about music ever written. Can you elaborate on how it influenced your practice as an architect? Can you give an example where music directly impacted a building you designed?
Lesley: For me "Silence" is a book primarily about creating spaces that enhance a connection to the present, in Cage's sense a musical space but can also be an architectural space. It's about a stillness or an anchoring to a place in space or a place in time. Cage asks us to be still and listen to what is happening around us. Great architecture asks us to be still and be aware of our surroundings. The two are exactly the same. I'm not sure I can point to a building I've worked on that explicitly demonstrates this quality, but it is how I try to think about making architecture. It's a struggle and I'm certainly not always successful, but I hope to think more about space, experience and stillness than about making a "building."
RC: That makes a lot of sense and helps to explain why architecture can, like music, be the catalyst for a profoundly moving experience. Cage was truly a renaissance man: musician, philosopher and also a fine visual artist. Lain, can you describe his influence on your work?
Lain: I believe he cuts right across genres, disciplines, whatever you have. I see him as a strategist and philosopher, much like Duchamp, using drawing, printmaking, sound, etc. as a vehicle for his line of inquiry. I see creative process as using a particular or broad based skill set to flesh out associations related to particular ideas. His skill set definitely proved more broad and articulate than most. With that in mind, his approach to drawing has been most intriguing: the most immediate response to the most complex ideas.
RC: Works by artists Wayne White and Kurt Wagner (leader of the legendary alt-country band, Lambchop) are currently showing at Zeitgeist Gallery. Did the schedule of art openings influence your programming for Indeterminacies?
Lain: Janice [Zeitlin] and I do not consciously curate with the performances in mind; there’s something already in the water. Kurt is an internationally recognized musician and friend who we’ve wanted to show for ages. I spoke at length with Kurt about the Indeterminacies programming and he was super supportive. He’s familiar with Lang and loves the idea of the gallery as an interdisciplinary platform. Kurt was hoping to find some young bluegrass musicians, some that were just starting out to play at the reception with Wayne. Wayne also plays banjo and the thought of these relative novice players with pure intent was definitely appealing. Could not get that together, though.
RC: That would have been fun! Can you tell you me about future exhibitions?
Lain: The November gallery show will feature Ward Schumaker who is San Francisco-based. His background is in illustration and design but I find him to be a phenomenal painter and is currently getting picked up by galleries in LA, New York, and Shanghai. Upon initially meeting him, we somehow launched into a discussion on La Monte Young. Ward’s San Francisco gallery recently began hosting performances.
RC: That’s definitely a trend I like to see. What’s on the horizon for Indeterminacies in 2012?
Lesley: I have absolutely no idea, but it will doubtless involve something unexpected. Any suggestions?
RC: Well, I’d love to see more of Braxton’s progeny such as Mary Halvorson, Taylor Ho Bynum and Jessica Pavone be given the opportunity to play in Nashville since they so gleefully transcend the boundaries of composition and improvisation, “classical” and “jazz,” while developing a highly personalized voice on their respective instruments—but I don’t know how feasible it would be! Thank you both so much for taking the time to offer such thoughtful responses to my questions and for inviting me to participate on Tuesday!
With beautiful fall weather we’re having, Tuesday’s event will take place outdoors, in the courtyard behind Retropolitan and Cotten Music Center, located just a few doors down from Zeitgeist at 1813 21st Avenue South. The program starts at 6:00pm and is free and open to the public, so I hope to see you there! In the meantime, go to Theatre Intangible and download these high-quality podcasts of previous events by composers Stan Link, Mark Snyder and Mark Volker. Good stuff!