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Soundspace brings experiential music mash-up to the Blanton Museum

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Photo by Elisa Ferrari
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Photo by Elisa Ferrari
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Photo by Elisa Ferrari
Austin Photo Set: News_joelle_soundspace_oct 2012_2
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Austin Photo Set: News_joelle_soundspace_oct 2012_1

If you haven't experienced simultaneous music before, particularly in a museum, it's a crazy trip. Soundspace: Space and Symmetry, this Sunday, Oct. 21 at 2 p.m. at the Blanton Museum of Art, offers your chance to experience it firsthand, thanks to the work of trombonist Steve Parker.

Founded last year, SoundSpace is a concert series where multiple pieces of contemporary classical music are performed simultaneously in a glorious collaboration of art, music, dance, theater and visual arts. This installment will feature works by Stockhausen, Takemitsu, as well as Henry Brant's piece for eighty trombones (Eighty trombones!), Orbits.

Performers will include musicians from the Austin Symphony Orchestra, Conspirare, line upon line percussion, the Butler School of Music, and the Austin Classical Guitar Society. CultureMap had the opportunity to speak with Parker about the upcoming concert.

CultureMap: What do space and symmetry represent for you? How have you tried to bring these ideas to life through music in this concert?
 
Steve Parker: Well, I'm a huge nerd — I was a math major in college — and I've always been interested in the intersection of math and music. I think some of the most elegant ways in which these two fields intersect is in the realm of spatial music and symmetry.  I also spent a ton of time reading about Stockhausen last year, since I was playing a bunch of his music and writing my dissertation on In Freundschaft. So, this concert is really just an extension of the work and thinking I had been doing over the past year.  
 
In particular, I've found these two themes to be especially important in the music of Stockhausen. Both in an obvious, tangible way (his large-scale works like Gruppen or Carre that literally surround the audience with sound) and in a more abstract way, where musical structure and language are largely informed by these concepts.  
 
The idea to program Orbits along with the Stockhausen was kind of a natural choice — I'm a trombonist, and what's better than eighty of 'em?  — since space and symmetry are such prominent features of both composers' music, it seemed to make sense.  
 
CM: Where did the original idea for the mash-up context of the SoundSpace concerts come from? What is unique and special about that kind of listening and performing experience?
 
SP: I've always enjoyed listening to multiple pieces of music at once. Now, I don't do this very often, but sometimes in college I would get together with friends and create outlandish music combinations (Sousa marches and metal, for example — I guess that's what going to school in Ohio will do to you).
 
In addition we put together a Cage-MUSICIRCUS-happening concert at the Blanton last year. I think it was a great experience. Not only because multiple works were played at once, and context changes everything, but also because audience experienced a concert in a way that gave them some choice. It's not really interactive, but I think that slight shift of power back to the crowd really makes a big difference in how one listens.  
 
CM: How does the location of the Blanton enhance that experience?
 
SP: Well, art museum goers are a totally different group of people than folks than listen to concert music. I'm not saying one or the other is better, but they are definitely different. If I were to generalize, I think an museum visitor is more adventurous perhaps? So, I do think that a museum concert attracts a different crowd, which changes the whole experience right off the bat.
 
Further, I think being in a museum changes the way a person experiences a work of art, whether it's music, visual art, etc. I think one is more inclined to be more curious, inquisitive and active in the experience. Finally, while I like to avoid literal connections between art and music in programming, I think that the works in the museum can influence and inspire the musical performance and experience in ways that a recital hall just cannot.  
 
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SoundSpace takes place at the Blanton Museum Sunday, Oct. 21 at 2 p.m. Tickets are available here.

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