Now Hear This
The well-tempered New Music Co-Op wants to redefine how you listen to music
Occasionally, we are afforded the opportunity to witness the vanguard of a particular artistic medium, expanding or maybe even obliterating our narrowly defined aesthetic boundaries. Whether it be a particularly intriguing exhibit that makes our eyes focus a little different, a movie that turns us upside down and leaves us there, or a piece of music that takes us somewhere we didn’t know even existed.
Luckily, for those looking for the above experience, Austin’s own New Music Co-Op consistently lets us take a peek into the far, scrambled edges of music.
The Co-Op is celebrating a decade of adventurous auditory exploration with two nights of performance this weekend. The group will pay respect to its ancestors with pieces by the heavyweights of modernist composition (Morton Feldman, Arnold Dreyblatt, and Alvin Lucier) while displaying the singularity of their own new work.
Functioning like a gang of different musical persuasions, The New Music Co-Op is comprised of a number of different personalities from Austin’s musical landscape: its members probably represent every sort of micro-genre in Austin. From harsh electronics and pensive rock to formal composition, the Co-Op’s cadre of musical innovators is no doubt reflected in its eclectic approach to interpreting classics of the adventurous side of the 20th/21st century classical world, while, at the same time, writing their own history, and future, through the creation of new work by its own members.
Akin to the highly reputable Bang on A Can, a group who is renowned for taking a similar eraser to the distinctions rock/classical distinction, the Co-Op’s punk rock approach to the so-called classical world, as well as their own work, has garnered fans of all tastes, whether or not they’ve heard a lick of the stuff.
Likewise, the only thing that is required for enjoyment of the material that NMCOP explores is a Zen oriented beginner's mind: a mind that lacks preconceptions and expectations.“The only thing required of an audience member is a willingness to have new experiences,” said Co-Op member and Weird Weed band member, Nick Hennies. “The concerts are definitely accessible, but that’s not to say that the music is in any way conventional.”
Indeed, the Co-Op’s unconventional attitude gives the finger to the classical world as much as the rock, operating in that neglected third space in between. “The Co-Op has a leaning towards the rhythmic orientation of the rock world, but at the same time, employing adventurous composition and texture,” stated Co-Op member Farris, one part of musical terrorist organization the Waco Girls.
Indeed, the curation definitely reflects Farris' sentiment. Shying away from the more obtuse composers of modernism like Arnold Schoenberg and Karlheinz Stockhausen, the Co-Op tends towards the more playful and visceral side of modernism, like the strange and pounding harmonics of Arnold Dreybartt and the aetheric repetition of Terry Riley.
Some of this weekend’s program will feature Dreybartt’s take on minimalism with a rock oriented piece for drum kit and guitar amps and the ever spectral chamber compositions of Morton Feldman. In addition, the audience will get a chance to experience new compositions from Fariss, Hennies, and other members.
In spite of its surfeit of bands, there still remains a dearth of people exploring the neglected fringe of adventurous classical music in Austin. In response, one of the main thrusts of the Co-Op is to fill the musical lack that Red River has been unable to fill, despite its best efforts.
“We like to pick things that we think would fill the musical gap in Austin,” said Hennies. “One of the special things about Austin is that it is a small town, but you can find just about any kind of music that you can dream of. At the same time, I think NMCOP is broadening the scope of what 'anything' means.”
Indeed, that's what makes New Music Co-Op productions so special. Their natural ability to re(un)define ours, and their own, expectations of music in the 21st century, making use of anything and everything, including pine cones, rocks, guitars, and handmade instruments to explore new ways of perceiving sound.
“A lot of the pieces have a root interest in sound — the physicality and just the way that sound works... We're interested in getting into the world of those sounds and finding out how they work,” said Hennies. “For the audience, there is a sense of engaging with sound instead of passively listening to it as merely an aesthetic experience.”
Nevertheless, even though their productions can be both challenging and rewarding, both Hennies and Farris eschew the much harbored notions of avant-garde classical music having a unwelcoming pretension about it.
“The best pitch to someone who has never heard a note of or a piece of experimental music in their life is to ask the question, ‘Do you want to hear something that you’ve never heard before?’ That’s what I want to hear out of music.”
The New Music Co-Op showcase takes place Friday, March 23 at 8 p.m. and Saturday, March 24 at 7 p.m. at the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican-American Cultural Center. Tickets are $17 for one night and $25 for both nights. For more information regarding the show and other NMCOP events visit their website.