White box new composers series

AE interviews charlie morrow
August 7, 2007

White Box, a contemporary art gallery in New York City, is presenting a series of concerts this year, called the New Composers Series, in collaboration with Electronic Music Foundation, New Wilderness, and Diapason Sound Art Gallery. The series was curated by Charlie Morrow and Michael Schumacher, and is intended as "a celebration of the art world's role in fostering groundbreaking sound art and music". We spoke with Morrow about the series.

AE What is the New Composers Series, and how did it come to be?

CM White Box created the New composers Series to continue the exploration of the gallery space as a venue for music, historically central to the development of experimental music in the 60s and 70s. Some composers simply enjoyed the informality and others felt the concert hall had lost its relevance. My own work from that period, and the subject of my touring lecture then, was centered on the idea of music outside the concert hall. This kind of thinking, in part, led to new musical ideas such as site specific composing and cross-overs with sound art. These were also partly a result ofmusicians' solidarity with art audiences--poets, dancers and visual artists were far less contentious and competitive than the official music community at the time. When I was a student at Columbia University in the 50s, some music professors taught that John Cage was not a composer. But this is all water under the bridge in the 21st century. White Box wishes, in creating the New Composers Series, both to bring music to its own audience and to attract a music audience for its art.

AE Who are the composers being featured in the series?

CM My curatorial goal was to create a mix of younger and older generations whose work relate and can flourish in the White Box space. With that in mind, I invited Michael Schumacher, founder of Diapason Sound Art Gallery, to co-curate the series with me. To define the scope and select composers, we met with Juan Puntes, director of White Box.

So far, there have been 3 performances. Video artist Katherine Liberovskaya performed with sound artist Hitoshi Kojo in April, I performed a solo show in June, and on July 31st, violinist Mari Kimura and clarinettist Kinan Azmeh performed a collection of original and commissioned compositions. August through December will feature performances by Jen Stock and Aleksei Stevens (8/23), Elliott Sharp (9/13), Alan Licht (9/20), Ed Tomney (10/25), Anthony Burr (10/27), Phill Niblock (12/7), and Michael Schumacher (12/13), for a total of 10 concerts.

AE How do you think the art gallery setting suits the presentation of contemporary music? How does the format of these performances differ from that of a more traditional concert?

CM The art gallery is just one of many alternative venues for presenting contemporary music. Galleries range greatly in size, acoustics, architectural style and identification with artistic movements. Contemporary music composers vary but most are context sensitive and can adjust their presentation to the venue. For example, for performances that use outdoor space as well as indoor space, galleries offer easy passage to the street and often to gardens. Gallery owners are also accustomed to reinventing their spaces (repainting, building temporary structures, etc), which can be quite useful for mixed media music.

The visual aspect of music installation and performance is highlighted in the Gallery setting. Sound sculpture, sound painting, sound poetry, machines, circuits, mechanical and electromechanical mechanisms, polemics, speeches, readings, discussions, manifestos, conflict, interactivity, mobility all have a place in Gallery settings. Galleries are transitional settings for public art works which can be displayed in prototype for approvals and reviews. Galleries are attended spaces often open many days a week. They are ideal settings for sound works which are visual or have no beginning, middle and end.

The format of gallery presentations is diverse--it varies from sound art which is visited by an audience to performance which is attended by an audience, and the New Composers series features all manner of these. The Gallery can use chairs or not. Every show can be unique.

AE What's in store? Will this be an annual series? Will there be a CD?

CM It is hoped that the success of this pilot series will generate an annual series. White Box, Electronic Music Foundation and New Wilderness Foundation are committed to extending the series if funding can be found. Whitebox is distributing the new works through its website, archiving them and eventually publishing a DVD.

© 2007