Sound Effects: Modern music festival challenges listeners, conventions

By David L. Coddon

For the sixth year, the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library, in collaboration with San Diego New Music, is challenging audiences to listen like they’ve never listened before and to be open to soundscapes that push the boundaries of jazz, chamber and post-classical music. In short, the soundON Festival of Modern Music is for the adventurous, both in the audience and on the stage.

The festival returns to the Athenaeum June 14 for a three-day program of performances and workshops by musicians from around the country and abroad. “We want to create a lively interaction” between artist and audience, said keyboardist Christopher Adler of NOISE, San Diego New Music’s chamber ensemble-in-residence, which is hosting the festival. “It also gives us a chance to format pieces that are difficult to fit on a regular concert series, such as minimalist pieces, and to broaden the range of repertoire and present some of the cool things that have been happening in the last 20 years.”

Among the featured artists at this year’s festival are idiosyncratic composer Judd Greenstein from New York, the L.A.-based Formalist Quartet and UCSD’s own Mark Dresser, a composer and bassist operating on the intrepid fringe of jazz.

“I’m trying to deal with articulating an idea every day and trying to say something that has meaning to me, musically and emotionally,” said Dresser, who will perform with Adler’s NOISE ensemble in addition to solo improvisations at the festival. “I consider myself as embracing the broadest view of the jazz traditions, where all of the traditions are grist for the mill, including inspirations and personalities and other disciplines.”

Since 2007, Dresser has been involved in telematic music – computer-driven telecommunication that allows artists to play together in different geographical locations. “I feel a deep connection with this process,” he said. “This potential has never existed before in music, and it’s a privilege to be at the cutting edge of a form, of the investigation of a medium. You have to extend yourself, extend all your perceptions.”

]The extension of perceptions is at the heart of the soundON Festival of Modern Music.

“Each piece is different,” said NOISE’s Adler. “There are certainly pieces that are like chamber music. But there’s a tremendous variety, pieces where there is extreme technical precision required. So we’re thinking much less about emotion and much more about mechanistic precision. There are musicians who don’t want to do the same thing over and over again.”

Yet don’t be intimidated. “Most of the people who come (to the festival) know it’s going to be something out of the mainstream,” Adler said. “But part of what we’re doing is programming works that are not intensely obtuse. When we’re talking, for example, about soundscape pieces, they’re actually very beautiful, sort of film-score material. They can be very accessible.”

Dresser perhaps puts it most succinctly. “For me,” he said, “it’s really all music.”

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