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Noise Makers

One festival leads to another--with a stitched together week of California and Austrian 'noise,' improv, electronics and more.

May 31, 1998|Josef Woodard | Josef Woodard is an occasional contributor to Calendar

Most performing arts festivals these days are either institutions themselves (think Salzburg and Edinburgh; Ojai and Spoleto) or born of institutions (the new Lincoln Center Festival). But then there are the hard-to-categorize little festivals that are stitched together and flung into motion, events that seem to invent themselves as they go along. That describes Resistance Fluctuations, which opens Tuesday, a gathering of performers aimed at making Los Angeles safe for music from assorted fringes.

Over the course of six days and 16 concerts at LACE, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and at ACE Contemporary Exhibitions, audiences will have a chance to hear musicians working with electronics, improvisation, "noise," and more conventional contemporary classical music, with the Austrian new music group Klangforum Wien as headliner.

The festival is an outgrowth of a concert series put on sporadically from 1991 to 1996 by an organization called Wires. Wires began, humbly enough, on the kitchen-table of composer Daniel Rothman, who moved to Venice from New York in 1991, and started teaching composition at CalArts in 1994. Drawing on the model of small experimental spaces in New York such as Roulette and the Kitchen, he launched Wires, a non-profit presenting organization subtitled the Performance Center for New & Experimental Music, according to the letterhead. The headquarters was actually Rothman's Venice loft, the players varied from event to event and concerts featured local performances of music by John Cage, Morton Feldman, Alvin Lucier, Luigi Nono, Roger Reynolds, and many others.

Rothman was surprised by the audiences the concerts drew. "When I was going to new music concerts in New York, most of the audiences were other composers and performers who were interested in this. [The Wires] audience was lawyers, graphic designers, people who had very little connection to making music themselves, but they were great appreciators of it. It struck me that, here in L.A., for some reason, there is a tradition of finding music. People seem to take a lot of pleasure in stumbling on something and then trying to make it their own in some way."

The Wires series went dark, mainly because it was a "one-man operation," says Rothman. "I never really wanted to see [it] die, but in the last two years, I needed to spend more energy on my own stuff," says Rothman.

One of Rothman's recent projects is the conceptual opera "Cezanne's Doubt," which was first performed at the Musik Protokoll festival in Graz, Austria, last year, and had its Los Angeles premiere on the Monday Evening Concerts series at LACMA in April.

It was at the first performance in Austria that the seeds of Resistance Fluctuations were sown. Musik Protokoll, a venerable Austrian festival that just celebrated its 30th anniversary, is programmed by Christian Scheib, who proposed the idea of collaborating with Rothman on an L.A. festival.

Funding came from various sources, including the Meet the Composer organization, the Aaron Copland Foundation, local new music patron Betty Freeman and the Austrian Ministry of Culture.

"[We wanted] to put something together that's interesting and provocative," Rothman explains, "a combination of emerging and established people who are really individuals and working hard. You can't really say there's dogma in any of the people's approaches to their art."

The festival name came from one of those provocative artists, a noise specialist from San Francisco named G.X. Juppiter-Larsen who had used the phrase "resistance fluctuations" in an article he wrote. In the absence of dogma, says Rothman, you get "both resistance and fluctuation."

Cutting across boundaries comes naturally to such a festival. "It's very hard to say what categories people fall into when they're improvising, and when electronics or technology are involved. It's also hard to know what to call it. The categories are really wiped away when you have Klangforum Wien next to Roscoe Mitchell and Leo Smith and a cello concert with electronics," Rothman says, running down a few of the festival's juxtapositions.

Resistance Fluctuations' lineup strongly reflects its Austro-Angeleno inception. The centerpiece is the L.A. debut of Klangforum Wien, who will perform three times during the festival. Scheib commented that the decade-old ensemble has become more formidable in the past few years, since establishing itself as a full-time, professional group. He compares it such new music icons as Germany's Ensemble Modern and France's Ensemble Intercontemporain.

"All the other ensembles playing new music in Austria and in Europe are musicians who play in orchestras and perform 10 or 15 times a year. For this ensemble, they've changed that. Everybody has this as their main occupation. You can hear the difference."

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