IT MUST BE SOMETHING IN THE WATER. One hundred years after
Saint Paul experimental composer
Farwell dissected Indian melodies and piled up unrelated tonalities, a
core of dedicated underground Minnesota sound explorers is still sampling,
mashing-up, and otherwise taking musical liberties. Although largely unsung in
this state of above-ground musical champions, there is a rich vein of
experimental music that runs from Sauk Rapids to Duluth and Rochester, and
through both of the Twin Cities.
Music lovers often assume that such nonconformists are simply out to be
belligerent, making unlistenable noise in order to annoy and make a mockery of
the true musical family. Actually, thumbing our nose at all that is good,
tonal, and Pulitzerian is rarely in our
minds; experimental musicians are just curious about sound and will stop at
nothing to hear where that might lead.
Thanks to the invention of the laptop, a costly conservatory education is no
longer necessary for a so-called career in music. Everyone can be equally
ignored or celebrated. But, like there’s more than one way to skin a piano, no
two machines will spit out the same music. That’s because, in the end, it is
up to the human imagination to determine what goes in and what comes out.
Miller, and Brian
Heller, for example, are each blazing entirely independent digital trails.
Being emancipated from the orchestra also sets one free from its usual
habitat, the concert hall. Where you insert your music into society, the venue
you select for your compositions, can be as creative a decision as the
sequence of waveforms you choose. Sound has become one of the public arts; a
way to shape the environment in which people live and move—just take a
shadow-walk with Viv
Minnesota’s musical ecology is fragmenting nicely into multiple niches; while
the mainstream media can’t imagine life beyond the tightrope that runs from
classical to pop, the actual people making the stuff couldn’t be less bothered
about such irrelevancies. Even within the work of a single artist, like
Abinadi Meza, there
are variations extending beyond any single genre, technique, or aesthetic: a
list of pieces may include
and even work for
instruments… We have all had to become format-hopping digital media sluts
(“What has music got to do with sound anyway?” asked Charles Ives).
Every tribe needs people to fill a variety of functions—makers, techies,
critics, consumers, and bill-payers. Several artists have discovered the joys,
benefits, and headaches of being presenters too. From the Acadia Café to
Z, the online
Assembly Required, the lavish campus-based
Festival, to the
Attractors series in a former funeral home, we
underground musicians are
everywhere if you look and listen hard enough. But, without these saints and
other supporters of our offbeat work we’d be even deeper underground without a
As the bandwidth widens, we are less bound by state lines and can continue to
expand our communities online. There is no locus like home though, and one day
our beloved state may be known as much for the Minnesota Noise as the
About the curator:
Philip Blackburn was born
in Cambridge, England, and studied there as a Choral Scholar at Clare College.
He earned his Ph.D. in Composition from the University of Iowa where he
studied with Kenneth
Gaburo and began work on publishing
Partch archives, now completed after 20 years. Blackburn's book,
Enclosure Three, won an ASCAP Deems Taylor Award. He has been
the Senior Program Director for the
Forum since 1991 and continues to compose, build sound-sculptures,
perform, and write about things like Partch, Vietnamese music, and the use of
sound in public art. He runs the
Innova record label and
produces two weekly iTunes podcasts:
Alive and Composing,
the Wonderful World of Innova, and the NEA-funded
Measure: New Music, New Thoughts. He
received a 2003 Bush Artist Fellowship to begin building a sound park in
Belize as well as construct an art-house there,
American Composers Forum:
The American Composers Forum
is committed to supporting composers and developing new markets for their
music. Through granting, commissioning, and performance programs, the Forum
provides composers at all stages of their careers with valuable resources for
professional and artistic development. By linking communities with composers
and performers, the Forum fosters a demand for new music, enriches
communities, and helps develop the next generation of composers, musicians,
and music patrons.
This collection was originally published as the MASHUP feature for access+ENGAGE Issue 18.2: Minnesota's Underground Sound.
access+ENGAGE Issue 18.2: Minnesota's Underground Sound
CLICK HERE to read the web (HTML) version of the issue of a+E in which this collection was featured.
10,000 Arts February 2008: Noises Underground
Visit The Rake's web presence for 10,000 Arts to read the version of this essay and collection as it appeared in the new issue of mnartists.org's art quarterly.