Art OMI Music Residency 2017

by Jeremy on September 7, 2017

Last month I was fortunate enough to participate in a 17 day residency at Art OMI, an arts centre in Ghent, New York, with a dozen musician from all over the world. The purpose of the residency was to collaborate, share ideas and create new ways to engage each other’s musical backgrounds. We had several performances, one at Hudson’s Basilica, a live recording on WGXC Radio, and a finale concert at Art OMI’s sculpture garden. I made some great new friends and left feeling inspired, enriched and hopeful to create some exciting new collaborations in the future.

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The residency was curated and co-ordinated by Jeffrey Lependorf, a composer and master shakuhachi player. Jeffrey often described the residency as an ‘experiment’ where they chose a dozen wildly different people from around the world and threw them together to see what would happen (it actually sounds like the start of a reality TV show doesn’t it?). Fortunately this year’s cohort was well suited to each other and the combinations of musical and cultural backgrounds was such that we had plenty to offer each other. Take a look at the calibre and range of musicians here.

The second day included a musical ‘speed dating’ session where we were put into combos of four musicians for 30 minutes before rotating. This was a great way to be exposed to each other’s musical personalities and break the surface through free improvisation. At the conclusion of the day Jeffrey surprised us with news that we would be performing a concert the following day through a similar lottery of ensemble combinations at Hudson’s Basilica,  pulling names out of a hat. Another excursion during the residency was to participate in a live recording on WGXC Radio, which you can listen to it here.

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Besides these activities we were given carte blanche use our time most effectively; recording sessions, self-run workshops, free jamming and visiting the sculpture garden. One workshop given by kamanche virtuoso Farzin Dehghan, discussed the history of the Persian Radif (traditional music repertoire) and the tuning of the Dustgah (modes). Farzin and I enjoyed playing together throughout the workshop, challenging myself to match his tuning and phrasing on my saxophone using quarter tone fingerings. Following a game of John Zorn’s Cobra, Farzin was later inspired to write a piece of his own using cues to various rhythmic material, solos, duos and group improvisaiton.

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Another workshop was conducted by Taiwanese born US based composer/pianist Yuan-chen Li on her traditional instrument the guqin, a seven string plucked zither. It was interesting to explore the limitations and possibilities of the instrument for compositional possibilities, including various tunings of the strings, alternate bowing, plucking and other preparations to manipulate sounds. I worked regularly with Yuan throughout the residency in a trio with Italian electronic artist Alberto Novella, including several late night recording sessions in the barn. I also performed a new work by Yuan-chen for myself on bass clarinet/soprano saxophone, and herself on piano. The piece used a canon in an semi improvised/composed work that utilised an ear training exercise as the starting point. It was a challenge to depend upon our ears to realise the composition, especially when your musical partner has perfect pitch (and I have relative pitch, albeit ‘relatively’ good).

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For my final concert I formed an ensemble featuring cigar box guitar, native Indian flute, bass clarinet/alto saxophone, electric bass and kamanche. After several workshops with the group I composed and improvised piece utilised each instruments in various ways to feature some of their strengths, including Persian scales, a rhythmic exchange between bass clarinet/flute, and a cigar box guitar solo.

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Before commencing the residency I was told not to have any expectations and come with an open mind, geared with my own musical experience and creativity. This served me well, as I used different skills to engage each diverse musical individual and tradition. I was particularly inspired by the Persian music and have sought out some further study here in Australia. I recorded a lot of the music at the residency, including some solo performances and collaborations with other fellows, I hope to share some of it soon.

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For anyone thinking of attending a similar residency, I would simply encourage you to engage every opportunity at the residency and have the courage to share some of your musical and culture with others.

Special thanks to Jeffrey Lependorf and the Australia Council of the Arts for supporting Australian musicians to attend Art OMI.

photo credit: Ailís Ní Ríain 

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