The Genre-Bending Music of Here There Be Dragonsposted on September 22nd, 2010 by David Clarke
With a new season of artistic offerings, it’s fitting that Peak Performances would team up with nonprofit label New Amsterdam Records to open the season with Here There Be Dragons. Both exist on the fringes of their mediums, while granting audiences exceedingly bold and essential visions. Peak Performances is an hour outside what many consider to be the theater capital of the world. The musicians of Here There Be Dragons combine multiple genres in a way that makes their work some of the most interesting and least commercial music being made.
Victoire, NOW Ensemble, and William Brittelle’s Television Landscape intermingled their performances, with one group finishing a song while another group silently entered the stage, ensuring no interruption in the music or dreamy mood. The well-chosen songs complimented each other nicely. Which is not to say that the groups are interchangeable. On the contrary, they’ve each established their own specific identity.
Victoire, an all-female quintet featuring compositions by keyboardist Missy Mazzoli, combined subtle technological sounds with organic melodies. In their first song, “Like a Miracle,” synthetic sound pulsed in staccato and then was smoothed by the legato of the clarinet, double bass, and violin, only to be slapped in the face by a bold take on the same themes seconds later.
NOW Ensemble similarly juxtaposed sound and rhythm, but in addition to a synthetic undercurrent, their music had a subtle rock element. When one first hears the electric guitar amidst a clarinet, flute, and strings, it’s downright startling. Yet, with the rock elements limited to one guitar and one synthesizer, they didn’t overpower the chamber sound.
Television Landscape came the closest to flat-out indie rock. The group was comparable to Grizzly Bear, Fleet Foxes, Sigur Ros, TV on the Radio, or some of the best post-Pet Sounds pop groups. Yet it would be unfair to make some pat “Phil Specter meets Philip Glass” statement. Composer and singer William Brittelle doesn’t follow the traditional pop-song format. He takes every song down dynamic twists and turns. Brittelle, along with the other two groups, defies genre, with elements of classical, indie rock, jazz, and even big band making their way into the performance.
These groups seem to be in conversation with all of music history, building on the past while creating something wholly original. With the creation of NewAm Records and DIY classical, I have renewed excitement in the possibilities of music. The music industry is said to be dying. But the death of the industry does not mean the death of music, and with cheap technology and recording capabilities more widely available than ever, classical music has the chance to break out artistically in the way that indie rock did in the early ‘90s.
Whether this movement will ever break into the mainstream doesn’t seem to matter, because maybe the idea of a mainstream, not the industry, is dying. Maybe now, more new voices will be heard and smaller, smarter audiences will find them. It’s hard to lament the death of old media and music with the likes of NewAm snapping us out of complacency.
David Clarke is a freelance critic, comic, and MSU alum, not necessarily in that order.