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New Music for New Instrumens at Littlefield

Brooklyn musicians play new songs on invented instruments

The Brooklyn Paper
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Plain old pianos are so passé.

A group of Brooklyn composers and instrument-builders is putting on a show of original music played on even more original instruments at Littlefield in Gowanus on Nov. 16. These are not your typical noise-makers — each instrument is a unique invention that pushes the boundaries of sound and design, the organizer said.

So just how out-there are these music-making creations? One is a harp powered by magnets. Another is a water-based theremin. And a third instrument — Nick Yulman’s “raindrops” — is so wacky, the event’s organizer has a tough time wrapping her head around it. Basically, the machine makes sounds out of objects placed atop it, she said.

“This is where things get a little beyond me — sensors respond to density of objects, so you can basically put anything on there and it will make sound out of it,” said organizer Molly Herron, who lives in Crown Heights.

But a little uncertainty about things is good, because it breeds creativity, she said.

“There’s a lot of discover to be made and a lot of new music to be discovered figuring out how these instruments function — what they does best and what their restrictions are,” said Herron.

Herron composed for the “overtone harp” built by Red Hooker Andy Cavatorta. Keyboard-controlled magnets play the harp, and some computer voodoo translates one keystroke into a lush chorus of tones. (Read more about the overtone harp here.)

And the show, titled “New Music for New Instruments,” is for more than just the audience member’s ears. The act of making music with these new instruments is a performance in itself, Herron said.

“It’s not a concert where you can walk away with an audio recording and say ‘okay I captured that performance,’” she said.

So a videographer will present a live feed during the show, giving audience members a unique perspectives on the performance that they wouldn’t get from their seats.

The show is the culmination of a year-long project funded by the Brooklyn Arts Council. The organization’s grant covered the cost to produce the instruments and write the scores, but there wasn’t any money left to pay builders, composers, or performers, Herron said. So the Littlefield show — and an accompanying Kickstarter campaign — are intended to raise a little scratch for the people behind the project.

“The grant from the Brooklyn Arts Council was really what made this possible to begin with, but — as is so often case with grants — you get enough money to get off your feet,” she said. “And the Kickstarter is to be shared among composers and instrument-builders who will not be otherwise compensated by the grant.”

“New Music for New Instruments” at Littlefield (622 Degraw St. between Third and Fourth avenues in Gowanus, www.littlefieldnyc.com). Nov. 16 at 7 pm. $10.

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at mjaeger@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8303. Follow him on Twitter @JustTheMax.
Updated 10:58 am, November 12, 2014
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