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From NPR/music and WNYC’s New Sounds: “The Unsound Music Festival – Hear A Mix Of Modern Composers From This Year’s Concert Series”

by John Schaefer

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“There is music, and there is noise. That statement, uninteresting in itself, becomes less so when you try to determine the boundary between the two. Sound exists as a spectrum, and the bar between music and noise exists in very different places along that spectrum for each listener. At one extreme, you can still find, say, a diehard Bach fan who says that all rock music sounds like noise. This may not be just a dismissive opinion, but a genuine experience of amplified music as being disorganized and grating. In other words, noise. At the other end, you have someone like the late John Cage, who famously said that everything we do is music, and who loved to listen to the sounds of the world coming through the window of his Sixth Avenue apartment in Manhattan. Even Cage, though, was initially repulsed by the dense blocks of sound created by Glenn Branca in his symphonies for electric guitars. The point is, “music” and “noise” are in the ear of the beholder, and the ways we divide and organize the sounds around us are as unpredictable as we are.

This kind of thinking seems to reside at the heart of the Unsound Festival. It has certainly been a part of my thinking in programming New Sounds, the long-running WNYC new-music show that was distributed by NPR for much of the 1980s and ’90s. Sounds that may not seem musical at first can become musical in context, and sounds that some people have deep emotional and physical responses to may not be recognizable as “music” to many others. Examples: Train whistles and spoken voices become not just musical, but melodic in Steve Reich’s Different Trains. Listening to Ben Frost’s By the Throat can be genuinely unsettling, and nowhere more so than in the moments where the recognizable instruments fall away, leaving the whistling Arctic wind, wolf howls and blocks of distorted sound. These are the types of artists who have appeared, both on recordings and in person, on New Sounds over the years, and both will be represented in the Unsound Festival this year, as well.

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Brian Eno (right) and his protege, composer Ben Frost, are featured at this year’s Unsound Festival in New York City.

See John’s full article here. And take a lokk at “New Sounds’ “Unsound” Playlist” at the end of the page. Wow!

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