Guest Bloggers: Colin Thurmond and Rich Chwastiak

[Colin Thurmond’s iPod is a veritable grab bag—his musical taste spans classical, electronic, and even Gaga. Only a few days after stepping on the NEC scene, he began sketching out an event that would mash up classical and electronic music, improvisatory dance and sound painting.  In October of 2010, Colin received a grant from the Entrepreneurial Musicianship Department to bring AcousticaElectronica to life.  He quickly collected a team of like-minded musicians, dancers, and visual artists, and together, they created a body of work that brings different genres of music and artistic disciplines into conversation with one another. The event was picked up by Boston’s premier electronic music festival, Together—and then, AcousticaElectronica started to grow into something greater.  Colin and his team decided to launch toUch, a performance company that presents multi-genre, interdisciplinary shows, like the pilot AcousitcaElectronica.

In this post, Colin and Rich provide a window into the evolution of AcousticaElectronica and toUch, and showcase the creative team behind the venture. They also deliver a sense of the entrepreneurial mindset that drives their work, and the importance of “wearing many hats” and developing a diverse skill-set.]

AcousticaElectronica

AcousticaElectronica. Quite a mouthful to say, but then again – quite an idea.
The concept of the show was simple. Blend the virtuosity found in the classical concert hall with the energy of the late-night dance club.   The show seeks to reconcile two worlds that are seemingly distant- classical and electronic. We didn’t want cliché, though. We felt that it was not enough to take an existing piece then add a beat and effects. We wanted to totally restructure the DNA of the music. Sound sacrilegious? Maybe, but a hell of a lot more fun. Check out our remix of a Faure chanson.

The pieces seemed to fall into place. Recent graduate from the Master’s program in classical percussion,

Rich Chwastiak (AKA The Wig)

Rich Chwastiak (AKA The WIG) has always been a fan of electronic dance music and combines his percussion skills to add a live performance element to his DJ sets throughout the US and Europe.   Although having positive feedback from the dance club, he felt inhibited to showcase this side of his musical personality in a traditional classical music environment.  Was it wrong to combine these two worlds?
While studying composition at Juilliard, Athena Adamopoulos felt hesitant to show off her own work as a producer of electronic dance music (EDM). Being recently turned on to EDM, and struggling to juggle popular music with classical training, Colin Thurmond, posed the idea of combining the two worlds in a single concert. It didn’t stop there. While meeting with the amazing amount of talented students across Boston, we realized that it was not just musicians struggling with the idea of how to create something fresh and relevant in the face of such a great tradition. It was also dancers and artists. How does one create a painting after the likes of Monet, Van Gogh etc.?
Wagner had his Getsamkunstwerk. This was ours, just without all that Anti-Semitism.  A total work of art. Everything, from the music, art, dance, to the clothes on our backs, all working to the goal of expressing a young generation’s reality in today’s world.
This is how AcousticaElectronica was born. The WIG plays the Music of Athena with live string quartet, vocals, guitar and piano.  The music is complemented by dance and visual arts. Visual artist, Josh Wisdumb, improvises on canvas to the performance stimuli. The dancers also improvise an unbelievable combination of classical dance with modern movement.  We paired the show with the Boston Together Festival the largest electronic music festival in the New England region. AcousticaElectonica premiered at the Arts at the Armory in Somerville, MA on April 22.

Music, dance and art exhibit tremendous artistic integrity and depth paired with an extremely visceral response. At once: sexy and classy, sensuous and stoic, irreverent and reverential. The three pillars: music, dance and art show great historical command by paying homage to past masters yet finding a fresh new voice. German art song of Schumann combines with Latin grooves and a dance club back-beat for a listening experience unlike anything ever heard before.  16th-century lute songs of John Dowland meets trance, Carmen’s habanera and Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata are blended with house music.

Ok, so why?  The 21st -century musician needs to wear many hats. This question of breadth vs. depth has always been an issue, but today we need both. Having multiple skills will not only lead to more success but will lead to a more fulfilling career. We cannot afford to estrange our audience or sit in an ivory tower. Neither can we afford to be a huge “rebel.” We need to take a hard look at what it means to be an entrepreneur. Arts in the community are only as strong as it’s arts organizations. For a young musician to ignore the stark reality that is the business world, is virtual suicide. To be an exceptional artist is not enough. Many of our educational institutions are beginning to see the light. Luckily,  New England Conservatory is on the cutting edge and the support from the Entreprenurial Musicianship (EM) program for AcousticaElectronica was incredible. A huge thanks goes out to Rachel Roberts, Eva Heinstein, and Nell Buck for their support.
It seemed like a huge waste to live in Boston and not collaborate with the wealth of talent that resides within, say, a five-block radius of Symphony Hall.  For this reason, toUch performance art, was established.  Collaboration is the heart of this venture. toUch performance art, is the company we founded in order to promote the larger conceptual works, such as AcousticaElectronica, that seek to give a new art experience to diverse audiences.
The mission of the group is to create high-quality, innovative and unique art by integrating music, theatre, dance, performance, poetry, and visual art. We bring a remarkable experience by engaging the senses through emotional and thought-provoking programming. toUch aims to create and host current and relevant new work as well as uphold great tradition. We push boundaries and questions our current conceptions of art by encouraging communication with the audience. toUch is rooted in collaboration and community service, bringing art and education to all types of audiences.

We had an amazing group of artists collaborate on the project. Truly the cream of the crop. Tessa Lark and Grace Park, violin. Elisa Rega, viola. Debbie Pae, cello. Adrienne Arditti and Laura Jobin-Acosta, vocals. Colin Thurmond and Jesse Weiner, guitars. Steve Martin, bass. Athena Adamopoulos, piano. Rich Chwastiak, DrumKAT, percussion and turntables. Marissa Roberts, Elizabeth McGuire, Lydia Zimmer and Josh Beaver, dance. Josh Wisdumb, visual arts.
To keep up to date with future performances visit www.touchperformance.com. For booking email: touchperformanceart@gmail.com. We would like to thank Tony Woodcock for the opportunity to write this blog.

Addendum August 18, 2011

I would like to take the opportunity to thank each one of the members and recognize their amazing contributions to making AcousticaElectronica so incredible.

First recognition goes to Athena Adamopoulos, who composed/remixed all of the music for the show.  Her countless hours of work, and sheer musical genius have been an amazing inspiration for every person in the group.  Her amazing ears, imagination and creativity have been tremendous fuel for the success of this project.

To Rich Chwastiak, who defines the “making it happen” mentality. His constant high energy and willingness to do whatever it takes, invigorates me. He opened my eyes to what a virtuoso performance a DJ can give.

To Marissa Roberts, who makes so much of toUch work behind the scenes. Her selfless works to better the show without any recognition humbles me.

To Tessa Lark, who astounds me every time she touches a violin. For her amazing versatility between styles and willingness to play anything, she is the epitome of what AcousticaElectronica seeks to celebrate.

To Deborah Pae, for her unflagging professionalism, her ability to give more than you think anyone is able to give, and the way she has everyone hang on every note she plays.

To Jesse Weiner for his willingness to support toUch above and beyond. His ability to give such solid advice at just the right moments keeps me sane.

To Adrienne Arditti, for her enthusiastic support for this project and her contagious excitement.

To Grace Park, whose charm, charisma, and musicianship truly shows that being a beautiful person can make a beautiful musician.

To Elisa Rega, for her hours of help beyond the call of duty. Her multi-faceted approach to music is an inspiration to us all.

To Lizzie McGuire, for loving toUch more than anyone. Her fire and enthusiasm for the ideas and ideals of the group, leaves me speechless.

To Lydia Zimmer, for her unending creativity in movement. Her ability to embody the music is a wellspring for collaboration for the other artists.

To Josh Beaver, who shows me every time he moves what it means to be uninhibited by technique. The direct link between his thoughts/inspirations and his body is so incredible. It serves as the model for what all artists hope to achieve.

To Laura Jobin-Acosta, for whom no distance was too great to be a part of a great project. Her flexibility and musicality pours directly into everything she touches.

To Steve Martin, whose humor brightened the most stressful situation and whose bass lines pumped us up in the most tired of times. His commitment to outreach must be thanked.

To Erika Boysen, whose energy in outreach and personality in performance kept me grounded.

Last but not least, to Josh Wisdumb, whose work inspires everyone.  A big thanks to him for being such an amazing artist who can truly paint music better than I can play it.  Everything his hand touches is an inspiration to me.

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5 Responses to Guest Bloggers: Colin Thurmond and Rich Chwastiak

  1. For about 30 years, from the early fifties to the early eighties, forms of serialism and a seeming contempt for the audience created a kind of mindless musical orthodoxy. (This was nowhere worse than in Boston.) By the nineties, the pendulum had swung to the opposite extreme. A new orthodoxy evolved which insists that creators of new classical music be entrepreneurs. We hear the endlessly repeated mantra that music is to be a business of some sort. Like good Reganites, we are to worship the marketplace above all else.

    This also meant placing a large part of our focus on the kinds of popular music the marketplace produces – even if this new stomping ground of orthodoxy, just like serialism, created serious aesthetic and social concerns. Downtown lite and suburban neo-romanticism became the music of the day – and everyone was supposed to march in step.

    Sure, we can’t afford to be a “huge rebels.” That’s almost always a money losing endeavor. But at the same time we can’t forget that sometimes rebels are needed and sacrifices have to be made. Sometimes musical ideas are far more complex than a reverbed song melody over the canned beat of a drum machine. Sometimes a rebel’s ideas can take a lifetime to develop, which can mean that an artist might have to spend decades in relative isolation developing them. There are many such rebels in the history of music and they have made our lives much richer. We should be thankful they were not particularly concerned with being hip and marketable.

    Another problem with turning entrepreneurship into an orthodoxy, is that try though they may, not one in of these hundred composers is going to be able to make a living from his or her art. As difficult as it may be for an American to understand, capitalism is not an all-encompassing paradigm. Entrepreneurship or not, we must never forget that the vast majority of genuinely creative work in the performing arts will have to exist outside the marketplace.

    • necmusic says:

      William, Entrepreneurial Musicianship at NEC aims to develop a mindset of self-efficacy and equip students with important professional skills. We understand and thoroughly support that each student has different passions to investigate, performances to present, and motivations to explore for creating a life in music. No two students at NEC are the same and we have left the concept of ‘musical entrepreneurship’ purposefully broad so that each student can connect with it in a way that is personally meaningful and beneficial. We work to arm students with a robust toolkit so that they can make their music, however rebellious or traditional, and live in the world sustainably. The grant program in particular is a wonderful and safe way for students to test ideas, build skills, and connect with audiences.

      By definition, an ‘entrepreneur’ engages in activities that hold some level of risk. To varying degrees, being an artist/musician means taking on risk and at times, living with uncertainty. We see the concept of innovation and element of risk–not capital success–as the common ground between business and musical entrepreneurship. In this light, we can see a musician’s career as a business that needs to be nurtured and steered carefully. Whether working for an organization, building a portfolio career, or creating something completely new, each student will need to find a way to manage their musical ‘ventures.’

      Above all else, offering training in entrepreneurship at NEC is possible because the artistic training is so rigorous. Make no mistake, artistic excellence is the foundation, but musicians today need more to navigate the challenges they will meet after graduation. They need more to move our art form forward. They need more to cultivate new audiences. We understand EM as a mindset and as a body of skills and experiences, rather than a call for commercialization. Through experiential learning opportunities and curricular engagement we have already seen our students chart new paths in their careers and music.
      Rachel L. Roberts
      Director of Entrepreneurial Musicianship

      Rachel L. Roberts
      Director of Entrepreneurial Musicianship

      • Thank you for the very interesting additional information, Rachel. I am happy to hear that NEC’s Entrepreneurial Musicianship program has a broad and open focus aesthetically and socially. Musicians really do need to be more practical-minded about finding their place in the world. And no one needs that kind of training more than “huge rebels.” It could make life a little easier for them. For those interested, I found more info about the EM program here:

        http://necmusic.edu/roberts-head-entrepreneurship

        Are there other URLs we might look at? It appears the program began in 2009. It will be interesting to see about ten years from now the results it will produce.

      • necmusic says:

        There is more information about the Entrepreneurial Musicianship department here: http://necmusic.edu/em
        There are also regular blog posts that fit nicely into the larger conversation about entrepreneurship and music here:http://necmusic.edu/em/blog

  2. CMBoston says:

    Defining abstract concepts properly is essential to avoid miscommunication. I feel that this post lacks a fair amount of definitions. Otherwise, AcousticaElectronica might easily seem banal and pretentious. I would like somebody to respond to the following questions/comments that I have, so I can completely understand what AcousticaElectronica offers:

    1. “Blend the virtuosity found in the classical concert hall with the energy of the late-night dance club”. Firstly, it is necessary to define “virtuosity”. Are we talking about 19th Century-romantic-technical virtuosity such as Paganini’s or Liszt’s? Virtuosity in music is a very complex subject that has been used in many different situations. One could easily argue that Paganini is a violin virtuoso because he is able to play an incredible amount of notes in a very small frame of time, but it’s also arguable that Purcell’s fantasias for viols are ‘virtuosic’ works in that their counterpoint and vertical harmonies are extremely complex and original for its time. Diego Ortiz’s “Tratado de Glosas” could also be considered a manual on virtuosity. Stockhausen’s approach to electro-acoustic music could be considered virtuosic too: the relationships between the tape and the piano and percussion in “Kontakte” are quite impressive and surprising. Obviously, Ferneyhough’s string quartets are masterpieces in which virtuosity has a very important role. Therefore, your concept of virtuosity needs to be defined properly. The other issue here is “energy”. What is your concept of energy? Is Beethoven’s Fifth energetic? Is it more or less energetic than Orbital, Ken Ishii, or Jeff Mills? Are we talking about different kind of energies? Please, explain.

    2. “We wanted to totally restructure the DNA of the music. Sound sacrilegious? Maybe, but a hell of a lot more fun.” You don’t explain how you ‘restructured the DNA of the music’. Another word that needs to be defined is ‘fun’. What is fun to you? Right now, this sentence implies that AcousticaElectronica is more fun than classical music. It is necessary thus to not only define ‘fun’, but also ‘classical music’ (are we talking about the Viennese school of Haydn and Mozart or about something else?) and explain why AcousticaElectronica is therefore more fun than classical music.

    3. “The pieces seemed to fall into place.” After listening a couple of times to this remix of Faure, I would like to know what you mean by “fall into place”.

    4. “Wagner had his Getsamkunstwerk. This was ours, just without all that Anti-Semitism.” By writing such a sentence, you are suggesting that Wagner and AcousticaElectronica share a similar approach to art. This is understandable, although it is important to notice how pretentious this sentence is. Wagner is one of the most respected composers for many reasons, but I would especially like to remark only one: his works strongly involved music, theater, literature, and philosophy—it’s very difficult to find other examples of such a unique approach to opera before his time, although not impossible (Pearl Cleveland Wilson went explicitly into the evident relations between Wagner and Greek tragedies in his book “Wagner’s dramas and Greek tragedy”). On the other hand, AcousticaElectronica is a young project whose influence on Western art is still yet to see. You also mention Wagner’s anti-semitism, although I would like to remark that this is irrelevant to Wagner’s Getsamkunstwerk and your own point. There is no connection at all.

    5. “Everything, from the music, art, dance, to the clothes on our backs, all working to the goal of expressing a young generation’s reality in today’s world.” Young generation, reality, today, world. Please, explain these terms. I’m from your generation, but I don’t have to necessarily feel attached to AcousticaElectronica. Does this make me weird? Am I not a part of this generation? What reality are you talking about? Our society is extremely complex, so I strongly suggest you to explain to whom AcousticaElectronica expresses today’s reality. H. M. Enzensberger, Eduard Punset, and Jose Antonio Marina are three examples of modern philosophers that analyzed in depth the meaning of being a part of a specific generation. Of course, Baudrillard, Deleuze, and Lyotard also focused on defining reality today. I’m just trying to help you see that your terms could be understood from many different (and sometimes contradictory) points of views. That only happens because of your poor definitions.

    6. “Music, dance and art exhibit tremendous artistic integrity and depth paired with an extremely visceral response.” First of all, what do you mean by ‘artistic integrity’ and ‘depth’? Furthermore, define ‘visceral’. But, on a much deeper level, why do you think that the arts ‘exhibit tremendous artistic integrity and depth paired with an extremely visceral response’? There are plenty of authors who expressed their thoughts on the visceral and art (Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, Pierre Boulez, and Jonathan Harvey are four examples). However, they all are very serious about defining their terms before using them in a certain context.

    7. “German art song of Schumann combines with Latin grooves and a dance club back-beat for a listening experience unlike anything ever heard before. 16th-century lute songs of John Dowland meets trance, Carmen’s habanera and Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata are blended with house music.” This is just not true. Blending Western musical works with club music has been very common during the last quarter of the 20th Century. DJ Chemical Sisters, DJ BJ, 1 In a Million, Pack Man, and DJ Crystal LCD (among many others) have done exactly what AcousticaElectronica claims to be original at.

    8. “The 21st -century musician needs to wear many hats. This question of breadth vs. depth has always been an issue, but today we need both. Having multiple skills will not only lead to more success but will lead to a more fulfilling career. We cannot afford to estrange our audience or sit in an ivory tower. Neither can we afford to be a huge ‘rebel.’ We need to take a hard look at what it means to be an entrepreneur. Arts in the community are only as strong as it’s arts organizations. For a young musician to ignore the stark reality that is the business world, is virtual suicide.” These are basic issues that need to be solved: why does the 21st Century musician need to wear many hats? Please, explain in a deeper way what the question of ‘breadth vs. depth’ is, and since when this question has been an issue. Why do you need “both” specifically today? (…) This whole paragraph is a conclusion, but you never explain where this conclusion comes from.

    9. “We bring a remarkable experience by engaging the senses through emotional and thought-provoking programming.” Please, define ‘emotional’ and ‘thought-provoking’.

    There are many other points of this post that should be defined, but those are the most relevant ones to me.

    Thank you very much, and I would like to hear from you!

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