Classical renegades: The genre-bending experimentation of Liquid Music

Helado Negro // Photo by Jayme Halbritter

Helado Negro // Photo by Jayme Halbritter

With Liquid Music’s offerings being so diverse, what keeps the series rooted in the classical realm? Fundamentally, Nordstrum says, it’s about composed music—often, though not always, using instruments that are associated with the classical world. She says Liquid Music is a “project-based” series, in that a typical performance involves the presentation of a coherently conceived work as opposed to a concert that draws from songs spanning an artist’s entire catalog.

Helado Negro // Photo by Jayme Halbritter

Helado Negro // Photo by Jayme Halbritter

Beyond that, though, all bets are off. When you go to a Liquid Music show, don’t expect a conventional classical concert—but don’t expect a traditional rock show either. “I thought a middle place was really important,” Nordstrum says. “Kind of this place between a concert hall and a rock club. I wanted to create a space where special projects could happen.”

Take last year’s appearance by singer-songwriter Roberto Lange, aka Helado Negro, for instance. “It was a real labor of love,” she says. “We worked with a couple of composers to create music for string players, we had electronic music from an artist on stage, and percussion and guitar—all these special guest artists.”

The resulting performance, a dreamy tapestry of latin rhythms and warm strings, took place in a sold-out Ordway Concert Hall; Helado Negro typically plays venues like the Turf Club.

The success of this experimental musical fusion series isn’t as surprising as it might seem on its face. In fact, Seel says that new, hard-to-define music such as the kind featured in Liquid Music is closer to the mainstream than you might think.

“Kanye West collaborated with Arca, who’s one of the artists we talked about on the podcast, and you can’t get any more successful or mainstream than Kanye,” Seel points out. When it comes to popular artists taking experimental turns, “it’s not just Björk any more,” he says. “There’s a great deal of cross-pollination happening right now. More and more people have ears that are increasingly open.”

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What’s unique about Liquid Music when compared to similar series around the country is that it grows out of classical music without being necessarily bound to the venues, instruments, or styles traditionally associated with classical music. While SPCO musicians often participate in Liquid Music concerts, “it’s a little freer-form,” Nordstrum says. “We can present in any space we want to, we can use whatever kinds of players we want to.”

In some ways, the series transcends conventional ideas of venue altogether. This season, local band Poliça are partnering with German “renegade classical ensemble” s t a r g a z e on what Liquid Music is calling a “virtual residency”: audiences can follow the artists via Liquid Music’s blog as they create a new piece to premiere in fall 2016.

Though there were some bumps early on in the series—Nordstrum remembers a few audience members who walked out because they weren’t prepared for just how adventurous the works would be—Nordstrum is excited to see the series growing, and to see connections between the SPCO and diverse local-music community deepening.

A Liquid Music performance at Walker Art Center from Sisyphus, a group made up of Sufjan Stevens and hip-hop artists Serengeti and Son Lux // Photo courtesy of Walker Art Center

A Liquid Music performance at Walker Art Center from Sisyphus, a group made up of Sufjan Stevens and hip-hop artists Serengeti and Son Lux // Photo courtesy of Walker Art Center

“It’s a high-risk, high-reward” enterprise, says Nordstrum. “Sometimes these performances are the first time the work has ever been played. In premiering work, you risk that it won’t be in its strongest incarnation—that with the artist living in the project longer, it’ll be better. But we’ve helped make it happen, and I think that as a whole, the audiences here get it. They feel very excited that they get to be part of the birth of new music.”


Editor’s note: This article was produced as a part of a collaboration between The Growler Magazine and 89.3 The Current, Minnesota’s non-commercial, member-supported radio station playing the best authentic, new music alongside the music that inspired it. Find this article and more great music content at thecurrent.org.

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