Late to the Party
Two weeks ago, I opined that Baltimore was on the verge of birthing a thriving experimental music scene. I pointed to the excellent options for hearing experimental music of all types: written and improvised; acoustic and electronic. I asked what actions might lead to a self-sustaining new music ecosystem.
While I thought that I was tapping into a relatively unknown underground scene, I now realize that I was late to the party. Last week, Baltimore’s City Paper published its 2010 Best of Baltimore issue. And the experimental music scene cleaned up in shocking fashion.
The winner for “Best Music Series” was the Contemporary Museum’s Mobtown Modern. While this is clearly a very deserving choice, it’s also surprising. I would have expected a rock music series to win, or—if an instrumental series—the famous Baltimore Symphony or some other large arts organization. Mobtown Modern is presenting a wide range of heady experimental music (to give an idea as to the range, their first two events of this season move from an all-Ligeti concert to Corey Dargel’s Removable Parts), but in a user-friendly manner that eschews the normal classical concert trappings, inviting all audiences to share in the experience. Their concerts are favorites among all types of musicians and also visual artists and writers, creating a buzz that extends far beyond the typical classical music aficionados.
Winning for “Best Band” was the Out of Your Head Collective, a weekly free improvisation series that meets every Tuesday night to give free concerts. Each week a new trio or quartet forms, plays together, and disbands. On any given Tuesday, you might hear Susan Alcorn on steel pedal guitar or Kevin Gift on electric piano or Will Redman on drums or Erik Spangler on turntables or any combination of dozens of players. (I play toy piano with them every once in a while.) To me, this choice seemed even more surprising. I would have expected that the best band would be a popular group playing the local bar scene; one that was releasing DIY CDs and nearing major-label status. Instead, the readers chose the oddest, most experimental collective possible.
The winning “Best Live Band” was Soul Cannon, a group that toured with Ruby Fulton and George Lam’s organization “Rhymes with Opera” last year, performing the world premiere of an opera by (recent NewMusicBox contributor and fabulous composer) Jenny Olivia Johnson. This group straddles the rarely explored liminal space between hip-hop and avant-garde music, an area in which the experimental beatboxer Shodekeh also thrives. While a bit less shocking, this choice again shows how the Baltimore scene explodes through genre divisions and that audiences seem to value the more interesting acts within each genre.
The “Best Promoter” was Bernard Lyons of Creative Differences, who continually brings the best in experimental jazz music to the Baltimore area. The “Best Underground Music Venue” was the Copycat building, associated with the Maryland Institute College of Art. The “Best Multipurpose Player” was the Windup Space, where Out of Your Head performs weekly and where Mobtown Modern will be presenting their concerts this year.
I cannot think of any other city in the U.S. in which audiences are as supportive of its experimental arts scenes. These awards give me great hope for the future of freaky fun and fascinating music in Baltimore. Charm City indeed! All that’s left is for outsiders to come here to sample our wonderful offerings.