The performance halls of the old music guard may seat thousands, but somehow there’s still not much room for new music. Some might even argue that’s how it should be—new spaces are needed to facilitate new thinking. But new spaces are hard—hard to establish, hard to publicize, and hard to finance.
There have been some successes. Roulette, an organization under whose auspice adventurous music concerts have been presented in New York City since 1980, might be considered one, and they have just announced they must close the concert doors on their Tribeca loft. Luckily, a search to establish a new home is already underway.
Due to changes in the legal status of the building, Program Director Jim Staley says it was no longer viable to present public concerts in the alternative space. “We chose not to fight the legal battle that might have earned us more years in the space,” Staley explains. “It would have been expensive, ugly, and perhaps endless. Instead we see this as an opportunity to develop the organization and take the view that we have finally outgrown the space.”
Roulette’s concert venue has been a unique and vital player in the development of New York’s downtown music scene. To ensure that that mission does not end, Roulette has partnered with several other avant-garde spaces—Location One, The Leonard Nimoy Thalia at Symphony Space, and The Flea—which will allow them to continue to present concerts this season.
Meanwhile, a permanent home is being sought. Roulette has struck a partnership with the Danspace Project to develop a building in the DUMBO section of Brooklyn. Staley stresses that the parties are still negotiating the acquisition of the space and will have to “raise an awful lot of money very fast,” but acousticians and architects are already involved in the project. “The design focus is on superb acoustics and appropriate production infrastructure while preserving Roulette’s treasured tradition of an intimate link between audience and artist,” Staley says.
Plans for the new facility include:
- 260-seat concert hall, acoustically tuned and sound isolated.
- State of the art audio recording and multimedia production facilities
- 90-seat “Black Box” performance/rehearsal studio and installation room
- Four resident composer’s studios
- Dressing rooms, technical workshop, media library, and storage spaces
- Public facilities: lobby, restrooms, snack bar
- Office suite
Veteran Roulette concertgoers will likely cheer the simple improvement of an acoustically isolated space (distracting noises from the club below the loft often crept up through the floor). This time, Staley promises, it will be “quiet except for what’s going on inside.”
The new space will mean a lot more activity and collaborative projects and allow Roulette to continue as a lab for artists and composers. The proposed Brooklyn space is even large enough to comfortably record a small orchestra. Staley expects that the facility will impact the entire new music community by also presenting events put together by some of the many homeless music organizations.
Most importantly to Staley, however, is that Roulette will continue to provide a venue that is open to radical ideas in an environment that mixes new and experienced artists. “I think it’s essential for the work to grow,” Staley confesses. “The alternative space has gotten to be a club. Years ago so much of the downtown work happened that way. It’s an important part of the process, but it has gotten more difficult.”
Much of the difficulty can be traced to economics of course. Staley is already bracing for the fundraising work that will need to be done to float the Brooklyn transition. The general market downturn has many foundations and grant-makers scaling back their awards, which means more reliance on hard-to-get private support.
Still, Staley says the Roulette staff and board are committed to the challenge. “It’s a struggle, but you just have to make it happen.”