Just under a month ago, Chicago's newest New Music series Frequency had it's debut concert at Constellation, a new venue in Chicago that hosts the series. In anticipation of our performance on the series on May 26th, singer Nina Dante had some questions for Frequency's founder, critic Peter Margasak, on the inspirations and motivations behind the series.
Nina Dante : It is extremely exciting to see the emergence of Frequency, one of the few concert series dedicated to new music here in Chicago. Can you tell us when you started thinking about creating this series, and how the idea developed into reality from there?
Peter Margasak : I've been interested in the idea of programming live music for many years, always seeing voids in the local concert-presenting landscape and thinking about how it could be filled, but that was about as far as it ever went. When Mike Reed told me about Constellation, I shared some of my ideas and he proposed doing this weekly series, and getting a chance to present music that's really important to me has been exhilarating. One of the primary focuses of the series is to give a regular spotlight to the explosion of interesting, independent, and adventurous new music ensembles I've noticed in Chicago over the last few years. There are so many terrific groups, but I think the sense of community that exists in Chicago feels a bit diffuse to the outsider--the average person probably doesn't realize what an exciting moment this is, so Frequency is, in part, trying to concentrate the activity to make it more visible as well as to give the musicians their own space on a consistent basis.
ND : After the opening concerts of the venue and the series, what are your impressions of how Constellation's environment lends itself to performances of new music?
PM : I think music sounds great in both performance spaces, and because the bar is in the lobby area and separated by two sets of doors there's no issues with ambient noise. I've noticed that audience members are really hear to listen to music, which is the whole idea.
ND : You once described Constellation as a "hybrid space a la Roulette, Issue Project Room Le Poisson Rouge. Chicago needs and deserves this." What role do you see Frequency/Constellation playing in Chicago's blossoming new music scene? Can you share any reflections on how you see Chicago's rapidly developing new music scene being unique from that of New York City's?
PM : That description was a bit off the cuff--those venues all have very specific identities and aesthetics and I think Constellation is quickly developing its own. Because Mike Reed is at the helm, the bulk of the music is rooted in jazz traditions, but more importantly, Constellation seems determined to provide a platform for many stripes of non-rock music under-represented in the city. With the presence of Links Hall, Constellation feels like a real performing arts center and I don't feel like Chicago has had anything like it, especially one that focuses on more cutting-edge and progressive work.
ND : New music is a major part of your career as a critic, and it must be important to you personally for you to become an advocate through Frequency- definitely not a light undertaking. How did new music come to be a part of your life?
PM : I've been obsessed with music since I was a kid. I started out with pop music, buying 45s and K-Tel compilations. I think what's always defined my relationship with music is curiosity--I've always been driven by new sounds, new experiences. Explaining how my tastes developed could fill a book that probably wouldn't be too interesting to read, but my relationship with new music is a relatively recent development. I've had my early experiences--I remember skipping high school one day to catch a matinee screening of Koyaanisqatsi in the early 80s and checking out Milton Babbitt records at my public library, but it was decades until I seriously engaged. I've been buying and listening to contemporary music for many years---Cage, Luigi Nono, Luc Ferrari, Giacinto Scelsi, and Xenakis, and groups like Arditti--but a real cogent picture of the music didn't emerge until I started hearing the music live, especially through concerts by ICE. I've got a long way to go, but I'm hooked. There's no turning back.