Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble continues to innovate
The Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble is relentless in its pursuit of new ways to make concerts more meaningful experiences. When current artistic director Kevin Noe took over the group in 2000, he introduced the “Theatre of Music” approach, which brings the drama, lighting, sound and stage design of the theatre to concerts. More recently the group has been exploring the potential of binaural recording to bring listeners closer to the music.
The current season is both shorter and longer than usual – only two weeks rather than four in Pittsburgh followed by a nearly month-long tour to the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland, the world’s largest arts festival.
The Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble season runs July 11 to 24 at two Pittsburgh venues: City Theatre on the Southside, and Row House Cinema in Lawrenceville. Admission to the concerts is free for people coming to them for the first time.
This season’s events begin with a film of “The Gray Cat and the Flounder” by Kieren MacMillan, first performed in 2015 and one of the group’s more than 300 world premieres. It was commissioned by Joe Newcomer in memory of his wife Bernadette Gabrielle Callery, and chronicles their life together with wit, whimsy and affection based on the cartoons he created as a diary. The Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble will give 22 performances of this piece at the Fringe Festival.
‘Cool and expressive’
The film was made at performances last summer, with the audio employing binaural recording. In this technology the microphones don’t point at the performer. Instead they are placed inside a head of a dummy, positioned as our ears are. Noe says when he plays his binaural recordings most people can’t believe how “cool and expressive” it is.
“I have never had an experience listening to music like this,” one music lover told him. “You musicians understand what all the parts are. I never know all the parts. I just hear the whole thing and I either like it or I don’t. But when I’m listening like this, I can hear all these individual parts and see how they all kind of come together.”
The concerts begin the same weekend as the film showings. “Something New” will feature the world premiere of Christopher Cerrone’s “Why Was I Born Between Mirrors.”
Noe says Cerrone’s new piece exemplifies his language that has a “suspension of time element to it. This is not rhythmically driven. It’s sonically driven, with a certain weightlessness to it.”
The second weekend of concerts is called “Something Borrowed – Why I Chose the Life of an Artist,” and was programmed by the members of the ensemble. Noe asked them to pick a piece that is personally meaningful to them and to be able to explain why to the audience. The choices range from new and older concert music to pop music.
The final concert invites the audience to a workshop called “Something of a Coup.” It will feature composer Stephen Bryant and Noe exploring the possibilities of binaural recording in advance of a new composition by Bryant.
Mark Kanny is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.