Arts Council grantee Indexical is a composer-run group facilitating the long-term development of projects in close collaboration with artists, with a focus on new chamber and experimental music. We caught up with one of their directors, Andrew C. Smith, to chat about their upcoming event celebrating the debut LP from Ghost Ensemble, produced by Indexical.
Indexical is presenting an exciting performance coming up this Saturday, May 19. Tell us about Ghost Ensemble!
Ghost Ensemble is a 10-piece, NYC-based new music ensemble embarking on a California tour to celebrate the release of their debut LP We Who Walk Again, released by Indexical on 12″ vinyl, with letter-pressed jackets made here in Santa Cruz. They’re quite unbelievable musicians, and it’s a thrill to have them here in town, not to mention hearing the world premiere of Liisa Hirsch’s new piece. (Liisa is an incredible, and fairly well-known young Estonian composer.)
This show will also feature one of your compositions.
Ghost Ensemble is performing a piece I wrote for them first in 2015, and revised twice until it was finalized in December 2016. Their recording of the piece is coming out on a solo record of mine later this year, but we’re performing it all up and down the west coast in the meantime. It’s pretty substantial – 6 musicians, conductor, and amplified speaking voice.
Why new music? What excites you about it?
I became totally engaged and committed to new music the first time I heard the work of John Cage, Pauline Oliveros, and others who really engaged with “listening” as a primary part of the performance. I didn’t encounter their work until college, but when I did I was living in Dublin and concerts would become a kind of respite for me. The fact that I could just listen without analyzing every moment never would have occurred to me having studied “classical” music theory and jazz for so many years. Add to this that I found in new music a close-knit community of fellow artists all making and performing new work, and I became a convert immediately.
What’s your favorite thing about Santa Cruz or favorite spot in Santa Cruz?
Santa Cruz is a place full of hidden communities. There are so many interesting people here, with so many crazy stories, and it takes a while for all that to come out. One of my favorite places is (coincidentally) Wind River, where we’re performing on Saturday night. It’s a collectively-run studio with a gorgeous live room, pristine vintage recording gear, and a surfboard made from a fallen ancient redwood tree hanging from the ceiling. There’s really nowhere else like it.
What can audience members expect at a typical Indexical show? Or at this show, specifically?
We try to be open, and to engage audience members in conversation. Maybe we take longer-than-usual intermissions to get to know the new people in the room, and hear their stories. As for the music, that’s the one thing that’s tough to pin down. We’ve had string quartets, we’ve had a guy who constructed a 19-string banjo, we’ve had artists fly a radio controlled inflatable fish through the audience while whistling “Goodnight, Irene,” and we’ve had many experimental electronic synthesizer performances. This show is one of the larger ensembles we’ve presented — a 10-piece group, performing Sonic Meditations by Pauline Oliveros and premiering new work by a wonderful Estonian composer named Liisa Hirsch, in addition to my own piece for the group.
How have Arts Council grants impacted your work?
The first Arts Council Create Grant we received a few years ago was the catalyst for our concert series. It allowed us to go from presenting door gigs to guaranteeing artist fees, printing posters, and generally establishing ourselves in the community. I firmly believe that small grants, made directly to artists, are one of the best uses of public funding for the arts.