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Continuum Music Festival: New Forms, New Music


This weekend, Crosstown Arts will echo with the work of several Tennessee demolition experts in search of new space. Concertgoers, be advised: wear protective headgear; there will be genre-busting. You may be impacted by the shards of shattered boundaries and preconceptions. But tearing down generic walls is the whole point of the Continuum Music Festival.

“It's kind of different from what you think of as classical chamber music,” muses festival organizer Jenny Davis. Several ensembles will be performing, at times collaborating with local songwriters or hip hop artists, and all with a regional provenance. “They're actually all based in Tennessee,” says Davis, director of Memphis' own Blueshift Ensemble, who will close the festival. “Which is kind of surprising, because you think of all this stuff happening in New York, and L.A., and Chicago. But actually it's doing really great here as well.” Many heard Blueshift's recent collaborations with the New York-based ICEBERG composers collective, with several shows in and around the Crosstown Concourse in June. This week's festival brings the collaboration closer to home.
  • Nief-Norf

“Nief-Norf are more of an experimental ensemble, based in Knoxville,” she notes. “The director, Andrew Bliss, is the percussion director of the University of Tennessee. They do a big festival every summer for two weeks, where they host a bunch of student composers and performers, with a ton of premieres and performances. This weekend at Continuum, they'll just have cello and electric guitar. So a small little subset of the ensemble. They're doing a Steve Reich piece, Electric Counterpoint, for electric guitar and recorded tape.”

Readers familiar with Reich's Different Trains may recognize the title as the Pat Metheny-performed piece that finishes that album. “And there are two other pieces on the program for cello and electric guitar. Those are both world premieres, actually. One is by [California Institute of the Arts'] Nicholas Deyoe. And the other, “Sequenza for cello,” is by Luciano Berio. His sequenzas – I think there are 14 or 15 of them – explore the extreme ranges of what the instruments can do. So whenever I see those on a program, I definitely get excited.”

  • chatterbird
Nief-Norf's opening set will be followed by a “secret show” by one of the more exciting new music ventures in the city. Hint: their shows last year, recorded for an LP released this January, had the whole city raving. The following night keeps things local with the Luna Nova ensemble, major supporters of new composers via their long-running Belvedere Chamber Music Festival. “They do lots of commissioning of new pieces, and they have their festival every June where they have a student composition competition, and they premiere several pieces there,” says Davis. They'll be followed by a new kind of Nashville sound, chatterbird. “So chatterbird have been around since 2014. They are directed by a flutist, Celine Thackston, who I go way back with from Middle Tennessee State University. Their mission is to explore alternative instrumentation and stylistic diversity. I think they're really all about inventive experiences, using flute, soprano, bassoon, piano, and percussion. AMRO is donating a really beautiful Steinway piano for the event.”

Rob Jungklas
  • Rob Jungklas
The festival culminates with two shows on Saturday that take the genre-busting to new heights, including collaborations with local recording artists. Rob Jungklas, whose Blackbirds album arrived earlier this year, will be reinterpreting his new songs in duets with Blueshift cellist Jonathan Kirkscey. Then Blueshift will take center stage. “We're premiering a piece by our artist in residence, Jonathan Russ, and that's for 13 musicians – string quartet, plus winds, plus rock band, essentially,” says Davis.
The grand finale will be Blueshift's performance with local hip hop auteur and visual artist Lawrence Matthews, a.k.a. Don Lifted. “I graduated with a painting degree [from the University of Memphis]. But I also did photography, sculpture, painting, drawing, ceramics,” says Matthews, whose musical shows often include a visual element. “I don't do shows unless I can do a self-curated event in an alternative space. And I try to completely transform the space. So you might come into a space and see three projections, all in sync with the music. I'm just trying to curate a whole experience.” Expect the same multimedia aesthetic to permeate Saturday's show, where Blueshift will add new musical elements to Don Lifted tracks. “I'm excited to hear what it sounds like and excited to play with it – to the point where I kinda want Jenny and Jonathan to put strings on the album that I'm working on. I'm definitely excited about how this could work.”
Blueshift Ensemble
  • Blueshift Ensemble

For her part, Davis is also excited by the possibilities. “I always thought new music was like, very experimental, no melody, maybe kind of hard to listen to sometimes. But that's just not the case, and I think there's really something for everybody in the world of new music now.”

The Continuum Music Festival will take place at the story booth and Crosstown Art Gallery spaces, starting at 7:00 pm, Thursday, August 3rd - Saturday, August 5th.

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