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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Reach Out And Touch Music

Graham Clark |
April 28, 2014 | 8:17 p.m. PDT

Staff Cartoonist

Acquiring the score to David Byrne's segment of "the CIVIL warS" was a serious triumph for Jacaranda, an orchestral production group in Santa Monica. Acquiring it was a serious breach of audience conduct for Neon Tommy's Editorial Cartoonist.
Acquiring the score to David Byrne's segment of "the CIVIL warS" was a serious triumph for Jacaranda, an orchestral production group in Santa Monica. Acquiring it was a serious breach of audience conduct for Neon Tommy's Editorial Cartoonist.
Modern culture can be hard to wrap your head around, much less reach out and grab. One of the cool, or at least odd, things about Los Angeles is the chances Angelinos get to engage with culture. Get your hands dirty.

That’s happening at Jacaranda, an orchestral series run out of Santa Monica. These musical performances are down-to-earth efforts, showcasing the area’s talent to make a little happening happen with L.A.’s glut of well-practiced instruments and voices. Their performances, including the upcoming Mozart, Debussy and Arvo Pärt showcase May 10, are all held at the First Presbyterian Church of Santa Monica.

It’s an odd place for avant-garde scores. People don’t normally clap for music in church, but the songs in Jacaranda productions invite applause. Take their last most recent performance: on April 4, listeners got hit with the one-two punch of wildly intricate Philip Glass compositions, followed by the crystal-clear funk timelessness of David Byrne. The Glass required deft virtuosity, while Byrne’s music offered accessible entry points for audience connection.

Personally, my interaction with the music reached a surprising peak during the 12th segment of Byrne’s music. Until then I’d been content to sit and watch, at most groove my body to the rhythm. But when this piece rolled around, entitled “the CIVIL warS XII: Traffic,” I found out the show was actually interactive. I singlehandedly managed to bring the orchestra to a screeching halt.

Some context: during the performance's intermission, when we listeners had spilled out into the Presbyterian church's lobby for decaf coffee, tea and cookies, I’d spotted a bit of music lying by its lonesome on a table. I picked it up, and discovered it was trombone sheet music from that night’s performance. Patrick Scott, art director of Jacaranda, hammered home how hard this music had been to procure in his opening speech that evening, so I assumed these were pages of score made available as souvenirs to the audience. I assumed wrong. Turns out the trombonist had placed it there unintentionally, or temporarily—either way, when that segment of the show rolled around, and the conductor raised his baton, a hand shot up from the orchestra. It came from the trombone section.

SEE ALSO: MGMT At The Orpheum Theater: Show Review

“I… I can’t find my music,” the lost trombonist announced. He shuffled hopefully through the folder on his stand, but I knew it wouldn't turn up. After all, the pages he sought were in my tight little fists, and I was in the church’s second story balcony.

He was directed to share sheet music with the musician on his left, and the show continued. But still, I was struck by the disruption. Forget Guitar Hero, this is responsive music.

Culture is rarely off its pedestal that way. These days we spend more time pretending to be up close and personal with musical acts than having real hands-on interaction.

SEE ALSO: Coachella 2014: Weekend One Recap

According to the New York Times, this is actually a golden age of audience-performer interaction and relability. They championed the first weekend of Coachella as the death knell of any division between artistic creators and consumers. And if it’s in the Grey Lady, must be true. No?

I’ll side with the indominable Peter Hess, who skewered the article by saying its author Ben Ratliff “should have waited to come down before writing his review of Coachella.”

What's actually going on with live music right now is that the entertainment industry is taking advantage of audience's interest in being on the same level as their favorite celebs. It's a facade of equality, with a price tag attached.

Audiences pay for the illusion of sharing a level playing field with artists, when a social and economic gap remains quite obvious. For instance, one can now drop tidy stacks of cash to hang backstage with a host of entertainment personalities. But after you’ve handed off accolades to the celebrity apple-of-your-eye, you go separate ways—you to your real-world home and them to their position as a postmodern, digitally reverberating entity of global import. It's an human interaction in a literal sense, but in many ways still unreal. Or at least, less real than the connection I had with Jacaranda's trombonist.

That doesn’t mean culture is off limits to real-world people. Truth be told, more people than ever make it their lives’ work to connect everyday humans and contemporary art. Jacaranda included: it’s a little artsy-fartsy, and a little pricey. But, at least in my case, the series has more in common with hands-on science museums and aquarium touch tanks than fine art’s ivory towers.

Reach Staff Cartoonist Graham Clark here. Follow him on Twitter here.



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