This post was written by the Khemia Ensemble, a 2017 Paul R. Judy Center Grant Recipient.
Emerging from the traditional classical music concert format, how does who we are and what we are presenting connect to today’s audiences? How is what we do relevant to us as individuals as well as our group identity? We are Khemia Ensemble, a new music group formed in Michigan with members now living in seven states; and we are constantly searching for new outlets to deliver live performances of contemporary music. As conservatory-trained millennial musicians, the members of our group are a lot of things–professors, performers, composers, entrepreneurs, freelancers, and consumers of technology and entertainment.
Embarking on programing for this past season and particularly our New York debut at National Sawdust, we explored these dichotomies through a central theme: fragility. Our journey focused on how we could present a meaningful, immersive work that was more than just another new music concert. Cue the epiphany: sound, lights, visuals–the propulsive and energizing elements rock concerts have had on lock down for decades. Thus the idea of Khemia Ensemble giving a “show”, a continuous concert experience incorporating live music and media, was born.
Of course sound for a chamber ensemble is a given–we spend our lives creating it, but the exploration of amplification, microphone delay effects, and electronic sounds was a whole new range of depth we began to consider in our repertoire selection. Lighting drastically impacts the mood of music, whether it is lowered to create anticipation and intimacy or spotlighted to hype up the crowd in a stadium concert. In collaboration with Cincinnati-based Intermedio, we developed our own light installation, manipulated in real-time and triggered by dynamics and frequencies made by the performers. Using visuals to accompany pieces as well as video transitions was yet another way to elevate the audience’s experience and create a through line with our theme. Through much experimentation and trial and error, we developed a continuous sound, video, and light installation in collaboration with Venezuelan visual artist Natali Herrera Pacheco to present on the Sawdust stage.
With National Sawdust’s visibility, it provided an ideal venue to present our work and ideas. First and foremost, National Sawdust is one of the leading new music venues in the country, curating shows and attracting audience members who are deeply invested in emerging artists. Sawdust’s tech resources allowed our videos to be projected on a larger than life back drop. The lighting of the space is also one-of-a-kind. In addition to traditional stage lighting professional performance venues are often equipped with, Sawdust has additional lights as part of the architecture of its walls panels, creating abstract shadows and silhouettes. These unique enhancements combined with our own lighting installation made an effective visual experience.
Though it was a quick learning curve adjusting to a new space, communicating our vision with Sawdust’s lighting and audio staff, and getting all of the tech elements up and running, we were extremely proud of our ensemble’s work on May 3rd. Immediately after our set, we had the opportunity to discuss our creative process through a Q&A session led by National Sawdust’s Executive Director Paola Prestini, which was a really meaningful way for us connect to our audience. We received a great deal of positive feedback about the union of the musical performance and unexpected visual accompaniment. It also allowed us to recognize friends, colleagues, and composers of works on our program that were in attendance.