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31 July 2007

thirteen ways: Adventures in New Music

Tim Munro Image: Tim Munro  

eighth blackbird aims to make new music accessible for a broad audience. The group performs mostly from memory and choreographs stage movement, bringing a dramatic and engaging visual component to an otherwise ‘abstract’ new music experience. We endeavour to give new works a life of their own through extensive rehearsal and touring, and often perform a newly commissioned piece 30 or 40 times in any given season.

Over the past five years, the group has extended this mission into the online world, setting up a comprehensive website (www.eighthblackbird.com), a MySpace page (www.myspace.com/8bb), clips on YouTube (www.youtube.com/profile?user=eighthblackbird), and iTunes downloads. The launch of an ensemble weblog is another step in this process.

The main purpose of the blog is promotional: we hope that it brings us closer to our current audience and creates interest among new listeners. But the format is also a way to document, for posterity, the real-life stories and day-to-day challenges of being part of eighth blackbird not previously captured by our official archives of programs, recordings and press clippings.

The group has written around 80 posts so far, which fall into several broad categories. There are post-concert comments: the nature of the venue, audience reaction, funny happenings, rehearsal photos. There are travel-related topics: the complexities of travelling by air and road with myriad percussion instruments; on-the-road meetings with composers and artists; details of food eaten by elitist blackbird foodies, coffee drunk by Starbucks tragics, and pale ales chugged by beer snobs. There are rehearsal reports: nuts-and-bolts challenges faced in unfamiliar or downright insane repertoire, stressful moments, and tension-dispelling humour. There are odd titbits about life in eighth blackbird: diverse pre-concert rituals, beer-assisted score preparation, the group’s decision-making process. I have also written posts about my status as the newbie, not only to the group, but to the USA.

...the most important goal has been to give readers a ‘backstage pass’ to the crazy world of preparing, performing and touring new music...As far as the actual style of the blog, the most important goal has been to give readers a ‘backstage pass’ to the crazy world of preparing, performing and touring new music. We try to keep the tone casual and candid. Entries should feature craziness and hilarity as well as stress and struggle, since these elements are often kept in tenuous balance during the day-to-day life of the ensemble. We play for a broad audience, so posts can’t be too stuffy or academic. In-jokes are banned, as the blog should be interesting for groupies as well as the uninitiated. The writing can’t be insulting or glib, as we have to be respectful towards presenters and musicians. Brevity is always good, as the best blogs tend to be short, sharp and to the point; no time for essays on the profound and depressing seriousness of new music. There is always space for the frequent ridiculousness, crass humour and sarcasm that takes place on an eighth blackbird tour (a requirement for my audition last June was to ‘tell a dirty joke’).

In addition to posting text and photos, we are beginning to exploit emerging technologies to enhance our online presence. As a result, we are always armed with iPods, compatible microphones, digital still and video cameras. We have begun to record audio and video materials for future podcasts, including interviews with composers, performers and audience members; excerpts from lecture/demonstrations and panel discussions; clips from rehearsals; and humorous dispatches from the road.

It is a fascinating new world, and the only restriction is time. As we live and breathe eighth blackbird every day, finding spare seconds to generate new material for an unpaid blog can be frustratingly difficult.

Brisbane-born flautist Tim Munro joined the full-time, Chicago-based new music ensemble eighth blackbird in August 2006. The group launched its blog, thirteen ways (www.eighthblackbird.com/blog), in November 2006.


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