KC Jukebox: new music in new ways in D.C.

This month marks the beginning of my new life. With five years composing and curating for the Chicago Symphony behind me, I begin work as the newly-installed composer-in-residence at the Kennedy Center with the inaugural concert in my new series KC Jukebox. Over the next three years, my work at the Center will be animated by a singular mission: to help audiences experience new art in fun, challenging, adventurous, and even social ways. And the opening of the KC Jukebox series on Novemebr 9 is the best way to see what’s in store, because it touches on so many of the diverse elements at the nation’s performing arts center.


Lounge Regime: 100 Years of Ambient Music takes the audience on a journey through a century of wallpaper : that is, music designed to accompany other experiences. In many ways, ambient music is the most resilient and versatile of musics, capable of softening heavy techno beats (Aphex Twin), creating a meditative state (Eno and Reich), or adding manic festivity to a Parisian salon (Erik Satie). A clear evolutionary path can be traced from the earliest known background music – Satie’s ‘furniture music’ of the 1920’s – through John Cage, Brian Eno, and ultimately to the diverse ecosystem of today’s downtempo electronica.  This show is about walking through that history (literally).

Only the Kennedy Center is capable of creating the kind of immersive, migratory experience necessary for the appreciation ambient music. You need big spaces, a crackerjack production team, and yes even a prop shop to create three period-appropriate lounges. The audience enters a sleek 21st lounge where DJs spin ambient electronica (Eno, Kraftwerk, Mouse on Mars); then progress to a 1970’s zone of California minimalism (Young and Reich); and finally into a 1920’s Parisian salon (Satie, with cameos by other members of Les Sixe).

Along the way will be a lot of projected information, a key part of my curating projects. Each lounge will have specially-designed “ambient information” floating on walls and flatscreens to help guide the audience about the music. In Chicago, one of my big passions was giving the program book a 21st Century update. Anna Clyne and I worked hard to educate audiences in new and unobtrusive ways. It takes time, resources, an eye for imagery and a knack for a well-timed surprise to get it right.

As KC Jukebox continues this year, each concert will have a special musical focus and production. There will be a concert about “place music” (from Chris Rouse’s homages to Hawaiian mythology to John Luther Adams’ odes to Alaska) and a concert featuring new music inspired by very old sources. If you’re on the East Coast, consider a visit to D.C. to check out not only this new series, but the full breadth of artistry happening at the Kennedy Center. It is a dynamic place that is filled with a lot of energy these days.