In a Political World, Density512 Persists

Austin-based music collective Density512 presents a series finale concert featuring music by women and queer composers


When was the last time you gained a new political perspective without a screen eight inches from your face?

Austin-based music collective Density512 intends to try in its second annual concert summer series, June 14 through 22.

Density512 first began as a summer project of the University of Texas student-led Lab Orchestra. Now an independent group, Density512’s mission is to present contemporary programing in the vital spaces of Austin’s community — another addition to Austin’s growing chamber music scene.

[su_pullquote]In creating a politically motivated program, Austin-based music collective Density512 does what many major ensembles across the country still fail to accomplish: give music a real-life context.[/su_pullquote]

The summer series will consist of three different performances, the third of which is “Nevertheless Persist, Volume 1” at Big Medium on June 22. This will be the inaugural entry of an annual program — a concert for each year that Donald Trump’s administration, in Density512’s words, continually “threatens marginalized and underrepresented communities.”

With “Nevertheless Persist,” Density512 aims to create a show that will excite politically active audiences. Each volume of “Nevertheless Persist” will feature music from diverse composers that correspond with an underlying theme, with this year’s entry focusing on the concept of human need.

The concert has been “a long time coming,” says Density512’s co-artistic director Nicholas Perry Clark. Clark, who curated and will be conducting “Nevertheless Persist,” first began constructing the idea for the series when looking for ways to react to the current presidential administration.

“I get so upset that I’m in the arts sometimes, because I can’t directly help people,” he says.,

But in creating a politically motivated program, Density512 does what many major ensembles across the country still fail to accomplish: give music a real-life context.

“Programming is a tricky art that we often ignore in the classical music world,” says Clark, “[Others] just kind of throw stuff on a program, but we will not allow ourselves to do that.”

The four composers featured in “Nevertheless Persist, Volume 1” come from varied backgrounds and all represent the idea of human need through their works or their practices.

The first piece of the concert is from Canadian composer Claude Vivier. “Zipangu” is part of his opera fleur (or, tableaux) on the historical figure Marco Polo. Vivier, who is now considered to have been one of Canada’s premiere composers, was murdered in Paris on March 7, 1983. Vivier, who was homosexual, was stabbed and robbed in his own home by a man he’d met at a bar earlier that evening.

Musically, “Zipangu” is an experiment of color using various bow techniques. Clark hints that “Half the string players do some things they might not be comfortable with.” The sporadic and anxiety inducing tone of the piece is interpreted by Density512 as call for human companionship.

Next in the program, “Rest These Hands” is one of six pieces London-born composer Anna Clyne wrote in the six days leading up to her mother’s death. Clyne is currently the composer-in-residence for the New Music venue National Sawdust in Brooklyn, New York.

The piece opens with a reading of the titular poem that was written by Clyne’s mother, Colleen Clyne. Though dripped in sorrow, this composition for solo violin both croons and kicks, exemplifying life as much as it does death. “Rest These Hands” will be performed by violinist Sara Sasaki.

In the third piece of the night, “Teen Murti,” first-generation American composer Reena Esmail takes Western music practices and bases them around three large musical figures — each rooted in different hindustani raags. “Teen Murti” is translated in Hindi as meaning three figures or representations, sharing the name of the famous sculpture that resides in the home of former Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

Esmail is the composer-in-residence for Street Symphony Los Angeles, an organization dedicated to providing high-caliber musical performances and discussion for individuals that have been affected by homelessness, poverty, and incarceration.

“Teen Murti” is divided into three musical pillars that correspond to the raags of Malkauns, Bassant and Jog. In between these sections are interluding segments from Bihag and Bhairav pakads (pakads being characteristic slices of those respective raags). This variety of harmonic material in “Teen Murti” creates receding and encroaching waves of musical intrigue throughout the entire work.

For the show’s last piece, Julia Wolfe’s “Fuel” focuses on the mystery of economy and how things run, commenting on the global consumption around one of humanity’s most precious resources. “Fuel” was originally composed for a short film by Bill Morrison of the same name, and will be presented alongside Density512’s performance. Wolfe is an associate professor of music composition at the NYU Steinhardt School and is a co-founder and co-artistic director for Bang on a Can.

“Fuel” with its thrashing bows and crashing tempo is sure to be an endurance test for the ensemble as well as an exciting finale to the evening.

Although political discourse isn’t the first subject that comes to mind when considering the classical music concert experience, Clark believes that even listeners unfamiliar with classical will be “pleasantly surprised,” with the context Density512 will provide in “Nevertheless, Persist Volume 1.”

After all, if the most important political declarations in our country can be made via Twitter, than why not with a chamber orchestra?

Other performances of Density512’s summer series include “Stack Overflow” at 4th Tap Brewing Co-op on June 14, and the “UT Composers Showcase” at Imagine Art on June 17. The series is presented in partnership with KMFA 89.5, 4th Tap Brewing Co-op, Imagine Art, Big Medium, The Hispanic Alliance, and Austin Soundwaves.

Joshua Figueroa
Joshua Figueroa
Joshua Figueroa is a musicologist and arts writer from Santa Barbara, California. Now based in Austin, he splits his time between going out to eat too much and arguing about video games.

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