Your Guide To The Arts In Atlanta

Bent Frequency

Atlanta contemporary-music ensemble Bent Frequency will celebrate its 10th anniversary tonight (Saturday) with a concert and party at the Goat Farm Arts Center.

The decade has been one of change for both the group and the local contemporary-music scene. When Bent Frequency was formed, Thamyris, which had been the pace-setting professional new-music ensemble since 1987, still existed but had essentially wound down. The formation of Sonic Generator wouldn’t take place for another three years, and the ball had just begun roll with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s “Atlanta School of composers” project.

Percussionist Stuart Gerber, the only original member of Bent Frequency still with the group, says the original concept was to have an outlet for contemporary chamber music in Atlanta. “There weren’t any other options, so we thought we’d start this group to do the music that we wanted to do,” Gerber says. Alexander Mickelthwate, an assistant ASO conductor at the time, composer Nick Demos, conductor Robert Ambrose and visual designers Jason Civjan and Matthew Cowley were the other five co-founders. Their first performance took place May 12, 2003 at Eyedrum, and the group established a solid, front-edge identity from the start, performing innovative music by composers from John Luther Adams to John Zorn.

But changes were soon in the offing. The first to leave was Mickelthwate, when he became assistant conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic the next year; he is now music director of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. “Over the years different people left the group for various reasons,” says Gerber. Then a few years ago, fresh blood joined — saxophonist Jan Baker, trumpeter Amanda Pepping and cellist Sarah Kapps — and re-energized the group’s musical mission. In Gerber’s words, they “extended what we started,” with Baker and Gerber as co-artistic directors. He estimates that over the last decade, Bent Frequency has presented or taken part in some 50 events in all.

But Gerber and Baker are looking not at the past but the future. In October of next year, Bent Frequency will head for Guanajuato, Mexico, to perform in the Cervantino Festival, a large, three-week event. It’s one example, Gerber says, of the new directions the group will be taking in upcoming years, expanding its presence beyond local performances to some national and international touring as well as global outreach through recordings, both physical CDs and digital streaming. He hopes it will bring more attention to Atlanta’s new-music explosion of groups and eager young performers, some of them his former students, who are investing themselves in what one might dare call Atlanta’s “new edge” music scene.

“Since we started in 2003, Sonic Generator came onto the scene in a big way with institutional support,” notes Gerber. “In the last couple of years, [it’s been] Chamber Cartel, Clibber Jones Ensemble [and] Terminus Ensemble. It’s fantastic to see my students get together with other folks and start making things happen. It’s great to have these other groups in town now, and we’ve collaborated with them.”

Indeed, “collaboration” is the action-intensive word. Clibber Jones leader and drummer Olivia Kieffer says that after her group plays at the Masquerade early this evening, she and other members will head for the Bent Frequency event to perform in Terry Riley’s “In C.” Gerber himself performed with Chamber Cartel this past Sunday at {Poem88}. Clibber Jones keyboardist Amy O’Dell and percussionist Brandon Dodge also play with Chamber Cartel. And Kieffer will also take part in a Terminus Ensemble concert on Sunday afternoon. “It’s cool to have that kind of cross-pollenation,” Gerber observes. “It’s great for the city, for everyone involved. It’s exciting. We’re having a good time.”

The Goat Farm show will include guests Mercury Orkestar and DJ Little Jen (aka Jennifer Mitchell). Jen will spin for a half-hour when the doors open at 7 p.m. and then again at 9:30; Bent Frequency will perform at 7:30, followed by Mercury Orkester. Then, around 10:15, there will be a collective performance of “In C” by more than two dozen gathered musicians.