Omaha Under the Radar Field Guide 1
“Omaha Under the Radar” appears as a paradox: it invokes the figure of the artist as outsider (“under the radar”), yet claims the festival as our own—OU(T)R, “ourfestival.” It
names the problem performers and audiences confront today. The fact that the music, dance, and performance art on the festivalʼs program appears under the radar is proof
positive thereʼs something wrong with the radar. A hundred and fifty years ago it might have been enough to enjoy being the outsider, the rebel reveling in art as underworld.
That time has passed, and the festivalʼs website makes this explicit: OUTR is about “uniting progressive performing arts scenes,” making a field of new and disparate experiments contemporary, of our time. That sort of union happens when performers and audiences pick each other up on diverse radars. And that can only happen when each of us finds ways of mapping pathways through varied experiments.
Since 2014, the Gateway to the West has been taking shape each summer as a
gateway to a cartography audiences have been learning to map together. Whether
youʼre an artist traveling to one site in a cosmopolitan network, an inquisitive
suburbanite driving into town for some fun recreation and an opportunity to learn more
about the world of performance today, or someone else altogether, we can all look
forward to learning something new. For that reason alone, I canʼt hope to provide your
map to OUTR. But between my posts and your feedback, I hope we can produce a
guide to this yearʼs field.
Toward that end, I want to begin with a loose summary of the festivalʼs nine main
events. None of us will be able to see everything—two events overlap. Some of you
might be wavering about taking the plunge on even one show. The festivalʼs lineup is
immensely diverse. More information is available on the website, Iʼll be fleshing things
out in greater detail as the days go by, and everyone is welcome to comment on my
posts. But if youʼre diving in cold, this first post might give you an overview of the varied
flavors on display.
Before I begin, I have to thank Amanda DeBoer Bartlett for helping me set up this blog
and for her many insights into the festival and its grounds. Thanks, Amanda!
1 A fun and intimate opener (Project Project, Wednesday, July 6, 7:30 pm)
Opening night looks to be an evening of small ensembles in Project Project, a DIY arts
space and the southernmost post of the festivalʼs grounds. Doses of American popular
music will furnish plenty of saxophone, percussion, and signs of life after blues for
listeners new to new music to grab hold of. But that thoroughgoing, familiar
undercurrent will be filtered, sometimes beyond recognition, through a variety of
experiments in form and instrumentation. I donʼt know whatʼs going to happen. Ambient
music, dance, and flashes of jazz and film music are likely to make appearances. The
concert will be heavier on music than some of the festival, but if KATESʼs performance
in 2015 is any indication, we can expect to see some dramatic and game-like
2 Button down at the art museum (Joslyn Art Museum, Thursday, July 7th, 5:00 pm)
When we reconvene on Thursday, things will be less “poppy” and more “classical,” with
lots of new compositions, including at least one world premiere. The instrumentation will
look more like what youʼd see at a chamber music or orchestra concert—bassoon,
clarinet, flute, harp, piano, voice. There will probably be more scores and less
improvisation. That means listeners wonʼt be able to grab hold of a familiar “mood” as
easily, but it will also allow for some delicate intricacies between players and some
difficult, laboriously prepared passages for soloists. There should be a fair amount of
song. Parts of the evening will be raucous, but I expect a lot of it will be haunting and
pretty. You might find yourself better prepared if you show up early to see the exhibit of
works by Sheila Hicks (b. 1934), an artist famous for her textiles, wallhangings, and
sculptures. Amanda writes that the Joslyn Art Museum is “the friendliest of all the
venues” featured in this yearʼs festival. Admission is free, and performances will be
scattered throughout the museum campus.
3 Let loose at the House of Loom (House of Loom, Thursday, July 7th, 7:30 pm)
If Thursday afternoon offers the friendliest venue, Thursday evening might offer the
most welcoming. A nightclub known for its theme dance nights and LGBT events, the
House of Loom should provide a good counterpoint to the button-down Joslyn.
Electronic music is the name of the game, but it will be played in varied ways productive
of extremely abstract sound sculptures, four-on-the-floor, syncopated, danceable
grooves, and a lot in between. On the more conceptual side of the evening, weʼll be
thinking about our relationship to “technology.” Also, cocktails.
4—5 Tough decisions (KANEKO and Bemis Center for Contemporary Art, Friday, July
8th, 6:00 pm)
Your choice between two very different events on Friday night will have to be made for
personal reasons because thereʼs no good reason for missing either one. Each show
has a definite character, so you can at least know something about what to expect.
The show at KANEKO will be focused on music. More specifically, the program
highlights a composerly practice which uses orchestral instruments, including piano and
plucked instruments, played in sometimes unconventional ways to produce sound as a
timbral, malleable fabric. Listeners will hear a lot of whatʼs to be heard in the range
between transparent polyphony and thick, grating blocks of sound. The program will
include works by two giants in contemporary music, Helmut Lachenmann (b. 1935) and
Annie Gosfield (b. 1960). These works will provide important landmarks as you try to
map new works against the background of contemporary performance. If youʼre going to