CMI City Sounds: Jared Thompson and Eliza Brown
Words by Elizabeth Frickey
Music and sound can be a crucial part of experiencing space. Music not only shapes our experience of new places but our experience of very familiar locations. The CMI City Sounds project is about more than just finding new ways of exposing listeners to music. In transforming everyday Indianapolis sites into musical performance venues, Classical Music Indy encourages visitors to listen to the city in new ways.
These ideas were especially relevant to Indy-based saxophonist and composer, Jared Thompson in his process of composing a piece for the Tomlinson Tap Room at the Indianapolis City Market. “I remember that space always being lively,” Thompson said of his childhood memories from the City Market. “There was so much movement in there all the time. There was just this clamor that seemed natural, that had its own rhythm to it.”
In many ways, his piece “A Break in the Clouds” written for cello, trumpet, string bass, and piano feels like a perfect stylistic meld for the space. The Tomlinson Tap Room is named after the original Tomlinson Hall built on the same site as the City Market. Until it was eventually destroyed in 1958, the hall served as a large public meeting space and music venue for such jazz legends as Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald. “A Break in the Clouds” doesn’t necessarily fit comfortably in a single box, be it jazz or classical chamber music. To that end, it seems to elegantly bridge a space somewhere between past, present, and future. “Part of the reason why the piece starts a bit dark, is that thirty years later after my first experience as a child, there isn’t quite as much clamor and commotion as there used to be,” said Thompson. “In the context of where this piece is, it’s looking back and looking ahead. Things are starting to open back up literally now…that creates a big sense of relief, tension release, and maybe the sun moving out from behind the clouds, and you can hear that in the piece.”
Sound and space are perhaps even more inextricably tied in the piece written for the Indianapolis International Airport by composer and DePauw University professor Eliza Brown. “I’m really interested in storytelling and interdisciplinarity – how music creates meaning, how music creates place,” said Brown. “So that’s really relevant to this airport project, where I’m thinking about what is this space, what are the sounds of this space, and how can the piece be necessarily embedded into the sonic environment of the airport.”
Eliza Brown’s piece “Music with Airports” approaches these questions in very interesting and non-traditional ways. The piece is composed for a brass quartet consisting of a trumpet, trombone, bass trombone, and tuba, but there is also a very important fifth component: the sounds of the airport itself. On the stand in front of them, each musician finds short modules of music in four different categories: “Taxiing”, “Takeoff”, “Interlude”, and “Landing”. However, the performers are also given the freedom to choose music from any category in order to respond to the sounds of planes they are hearing at that time.
Because this CMI City Sounds installment is located within an international airport, in some ways the piece is exposed to a very broad potential audience. “I was thinking about the circumstances in which maybe a person in an airport would actually listen to this. If you’re in an airport and you take the time to scan the QR code, maybe you’re bored, maybe you’re waiting for something, [or] maybe you’re feeling a little impatient,” Brown laughs. “So I wanted to create something that would kind of be an antidote to boredom and might invite some curiosity.” Of course, there are some limitations in trying to record in as public a space as an airport. “We ended up recording indoors. I had hoped we could record outside on the airfield,” said Brown. “But in the end, I think what we have is great because we ended up recording in that main circular atrium in the airport. It’s kind of like a cathedral, it’s a beautiful glass dome essentially.”
The City Sounds project has presented unique challenges to both composers, whether it’s utilizing new instrumentation in the case of Jared Thompson or responding to site-specific sonic qualities with Eliza Brown’s airport composition. However, despite the challenges, all of the composers have committed themselves to the larger task at hand. “The mission of Classical Music Indy is to bring the music itself out of this ivory tower, lofty, snooty kind of position,” said Thompson of the project. “That means expanding audiences, that means expanding participants.” With help from the CMI City Sounds project, local composers and performers are given the opportunity to leave a thumbprint not only on their listeners as individuals, but on the community as a whole.
To find out more about Jared Thompson and his band Premium Blend, check out http://www.premiumblendindy.com/. To learn more about Eliza Brown’s music, check out her website at https://www.elizabrown.net/.