Making A Successful Museum Soundwalk pt. 1

Making A Successful Museum Soundwalk pt. 1

Feb 27, 2017

John Chittum

This is part one of a two part series discussing KcEMA’s most recent success: A soundwalk style concert hosted by the Spencer Museum of Art!

On February 18th, KcEMA and the Spencer Museum of Art collaborated on a soundwalk style experience. Five groups, five set-ups, lining up with the five different themes. You can read more about the Spencer Museum’s wonderful exhibit, Temporal Turn, on their website.

Like many projects, this started with an idea over coffee. Amy Duke contacted our Vice President, Christina Butera, about wanting to work with KcEMA. Amy is a fan of electronic music, and had heard of the group before. Excellent! We rely a lot on word of mouth. KcEMA’s work over the years has placed us in folks’ thoughts when thinking about electronic music in town. We’re not the only people in town producing concerts of electronic music, but we are the only non-profit focused on bringing new and experimental works to Kansas City. Step 1: Get your name out there.

Christina was off in Paris studying at IRCAM (!!!), so she sent Amy’s email to me. I met Amy at the KC Public Library, and we let ideas fly. There were a couple opportunities at the museum: a for-hire gig providing music for their opening reception; and a chance at working with them further. Being an enterprising group, I pitched KcEMA do both events, the reception in the fall, and an event near the end of the exhibit. Step 2: Be prepared to take any opportunity.

Negotiating the specifics of the reception was relatively easy. I focused on ways we could still be artistic through creative use of space. The Spencer Museum is on two levels with a balcony. Amy thought the balcony might make a good space. I suggested having multiple set-ups: one on the ground floor, one separate part of the gallery, and one in the balcony. The goal wasn’t to create a soundwalk at the reception, but instead to have entertainment in different areas, enticing attendees to move throughout the gallery. I thought to reach out to Mnemosyne Quartet and David McIntire of Ensemble of Irreproduceable Outcomes fame (and Irritable Hedgehog). KcEMA also planned to provide fixed media works through the night, in-between sets and in our own corner of the space. Step 3: Take gigs that will set you up for the next gig.

Amy and I moved on to discussing the spring show. I gave a few ideas, ranging from straightforward to highly ambitious. On the easier side, KcEMA could do a standard concert in Spencer’s theater of works inspired by Temporal Turn. These could be new works or existing works that fit the theme. On the highly ambitious side was a call for collaborative proposals. Composers would offer a proposal based on one of the five themes (“Pulse”, “The Edge of Infinity”, “Mythopoeia”, “Human/Posthuman/Inhuman”, and “Anthropocene”), and the artists engaged in site-specific work would help choose who they’d like to work with. The performances would occur in front of the new site-specific works, and we’d lead attendees on a soundwalk style concert through the museum. Step 4: Give your client or collaborator options, and work with them through the entire process.

This all occurred in an hour and a half meeting in July. We nailed down working the opening reception, and had an idea for the spring. Oh, how plans can change. Step 5: Be agile!

KcEMA took a trip out to the Spencer museum in September to check out the space. As we walked around, and got a lay of the space, we decided it might be better to limit to two groups, Mnemosyne and EIO. KcEMA could set-up a playlist as pre-show, between set, and post-show music. I could tell immediately the space was going to be incredibly live. The new design has an open main area with balconies. It’s absolutely gorgeous, and can easily become loud and boomy. We settled on one set-up behind a wonderful large screen by Konoiko Tomoko and on the balcony. David would “hide” behind the screen, waiting till more people entered the gallery, and then begin his performance. After a 15 minute pause, Mnemosyne would begin performing from the balconies.

The performance went off without a hitch. Everyone at the Spencer loved it. The only difficult came on our end. The Spencer Museum paid in a timely fashion, but the check arrived just as I was walking out the door to head home for the holidays. When I got back, I wrote our treasurer, who had similarly just left town for the holidays. Our slightly poor management and siloed duties caused us to be slow in sending money off to parties. That’s a definite oversight on our part, and something we will work on. One big thing that came out of this? Step 6: Everyone gets a contract where all expectations are laid out.

Yeah, that’s a big one. KcEMA can, and will, definitely do better.

This set the stage wonderfully for KcEMA’s show in the spring. However, those deeper readers may have noticed my tell about timing. That’s right, we were running quickly out of time. What followed from mid-November through December were flurries of emails back and forth between Spencer and KcEMA working out details. Obviously collaborating with the artists was out. They had long since moved on to their next projects, and were no longer local. Being local isn’t a requirement for collaboration, but it is helpful (take it from the person working from home on world-wide distributed team). However, everyone was still excited about the idea of a soundwalk style concert.

A date was set for February 18th. KcEMA’s board got together, and we made some tough decisions. We really wanted to do a call for scores on this project, but the deadline kept shrinking and shrinking. As it got into December, we made the decision to curate the concert instead. Our goal is to present the best concerts possible, while giving electronic artists the opportunities and infrastructure to succeed. As time ticked away, we felt, as artists, it’d be difficult to do a proposal and then craft a piece. Turn around would be short on proposals, with the call going out the beginning of December, decisions by the beginning of the year, and then a show in mid-February. To ensure we would have the best concert we could, the board decided to curate the call. Go back up to Step 5: Be agile!

To recap six steps (or ideas) covered in this first post:

  1. Get your name out there! Word of mouth advertising is still very relevant and valid
  2. Be prepared to take any opportunity.
  3. Take the gig that sets you up for the next gig. It might not be glamorous, but if it helps get the big gig, it’s worth it.
  4. Give options, and work with your clients and collaborators through the entire process.
  6. Lay out expectations, preferably in writing. Even better, with official contracts.

Be on the look out for part two soon!

John Chittum KcEMA President

Tag: concert

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