Omaha Under the Radar is a festival of experimental music and art in its second year, curated by Amanda DeBoer Bartlett, Stacey Barelos, Kaleigh Butcher, Kate Campbell and Aubrey Byerly. I’ve attended a lot of new music and art festivals over the years and Omaha is definitely one that stands out. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend all of the events, as I spent a great deal of time running cables, pushing faders and doing general sound guy stuff, but I still got to attend a lot of concerts, saw a number of rehearsals and even attended a composition workshop one morning.
What really stuck out to me was the way the festival was structured. Most (if not all) of the music festivals and conferences I’ve gone to tend to organize concerts that showcase composers or a single performer or ensemble. Program feature a series of pieces by various composers or a small collective of composers. The Omaha concerts were presented in 2-2.5 hour blocks which were divided into 30-minute time slots. Each time slot was dedicated to a performer or ensemble to present whatever music they submitted to the festival. Sometimes performers presented multiple works by various composers, some groups presented a single large-scale piece and some presented original music. Some performers gave short lecture recitals in which they talked about the pieces in between performances to give the audience some context for the music they would hear. This concert structure was a really nice change of pace, at least for me. It was really great to see a series of concerts that focused on showcasing the talents of multiple performers and composers equally. It was reminiscent of going to a show at a club or bar in which you go to see a performer or band for an extended period of time, as opposed to hearing a collection of pieces by various artists.
Another great aspect of Omaha Under the Radar was that the concerts took place at venues other than concert halls and university recital halls. I’ve noticed this becoming trend a lot more with music festivals and I think it’s really great. The people who were showing up to the concerts was also noteworthy, as the majority of the audience - at least at all the shows I attended - were Omaha locals. It was really great to see so many people from the community interested in new music and art. Too often I’ve gone to music festivals and/or conferences and everyone in attendance is a composer or performer at the festival, and we’re all essentially performing for each other. The audiences at Omaha were made up of performers, organizers and lots of music fans and supporters from around Omaha. To provide an example, I ran sound for 3 concerts at a venue called the Bancroft Street Market, and for all three concerts we ran out of seating. But lack of seating was never a deterrent. Concert attendees found places to sit, stand, lean and sometimes even just moved around during performances. A few performers even encouraged the audience to move around the space during the performance. All of the concerts created a really great listening environment for the audience.
In addition to solo performers and chamber groups performing their own sets, the festival also featured 3 performances which were organized entirely at the festival. These performances included a performance of John Zorn’s Cobra and Rzewski’s Coming Together organized by Vimbayi Kaziboni and a performance of Julius Eastman’s Stay On It organized by New York-based composer/performer Paul Pinto (thingNY). Although I couldn’t attend the performance of the Zorn or the Rzewski, I did see all of the rehearsals, and it was really great to see a group of musicians put together two large and very involved pieces. I did get to see the performance of Stay On It, which was the closing performance of the entire festival, and I have to say it was an energetic and exciting way to end a great weekend of new music.
My main problem with Omaha Under the Radar was that I was only able to go to a limited number of performances, due entirely to the fact that I was often running sound checks and getting things set up at the Bancroft Street Market venue. Though I can’t speak for everyone in attendance, I can definitely say that I really enjoyed myself and it was great to see so many people from all over the country come together to put on such captivating performances. I’m really glad I was able to be a part of the festival and I look forward to attending again next year, and I strongly encourage everyone to check out what’s happening in Omaha.
- Thomas Paine in Violence, Paul Pinto performed by thingNY (Paul Pinto and Alejandro Acierto)
- Philomel (with quadraphonic electronics), Milton Babbitt - performed by Liz Pearse
- A set for horn and live electronics by Matthew Oliphant
- Performance of Mauricio Kagel’s Dressur performed from memory (yes, the whole thing from memory) by Xylotheque - undergraduate students at the University of Nebraska Omaha
- A set of pieces for oboe and electronics by Katherine Woolsey
- Luke Polipnick Trio - free improvisation trio
- Stay On It by Omaha Under the Radar musicians, organized by Paul Pinto
One final thing I want to mention is the Soundry Camp that went on July 6-9. The Soundry Camp is a 4-day music camp for Omaha youths directed by OUR organizer Stacey Barelos in which the kids worked with festival organizer and soprano Amanda DeBoer Bartlett, composer Danny Clay and guitarist Jesse Langen (who also gave some great performances during the rest of the festival) on creating new music. I didn’t see much of what went on at the camp, but I did see a slideshow of pictures and video taken of Stacey, Danny, Amanda and Jesse working with the kids on building instruments, experimental music practice, graphic notation, improvisation and other kinds of creative music-making. I didn’t get to experience much of what happened during this portion of the festival, but it was great to know that the OUR organizers are reaching out to the community to spread art to the youth and get them excited about new music at a young age.
Overall, I had a great time at Omaha Under the Radar, and I strongly encourage any and all performers, composers, dancers, sound artists, installation artists (or whatever branch of the sonic/visual arts you’re involved in) reading this to consider applying for next year’s festival.
Below is a collection of photos from the festival, all taken by Aleksander Karjaka