What may be considered music by one artist could be considered noise by another. Noise from the 18th Floor, a music program of The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, sought to challenge our notions of music and noise with playlists that represent a range of genres, accompanied by interpretive narratives. Each program in the series was curated by a local music expert and highlighted the work of the Center’s constituents and grantees, in order to build awareness of our region’s cultural vibrancy.
Guest curators in the Noise series included Donald Nally, Helen Haynes, King Britt, Elaine Hoffman Watts with Susan Watts and Dan Blacksberg, and Dustin Hurt of Bowerbird. Tracey Tanenbaum, public radio veteran, was producer and host of the series, providing listeners with insightful interviews interspersed with the curators’ music selections.
Watch a behind-the scenes video about Noise from the 18th Floor, featuring Tanenbaum and engineer and Noise producer Rodney Whittenberg:
Other Center Projects
#1: Donald Nally
The first edition of Noise from the 18th Floor featured post-modern choral works selected by Donald Nally, conductor of The Crossing, one of the only professional choirs in the world dedicated to singing exclusively new and recently composed work. An edited version of Nally’s interview was interspersed with post-modern choral selections for the online music program. He divided the music into five categories: parody and reflection on “old” music; new music that works on our memory (the blurred lines of common practice tonality); deconstructionism’s various guises; minimalism’s many angles; and American eclecticism.
Nally also participated in the Center’s then-concurrent Shelf Life project. Click here to learn more.
About Donald Nally
Donald Nally conducts The Crossing, a Philadelphia-based professional chamber choir focused on new music, winner of the 2009 and 2011 ASCAP award for Adventurous Programming. He is also chorus master of the Chicago Bach Project.
#2: Helen Haynes
The second edition of Noise from the 18th Floor featured a collection of jazz and world music curated by Helen Haynes, Chief Cultural Officer of Philadelphia’s Office of Arts, Culture, and the Creative Economy. Haynes titled her program “The Voice of the People” and divided it into three sections: “A New Jazz Canon: Composers and the Black Aesthetic,” including recordings by Alice Coltrane, Randy Weston, and 1992 Pew Fellow Odean Pope; “A New World Canon: Voices From the Diaspora,” featuring the music of Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Angelique Kidjo, and Lila Downs; and “Blues People,” which she took from the book Blues People: Negro Music in White America by Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones). In addition to music by Andy Bey and Abbey Lincoln, this last section featured Balm of Gilead, a spoken-word piece about Billie Holiday, performed by Kamau Daaood.
Haynes also participated in the Center’s then-concurrent Shelf Life project. Click here to learn more.
About Helen Haynes
Helen Haynes has spent the last 30 years as an artist, arts administrator, advocate, and educator. She served as director of cultural affairs at Montgomery County Community College from 2000–14, curating multidisciplinary Lively Arts presenting seasons. She is the current Chief Cultural Officer of Philadelphia’s Office of Arts, Culture, and the Creative Economy.
#3: King Britt
“Cosmic Culture: A Sonic Journey into Afrofuturism” featured African-American music inspired by science fiction in a program curated by King Britt, a 2007 Pew Fellow and a Grammy Award-nominated DJ, performer, and composer. Britt selected performances by those who seem to have a spiritual connection with a greater force. In part one, titled “Yesterday,” Britt’s mix of 10 compositions included the mystical Sun Ra in a live performance of “Space Is the Place,” with an overlay of an interview with Britt’s mother Pearl. The journey continued with “Today,” a mega-mix of over two-dozen pieces. From Los Angeles-based band Build an Ark, which has kept Sun Ra’s spiritual message alive with songs such as “The Stars Are Singing Too,” to Afrika Bambaataa’s “Planet Rock,” which Britt described as an “anthem of our generation,” this collection was a reflection of his artistic vision. “Cosmic Culture” also featured the music of jazz greats Dee Dee Bridgewater, Herbie Hancock, and many more, and closed with a third installment, “Tomorrow,” which featured “Beyond the Sun,” written by Britt especially for this program under his pseudonym Fhloston Paradigm.
King Britt is a 2007 Pew Fellow. As a producer/composer, he fuses the musical history of many cultures and genres with electronic music, redefining and re-contextualizing the past into the moment. As a performer, he is best known as a top globetrotting DJ, having cut his craft alongside Grammy Award-winning group Digable Planets and continuing to travel solo around the world, bringing cultures together live and improvised dance/experimental sets. In addition to his DJ work, he has seen many projects through from studio to stage, and he has performed in such diverse spaces as the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, DC, and the the Whitney Museum and Winter Garden Theatre in New York City. Britt has also graced the stage at music festivals such as Moogfest, Glastonbury, River to River, Camp Bisco, and Voodoo Fest. He has curated events for the Institute of Contemporary Art and Painted Bride Art Center in Philadelphia and New York City’s Knitting Factory, bringing electronic music artists into unique projects and settings.
#4: Elaine Hoffman Watts, Susan Watts, and Dan Blacksberg
“Klezmer: Voices from Three Generations,” was a program in two parts. The first part was co-curated by Philadelphia’s first family of Klezmer, 2000 Pew Fellow and drummer Elaine Hoffman Watts and her youngest daughter, trumpeter, arranger, and singer Susan Watts. The second part was curated by trombonist and 2012 Pew Fellow Dan Blacksberg, a fresh voice in klezmer music.
Klezmer is a musical tradition with roots in Eastern and Central European Jewish culture, and was later transplanted to the United States by immigrants from these regions. “Klezmer” is a compound word made from two Hebrew words: “kley” (vessel or tools) and “zmer” (melody), but the term was not commonly used to define the music and its musicians until the 20th century. It is a very eclectic style of music; the rhythms, melodies, and instrumentation give it a distinctive sound. Klezmer has pollinated and cross-pollinated with many genres of music since its inception, American jazz being the most obvious example. In this fourth edition of Noise from the 18th Floor, Tracey Tanenbaum examined the growth and trajectory of klezmer from the perspective of three generations of torchbearers based here in Philadelphia.
Born in 1932, Elaine Hoffman Watts is a third-generation klezmer musician, and a critically important, feisty, and enduring link to a particular Philadelphia-style Jewish klezmer sound. Rooted in Ukranian and Romanian traditions, Hoffman Watts has mastered these Eastern European Jewish ritual and celebratory musical styles. Hoffman Watts was the first woman percussionist to be accepted at Curtis Institute of Music, from which she graduated in 1954. She has performed and taught for more than 60 years, working in symphonies, theaters, and schools, and she began performing klezmer actively over 10 years ago, starting with the group KlezMs, an all-female ensemble that included her daughter Susan Watts on trumpet. Hoffman Watts now performs with the Fabulous Shpielkes and klezmer artists from around the world. She is a featured soloist, lecturer and educator at festivals, schools and Arts associations. Among her awards are a 2000 Pew Fellowship in the Arts and the prestigious National Endowment of the Arts Heritage Fellowship Award for klezmer drumming.
About Susan Watts
Trumpeter and vocalist Susan Watts represents the youngest generation of an exciting klezmer dynasty that reaches back to the Jewish Ukraine of the 19th century, beginning with her great grandfather, bandleader and composer, Joseph Hoffman. A fourth generation musician, Watts is the sole living purveyor of a klezmer style trumpet and sound which electrified Jewish American audiences for decades. Her repertoire is comprised of tunes that were handed down to her by her great-grandfather, grandfather, and mother, and includes many original songs written for weddings, family members, and joyous occasions. In addition to performing with a variety of noted Klezmer musicians from around the world, Watts has shared the stage with Mandy Patinkin at Carnegie Hall, Dudu Fischer, Theodore Bikel, Claire Barry, Boban Markovic, So-Called, Alicia Svigals, Margot Leverett, Henkus Netsky, and the Klezmer Conervatory Band, among others. She is a member of the Fabulous Shpielkes, Frank Londons Klezmer Brass All-Stars, Mikveh, and the Klez Dispensers.
About Dan Blacksberg
Spanning avant-garde jazz, modern classical music, improvised music, and klezmer—a musical tradition with roots in Eastern-European Jewish culture—Blacksberg brings a burly, rough-edged sound that pushes at the technical and textural extremes of his instrument, the trombone. He has developed a complex style that blends experimental and klezmer music, drawing on unexpected techniques to expand the scope of the latter genre. Blacksberg leads the Daniel Blacksberg Trio and Electric Simcha, and plays in new music duo Archer Spade. Pillar Without Mercy, his first release with his band, Deveykus, was released in June 2013 by Tzadik Records. With Center support, Blacksberg worked closely with composer and scholar George Lewis over the summer and fall of 2013.
#5: Dustin Hurt of Bowerbird
The fifth edition of Noise from the 18th Floor, “Bowerbird-Cage,” was curated by Dustin Hurt, the director of Bowerbird. Bowerbird is a Philadelphia-based organization that presents contemporary music and interdisciplinary events. In 2012, when musicians and artists around the world celebrated the centennial of John Cage’s birth, Bowerbird, in collaboration with the Philadelphia Museum of Art, launched an impressive Center-funded festival of events called Cage: Beyond Silence. In this program, Hurt explored the music and philosophy of John Cage, and curated a playlist that highlighted many of Cage’s significant works, including his early prepared piano pieces, Indeterminacy, and several of Cage’s Number Pieces. He also commissioned Chris Madak to create a realization of Cage’s 1958 composition Fontana Mix specifically for this Noise episode.
Situated at the forefront of artistic experimentation, Bowerbird is a Philadelphia based nonprofit organization that presents music and interdisciplinary events by local and internationally recognized artists at a variety of venues across the region. Founded in late 2005, Bowerbird presents over 70 events annually, including many important world and Philadelphia premieres and rare appearances, and has emerged as a vital forum for the most disparate forms of creativity. Championing local, national, and international artists, as well as the work of significant historical figures, Bowerbird provides an important platform for understanding and critique of broader conceptual and global trends, and seeks to enhance society’s appreciation of these artistic contributions by not only presenting artists and their ideas, but also discussing them openly and critically.