On select Wednesdays at 7:00 p.m., the UC San Diego Music Department puts on concerts of contemporary classical music usually held in the Conrad Prebys Music Center, the swan song masterpiece of acoustic architect and engineer Cyril M. Harris. Besides being a leader in the world of musical theory, UCSD Music is spearheading some of the most amazing musical innovations we’ve ever seen, and hosting the concerts to prove it. WEDS@7 are some the best opportunities for students to witness live, contemporary classical music. Moreover, the UCSD Music Department helps us think radically about the idea of music; after attending the three separate performances, “red fish blue fish,” “The JACK Quartet,” and “FLiGHT,” I’m driven to relay to students (partially to make sense of) these works of musical genius—and also do them justice by explaining how difficult they were to endure.
First and foremost, I should admit I didn’t like all the concerts I went to, initially. Despite their seemingly impossible instrumentations and piece structures, “Le Noir de l’Estoile” and “So You..” creeped along in tedium. I was exhausted, and yet somehow, not ready to write the performances off completely. There is an undeniable intentionality in these pieces, something akin to the elusive shock value of the punk genre, in which the constant push-and-pull becomes the appeal of the music itself. In fact, feeling exhausted, while also being glued to your seat, is a phenomena in many ways fulfilling of the UCSD Music Department’s mission, which aims to challenge and lift up musically gifted students.
I originally attended WEDS@7 when accompanying a friend who needed some company for the performance, knowing full well the concert would be aggressive and provocative. It wasn’t until after I left, however, that I realized how subtly the music had actually evoked so much emotion. Though I may have hated every other note in the piece, by the end of each performance, I felt strangely and cathartically closer to a broader idea of culture and human connection. In other words, as biased as I remain about certain genres, fields, and artists, it felt good to absorb what people created, however strange that may look or sound. As I kept still for hours, trying not to scream, “How can this be music?” this rhetorical question eventually became an excited brainstorm of new feelings which I owe to the wild cacophonies of WEDS@7.
No doubt, for the audience of pieces like “So You…”, a fragmented musical response to a modernist poem about the Greek myth of Orpheus’ “rescue” of Eurydice, listening to WEDS@7 can be a difficult journey—maybe not through hell and back, like Eurydice’s journey—but for me, it was frustrating to search for familiar melodies, repetition, consistency, or anything reminiscent of what I usually listen to. I tried hard, for example, to assign meanings to the few concrete pitches of “So You..”, to understand why the singer’s voice was so frightening, and I even wondered why I felt a brief masochism to the pounding electronic waves halfway through. Consequently, I got tired of my own belabored interpretations during concerts, and I found the key to appreciating experimental music, one that I hope more students begin to share in enjoying UCSD Music.
Rather than expecting or predicting anything when going to WEDS@7, one should listen, for no one’s sake other than the composers’. Appreciating music often means taking your own experiences and identifying with the artists’, but it also requires a quiet, more passive listening. Exemplified in pieces like “So You…,” which happens to be a dialogue with both feminist discourse and ancient literary traditions, this kind of respect is indispensable. We won’t always understand a song, and idea, or a person well, but as audience members, total mastery isn’t our job—our job, as listeners, and ultimately, as UCSD students, is to try our best in learning.
In global terms, UCSD leads in cognitive science and is pushing huge innovation in computer science and engineering. If you were to take two hours out of your weekday night to hear these performances, it would perhaps be one of the richest interdisciplinary experiences of your life. WEDS@7’s music is unprecedented for many reasons; in addition to “So You…” and its many unconventional elements, “Le Noir de l’Estoile” uses a gong as a model of a spinning pulsar. One of the JACK Quartet’s performances ended with its members standing in a line, punching the air; and recently, WEDS@7 debuted a project on the “FLiGHT” of humanity: a radical intertwining of film, visual art, poetry, and experimental strings music.
The UCSD Music Department works hard to research and select highly renowned artists, and most of the concerts it arranges for students and the public are free. Overall, one can view their concerts as unimportant and conventional exercises for a niche in every university, or one can see the WEDS@7 as fresh and welcoming spaces for anyone who wants to learn another dimension of our rapidly changing world. These are concerts where planks of wood and wire brushes are instruments, children and infants are sometimes encouraged to talk and cry “as part of the musicking,” and where martial arts, sine-wave generators, and old masterpieces come together to inspire awareness and musical growth for everyone involved. Truly, to anybody who finds a quiet beauty in learning—whether it be physics, cognition, creative expression or politics—coming to WEDS@7 will be a new and worthwhile experience. If any of this sounds like you, go and see “Eric Huebner Performs György Ligeti and Roger Reynolds’ Piano Etudes” on January 10th. I hope to see you there!
The next UCSD Music Department concerts, including WEDS@7, are listed on the UCSD Music Department site.
Nathaniel Imel is a staff writer at The Triton.