Even die-hard contemporary music buffs who think they've heard everything whistle a different tune once they've attended Other Minds.
Opening Thursday in The City, the annual festival, now in its 17th year, prides itself on hunting down and showcasing the most interesting boundary-breaking musicians and composers who unhesitatingly explore the limits of music expression.
According to festival founder-director and former KPFA-FM music director Charles Amirkhanian, "The big problem today is there are so many recordings, either as downloads or CDs, that you need someone to sift through and say, 'This is where someone is doing significant work.' That's what Other Minds attempts to do. We really try to find people who have invented something, and who are taking it to a very high level with whatever their own ground rules are."
True to its purpose, Other Minds does not limit itself to composers in the U.S. or the Americas. This year, thanks to a grant from the Barbro Osher Pro Suecia Foundation in San Francisco, Amirhkhanian is showcasing a number of astounding artists he discovered in August as he festival-hopped in Scandinavia.
"I met these people, and realized that there's this trend going on that none of us knows about," he reports. "A number of Scandinavia's younger composers are so well trained that they can score all these interesting textures by employing instruments that others wouldn't consider musical. So dust-off spray cans are being used with cellos simultaneously to create certain effects. They may use bullhorns, but they put them in front of a clarinet or other instrument. It has a glorious effect that is very carefully calculated."
To insure that the music is presented authentically, Other Minds is flying in the six-piece asamisimasa chamber ensemble from Oslo.
On the first night of the festival in the Jewish Community Center for San Francisco’s Kanbar Hall, the ensemble performs music by Simon Steen-Andersen ("a brilliant young guy in Denmark") and Øyvind Torvund (whose composition titles, "Neon Forest Space" and "Willibald Motor Landscape," only give hints of what's in store).
"This year we have Gloria Coates, who has specialized in instrumental music in microtones and continuous glissandi," says Amirkhanian. "She's the best at it. We have Harold Budd, whose insistence on writing 'pretty music' in the early seventies was completely out of step with the times but had a great influence on other composers. Torvund and Steen-Andersen write for conventional instruments, but add carefully scored noise-producing devices to sometimes hilarious effect, as in John Cage meets Spike Jones. Then we have the fastest jazz drummer in the world, Tyshawn Sorey, who is a one-man tornado who's also a composer studying for his doctorate at Columbia."
And that's just the half of it.
IF YOU GO
Other Minds Festival 17
Where: Kanbar Hall, San Francisco Jewish Community Center, 3200 California Street, San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday
Tickets: $25 to $115 for festival pass
Contact: (415) 292-1200, www.otherminds.org
Note: Panel discussions at 7 p.m. precede all concerts.