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  • Writer's pictureEmily

This week: Experimental

The third installment of “This week”, where I reflect on some things. Bear with me.

 

I think about experimentation a lot these days. I am ambivalent with this term. I have to think about it, because it’s the type of research I’m doing right now, not the kind of experiment you’re thinking about, but something more like people trying out a process and seeing what happens – recording what happens – understanding what happens – moving forward with what they want to carry. I constantly have to ask myself what the concept means, why it is important; this understanding is always evolving.

 

Last week, I tried something new that didn’t go very well. I thought a little bit about it. I was upset a little bit about it. But I eventually realized that it was an experiment – that actually, every moment of my life is a small experiment. That we are all constantly experimenting. Testing out new futures for ourselves, our groups, our societies.


An experiment of light, or just a disco ball doing its thing? Photo: Emily Gray

This is also what we do in music. “Experimental music” as a genre seems too narrow, and often laden with connotation. But experimentation in music happens every time we try to do something we’ve never done before.

 

Last night, I saw a musical experiment in person, which was the high point in culmination of an amazing week (which included the Koikoi concert, so you know how good it was): OneBeatBalkans, which for the last few years has brough musicians from the Balkans and the United States together for a residency and short tour in the region, had their final concert at Bitef Theater in Belgrade. I honestly wrote and deleted and rewrote a lot of phrases to try to describe this show, but nothing really does my feelings justice. It left me elated. It continually surprised me. They had a wide range of instruments (most of the artists were multi-instrumentalists), a small choir of powerhouse soloists, tap dancing. Their pieces were often within a jazz framework but crossing and expanding many genres. The performers were having so much fun. Each song more or less surpassed the previous one’s mastery, and little surprises of genius flashed, ignited, spread until they blazed in the final song.  


OneBeatBalkans, Bitef Theater, Belgrade, March 23, 2024. Photo: Emily Gray

I wanted to think a little bit about it, because its basic concept is experimentation. If you bring extremely talented musicians from different places, with different and similar local and regional and global traditions and experiences together, put them in the same place for a few weeks, give them the theme of a river and tell them they have to perform at the end – what will they do? Obviously, I’m sure it was a bit more structured than that, and the group had some fabulous mentors leading them through the process. But the basic concept is there.

 

Through their collaboration, we experienced an original singer-songwriter tune from a guy with a guitar whose out-of-this-world voice brought us all (me) to tears. A tap dancing, bird calling, lyric-less song called “Mother language”. An epic, fraying, resonant combination of traditional songs from today’s Croatia and Serbia (with a verse in Albanian too!) (see clip below). A magnificent Porin-award-winning piece that always felt moments away from decomposing and left me breathless on the edge of my seat. A complex, smart, full-band arrangement of Jelena Petošević’s song about trash. A soaring final number which relied on interplay, dynamics, surprise – all in critique of capitalism.


Forgive the frame, listen to the music! OneBeatBalkans performs at Bitef Theater, Belgrade, Serbia, March 23, 2024. Video: Emily Gray


Did we, the audience, witness, listen, watch, participate? I left with my old ideas destroyed and new ones beginning to grow.

 

What I want to say is that experiments are not necessarily for repeating or transferring, or even for learning. But they are always for the experience.

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