Alex Kotch at the Coffeehouse
Tomorrow at the Coffeehouse, Alex Kotch presents his dissertation. His argument: classical music has a place on the dance floor. His committee: scores of students who want to party.
A fifth-year PhD. candidate in Duke’s Music Dept., Kotch blurs the boundary between club DJs and American minimalist composers. Friday’s concert—called the Alleys of Your Mind Dance Party—places Kotch on stage with his electronic equipment, right next to a conductor, seven wind instrumentalists and a soprano singer.
“This kind of hybrid performance doesn’t happen very often,” Kotch said.
Though he focused on classical music and jazz for most of his life, Kotch started to notice the similarities between popular music and his favorite composers.
“In some cases, what separated electronic dance music from minimalist compositions was one had electronic drums and one didn’t,” Kotch said.
The dissertation includes recordings Kotch made in the ICU while recovering from a life-threatening brain aneurysm.
“I convinced the nurses to allow me to set up recording equipment,” he said. “The machines in the room had different kinds of beats, and I recorded those sounds as well as a few conversations and some ambient noise. I couldn’t face making music out of any of it until about nine or ten months later, but in mid-2011 I sampled from it. Some of the audio samples take on a symbolic role. The survivor’s life is embedded in the piece.”
Kotch is one of a handful of young, interdisciplinary musicians to be showcased on Friday. Before Kotch goes on stage, the chamber group Wet Ink Ensemble will play new pieces composed by Duke graduate students. Later in the night, the genre-defying Chapel Hill duo Beat Report will play a DJ set, and Durham’s own Treee City will present bass- and dubstep-inspired electronica.
“Think Girl Talk with a political message for people with ADD,” said Jil Christensen, explaining how she views Beat Report. “Sometimes we will go from Bollywood to Top 40 to Johnny Cash in a couple of minutes.”
Wet Ink’s Eric Wubbels expects the atmosphere of the Coffeehouse to make the recital pleasantly relaxed.
“A good concert is good, but a good concert that’s BYOB has a superior vibe,” Wubbels said.
“The idea of having recitals in club venues is really picking up speed,” Kotch said. “The concert hall often falls flat socially.”
Likewise, clubs tend to play uninteresting music. Alleys of Your Mind aspires to be the exception to that rule.
“Friday is a chance to dance and to be challenged musically,” Christensen said.
The Alleys of Your Mind Dance Party is sponsored by the Duke Music Department as part of its Encounters series. Alex Kotch, the Wet Ink Ensemble, Beat Report and Treee City will play at the Duke Coffeehouse on East Campus, Friday at 9 p.m. Admission is free.