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Finding new music among the dead

June 24, 2008 |  8:51 am
Brassiosaurus plays inside an Oakland mausoleum

Over the weekend, I heard a lot of unusual music. Not at an open air festival or in a night club. And not on a social networking site. But in a mausoleum in Oakland that's home to numerous crypts and niches containing the remains of the dead.

On this night, people moved through rooms and gardens in the maze-like building, which the famed architect Julia Morgan helped build. Put on by the New Music Bay Area group, the "Garden of Memory" summer solstice concert involved more than 40 musicians, such as Brassiosaurus (pictured above), who played mostly simultaneously among the tiny chapels filled with urns and fountains. Another musician set up a structure with motion sensors (pictured after the jump), that cued music as people moved around the room.

Harpatchapel2The weather was hot. A lot of the music had a mesmerizing, monotonous quality, like when the William Winant Percussion Group played Steve Reich. Often my kids, 2 and 5, covered up their ears to make the sound go away. We kept moving before they began objecting more loudly, hastily retreating to prevent hurting anyone else's experience.

The evening made me think about music discovery. It's almost a cliche now to say there's never been a better time for the music fan thanks to the Internet. Every day there seems to be a new site that ...

...  suggests new music, pushing and prodding against people's conservative tendencies to just listen to their favorites (guilty!). There's even a music discovery site, GetBack, that will flood you with the best music and memories from your past.

A musical instrument with sensor motions I suspect that I'm like a lot of people who try new music in the same way I try new food -- grudgingly and only if it comes at me sideways, almost by accident. The Solstice concert was that perfect experience -- and I didn't have to sit still at a computer! It reminded me of quickly turning the dial of one of those old short-wave radios, letting me dip into sounds and moving on, with no strings attached.

I'd love to hear from you in comments. How do you discover new music? Friends? Radio? Movies and TV show soundtracks? Websites?

Or did you just fill your iPod in 2005 with the top 100 from the year you graduated from high school, then never look for music again? There is no shame in that. Well, not much.

-- Michelle Quinn

Top photo by Ella Lindgren via Flickr. Bottom photo by Cherri Lakey via Flickr.

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