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December 8, 2014
Posted by Seth Boustead

Gangnam_sessionThe Relevant Tones team finally recorded two shows while on the road.  Jesse and I are in his little apartment in Seoul with a totally ghetto but amazingly effective studio setup taping shows about a festival we visited nearly five months ago.

Added bonus, we’re in the Gangnam neighborhood of Seoul!  I wanted to include that in the closing credits.  “Recorded and produced in Gangnam!”

We were thinking of playing Gangnam Style over the closing credits but decided that it might not strike the right tone…


December 1, 2014
Posted by Seth Boustead

Korean_ComposersWell Korea is the gift that just keeps on giving.  I’ve been here now for nine days and it’s been a non-stop whirlwind of concerts of traditional and experimental music and dinners and lunches with interesting composers, performers and impresarios.  Yesterday I met with the public relations manager for the Korean National Composers Association and planned a very interesting collaboration with Access Contemporary Music

For years I’ve wondered why there was no global composer membership program or entity promoting contemporary music on a more than regional basis.  There’s the American Composers Forum and the East Asia Composers League and so many more, all of them promoting music of regional composers.  But to whom are they promoting this music?  With what aim in mind?  Presumably other people interested in contemporary music in those regions already knows about the composers and the organization.

Why not promote the music outside of your region and help new audiences around the world discover new music by living composers in different countries?

This is exactly what I want to do with ACM and have been working toward for so many years, (turns out it’s harder than you might think to get this going…)  This partnership with the Korean Composers Association is the first step.  We’ll be able to get their composers heard in the United States and also by our composer members around the world and they’ll perform music by our members from other countries in Korea.

In addition we’ll gain several new members from Korea which will give us a much more significant Asian presence than we’ve had so far and we hope to create a successful model that can then be brought to other composer associations around the world.   I’m thinking that instead of calling this ACM’s Composer Membership program which is a pretty nondescript and boring name, we’ll call the program Global Connections.  That’s exactly how I’m thinking of it, a network of connections between composers, performers, audience members and music students around the world with the goal of creating, disseminating and appreciating creative music.

November 27, 2014
Posted by Seth Boustead

SejongI’ve been in Seoul South Korea for the last five days interviewing composers from the Korean Composers Association and generally having a wonderful time.  So far I’ve toured the Korean Broadcasting System including both the television and radio stations, met the dean of the music school at the Korean National University of Arts, heard a wide range of music including Korean traditional music and interviewed close than 20 composers for the two shows I’ll be doing once I return to Chicago.

Oh yeah and I was here over Thanksgiving which of course is not a big deal so I went out with a couple of others for Korean BBQ and loved it!  In fact I can say honestly that I’ve been eating like a king, perhaps even like King Sejong of 14th century Korean history.  That’s a picture of his statue above which is on a broad walkway outside of the Sejong Cultural Center leading to the former Imperial Palace which is now a museum.

Sejong was an incredible guy.  He created the Korean alphabet, revolutionized their music and gave it their national identity, apart from China, created tons of ingenious labor saving and scientific devices and was generally a wise, thoughtful, highly cultured ruler who spent his life tirelessly bettering himself and the lot of his people.  In other words he was exactly what a king should be.

He’s very much idolized here in South Korea and his legacy is everywhere evident in the respect that everyone shows to other people, the incredibly high rate of literacy and education and the many many cultural institutions throughout Seoul.  Most of my work is done and I still have four days to check out the museums and other tourist sites and I’m very much looking forward to it!

November 21, 2014
Posted by Seth Boustead

Avondale1As you may know it has long been my dream to open multiple storefront music schools throughout Chicago that teach musical creativity and the appreciation of musical creativity to students of all ages.  If you can believe it I used to think this would be easy.  Ha!

Above is a photo of a space that I fell in love with in the Avondale neighborhood and this would have been our third location for the school.  Well, it is our third location but things rapidly got complicated.  The space was huge and we couldn’t afford or use all of it so the landlord agreed to rent part of it to us on a month to month basis.  If we could come up with enough to let half the space we could sign an exclusive lease for it but if not then we could be kicked out anytime with a 30 day notice to vacate if someone else rented it.

Well that lasted exactly 16 days and then the landlord rented the entire space, including our sublet for which we had paid rent and put down a security deposit, to someone else.  He also did not tell us he had done this and he did not tell the new tenant he already had a tenant there!  The first I heard of it was when one of my teachers texted me a photo of a note from the new guy.

The first thing he does is tear up the floors and move a bunch of junk into the center so our beautiful space looked like this:
Yikes!  We have 30 students in the Avondale neighborhood so this was very bad.  I complained to the landlord and tried to get a lawyer but it was all to no avail so I started looking for a new space right away.  Fortunately the students were amazingly understanding and we didn’t lose any which is incredible.

But it takes a long time to find a commercial space in Chicago.  There are tons of storefronts but they’re all too big or too crappy or the landlord wants too much or there’s a weird smell and some kind of unidentifiable cheese  growing in the cracks of the floor that would make even a Frenchman gag.  So, it took me a little while but eventually I found a space occupied by a hair salon that was going to be moving out.


The price was right and so I signed a two year lease right away.  We’re going to put down carpet, paint and build two practice rooms and should be ready to start lessons here on December 1.  To think that I used to think that managing multiple sites would be easy!  It’s all been a very interesting learning process and, since I plan to open at least ten more, I guess I’ll be learning for a long time to come .

While all of this was happening we were renovating our Rogers Park space too.  Here are a couple of pics of the space during construction and afterward with the beautiful new carpet.   Can’t wait until the Avondale space looks like this. I never dreamed when I was in music school that I would one day know so much about renting and renovating commercial spaces.  It’s just not something they cover in the core curriculum.

Before and After:















November 14, 2014
Posted by Seth Boustead


I’m thrilled that Access Contemporary Music has chosen Warsaw composer Agnieszka Stulginska as the next recipient of our Composer Alive commission.

Composer Alive is one of my favorite projects.  I had the idea years ago when I was in Washington D.C. visiting the National Gallery and there was a huge, beautiful oil painting by John Singer Sargent (wish I could remember which one but it was a long time ago.)

On the opposite wall from the painting were about six sketches he had done in preparation for the actual work and it was an incredible insight into his creative process.  I knew right away that I wanted to do try and do something similar with music.  Years later, after I had started Access Contemporary Music, I was able to do just that with our Composer Alive project.

We ask a composer in a different region from us to write a new piece in three to four installments and to email each installment as its written.  Members of our Palomar ensemble then get together and rehearse and record each installment in front of a live audience and we post the audio to our website with comments from the composer about her creative process.

Not only is this an incredible thing for the composer to be able to take risks and try anything, knowing she can always change it in the next installment, but it’s a great inroad for the audience to hear the piece from first draft, through rewrites, to the finished product and read the composer’s thoughts along the way.

I recently traveled to Wroclaw Poland for a trip with WFMT and was very inspired by the commitment to contemporary music there. I decided right away that the next composer for this project would come from Poland. Thanks to help from the Polish Ministry of Culture we were able to listen to pieces by about a hundred composers and we decided that Agnieszka Stulginska would be perfect for the project.

Her music is colorful, inventive, rhythmically interesting and frequently uses extended techniques or electronics to create stunning new timbres and, best of all, she’s thrilled about the process of working in installments.  She’s planning to take full advantage of writing the piece this way and we are all very excited to hear what she comes up with.

We’ll receive a new installment each month from January to March 2015 and record them in salon-style settings in private homes.  If you’d like to attend one of the rehearsals, check here for the full schedule.   Every year when the new installment arrives in my email inbox I feel like a kid in a candy shop.  This is going to be so much fun!




October 31, 2014
Posted by Seth Boustead

Screen shot 2014-10-31 at 11.31.04 AM

I was composing at home recently and got a text from one of ACM’s teachers that CNN had left a message on the voicemail.  He was clearly excited about it and had told others who were excited and the whole thing was rather mysterious.  I mean, that’s big press!

So I called back to see what it was and, as it turns out they are doing a series on innovation in different cities and had chosen to start in Chicago and came across us on the Chicago Innovation Awards which we were up for at the time.  An organization looking to redefine how people think of and access contemporary music was interesting to them and so they called.

We wound up doing a video shoot about our Open House project which commissions composers to write music inspired by landmark spaces and then have musicians perform the music in the space for crowds of people.

My experience, though, was mixed.  They were more interested in presenting us as a kind of flash mob that performs music in train stations for harried commuters than in really understanding the Open House project.  They didn’t have any reverence for the space and they cited bogus statistics that reinforce the stereotype that classical music is dying.

But hundreds of people saw it in the first hour that it was posted.  It is CNN Money after all.  Is that a good thing or a bad thing for ACM and for classical music in general?

October 23, 2014
Posted by Seth Boustead


This is a terrible photo and I apologize but it was tough to get a good shot with those obnoxious light bulbs strung overhead and this was the best angle I could find.

ACM musicians are performing Tim Corpus’ piece Letters Home in a long-shuttered part of Union Station as part of Open House Chicago.  In the 1920’s and ’30’s this was the ‘Women’s Lounge’ as waiting areas were actually segregated back then by gender.

In just the hour or so that I was here there were well over 400 people who heard Tim’s music.  Since the musicians were there for three hours total playing the music every 15 minutes, and traffic was steady, that means that Tim’s piece was heard by 1,200 people more or less.

Open House Chicago is my favorite time of the year.  This year we had composers write music for five different spaces and had musicians playing the music every 15 minutes in all of them.  It’s just an incredible experience to play newly commissioned music for so many people who are so appreciative of what’s happening.

This year two of the composers traveled to be present, one from Texas and the other all the way from Edinburgh Scotland.  I’ll have the videos soon and will post them.

The other great thing about Open House is the launch party they throw every year in unique spaces that most of us would otherwise never see.  This year it was in this former law library turned bar.



October 16, 2014
Posted by Seth Boustead


Tonight’s concert is here in the spectacular Leopold room at Aula Leopoldina at Wroclaw university.  I took this photo about fifteen minutes before the concert began.  By the time it started the room was packed with people, easily 200 hundred people came out for this one concert.  There are at least three concerts every day for World Music Days and, as far as I can tell, they’re all packed.

Tonight’s concert features composers using electronics from Japan, Slovenia, Sweden, Russia, Finland, Mexico and Poland.  All of the performances have been great and the enthusiasm here for new music is absolutely incredible.  For a person coming from the U.S. where you have to bribe people to get them out to contemporary music concerts this is amazing.

And yes, I usually do bribe people to get them to my concerts…

October 12, 2014
Posted by Seth Boustead


I got into Wroclaw last night for the World Music Days festival just in time to head to the river with two others to hear a unique performance of music from two boats on the river in front of the famous cathedral.  It was quite an experience!

I thought at first that they had musicians on the boat and that they were amplified but no, as it turns out I was hearing the actual ship’s horns reconfigured to play musical scales.  The boats motored around the inlet and performed in synch with each other which was incredible.  They played mostly minimalist works although the only piece I actually recognized was Six Pianos by Steve Reich.

Below is audio that the producer of Relevant Tones Jesse McQuarters captured on the spot.  What a way to start the festival!

September 29, 2014
Posted by Seth Boustead









I recently watched two excellent documentaries, Jodorowsky’s Dune and Woody Allen: A Documentary, within a week of each other and it really got me thinking about the contrasts between these two personalities, not only artistically but also in their working styles.  There’s an interesting polarity in their approach to creating art.

Jodorowsky is obsessive, consumed with the idea of making the perfect movie version of Dune.  He’s so obsessed that he absolutely won’t settle for anything less than perfection. He forces his son to train with a sword intensively for two years for the role of Paul Atreides, insists on working only with major artists like Salvador Dali, Orson Welles, Pink Floyd and Mick Jagger, his production budget balloons out of control and ultimately the project is given to another director and the movie is never made.

Woody Allen, on the other hand, gets up every day and writes a screenplay and, when that’s finished, he directs the movie and has made a movie a year for most of his long life.  He doesn’t do the casting himself, he seldom gives direction to the cast, he often only does one take of each scene and he’s the first to admit that he doesn’t worry overly much about quality. If the film is good that’s great, if not then it’s on to the next one.

There’s something very attractive to me in both qualities.  Of course I love the Jodorowsky level of obsession, the manic gleam in the eye and the strict refusal to compromise your artistic vision, but I also like Woody Allen’s workmanlike approach to creating art. There’s something amazing, and very freeing, in the idea of getting up each day and creating art and letting others decide if it’s any good or not.

Jodorowsky embodies the old school idea of the crazy, passionate artist so it’s somewhat ironic that his masterpiece was never finished.  And of course if it had been finished it could never have lived up to the vision he had for it.  The breathtakingly audacious vision he had for this is the art, the reality could only have been a letdown.

Woody Allen, on the other hand, isn’t afraid of the inevitable letdown of making a vision real, creating a material copy of the perfect vision in the artist’s mind.  This idea of bringing an artistic vision into the world fascinates me because it can only suffer by being made concrete, you lose so much in the translation from mind to reality, but at the same time that’s what being an artist is.  Everyone has great creative power, few go through the tortuous process of trying to express that creativity in the form of art communicable to others.

Jodorowsky’s reach well exceeded his grasp and his great film was never made, but the story of his vision is incredibly inspiring.  There’s very little inspiration in the vision of Woody Allen but his best films are wonderfully moving.  Does it matter if that happened accidentally?  Does it matter that there are three times as many bad Woody Allen films as good ones?  It’s an interesting contrast.

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