Sound science

Music of a different stripe

Percussionist Steve Schick and his Red Fish Blue Fish ensemble kicked off this year’s Fresh Sound series.
  • Percussionist Steve Schick and his Red Fish Blue Fish ensemble kicked off this year’s Fresh Sound series.
  • Image by Barbara Wise

The creative-music scene at UC San Diego has long been a magnet for adventurous musicians from all over the globe. There is a singular sense of exploration and an emphasis on the new that separates the music department at UCSD from the average conservatory. That’s all part of the plan, according to professor David Borgo. “The focus almost across the board is on contemporary music-making. It’s kind of post-1950s, the aesthetic orientation. Our students are expected to have lots of other stuff under their belts — they come to us to explore their more experimental side.”

The staff includes Borgo, award-winning new music composers Anthony Davis and Roger Reynolds, percussionist Steven Schick, and bassist Mark Dresser, who returned to San Diego after 18 years in New York to accept a position on campus. “There’s just so much activity going on here,” says Dresser via Skype, “I mean, there’s damn near a concert or two every night. It’s just relentless. That’s both invigorating and exhausting.”

“In the spring I’ll be leading the improvisation ensemble,” Borgo said. “And that means performers, composers, and computer musicians all gather and we figure out how to improvise together. It’s a negotiation, it’s a provocation, and often it’s my job to moderate and harness whatever talent is already there to see what we can do as an ensemble.”

“Contemporary” music of a different stripe brings many students to the Grammy-award-winning producer Kamau Kenyatta’s lectures. “I love being around younger people — it doesn’t seem like work,” Kenyatta told the Reader last August. “I try to learn from the students as much as I can, I don’t just stand there and talk. If a student knows something I don’t, then that’s okay. I might ask them to take over that part of the class.”

Kenyatta’s enthusiasm is echoed by Borgo. “I love performing with our grad students. I learn a lot from them and hopefully they’re learning from me.”

Dresser sees his role as twofold — with a caveat. “I can bring people in from the outside for workshops, and the other thing is to try to promote the young talent and help them develop their music — I’m not trying to make people sound like me — obviously that wouldn’t work. I want people to sound like themselves.”

Bonnie Wright at Bread and Salt

Bonnie Wright at Bread and Salt

Past Event

Fresh Sound: Kjell Nordeson

  • Friday, May 1, 2015, 7:30 p.m.
  • Bread & Salt, 1955 Julian Avenue, San Diego

New music promoter Bonnie Wright has been producing the eclectic Fresh Sound concert series since 1997. Her connections to the research university run deep, even though there is no formal relationship. “I finished my undergraduate degree in the music department as an adult student, and it’s been very important to me ever since,” Wright says. “I stay involved with the school, mostly by going to concerts. That’s what led me to starting my own series. I don’t usually feature San Diego musicians because I like to bring people in from out of town — but my upcoming spring 2015 series is all about connections with UCSD percussionists past and present. I love what Steve Schick is doing — that’s why his ensemble Red Fish Blue Fish kicked off our new year. We’ll finish up in May with the wonderful Kjell Nordeson, who is here getting his Ph.D.”

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