"You won't hear anything: you'll hear everything," is how avant-garde musician John Cage described his events known as Musicircus. First performed in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Musicircus began as an invitation for artists to come together in a space and perform whatever they chose, simultaneously. If you missed those original happenings half a century ago, Cage's event is the inspiration for MusiCircus at OZ Arts Nashville, happening this week as part of OZ's Thursday Night Things local spotlight series.
"John Cage absolutely stretched the definition of music and performance, and he did a lot of experimentation with non traditional settings," explains Colleen Phelps, who curated the event. She spoke to us about why Cage's format was a great fit for showcasing Nashville artists and what audiences can expect when they come.
Phelps, an active musician herself, sees MusiCircus as an opportunity to give local artists more performance opportunities. "The thing that inspires me quite a bit in Nashville is the fact that there's a really rich, large community in classical music," she explains, "and I don't think it always gets the large stage it deserves."
Short of a organizing a large-scale music festival, Phelps and OZ Artistic Director Lauren Snelling decided an event like MusiCircus could spotlight a large number of performers in a limited amount of time. And while Phelps admits that having so many performances happen simultaneously is "a lot at once," she says the format can can end up providing a more intimate experience.
Without the traditional divide between a seated audience and performers on a stage, attendees will be provided with a map and can self-guide through designated areas inside OZ, experiencing each performance in a unique way.
While the roster is anchored by musicians, the event includes a wide array of talent, ranging from the aerialists of Suspended Gravity Circus and the installation art of Tank 615 to the literary work of the Porch Writers' Collective. Classical music lovers can find performances by Portara Ensemble, Strings of Saturn, solo work by members of some of Nashville's leading chamber ensembles, and much more.
Even bathroom breaks will be art-filled, as episodes of Versify, the podcast collaboration between The Porch's Poetry on Demand and WPLN, will be piped into OZ's restrooms.
Phelps is excited about how the artists' close proximity and simultaneous performances will influence and overlap with each other. In some cases, she even put some of them in touch prior to the event, like Portara Artistic Director Jason Shelton and Epiphany Dance*Partners Artistic Directer Lisa Spradley. As a result, audiences can see two local ensembles in a unique collaboration, with Epiphany dancers reacting to and interacting with Portara's vocalists.
With such a unique, choose-your-own-adventure format, no audience member will have the same experience. Phelps says that's part of the draw: "It's definitely something you come to if you want to be surprised," she explains. "You can go see one thing and really stick with it, or if it's not for you, you just walk a few feet and see something completely different."