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wasteLAnd and rest of new music scene in L.A. is thriving with a lowercase T

Mark Swed
Contact ReporterLos Angeles Times Music Critic

More people may have been waiting in line Friday night at Wurstküche, the popular sausage place in the arts district downtown, than had come to hear the southland ensemble give an illuminating concert of Fluxus works down the street at Arts Share L.A.

On Saturday night, parts of Orange Grove Avenue were not closed off simply because of a concert by gnarwhallaby at Neighborhood Unitarian Universalist Church in Pasadena. There happened to be a gala screening celebrating the 30th anniversary of "Back to the Future" at the Gamble House next door, where part of the movie was shot and where there was a display of classic DeLorean cars in front.

Late Sunday afternoon, only a dozen or so people gathered at the wulf (new music Angelenos  favor lowercase names at the moment) to hear electronic music. Just up the street on newly fashionable South Santa Fe Avenue, downtown street coffee bars and restaurants were hopping.

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FOR THE RECORD:

New music scene: A photo caption accompanying a July 29 article in the Calendar section about the wasteLAnd series, which celebrates the new music scene in Los Angeles, misspelled photographer Tina Tallon's last name as Talon. —
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Don't be fooled by the small numbers, the often casual surroundings (the wulf is a loft with a sofa, pillows on the floor and plastic chairs), cheap ticket prices ($10 max) and casual settings where shorts are fine and skinny jeans less common. These are our musical pioneers.

The new music scene, mostly but not exclusively centered downtown, is thriving, so much so that choices had to be made over the weekend, where there were a number of competing concerts. A new arrival for once-sleepy July is a summer season of wasteLAnd, which continues this weekend with striking programs of outer space-inspired music at the peculiar Velaslavasay Panorama near USC and with sharp-edged German, Austrian and L.A. music.

The gnarwhallaby concert was also part of the wasteLAnd series. The group — clarinet, trombone, cello and piano — are members of the orchestral collective wild Up. They wear special jumpsuits, a nice, non-hipster touch. Another orchestra member, who operates solarc brewing (lowercase all around), came up with a special limited edition brew in honor of the series, waste(d)LAnd.

The news at Neighborhood Church was the premiere of David Brynjar Franzson's "The Cartography of Time." The Icelandic composer, who lives in Brooklyn, relied on irregularly timed long notes, the instrumental tones subtly altered by electronics. It lasted 40 minutes and hardly a person in the quiet hall stirred. Rather than nostalgically back to the future, Franzson quotes Wittgenstein's attitude about time, noting that "the present can't be measured for it has no extension."

On the other hand, southland has a flair for going back to the future by bringing to new life neglected experimental works from the '60s and '70s. The young players treated the anarchic Fluxus works from the early '60s with an encouraging degree of genuine understanding and captivating deadpan humor.

A drummer knocked the stuffing from a pillow. Ensemble members picked up their instruments on an upbeat and limply fell to the ground on a downbeat, and that was the piece. In Alison Knowles' "Nivea Cream Piece" was the sound (and smell) of amplified hands rubbed in the lotion. George Brecht's "Drip Music (Drip Event)" was the sound (and smell) of coffee brewing. The evening was entrancing and touching.

At the wulf, Mark So, a composer influenced by Fluxus, made his own stab at bringing our avant-garde back to the future. He played electronic text collages by the L.A. composer Elaine Barkin and also his own "Flow Chart," in which he turned on three old portable cassette players. The recordings were of a reading of John Ashbery's book-length poem with atmospheric background noise. The result was a kind of drone that filled the space with strangely appealing resonance.

I didn't hear the whole thing, 45 minutes seemed about enough, but So's is a striking experiment. And one had to be grateful for the amazing text to Barkin's "on the way to becoming," which opened the concert.

"On the way to becoming we most of us try others on," the piece begins. "Or invent new starts," it later suggests.

Joining in on the new summer starts (and no doubt trying others on), REDCAT gets in on the act Thursday with the beginning of its three-week New Original Works Festival.

"The trick is to move on," Barkin ended another piece Sunday. May the predictable fancy restaurants, noisy bars and hipster clothes shops invading downtown take note.

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