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The Echo Society celebrates local music by local composers through one-of-a-kind live experiences

The Echo Society celebrates local music by local composers through one-of-a-kind live experiences
The Echo Society pauses during a rehearsal for its annual concert. Front row, from left: Brendan Angelides, Nathan Johnson, Judson Crane. Back row, from left: Joseph Trapanese, Benjamin Wynn, Jeremy Zuckerman and Rob Simonsen. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

A cadre of young and rising Hollywood talent responsible for scoring such films and TV series as "Foxcatcher," "Straight Outta Compton," "Looper" and "Billions" has had its work heard by millions around the globe. Yet here at home these composers felt like they weren't being heard.

"We had gone to some shows — one was an L.A. Phil show celebrating Brooklyn, and previously they had done all these Nordic concerts," said "Straight Outta Compton" composer Joseph Trapanese. "We just got frustrated with how there aren't many concerts in L.A. celebrating local music by local composers."

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So, these seven L.A. composers, all in their 30s and 40s, teamed up to create the Echo Society — the name inspired by the way sound bounces off structures and restrictions. Their first show in 2013 at Mack Sennett Studios set the template: a one-night program of new pieces by each member (and sometimes guest artists), each five to 10 minutes in length, blending orchestra and electronics and synched to a visual display.

Their fifth show, simply titled "V," will take place Wednesday at the 1,600-seat Theatre at Ace Hotel, the group's largest venue yet.

"We thought there was this niche we could fill," member Benjamin Wynn said, "somewhere in between pure concert music and electronic music, and we could present it in such a way that it was a bit more casual than going to a symphony hall, and it could be a fun hang."

Wynn is an Emmy-winning sound editor and recording artist (working under the name Deru) , and Trapanese is a busy film composer ("Allegiant") and orchestrator ("Tron: Legacy"). The group also includes: Nathan Johnson (composer of "Looper"), Rob Simonsen (composer on "Foxcatcher"), arranger and musician Judson Crane, Jeremy Zuckerman ("Avatar: The Last Airbender"), and Brendan Angelides ("Billions" composer and recording artist under the name Eskmo).

For the Echo Society's inaugural concert, the instrumental palette was a 10-piece chamber ensemble; for the ambitious "V," it will be an orchestra of 40. This year the group abandoned the quest to have a theme in hopes of spawning more diversity among works, yet a theme emerged anyway: "the idea of spirit into matter," Wynn said.

Echo Society concerts are, by design, an ephemeral experience: one-night only, no recordings.

"If you could be there, great. If you can't, then you weren't there," Trapanese said. "After our show, the music just doesn't exist. It only exists as a memory."

The visual element, which has included light shows and projection mapping (projecting images onto 3-D surfaces for dimension or illusion), emerged organically.

"I would die if that ever felt gimmicky," Simonsen said. "A lot of us are film composers, so I think there's an inherent connection between visuals and music. I've experienced arguably stronger reactions to something when those two things are together and synchronized. You're just incorporating more senses."

Added Trapanese: "There's a big difference between seeing a concert that has something visually arresting, versus spending 30 bucks and sitting up in the nosebleeds and looking at people in tuxes in a bright room."

The collective has become as much about bringing hybrid, experimental new music to L.A. as it is offering a playground and support group for its members. In previous years, Echo Society members wouldn't hear one another's pieces until rehearsal, but this year they've been holding salons for critiquing works in progress and offering encouragement.

"In many ways, we're peers and a lot of us are scoring movies, so we might be up for the same project," Simonsen said. "Something [Wynn] has said a lot is how much more powerful it is to build something together instead of being in competition."

Although they are guns-for-hire going after some of the same jobs, members of the Echo Society recall an earlier generation when the likes of young John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith were on staff in studio music departments.

"They were these little communities," Simonsen said, "the equivalent of us, but we'd all be employed, and we'd all go have lunch in the commissary. ... We'd go to the SmokeHouse [in Burbank] and have drinks after work and talk."

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The collective serves as an escape and an incubator.

"It's very easy for us to get frustrated with the life of a film composer, how difficult it is to get work, and how bands are scoring movies," said Trapanese, who himself has orchestrated the scores for the bands Daft Punk and M83.

"People go, 'Why are they getting artists to score movies?' I'll respond and say, 'Why aren't you an artist?' When I get hired to do a film, I want to be hired for my artistic value. The Echo Society provides a safe venue for me to develop my voice as an artist that then I can take back to a project and be a better artist."

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The Echo Society

Where: The Theatre at Ace Hotel, 929 S. Broadway, Los Angeles

When: 8 p.m. Wednesday

Tickets: $35-$150

Info: (213) 623-3233 or www.theechosociety.com

Follow The Times' arts team @culturemonster.

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