A few months ago, there was a scandal in experimental music, when streaming service Spotify was accused of packing its popular ambient playlists with anonymous artists who had millions of plays but no apparent fanbase. Some suspected a royalty-skirting ruse; others decried the cheapening of experimental music as a bulk commodity for unwinding on the couch.
It embodied what composers here are up against when there’s exploding demand for music and streaming media, but it’s also hard to get fans to leave the home and pay attention.
One way that the seven composers behind the Echo Society have fought back is to give experimental music a sense of place. This weekend is the sixth installment and first festival-length performance of their popular series — this one titled “Family,” at a Silver Lake hilltop mansion. It’s in part a subtle dig at today’s omnipresent background music.
“When you hear something live, it adds a physical dimension and a very visceral reaction. That’s what people respond to, and if you’re just duplicating it for money, that doesn’t add anything,” said Benjamin Wynn, a co-founding composer who records as Deru.
“If you’re there in the room, you’re part of creating that [piece],” added co-founder Rob Simonsen, who worked on the Oscar-winning score for “Life of Pi,” among others. “I think it’s more impactful than just listening to a recording at home.”
That’s part of the wit behind the premise of holding “Family” at, well, a really nice home.
Since 2013, the seven composers have thrived on bringing their accessibly avant-garde ideas into spaces outside formal concert halls (their last one was at the Ace Hotel in downtown L.A.).
Crowds have grown from a few hundred into several thousand, and alongside like-minded peers like L.A. Dance Project, the Wild Up orchestra and the Industry (the group behind the roving opera “Hopscotch”), they’ve bridged contemporary music with L.A.’s relaxed, exploratory culture.
For many left-leaning artists, however, last year’s presidential election resulted in an uncertain feeling as to art’s role in an increasingly divisive climate.
“After the election we were like, ‘Why do this? Why make art? What’s the point?,’ ” Wynn admitted. “But we saw a lack of communication in our country that kind of sounded like a dysfunctional family.”
That spurred the concept for their new festival.
“Family” is their most intimate yet demanding undertaking yet. The three-day set will bring 14 artists into the fold alongside the core group of performers. Most are on an axis of progressive new music with indie-friendly appeal (Julianna Barwick, Heather McIntosh, Morgan Kibby, Drum & Lace and Minna Choi among them), with a huge array of film and TV work among them.
Everyone arranged new material under the loose guidance of the weekend’s titular theme. Half the fun of the event is the purposefully unstructured informality. Fans are invited to wander the rooms of the Silver Lake home and dip in and out as the artists perform individual sets.
“With the internet, everything is so accessible at home,” Wynn said. “We wanted to make that experience more memorable.”
It should add up to a sense of live music — a fundamentally public, attention-demanding act — performed in someone else’s private space. That’s an intimacy and understanding we don’t get a lot of these days, in live music or otherwise.
“Everyone had to solve the problem of how to fill seven different rooms with music,” Simonsen said. “It really crystallized the idea of being at home with a family, where there’s seven different members having a completely different experience all inside the same house.”
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Echo Society VI: Family
Where: A Silver Lake mansion (location revealed to ticket holders)
When: Friday (5 and 9 p.m.), Saturday (3 and 7:30 p.m.) and Sunday (1 and 5:30 p.m.)
Cost: $35 (Friday, 5 p.m. only); $75
[For The Record: 4:07 p.m. Oct. 18. An earlier version of this story referred to Rom Simonsen as an Oscar-winning composer. He contributed to the Oscar-winning score for the film “Life of Pi.”]
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