Anyone can play their heart out in this interactive virtual orchestra

Artist and
Artist and musician Joshua-Michéle Ross’s desk view as he narrates a live “The Adjacent Possible” session.
(Courtesy of Joshua-Michéle Ross)

If you can’t read sheet music, don’t worry. You’re still a musician in “The Adjacent Possible” orchestra.

The free interactive musical performance, hosted by the Grand Central Art Center in Santa Ana, kicked off this month and will run through May.

Joshua-Michéle Ross, Adam Brick and Adam Lucas have made a virtual experience drawing from theater, storytelling, improv and tech — all ending with a published piece of music that goes on to live on their website.

Each 45-minute session gathers 20 people over Zoom at first. There’s no need for a microphone or a camera. No names will pop up on screen. It’s all anonymous.

“I think [anonymity] can free your mind to go deeper into your imagination a bit more,” Lucas said. “It kind of loosens your self consciousness a little bit.”

John Spiak, the Grand Central Art Center’s director, said the project was a good fit for the center because it’s about social engagement and audiences can feel like they are in a room with 20 people.

Ross’s calm voice guides participants along to a separate website where the theater experience begins. One enters first through the backstage area and then moves to the green room. Musicians choose an instrument and play in a brief rehearsal before the performance starts.

On Thursday evening, my digital instrument was cloud, one of the air-themed choices. Other instruments, all seemingly named with a nature in mind, sounded like wind chimes, chirping birds, waves and heartbeats.

The improvised performances are recorded and come to an end at random when a participant hits a button at the center of the screen titled “The End.”

“There is no coming back from the end,” Ross warned before the performance.

My performance abruptly ended after three minutes or so, making it the shortest they’ve ever had. Ross said musicians normally sit for eight to 10 minutes.

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Musicians joined from Irvine, Michigan, New York and Canada on Thursday. But Brick said the orchestra has reached five continents and 25 countries so far. Their goal is to reach all continents.

The title of the project comes from theoretical biologist Stuart Kaufman’s work. Kaufman coined the term “adjacent possible” to explain how organisms evolve into larger systems by seeking out numerous possibilities within their environment.

Ross said the project uses instruments that don’t have a lot of functionality to explore how “collectively as a community, you’re able to make something entirely unique through your contribution of what’s possible for you.”

Initially, Ross began “The Adjacent Possible” as an in-person performance in 2019. But then he adapted it into a virtual experience with the help of Brick and Lucas.

“In a pre-pandemic world, it felt celebratory and joyful because playing loud music together was fun,” Ross said. “When the pandemic hit, it shifted to be about finding community and possibility.”

Current social context makes some self-reflective aspects of the musical experience feel like a thermometer of the pandemic psyche.

Although the three collaborators on the project have musical backgrounds and met as colleagues in New York, they connected over the internet from their respective locations in New York, Missouri and London to create the virtual orchestra.

Brick handled technology and Lucas took on design. Over time and with survey feedback, the orchestra has evolved. Brick said they are on version 88 of the app.

March sessions are nearly sold out. April and May dates will be posted soon and may be extended to June. Once the pandemic is over Ross, Brick and Lucas may develop the project further at Grand Central in a residency.

If you go

What: “The Adjacent Possible”

When: Scheduled dates through May; advance registration is required

Where: Online

Cost: Free


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