By Daniel Buckwalter

Well, that was a whirlwind weekend of intellectual barnstorming.

The second annual New Music Festival, put on by Eugene Difficult Music Ensemble, came to a close Sunday afternoon, Oct. 15, at First Christian Church in downtown Eugene after three days of jovial, moody, lyrical, sometimes clangy and always thoughtful vignettes.

The festival began on the chilly and damp evening of Oct. 13 outside the Farmers Market Pavilion with guest sound artists M Denny, Don Haugen, Jennifer Wright, and Free Static along with psychedelic projections from Robert Long that responded to the live sound of the performers.

Performances moved inside to WOW Hall on Saturday and First Christian Church on Sunday. Those performances were controlled chaos — and wonderful to absorb — led by EDME’s executive director JP Lempke and showcasing compositions that were submitted from around the country.

It was a fusion of music’s ivory tower sensibilities with sound and visual experimentation that brought to mind scenes of passion, love, loneliness and street life as well as nature walks and bird migrations.

If you’re more accustomed to the vast storytelling of chamber and symphonic music (as well as operas), it’s best to approach EDME’s take on music as if you’re reading a fiction short story, or even micro-short story fiction of, say, 500 to 1,000 words.

The music performed are short takes that can play with music itself (Wach ya HAYDN?! by Mikhail Johnson with Lempke on the piano), friendship (Flowers from Nashville by David Huang Mailman with bassoonist Tyler Kashow), an interpretation of bird migration (Flightpath by Anuj Bhutani with the EDME quartet) and the hauntingly beautiful Dialogue by Andrea Montalbano with Mallory Wood on flute.

Another favorite was 52 Blue by Chin Ting Chan, a lonely piece about an unidentified species of whale that has a singing frequency of 52 hertz, far above the blue whale’s typical range of 10 to 40 hertz.

Jayne Cronin on double bass, performing Blue 52

First detected by sensors off the coast of California in 1989, 52 Blue has, to date, yet to find a mate, a gloomy prospect because whales are social animals. The moody play of Jayne Cronin on double bass, coupled with synthesized oceanic soundscapes, gives 52 Blue a sadness that makes the listener truly feel for the whale.

This is just a sample of the 16 pieces performed Saturday and Sunday. For many and varied reasons, the three-day New Music Festival was my first experience with EDME. It won’t be my last, and I encourage everyone to support its future projects.

Editor’s Note: Following is a description by the group about their origins and goals, from their website,

Mission: The Eugene Difficult Music Ensemble performs and commissions underrepresented experimental works in order to open ears and minds. We work to expand the definition of what music can be and what music is capable of achieving, as well as who is capable of achieving it.

EDME was started in 2019 as a trio (soon turned quartet) that performed bizarre music in Eugene, Oregon, USA. Pre-COVID, we co-curated new music nights at venues not normally associated with composed music. We bridged the worlds of trained and untrained musicians, demonstrating the ways music unites us. These shows diligently provided program notes about composers and scores to audience members, whether performing in yoga studios, dive bars, game shops, or concert halls. Our Graphic Score Evocations, involving collective music-making through non-traditional notation, began drawing a following before COVID struck.

Our group maintained a commitment to music as a medium for all throughout the pandemic. We started a YouTube channel, now hosting 29 videos, and performed at outdoor events like LAC’s Open Air Studios, three ArtCity BEAM events, and First Fridays. We provided the soundtrack to a video installation at the Gordon Hotel’s Dimensions Between exhibition in June 2021. Our 2021 and 2022 Porchfest concerts featured the works of non-white and LGBTQ+ composers. Our livestreamed performance for Seattle’s New Works Project in September 2020 invited audience participants to a Zoom-style Graphic Score Evocation.

In May 2021, our Eugene Garbage Project live-streamed to a global audience. This event turned local residents into artistic contributors. We collected trash from the community and recorded sounds and visuals with it. This media became a concert-length work for voice and electronics broadcast from Eugene Contemporary Art on YouTube, and rebroadcast as part of BrainRave in July 2021. In October 2021, we converted the work into an interactive installation for BEAM. Audience members controlled the sounds and visuals on their own through motion-capture technology. We participated in BEAM the following year with our prepared light-up piano, programmed and installed with lights by EDME.
Following this event, our first annual New Music Festival brought guest artists, audience participation pieces, and novel experimental music to Eugene residents at different downtown locations. Female-identifying, LGBTQ+, and non-white composers were featured strongly among the 23 selected composers and guest artists. Our performers, alongside five guest musicians and a projection artist, served over 150 audience members during the three-concert series.