ian christensen

Orchestra Becomes Radicalized review: Instruments of resistance

By weaving diverse voices into cohesive musical collaboration, musical collective models artistic opposition to oppression


As long as there is oppression, there are resisting voices singing out, instruments played in fervor, and messages transmitted in many different ways. With the upwelling of resistance to our current conservative political climate, how will artists step up to express their own resistance? What would that music sound like? What form would it take? Which genres would step up to the plate the most? In this new resistance, who would these artists be?

I received an answer to those questions when I heard Orchestra Becomes Radicalized’s November 29 show at Portland’s Holocene. With some of the most outstanding musicians in Portland on stage, drawing performers from local experimental, jazz, and classical scenes, the nonet, led by John Niekrasz, played a fantastic set. Personnel included Holland Andrews on voice and electronics, Luke Wyland on keyboard, Brian Mumford on guitar and electronics, Sage Fisher on harp, voice, and electronics, Jonathan Sielaff on bass clarinet, and electronics, Madelyn Villano on violin, and electronics, Andrew Jones on double bass, Ben Kates on alto saxophone, and video contributed by Vanessa Renwick. John Niekrasz took the wheel, steering the ensemble’s performance through his drum set and composition.

Orchestra Becomes Radicalized performed at Portland’s Holocene.

The orchestra demonstrated a level of awareness that tends to escape experimental groups of this size. While each musician played off each other’s melodies and improvisations, they also demonstrated an adept and tactile ability to be part of a larger whole, structurally anchored by John Niekrasz on the drum set.

The overall effect of this single long composition was like being immersed in a musical ecosystem, with each performer occupying a specific niche. The music would ebb and flow, and change in its complexity each time a new soloist came to the fore. Eventually the orchestra’s music would melt into a space of silence or come to a crashing conclusion with only one player holding onto a single, quiet note to signal a new section. Sometimes new sections would begin at the end of a drum solo, the transition executed by Niekrasz.


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