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A Musical Conversation with Seth Olinsky

Band Dialogue III: Saturday, March 28, 5 p.m., near Grove Street


Artist, composer and now conductor Seth Olinsky could be called a linguistic musician. Whether with experimental folk trio Akron/Family, side project Cy Dune (which performs at Treefort Music Fest on Sunday, March 29, 5 p.m., at The Water Cooler) or solo projects, Olinsky is always searching for new ways to translate the language of music as well as enhance it. In the case of Band Dialogue, he evolves it.

Band Dialogue is a multi-band composition written for 10 bands to play simultaneously. The idea for the project began germinating after Olinsky helped lead and conduct composer Rhys Chatham's dense, minimalist compositions for groups of 100 and 200 electric guitars (performed at Lincoln Center). Olinsky also took a minimalist approach to Band Dialogue, going so far as to write instructions instead of a score and assigning each band a number.

"In the first movement, for example, whenever your number band goes, the guitars or harmonic instruments play a specific D chord, bass plays D and the drums are doing a hit of bass drum, tom and crash," Olinsky said. "So when I point at Band No. 1, they all do that, then when I point at Band No. 10, they all do that ... the technical thing each musician is doing is extremely simplified but it's through the relationship and order of how we're moving those ideas around that it develops musically."

Olinsky launched the inaugural Band Dialogue during North Carolina's renowned Hopscotch Music Festival; brought Band Dialogue II to Treefort Music Fest 2014; and returns for Treefort 2015 with Band Dialogue III, which will see 10 bands or more performing in Grove and 11th streets on Saturday, March 28 at 5 p.m. The result is a rich, layered 45-minute-long work that bands only get about two hours to rehearse. Olinsky wrote it knowing that each of the musicians performing would have a different background.

Some of the instructions for Olinsky's "Band Dialogue." - PHOTO COURTESY SETH OLINSKY
  • Photo courtesy Seth Olinsky
  • Some of the instructions for Olinsky's "Band Dialogue."

"That has been the fun aspect of developing the language. ... Maybe some of the musicians have gone to conservatory and maybe some don't know much about music theory at all," Olinsky said. "It's complex on one level and very simple on other levels." Olinsky added that Band Dialogue is about creating a conversation, defining a space musically and developing a new grammar but, ultimately, "it's about having fun."

Watch below as Seth Olinsky conducts his Band Dialogue 1 at North Carolina's Hopscotch Music Festival.

Cy Dune & Friends from RJO III on Vimeo.