(Re)New Amsterdam: an Interview with Doyle Armbrust

As many of you know, during Storm Sandy New Amsterdam Presents and New Amsterdam Records’s headquarters in Red Hook, Brooklyn was decimated by flooding. Ever since, the label’s staff, led by co-directors William Brittelle, Judd Greenstein, and Sarah Kirkland Snider, have been working on rebuilding. Not only have they been concerned with their own business, but the community minded folks at New Amsterdam have also been advocating for aid to help their neighborhood in Red Hook.

New Amsterdam’s plight hasn’t gone unnoticed by the broader new music community. And not just in New York. On December 16th, Chicago musicians are presenting (Re)New Amsterdam (ticket info here), a benefit to raise money for the organization. One of the concert’s organizers, Doyle Armbrust, violist, writer, and curator of the (Un)Familiar Music Series at Chicago’s Empty Bottle, spoke with Sequenza 21 about the show.

Christian Carey: Hi Doyle. Thanks for taking the time to tell us about the upcoming benefit for New Amsterdam Records. How did the idea emerge for musicians to give a concert in Chicago to help out a record label that’s based in Red Hook, Brooklyn?


Doyle Armbrust: The idea for a New Amsterdam fundraiser came from the generous brain of Marcos Balter, whose scores have been recorded on the New Am label. This year, I’ve launched a new-music series, (Un)familiar Music, with the sole purposes of artist advocacy and breaking the new-music scene out of the concert hall setting. With its policies of allowing artists to retain the rights to their music as well as 80% of an album’s proceeds, the philosophies of New Am and (Un)familiar are wonderfully congruous. It was an obvious fit as Marcos and I saw it. Much more important than all of that, though, the Chicago new-music scene is a far more collaborative than competitive one. We believe in this often quixotic and illusory career path, and specifically the music being written today, and when we hear that our colleagues in another state are suffering, our hearts break. I moved back to Chicago after living in Los Angeles and Miami in large part because I missed this compassionate spirit of my home city. I’m grateful that the passionate response by the new-music community here has proved the point for me once again.



CC: How did you go about assembling the artists putting on the show? Which groups are participating?


DA: Once we secured the date with The Empty Bottle, (Un)familiar’s home base, calls and emails went out to just about every new-music ensemble in Chicago…and just about every new-music in ensemble immediately agreed to play. In some cases we have members of ensembles performing solo works, or smaller chamber pieces, due to availability and the size of the venue, but the program is an absolute knockout. Performers include: Abominable Twitch / Access Contemporary Music / Can I Get An Amen / Chicago Q Ensemble / CUBE / Dojo / Eighth Blackbird / Ensemble Dal Niente / Ensemble Vulpine Lupin / Fifth House Ensemble / Fulcrum Point / Gaudete Brass / Grant Wallace Band / Searchl1te / Spektral Quartet / Third Coast Percussion.



CC: Was there a collaborative or thematic aspect to selecting the program? Any highlights among the selections you’d like to preview for us?

DA: When programming (Un)familiar shows, my aim is to have the ensembles perform whatever they are most amped about. Marcos and I have continued that trend here, and I’m happy to report there will be no filler anywhere in this 4-hour show. I can’t possibly pick a most-anticipated entry, because the setlists are so dynamite. That said, as a Beat Furrer fanatic, I’m looking forward to hearing Ensemble Vulpine Lupin (a recent addition to the Chicago family) dig into “Invocation VI” and because this is a Cage year, I can’t wait to see Third Coast Percussion destroy with “Third Construction.”

CC: Any chance that the concert will be recorded?

WFMT will be recording the concert.

CC: What ways would you suggest non-Chicagoans help New Amsterdam and others affected by Storm Sandy?


DA: I wouldn’t presume to tell folks specifically how to donate, but I will say that I did have a wrestling match in my cranium over the often fraught issue of aid. There will always be someone in more dire need of assistance, as there is in the case of now-homeless victims of Sandy. I can also return from a record-buying binge and realize that someone won’t eat today, but I HAD to have that Harry Partch first-pressing. It’s a constant hypocrisy that most of us deal with on a daily basis. In the case of this event, I see an opportunity to help in some small way fellow musicians with whom I share similar artistic struggles. I have resources to magnify that aid, through my series and the generosity of my friends here in Chicago. We can rally together and throw a monster of a concert that people will excitedly pay to come witness. Together, through this incredible music we’ve dedicated our lives to championing, we can effect some tiny degree of relief.



Keeping Jersey Strong: A Hurricane Benefit Comp

For $5 (or more if you’re so inclined) you can purchase Keep Jersey Strong: A Hurricane Benefit Comp from Bandcamp. It includes 53 tracks by area artists, including Real Estate, The Everymen, Cinema Cinema, Nicole Atkins, and more. All of the proceeds go to the American Red Cross’s efforts to help victims of Storm Sandy.

Carrie Newcomer: “Everything is Everywhere” (Video)

Proceeds from Carrie Newcomer’s latest CD, Everything is Everywhere, benefit the Interfaith Hunger Initiative (IHI), an all-volunteer not-for-profit organization bringing together two dozen faith communities in the Indianapolis area who work together to end child and family hunger. Buy the recording on her website.

Merge Celebrates Twenty Years with a Compilation that Benefits Fourteen (!) Charities

ScoreIt’s hard to believe that Merge Records has been around for twenty years. In 1989, the imprint was started by Superchunk’s Mac McCaughan to release the band’s recordings and assorted side projects. Merge has since grown into one of the most successful indie concerns around.To celebrate twenty years in the record business, they’ve released Score, a compilation of songs by Merge artists covered by Non-Merge artists. A host of prominent participants include the Shins, Broken Social Scene, Death Cab for Cutie, and the New Pornographers. Proceeds benefit fourteen charities, chosen by the collection’s curators.

The comp is cause for philanthropists to rejoice; music fans too! St. Vincent joins forces with the National on an affecting rendition of Crooked Fingers’ “Sleep all Summer.” Apples in Stereo supply a peppy version of Neutral Milk Hotel’s “King of Carrot Flowers, Pt. 3.” Barbara Manning provides an ardent, rousing take of Portastatic’s “Through with People.” Magnetic Fields’ “Yeah! Oh Yeah!” receives a suitably spare bedroom pop reading, an eloquently lyrical duet from Tracey Thorn and Jens Lekman. Meanwhile, Death Cab for Cutie works a bit against type, trading their often ethereal arranging aesthetic for a bit more grit and darker hues on Superchunk’s “Kicked In.” Overall, an impeccably selected collection of cover songs, featuring a variety of (frequently interesting)approaches: what’s not to like?
CarouselSave a Carousel

Some of my happiest moments as a child were on the old carousel at Nunley’s Arcade on Long Island: riding the horses around the loop; gazing with a mixture of excitement, awe, and a bit of fear at the carved lions and tigers.    A close second was the tire swing:
I hope some readers will consider voting to help restore the Paragon Carousel, favorite haunt of Merge artists Neutral Milk Hotel! Details from the press release are below.
The Paragon Carousel  is a beautiful machine  that has been my dear neighbor for many moons.  Now  81 years old, it is in need of a little love and attention in order for it to survive.  
It is my  sincere wish for the Paragon Carousel to be a part of the magic of long seaside summer afternoons for many years to come.  But it might not get to.  Unfortunately, we live in a world where the great whirling contraptions of mechanical music and light are not as profitable to operate as other things, and carousels are worth much more taken apart and sold in pieces to museums, where one  must pay to look at them behind glass, rather  than having  them simply existing in the world that we now all share.    
I spoke with Jeff and Scott and Jeremy about this and they  agreed that I should, on behalf of  Neutral Milk Hotel,  make an appeal to the good people who might have enjoyed the music made over the years, because we think you’d understand especially, and want to help.    
We humbly ask you to  vote!

The Paragon Carousel is competing with 24 other historic Massachussettes buildings for a grant of   $100,000. The historic site with the most votes wins, and anyone anywhere can vote. We would love it if by our collective effort we could ensure the continuation of this grand place.  It only takes a moment and you can do so  here

You are allowed to vote once a day  until  May 17th . Your vote means a great deal to all of us at Elephant Six. Places like this are  so special. They deserve to exist in the same world that we do. So we can visit them with our bodies,  not just our memories and dreams.  

We’d like to thank you for your help and for spreading the word.

 ~Julian Koster  with Jeff Mangum on behalf of Neutral Milk Hotel