Sometimes an artistic subculture emerges in a particular time and place spontaneously, like a patch of weeds. Other times, it needs cultivation.
When it comes to Santa Cruz and its long relationship with avant-garde and experimental music, the newest cultivator is a nonprofit called Indexical, which began in Brooklyn but relocated to Santa Cruz in 2015.
Indexical is planning to make noise in town this summer with an intriguing concert at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center, a vocal workshop at Henry Cowell State Park and an ambitious collaborative project to take place outside on West Cliff Drive.
“Our basic goal with Indexical,” explains Andrew Smith, the organization’s executive director, “is to create an experimental music scene here and to be a resource to help it grow. We also want to connect musicians in Santa Cruz with people in other cities, and bring people from other cities to Santa Cruz to give them a chance to experience this town.”
One of those people is Indexical’s first artist in residence, Mexico-born experimental vocalist Carmina Escobar, who leads a Mexico City ensemble and is on the faculty of the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts). On June 29, Escobar kicks off her residency with a workshop and performance outdoors at Henry Cowell called The Voices from Within Into the World. The all-day workshop (11 a.m. to 7 p.m.) will explore the dimension of the human voice in space through games, exercises and improv activitIes.
Escobar will then turn her attention to the creation of a site-specific work called Feast of Beams: Keeper of Light in collaboration with local artists and Indexical curators Madison Heying and Laura Steenberge, to take place at Lighthouse Point on West Cliff Drive on Saturday, Aug. 10.
“There will be multiple things happening,” says Smith, around the lighthouse, the field, along West Cliff and on the beach as well. Carmina’s vision is to basically pull everyone together. She’s been using the word ‘converge.’ All of these works are to converge at the end of this piece to create some kind of communal experience at the lighthouse.”
On July 27, Indexical will present a concert by vocalist and composer Amirtha Kidambi and her group Elder Ones at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center. Of Kidambi, Smith says, “Her idea is to fuse black protest music as it came out of the free jazz tradition with Hindustani and Carnatic music, which were influential in her development.”
From the Cabrillo Music Festival to New Music Works to the UC Santa Cruz music department, Santa Cruz has engaged with various styles of avant-garde and contemporary-classical music for decades. Indexical began in New York in 2011. Smith, a composer in his own right, said that he and Indexical’s operations director David Kant relocated to Santa Cruz to work with UCSC composer and musician Larry Polansky. Smith and Kant found potential for building a musical community in Santa Cruz.
“We saw that people in Santa Cruz have some context for experimental music and for contemporary-classical music, but we felt we could expand it a little bit,” says Smith. “Santa Cruz has this context and this community of artists, but didn’t necessarily have the producing organizations to allow people to try out new ideas throughout the year.”
Since its relocation, Indexical has produced several events with a variety of artists, mostly in small venues like the Radius Gallery at the Tannery and Wind River studios in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The aim, says Smith, is to give artists the room to experiment without having to worry about the commercial implications of high-profile concerts.
“You need more things happening on a smaller scale. You get some energy built up and you do a lot of things that might not work,” Smith says. “But the things that do work end up being bigger projects.”
He says that Santa Cruz audiences have responded well to Indexical’s plans, and that the organization’s budget, drawn from local donations, has quadrupled in size. He also said that Indexical is considering the idea of opening its own venue.
“The last year has been incredible. We’re now at the point where we’re hiring three full- or part-time staff members to really increase the capacity of the organization to take on some significantly more ambitious projects.”
For more information on Indexical, its concerts or the June 29 workshop with artist-in-residence Carmina Escobar, go to indexical.org.