Austrian electronic music is slowly but surely gathering followers in the city, even though the competition is huge.
As part of its tenth anniversary programming, and to cover a wide range of musical creation and performance, the Austrian Cultural Forum invited a number of Austrian electronic music artists to participate in a concert series supported by the Austrian Ministry for Education, Arts and Culture. It was the continuation of a longstanding tradition: After all, the Cultural Forum had celebrated its opening in 2002 with the electronic music festival "Moving Patterns." When we began planning for the anniversary year 2012, it soon became clear that, along with our ten-year concert series with commissioned compositions from the contemporary classical genre, we also wanted to feature electronic music in our program, as it has been an integral part of the Austrian music scene, and an important export item, since the 1990s. We invited CHRA (a.k.a. Christina Nemec) and Irridiation. Wolfgang Mitterer, a prominent Austrian composer and musician working at the interface between composition and improvisation, joined the series, as did Dorian Concept, an important representative of the young generation. In addition, we commissioned Rupert Huber and Bernhard Fleischmann to create "anniversary compositions" for the Forum.
To most Americans, Austrian music is synonymous with classical music or "The Sound of Music," and this is exactly where Cultural Fora around the world come in. Over the years, the ACFNY has garnered a reputation for contemporary classical music and electronic music in the New York scene. Many Austrian artists have presented their work here: Olga Neuwirth, Georg Friedrich Haas, Bernhard Lang, as well as Christian Fennesz, Gustav, Elektro Guzzi, and Patrick Pulsinger, only to name a few. Quite often, a review in The New York Times followed. The ACFNY manages to reach genre-specific audiences who know what to expect.
The Foreign Ministry – which the Cultural Forum belongs to – in cooperation with mica (Music Information Centre Austria), has launched a project titled "New Austrian Sound of Music." The annual booklet offers a kind of pre-selection for Cultural Fora, and presents three or four artists or ensembles per genre that were selected by an expert advisory board. This is a good point of departure for the curatorial process, especially since we always strive to create a balanced and diverse program. Audiences in New York are generally very curious, but there is a great deal of competition. Your content has to be exciting and relevant, tackle current events and you have to promote it accordingly. The Austrian Cultural Forum does succeed at this quite well. Audiences are quite willing to try new things and new locations, but they do return for concerts in a given series if they particularly enjoyed the previous offering.
The concerts at the ACFNY take place in a very intimate setting. People can chat with the artists before and after the shows, at small receptions, for instance, where audiences and artists get to meet. We frequently witness some very moving encounters. A few ACFNY "regulars" are Austrian Jews who had to flee from the Nazis as teenagers; some of them survived concentration camps. Encountering them is often both shocking and awe-inspiring for young Austrian musicians, first and foremost because the survivors have such a positive attitude and so much zest for life.
Ultimately, the ACFNY can only provide impulses – the first concert in New York! –; but it cannot provide artists with a guarantee that they will return to New York on a regular basis. The artists have to build their own reputation. Quite often, we host concerts which do not take place at the Cultural Forum, but in cooperation with clubs or concert halls of larger venues. This always helps reach new audiences.
Austrian pop music is certainly underrepresented in New York, although this has changed in recent years, with performances by Gustav, Bensh, Teresa Rotschopf, and Soap&Skin. We try to book most of these acts in local clubs. Both the supply and the artistic quality of pop acts in New York are so enormous that it is difficult for Austrian musicians in this particular genre to be acknowledged or even noticed.
Dorian Concept, for instance, corresponds to the American idea of an electronic musician. His music is beat-heavy, fast, and danceable, and he has already played a number of shows in New York.
Bernhard Fleischmann is also no stranger to New York, but he is often associated with the music of the late 1990s, when his performances in the city were more frequent. Before his guest performance at the ACFNY, Fleischmann played an additional show at the Knitting Factory, which is an accomplishment in and of itself, since such venues rarely take the risk to bet on European artists. But that is exactly what is slowly but surely changing. (Martina Laab)
Martina Laab was the Head of Music Programming at the Austrian Cultural Forum New York for two years.