Some Cats: O'Donnell, Dr. Mabuse, Anna Lum, Ryan Harris. Photograph by Whitney Curtis
Rich O’Donnell, artistic director of HEARding Cats Collective, compares the collective’s musical performances to a question.
“Did you rehearse the question you asked me?” O’Donnell says. “Because I didn’t rehearse the answer.”
Much like a question, and its answer, the collective’s Gelatinous Ensemble plays completely improvised, unrehearsed, on-the-spot music.
“You put forth an intelligent question, and we come up with an answer,” O’Donnell says.
The collective’s Gelatinous Ensemble, so named because they don’t jam, but rather “gel,” is performing this at 8 p.m. this Sat., November 17 at the Kerr Foundation.
Performing with the ensemble is O’Donnell himself, Doc Mabuse, Venus Slick, Deb Summers, Dave Cheli and Kevin Harris. A variety of instruments will played—expect many synthesizers, as well as a saxophone, the yang qin, a traditional Chinese instrument (that will be played untraditionally, I was assured), and a theremin.
During the performance, O’Donnell says the audience will surround the ensemble as they are gathered in the center in a circle. Facing outwards, one musician will start and another will join in, as inspiration hits. Sometimes the music will turn into a duet, sometimes the entire group will collaborate. You never know what you will hear, because the group will never sound the same twice.
Why so much improvisation? Why not just write something down?
O’Donnell says when people rehearse beforehand, that means they have a pre-conceived idea. With the Gelatinous Ensemble, there is no idea. And that’s the point.
“Generally, when people have a jam session, they improvise through something, maybe a song or some kind of a set form,” O’Donnell says. “We don’t do that. We create our own form. I wouldn’t call them songs. But it’s not improvising to something; it’s improvising amongst ourselves.”
Not surprisingly, it takes a special kind of musician to keep up with such stream-of-consciousness performances.
O’Donnell says he looked for performers who were comfortable enough with their instrument and with enough experience and knowledge of composition so that they can play freely, hindered by neither script nor score.
“Things magically happen,” he says. “I don’t know how it happens, but all of a sudden we all seem to be thinking alike. I say that you can’t do that with everybody. But the right people, you climb onto the edge.”
The concert will have a $10 entry fee, with a reduced $7 rate for donors to the collective, otherwise referred to as “cats.” Donors can earn the titles of different big cats depending on their donation amount. Proceeds of the event will go towards the collective.
“Working to keep things strange and wonderful,” the collective proudly states on its website. According to O’Donnell, strange is wonderful.
“For us, strange is not a bad word,” he says. “It’s something that’s new, it’s educational, it’s enlightening, it’s provocative, it’s invocative.”
Much like cats, O’Donnell says you can’t herd artists. But that’s what’s so great about the Gelatinous Ensemble—no one is told what to do. There is no boss, no conductor keeping the musicians in line. They’re just a group of musicians who love music for music’s sake, who don’t need directions to know where they’re going.
For more information on the HEARding Cats Collective, visit heardingcatscollective.org.