Orchestra Becomes Radicalized

Orchestra Becomes Radicalized review: Instruments of resistance

By weaving diverse voices into cohesive musical collaboration, musical collective models artistic opposition to oppression


As long as there is oppression, there are resisting voices singing out, instruments played in fervor, and messages transmitted in many different ways. With the upwelling of resistance to our current conservative political climate, how will artists step up to express their own resistance? What would that music sound like? What form would it take? Which genres would step up to the plate the most? In this new resistance, who would these artists be?

I received an answer to those questions when I heard Orchestra Becomes Radicalized’s November 29 show at Portland’s Holocene. With some of the most outstanding musicians in Portland on stage, drawing performers from local experimental, jazz, and classical scenes, the nonet, led by John Niekrasz, played a fantastic set. Personnel included Holland Andrews on voice and electronics, Luke Wyland on keyboard, Brian Mumford on guitar and electronics, Sage Fisher on harp, voice, and electronics, Jonathan Sielaff on bass clarinet, and electronics, Madelyn Villano on violin, and electronics, Andrew Jones on double bass, Ben Kates on alto saxophone, and video contributed by Vanessa Renwick. John Niekrasz took the wheel, steering the ensemble’s performance through his drum set and composition.

Orchestra Becomes Radicalized performed at Portland’s Holocene.

The orchestra demonstrated a level of awareness that tends to escape experimental groups of this size. While each musician played off each other’s melodies and improvisations, they also demonstrated an adept and tactile ability to be part of a larger whole, structurally anchored by John Niekrasz on the drum set.

The overall effect of this single long composition was like being immersed in a musical ecosystem, with each performer occupying a specific niche. The music would ebb and flow, and change in its complexity each time a new soloist came to the fore. Eventually the orchestra’s music would melt into a space of silence or come to a crashing conclusion with only one player holding onto a single, quiet note to signal a new section. Sometimes new sections would begin at the end of a drum solo, the transition executed by Niekrasz.


Orchestra Becomes Radicalized reassembles for a new composition

Composer and drummer John Niekrasz presents a second installment of Portland avant-garde supergroup Orchestra Becomes Radicalized playing 'Five Hundred and Two'

This Wednesday night, a veritable supergroup of members of Portland’s avant-garde music scene will form for one night at Holocene.

Instigated and composed by drummer, writer, and composer John Niekrasz, Five Hundred and Two unites a fantastic roster of many of the leading musicians and artists producing experimental and new music in Portland.

That orchestra includes Luke Wyland on keyboards, coming from rave reviews for leading the Camas High School Choir collaboration with AU at this year’s TBA Festival; violinist Maddy Villano, the newest member of Smegma, an outsider sound institution performing since 1973; Sage Fisher, on harp and voice, performs as Dolphin Midwives and directs the 26-member Dröna Choir, and singer Holland Andrews has just returned from a European and US tour with her solo project “Like a Villain.” They’re joined by Brian Mumford on guitar, Jonathan Sielaff on bass clarinet, Andrew Jones on the double bass, and Ben Kates on alto sax. And if that wasn’t enough, the accompanying video was done by Portland institution Vanessa Renwick, recipient of RACC’s 2016 Fellowship Award. Niekrasz will, of course, be on drums. In addition to the Orchestra, the Ian Christensen Quartet and Visible Cloaks (formerly just “Cloaks”) will be opening the night.

John Niekrasz, center with drum sticks, has assembled another edition of Orchestra Becomes Radicalized, playing at Holocene on Wednesday.

John Niekrasz, center with drum sticks, has assembled another edition of Orchestra Becomes Radicalized, playing at Holocene on Wednesday.

This is the second installment in Niekrasz’s Orchestra Becomes Radicalized project. The series premiered at Holocene last December 8 with /Reward Cycle/. Conceived and composed while Niekrasz was living in Paris just blocks away from the Charlie Hebdo mass shooting, that piece was a cacophonous, energetic response to the climate of violence and political uncertainty surrounding the attacks. The piece drew inspiration from political texts as well as the “macabre palette of sirens and church bells” Niekrasz heard in Paris while writing it.