A man walked up on the stage in the Snow Fine Arts Center Sept. 19 in striped, neon socks. A pair of tortoise shell glasses sat on his face as he stood beside a plethora of wires and a sound system; his saxophone and clarinet perched beside him.
Artist-In-Residence and world-renowned bass clarinetist and composer Michael Lowenstern performed for a crowd of students and patrons as a part of his one-day residency on the UCA campus — organized by Dr. Kelly Johnson, associate professor of clarinet.
“I’ve never brought a bass clarinetist [to UCA] before,” Johnson said. “I thought [Lowenstern’s] music was so contemporary and current — something everyone would enjoy; not just clarinet majors.”
Lowenstern, originally from Chicago, has performed, recorded and toured the U.S. and abroad with ensembles of every variety, including The Klezmatics, The Steve Reich Ensemble, The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. Actively involved with new technology in sound and music, Lowenstern is one of America’s leading producers of creative electro-acoustic music, both for his own works and in collaboration with other composers.
On Sept. 19, Lowenstern conducted two lectures earlier in the day, which included discussing topics as making a career as a musician and composing for clarinet and bass clarinet.
But perhaps the icing-on-top-of-the-cake for students and faculty was to actually hear and see Lowenstern perform his critically-acclaimed mixing and composing skills.
With a witty and quirky approach to his song performances, Lowenstern described the backstories of which inspired him to write each piece that he had lined up to perform.
Growing up in Hyde Park, Lowenstern had many inspirations to pick off of when it came to writing and experimenting with his own, unique sound.
“I love pop music, especially Prince,” Lowenstern said to his audience. “Another one of my favorites is Ray Charles. I don’t know why he never invited me to play with him and his band.”
With his computer placed on top of a cart and programmed to follow his every musical command, Lowenstern began some of his tunes by beat-boxing into his microphone. The electronic computer program was set to record and layer his man-made sounds into something of an upbeat and personable song.
Audience members were even given the opportunity by Lowenstern to help him make a few beats needed for a song, based on their clapping and humming noises.
“He’s definitely a little quirky,” Alison Sneed, sophomore clarinet major said. “You can definitely tell that [with] his personality, he has a lot of fun — which is really refreshing.”
Lowenstern seemed to pride himself in making his day at UCA as fun and as interactive with the students as possible.
“The job of the teachers [at UCA] is to sort of take students through, like, a regime,” Lowenstern said. “I feel like it’s my job to come in and stir the soup a little bit. There’s the world of what you learn and then there’s the outside world. I think that the outside world is something that academia doesn’t always spend a lot of time talking about.”
Lowenstern, who also has a full-time job working for Amazon, hopes that his career as a paid musician inspires other music majors and lovers to take the plunge of publishing and performing their own, unique music.
“I love playing, because it creates a community,” Lowernstern said. “I hope that [students] realize that there is more out there than just the classes they take and the practicing they do. But that they are all going to go out there and contribute to the world of music and that they realize everybody has a special gift. Hopefully when they go out, they are teaching to someone or [performing] it for other people.”
To learn more about Lowenstern, hear his music, or to read his recording tutorials and blog, visit his official website at earspasm.com.