5 Questions to Ian Ding (New Music Detroit, percussionist)

There’s a resurgent arts scene in Detroit, and New Music Detroit is in the heart of it. NMD presents its 8th annual Strange Beautiful Music marathon on Saturday, September 19 at the Max M. Fisher Music Center. We spoke with NMD co-founder Ian Ding to learn more. 

What are some of the highlights of this eighth iteration of Strange Beautiful Music?

Strange Beautiful Music is New Music Detroit’s annual festival of new & experimental music. It’s the only event of its kind in the City of Detroit. It started in 2007 with a twelve-hour long show at the Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit, and featured, among other things, local premieres by guest composers Alexandra du Bois and Nico Muhly (who were just starting out at the time).

This year’s featured guest composer/performer will be Andy Akiho, and we’ll also have appearances by Elliot Cole and Willo Collective; the Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble, led by Bill Ryan; Latitude 49; and the Donald Sinta Quartet. We’re really excited about this lineup! And I’ll be performing a set of new works for solo percussion by Evan Ziporyn and Virgil Moorefield.

We’re also paying tribute to three legends of contemporary music: Terry Riley, who just turned 80, with a mass performance of In C to end the evening; Ornette Coleman, who passed away earlier this year; and George Crumb—we’ll be giving the Michigan premiere of his song cycle Yellow Moon of Andalusia.

What role will Andy Akiho and his music play in the festival?

We’re really excited and honored to be featuring Andy Akiho as our guest artist this year. NMD will be giving the Detroit premieres of a number of his chamber pieces, including NO one To kNOW one, which will feature Detroit vocalist Jennie Knaggs. The incredible Donald Sinta Quartet will perform his Amalgamation for saxophone quartet and electronics, and Wade Selkirk, percussionist from the Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble, will performing Andy’s solo snare drum piece, Stop Speaking. One of the highlights for us will be Andy playing a bunch on steel pan—besides writing really great chamber music, he’s a virtuoso performer. Should be a lot of fun!

You’ll also be presenting an installation by Apetechnology; what’s up with that?

Apetechnology is an artists’ collective founded by Chip Flynn. They work a lot in the vibrant noise and avant-garde scenes in Detroit — they’re one of the most unique groups working in the city today. It’s really hard to describe their work: it’s a combination of sculpture, video & sound installation, and performance art. They build these unbelievable, large-scale machines that try to explore humanity’s uneasy relationship with its creations. Their stuff can be aggressive and confrontational at times—in a beautiful way. For Strange Beautiful Music, they’re making this Robo-Gamelan installation that will be running in the lobby throughout the show. I haven’t seen it yet, but it should be pretty crazy!

What is the purpose and focus of New Music Detroit?

New Music Detroit was started in 2006 by a group of friends and new music lovers. Most of us were affiliated with the Detroit Symphony at the time. We wanted to play more new music and saw a gap in the contemporary chamber music scene in the city, so we decided to form our own group.

From the beginning we wanted to be the flagship new music ensemble in the city, which wasn’t that hard to do because there wasn’t anyone else around. That’s also why we picked the name we did: it’s simple and to-the-point. The name also reflects the fact that we’re more of a collective rather than an actual ensemble. We regularly draw upon super-talented guest artists from in and around Detroit and Southeast Michigan, as well as the broader new music community.

Strange Beautiful Music was one of our first events, so really, from the beginning we’ve been in the business of presenting as well as performing. We feel it’s part of our mission to expand the contemporary classical music scene in the City of Detroit as best we can.

Percussionist Ian Ding (photo by Matthew Wireman)

Percussionist Ian Ding (photo by Matthew Wireman)

What else keeps you busy, besides NMD?

In 2011 I left my job as a percussionist with the Detroit Symphony to start freelancing full-time. Now I spend about equal parts of my time performing with orchestras and chamber ensembles, playing contemporary music, and teaching. I’ve also done a fair bit of composing and scoring for industrial films and documentaries. I just started teaching at DePaul University in Chicago last year, after about a decade at the University of Michigan. I love the variety of the freelance life and feel really blessed to have gotten to work with so many amazing musicians, from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and The Cleveland Orchestra, to new music ensembles such as the Virgil Moorefield Pocket Orchestra and Bang on a Can All-Stars. Currently I’m performing frequently as a regular sub with the CSO (both on subscription concerts as well as its MusicNOW series), Fulcrum Point New Music in Chicago, and developing some pieces for solo percussion written by Lukas Ligeti, Evan Ziporyn, Virgil Moorefield, and Jamey Haddad.


Strange Beautiful Music VIII at The Max, Saturday, September 19 at 4:00 PM