Site-specific concerts can offer the unique experience of setting music in an environment that amplifies its emotional impact. But presenting Ghost Ensemble in Evergreen Cemetery is a particularly brilliant stroke from Indexical, the nonprofit music organization activating spaces across Santa Cruz with surprising sounds since 2015.
A new music collective with a core nonet directed by accordionist Ben Richter and oboist Sky Macklay, Ghost Ensemble, is in California for a May 18 performance at St. John, the Evangelist Episcopal Church in San Francisco, presented by Other Minds, the Bay Area’s flagship new music festival. But the New York-based group will mostly be haunting Evergreen and Windrush as part of a four-concert May 19-20 Indexical residency.
At the cemetery, the group is performing Pauline Oliveros’ Environmental Dialogue as part of Indexical’s “Beyond the Grave: Writing Ghosts” program. Indexical founder and Executive Director Andrew C. Smith has been connected with the group since Ghost Ensemble came together in 2012, “and we were playing his music early on,” Macklay, a 2021-22 Guggenheim Fellow and Assistant Professor at Johns Hopkins University’s Peabody Institute, says. “He’s been a great champion of Ghost Ensemble.”
“He knew we’d be a good fit for this kind of concert because we’re up for anything. We like to play a lot of droney, spooky, possibly transcendental type music, and we’ve found a lot of inspiration from Pauline Oliveros and her deep listening practice and text pieces.”
The four-part “Beyond the Grave” program includes Tasting Menu, the Los Angeles-based sonic collaboration of Tim Feeney, Cassia Streb and Cody Putman, and writers LuLing Osofsky and Isola Tong, who’s presenting “Ghost Calligraphy,” an embodied piece drawing on the Chinese history present in the cemetery.
Ghost Ensemble also materializes in the evening at Windrush for two different evening programs May 19-20. Friday’s double bill with Tasting Menu features new works by Tasting Catherine Lamb, Richter and Macklay. Playful and uncanny, Macklay’s piece “Harmonifriends” deploys two hand-crafted harmonica-wielding inflatable sculptures powered by fans that she controls.
“I turn them on and off at various moments, so it’s well choreographed between them and us,” Macklay says. “They’re in front of the ensemble, and ‘Harmonifriends’ is a concerto for them. When they inflate, they play these slightly microtonally triadic drones, and the ensemble is reacting to them. It’s a light-hearted, happy piece about friendship. The idea is they’re the soloist. They’ve been a musical muse for me.”
The residency concludes with Saturday’s Windrush program pairing Ghost Ensemble and Laura Cetilia, whose immersive installation piece “nestled in the static” uses an array of 12 mini-speakers creating an aura of spatialized, pre-recorded score while she occupies the center of the sound field with her cello. Ghost Ensemble performs Catherine Lamb’s “interius/exterius,” a piece she developed in close collaboration with the group last year to open up multiple directions for spontaneous exploration.
If there’s a friendly ghost presiding over the engagement, it’s the beatific composer and accordionist Pauline Oliveros, who’s “deep listening” practice “has helped us navigate Cat Lamb’s piece when our colleagues are entering or fading out with these just intonation textures,” Macklay explains. “It really designed to open up all these possibilities.”
For more information, visit indexical.org/events