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Portland's Lab Notes

Can you hear the Portland in Portland’s music?

Eric Stern, the lead vocalist and accordion player for Portland’s Vagabond Opera, puts a scientific spin on Portland’s musical ferment. He’s a classically trained singer who left Baltimore for Portland a number of years ago. And he told me he likes to think of Portland as a “laboratory of sound,” an environment that inspires creativity with distinct and varied results. (Vagabond Opera describes its own results, in case you’re keeping score, as “European Cabaret! Vintage Americana! Balkan Belly Dance! Neo-Classical Opera! Old World Yiddish Theater!”)

We’ve been wondering around here about how this jives with a recent article in Slate that argues that while bands such as the Shins, Sleater Kinney, the Decemberists, Spoon, Death Cab for Cutie, Stephen Malkmus and others have put Portland on the map as an “Indie Rock Mecca,” “Portland has neither a distinctive ‘sound’ nor a ‘scene’ to speak of.”

Can you meld genres without generating a new “sound”? Can you be a “laboratory of sound” without creating a scene? How does the local landscape — the challenges and opportunities, connections and collaborations — find its way into the music? In other words: can you hear the Portland in Portland music?

We’ll be joined by Courtney Von Drehle of 3 Leg Torso and Ron Blessinger of the Third Angle New Music Ensemble, along with Terry Currier of Music Millennium (and the Portland Music Hall of Fame), to start tackling these questions. But this is a laboratory, after all, so we’re eager to hear about your own experimentations.

Photo credit: Amanda Gillispie / Flickr / Creative Commons. (This was taken in Austin, TX, by the way, but we couldn’t resist. It might have been taken in PDX, right?)

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