For people looking for a new and different kind of musical experience next weekend, know that weird music is returning at last to the Herbert Brun House. Folks who’ve been around Champaign-Urbana a while might remember concerts and happenings there in the past; next weekend is the start of something new, a concert series called the Turn Around Series produced by composers Ralph Lewis and Susan Parenti, along with percussionists Brant Roberts and Matthew Miller.
I sat down and talked with the four of them about what’s going on with this new series. To set the scene, picture this interview taking place at the eclectic Herbert Brun House next to Crystal Lake Park, with Patch Adams stalking around in the background from room to room, wearing a pair of loudly squeaking novelty shoes the entire time.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Smile Politely: What’s the deal with this place, the Herbert Brun House? Tell me a little about its history.
Susan Parenti: It’s part of the history of “house theaters,” where we try to make use of different houses to have concerts that don’t always fulfill people’s expectations. People might think it’s going to be a really nice concert when all of a sudden they hear the laundry machine downstairs. Experimental music is meant to change the expectations of the listener, and the house “pitches in” to change those expectations.
This is Herbert Brun’s house, he was a professor at the University of Illinois. He came here in 1964 and was one of the first users of electronic music in a theater context. And this was his house, sort of.
Brant Roberts: I was working with Ralph over the summer and he was like “Hey come to my neighbor’s house,” and I met Susan and we started talking about the scores on the wall. [Points to funky graphic design on the wall behind me]. I was like, “Wait a second, this isn’t like a normal thing.”
SP: How would you describe the music that will be performed next week? What should the audience members expect?
Ralph Lewis: If there’s a theme that runs through the concerts, it’s about music that plays with how “composed” it is, versus how many improvisatory, “living” moments will happen. Even though there are two nights of the same show, each night will be different because it’s living music.
SP: So there will be some pieces where you know what’s going to happen, and some where you really don’t?
Lewis: Most pieces will be different each night.
Roberts: Yeah, we won’t know what we’re going to play before we do it.
SP: That could be fun for everyone! Are you looking forward to not knowing what you’re going to do before you do it?
Roberts: [laughs] Yeah! There’s one piece where we’re given a deck of cards with ideas and instructions that we can interpret in the moment.
Parenti: We’re doing things that are different on Friday night than on Saturday night. I’m going to be doing puppet shows! I have some acoustic portraits of two funny old ladies. I play one of the old ladies.
SP: Several years ago, there were concerts here at the Herbert Brun House regularly. It’s nice to see music happening there again. What will be different this time?
Lewis: We want to make this a space where folks can mix freely and have a different kind of experience. Dealing with the post-pandemic loss of venues downtown…this is a way of building back, appreciating what spaces we do have, and finding new ways we can get to know each other after time apart.
Matt Miller: And also a kind of meeting ground, where different musical circles can participate in the same space.
Roberts: There’s a lot of people who live at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts who don’t go the Rose Bowl, for example. So we’re trying to create a community meeting space that will be open to everyone, regardless of what kind of music they make.
Parenti: It’s meant to be inclusive and it doesn’t cost anyone anything. We have new performers and I hope people will find something intriguing about this space.
SP: I think it’s really great to see music coming back to this space, and it would be nice to see it established as a gathering place for new music again.
Roberts: I mean, I fell in love with this space. I walked in and was like, “Whoa, this is a magical space. It’s not just someone’s house.”
Lewis: We’re talking about the next show in the series being the 1st and 2nd of December.
SP: Any advice for people coming to the shows next weekend?
Lewis: Be careful about parking only on the right hand of Franklin Street, or maybe park in the overflow parking lot for Crystal Lake Park.
Parenti: Carpooling is encouraged.
Roberts: We’re opening the doors at 7 p.m. and music starts at 7:30 p.m.
Miller: We’ll have different pieces in different rooms, so people should feel free to wander throughout the space. We’ll have one of the duos in here, a couple other duos in the other room…we’re talking about having one piece in the kitchen. It’s not going to be a traditional concert experience of sitting in a chair for two hours.
Lewis: Free concert! Free food! Free chairs!
Parenti: Free espresso or something, so people’s heads can be bubbly. So people feel welcome to hang around and look at the pictures.
Turn Around Series: First Concert
The Herbert Brun House
F + Sa Sept 29-30, 7:30 p.m (doors at 7 p.m.)