Sept. 19 2012 12:20 AM

North County shindig goes down Sept. 21 through 23

Wu Man does the pipa right.

Home to picturesque beaches and sprawling suburbs, North County isn't exactly known as a hotspot for music. But that might change with the help of the Carlsbad Music Festival, which has hosted a range of sounds that tickle the imagination since 2003. 

Set in Carlsbad's quaint downtown area, the festival—which goes down Friday, Sept. 21, through Sunday, Sept. 23—has the easygoing vibe of a community shindig. But the schedule is impressive: On Saturday night, New York City ensemble Mantra Percussion will play the West Coast premier of Timber, a hypnotizing piece composed by Michael Gordon, a big name in the world of what's called "new music." 

Matt McBane, the festival's Carlsbad-bred, Brooklyn-based founder and director, says the goal is to present cutting-edge sounds that wouldn't be available elsewhere in San Diego, along with an array of cool local artists.

"The programming is really looking for people that are doing something really creative and interesting, no matter what their background," he says. 

While it started as a humble showcase for classical artists, the Carlsbad Music Festival has grown into an ambitious event with a sizable budget, an eclectic scope and an eye toward the fresh and new. McBane, 33, started the festival after graduating from USC. A composer as well as a curator, he says he wanted to have a "life in the world" rather than in academia, and he was inspired by Bang on a Can, an influential, New York City-based organization co-founded by Gordon (the Timber conductor) that runs a record label, puts on a festival and hosts a summer institute.

McBane attended the institute before launching the festival and made a lot of friends there. "Everybody that goes there are people that went to music conservatory and were too funky... Their ideas were too out there," he says.

The festival boasts an eclectic schedule this year. Along with other works, The Calder Quartet, the ensemble-in-residence, will premiere a string quartet by composer Andy Akiho—the winner of the festival's annual competition for composers younger than 35, whose piece was commissioned as part of the prize. Performers also include the celebrated Americana singer-songwriter Sara Watkins and Wu Man, an internationally renowned virtuoso of the pipa, a Chinese lute. 

As it happens, both Watkins and Wu live in Carlsbad.

"Most peoples' perception of Carlsbad is, you know, 'pretty suburban beach town,'" McBane says. "But there are these different artists that have come through that are major artistsóreally creative artists." 

Of course, the performance of Timber will likely get a lot of people talking. The piece calls for the use of six tuned, amplified 2-by-4s, and videos show players generating a swirl of overlapping rhythms and ethereal overtones. For the performance, the 2-by-4s will be set up in a circle in the Harding Community Center, McBane says, and visitors will be able to sit down on carpets to take it all in. 

They also might spot Gordon, the composer and Bang on a Can co-founder, who'll be at the fest. McBane says he isn't nervous about Gordonís presence. But, he adds, "We made sure he got the nicest hotel room."

More Music

Digital designs: Ever the innovative computer musician, UCSD faculty member Miller Puckette opened up new realms of sonic possibilities with the programs Max/MSP and Pure Data. And he really shows his stuff working with French composer Philippe Manoury on “En écho,” a dark, unpredictable experimental piece that pairs operatic singing and French poetry with otherworldly electronics that could’ve come from a David Lynch film. Puckette will perform with the singer Juliana Snapper at Space 4 Art on Oct. 18 as part of the Fresh Sound series. Manoury will be there, too. $10-15.

Dueling classics: Heroes can be conventionally imperious or they can be mischievous troublemakers. You’ll get a taste of both types at Hero / Anti-Hero, the first concert of the 2012-2013 season for the La Jolla Symphony & Chorus. Held at UCSD’s Mandeville Auditorium on Nov. 3 and 4, the program explores the themes of Wallace Stegner’s 1971 novel Angle of Repose, with Beethoven’s heroic Symphony No. 3 “Eroica”; a piece by composer Missy Mazzoli; and two works by avant-garde icon John Cage, regarded by the organizers as the James Dean of 20th-century composers. $15-29.

Splendid specter: Art of Élan consistently surprises and intrigues with its programming, and that certainly applies to its concert at the San Diego Museum of Art on Nov. 20, when the hip chamber-music organization puts on a performance of Ghost Opera, an energetic, boundary-pushing piece for string quartet and pipa (Chinese lute) by Chinese composer Tan Dun. Traversing Eastern and Western cultures, Ghost Opera inventively combines ambient sound with elements of Bach and Chinese folk tradition. $10-25.

Strange brew: While he’s perhaps best known for laying down funky rhythms with Rafter, drummer Nathan Hubbard has an ear for noisy weirdness—when he plays solo, his drum set looks like some kind of junky Frankenstein’s monster. Marcelo Radulovich is also known for plying the city’s experimental underground, putting out lots of solo albums, collaborating with a diverse range of local names and playing in the combo Nicey Nice World. They’ll get freaky at this installment of the experimental-minded Stay Strange series at Kava Lounge Gallery on Dec. 9.

Email or follow him on Twitter at @peterholslin.