Fast Forward Austin Does Compute

New-music champions science the shit out of its upcoming concert with The Difference Engine

Precipice Ensemble in 2017 (Photo by Elisa Ferrari)

It doesn't take an IBM Deep Blue to solve this equation: (innovative local composers + musicians willing to tackle new work) x several hours of back-to-back performances + locally brewed beer = ?

Right you are: one of the most exciting music festivals in town.

No offense, ACL, but for aural adventure and sonic stimulation, Fast Forward Austin is tough to beat. The compositions play with rhythm, tempo, instrumentation, sound, silence, and more in ways that bend the ear and blow the mind. And you can count on them being performed by top-flight champions of new music: line upon line percussion, Austin New Music Co-op, the Aeolus String Quartet, the Bel Cuore Sax Quartet, Convergence, Invoke, Density512, and Peter Stopschinski. Fast Forward Austin co-founder Steven Snowden says that he and co-founders Ian Dicke and Robert Honstein "believe there is something powerful about experiencing music that exists on the fringes, that challenges your ear and makes you question what music is or could be."

In creating FFA, the trio – all of whom studied composition at UT's Butler School of Music – wanted a platform for new music that would help connect musicians around the city and increase Austin's visibility in the national new music scene. But it was also important to them that the music be presented in casual spaces. Says Snowden, "Though the acoustics of traditional concert halls are superior to the vast majority of venues we've used, we all felt that new music was best enjoyed with a beer in your hand, a taco truck waiting outside, and the option to come and go as you please. We hoped to create a comfortable environment in which a listener's ears could be challenged without feeling trapped."

With the musicians being gathered and the beer being poured for another Fast Forward Austin program on Sat., Sept. 22, at 4th Tap Brewing Co-op, the Chronicle tapped Snowden for a little more info about FFA.

Austin Chronicle: The roster of artists who have participated in Fast Forward Austin events encompasses just about every force for new music in Austin, including a few unlikely collaborators such as Peter Bay and Butoh dancers. What quality does an artist or ensemble need to have for FFA?

Steven Snowden: The short answer is commitment to their craft. That's a pretty broad qualification, but we don't want to limit our programming to a single genre or even artistic discipline. Butoh is a great example. When I first saw Ellen Bartel, Mari Akita, and Adam Sultan perform at a different event, I thought to myself, "I have no idea how to even describe this to someone else, but it's blowing my mind. More people need to experience this." I can say the same for a lot of other artists that we've presented: Tatsuya Nakatani, Rosalyn Nasky, Weird Weeds ... the list goes on and on. In every case, these are performers who are so incredibly good at what they do, but their work is nearly impossible to describe.

If we can feature artists like Peter Bay or Graham Reynolds – who have a lot of broad appeal and name recognition in Austin – on the same bill as experimental artists that defy any kind of genre classification, we hope to introduce audiences to something they didn't even know existed. Maybe they'll love it and will want to explore more of that artist's work. Maybe they'll hate it and choose to step outside for a taco break until the set is over. Regardless, they'll have experienced something new and that's really important to us. I'd like to think that we've built up a solid enough reputation as curators that our audiences are willing to approach the unfamiliar with open ears.

AC: In line with that, what quality does an audience member need to have to get the most out of an FFA event?

SS: All you really need is an open mind. Some of our artists have a lot of their work online and you can check them out beforehand. However, that's not always the case. If something isn't your cup of tea, I'd encourage you to give it a chance, but you can always duck into the taproom and try some of the tasty beers that 4th Tap has to offer if you need a break.

AC: The upcoming event features a composition by Graham Reynolds that just predates the first Fast Forward Austin. With Graham having such an extensive catalog of material to choose from, what led to programming The Difference Engine?

SS: I have to give credit to Density512 for this. When we were talking with Jacob Schnitzer about what they might like to program, he mentioned that Graham was interested in having a vinyl release concert for The Difference Engine. It's been a tradition for us to present at least one large-scale work at FFA (Steve Reich's Music for 18 Musicians, Charlotte Bray's Caught in Treetops, Jason Treuting's Amid the Noise, etc.). We've had many wonderful experiences working with Graham over the years. We thought it would be a really great fit.

AC: The Difference Engine was inspired by the proto-computer that Charles Babbage invented in the 19th century. Also on the program is Finite Differences, which explores the life of Ada Lovelace, a mathematician who met Babbage and wrote about his machine with such a visionary grasp of its potential that she's been called the "first computer programmer." Was there a method in putting these pieces on the same bill? Are there any other compositions that tie into the birth or development of the computer?

SS: Again, Density512 gets credit for this. I asked Jacob Schnitzer to answer this one and here's what he had to say: "There is always more than one side to a story. While Babbage is recognized for his developments in early computing for creating the Difference Engine, it took Ada Lovelace to see its visionary potential to transform society. It's important to pay tribute to the women and men who created the future we now live in; Kenneth Froelich's Finite Differences and Graham Reynolds' The Difference Engine beautifully do just that."

Fast Forward Austin

Fast Forward Austin presents The Difference Engine Sat., Sept. 22, 7-11pm, at 4th Tap Brewing Co-op, 10615 Metric. Admission is free, but donations are accepted online or at the door. For more information, visit

Mantra Percussion in 2017 (Photo by Steve Sachse)

7pm: One Ounce Opera
Austin's purveyors of lo-fi, inventive opera perform DOOR, a journey through relationship breakdown, claustrophobia, depression, and escapism by composer Rhiannon Randle and librettist Daniel Solon, who also directs.

8pm: Finite Differences
One Ounce Opera and Density512 present composer Kenneth Froehlich's operatic look at the life of Ada Lovelace, the 19th century mathematics prodigy sometimes called "the world's first computer programmer."

9pm: HUB New Music
The Boston-based quartet, which features the offbeat combination of flute, clarinet, violin, and cello, will perform works it has commissioned from some of today's most innovative composers.

10pm: The Difference Engine
Graham Reynolds' groundbreaking 2010 work exploring the mind of mathematician Charles Babbage, credited with conceiving a digital programmable computer in the 1800s, is revived by the composer in collaboration with Density512 and HUB New Music.

Between sets: Excerpts from (UN)ROOTED
Multidisciplinary troup Corps Multiple, co-founded by Sandie Donzica and François Minaux, perform parts of a work that discusses the deep need for belonging, roots, pairs, and marks.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

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Fast Forward Austin, Steven Snowden, Ian Dicke, Robert Honstein, 4th Tap Brewing Co-op, Graham Reynolds, The Difference Engine, Peter Bay, Density512, Jacob Schnitzer, One Ounce Opera, HUB New Music, Corps Multiple, Ellen Bartel, Mari Akita, Adam Sultan, Tatsuya Nakatani, Rosalyn Nasky, Weird Weeds, Kenneth Froelich

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