In the fall of 2004, five students at the Eastman School of Music banded together to form a new musical group. Their purpose: to play music and see what could be created by fusing electronic pop and traditional classical styles.
The group called itself NeoCollage and began creating music using a violin, a viola, both acoustic and electric basses, a MalletKat (an electronic percussion instrument) and an electric harp.
The combination of both traditional and unconventional instruments creates a sound that is both new and unique, which, in turn, produces new and unique feelings in the hearts of the listeners. Like the musicians of the late 1950s and early ’60s, seniors Nick Revel, Curtis Stewart, Megan Bledsoe, Cody Yakimow and Rick Williams understand that fusion of different musical styles is necessary for musical evolution.
They have a courage that is not typically seen in the contemporary music business. As a group of musical entrepreneurs, NeoCollage has the potential to save pop music for the next generation of listeners.
The sound the group creates is unique not only because it introduces the electronic distortion to classical instruments, but also because the group’s influences are so varied.
After their concert, to promote the release of their new album “City Nights” on Sept. 22, percussionist Williams said, “We all come from different areas and styles, and I think that’s why our music sounds like nothing else out there; there’s such a variety of influences in there.”
Each musician has his or her own particular influence aside from classical symphonic music (they are all members of Eastman’s Symphony Orchestra), ranging from jazz to funk to world.
These different styles fuse and are then brought out through the media of classical and electronic instruments. This seemingly random combination of elements creates a sound that is cheerily haunting, ensnares the soul and grants the group complete control over the imaginations of the audience. It is never clear what they might do next, which keeps the listener on the edge of his or her seat.
According to violist Revel, the dark and haunting sound was, in some cases, actually intentional. A particular example of this intent can be found in the song “Grunge,” which the group played at the concert at Java’s.
The song was so darkly uplifting that it made senior David LeBlanc want to “go and party in a graveyard somewhere.” In response to this claim, Revel could only laugh and say, “Yeah, that was pretty much what we were going for with that one. A lot of our stuff is strange like that, someone will just start off with a lick and it just goes from there.”
Improv is the source of much of the music the group plays, “We were such good friends from the beginning, which means we have really similar ideas, which makes for good improv,” electric harpist Bledsoe said.
Many of the pieces they create stem from improv or jam sessions; however, one of their favorite and most successful habits is to take previously arranged music and re-write the songs without any lyrics.
“We let the energy of the strings take over for the lyrics, and I think we’ve had a good response to it. Hopefully we can show the people that you don’t need vocals to have a successful band,” Williams said.
One of the best examples of the string-lyrics is their rendition of “Satellite,” a Dave Matthews Band classic, on their first album.
The concert at Java’s marked the release of the group’s second album, which has a much more electronic feel to it than their first album, which was very classically-oriented.
Even though all the group members are in their final year at Eastman, the group itself is still in the beginning stages of evolution. The group plans to continue playing together after they graduate, focusing primarily on the tri-state area after experiencing major success playing in New York City.
NeoCollage will continue to grow in success as they continue to develop their sound even further. Their courage and determination to change the face of music can only lead them to greatness in the future.
Green is a member of the class of 2010.