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Detroit Unspun: Classical and Techno musicians to make Detroit ‘Structurally Sound’

Detroit’s a music city. We invented Motown. We created techno music. Our Detroit Symphony Orchestra is world class. Hey! We’ve got rhythm. We’ve got music. Who could
ask for anything more? We can. Our musicians are always inventing new
sounds … new movements.

So how about merging classical and techno and paying homage to Detroit’s fantastic architecture at the same time? That’ll happen this Sunday (November 18) when
Kenneth Thompkins, principal trombonist with the DSO, techno DJ whiz John Collins, percussionist Raphael Merriweathers Jr. and keyboardist Jon Dixon team up to mix the sounds of acoustic and electronic music in the lobby of “The Qube.” That’s the Chase
Bank building at 611 Woodward.
It’s part of a series from the Detroit Chamber Winds & Strings called Structurally Sound. The idea is to perform in architecturally significant places in Detroit and choose music that relates specifically to the location. This concert is called Bits, Bytes and Bones.
“We want to match the music to the space,” says Maury Okun, executive director of the Detroit Chamber Winds & Strings. “This (event) gives us the language from both sides of the street (classical and techno). It’s musical imagination. Step back and see what happens.”

The program the musicians created was inspired by the Qube, which was originally the National Bank of Detroit Building. It highlights the history of electronic music and how the landscape of Detroit has changed since the early history of electronic music and when the building was opened in 1959. You’ll recognize some Bach, some Wagner and a lot of techno. Historical context will be provided by Jerry Herron, dean of the Irvin D. Reid Honors College at Wayne State University.

“It will be the intersection of classical and techno,” says Thompkins, who’s playing with techno for the first time. “The works were inspired Bach … It will be transformational with the rhythmic intensity of techo.”

Thompkins will also play two very difficult trombone solos … Basta by Folke Rabe and Eternal Winter by Allan Schindler. Basta is unaccompanied. Eternal Winter is for trombone and computer. Eternal Winter was inspired by a Japanese painting of a wind storm. The sounds coming from the computer will be the storm. The music from the trombone will be the human voice cutting through the wailing tempest.
Collins is a staple in Detroit’s electronic scene and is often called techno’s “gatekeeper” for his contributions to making the music relevant and viable as a worldwide music genre that is uniquely Detroit. The musicians come together for two terrific works “… Strings of Life” by Derek May and an improvised piece inspired by the prelude to Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1.

So just how does a trombonist play a work for cello since cellists play many cords at once? It’s not easy, says Thompkins. You have to time your breaths so its sounds musical and know how and when to break the cords. “Everyone thinks of 76 Trombones or Tommy Dorsey when they think of a trombone,” he says, pointing out the instrument can do so much more.

This is the second concert in the Structurally Sound series as the Detroit Chamber Winds & Strings moves away from its usual venue of playing in suburban churches. The first concert was last spring at the Piquette Plant, where the first Model T was built. That program featured music from the turn of the last century when Henry Ford opened the plant with narration by Herron.

Initial funding for Structurally Sound came as part of a larger grant from the Community Foundation Southeast Michigan in honor of the Detroit Chamber Winds & Strings 30th anniversary. Look for more performances in unique locations next year.

Tickets are available by calling 248-559-2095 online at are $35 for adults, $30 for seniors (60+) and $10 for students (under 25). They’re $5 more at the door and space is limited so get them early.