SOME THOUGHTS ON
By Charles Amirkhanian
When American composer John Cage died in the summer of 1992, the New Yorker ran an unattributed obituary: "His epitaph might read that he composed music in other peoples' minds." Reading this, Jim Newman suggested "Other Minds" as the name of the major international music festival that he was about to launch in San Francisco, with myself as Artistic Director.
An electroacoustic composer and sound poet myself, I served as Music Director of KPFA Radio in Berkeley from 1969 to 1992. In the Fall of 1992 I became Executive Director of the Djerassi Resident Artists Program in Woodside, California where I remained until early 1997. And in 1998 I increased my schedule at Other Minds, taking on the job of Executive and Artistic Director, which I still presently hold.
The modus operandum of the Composer-to-Composer Festival was based on a model from the Telluride Institute's Ideas Festival, in which major participants and speakers meet privately for four days and then speak to a larger group of conference registrants. The Ideas Festival has included such diverse participants as Tom Hayden, Newt Gingrich, Shirley Williams, Lee Atwater, and Edward Abbey, speaking on such heady conference themes as "Reinventing Politics: Beyond Left and Right."
The organizers' theory was that if each participant had a chance to engage socially with others of differing viewpoints before public panel presentations, posturing would be left aside in favor of interpersonal understanding. To a great degree this was successful, and the model has served well the integration of composers from diverse stylistic and cultural backgrounds in the context of Other Minds, now held annually in the San Francisco Bay Area. Most significantly, the private sessions are held in locations of great natural beauty and isolation, casting a hue of receptivity on the participants which takes them by surprise and opens their senses to new ideas.
In San Francisco, the backdrop became a 600-acre ranch which houses one of the United States' most prominent artists' communities, the Djerassi Resident Artists Program. Begun in 1979, the Djerassi Program hosts 65 artists annually for one month each on forested land located in the Santa Cruz mountains with a spectacular view of the Pacific Ocean. Since its founding, the Program has provided over 800 residencies to visual artists, writers, composers, choreographers, and intermedia artists of all persuasions. Applications for residency are received from 500 individuals from around the world each year, and artist panels in each genre award cost-free residencies to pursue creative work on an annual basis.