In 2003, Robert Voisey birthed a program promoting new music that spread like a friendly virus across the globe. This year’s version, 60 X 60: The 2008 Evolution Mix (Part 1) was presented by NC State University Director of Arts Now, Professor Rodney Waschka II, in the Tally Student Center Ballroom. And thanks to Waschka’s enthusiasm, the house was packed. Good news for contemporary music supporters and fans!

The Mix, comprised of 60 one-minute-or-less compositions, is created from contributions of 60 emerging and established composers. Carefully arranged by Voisey, they are polished and cut rubies and diamonds, neatly packaged on a recorded disc — miniatures, if you will. Like composers of the art song, the format challenges the maker to explore. And like the craftsmanship required of the short-story writer, these artists “make their case” concisely and precisely. Waschka refers to the program as “a box of chocolates.” Indeed they are tasty morsels inviting us to sample more — and that is the point. But Waschka directs us to the more interesting phenomena saying, “I [the composer] control time…, and I can make it seem like a long time…,” but on the other hand, “it can seem like time whizzes by.” I can testify to this. At the 30-minute mark, I noted that I was getting tired. Yet, the last 30 minutes passed by like a speeding train.

Such collaborations are not unprecedented. I’m reminded of John Cage’s project with David Tudor called Indeterminacy (Folkways, 1992). On this recording, Cage recites stories, anecdotes, and excerpts from his lectures in one-minute intervals — slowly if they are short and quickly if they are longer. Tudor, who worked alone, recorded himself playing snippets of Cage’s Concert for Piano and Orchestra (1957-58) with tracks from Fontana Mix (1958-59). And like the Cage-Cunningham music and dance productions, the 60 X 60 Mix was paired with 60 independently-constructed choreographies. (They were performed in New York City last weekend at the Galapagos).

The evening’s program included collages of voice and electronics (Doug Cohen’s “Welcome”), some with recorded instruments; music influenced by the Middle East and Hindustani Ragas; and segues to other-worldly sounds from the cosmos. From everyday musical snapshots (“Bathtime” by Dorothy Hindman) to Laurie Spiegal’s “multiscale sweeps,” I felt like a stowaway in Kubrick’s Discover, secretly traveling through the creative minds of the makers. Some were playful (The Starling Clock Wound” by Charles Norman Mason); others were serious (Stan Link’s “Endless Song”); some, political (“Animal Farm” by Serban Nichifor); and others. sentimental (Rodney Waschka’s “Strange Moon”). From explorations of sine waves to jazz swing, I was totally and happily engaged in the music. Okay, I didn’t love Bigg’s “March of the Krumerhorns,” but it did bring back memories of medieval music history. Space limitation prevents listing all 60 wonderful works. The interested reader can find a complete listing of the composers at Arts Now.

The Mix ended with Allen Strange’s exemplary, “Shadowboxer.” A deeply loved and greatly missed member of the composers’ community, it was a fitting close.

For more information about the 60 X 60 project, click here.