Dorothy Hindman's Po Mo Show Turns WVUM Into an Avant-Garde Jukebox

At approximately 1 p.m. last Tuesday, Crossfade was stuck in traffic and listening to WVUM to pass the time. When we poked the 90.5 preset on our dashboard, the station's call numbers appeared, confirming that we had in fact selected the intended station. But the sounds coming out of our whip's soundsystem were inspiring some cognitive dissonance.

When tuning in to WVUM, voted MTV's "Best College Radio Station" for 2011, one expects dreamy keyboards, sexy/moan-y/reverb-y vocals, and a danceable beat. There are specialty shows that explore other terrain, but the station's default is generally one form or another of chill music, second only to house/techno/dance derivatives.

But on this occasion, we heard crashing, banging, quick linear blasts, sustained unidentifiable sounds, and an unusual amount of silence. Turns out, it was one of those specialty programs. But instead of punk or reggae or even talk, the DJ was spinning contemporary, avant-garde compositions under the banner of The Po Mo Show, i.e. the postmodern show.

Composer Dorothy Hindman has achieved an incredible body of work -- including compositions, public performances, and awards, all thoroughly documented on her website -- and as a UM alum herself, the professor was a shoe-in for her own program on The Voice. Deeply intrigued by contemporary avant-garde music on the radio, Crossfade shot Hindman some questions to get the full story.

You have a lengthy resume but it appears this is your first foray into radio. What have you been appreciating and/or disliking about the medium of a radio program in 2011?

I have always been a huge radio fan - I love the "jukebox" aspect of it, in that you hear what someone else decides to play, rather than curating your own playlist all the time.  I like the chance element of it, and I think that's one reason people would listen to the Po Mo Show. I go into the "deep cuts" of a lot of contemporary composers' repertoire.  There are so many interesting composers out there, but people who listen to this music often don't have the time to dig up the music themselves.  This way, I can give them an hour sampling of what's going on.  And the same goes for people who've never heard this music before - this is a good sampler that hopefully will make people curious to dig up some on their own, or at least tune in each week for the surprises.

What is your process of selection? Do you seek out music for the show or is this all from your personal collection?

A lot of the music is stuff I own or have heard and really enjoyed.  If I don't own it, I go into the UM library and surf their collection, which is pretty extensive.  I also use iTunes - a lot of this music is out there for download.  I generally already know the composers and performers I program, either personally, or by style.  I then try to select a group of pieces where there's something for everyone within the hour.  I try to program pieces that have some cultural association that a brand-new listener might relate to immediately, like my next show, which is the Po Mojito Show - music by Cuban-American composers, including Miami's own Orlando Garcia.  Sometimes, it's a relation to pop music, like last week's Dance Mix show.  Within that kind of appealing playlist, I can play a lot of new, really different musical styles, and expose a lot of great music that isn't otherwise available on the airwaves.

To most people, the genre tag "classical," among other things, implies age. But you play a lot of contemporary composers that are still identified as classical. When specifically dealing with today's avant-garde music, what does it mean to be classical?

There are so many musical styles that fit within the umbrella of "classical," which itself references only one historical period from 1750 - 1825.  I could call it new music, modern music, contemporary music, etc.  Even avant-garde or experimental music is mostly associated with the 1950s.  However, I think that classical means something to the listeners, who don't necessarily know or care about all of the historical genres of music.  It generally means music you go hear in a concert hall - symphonies, chamber music, choral music, etc.  Contemporary composers are still writing for those media, plus a lot of others.  I also think that composers who identify themselves as modern, or classical, or contemporary in this way have generally come up through a classical training, where they've studied orchestration, music history, theory, counterpoint, etc.  However, they've decided to forge their own identity through their art music.  So, classical is a catch-all, but still has meaning to both composers and the audience, in terms of the Po Mo Show.  It tells people they are going to hear concert music in new ways, and also suggests that classical music maybe is not just something of the past.

Different genres unrelated in origin can have a lot of aesthetic overlap. For example, genres seemingly disparate as classical, jazz and rock and roll all find a lot of commonality in their extremes. Stack up an avant-garde composer next to a free-jazz musician and a noise artist, and you might find a lot of similarities. What other genres, experimental and conventional, do you draw inspiration from?

That's why it's called the Po Mo Show!  In our post-modern age, composers of art music draw upon whatever inspires them, from punk to Franck to funk!  That's part of the fun of it.  I also think that's why this music, written since 1980, has so much appeal.  It's fun, and the language is not as forbidding to a newcomer as even free-jazz might be.  But free-jazz is in there, for sure.  Genres that post-modern composers draw on include all types of classical music, folk music and indigenous/world music, rock of all kinds (grunge is my fave), electronica (which came from contemporary composers' works of the 1940s and 50s), pop, jazz, etc.  The boundaries that divide "classical" or contemporary art music from other styles are gone.  For example, the composers of Bang on a Can did a whole concert version of Brian Eno's Music for Airports.  My programming for the Po Mo Show draws on all types of new classical music as well, so you might hear a straight up tango, or you might hear a very abstract work, or anything in between.  That's my own Post Modern twist.

Can you give us a current Top 5/Top 10? Could be individual songs, composers, albums, whatever.

These are listed by composers and pieces, but really this is tops just for right now, today!  It's always changing.

-Louis Andriessen's De Stijl

-Gyorgy Ligeti's Desordre

-Charles Norman Mason's Hradcanska

-Tristan Murail's Territoires de l'Oubli

-Henryck Gorecki's Mvt II of Symphony No. 3

-Gerard Grisey's Talea

Older stuff:

-Stravinsky's Rite of Spring

-Steve Reich's Come Out

-John Cage's Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano

-Olivier Messaien's Quartet for the End of Time 

The Po Mo Show with Dorothy Hindman is every Tuesday at 1pm on WVUM 90.5 The Voice. You can stream WVUM here

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Matt Preira