When the Peak FreQuency Creative Arts Collective got started in 2011, one of Jane Rigler and Glen Whitehead's first goals was to bring Pauline Oliveros to Colorado Springs. Avant-garde music's lone female pioneer is a perfect fit for the two UCCS music professors' university outreach program — not only because of her prominent role in what was otherwise almost exclusively a boys' club, but also because of her lasting impact on unexpectedly diverse areas of music.
"We try to connect our students with artists that are very special, unique, vital and interesting," explains Whitehead, who's also director of the music program at UCCS. "Being the only woman in this group of composers, she brought a different perspective to electronic music and its role in our music-making. But she also was responsible for some serious innovations, back when the technology wasn't even there yet."
A big part of the 80-year-old New York artist adding UCCS to her packed schedule, which includes a week-long residency at City University of Hong Kong later this month, is a longstanding friendship with Rigler.
"I was a graduate student at UCSD [the University of California, San Diego] in the early '90s," says the flautist, who views its electronic music department founder's artistic legacy and devotion to community building a "never-ending source of inspiration."
A decade later, Rigler would recruit Oliveros for a "Relay-NYC!" event she was organizing at New York City's Museum of Modern Art. The event brought together 13 composers and improvisers for a trio of performances throughout the building, during which individual musicians would randomly relocate from one group to the next. In addition to an accordion-wielding Oliveros, the assembly of mobile musicians ranged from electronicist Ikue Mori to Colombian-born artist Ricardo Arias, whose instruments include a bass balloon kit.
"From that point on, we stayed in touch," says Rigler, who dropped in on some of her mentor's classes while doing her own eight-week residency at upstate New York's Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
Like Rigler, Whitehead has a long résumé of musical accomplishments that date back to an early association with one of experimental music's most legendary figures. "I was lucky enough to be able to work with John Cage before he died," says the musician, who at the time was an undergraduate at New England Conservatory of Music. "He was a composer-in-residence for two weeks, and I was playing trumpet in a contemporary music ensemble. I was the only brass player there even remotely interested in such things at the time, and it was the best thing that ever happened to me there. It was just a mind-blowing experience for a 21-year-old."
Whitehead and Rigler are hoping to create similarly transformative experiences for their own students, while helping them see the connections between contemporary music and its often strange antecedents.
"What's really interesting about popular electronica is that it's completely inspired, even if subconsciously, by artists like Pauline or Stockhausen or John Cage," says Rigler, citing Aphex Twin and Nine Inch Nails as examples.
As for Peak FreQuency's other mission — to liaison with the rest of the Colorado Springs community through off-campus performances — the challenge is getting audiences to let their guard down long enough to appreciate something that comes off as eccentric, unfamiliar or even downright disturbing.
"I think that what makes us uncomfortable can show us so much about our lives and our values and what we appreciate," says Rigler. "Sound can be a safe place — people turn to music to feel good — but what we want to do is that and a lot more. We want people to feel everything."