DESCRIBES HERSELF AS:
Classically trained, rigorously de-trained, semiferal.
She has nowhere to be.
WILL FUCK WITH:
Any set expectation.
In the first few golden minutes of the Genius Awards on Saturday night, shortly after a female and a male dancer performed a fantastic duet in which they reversed roles in a procession of typically gendered moves—lifts, carries—cellist Lori Goldston did something that’s still pretty much unheard of in orchestral performance: She asked the orchestra to improvise. Basically the whole piece. The score she gave them was little more than a text that told them what to do, instead of notes marching across neatly stacked lines. The piece had been inspired, she said later, by a 1972 album by jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman called Skies of America, and “you’d think, well, that’s old, this would be more common by now, but no.”
The music could only be described as a swarm or flock of sound. Strings and winds all rose and thickened and swooped together, with Goldston out front, in her chair behind her cello, occupying the leading tip of the flying V. Listening was not an entirely earthbound experience. It was strange and thrilling. The playing was, too, apparently.
“Three of the musicians came up after and told me they really liked doing it,” Goldston said.
Heads around her were nodding, Yes, everybody liked it, yes.
“No,” she said, laughing. “The way they were saying it was like, ‘We liked it—even if nobody else in the orchestra did.’”
Goldston likes pushing things. She does not mind being seen as a pain in the ass as an artist. Audacious irregularity is something she shares with THEESatisfaction and Master Musicians of Bukkake, the other two celebrated finalists. “Thanks to all of you for making this such a nice town to live in and work in,” Goldston said in her acceptance speech. “There’s so much beautiful, original, weird work that comes out of this town.”
Goldston has been making music here since 1986. Her vision of music is vast, and she suspects she might have the weirdest gig list of any artist in town. Her gigs range from Latin rock (El Pegas) to drone doom (Earth). In style, she can be a raging classical virtuoso, the live score to an art movie about wolves, improviser for the dead inside a columbarium, backup to the world’s biggest grunge band. Or a symphony orchestra’s biggest fear/greatest turn-on. Or she can open for Paul Krugman, serving a ceremonial function. When Krugman recently spoke at the Sorrento Hotel, Goldston and vocalist Jessika Kenney were told to provide “peace and serenity”—Muzak—while people took seats. Instead, they didn’t. In what amounted to a polite but direct refusal, they didn’t even pick up their instruments until it was showtime. Then, they sat in two chairs at the front of the room, commanding its full attention, including the attention of Krugman. And, to a spellbound crowd, they delivered an improvised, Persian-based duet. It caused Krugman to stammer with respect. “I’m extremely, pretty radically undogmatic,” Goldston says. She attributes it to being from the suburbs, from the town on Long Island that’s next to Levittown, the prototype of the mass-produced American bedroom community. “I really have an idea that it’s not good for things to be hemmed in.” As I found when I went to interview her in her Ballard home for The Stranger’s quarterly arts magazine A&P, even her pet rabbit sits outside its cage rather than in it.
In conversation, Goldston is super-distractible. Restlessness is a great quality for a musician, maybe an inherently musical quality. As a kid, she studied every form of music she could find: chorus, orchestra, band, jazz band, cello and guitar lessons. She dropped out of Bennington College after studying music for a couple years (“restless”), and she came to Seattle to be close to the ocean (“I didn’t look closely enough at a map”). Hustling for money, she met an artist who owned a chimney sweep company, and became, very briefly, a chimney sweep. The connection, improbably, led to a phone call from Krist Novoselic and touring with Nirvana. “Then I just went back to playing in some free improvised gallery,” she says. Now she’s in demand by everyone, everywhere, for everything, while at home, the rabbit wanders around, improvising.