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Festival Mozaic combines classical music with iTunes user agreement 

Whenever Susan Cahill needs a little inspiration for how to bring new life to the work she does with a 200-year-old piece of wood, she clicks on over to YouTube.

click to enlarge IMPROV ARTISTS Musician Susan Cahill (left) and actor John Wilkerson (right) will team up to perform "Sonata for Double Bass and iTunes User Agreement" at Festival Mozaic on July 20. - PHOTOS COURTESY OF SUSAN CAHILL AND JOHN WILKERSON
  • Photos Courtesy Of Susan Cahill And John Wilkerson
  • IMPROV ARTISTS Musician Susan Cahill (left) and actor John Wilkerson (right) will team up to perform "Sonata for Double Bass and iTunes User Agreement" at Festival Mozaic on July 20.

The Colorado Symphony bassist, composer, and University of Denver faculty member is always looking for new ways to approach classic music. So a few years ago when she and her longtime collaborator, actor John Wilkerson, stumbled on the idea of doing a classical piece that drew on text from the iTunes user agreement, Cahill was game.

"Bass gets a lot of experimental music written for it because there isn't a lot of repertoire like violin," Cahill said. "Composers know we're up for anything. This just seemed so arcane."

Cahill and Wilkerson will perform their "Sonata for Double Bass and iTunes User Agreement" on July 20 as part of Festival Mozaic in San Luis Obispo. The duo selected enough excerpts from the very, very lengthy text to put on a performance that runs about 12 minutes. While the words remain the same each time they perform the piece, Cahill improvises the music differently and Wilkerson changes his approach to the text with every show.

"Some of it ends up being silly, morose, ironic," Cahill said. "The philosophy of improv is not to plan things, but to practice being open. We sort of created something that is a pretty good reflection of how strangely we are fitting all of this technology into our lives."

Seemingly dry lines such as, "Apple may use technologies to verify your compliance," have inspired other artists as well, including graphic novelist Robert Sikoryak, who paired the legal text with iconic characters like Bart Simpson and Garfield in Terms and Conditions, which came out last year.

"If you take it out of context, you realize how bizarre it is," Cahill said of the iTunes user agreement. She and Wilkerson were particularly struck by a section that talks about when a family breaks up. Think when someone graduates, moves out, or gets a divorce and wants their own iTunes account.

For her own family, Cahill tries to keep a limit to how much time she and her young children spend looking at screens. That means no game console or cable at home.

"I'm a bit of a Luddite," Cahill said. "I've been pretty protective of them, and I take responsibility to keep things balanced until they're old enough to handle the dopamine hit that comes with a text. If it's not there, we just don't fight about it."

As a musician, Cahill spends much of her life in the tactile world, practicing her craft, but YouTube is always an invaluable resource that allows her to get inspiration from other artists, especially given that not a lot of modern, classical music is available on music streaming services like Spotify, Pandora, and Apple Music.

"We really feel torn between the organic and the electronic," Cahill said. "As someone who plays a 220-year-old piece of wood for a living, I'm acutely aware of the dichotomy."

Ultimately, Cahill hopes that "Sonata for Double Bass and iTunes User Agreement" will lead listeners to their own conclusions about technology, art, and life.

"It does leave people in a sort of quizzical state, which I think is the best possible thing," Cahill said of the piece. "You could take it a bunch of different ways." Δ

Arts Editor Ryah Cooley is more of a Spotify girl. Send comments to rcooley@newtimesslo.com.

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