New York has sprouted a new venue for contemporary classical music that appears to be a first of its kind. National Sawdust in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, is a converted former sawdust factory that combines an acoustically optimised concert room, recording studio, video editing room, offices and space for artists in residence. Launched in October with a festival honouring Terry Riley, this remarkable artist-led venue is open 24/7 and intended as an incubator for new art, allowing artists to develop and program their own concert ideas and create albums all under one roof.
“A classical music think tank” is how Gothamist’s Jen Carlson describes it. “The idea is that the entire artistic process can be brought to life and come full circle in this one space, from the birth of an idea to its first performance,” says The Village Voice’s Lindsey Rhoades: “Nothing quite like it exists in New York City, or anywhere else in the world”.
National Sawdust’s advisory board, which includes Riley, Laurie Anderson, Suzanne Vega and Philip Glass, gives an indication of the artistic clout behind this US $16 million venture.
Inside it is described as looking like a spaceship and has a capacity for 350 standing or 200 seated listeners. Acoustics were foremost in the design brief. With a two-ton door from London and the structure suspended on giant springs, the whole facility is isolated from external noise and vibration. Acoustic engineering was done by Arup – the same company that helped design the Melbourne Recital Centre and Ngeringa Cultural Centre in the Adelaide Hills.
Creative director Paola Prestini, herself a composer, says “The founder had the genius idea of doing something called ‘philanthropic investment,’ where essentially the group of building owners agree to donate the property after five years”.
Even in scaled down form it’s what every Australian city is aching for – all it waits for is someone with bright ideas and money.