ChamberLab does do-it-yourself chamber music - the kind where the shell of a washing machine is fair game for a percussionist.
This quarterly concert series takes classical music out of the concert hall and into the community, bringing together local composers and musicians to meld alternative and classical styles.
On Sunday the Ethiopian restaurant Cafe Desta will host the third performance of the series. This venue selection continues the trend of performing in unusual spaces, such as nightclubs and independent movie theaters.
Chris Black, 43, brought this funky blend to Tucson, inspired by similar projects in his former hometown, Austin, Texas. He reached out to local composers and young musicians in 2010 for the first ChamberLab concert. After a short hiatus, the idea reached a crescendo with this year's series.
"This music is really a lot of fun," Black said over the phone. "I don't think our audience is made up of people who normally go out to see classical music. We're in venues where music lovers are already hanging out."
The ensemble itself is eclectic. The musicians are accustomed to reading the nuances of sheet music. The composers, with D.I.Y. backgrounds in genres like indie-rock and punk, prefer to write down chords and "jam it out." They aren't interested in redos - each performance is unique.
"I don't feel like there are many rules we have to abide by," Benjamin DeGain, a vibraphone player and series composer, said in a phone interview.
"There's not this classical snobbery going on, and everyone is free to really explore."
DeGain's broken washing machine became a ChamberLab highlight after he took it apart to fix it several weeks before a performance.
"I'm a percussionist, so it doesn't take long before I start hitting things with mallets or sticks," DeGain said. "It turned out it made a deep, resonant sound depending on where I played the washing machine."
DeGain drummed the washing machine, and Black played the double bass in a duet.
DeGain said glass and glass bowls will chime at Sunday's performance, where about nine musicians and five or six composers will play up close and personal with the audience.
"In a concert hall, the audience is 20 feet away," Cassandra Bendickson, a bassoonist for ChamberLab, said over the phone. "In this, the audience is right there, and we interact with them. Maybe the audience gets to have a beer. They get to laugh if it's funny and applaud if somebody plays a great solo."
This interaction makes classical music more accessible.
"Those two worlds, the club world and the classical world, should be more involved with each other," Bendickson said. "We could really borrow from each other and make cool new things like this."
If You Go
• What: The third performance in the ChamberLab concert series, featuring chamber music and alternative styles.
• When: 7:30 p.m., Sunday.
• Where: Cafe Desta, 758 S. Stone Ave.
• Cost: Suggested $10 donation. BYOB encouraged.
Johanna Willett is a University of Arizona journalism student who is an apprentice at the Star. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org