Amanda DeBoer Bartlett has been involved in contemporary and experimental music for over ten years. She earned her undergraduate degree in music at DePaul, her master’s at the University of Buffalo, and her doctorate of musical arts in contemporary music at Bowling Green State University. During graduate school, she ran small experimental and contemporary music events. When she moved back to Omaha, she decided to try something bigger.

During her student years, Bartlett had attended a number of contemporary music festivals. The experiences continued to resonate with her.

“It was so transformative to be surrounded by all these amazing artists, musicians, composers, performers,” Bartlett said. “I wanted a way to, in a way, recreate that.”

Contemporary classical music is mainly comprised of western classical tradition, but written by living composers, especially those who have been active within the last 10-20 years. “A lot of classical music organizations don’t program music written after 1920,” Bartlett said. “They’re really missing out on what’s happening today.”

In experimental music, artists use sounds and styles in ways that challenge our perception of what music and performance can be. Experimental music can include improvisation, as well as sounds that would not usually be considered musical: Environment, noise, long and expansive silences. 

In 2012, when she moved back to Omaha, Bartlett decided to try her hand at organizing a festival. The first Omaha Under the Radar (OUTR) festival took place in 2014. 

Festival founder Amanda DeBoer Bartlett and Omaha Under the Radar attendees. Photo by Aleksandr Karjaka.

With this festival, Bartlett said that “at our heart, we are trying to build community through experimental performance.”

Hannah Weaver, assistant professor and coordinator of percussion at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, heard about OUTR when she applied to work at UNO, and she was intrigued. “You think about Chicago and New York being the places for contemporary music,” she said. “I was so excited there’s this oasis in Omaha.”

Weaver appreciates the democratic process in contemporary music, with players having more of a voice in the ensemble — as well as the composers. Weaver said that “partially because I’m a percussionist, and most of our pieces tend to be newer, I really love working with living composers, to have their insights in a collaborative process.”

This year, Weaver will be performing with her duo partner Christine Beard, professor of flute and piccolo at UNO, as XY Duo, representing two generations.

Hannah Weaver, assistant professor and coordinator of percussion at UNO, will perform at this year’s Omaha Under the Radar festival. Photo by Ben Semisch.

For the festival, Bartlett aims to represent a blend of approaches, including pure experimentalists and those who are doing more traditional performance styles, such as dance, poetry, and performance art. 

In its second year, the festival expanded programming to include an educational component. The Summer Soundry Institute is the brainchild of performer, composer, and educator Stacey Barelos. 

“What we wanted was people who are maybe musicians but haven’t tried experimental styles, or people who haven’t created music before, and give them an opportunity to try it,” Bartlett said.

In Soundry, students of all ages explore deep listening, sound art, and experimental composition. In the past, Soundry has also involved instrument building, improvisation, and professional development.

In 2017, OUTR started the year-round Generator Series to expand programming in collaboration with downtown arts institution KANEKO. OUTR has nurtured relationships with other community organizations and educational institutions as well. Since its first festival, OUTR has partnered on programming with Omaha Girls Rock, Girls Inc., Film Streams, and the Union for Contemporary Art. 

OUTR strives to create a space that is accessible for all. Bartlett notes that it involves hundreds of conversations with community members and collaborators to consider the factors that make an event welcoming. “Is the location physically accessible for all people? Is it comfortable? What is the atmosphere we’re creating?” 

Bartlett works with all venues to create a kaleidoscope of events with different atmospheres. Whether a rock club or an art institution, OUTR tries to program artists whom people would want to see. 

“What we are trying to do is help people come together and experience beautiful things,” she said. “When you don’t create a space that’s comfortable and welcoming, you’re taking that away.”

After doing this for nine years, Bartlett has seen the ebb and flow of music venues. “It’s the nature of culture and creation,” she said. “You have to maneuver with the community.”

This year, OUTR is expanding into new neighborhoods, with venues including North Omaha Music and Arts on 24th and Lake, the Jewish Community Center, and the Holy Family Community Center. 

Bartlett’s favorite aspect of the festival is seeing artists who have never worked together experience one another’s art and form new collaborations. But the most exciting thing for her is standing among audience members as they experience something new. “Sometimes people walk away loving something they’ve never heard before,” she said.

Omaha Under The Radar will take place July 20-23 at KANEKO, The Slowdown, The Jewish Community Center, The Jewell, Holy Family Community Center, Millwork Commons, and more. Tickets are on a “pay what you can” scale. 

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