Phoenix music festival Oh My Ears seeks to introduce audiences to the ‘new music’ genre

The downtown Phoenix music festival will share the wonders of the genre-bending, experimental "new music"

While most ASU students may have never heard of the nontraditional, multi-genre form of music known as "new music," a local festival is hoping to change that later this month. 

Oh My Ears is a non-profit music festival that will take place at multiple downtown Phoenix locations from Jan. 31 to Feb. 4, and the musicians involved are aiming to introduce this generation to a genre called "new music," which includes classic instruments like piano and violin, but performed in unique, alternative ways. 

Oh My Ears founder and ASU alumna Elizabeth Kennedy Bayer said that "new music" is something that expands the definition of traditional music – whether that be experimenting with sound, performance or instruments. 

"It’s music that explores things that may not be considered music," Bayer said. "There’s just so many different things to experience when you come see pretty much any "new music" festival, but I would say we definitely have a good variety."

Oh My Ears started six years ago as a one-time-only marathon concert put on by Bayer as a way to have her compositions played. Back then, Bayer said Phoenix did not have much of a "new music" community. 

Bayer said that nearly everyone involved with the organization is an ASU graduate, which is a point of pride for Bayer. 

Nowadays, Oh My Ears is a multi-day event and its sounds are reaching a greater audience. Musicians are even coming from as far as Canada for the festival. 

This year’s guest composer Sarah Gibson, who is a piano player and composer from Los Angeles, will be playing a solo set and a set with her piano duo HOCKET, and several musicians will be playing works she composed. 

She said she commends Bayer for bringing an inclusive and diverse line-up to the festival, especially as a female composer working in the music industry.  

“She’s quite bold with what she’s willing to bring in and try and have people say, so that’s going to make it a really interesting festival,” Gibson said. “I think it’s gotten a lot of people excited about Phoenix, and it’s brought in a lot of listeners and a lot of players. Now, it’s a festival that I know a ton of people are coming to play.”

With shows planned at venues like FilmBar and the Phoenix Center for the Arts, the new music genre will be played all over downtown Phoenix for an entire weekend. Tickets will vary from $5 for an individual concert, $20 for a day pass or $70 for the entire four-day festival. 

Julia Lougheed, the festival’s production manager and a current ASU doctoral student studying music performance, said that Oh My Ears has given her a community of like-minded people to share her love of music with.  

“When you’re around a lot of people who want to do the traditional stuff, you feel really isolated. It feels like you’re screaming into a void,” said Lougheed. “I really wanted to meet other people screaming into the same void as me.” 

Lougheed said that the event's attendees might even witness performances featuring musicians standing on their heads to play a note, or playing aluminum foil wrapped instruments to make alternative sounds. 

She also said many pieces feature multimedia aspects to enhance their messages and event-goers could expect to see footage of the Apollo 11 rocket launch accompanied by clarinet music at this year’s festival. 

"New music" emphasizes creating an aural experience for audiences, and festivals like Oh My Ears fosters a home for this new generation of unique sounds, people putting on the festival said.

“I think that’s really the magic of Oh My Ears and everything we do,” Lougheed said. “It’s this moment of people realizing a concept with sound and creating this beautiful experience about that for audiences.”

Reach the reporter at or follow @walker_writes on Twitter. 

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