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Conversations with a Curator: Douglas Laustsen (Part 1)

Ian David Moss

In the spirit of the recent conversation on ArtsBlog, Emerging Ideas: Seeking and Celebrating the Spark of Innovation, I thought it would be interesting to talk to a curator about how he makes room for the unfamiliar in his work.

Douglas Laustsen is a music educator and trombonist based in New Jersey who runs a radio program called “Endless Possibilities” on WRSU, Rutgers University’s college radio station. We decided to continue a discussion we began on Twitter a few months ago about curatorship and new music.

Our discussion will be published in two parts here on ARTSblog:

Tell us a little bit about your radio show – what is it? How did it come to be, and how did you get involved?

“Endless Possibilities” is a weekly radio program I have hosted since 2008 on WRSU, the college radio station of Rutgers University. I began hosting shows on WRSU in 2005 with a wildly free form show called ‘Trivial Pursuits.”

My initial motivation was to interact with music in a very non-academic way because I was beginning to feel some conservatory burn out. As fun as it was to segue Pierrot Lunaire into London Calling into Hauschka, I eventually limited the format of my show and renamed it “Endless Possibilities.” While I don’t restrict myself from playing any specific genres, the core of each show is decidedly contemporary art music.

You announced an open call for submissions recently. What kind of response have you gotten? What is your process for evaluating what comes in through the door?

I’ve actually had an open call for submissions to a semi-regular segment of the show, Explorations, for about as long as “Endless Possibilities” has existed. The original motivation was to highlight great new music that may not have the shine of professionally made recordings or a publicity budget.

This has long been one of the best parts of college radio, and I was hoping to do a little bit of that for new music. Additionally, I was looking for music that presented me with a new idea or fresh approach to an old one.

I am more concerned with the idea than execution, and I hope to give the audience, which I assume to be college radio listeners more than new music insiders, the opportunity to connect with something they haven’t been previously exposed to.

A large majority of the submissions have been more polished than I expected. Upon reflection, the music has to survive the composition, rehearsal, and performance stages before it can even exist as a recording, and then the submitter has to be proud of the result.

The bar is a lot higher than a call for scores, and I have no shortage of air time. As a result, I’m able to program a little more than half the works I am sent. While I’ve received a diversity of submissions, one thing that is clear is that most of the music I receive comes from people who have an affinity for self promotion.

Do you feel like you’ve “discovered” any artists through your submissions process (i.e., that nobody knew about before)? Do you ever try to promote their work beyond the radio show?

One composer I featured was solicited the following day for a commission. Another composer, Nat Evans, wrote a piece for a chamber group I run, and we’ve performed the piece multiple times. I certainly haven’t catapulted any composers from obscurity to household name, but I am pretty sure I have raised the profile of some musicians, including International composers who do not seem to receive attention in America. Additionally, I’ve kept tabs on the composers I’ve programmed and mention them on my website when they are promoting new projects.

The Endless Possibilities radio show airs 1:00-4:00 p.m. ET Thursdays on WRSU in New Brunswick, NJ, which can be heard locally at 88.7 FM and anywhere with an internet connection at

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