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Conversations with a Curator: Douglas Laustsen (Part 2)

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 was published in two parts here on ARTSblog:

You mentioned that the recordings people send you tend to be more polished than you expected. On the one hand, that perhaps makes for a better listening experience, but on the other, it perhaps gets away a little bit from the original vision for Explorations. How do you negotiate that tension in your curation process?

It is interesting, to me at least, that I’ve had to be more concerned with creating a ceiling for the segment than a floor. Luckily, I have space during the rest of my show to feature music I don’t find appropriate for Explorations, and I have played submissions outside of Explorations as a way to promote a piece and maintain the spirit of the segment. Clearly there is a lot gray area in making this determination, but over time my familiarity with the new music world has made this judgement a lot easier.

How much of your time do you spend listening to people’s submissions? And what keeps you going?

Submissions for Explorations don’t really follow any week to week pattern, but I’ll listen to each piece three or four times to get a firm grasp of it before deciding if it is appropriate. These submissions also have priority over the albums I receive from labels each month for regular airplay (which is generally about 10 hours of music a month), and the time I spend on soundcloud/twitter/etc. seeking out new music.

As for what keeps me going, I am pretty addicted to finding new music and hearing things for the first time, so I’m generally excited to sit down and hear some fresh sounds.

What do you consider to be “good” curation? Is it about ethics, is it about filling a gap, etc.? What kinds of shortcuts do you think are permissible, and which ones do you not let yourself take?

I think any curator, whether creating a concert series or publishing a monthly short story series such as One Story, needs to have a clear focus of the type of art it is trying to feature and what makes his or her space unique. There is literally more music out there than hours in the day, and as a curator I’m attempting to create a virtual space that a listener can approach and quickly recognize the space’s identity.

I also have to deal with the critical mass of music being created. My social networks help limit the amount and quality of music I come in contact with. For example, Paul Bailey’s alt-classical has been a great source for finding new material.

I don’t think this solution would work for any other medium, but I rely on iTunes Smart Playlists to filter music: Some of these playlists help me cycle through tracks within genres, while others keep the newest albums I’ve received close at my fingertips (as well as cycle out older tracks) and shuffle the pieces to explore how music would fit together for airplay. These playlists took a while to set up, but have saved me countless hours by targeting the most important music to listen to, as well as varying the tracks to keep my interest.

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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