First the good news: Roulette as a presenting organization will live on. Now the bad: Roulette the new-music performance space at 228 West Broadway, Manhattan, has closed down. I’m sentimental about it, for during all the years I was most active at the Village Voice, Roulette was the Downtown space where I went to the most concerts, and it was, in its low-expectation new-music way, perfect. It was the right size – an audience of seven people (which I’ve seen there) wasn’t embarrassingly few, and probably 70 could squeeze in and create a feeling of collective excitement. It was sufficiently formal to encourage musical focus, but not so it felt stuffy or distant from the performer/composer. I just don’t feel comfortable in the kind of Knitting Factory/Tonic atmosphere where there are no printed programs, nobody knows where the press list is, you don’t know what’s going on or whom you’re hearing, the volume is pumped up to hell and the acoustics are terrible, where you’re squeezed in with 75 sweaty 22-year-olds who are applauding wildly because they have no prior experience and no basis for judgment. Roulette was a good step and a half up from that. Jim Staley and David Weinstein, who ran the place, were composers with a long history of presenting (back to Chicago in the 1970s), and they were selfless, and had taste. But a few years ago a bar opened downstairs and shook Roulette’s floor with its own goddamned 130-decibel Muzak, and after that Roulette – which I suppose was legally supposed to be Staley’s apartment, not a performance space – ceased to enjoy its full advantages as a venue. This changes has been a long time coming, and as Staley’s notification letter says, “we chose not to fight the legal battle that might have earned us more years in the space. It would have been expensive, ugly and perhaps endless. Instead we see this as an opportunity to develop the organization and take the view that we have finally outgrown the space.”
So it’s not an occasion to mourn. Roulette has a series on electronic arts at Location One in Soho, October 9 – 19 and November 12th – 23. Plus, later they’ll be giving concert series’ uptown at the Leonard Nimoy Thalia at Symphony Space, doing work at the Flea, and giving their usual Festival of Mixology at the Performing Garage next June. You can read all about it at their web site, www.roulette.org. They’re presenting it as the beginning of a new incarnation, and have plans for a possible more permanent space in Brooklyn, with 260 seats and superb acoustics. Meanwhile, the old space will remain their recording studio and business headquarters. All the best to them in their transition, and may their audience increase.
Just a coincidental historical note: When Staley and Weinstein moved to Chicago from Champaign-Urbana to bring Roulette to Chicago in the late 1970s, they brought it to N.A.M.E. Gallery. Then they went on to New York. A few years later, in 1984, I became director of N.A.M.E., and resuscitated the new music series there that had died when Roulette left. I used to go through all the old N.A.M.E. files and read all the Roulette literature. Then, in 1986 I followed them to New York, and always felt a connection to them as a fellow Midwestern transplant.