Come Out and Play

Vespertine Noise is a Communal Music Lab

A few weeks before its official opening, Vespertine Noise looks a lot like a regular apartment. Enter the 1,600-square-ft. Columbia City space through an alley, walk up a flight of stairs and into a sparse, white kitchen and make your way to the main room, walled with exposed brick and windows overlooking Rainier Avenue. Occupying the middle of the room is a sleek, shiny-black grand piano.

In another neighborhood, in other hands, this place would make a swank “market rate” unit set for maximum gentrification exploitation. Instead, Rick Riehle and Kait LaPorte are launching a nonprofit arts laboratory here that they describe as “co-working space for independent musicians.”

“This room was the important thing: a big space that allows us to do music,” says Riehle, a computer programmer and jazz-obsessed amateur musician. Returning to Seattle a couple of months ago after a two-year stint working in Colorado, he was searching for a place to park his piano. He was also shaping a loose concept of sharing the instrument with fellow musicians, creating community around it and the space in which it was stored. He met LaPorte, who’s earning her doctorate in ethnomusicology at the University of Washington, via the online job marketplace Task Rabbit, and hired her to help find a studio.

In conversation online and later in person, they realized that they shared a goal of developing community through music. After months of searching, they found their ideal space in Columbia City in May—not just a storage room for the piano but a place to open to the public. They debuted Vespertine Noise with an impromptu show in early July, a last-minute performance by two former Seattle musicians attended by about 30 people.

“Having a show be the first thing helped demonstrate the space’s potential to the audience,” LaPorte says. “You could possibly come in here and think it’s a living room. But if there’s a show happening and you hear the amazing acoustics in here, then it becomes a space that fuels different ideas for different people. We’re into letting the people that use the space define it and have it grow organically based on their musical projects and desires.”

Intimate performances, rehearsal space for soloists or small ensembles, a cozy classroom for music lessons, recording sessions, in-person collaboration for film scores—Riehle and LaPorte envision many potential uses for the space, and they’re already taking reservations. At the moment, the grand piano—a 6-foot Petrof that Riehle has owned for 20 years—a Kurzweil MIDIboard midi controller and an upright piano are their primary loaner instruments. They’re currently devising hourly rates and scheduling details but are looking at a subscription basis and a work-trade program modeled after the Center for Wooden Boats.

“Somebody comes in and they teach a lesson, they spend an hour, we do an hour-for-hour trade,” Riehle says.

With Columbia City Theater across the street and the Royal Room a block away, plus the Hillman City Collaboratory a half-mile down Rainier, Vespertine Noise joins a host of community-minded music spaces in the South End. Eventually Riehle and LaPorte will transition the endeavor to a nonprofit, at which point they hope to replicate the model.

“It’s not gonna be Starbucks, but we wanna find variations on this space in different neighborhoods around the city,” Riehle says. The goal is access, providing instruments and rehearsal space to musicians where they live. The concept for Vespertine Noise is astoundingly simple and desperately relevant. Though making the project solvent will be a challenge, the fact that it doesn’t exist elsewhere is perplexing.

“Every time I have a conversation about this, the idea gets endorsed,” Riehle says. “People that are musicians are like, holy shit, I’ve been waiting for something like this.”

“People came on Wednesday and were like how do I get to be here? And what kind of sounds are you looking for? All sounds. We’re open to it all.”

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