In 1978 three young composers, Jim Staley, David Weinstein and Dan Senn, founded Roulette Intermedium and began to present concerts of music, dance and intermedia art in a Tribeca loft. Weinstein had written a piece, Café Roulette, an homage to Dada and to chance operations in music. Perhaps the three artists had some premonition that an organization dedicated to experimental art was a gamble, that the odds of its survival were long. But they invoked the hazards of chance the element of risk, and thirty-four years later, their bet is still paying off.
These informal concerts soon attracted an audience, critical attention, and the portentous title: the Concert Series of New and Adventurous Music which settled in at about 70 concerts per year. The first, magical, donation — an unsolicited and unexpected $1000 — arrived in the mail from the Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts (created with funds contributed by John Cage, Jasper Johns, and Carolyn Brown). A few days later, Cage showed up at a concert (Cage and Merce Cunningham came pretty regularly. They would arrive early and Cage would sit in the front row and play chess with a protégé, while Merce would linger in the back). “Thank you!” we said. Cage stretched into his legendary grin and said, “Were you surprised? “ Surprised! We thought we had hit the lottery.
For the next three decades, Roulette Intermedium presented experimental music, dance and intermedia in small loft spaces in lower Manhattan, and gradually acquired an international reputation as an important center for experimental art. Thousands of artists have presented their work here including world-renowned figures such as Maryanne Amacher, Robert Ashley, John Cage, Anthony Braxton, Bill Frisell, Philip Glass, Oliver Lake, Leroy Jenkins, Christian Marclay, Meredith Monk, Ikue More, Pauline Oliveros, Zeena Parkins, Kaija Saariaho, Henry Threadgill and John Zorn. But every season scores of young avant-garde artists make their first professional statements at Roulette.
In November 2011, Roulette moved from a 74-seat loft to a 400-seat theater with superb acoustics, and gloriously equipped thanks to the generosity of our funders – individuals, foundations, corporations, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, Marty Markowitz, the Brooklyn Borough President, Steve Levin, our Council Member, and the New York State Council on the Arts.
The new theater allowed us to expand our presentations and our services to artists and our community. Now each season we present over 150 music, dance and Intermedia performances, host fifty arts and community organizations such as the Brooklyn Youth Chorus and the Brooklyn Philharmonic, and welcome an audience of over 50,000.
Roulette has built a support structure for these artists. They’re paid professional fees; they get commissions – especially the emerging ones, who have received over $120,000 in Jerome commissions and Van Lier Fellowships, and who are now also eligible for paid Jerome residencies in our theater.
Our programming has expanded globally through Roulette’s Internet programs where audiences all over the world can explore the treasures of our Archive. Roulette TV programs are now available on Brooklyn Cable TV as well as Manhattan Cable. Our Children’s Concert Series encourages curiosity, listening and looking attentively and practical experiment in monthly events and workshops.
Our ongoing purpose has been to support artists through presenting a substantial and diverse program of concerts, commissioning new work, paying artists a deserving fee, and finding them an audience interested in learning about developments in experimental art.
Over the last three decades, as we pursue our mission, we have emphasized quality. The work we present is distinguished for its intelligence, for the virtuosity of the performers, and for the bravery of its investigation. And now we have provided an outstanding performance environment for our artists and audiences.
In an astonishingly short time Roulette has become an epicenter for our Brooklyn neighborhood, and for the arts organizations of New York City. It occupies a unique position in New York City’s cultural landscape as one of the most creative and prolific centers for experimental art in the United States.