One of the most adventurous contemporary music ensembles of the early 21st century, Alarm Will Sound expand the boundaries of classical music, performing material by electronic, jazz, and rock artists in addition to works by modern and minimalist composers. The ensemble frequently incorporate video, text, movement, and other multimedia elements into their theatrical performances. They have been artists-in-residence at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Dickinson College, and other institutions, and have collaborated with artists such as Björk, Dirty Projectors, and Medeski, Martin & Wood. First appearing on albums of Steve Reich compositions during the early 2000s, Alarm Will Sound gained a wider audience with 2005's Acoustica: Alarm Will Sound Performs Aphex Twin. They continued to fuse genres with releases such as the globally influenced Canzonas Americanas (2012) and Alarm Will Sound Presents Modernists (2016).
Alarm Will Sound's roots lie in Ossia, an organization founded by students at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, with the intention of performing works by minimalist composers. Alan Pierson and Gavin Chuck co-founded Ossia in 1997 and began recruiting volunteer musicians and performing concerts on campus. A few years later, as several of the members were nearing graduation, they decided to continue working together and form a professional, nationally touring ensemble with a fixed membership. Initially known by the placeholder name Ensemble X, they decided on Alarm Will Sound and gave their first concert, consisting of Steve Reich compositions, at New York's Miller Theatre in May 2001. Alarm Will Sound and Ossia's recording of Reich's "Music for Large Ensemble" was issued by Nonesuch on the 2001 release Triple Quartet, and Cantaloupe Music issued the ensembles' readings of Tehillim and The Desert Music in 2002. Alarm Will Sound continued performing Composer Portrait concerts at Miller for several years, including spotlights on György Ligeti, Conlon Nancarrow, David Lang, John Adams, and others. They were named artists-in-residence at Dickinson College in 2004, which gave them a significant opportunity to develop their repertoire.
While at Dickinson, Alarm Will Sound recorded Acoustica, an album of acoustic arrangements of pieces written by electronic musician Richard D. James (Aphex Twin). The album was a surprise success, vastly expanding the group's audience. In 2006, Alarm Will Sound presented Odd Couples, their first multimedia performance, which included pieces by Frank Zappa, John Cage, John Cale, and others. Reich at the Roxy, a CD/DVD of Reich compositions, was released by Sweetspot in 2006. Alarm Will Sound's recording of Van Gogh by Michael Gordon was issued by Cantaloupe in 2007. The ensemble's first full release for Nonesuch, 2009's a/rhythmia, focused on rhythmically complex pieces ranging from composers like Nancarrow and Benedict Mason to electronic artists Autechre and Mochipet. The group then collaborated with Dirty Projectors in 2010, performing a live arrangement of the computer-composed 2005 album The Getty Address. Also in 2010, Alarm Will Sound became the ensemble in residence at the Mizzou International Composers Festival, where they performed music by Martin Bresnick, Nico Muhly, Augusta Read Thomas, and others.
In 2011, Alarm Will Sound premiered their most ambitious performance piece to date at Carnegie Hall. 1969 used music, images, and stage performance to tell a story about John Lennon, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Leonard Bernstein, and Luciano Berio, relating to the political and cultural climate of the late 1960s. The following year, the ensemble released Canzonas Americanas, an album composed by Derek Bermel which incorporated a vast array of styles originating from Europe, North and South America, and Africa. Alarm Will Sound became artists-in-residence at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2013, where they performed the New York premiere of Steve Reich's Radiohead-inspired Radio Rewrite. (A studio recording was subsequently released by Nonesuch.) In 2014, Alarm Will Sound initiated Alarm System, a program in which they collaborated with artists from several different backgrounds, including jazz trio Medeski, Martin & Wood and Icelandic composer Valgeir Sigurðsson. The ensemble performed with Björk at Carnegie Hall in 2015, as the Icelandic star launched her world tour, and they appeared on her Vulnicura Live release. Alarm Will Sound Presents Modernists, released in 2016, contained arrangements of 20th century works such as the Beatles' "Revolution 9" and Edgard Varèse's "Poème Électronique." In 2017, Alarm Will Sound released Splitting Adams, an album containing pieces by John Adams along with commentary tracks by Nadia Sirota, host of the podcast Meet the Composer. Omnisphere, a recording of a 2015 Alarm System performance with Medeski, Martin & Wood, was released by Indirecto in 2018. ~ Paul Simpson