The California EAR Unit is a chamber ensemble dedicated to the performance of contemporary music. Its concerts typically involve use of traditional instruments and electro-acoustic and interactive computer techniques. For as aggressively modern as that description sounds, much of the music they perform is quite accessible, even catchy in its use of multiple genres, like jazz, rock, and ethnic styles, not to mention classical. That said, its performance and advocacy of music by Morton Feldman, Elliott Carter, John Cage, Charles Wuorinen, Morton Subotnick, and other such advanced or avant-garde figures, clearly places the group in the vanguard of ultra-progressive ensembles. It has premiered over 500 works since its 1981 founding and has made numerous recordings. Many of the pieces it has introduced were written for the group by composers like Louis Andriessen, Mel Powell, Alison Knowles, John Luther Adams, and Julia Wolfe. The EAR Unit has recorded for a variety labels, including Nonesuch, New Albion, New World Records, Crystal, Tzadik, Bridge, O.O. Discs, and Cambria.
The California EAR Unit was formed in Los Angeles in 1981. The group consists of five members but can expand or contract depending on the requirements of the music score. The 2009 EAR Unit consisted of five regular members: Eric km(Kenneth Malcolm) Clark (violin), Erika Duke Kirkpatrick (cello), Amy Knoles (percussionist and computer-assisted electronic music), Phil O'Connor (clarinet), and Vicki Ray (piano).
There have been many personnel changes over the years, one necessitated by the unfortunate early passing in 2008 of founding member, flutist Dorothy Stone. In 1987 the EAR Unit became the ensemble-in-residence at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, serving in that capacity until 2004. In 1989 it made its first CD, and throughout the 1990s the group made numerous highly praised recordings of mostly very risky repertory, including Feldman's Rothko Chapel and Why Patterns? on New Albion (1992) and Subotnick's And the Butterflies Begin to Sing on New World Records (1997).
In 1997 the EAR Unit made a highly successful tour of the U.K. and made subsequent tours of Europe, Asia, and the U.S. It has also been featured on Canadian Public Broadcasting and National Public Radio.
In 2004 it was named ensemble-in-residence at REDCAT at the Walt Disney Hall Complex. Its first appearance following the death of Stone was a highly successful concert at REDCAT in May 2008, which featured the premiere of Gordon Beeferman's Rites of Summer.