We linked up with Memphis electronic artist Ihcilon and asked him a few questions. He was also kind enough to make a playlist for everyone’s enjoyment. Look for him to be playing some shows around town this year.
How long have you been performing as Ihcilon?
The first thing I released was an EP in December 2014. But I had been futzing around with the idea of electronic music since around 1999.
Can you tell our followers how to pronounce Ihcilon phonetically?
To be honest, I really don’t have an official way of pronouncing it that has stuck. I decided on ee-hih-lohn but most people say ih-sih-lon so really either way. When I chose it I never expected anyone to have to pronounce it.
Can you describe your process to making your sounds?
It usually starts with something I hear in regular time: motors, blowers, or sometimes the sound of things hitting together like hammers or wind chimes. I’ll try to recreate it in software and if that doesn’t work I turn to household objects and cheap wind instruments. A lot of it happens by accident. Everything is improvised and recorded in one take. I’ll have a basic road map but fingers will slip or memories will lapse and will yield some sometimes interesting results.
What instruments do you most enjoy working with?
I don’t know if many would agree with this definition, but my favorite instrument at the moment is my phone. I mean, I would love to say that I absolutely love my Buchla or Moog but I don’t own anything like that. There is software on my phone that kind of sound like those things and that’s where the joy is right now.
What inspires you to create?
Personal experiences. Much of the sound you will hear from Ihcilon are more autobiographical than anything. You will hear reinterpreted sounds of medical equipment, internal audio of migraines, sounds from dreams, conversations, shows I have been to… It all kind of mixes together.
Are there any moments as a performer that stand out to you?
Memphis Concréte 2017 was by and large the best thing I had ever been involved in up to that point. It was amazing and unlike anything I had ever seen here.
What can Memphis do better to grow and promote electronic music here?
We’re doing a really good job cultivating a scene here. It’s all still a relatively new idea for this area. I think Memphis is still trying to figure out what to do with music you can’t necessarily dance to. But we have many venues that will let us in and as long as that keeps happening I feel like the scene will grow on its own.
If you were to collaborate with one artist who would it be?
Just one?? Probably Diamanda Galás. Her voice has always been captivating. But I will collaborate with just about anyone.
What do you have planned for 2018?
Memphis Concréte, do a handful of shows, and release at least one album. There’s nothing bigger than that.
Here are the songs featured on the mix:
Cyril The Dancing Bear – Pending Disco
iscDo – The Dust Gets In
Three Voices – Retrospection
False – Operant
All is Almost a Prayer – Stammer
Null – Stammer
Mainsplainer – Ihcilon
Photo by Heather Wallace
Cage let chance override musical composition the way it plays upon nature. He focused on the subtleties between sound and silence, the same way they intertwine in existence. Embracing noise as others did before him, including Russolo, Satie, and Varese, Cage was able to transcend the bounds of traditional music composition that would baffle the avant-garde world for decades. In this episode we talk with Laura Kuhn, James Pritchett, and Brian Brandt of Mode Records.
Dais Records is run by Gibby Miller and Ryan Martin. They release records that most assumed they would only hear stories about and never hear the tracks themselves. From there first release, “Early Worm,” a 1968 recording from Genesis P-Orridge, thought to be long lost, they have positioned themselves as one of the best curated labels in existence. Dais is now 10 years old and they’ve managed to do all of this while on opposite coasts Through Skype and e-mail correspondence we were able to catch up with the guys at Dais Records. Take a listen to the interview with Gibby and Ryan followed by a playlist.
2:45 Ragnar Grippe – Sand Part 1
30:02 Tor Lundvall – Hiding
32:56 Coil – 7-Methoxy-β-Carboline: (Telepathine)
55:49 GENESIS BREYER P-ORRIDGE & Thee Early Worm – Rather Hard to Libel
57:22 Choir Boy – Sunday Light
1:01:29 YOU – Feral
1:05:26 Psychic TV – Papal Breakdance
1:11:37 Annabelle’s Garden – If
1:16:37 Youth Code – What Is The Answer
1:19:37 Drab Majesty – 39 By Design
1:24:30 Death of Lovers – The Absolute
1:29:35 Deviation Social – Machines Convulse
1:32:58 Sissy Spacek – Always Eating
1:33:16 Aaron Dilloway – Ghost
1:38:05 Iceage – Remember
1:40:17 Coum Transmissions – 73 Vibrant
1:43:07 Them Are Us Too – Marilyn
1:46:41 Twin Stumps – Siberia
1:50:58 Tor Lundvall – July Evening
1:52:30 Cold Showers – New Dawn
1:57:00 Martial Canterel – And I Thought
2:00:49 Drew McDowall – This Is What It’s Like
Crosstown Arts played host to Continuum Music Festival August 3-5, 2017. Continuum Music Festival was the idea Jenny Davis and Jonathan Kirkscey of Blueshift Ensemble . Continuum was “a festival of collaborations among musicians and artists working in diverse genres from Memphis and beyond, bringing to life unique performance experiences in the historic Crosstown neighborhood.” The festival featured performances from River City Flute Quartet, Nief-Norf, Chatterbird, Don Lifted, Luna Nova, Rob Jungklas, and Blueshift Ensemble. We were able to catch up with Jonathan Russ, performers, and members of the various music collectives. We present to you our latest episode which recaps Continuum and gives insight to what is going on not only in Memphis but all across Tennessee. Thanks to Jenny Davis, Jonathan Kirkscey, Lawrence Matthews, Patricia Gray, Robert G. Patterson, Celine Thackston, Maya Stone, Jesse Strauss, Ashley Walters, Jay Sorce, Jonathan Russ, Rob Jungklas and all of Crosstown Arts. Enjoy!
We don’t, but we do a lot of prep work while writing that helps inform the theatrical aspect of the band. I’m a very visual person. I find that I naturally associate music with film, so one thing we do is make mood boards for songs we’re writing. It’s like storyboarding a film, it helps to find specific moments and tone within a song.
How much focus is put on the aesthetics of the performance?
We put a lot of work into the visual aspect of the band, whether it’s choreography, lighting, set and costume design. Songwriting comes first, but I tend to think about both aspects simultaneously. We each have different skill sets that we bring to the table, which balances out the work load. Both of the Pauls build, while Teddy and I sew, etc.
You are headed out on another tour soon. Y’all have been hitting the road quite frequently. What effects has it had on the band as a whole?
Tour has made us a well oiled machine. It can be challenging, but we’re all so close now because of it. And personally, I love playing every night. I feel like I’ve grown as a performer, I learn something new everyday.
Are there certain tricks of trade you have learned on your first few trips on the road?
Wear sensible shoes. Get out of the van every 2 hours and stretch. If you’re going to wear a weird costume, you better bring a steamer. Abba is a dance party’s key ingredient. Sometimes the solution to all your problems is a nap. If your lung collapses, go to the hospital and don’t try to blame it on too much Sriracha.
What do you look forward to on the new tour?
We’re excited to see all of our friends in the Midwest. We’ve toured there a few times now and we’ve always had a positive response.
What can you tell us about coming out of Dallas. How has the city/state affected your sound?
Dallas is actually a cool city. A lot of people talk about how great Austin is, but it’s so oversaturated. The Dallas community is very tight knit and supportive. It’s come a long way too. I don’t think that we could be doing what we’re doing five years ago.
Can we look forward to more new tunes from Midnight Opera soon?
Yes! We’ll have a new album in 2018.
Memphis is set to host an experimental electronic music festival unlike anything we have witnessed. Robert Traxler curated a two-day festival, at Crosstown Arts, that showcases Memphis electronic musicians among other national acts. We were able to connect with Robert via e-mail and asked him a few questions about this rare festival.
Check out the playlist that follows the Q&A.
When/How did you start making music?
So, I joined band in high school under the impression that it would get me out of gym. That didn’t work, but it got me playing drums. Later in high school I joined a punk band. I’ve been more or less making music since then.
What is Memphis Concrète?
In the simplest terms, Memphis Concrète is an experimental electronic music festival. It is a bunch of musicians from Memphis and surrounding areas coming together with a wide array of different styles and sounds (ambient, dance, noise, drone, abstract, pretty, atonal, atmospheric) to put on an event where everyone is exploring the possibilities of sound and pushing in their own unique direction. So there’s the performances. There’s also exhibits during the afternoon that are free to everyone: interactive sound installations. There’s a screening of Forbidden Planet (with a live score in tribute to Bebe and Louis Barron’s original soundtrack).
When did the idea for Memphis Concrète come to mind? What was the inspiration?
The idea of a festival like this is something that’s been floating in the back of my head for a while now, at least as a kind of fantasy. Last year I helped organize a Bands for Bernie benefit concert and after it went off pretty successfully, I started to think about it in terms of something I could actually do. And hearing about other festivals later, such as Big Ears in Knoxville, thriving in places you wouldn’t expect, it helped bolster my feeling that this could work in Memphis. I think if people approach new music with an open mind and without expectations or preconceptions, they can appreciate the sounds at face value and enjoy what they hear as sound, even if they don’t have a vocabulary to understand it as music. I think it’s possible for anyone in the right mindset to understand sound on its own terms.
Why is it important to host a festival like this in Memphis?
I think it’s important for several reasons. One is that there hasn’t been anything like it here before. There have been plenty of thriving rock festivals here, which is great, but any music or art scene is only strengthened by new ideas and sounds. I’d like to provide a platform both for people who are into experimental music to find what they maybe don’t see enough of here, as well as people who aren’t into it (yet) to have an opportunity to approach sound in different ways. Selfishly, I’d love to see more of the bands and artists I love come to Memphis more often. Making this city a destination for experimental musicians starts here with the shows and support we give each other here. If we make an attractive and supportive scene for ourselves, then one hopes it would attract outsiders (but by that point, it’s really just a byproduct of something even better as you’ve already created “the world you wanted”). But maybe I just have some Field of Dreams complex. With or without outside artists though, more experimental musicians coalescing into a larger community will serve to strengthen our artistic experiences.
What is the electronic music scene like here?
My feeling is that it’s a bit fragmented. That may partly be on me as an old, out-of-touch guy. The Rare Nnudes label (from which Qemist and minivan_markus are playing the festival) has a pretty big presence in the realm of more beat-centric music, what you might call experimental dance music. I feel there’s a lot more people out there making experimental music than I know about. Even just putting this thing together, I’ve discovered a lot of musicians around town. If doing just a little bit of work has gotten me this far, I’m sure there’s a good number of people in this city making incredible, experimental music that I have yet to discover. My hope is for more and more shows to pop up around town. There’s this series called Sounder that’s being held at Marshall Arts, Aster and Cheap Spirits played that as well. There’s only been one so far, but I hope to see a lot more.
Was it important to include artists from Memphis?
Absolutely. I love that we have a good number of artists coming in from elsewhere, but “Memphis” is in the name of the festival for a reason and the majority of artists are from here. I want this festival to be focused on the community we’re in and what’s possible in Memphis. It’s fantastic to get musicians from other places coming through. I think that sort of “exchange” can help infuse a vitality into a scene and bring new influences and new ideas and new perspectives. But it’s the artists living here that are at the heart of it all. It’s the artists living here that we get to see grow and develop each time they play out. The people here are the people we see (or can or could see) just about every day and entertain us and inspire us anew every day. There isn’t a Memphis without the artists of Memphis. It all starts where you are.
Being the inaugural Memphis Concrète , where do you see this festival in a few years?
As with anything starting out, you hope to see it grow in the coming years. I see Memphis Concrète getting more high profile acts (famous as far as experimental electronic music goes). And while that’s exciting to think about, what’s even more exciting is thinking about the people around town that aren’t playing out now but who might get drawn out to perform at future festivals or shows around town. The bigger acts are going to be playing shows somewhere (whether here or not) no matter what we do. But if there are people here who could be making music and aren’t (at least not publicly), then I find it incredibly exciting to think about them starting to contribute something new and offering a new voice and, just by their presence, expanding what’s happening right here in our city. And I also want to stress that with technology being the way it is now, you don’t need big synthesizers or fancy technology (as awesome as that can be), anyone can get a variety of apps on their phones for almost nothing and make amazing sounds with them. It has the potential to make it all the more democratic and open.
Who are you most looking forward to see perform as a fan?
I have to start out with something of a cheap cop out and say (in all honesty) that I’m looking forward to hearing each and every musician that’s playing. It’s been an incredible experience putting this thing together and being blown away every single time I heard music by someone new added to the lineup. Okay, I know that though my feelgood response is true, it won’t completely fly for this question so I’ll bite and name some names. I’m looking forward to seeing Ihcilon who, full disclosure, is a old friend of mine going back years, but this is really a case where someone you know starts doing something creatively and it’s just so good that it leaves you dumbfounded. His style is quite ambient, very textural, atmospheric, sometimes brushes against something like musique concrète with layers of found sound.
Nonconnah have impressed me live before as well. Their sound is guitar-based but very effects-heavy and very ambient. Whereas Ihcilon’s sound evokes something like anxiety, Nonconnah is more introspective and soothing. Aster has been using synths to make lush, beautiful, ambient textures. I look forward to seeing Qemist perform, his ability to work deep textures into jagged, danceable rhythms is very exciting. Argiflex (from Cleveland, MS) works in a similar territory. Belly Full of Stars (from Nashville) has a soothing, glitch-heavy dose of ambient. manualcontrol’s set is entirely based on light sensors and audience interaction and I know that’s going to be a very special, immersive experience. snwv (from Pittsburgh) has a generative approach to music, that gives his stuff a conceptual sound that I’m really into so I’m looking forward to that a lot. Then there are a few of the artists who have never performed in a live setting before, and I’m beyond enthusiastic to see them bring out something new, into a new setting, that had only existed in the studio or at home. I always look forward to seeing that moment of emergence, when a new voice is added to the noise. There’s a lot to be garnered from established and well-polished artists, but there’s just as much to get from new and inexperienced artists. It’s more of a risk to give your time over to something you haven’t heard before (which is why nostalgia acts are always thriving), but in an area as open as experimental music is, I think it’s easier for new artists to develop a unique identity or fresh approach. Oof. I strayed onto a soapbox. Apologies. Anyway, I’m as much looking forward to becoming a fan as remaining a fan.
Knoxville, a city of just under 200,000 residents, was vibrant during this year’s Big Ears Festival. It is impossible to experience this festival without experiencing Knoxville itself. Wonderfully woven into Old City, downtown, and World’s Fair Park, Big Ears makes Knoxville feel like a quaint European city.
Big Ears is a festival focused on connecting pop, classical, and experimental music. The inaugural Big Ears took place in 2009 and featured composers such as Phillip Glass and Pauline Oliveros. This year’s festival honored Oliveros, who passed last November, by opening the festival with Nief-Norf performing the composer’s Single Stroke Meditation. Oliveros taught us to listen; she composed for “ear-minded people.” It was fitting to begin a festival with her practice of approaching the world with open ears. The Mill & Mine, a concert and event venue in the historic Old City, was filled with people of all ages trying to center themselves before four days of beautiful and confounding music, art, and film.
Big Ears offered an endless supply of entertainment, all in close proximity, letting you freely flow from one exhibition to the next. With international acts such as Colleen, Gavin Bryars, Anna Meredith, DakhaBrakha, Frode Haltli, Nils Økland, and Wu Fei, among many others, attendees would have been extremely hard pressed not to experience something completely new. Acts such as Wilco, Blonde Redhead, Tortoise, and Deerhoof brought more familiarity. Members of Wilco spread their influence to every corner of the city, performing solo and with collaborators.
We spoke with artists Cecile Schott (Colleen), Jamie Stewart (Xiu Xiu), Anna Meredith, Andrew Bliss and Kerry O’Brien of Nief-Norf, Wu Fei, Frode Haltli, and Melinda Lio. They provided insight to a plethora of differing music styles and approaches, and they remarked on Knoxville’s inspiring environment. One specific message remained the same to them: music is a free-flowing art form that can be composed from any background and in many styles.
Nief-Norf performed Michael Gordon’s “Timber” [an hour-long composition for six percussionists playing wooden simantras (2x4s)] in front of hundreds that packed in around their circle at the Mill & Mine. This was a wonderfully meditative piece that was also a measure of endurance for the performers.
There were so many fun and challenging performances during the festival it is hard to recount all of them. We will recap a few that really resonated with us. Wu Fei played her guzheng,an ancient Chinese instrument, in a packed in the gothic revival-style St. John’s Cathedral. The Chinese folk songs echoing around the room were foreign to a Tennessee Catholic church, but it did provide a religious-like experience that was also bright and thought-provoking. Plucking the guzheng, Fei’s demeanor was very intense. Each song was followed by a loud sigh that would signal the end. She was insightful and playful between songs, pausing between songs to make jokes or give the audience some education about the instrument. She revealed that this performance marked the first time she played two guzheng at once. One could never have guessed.
Anna Meredith, British composer, producer and performer, weaved electronic and acoustic sounds through up tempo dance songs that got the audience moving on the first night of the festival. As the last leg on her first U.S. tour, Anna Meredith brought energy and her fierce personality to the stage at Big Ears. Her band included a tuba, drums/percussion, guitar, and cellist – with Anna Meredith at the helm. If she wasn’t banging on a drum, whipping out her clarinet, or bringing the digital sounds, she was dancing – and so were we.
Being a fan of Twin Peaks and Xiu Xiu, this performance at Tennessee Theatre was on our list of must see events. Xiu Xiu’s performance was everything we had hoped for. It was eerie and dramatic, bringing you into their vision of Lynch’s cult television show. The performance ended with Shanya reading an entry from Laura Palmer’s diary wherein she curses Bob for everything and wishes for death. Right as she finished reading, Jamie stopped drumming and embodied Leland Palmer by singing Mairzy Doats while dancing mad and sporadically.
At the Square Room, Philip Jeck spun records and created a sometimes harsh but mostly calm listening experience. As we watched him meticulously shift the sounds we were fascinated while also being lulled into a trance.
Colleen performed both on Friday at the Mill & Mine and at The Standard on Sunday. The Standard offered a more intimate environment. She invited everyone to sit down and enjoy the performance. She picked her viola de gamba and carried us to another place with her voice, which was also looping in time. Her cover of “Pearl’s Dream” by Walter Schumann from James Agee’s Night of the Hunter was mesmerizing and thoughtful considering Agee is from Knoxville.
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith performing Saturday at the Mill & Mine hypnotized the audience with the intriguing, analogue sounds of her Buchla synthesizer. A dark and roomy Mill & Mine buzzed with curiosity as the audience, enchanted by original, digital artwork swarming in vibrant colors behind her, danced and swayed to upbeat, yet thoughtful music. Her music entrenched in natural sounds, made you feel like you were outside in the woods dancing around a fire.
Michael Hurley performed both in the Tennessee Theatre and at the Standard. We saw Hurley at the Tennessee Theatre, which was decked out for Wilco’s performance later that evening. Hurley offered what only he can, stories of lonely but often whimsy folk that is familiar because his influence runs deep in early and modern folk and rock music. The large theatre environment left us longing to see him in a more intimate environment that The Standard might have offered, but the Pilot Light – a small dive close by – may have been an even more ideal space for Hurley to share his playful storytelling in song.
Numerous panels focusing on a variety of issues and topics that let curious audience members further entrench themselves. We attended one such panel discussing Pauline Oliveros’ life and works; presented by The Wire (UK) with Alvin Curran and Emily Manzo as speakers. Curran painted a vivid picture of Oliveros life, influence and inclusivity in her music-making. Curran highlighted her discontent with the status quo, a discontent that allowed her compositional “experiments” to open the ears and minds of her students and peers. Her ideas resonate so perfectly with what Big Ears accomplishes. Curran, thoughtfully reminiscing on Oliveros’ love of finding music in various sounds around us, asked the audience to “burst into spontaneous music-making.” Curran conducted a 30-second humming orchestra of attendees’ voices that was both beautiful and surprising to the audience. Concluding the panel we were allowed to participate with many others in a group meditation as well as Rock Piece by Pauline. With our fellow attendees, we made sound with the natural, local environment – with Tennessee rocks. Each rock contributed its unique note to the group’s music. The most resounding experience of the festival, this piece, composed by one of the utmost accomplished, and inspiring composers of our time, brought strangers together growing not only our ears but opening our minds to Oliveros’ world of sound-making.
The lineup was one of the most eclectic and interesting ones you’d find at any U.S. music festival, and like the rocks, each performer provided a unique experience that built upon the history, evolution and connectivity of modern music, new music, noise music, and pop music. Among the festival attendees, volunteers, guests, and artists, everyone was open to new sounds and ideas. After the final performance of the festival (Xiu Xiu at the Mill & Mine), Cecile (Colleen) wandered up toward the stage and asked how Shanya was producing those sounds. It is this curiosity and intrigue that makes Big Ears Festival such a unique experience.