Podcast

Memphis Concrete: An Experimental Electronic Music Fest in the MidSouth

On June 24th and 25th of 2017 an interesting experimental electronic music fest descended upon the MidSouth with artists primarily from Memphis, Mississippi, and the southeast.

20170616_081359“I wanted to take electronic music back to its roots,” said creator Robert Traxler. His inception for the fest came from the experimental spirit of the original electronic music artists like Delia Derbyshire, Karlheinz Stockhausen, John Cage, Pauline Oliveros, Suzanne Ciani, Pierre Schaeffer, and many, many more from the 1940s, 50s and 60s. But musique concrete is not all we found at this festival. Harsh noise, techno, ambient analog improv sets, and a live score of Forbidden Planet were a few of the performances found at Memphis Concrete.

Take a tour through the fest with Robert and some of the talented artists that participated in the Memphis Concrete Festival in the latest episode of Sonosphere.

 

 

 

Thanks to:

Robert Traxler

Dominic Van Horn (Aster, manualcontrol)

Luis Seixas

Ben Bauermeister

Kim Rueger (Belly Full of Stars)

Connor Brown (Cheap Spirits)

Kane Blanchard (Tatras)

Kole Oakes (Pas Moi)

The live Memphis Concrete sets heard here by Belly Full of Stars, Aster, Cheap Spirits, Pas Moi, Ben Bauermeister, Tatras, manualcontrol, and Robert Traxler were captured and edited by Robert Traxler.

 

Two other tracks used by participants in the fest are “#2” by NEPTR and “Viginti Quintuplet” by Ben Ricketts. Thanks to all the artists for sharing their time and work.

 

An Evening with Wu Fei

 

In this special, bonus episode of Sonosphere we present An Evening with Wu Fei in collaboration with Crosstown Arts. This is Fei’s live performance at the Crosstown Arts gallery on Cleveland Street in Memphis, TN on June 30, 2017. Fei CA PosterThe intimate space lent itself to an interactive performance between the audience and Wu Fei as she showcases what the guzheng can do through its thousand-year history.

Wu Fei is a composer and guzheng player. She is a native of Beijing and a current Nashville resident. She is a master of the guzheng, the ancient 21-string Chinese zither. At this performance Fei told stories of her upbringing in Beijing, her relentless practice with the guzheng and how she found improv at Mills College as well as through her time in New York’s improv scene. She mixes her Western and Chinese traditional sensibilities with a contemporary, experimental dialect that only Fei can convey in her “down-to-earth,” personable way. We thank her and Crosstown Arts for an amazing show!

 

 

Pauline Oliveros

This episode of Sonosphere takes a look at the life and work of composer Pauline Oliveros through the eyes and ears of those who worked with her and learned from her. We spoke with Claire Chase, Wu Fei, Monique Buzzarte, Tara Rodgers, and Kerry O’Brien about how Pauline touched their lives personally and professionally, and how her legacy shaped the musical world of today.
Join us.
Tracks in this episode:
Mnemonics IV – Pauline Oliveros
Ocean State – Tara Rodgers
A Bubble in My Eye – Monique Buzzarte
Dawn – Wu Fei
b_second – Deep Listening Band
Bye Bye Butterfly – Pauline Oliveros
Nike – Deep Listening Band
d_forth – Deep Listening Band
Tribute to Pauline Oliveros Sonic Meditations – Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre
ICE Performs Pauline Oliveros “Concerto for Bass Drum”
ICE Performs Pauline Oliveros “Double X”
Poliveros

Oh, What Big Ears You Have!

 

 

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.

What the Wind has to Say: Marfa Myths

Last year Sonosphere visited the small, Texas town of Marfa for the Marfa Myths music festival created by Mexican Summer and Ballroom Marfa. Now in its fourth year Marfa Myths has grown to a three day fest with hundreds of individuals from around the country in attendance. It’s still a small festival, which allows for intimate conversations.

This year’s festival is upon us, so let’s travel back in time to Marfa Myths 2016 during a two-day wind storm, where I talk with sound artist Maria Chavez about her performance informed by the wind and chards of vinyl; where harpist Mary Lattimore shares insight into her latest album informed by road trips out west.

Head out this year, March 9-12 to Marfa Myths 2017 and you won’t regret it. Tickets at mexicansummer.com

 

 

The World’s First Duets for Mellotron

With the upcoming release of the Duets for Mellotron LP, we decided to share our interview with the people behind this project.  Prior to the April 16, 2016 performance, at Crosstown Arts in Memphis, TN, we sat down with Winston Eggleston, Robby Grant and Johnathan Kirkscey and talked about what brought this show to fruition and their history with this unique instrument.  Check out the interview on this episode of Sonosphere featuring a track from the performance, “Joan Folds Towels” written by Robby Grant and Jonathan Kirkscey.

15826566_203776573418898_2656035400152452806_nPick up your album January 13-18th, 2017 at Crosstown Arts and relive a beautiful night that was a first of its kind.

The Birth of Modern Music Series Part 5: Karlheinz Stockhausen

Welcome to Sonosphere the podcast that explores the sounds all around us; in art and music movements through history.  

This is part 5 of our Birth of Modern Music Series on European composers of the early 20th century from the atonal compositions of Austria’s Schoenberg to the realization of total serialism of Olivier Messiaen we continue our coverage with German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen and the evolution of electronic music. This episode we’ll hear from Stockhausen scholar Joe Drew; thanks to Ben Siler as the voice of Stockhausen.

 

Stockhausen tracks in order:
Kontra-Punkte
Kreuzspiel
Klavierstuck
Gesang Der Junglinge
Gruppen
Kontakte
Stimmung
Momente
Aus Den Seiben
Fur Kommende
Gesang Der Junglinge

The Birth of Modern Music Series Part 4: Olivier Messiaen

Welcome back to Sonosphere’s Birth of Modern Music series featuring modern European, classical composers that inspired the experimental, avant garde art and music scenes of the 50s, 60s and resonate in music composition today.

In the first episode of the series we highlighted Arnold Schoenberg whose atonal works ushered in a  new school  of composers. Then we moved to Erik Satie whose Vexations and other “sonic experiments” influenced his peers and John Cage who discovered the piece years later.  After that we covered Edgard Varese, a peculiar composer who sculpted sounds in a way never accomplished previously. Today we will delve into the life and works of Olivier Messiaen.

Messiaen escaped the world of composition’s shift to serialism through religion, nature, and birdsong, but he had a profound influence on the evolution of electronic music composition through composers like Karlheinz Stockhausen, Pierre Boulez, and Xenakis. 

Join us by subscribing on iTunes and following us on Soundcloud, Facebook, and Twitter.

Thanks for listening!

Songs in this month’s episode:

  1. Des Canyons Aux Etoiles I: Le Desert
  2. Des Canyons Aux Etoiles II: Les Orioles
  3. Preludes: La Colombe (The Dove)
  4. Quartet for the End of Time
  5. Turangalila – Symphonie
  6. Mode de valeurs et d’intensites
  7. Meditations sur le mystere de la Sainte Trinite

 

photo: Catalogue d’Oiseaux: styriarte.com

For Rabid Music Lovers: Goner Records

Welcome to Sonosphere! This month’s episode features Zac Ives co-founder and co-owner of Goner Records, Natalie Hoffman of NOTS, Chris Shaw of Ex-cult and JB Horrell of Ex-Cult and Aquarian Blood to bring you a Goner Fest 2016 Special Edition.

Thanks to the Goner family and Memphis musicians for sharing their passion! Goner Fest 13 is this weekend starting tonight, Wednesday September 28, 2016 at Crosstown featuring flyers from the Memphis underground installation called Torn Down by Thursday. Bands are playing September 29th through Oct. 2nd. Come on out!

Check out the Goner Special Edition on iTunes and play on Soundcloud below.

Gonerfest13_FINAL logo_WHITE BACKGROUND_LowRes.jpg

The Birth of Modern Music Series Part 3: Edgard Varese

Varese searched for the modern sound, the sound that would define his generation. Like Schoenberg before him, Varese’s early atonal period broke down language and form into a stream of sensations – “his screaming chords seemed to have no emotion tied to them, no history or future” – just very present in the now.

Join us on the journey through the life and mind of French American composer Edgard Varese.