High May­hem goes deep in­side the noise

Pasatiempo - - Outside The Comfort Zone - Rob DeWalt The New Mex­i­can

his week­end, High May­hem Emerg­ing Arts wraps up its Fall Se­ries, four con­certs show­cas­ing lo­cal and na­tional ex­per­i­men­tal, im­pro­vi­sa­tional, and avant-garde mu­sic acts. It’s the first fall con­cert se­ries at High May­hem’s stu­dio space on Siler Lane, which was im­proved to make the setup and break­down of equip­ment for mu­sic show­cases less of a chore and to make the space more invit­ing to ca­sual lis­ten­ers. The last con­cert in the Fall Se­ries is Satur­day, Oct. 16.

“Are you will­ing to sit through up to 40 min­utes of what you may con­sider just ran­dom noise be­fore some­thing deeper re­veals it­self to you?” se­ries cu­ra­tor and par­tic­i­pat­ing mu­si­cian Car­los San­tis­te­van told Pasatiempo when asked if it takes a spe­cial breed of in­di­vid­ual to ap­pre­ci­ate what many peo­ple have a hard time call­ing mu­sic.

When peo­ple un­fa­mil­iar with ex­per­i­men­tal mu­sic hear it for the first time, their re­ac­tions of­ten re­mind San­tis­te­van of a die-hard ham­burger eater be­ing of­fered sushi for the first time. “They think, Eew, it’s raw fish!” he said. “But if you can get them to for­get their con­di­tion­ing ... they might ac­tu­ally dis­cover an in­cred­i­ble new fla­vor and sen­sa­tion. It’s the same thing with mu­sic. You put some­thing new in front of peo­ple, and the re­ac­tion will of­ten be, ‘What’s this fancy frou-frou stuff?’ be­cause it’s un­fa­mil­iar. But I think most peo­ple who say they like mu­sic re­ally don’t. They think they do, but if you ask them what they like, they pretty much like the songs from when they were teenagers, or they like what the me­dia and pop­u­lar cul­ture tell them they’re sup­posed to en­joy. It’s cre­ative sui­cide by over­ex­po­sure — a life­time of set­tling for ground chuck. Many peo­ple just don’t branch out and lis­ten to new things. But you ab­so­lutely have to put your­self in an un­com­fort­able en­vi­ron­ment in or­der to learn and grow these days.”

San­tis­te­van, a sci­ence teacher at the Academy for Technology and the Clas­sics char­ter school and a long­time mem­ber of the decade-old High May­hem col­lec­tive, be­lieves it takes a will­ing, ac­tive lis­tener to “get” what he and other ex­per­i­men­tal mu­si­cians do. “Of­ten­times, the mu­sic isn’t about a hook or a lick,” he said. “You just have to sit there and try to dis­cover the unique space the mu­sic cre­ates. It — and no­body and noth­ing else — is go­ing to do it for you.”

So how do you make ex­per­i­men­tal mu­sic palat­able to some­one who only likes ham­burger mu­sic? “I don’t hon­estly know if you can or should,” San­tis­te­van said. He re­called an in­ci­dent that oc­curred this sum­mer, when he par­tic­i­pated in a teach­ing work­shop at the Santa Fe In­sti­tute: “It was this re­ally heady thing. I did my pre­sen­ta­tion on us­ing these al­go­rithms to cre­ate mu­sic, ap­ply­ing prin­ci­ples of net­work sci­ence be­ing stud­ied there. I dropped these agents into the al­go­rithms, and they would be­come these dif­fer­ent in­stru­ments.”

When San­tis­te­van pre­sented his project to work­shop par­tic­i­pants, half of them were up­set, he said. “You know, ‘How can you pos­si­bly do this, and how can you pos­si­bly dare call this mu­sic?’” The other half loved it. “The same thing hap­pens when my band, Late Sev­era Wires, plays on the road,” he said. “We gen­er­ally get only two re­sponses. Peo­ple are ei­ther com­pletely into what we’re do­ing and think it’s some of the most pro­found art and mu­sic they’ve ever seen or heard, or they have to run out the door scream­ing, pissed off or to­tally con­fused.”

Be­cause this year’s Fall Se­ries spans four weeks, or­ga­niz­ers were able to pick acts from a broader pool. San­tis­te­van’s Late Sev­era Wires re­places Chi­nese com­poser/multi-in­stru­men­tal­ist Li Tieqiao, who can­celed his Amer­i­can tour af­ter the Chi­nese govern­ment de­nied his ap­pli­ca­tion for a travel visa. Join­ing them is Cloa­cas, a project de­vel­oped by Da­mon and Sab­rina Grif­fith of lo­cal group Bull Seal. “They de­cided they wanted to fo­cus more on an acous­tic project, so they put Cloa­cas to­gether,” San­tis­te­van said of the Grif­fiths. “They play these re­ally short, twisted Amer­i­cana songs — they’re beau­ti­ful pieces

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