Last Monday I checked out some friends of mine who were playing at the Oakland New & Experimental Festival.
Now, I’m a big fan of the local college radio station, Kalx, which has a weekly “Noise Hour,” devoted to experimental music. When that comes on, I always change the channel.
For whatever reason I thought that the New and Experimental in the festival title referred to the fact that it was an experimental and new event for the group that was putting it on.
I found myself submerged in experimental music–a fate I would not have chosen, but one I was truly intrigued by.
The event was hosted by Studio 1510, a cool warehouse space in West Oakland; one that further incited my passion to one day have a warehouse space. This one was particularly awesome; there was a hole in a wall for selling beverages staffed by friends of the residents. I have a hunch they were operating out of a closet.
I caught the end of a very interesting performance by Kristin Miltner and Karen Stackpole. Their music incorporated “lush, huge dynamics ranging from chiming, piercing, scraping metallic rings to the rumbling deep bass of gongs and toms.” Though I only caught the end, I was instantly transfixed and taken away. These strange melodies really caught you–and your emotions–and would not let you go.
I was able to make my way into the room where the performances were taking place for the next act. One of the fellows who lived there had created these beautiful wooden sound boards to ease the neighbors’ experience; they were truly an art piece in themselves. The room sat about twenty-five comfortably, though the forty or so people crammed into the room were not complaining.
James Fei and Tim Perkis (pictured to the left) seemed an unlikely pair. Their one song spanned around fifteen minutes, and though I cannot say it was my cup of tea, their electronic musical stylings certainly got me thinking about how our culture defines music and how it’s changing with the constant advent of new technology, and experimental artists pushing the envelope. I smiled to think of them practicing for long hours at a time; one with a laptop and some strange looking piano-like thing, and one with a piece of equipment that resembles the once ubiquitous telephone switchboard.
The last act I saw was a group formed and directed by my friend, Elizabeth Orr, and featuring another friend, Joey Petropoulos. They had constructed this hauntingly beautiful set, and told me that they had lugged the dozens of phone books needed to polish the effect on their bicycles. Each singer seemed to prefer to be absolutely anonymous; this was music that revolved around the message, not the messenger. Their frank, political lyrics seamlessly delivered coupled with electronic back beats charmed the crowd and demanded audience participation.
One of the things that is so rewarding about living in Oakland is being surrounded by so many artists challenging our notions of what traditional art and music is, and collaborating with and inspiring others. I know that I won’t be so quick to change the channel next time I stumble on Kalx’s noise hour.