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As deep as Chicago’s free-improv scene runs, there aren’t too many folks devoted exclusively to what’s usually called “lowercase sound” or “electroacoustic improvisation,” which is characterized by small sonic gestures, collective development, and an unconventional aural palette that gravitates toward tonal extremes. Last year Jon Abbey, who runs the important New York label Erstwhile—perhaps the most visible and tireless proponent of this stuff—sent me a self-released, self-titled CD-R by a couple of Chicagoans, Graham Stephenson (trumpet) and Dave Barnes (electronics). I didn’t get around to listening to it until very recently, but now that I have it’s clear that these two are pushing in a very different direction than most local improvisers.
Stephenson takes after radical trumpet manipulators like Greg Kelley, Mazen Kerbaj, Nate Wooley, and Peter Evans, using amplified but unpitched breath, valve manipulation, and sour mouthpiece snorts and farts as primary building blocks. I don’t know what kind of electronics Barnes plays, but his contributions fit brilliantly, with feedback and sine-wave frequencies providing a simpatico analog to Stephenson’s teakettle drones and air-leak shimmies.
The pair will participate in concerts tonight and tomorrow with like-minded out-of-town explorers who are traveling together as part of a tour called Silence and Socialism. Tonight at a venue called Outer Space (1474 N. Milwaukee #3F) Stephenson will play duets with Atlanta’s David Kirby, who makes noise using four cassette decks. On his recent Cittacaura (released free, like everything on his download label Homophoni) a constant spew of sharp, abrasive electronic noise is in constant dialogue with ambient sound, flashes of live percussion, and manipulated recordings of conversation and other hard-to-identify stuff. Barnes will perform with New Yorker Reed Evan Rosenberg, who according to the Silence and Socialism site explores the “possibilities of the computer as instrument by crafting volatile digital feedback based programs and playing them in both improvised and composed contexts.”
Also on the bill is the duo of local turntable experimenter Aaron Zarzutzki and New Yorker Richard Kamerman (electronics); Kamerman appears on the recent Three Duos (CFY) in various combinations with Stephenson and Barnes.
Then on Saturday night at Enemy Barnes, Kamerman, Rosenberg, and Kirby will perform under the name Art Major; a quartet with Stephenson, Zarzutski, Dan Fandino, and Brian Labycz performs as Ladyfriend. Also on the bill is Tiger Hatchery.
Dinah Washington, Dinah Jams (Emarcy)
Eddie & Ernie, Lost Friends (Kent)
Gareth Dickson, Collected Recordings (Drifting Falling)
Quilibrì, Eco Fato (Auand)
Brigitte Fontaine, Prohibition (Polydor, France)