Monday, August 29, 2011

Arts in Nature Festival (put on by Seattle nonprofit Nature Consortium), Camp Long, Seattle 8/20/2011

How does one go about doing a “concert review” of a music festival? Well, I’ll start by saying that two of the groups that I wanted to hear, The Early Music Guild and The Hexaphonic Three, were playing on Sunday when I couldn’t make it… I was not disappointed in the groups that I saw, however. This festival, run by the Nature Consortium (a Seattle non-profit), is one of the only music festivals I’ve seen that not only acknowledges the existence of experimental music, but encourages it.

Camp Long is actually a summer camp for kids. There are a several cabins located within the park; experimental musicians and sound artists take them over for the festival and set up sound installations. A notable installation this year included Trimpin’s set of computer-driven plastic pipes – the computer controlled the turning on and off of a flame under each pipe, which in turn caused air to rush in from the bottom and sound the pipe as if it were an organ pipe. The result was a relaxing, reedy ambience suggestive of Phill Niblock and other drone minimalists. Another installation, this one interactive, was by Rumi Koshino; home-made plastic drums filled with sand and gravel produced the sounds of wind and waves (much like rain sticks, but easier to control). Along similar lines was a set of odd assorted percussion instruments brought by Rob Angus; played into a microphone, their sounds were processed through a set of at least six speakers set in the trees by the trail, and set to delay at different amounts of time. The Trimpin and Koshino installations made a similar use of delayed sounds from speakers.

“Nothing is Concrete”, an installation (not a sound installation) by Rumi Koshino, from her website.

Besides the sonic installations, there were some more conventional musical and dance acts. One of these that I happened to see was “One Love”, a classic New Orleans “street honk” band with a touch of klezmer and an unexpected additional member – a time-traveler from the early 1900’s, wearing an art nouveau butterfly dress and playing a stroh-violin (which, despite its attached megaphone amplifier, was not really audible above the brass clamor but a fun visual image nonetheless). They played jazz standards and their own arrangements of tunes like “The Pink Panther”; at first they played in the tented dome but later continued outside. The message in the juxtaposition of this with the somewhat whimsical installations was clear – one needn’t take music so !#&@!! seriously. Even when your “business” is debunking the mainstream, it’s okay to have fun once in a while.

Street honk in the dome.

All of this brought to mind that I’d planned, several years ago, to set up an installation at this very festival; but I'd been foiled because I couldn’t get the installation to work properly beforehand. I cancelled it at the time, then forgot about it for several years. The installation was my “Eco Slab Gong”, a variation on the “slab gong” idea based on Tom Nunn’s “space plate” – in my case, recorded nature sounds were supposed to vibrate a metallic surface, the resonations of which were to be picked up by a microphone and amplified to produce a sound field that is both natural and man-made, both percussion and non-instrumental. But I could only get it to resonate properly once, at a friend’s house. I recorded that performance, and it’s posted here (edited). I’ve never gotten it to work again. Some of the details are in my former blog, for anyone who cares to look it up.

The last music I heard at the festival was somewhere between a performance and an installation. Suzie Kozawa provided several octaves of hand-held chimes, to be played (improvised on) by audience members, again, within the tented dome. The aleatory, ethereal ringing of these bells filled the air as the summer sky darkened into night, and the lights of Oleanna Perry’s illuminated sculpture of a tree (with candles and birds) faded into sight. For a moment I thought I was in Middle-Earth or Auralia’s Expanse…

Lighted tree sculpture by Oleanna Perry.

At the end there was another, impromptu “act” – one of the “chimers” was still there, playing two chimes (a half-step apart) in a steady, syncopated rhythm. There were a couple of others still hanging around, having put all of the other chimes away, and I don’t know exactly who started clapping and knee-slapping to the rhythm – but soon there were five of us improvising on it; a spontaneous, jubilant chamber sonata for applause, a cardboard box, and two chimes. A perfect conclusion.

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