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This past Spring Break, seven Rock Show DJs ventured into the heart of Knoxville, TN for Big Ears music festival. Check out these recaps of their experiences!

Kronos Quartet: 40 Canons with Bryce Dessner

The official Big Ears schedule for Sunday early afternoon told us to expect Canadian throat singer Tanya Tagaq at The Square Room, so when Bryce Dessner walked on stage instead, a large portion of the crowd was genuinely surprised. It took us all a minute to accept the fact that we were about to watch a meticulously composed arrangement rather than a visceral, bodily performance. Despite the initial shock, I was enthusiastic about seeing Dessner.

The first piece sounded disappointingly like a string quartet covering a National song, but other pieces ventured into territories not explored on any National record. While his compositional style still shone through in his use of repetitious phrases and a minimalism-inspired climatic song structure, ‘40 canons’ showed a playful side of Dessner usually masked by the sombre vibes of The National. Dessner joined the quartet on stage with his guitar to play this piece. The five of them exchanged shy smiles of friendship throughout the show. This was quite a charming performance. -JPM

 

Terry Riley with Gyan Riley & Tracy Silverman

 

Time was short on Sunday, so our final hours were carefully planned out: we’d catch the first 30 minutes of Kronos Quartet’s intimate performance with Tanya Tagaq at the Standard–those of us who missed Tagaq’s mind-boggling solo show on Saturday were eager to see what we were missing–before travelling swiftly across town to witness the rare talents of composer and legend Terry Riley.

Riley was scheduled for a two hour set from 4pm to 6pm at the Knoxville Museum of Art. With a strict departure time of 5pm and a ten hour drive ahead, our schedule was tight and anticipation was high. Of course, Kronos pulled a fast one at the last minute and switched the ordering of their set times without announcement: it became clear as they took the stage that Bryce Dessner would join the quartet for the first half, and Tagaq would follow.

If our intuitions were correct, Tagaq and Riley now filled directly conflicting time slots. And as the final notes of Dessner and Kronos resounded through the auditorium, the seven of us were confronted with an existential crisis: Riley’s performance would begin in minutes, Kronos had exited stage temporarily (with Tagaq’s presence still uncertain), and our departure time loomed ever nearer. Which performance to attend?

This was a question to be individually determined, of course, and the consensus was split. I concluded that Riley would probably pass away before I had the opportunity to see him perform again. Intrigued as I was by Tagaq’s throat singing, I have a history with Riley’s music and infinite admiration for his influential work. I scurried over to the KMA with Stephen and Jenna while the rest waited for Kronos to reappear with Tagaq.

Gentle cycles of piano, guitar, and violin washed over us as we entered the museum. We descended into a cavernous hall, towards the sound source, and I felt comforted by the familiar minimalism cascading down the stairs with us. A shiver flowed through my body as we approached the stage. Riley sat at the piano clad in a tunic, vest, Taqiyah cap, and his ever-magnificent beard. The audience was composed primarily of older folks and more children than we had seen all weekend, but the overall turnout was surprisingly sparse. Listeners sat quietly at the foot of the stage, some standing in the back or on the sides, dispersed loosely throughout the space. As we took a seat on the floor and settled into the present moment, my extremities tingled with mixed emotion–an effect I sometimes experience when listening to Riley’s compositions. Piano riffs meandered meaningfully over the walls and back over themselves and I was enveloped in sound. I closed my eyes. Lost in relaxed concentration, I didn’t notice the tingling sensation migrate from my extremities to my throat and up into my head until it began seeping out of my eyes. All the memories and mindsets I’ve come to associate with Riley’s music struggled to the surface, fighting for air, and I drifted with them on a conceptual journey through the soundscapes.

The first movement drew to a close. I dried my eyes as Riley introduced his colleagues, including his son, Gyan, on guitar. When it came time to introduce himself, he concluded: “And I’m an old man,” with a soft-spoken chuckle. Riley briefly spoke about the next piece, a movement inspired by the California desert, as the three musicians settled into their places. A drone creeped warily into the atmosphere. Riley lifted his left hand and began chanting in the tradition of classical Indian music, letting his fingers rise and fall and tremble with the vibrations. Again enveloped in the moment, I bowed my head and prepared to float through time indefinitely, obediently following the trace of Riley’s rasping voice–I had no idea how long the movement would last, but it didn’t matter. I had reached a rare and temporary state of equilibrium that resisted the intrusion of external thought. And I still haven’t fully processed it. -Maddie Higgins

 

Tyondai Braxton: HIVE

 

so many drummers. the sounds made me feel like crimes were taking place all around me. one dood played the drums like a gargoyle and it was awesome. -Jay Smith

Max Richter: The Blue Notebooks & Infra with the American Contemporary Music Ensemble

 

I settled into a middle seat in the balcony of the Bijou Theatre, creating precisely the same vantage point from which I watched Jonny Greenwood’s and Iannis Xenakis’s pieces performed the previous year. “Infra” confined most of the fast-paced movement up to the treble range, complemented by slowly-evolving droning harmonies and textural sounds. His pieces have the effect of confusing the listener’s perception of time by drawing attention to the dramatic foreground while subtler elements of the piece continue to evolve. I kept finding myself completely absorbed in the feeling of one moment of the piece, then suddenly, with no recollection of how it got there, I’d realize the piece had entered a different stage entirely. Richter has an interesting compositional ear that is creative at the least and downright extraterrestrial when in full force. -JPM

 

Ben Frost

Ben Frost

 

I’m writing this re/+/cap as if it contains a typog/+/raphic strobe light because by /+/far the most mem/+/orable sensation from F/+/rost’s show was the incessant fl/+/ickering of a collection of str/+/obes. Ben Frost’s sh/+/ow was one of t/+/he more energetic performa/+/nces of the weeke/+/nd. Frost himself coolly/+/ let the music guide his moveme/+/nts and a continual head bob rippled t/+/hrough the crowd. Frost’s fu/+/zzes, tings, and glitches some/+/times took on the persona of IDM, so/+/metimes ethereal soundscapes, and s/+/ometimes mechanical ind/+/ustrialism–most of the time all/+/ three simultaneously. Similar to his strag/+/gly yet sculpted beard, his /+/music is in many ways fr/+/ee yet structured. The quietly confide/+/nt Ben Frost is a powerf/+/ul force in the experimental elect//ronic world and it w/+/as a real pleasure to get to see him in s/+/uch an intimate ven/+/ue. -JPM

 

Jamie XX

Jamie XX

 

Jamie XX reminded us that WNUR knows how to shake its groove thang.

 

Tanya Tagaq

 

yoo this performance was WILD. probably my favorite of the weekend. I wasn’t sure if Tanya was an exorcist or an exorcisee or somewhere in between, but this set was DOWNRIGHT ANIMALISTIC. That shit was primal af. WOW. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever experienced a more psychedelic performance (and I’ve seen String Cheese Incident like twice!!) Tanya’s one of the illest throat singers in the game right now. all the way turnt 10/10 -Jay Smith

 

Clark

 

Maddie had the gnarly opportunity to interview Clark! Check it out here.

 

Norton Wisdom

Nels Cline & Norton Wisdom: Stained Radiance

 

My only exposure to Nels Cline before this performance was through his work with Wilco, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. We joined a seemingly aimless line that wound back into a long, narrow amphitheater with no windows. All the seats were filled, so we lined up along the stairs, one of us on each stair. Cline began the set by requesting that audience members look at painter Norton Wisdom, not at him. The duo blew us away with Cline’s seemingly effortless ability to reflect the mood and tone of Wisdom’s painting in real time. This was a “whole is bigger than the sum of its parts” situation–Cline’s strands of ambient electric guitar dictated how the audience perceived the figures spewing from the tip of Wisdom’s brush. The two had obvious chemistry with each other and with their respective media. Wisdom’s wizardry with a paint brush awed the audience, while Cline’s reflective drones tied the artwork to their hearts. A once-in-a-lifetime experience I’m feelin’ lucky to have witnessed once in my lifetime! -JPM

 

 

Grouper

 

        “Once a song has left me I want it to belong to whoever finds it”

                                                                            -Grouper

        “Everything subjective, which due to its dialectical inwardness eludes a direct form of expression, is an essential secret”

                                                                                -Kierkegaard

So an impasse. I thought really that Grouper’s performance suggested that she would not, could not escape the fundamental inwardness of her art and offer something readily available to the audience. I would have said that of all the artists we deem confessional, the music that is called so deeply personal, Grouper and her performance stand out in taking seriously the claim that this type of expression is necessarily not for the taking. Any attempt by Grouper to directly express the kind of really inner things she has in mind will only mislead, and the performance indicates an awareness of this difficulty. Phrases bleed into one another and sounds collapse into noise just as they become discernable. She almost hides herself on stage, sitting on the ground surrounded her gear. I thought it was stunning despite my being necessarily outside her world.

Kierkegaard describes his “knight of faith” as admirable but not comprehensible. We can watch the truly subjective person dance between infinity and materiality, but in doing so gain no knowledge of how we ourselves might emulate the motion. The direct relationship between the individual and God, or for Grouper between herself and Love, is something for which observation offers no education, as everyone must work out their salvation in radical isolation. If all of this seems ridiculous then everything is in order, because gleaning anything other than awe and mystification from the story of Abraham or a live set by Grouper is the highest of comedic paradox. Two thumbs up. -Brian Campbell

 

 

Loscil

 

Lovely midday set in Knoxville’s Modern Art museum. Loscil provided subdued, watery vibes whilst surrounded by some sweet glass sculptures. Pleasing sub-bass tones. Heavy low pass filter. Grainy textures. Contemplative. Everything you’d want from an ambient set. It was hot. -Stephen Antonoplis

 

Steve Gunn

 

this guy’s gnarly. no better place to listen to Steve Gunn than Knoxville. Hints of Appalachia bleed through Steve’s pensive guitar licks and weathered vocals. It’s impossible to overstate how phenomenal this performance was. Fans of Kurt Vile look no further; a former Violator himself, Steve’s melancholic melodies hit at the same feels. Me and Emai got to meet Jim Jarmusch after the show which was also cool. Sweet dood, former Wildcat (meow).

-Jay Smith

 

Amen Dunes

 

These gents are righteous. Big Ears was kind of light on the traditional bands (at least traditional for me: guitar, bass, drums… discernible melodies), but Amen Dunes hit the spot and provided a nice dose of downright listenable grooves. LISTEN: you gotta listen to these guys.

 

Holly Herndon

 

Stephen interviewed Herndon! Checkout the killer feature here.

 

 


Maddie Higgins’ Interview with Chris Clark

We spent the majority of our brief Friday night at the Standard. A small warehouse with concrete floors, a makeshift bar, and standing room only, the Standard was the temporary home of the artists deemed more “electronic” performing at Big Ears. Around 10:30pm, Chris Clark occupied the stage in a plain black t-shirt that matched the black tape obscuring his Macbook Pro logo. His head bobbed to the rhythm as he manipulated the live set controllers spread in front of him. We, too, bobbed along in the crowd, our idiosyncrasies manifesting in kinesthetic form. Yet, some of us felt an unpleasantly familiar sense of inhibition.

 

The mass of bodies pulsed self-consciously, oriented towards the stage, eyes locked on the DJ. I reeled through memories of concerts and club nights in my head and recalled the typical and strange disconnect between the two distinct spaces of musical enjoyment. At clubs, where the DJ is often nestled in a booth or somewhat removed from the spotlight, dancers let loose individually or in groups. They fully utilize their spatial circumstance as they lock into a “flow” for hours. At concert halls, on the other hand, you get an effect similar to the one at the Standard: hesitant shuffling, with an occasional enthusiastic dancer as the exception rather than the norm. Amidst the shuffling, I thought: “Are we here to watch music or here to listen?”

 

As the set drew to a close, I wondered if Clark had an opinion on the matter. Jay and I spotted him standing at a table near the bar with his manager and felt compelled to interrupt. We didn’t get the first part of the interview–and the full answer to our original question–on tape, and our attempt to follow up with Clark’s team after met with failure. A nonetheless engaging conversation ensued. What follows is a transcript of our discussion, beginning at a moment when Clark mentioned moving around stage more than usual during his Big Ears performance. His manager had just offered some insight on the matter.

 

Clark: Testing, one two. Ok go on. If you’re not like, uh–the less you do on stage, the more, like, the flaws of the music show up really, really brutally. When you’re not trying to cover it up with a dance move. Is that kinda what you’re saying?

 

Manager: Yeah. Yeah, i think so. I think it’s because–

 

Clark: You said it better earlier.

 

Maddie: No, yeah, you did say it– you definitely said it well.

 

Manager: The way that I look at it is: when you go to a performance, and you’re in the audience, you are–there’s a relationship between the person that’s playing music, no matter what style they have, and you, in the audience. And if you’re not doing very much then there’s little, um, dialogue.

 

Maddie: Yeah, room for error.

 

Manager: There’s less body language, and less–there’s less information.

 

Maddie: Less perception, like fewer senses. Yeah.

 

Clark: I was thinking about this the other day. When you look at someone on stage, you’re looking at the effects of the music. And if they’re doing a lot of stuff it distracts you from the cause, what’s coming out of the speakers, and the actual cause is the musical decisions and the thing that you’ll judge the music on purely by its own merits. And if you can just like, do a little bit of a twirl…they’re like social effects. It’s like social or cultural rather than the actual music. Whereas if you’re just like, well I might as well not even be here, you’re opening the music up to severe criticism. But, at the same time if your music’s good, people will be like “well okay, this guy’s not gonna do a bit of musical theatre, he’s not in pantomime, he’s not an actor, he’s not like, he’s not a break dancer, so I’ll just listen to the music.” And if you’re music’s good enough, then I think people are really into that. When you’re just like, “Well, no, I’m not gonna ask the crowd to applaud after every breakdown.”

 

Maddie: No, of course.

 

Jay: What about from your performance aspect? Do you enjoy it when you’re kinda up there, putting on a show?

 

Clark: Not always, no. I enjoyed it tonight.

 

Maddie: I would agree, I would agree. not always.

 

Clark: yeah?

 

Maddie: Yeah.

 

Manager: No, definitely not always.

 

Clark: Sometimes it’s awful.

 

Maddie: Especially when you get discouraged. Like, if something–sometimes–I don’t know. For me at least, something bad happens and I’m just like “Now I don’t wanna–” I mean, I know I gotta keep going but it just–

 

[…]

 

Clark: Yeah. I think as soon as you start thinking too much about what people are, you know–

 

Maddie: Perceiving, yeah?

 

Clark: I mean, just people are. You know, you can’t look at it like it’s like uh, I don’t know. I just can’t. I wish people–well, I don’t wish this at all actually, but like people–

 

Manager: Disclaimer, that was a disclaimer.

 

Clark: People are so unpredictable. You can’t get into this mentality that you know what people like and you just need to think about what they want. Because it’s chaos–it’s utter chaos. Every human on this planet is far too intelligent to have one clear motive. So, if you just think of like, you’re playing to an audience of everyone who’s totally different in their own world, with different expectations–they might hate what you do, they might love it–and then you’re just like, well, fuck it, I’m just gonna do what I wanna do. Because you can’t–there’s no way you can–

 

Maddie: You can’t please everyone.

 

Clark: It’s not like a focus group, you can’t ask them “do you want to hear a kick drum? Do you want to hear a melody?”

 

Maddie: Like, how does this snare feel to you, can I make it a little tighter?

 

Manager: Yeah.

 

Clark: Yeah. It would be really bad, if it was like that. If it was so proscribed, it would be actually–not good.

 

Maddie: Yeah, that actually brings up another question for me. I guess, for me, when I’m DJing, I’m always wondering…because I have friends who say different things. Some of my friends say, “forget the crowd, just play what you wanna hear, and if you’re really passionate about it then it should come through,” right? And then I have other friends who say, like, you know, “try to tailor what you’re interested in also to the crowd and shit…”

 

Clark: Oh, fuck that, no. I would reject the second one. Quite strongly.

 

Maddie: Okay, true. Good, good to know.

 

Clark: But then–

 

Maddie: You gotta have a good time, you know.

 

Clark: Yeah, but then I’ve really gotten into trouble in the past by doing that.

 

Maddie: Of course it doesn’t always work.

 

Clark: Yeah, doesn’t always work. Because I’ve just got–I’ve got really shitty taste in music. Like I really love that Beyonce track–this isn’t on tape right?–that Halo track.

 

Maddie: Which Beyonce track?

 

Clark: Halo.

 

Maddie: Oh Halo, yeah! it’s not bad.

 

Clark: My girlfriend caught me listening to it. I listened to it in the morning on headphones, like while I was making coffee. I had it on like four times in a row on loop. And it was like a guilty pleasure.

 

Maddie: She doesn’t know.

 

Clark: She was like, “Have you–are you just there? Listening to that? You’ve just been listening to that for about half an hour on loop?”

 

Manager: That’s almost grounds for divorce isn’t it?

 

Clark: It’s a fucking amazing tune.

 

Manager: No, no, I know, I was joking.

 

Clark: That track is amazing.

 

Manager: I know it quite well. Why do you think it’s bad to listen to?

 

Clark: Well, no. It was more the fact that I was–it wasn’t the track, she loves it as well–it was more that I was like listening to it in the morning on headphones, almost like I was looking at porn or something and she’d caught me having a wang.

 

Manager: And you were in, like, a white vest.

 

Maddie: A moment.

 

Clark: Because I was just sitting there, like, with my tea.

 

Jay: Did she interrupt the moment? Or did she let it flow?

 

Clark: No, she just, like, smirked at me and was like “You’ve been listening to that–you really like that song, don’t you?” You know when you’re called out for liking something a bit too much, and it didn’t deserve that much love.

 

Jay: I feel like that’s where musical tastes are made, though. Like on the fringes–the weird shit that other people don’t like, but that you somehow manage to enjoy.

 

Maddie: I feel like that’s how genres are made, almost. You know, just kinda take something that’s super on the fringe and make this new genre out of it.

 

Jay: Not that Beyonce is exactly on the fringe.

 

Maddie: Not that Beyonce is, no, but…

 

Manager: She’s had a fringe before.

 

Clark: She kind of is, because that track is so fucking technically accomplished. It’s like, these insane melodies that she just belts out. And it’s quite easy to, like–I can sing that to myself internally, but–

At this point, a member of the road crew instructed the men to pack up their items and prepare for travel. Our conversation was cut tragically short, leaving us with many questions: what secrets does Clark know about ‘Halo’? When was Beyoncé on the fringe? When will people stop staring and start dancing? We might have to hunt Clark down at Pitchfork to find out. -Maddie Higgins


Holly Herndon’s set at Big Ears this year was easily one of my top three of the weekend. Accompanied by visuals from her husband Mat Dryhurst, Holly flowed between songs, mixing improvisation with more formal songs. Rooted in techno and avant-garde electronic music, her music moves in strange but familiar ways. Take, for instance, “Chorus“: Over glitchy waves of sampled browser content, scattered drum hits build into a beat, grooving for long enough to convey the instant familiarity of dance music before breaking back down into scattered percussion hits and glitchy samples.

I got the chance to interview her before her Red Bull-sponsored show last Tuesday at the Empty Bottle. We talked about her compositional techniques, her approach to live shows, and what her upcoming album Platform will sound like. Listen to the full audio below.

 


eyeb3

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To usher in 2015 we will be posting a series of reflections, lists and miscellania that look at back at what the past year has had to offer. Today we have two shows focused on 2014′s underground electronic music and some accompanying notes courtesy of longtime Streetbeat DJ and host of etc. radio (Fridays 10pm-3am) … m50

 

m50, Ashina, and special guest Multipara on 1/2/2015: FULL SET w/ Tracklist

m50 on 12/19/2014: FULL SET w/ Tracklist

On December 19th, I played almost only records from 2014. You can listen on my Soundcloud and Mixcloud webpages. Here are some highlights:

Davor – Ride With Me
Deep Detroit beatdown vibes via Croatia
https://soundcloud.com/unchartedaudio

Niro – Via Newton 1
Housey, cosmic, upbeat, future-garage from Italy
https://soundcloud.com/niro-1

RDMA – Fanciful
Downbeat minimal grooves from Germany
https://soundcloud.com/rdma

Ranko – Ballad Of A Dead Bird
Strange leftfield organic / boom-bap fusion from Germany
https://soundcloud.com/o-rs

On January 2nd, we hosted a guest set from Berlin’s Multipara, where he made some selections from the past year as well, my highlights again:

Quasi Dub Development – Shaky Steak
Super squiggly & tuneful dub from Italy
https://soundcloud.com/qdd

Building Instrument – Bli Med
Gorgeous vocals & low-tech grooves from Norway
https://soundcloud.com/building-instrument

Cristian Vogel – Forest Gifts
Murky spectral techno from Germany
https://soundcloud.com/shitkatapult

Springintgut & F.S. Blumm – Zeitgeschwindigkeit
Elegant romantic folktronica from Germany
https://soundcloud.com/springintgut

Xavier Charles – 10 clarinets in a washing machine
Truth in advertising, from France
https://soundcloud.com/unsounds_label

But really, you should listen to the whole programs, they go a lot further…