And finally, here are our recaps of the final day of Big Ears 2014. Content by Gillian Levy, Harlynn Siler, and Ethan Simonoff.
Stephen O’Malley & Oren Ambarchi
12:00PM @ Knoxville Museum of Art
O’Malley and Ambarchi performed two tracks together specifically written for the duo by other composers. The first was “Criss-Cross,” by Alvin Lucier, which involved the two men creating single-note drone from their guitars which were lying on the table for about fifteen minutes. It was hypnotizing and bizarre, and the crowd sat silently in awe watching the masters work. The second piece was entitled “South Pole” and was written by Romanian composer Iancu Dumitrescu. Featuring tape sounds, guitar, and percussion by Tim Barnes (who stood at the opposite side of the room from Ambarchi & O’Malley), this second piece took us to deep zones and back and left us wanting more. The set was short and sweet. Too short, too sweet.
2:30PM @ Scruffy City Hall
We piled into the pitch black, already packed full, and already incredibly loud hall to catch the legendary Keiji Haino perform a solo set. His instrumentation and set were similar to his performance during Nazoranai’s set: heavy guitar riffs, harsh power electronics, screamed vocals from his magic book of words. He would lay down a noisy guitar riff into a loop, and then continue to play and improvise over that, stopping every so often to scream a few random phrases over the PA. Haino’s stage presence and visceral intensity is what makes him such a joy to watch. He exerts himself nearly to point of breathlessness and commands great attention as he wanders and wavers around the stage.
4:00PM @ Scruffy City Hall
Steve Reich & friends
Performances of “Clapping Music,” “Electric Counterpoint,” “Music for 18 Musicians,” and “Radio Rewrite”
7:30PM @ Tennessee Theater
The final show of the festival started with a brief performance of ‘Clapping Music’ performed by Steve Reich, among others. Following that was a performance of ‘Electric Counterpoint,’ with Jonny Greenwood playing the lead guitar part. After Greenwood shuffled off the stage, Steve Reich premiered his newest work, ‘Radio Rewrite.’ However, the real meat of the concert was an immaculate performance of ‘Music for 18 Musicians,’ arguably one of Reich’s most important and popular works. Hypnotic as ever, the pulsing xylophones, bells, and metallophones signaling new motifs, with phasing vocals, strings, and clarinets filled the auditorium. Musicians could be seen crossing the stage in sequence, as their respective parts gradually came up, and crossing back to their seats just off to the side from the rest of the ensemble as they inevitably came to pass. Following the final few pulses, a long pause, and the theatre erupted in applause. After about a minute, Reich came up to the stage, and led the group in a bow, before exiting the stage. The group was called out no fewer than four more times to appease the audience after approximately 5 minutes of applause. The theatre eventually died down, and everyone stumbled outside, no doubt satisfied with an extraordinary close to the festival and a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
We’re continuing to roll out our coverage of Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, TN! Here’s a recap of what Rock Show saw on Saturday. Content by Ethan Simonoff, Jenna Powell-Malloy, Harlynn Siler, Jason Vanderlinden, and Gillian Levy. Photos by Gillian Levy.
Laraaji: A Laughter Meditation Playshop/Workshop
12:00PM @ Knoxville Museum of Art
1:30PM @ Knoxville Museum of Art
Outside it was raining; inside at the Knoxville Museum of Art Helen Money was shredding. Helen Money, real name Alison Chesley, is a cellist and an NU alum who has played in the groups Verbow and Poi Dog Pondering. Her set consisted of a few songs ranging from sparse, loop-based, droning pieces to her accompanying sampled metal drums. Following her set, festival-goers could be seen crowding the exit of the museum, waiting for the pouring rain to subside.
Dawn of Midi
2:30PM @ Bijou Theater
This performance was definitely a highlight of the festival. Dawn of Midi is a trio of pianist Amino Belyamani, bassist Aakaash Israni, and drummer Qasim Naqvi. Belyamani played grand piano, using his hand to effectively ‘prepare’ the piano in various ways by stimulating various harmonics or muting certain strings. The entire performance was an amazing display of dexterity, and the music was mesmerizing. Small patterns and musical phrases would repeat over and over again, until you suddenly realized that the entire song had changed. As such, the entire set was continuous, these small changed comprising the vehicle for changing songs.
3:00PM @ Square Room
Glenn Kotche’s second performance of the festival was a dream for fans of percussion. His drumset took up half the large stage, and many tracks were accompanied by video (for a more detailed description of the performance described by Glenn himself, check our interview with him here). We got to see chunks of “Anomaly,” a piece written by Glenn for Kronos Quartet featured on his new album; Drum Kit Quartet #1, originally written for So Percussion but performed for solo drumset; his famous “Monkey Chant” accompanied by a film by drum tech Nathaniel Murphy; and a first time ever performance of a new piece written for Kotche called “Come With Me If You Want to Live,” featuring air raid sirens.
Check out our interview with Glenn here!
Oneohtrix Point Never
3:30PM @ Bijou Theater
In the pitch blackness of the Bijou, Daniel Lopatin stood behind his computer morphing glitches and gusts into emotive compositions. Behind Lopatin was a large screen displaying optical illusions that looked straight out of the world of R Plus Seven’s album art. The interplay of the images and sounds created a psychedelic narrative tempting any mind willing to indulge.
Wordless Music Orchestra
4:30 PM @ Tennessee Theater
The Wordless Music Orchestra approached Jonny Greenwood’s pieces with a detectable comfort and pride. For the majority of the show, a septet performed various pieces from There Will Be Blood, The Master, and Norwegian Wood. A few pieces for violin written by Iannis Xennakis were also performed. For the last few songs, Greenwood joined on stage with his electric guitar. Greenwood’s compositions begin by going somewhere familiar, only to drift into an uncharted realm founded on a nervous eeriness. His pieces open the imagination and guide one’s mind on a journey that is both challenging and actualizing.
Buke & Gase
5:00PM @ Square ROom
6:45PM @ Scruffy City Hall
Mark McGuire’s set began with him building layer upon layer to create a beat-driven track with ribbons of guitar riffage. By the middle of his set, McGuire was full-on shredding. Combining airy guitar tones with quirky beats, McGuire created ethereal dance tunes that seemed to add color to the drab atmosphere of Scruffy City Hall.
Check out our interview with Mark here, and come see him perform at Sonic Celluloid XII on May 9th at Block Cinema here in Evanston!
Steve Reich’s DRUMMING Performed by So Percussion & nief-norf project
8:00PM @ Tennesee Theater
8:30PM @ Bijou Theater
Julia Holter has received widespread critical acclaim and Album of the Year accolades for her latest album, Loud City Song, and her Big Ears performance did not disappoint. Her band, comprised of a saxophonist, drummer, celloist, and violinist, provided vivid, intricate backing to Holter’s dramatic, shifting vocalizations. A classically trained musician who studied composition at CalArts, Holter’s style on Loud City Song is eerily evocative of bygone decades. The set consisted of varied moods, as Holter’s gifted singing led both knotty jazz and dreamy refrains. The songwriter, sipping from a glass of wine between pieces, also engaged in playful asides with the audience, remarking that the festival’s name was fun to hear and leading members to say ‘Big Ears’ in unison. The Bijou Theatre in Knoxville offered an ornate soundstage, ideal for Holter’s music; however, occasionally the band was amplified far too loudly, though that was more likely the fault of a sound mistake at the festival.
8:30PM @ Scruffy City Hall
As Bill Orcutt took the stage and started playing we all wondered if this was the performance or just soundcheck. It was, in fact, soundcheck, following which, Orcutt grabbed a beer and hung out in the audience talking to fans before climbing back on stage and playing a truly remarkable set of acoustic guitar songs. Orcutt, formerly of the band Harry Pussy, was as modest as he was talented, his set littered with bursts of virtuosity. It would be a stretch to call his music ‘soulful’ in the traditional sense, but as he plays his guitar and is moving his entire body, and his humming oscillates in and out as he sways closer to and farther from the microphone, it becomes evident that his music is deeply emotional and expressive, and strangely meditative for being so rapid and agile.
10:00PM @ Tennessee Theater
It’s always weird to see a band you grew up listening to perform live. Television is now dad rock, of which I’m sure because everyone sitting around me was a dad wearing the Marquee Moon shirt they’d bought 20 minutes before the show. In between cuts from their debut album, the group (founding members Tom Verlaine, Billy Ficca, and Fred Smith, along with new guitarist Jimmy Rip) jammed to tracks from their later and less memorable albums. It was a nostalgic evening for the aging CBGB’s set, and Verlaine can certainly still shred.
1:00AM @ Bijou Theater
After pushing the show back 45 minutes, Stephen O’Malley, Keiji Haino, and Oren Ambarchi took the stage at one o’clock AM. Ambarchi kept the rhythm full of bass drum while O’Malley bowed his bass and kept a dull thud throughout. Haino alternately screamed in the microphone, shredded on his guitar, and played power electronics in the most dramatic way I think any of us have ever seen. Haino dared us and taunted us, even yelling, “ARE YOU BRAVE? IT’S… NAZORANAI!” A shredtime story for the ages.
It’s #throwbackthursday , so we’re taking you back to Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, TN. Here are some belated recaps of shows that Rock Show DJs attended. Words contributed by Ethan Simonoff, Jenna Powell-Malloy, Harlynn Siler, and Gillian Levy. Pictures by Gillian Levy.
Big Ears is unique among music festivals. Spanning five venues in downtown Knoxville, attendees are encouraged to jump between theaters and concert halls to catch the best of each performer. Curated by Steve Reich, this year placed heavy emphasis on minimalism with maximal sonic effects.
Big Ears Launch Party w/ Steve Reich, So Percussion, and Laraaji
5:00PM @ Knoxville Museum of Art
Big Ears kicked off at the Knoxville Museum of Art with an opening address from festival organizers and Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero, who threw some shade at Brooklyn hipsters: “We had scruffy guys with banjos way before Brooklyn did.” After some polite clapping and thanking of sponsors, So Percussion took the stage with Steve Reich himself to perform “Clapping.” Reich gave some quick opening remarks on how grateful and excited he was to be at the festival, and then handed the stage over to Laraaji for a short set. Thus we began our Big Ears experience!
So Percussion w/ Glenn Kotche, Buke & Gase
6:30PM @ Bijou Theater
The first official show I attended was So Percussion at the Bijou Theater. So is Eric Beach, Josh Quillen, Adam Sliwinski, and Jason Treuting, percussionists who met as graduate students at Yale. They opened their set by coming out with disposable cameras, clicking and winding away at the audience, which led to ripples of laughter throughout the crowd. Each member performed alternately on a drum set or another percussive instrument; marimbas were prominently featured. After their openers, Glenn Kotche came out to accompany them for some drumkit pieces he wrote specifically for the group through Meet the Composer, and he also stayed for a performance for Steve Reich’s “Pieces of Wood” with one member of the quartet. The last half of the show featured Buke & Gase on guitar, bass, and vocals, which added a decidedly twee element to the show.
Stephen O’Malley (solo)
7:00PM @ Scruffy City Hall
As the rain picked up outside, we retreated to the doom metal cave that Stephen O’Malley was creating inside Scruffy City Hall. With his signature clear guitar and spread of effects pedals, O’Malley performed haunting pieces that had as much to say over their sparse buildups as they did in their abrasive peaks. His pieces went through slowly evolving phases, each one just subtly distinct enough to create a hypnotic yet accelerating soundscape.
8:30PM @ Scruffy City Hall
Colin Stetson is a one-man powerhouse. It’s hard to listen to his records and imagine what it might look like live, especially knowing that Stetson doesn’t use looping at all. In person, he is a force of nature, alternating between three different saxophones and thrusting his entire physical being into the performance, rippling muscles and all. Just seeing the title track of his new record (New History Warfare Vol. 3: To See More Light) was definitely a festival highlight and I think we all have huge crushes on him.
9:30PM @ Bijou Theater
You can’t talk about Body/Head without focusing on its most famous element: Kim Gordon, the mother of all things noise rock and founding member of Sonic Youth. Since her split with Thurston Moore ended Sonic Youth, Gordon has kept busy with her experimental guitar duo with Bill Nace. I had the opportunity to see Body/Head back in September at the MCA in Chicago, and this performance was pretty much exactly the same thing: Bill & Kim shredding, Kim yelping into a microphone, and a poorly executed “art-school” film playing in the background. It’s quite an experience to see Kim Gordon in person (and we did see her walking around downtown Knoxville twice!), but I’d suggest waiting for a more innovative new project.
10:30PM @ Tennessee Theater
We piled into the Tennessee Theater, the largest and most beautiful of the venues, to catch a set from famed multi-instrumentalist John Cale, of Velvet Underground fame. Cale’s set lasted an hour and a half and consisted of the best of his glam-rock pieces spanning decades of work. While it was enjoyable to the older crowd, I think the glamour of glam rock escaped us.
12:00AM @ Bijou Theater
After a day of bopping from venue to venue in Knoxville we headed over to the Bijou to check out Tim Hecker. Exhausted but ready to go for an aural ride we settled in. Due to unfortunate acoustics or sound engineering the music was much too loud. Instead of the aural bliss we were expecting, we were cocooned in a vibrating bed of sound. Shrouded in smoke and wearing his ever-present beanie, Hecker intently worked away. That vibrating bed quickly became equal part lullabies. It was only the slow cessation of vibrations at the end of his set that pulled us out of our reverie.
Tl;dr we all fell into a lovely sleep and aren’t apologizing for it.
That’s it for our Friday recaps! Stay tuned for Saturday and Sunday for more shredding and droning and drumming.
Additional contributions from Lily Oberman, Ethan Simonoff, and Dan Sloan
Our last day in Raleigh came to a rainy close with a great mix of acts. After the jump, our thoughts on Sunn O))), Oren Ambarchi, Oneida, and more.
Additional contributions from Lily Oberman, Ethan Simonoff, and Dan Sloan
You may be wondering why WNUR, based out of Chicago, would choose to send four of its staff to Hopscotch, a music festival in Raleigh—especially in a day-and-age when everyone’s busy talking about the SXSWs and the Pitchforks of the world.
This year’s lineup has some great acts, and the scheduling of it is perfect for Northwestern’s perennially screwed-up academic calendar. The reality is it’s cheaper, it’s less crowded, and so far North Carolina’s done nothing but good by us. And it lets us do what we do best, which is talking about stuff other people don’t always talk about. After the jump, our thoughts on the first night of the festival, with GIFs!