Sound Check

Do Androids Dream of Electric Bleeps?

"I'M ACCUSTOMED TO seeking maximum results with minimum resources," says affable local musicologist Philip Blackburn, who helped found Sonic Circuits seven years ago as a one-day showcase for electronic music in the Macalester College chapel. The British-born program director for the St. Paul-based American Composers Forum has since helped the event grow into a continual, year-round international festival comprising live performances in more than 20 cities, with accompanying radio broadcasts and an annual compilation CD. It still kicks off in the Twin Cities, though, and as the festival expands, so does its opening celebration.

Listening to the new Sonic Circuits VII disc, you might expect the live fare to lean heavily toward atmospheric bombast, but this weekend's performances run the electro gamut. For starters, two new multimedia works premiere Thursday, October 4: one by New Yorker Annie Gosfield, the other by local composer and artist Carei Thomas (in collaboration with Grady Appleton, Stefan Kren, and Steve Goldstein). Thomas's jazz-derived electronic mishmash is so all-inclusive, you might as well call it free music, but his jazz cred stretches back to Chicago's Association for the Advancement of Creative Music. The composer has lived and worked in the Twin Cities since the mid-Seventies, and he remains one of our most undervalued treasures, consistently striking out in new and surprising directions. He'll be on hand for a laid-back meet-and-greet at Intermedia Arts, 2822 Lyndale Ave. S.; (612) 871-4444.

On Friday the mothership zooms over to St. Paul, where a free performance by San Antonio-based composer Johnny Rodriguez starts the evening in Nobles Experimental Intermedia (645 E. 7th St.). Following that, the modestly titled Future Perfect 8: A Sonic Circuits Phantasmagoria descends on a plum new location: the historic atrium and courtrooms of St. Paul's Landmark Center, 75 W. 5th St.; (612) 375-7622. More than 50 performers and installations will fill every available nook with DJs, interactive art, a giant video billboard, and an amplified cactus.

The mammals performing include the aforementioned Gosfield and Thomas, noise trickster John Vance, the Minneapolis Improv Group, Passage, philosopher-cybernaut Paul Higham, hip hoppers from the High School for Recording Arts, and Franz Kamin. An old-school New York avant-garde renaissance man(!), Kamin has quietly lived and worked in St. Paul for the past decade, but he won't be quiet tonight, premiering a piece that features six of that oldest and most venerable of electronic instruments, the electric guitar.

After a day of free, family-friendly demonstrations of electronica-making in the Walker Art Center, Saturday ends with a concert in Gallery 8. For more info call (612) 871-4444. Walker performing arts curator Philip Bither is as experienced as Blackburn in putting these sorts of things together, and tonight he presents three generations of sampler-based music: Carl Stone, David Shea, and Jake Mandell. Fans of local laptop wunderkind Mandell should stay for Stone, an early sampling experimenter from California who now constructs his quietly meditative pieces in Japan. Shea's more abrasive plunderphonics are rooted in his onetime involvement with New York's hip-hop and noise scenes; he now lives in Brussels. At a time when the never-ending culture wars threaten to dry up arts funding altogether, it's reassuring that Blackburn's international circuit still functions like a live wire. (Rod Smith)

 

I'm Not on a Minneapolis Radio

FUTURE PERFECT CO-CURATOR Chris Strouth has seen another of his peculiar musical obsessions bear fruit worth eating. A longtime fan of former Wall of Voodoo frontman Stan Ridgway, the local electronicat executive-produced Ridgway's new album, Anatomy, and released it on his Minneapolis label, Ultramodern. "It took me about a year of coaxing," Strouth says of the arrangement. "But Stan really hated the whole major-label system, and he knew me through [Ultramodern exotica musician] Skip Heller."

Eighties MTV zombies may remember the momentary new-wave icon for "Mexican Radio," or his wonderful jack-in-the-box collaboration with Police drummer Stewart Copeland on "Don't Box Me In" from the Rumblefish soundtrack. (Readers now humming either song date themselves.) But Ridgway's solo and soundtrack output has since garnered him a steady cult following; Greil Marcus called 1989's Mosquitos "the Nebraska of electronica," which goes some way toward describing the Tom Waits-cum-Stereolab feel of Anatomy.

Recalling Johnny Cash's brief hijacking of U2 on "The Wanderer," Ridgway's only real misstep on Anatomyis a trip-hop version of "Sixteen Tons." Oddly enough, one song that didn't make the final cut was another Copeland collaboration. "It came in too late," says Strouth. "The record was perfect as it was." (Peter S. Scholtes)

 
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