Hooked on Sonics
Doug Benidt has never been called an asshole. If anything, the cool, assured approach of this Walker Art Center assistant program director approximates the very antithesis of Denis Leary's pointy-headed belligerence or Jonathan Richman's intractable goofiness. Instead, think professional assassin, the sort of fellow who lowers his voice when he's angry. It's an especially surprising quality given the fact that Benidt cut his administrative teeth in the rough-and-tumble environs of First Avenue's promotions office.
Benidt sees this period as essential to his professional development. "I think it was simply a matter of volume. The sheer number of performances I encountered made it possible for the real innovators to become distinctly evident. Over time, what I found myself attracted to was the energy of risk." Risk is never in short supply at First Avenue. It was said that you could always tell when Benidt meant business in security situations--his hair would automatically droop over one eye. He wears his hair shorter now, and he sports a neatly groomed soul patch, but the cool resolve remains.
Like any truly gifted assassin, Benidt takes careful aim, fires only once, and rarely--if ever--misses. This approach served him admirably last spring. Booking Sonic Youth and Stereolab for Rock the Garden, the Walker's annual Sculpture Garden bacchanal, Benidt more than doubled attendance figures set by the Jayhawks the previous year. So when the time came for the Walker to deliver its share of this year's Sonic Circuits package, Benidt's boss, performing arts curator Philip Bither, chose to hand Benidt the wheel.
Now in its eighth year, Sonic Circuits, the American Composers Forum's celebration of all things electronic, has grown from a one-day affair in Macalester College's Weyerhaeuser Chapel to a continuous, year-round international festival. The event now comes complete with radio broadcasts, a compilation CD, a Web page, live performances in more than 20 cities, and a plethora of partners. Although the overall festival retains vestiges of its academic origins, the Twin Cities kickoff weekend has come to resemble nothing less than a big party with lots of electronic music--sort of an egghead Love Parade.
This fact is not lost on Benidt. For the Thursday, November 2 Sonic Circuits event in the Walker auditorium, he's arranged the highly desirable marriage of Robin Rimbaud, an electronic trickster who goes by the name of Scanner, and Alphaville, Jean-Luc Godard's transgenre action/adventure/detective/romance/sci-fi/comedy tour de force. Rimbaud generated some controversy at the beginning of his career by inserting bits of intercepted cell-phone calls into tracks. Since then, he has developed his work tremendously, traveling with ease from fairly straightforward ambient/techno/drum 'n' bass-type styles to realms more esoteric and experimental (and often naughty). Scanner's composition should make a perfect match for Godard's highly provocative and terribly funny masterpiece.
If Benidt relies on his well-honed judgment and that one magic bullet, Chris Strouth, the mastermind behind Friday, November 3's Future Perfect X at Landmark Center, approaches the curator's task with a street sweeper in one hand and a shotgun in the other. Five rooms, twenty-plus attractions, a Webcast and simulcast on Channel 35--Strouth has shaped this hydra-headed event to provide the broadest spectrum of electronic soundmaking anyone is likely to stumble upon in these parts, especially in a span of three short hours.
Of this year's performers, Strouth waxes most enthusiastic about Chicago anti-ambient legends Lilith, and an all-too-well-kept local secret, Big Daddy Junior and the Spook, a dubby ambient trio featuring ex-members of Shapeshifter, Ousia, Passage, and Lunar 9. Strouth characterizes Big Daddy as "pure peace."
"Usually by the time they play," he reports, "the night is far enough along so that I can just lie down on the floor and let the sound wash over me. It's like being in your living room with the biggest stereo in the world."
Philip Blackburn, American Composers Forum program director and the Mr. Big behind the whole Sonic Circuits shooting match, once characterized his role as "obtaining maximal results with minimal resources." That's not unlike making every bullet count. With young guns like Benidt and Strouth at the controls, this circuit should stay open well into the future. Perfect or not.
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