Point of Departure: Tuesday Night Improvised Music Series at Art of This gallery
Nondescript seems like too baroque a word for the Art of This gallery on 35th and Nicollet. Especially on this, a Tuesday night between art shows when the bare white walls reflect back the spare track lighting, like they're waiting for shadow puppets. Maybe they are. The Tuesday Night Improvised Music Series, as the name suggests, focuses on the ephemeral--music created in the moment and then gone. When Davu Seru started it just over a decade ago, the music series was held at Gus Lucky's Art Cafe. It moved to the Acadia Café where it was curated by Nathan Phillips and Bryce Beverlin II. Casey Deming, who's taken over curatorial duties, explains that Art of This has been focusing on one-night art shows. In a lot of ways, tonight's concert isn't all that different from such a show: it occurs, then disappears.
Two unfinished wood benches sit at angles in the middle of the floor. A drum set waits in the corner for Take Acre to close the show. They'll end the night with long, organic pieces of heavily textured instrumental music. It's hard not to hear a good deal of Tortoise in their music, but it's clear there's not as much arrangement. One instrument takes the lead (usually the lap steel, sometimes the baritone guitar) and then the players respond and prod, moving the piece forward by inches or yards.
Take Acre performing at Art of This gallery
Photo by Steve McPherson
Next to two buckets of paint (white primer, no doubt), a ladder leans against the wall behind Elaine Evans and her instrumental set up. A violin rests in a case to the right of a brown metal folding chair. To the chair's left, a pocket trumpet--the kind favored by Don Cherry in Ornette Coleman's band back in the day--waits. Between the two instruments are arrayed a gaggle of pedals and a thumb piano, or mbira. A ball jar of cloudy water holds flowers on the wide window sill.
A table sits against the wall in the middle of the room, where Tim Glenn and Mike Hallenbeck will set up their laptops and have a kind of duel to the sonic death. Their performance will loop and crush the sounds of metal pipes clanging with ambient hiss and static--it will be the most abstract set of the evening. There will be three moments of startling, fleeting beauty in their set: little shimmers of notes will arise and die inside the caterwaul they're creating. It's impossible to know how accidental or planned those moments are, and that's part of it.
It's all disarmingly casual, and the audience strolls around the gallery, wanders in and out the door, and drinks the beer or wine they brought themselves. Deming tells me the purpose of the series was never to book bands that just wanted a gig. He's looking for bands that are interested in the process of music, in building community. This kind of show doesn't happen everywhere, even though it could quite literally happen anywhere. Aside from plugs for laptops and pedals and amps, it needs no infrastructure: no sound system, no bar, no complicated decorative aesthetic. In the true spirit of LaMonte Young and the idea of Nada Brahma, sound is god here.
As Evans begins her set, she blows long sustained tones on the trumpet, looping them into keening whale songs that slide in and out of tune with each other, the physical impact of the warbling harmonies filling the space. The live instrument is heard acoustically in the room first, but when the loop comes back, the microphone and the pedal have muted and refracted it. The sound degrades, beautifully. Evans sits, perched, on the edge of her chair, then stands, then crouches, manipulating the pedals. She abandons the trumpet for the thumb piano, crafting a bed of swelling tones and feedback before she picks up the violin to play against the tiny mbira orchestra she's created. There's a skull drawn or scored onto the back of the violin. The overtones of the violin and the looped mbira smear and blend. The loop falls away and she works the violin into a frenzy, the bow shredding and losing hairs, the effect it's running through echoing its natural tone with cascades of fluttering notes. Briefly, it becomes manic, almost too much pure sound to take. And then it's done. One contiguous piece about 20 minutes long.
As the applause dies down from the dozen people arrayed around the room, a scraggly guy with a beard, long hair and a ball cap asks if he can ask a question. He's clearly not here by design, just drawn to the sounds from the street.
"First of all," he says, "that was beautiful and amazing. But what is this? What is this place?"
"It's an art gallery," replies Deming, who's taking donations by the door. "For music."
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