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New Music in the Tennessee Mountains: Big Ears Festival 2015

Tennessee Theatre, Big Ears Festival
KNOXVILLE, TN - It didn't take long after my arrival at the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville last weekend for me to realize that this was no run-of-the-mill music festival. After picking up my wristband, I wandered next door to the landmark Tennessee Theatre, where the Kronos Quartet - this year's Artists-in-Residence - were finishing up their all-Terry Riley set with pipa master Wu Man. Then, in one of those magical moments that only seem possible at festivals, they were joined onstage by Riley and Laurie Anderson, each of whom told stories while Kronos improvised. Prior to that moment, I found out later, Riley and Anderson had never met in person, much less performed together. (Anderson was in town to perform Landfall with Kronos the following night.)

As I listened to Riley's rambling story about John Cage at a baseball game, I thought to myself: Where am I? How is it possible this is happening in a place not named New York, L.A., or San Francisco?

Turns out that Knoxville (pop. 180,000), aside from being home to the University of Tennessee and its 30,000 students and faculty, is also the home of AC Entertainment, best known as the co-producer of Bonnaroo in nearby Manchester, TN. AC Entertainment president Ashley Capps, who started Big Ears in 2009 (there was a hiatus from 2011-2013), applies the same basic formula here that he uses at Bonnaroo: pile together as much interesting, wow-inducing music as you can within a set amount of space and time in order to build a critical mass of energy and excitement. Add unannounced DJ sets, jam sessions, and a satellite festival, and you spin the whole thing into a wild frenzy.

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Preview: Big Ears Festival in Knoxville

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I've hinted at this in some previous posts, but I'll be headed down to Knoxville, TN this weekend for the 4th edition of Big Ears Festival, which Rolling Stone has called "the classiest, most diverse festival in the country.” With good reason: encompassing everything from experimental and new music, to industrial electronica and indie rock, the festival is the brainchild of veteran Knoxville promoter Ashley Capps, best known as the driving force behind Bonnaroo and the Forecastle Festival.

This year, the artists in residence are the Kronos Quartet, who will be playing no fewer than six concerts with everyone from Wu Man and Laurie Anderson, to Bryce Dessner and Nels Cline. And, if that's not enough to get you going, there's tUnE-yArDs, Ben Frost, The Bad Plus, Bil Frisell...For fuck's sake, they're even flying in Terry Riley to jam with his son Gyan and Tracy Silverman. Wow.

Check back here and @feastofmusic for updates throughout the weekend.


Tristan Perich's Parallels with Meehan/Perkins Duo

Meehan/Perkins DuoI first heard Doug Perkins and Todd Meehan - otherwise known as the Meehan/Perkins Duo - perform Tristan Perich's Parallels at MoMA in 2013, as part of MoMA's Soundings exhibition. The performance, which was held outdoors in the Summergarden, combined tuned triangles, hi-hats and 1-bit electronics in an ecstatic, trance-inducing swirl of sound. 

Over the past year and a half, the Meehan/Perkins duo has performed Parallels multiple times, refining their technique and honing their chops. They performed it again last night at Gowanus' Sky Gallery to celebrate the CD release of Parallels on the Physical Editions imprint, which includes a fold-up poster of the complete score. (Three additional recordings are set to be released later this year.)

In contrast to the MoMA event, last night's performance provided a more concentrated listening experience. For the first 20 minutes, the mix of triangles and electronics produced a shimmering, ethereal glow. Then, suddenly, the 1 bit music erupted with a series of quick pulses that made you sit straight up in your seat. The music steadily grew more complex from there, with Meehan and Perkins showing incredible dexterity as they kept pace with the electronics, finally ending after 45 minutes of thrilling, bewildering sound.

More pics on the photo page


"Meredith Monk and Friends" at Zankel Hall

by Steven Pisano

Meredith Monk at Zankel HallOne thing is clear: Meredith Monk has a lot of friends—musicians who have both directly and indirectly been influenced by her work. And she has written a lot of music. So, it was only fitting that Monk, who is this season's Debs Composer's Chair at Carnegie Hall, was the subject of Sunday afternoon's “Meredith Monk and Friends” at Zankel Hall, celebrating her 50-year career (so far) as one of today's most widely admired musicians. 

This marathon concert lasted four-and-a-half hours, and hardly scratched the surface of her output. 1970’s “Dungeon” was performed with frenetic fury by John Zorn on a squawking, screeching, caterwauling saxophone while Cyro Baptista thumped methodically on a big bass drum. Other works were as current as the delicate a cappella “Cellular Songs,” which Monk and her famed Vocal Ensemble have been working on for the last several weeks. At age 70, Monk is clearly not content to simply rehash the past, but continues to look ever forward.

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