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Big Ears Festival 2017 Recap

ACME Big Ears 2017

"I think the unexpected nature (of Knoxville) gives the festival a certain relief that it wouldn't have if it was where everybody expects it to be."

- Ashley Capps, Founder/Artistic Director, Big Ears Festival

When most people think of Knoxville - if they think of this east Tennessee city of less than 200,000 at all - they might think of the University of Tennessee, which has its main campus in town, or of the surrounding Appalachians, which gave us both moonshine and Dolly Parton. But, for some time now, Knoxville has transcended its relative obscurity with its outsized cultural offerings: it has its own orchestra, its own art museum, and in the past year alone, more than two dozen restaurants and breweries have opened downtown.

But, if there's one thing that's put Knoxville on the international map more than anything over the past few years, it's the Big Ears Festival, the ear-bending festival of new and adventurous music that just wrapped up its sixth edition this past weekend. This was my third consecutive Big Ears, and everything seemed both bigger and more accessible this year. Indeed, it was difficult to walk anywhere in downtown Knoxville without feeling that you were in the middle of a musical theme park. I mean, where else can you bounce from jazz pianist Matthew Shipp, to Meredith Monk, to Wilco? And, that was just on Friday.  

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Tristan Perich at The Kitchen

by Robert Leeper and FoM Dither Quartet
Let me cut to the chase: there is no one today writing music that is more relevant, more engaging, more viscerally exciting than Tristan Perich. Over the past decade, Tristan has carved out a unique niche at the crossroads of acoustic and electronic, of visual art and sound, of theoretical physics and hacker culture. And he's done so in a way that cloaks his music's complexity in a vein of ecstatic trance, much as Steve Reich does in his deceptively minimalist compositions. 

The Kitchen, which has been something of a home for Tristan over the past few years, presented a two-day retrospective of his music this past weekend, all of which utilized 1-bit electronics and a variety of acoustic and amplified instruments. On their own, these 1-bit sounds come across like a Game Boy gone wild, but there is something uniquely satisfying, even thrilling, about the interplay between digital and analog Tristan achieves with these works.

"I think about the basic states of a signal," he says, "as it moves through a circuitboard and then out to a speaker... (the same as music) from a score to the actions of a musician on stage."

On Friday night, electric guitar quartet Dither kicked things off with a new version of Interference Logic (2010, rev. 2017). The music started softly and simply, until suddenly the peace was shattered by a piercing electronic pulse: not quite a siren, but no less insistent or penetrating. Over time, the guitars slowly built in volume until they eventually overpowered the 4-channel electronics. Man: 1, Machine: 0.

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Sxip Shirey Album Release at National Sawdust

by Nick Stubblefield

Sxip Shirey show

It would be futile to try and encapsulate impressions of electro-acoustic artist Sxip Shirey's (pronounced SKIP SHY-REE) album release show at Williamsburg's National Sawdust in a single blog post. The show lineup included guest singers, tuba, penny-whistles, music boxes, children's toys, live effects and drum loops, a string section, horns, harmonicas, dobro, and oh yes — a twenty-person choir. Instead, let the composer-performer sum it up in his own words: "As a kid, I grew up listening to the Beatles, so I thought each song should have a different studio set up...nobody told me they never toured that shit." The concert, which celebrated the release of Shirey's newest record, A Bottle of Whiskey and Handful of Bees, was the only show Sxip presented in promotion of the record, and that made it extra special for an audience already game to follow Shirey down a strange, sonic rabbit hole. 

First off, how about another hand for Garth the sound guy? Each of the many numbers required a vastly different stage configuration, numerous mic set ups, and live audio processing. It’s a testament to the technician’s abilities that he was able to mix all that input down to cohesive, hiccup-free sound.

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Today: Make Music Winter 2016

Mmw2015_logoAs New Yorkers finish up their shopping and start thinking about heading home for the holidays, they'll be surrounded by music all day today as part of the 6th annual Make Music Winter, marking the shortest day of the year. Featured artists performing throughout the five boroughs include members of Antibalas, singers Onome and Jascha Hoffman, all-women Brazilian drumline Fogo Azul, keyboardist Karl Larson, conductors Thomas McCargar and Malcolm Merriweather, composers Lainie Fefferman, Jascha Narveson, Cameron Britt, Ravi Kittappa and P. Spadine, and others. 

The full schedule is available on the Make Music Winter website. Our recommended itinerary for the day is below.

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