Wild Goose Creative, at the bottom of Summit St. in Columbus, is a far cry from Chicago’s Jay Pritzker Pavilion at Millennium Park, the last place I saw Lesley Flanigan perform. About 400 miles and God only knows how many seats separate the two venues. One, the picture of intimacy, the other the epitome of the Big Stage, with a stage so big it could swallow the former whole—many times over. Friday’s show, part of the Fuse Factory‘s Frequency Fridays series, was of the former variety.
It cannot be easy presenting an electronic music series in a city where DIY and garage bands dominate landscape and synthetic dubstep is the most readily available electronic music. And yet, Columbus isn’t without it’s electro-acoustic bright spots, Brian Harnetty, Masterer of Appalachian field recordings (and favored collaborator of Will Oldham) being among the most obvious examples. Within that community, Fuse Factory plays an important role in bringing national acts to Columbus as well as spotlighting local talent, like Tone Elevator, who opened the show Friday.
A small setting, like Wild Goose—with two dozen folding chairs set only a few feet from the performers—leaves little to the imagination. That immediacy, the intimacy, far from being a hindrance to the music, breathes new life into the listening experience. While the sight of a dubstep DJ propped in his perch pumping phat beatz into the club can truly be one of the most mind-numbing sights in all of music, even a slight cable malfunction early on in the Tone Elevator set injects a bit of dramatic tension into the music’s emergence from nearly-white noise while Tenori-On lights blink white from a tabletop corner. In the hands of Peter and Jessica Speer, incidental sounds like the chirping of birds and presidential speeches take on the form of intentional music.
Sound is a visceral thing. In purely physical terms, it is a disturbance, a disruption. The entire history of music is little more than the story of man’s effort to harness and control those disturbances. In an earlier Skype interview with Lesley Flanigan, we discussed in purely abstract terms the physicality of sound and ideas like sound sculpting. But at a distance of eight feet, abstract terms become a physical reality.
Less a “glimpse of the artist at work” and more an entering into the work, the relationship between recording and live experience is more akin to the difference between visiting the Rothko Chapel website and entering the Rothko Chapel—one is interesting on an abstract intellectual level, the other is a conflation of small and broad strokes into a confrontation with one’s own mortality.
I won’t go so far as to say “I saw God Friday night”—I would hate to saddle any artist with such immense responsibility, and besides, it would be a lie—but I saw many other things. A twist of the wrist and sudden scrape of microphone against speaker cone. The near-violent trembling of a small piezo confronted with the presence of its own sonic reflection. In short (to borrow and adapt a phrase from EJ Koh*), I saw the Thingness of Sound.
And that is the importance of a series like Frequency Fridays. In a world super-saturated with passive listening experiences, artists like Lesley Flanigan are taking incidental noises and even minor annoyances like electronic feedback—the sounds of everyday life that so many of us go out of our way to drown out of our lives with our earbuds and iPods—and molding them into new forms, giving the intangible a physical presence.
Fuse Factory have an annual Frequency Friday crowd-funding drive (to pay artist fees and expenses, the usual). There is one week remaining in the current drive. If you’d like to donate, there’s an indiegogo page here.
*We’ll get to EJ Koh soon, hopefully next week.