Open-minded listeners looking for a new sound experience should head to The Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative on Sunday night for the Telemetry series. Developed by programming committee members Peter Bussigel, a composer and intermedia artist and professor in UVA’s music department, and Travis Thatcher, technical director of composition and computer technologies in that same department, the regular series is a place for music that Thatcher says is “often electronic but not necessarily always.”
The last two events “have been really successful, with [more than] 50 attendees,” says Thatcher.
The Bridge PAI
On Sunday, three local acts from UVA and Charlottesville, plus Curved Light out of Austin, Texas, will deliver performances of sound that challenge typical notions of musicianship and instrumentation. Here is an idea of what’s to be experienced, according to the artists themselves.
“I’ve always been attracted to ambient sound, but not necessarily its function in the background,” says Peter Tran, who along with Deirdre Smith creates psychedelic synth sound and vision as Curved Light. “I wanted to recontextualize [ambient sound] in a live context where an audience would be forced to engage, utilizing more direct textures and immersive visuals to create an expansive, psychedelic environment.” Audience members can expect “both intense visual and aural stimuli that explore the limitless possibilities of the modular synthesizer” from a Curved Light set, says Tran. It’s not something that’s easily categorized, and for that reason, “each concert is absolutely a journey.”
Thatcher will perform what he says is “an ambient pastoral Berlin School sort of set.” (The Berlin School was a movement in 1970s West Berlin that explored the creative potential of the synthesizer through ambient sound often combined with sequenced runs of notes—think Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze and Ash Ra Tempel.)
For the set, he’ll play an original Oberheim Two Voice synthesizer that he’s restored in the past year. This particular instrument is a “relic,” Thatcher says, explaining that when the Two Voice appeared in 1975, it was the first commercially available polyphonic synthesizer, in that it could play two notes at once. While technology has advanced since 1975, the Oberheim changed the electronic music landscape for good. Plus, Thatcher adds, “I think it just sounds cool.”
Ghost Fortune’s Ron Geromy thinks that chaos sounds good. “People’s expectations of such sounds are very different than other genres of electronic music, so it creates an interesting space to explore live,” he says.
Ron Geromy, a UVA student, explores that space with noisy patterns of interference created between the soundwaves of rather fragile homemade synthesizers. He makes his own synths by printing a 3-D shell and soldering buttons, switches and knobs to a Schmitt trigger chip—it’s an easy circuit to make, Ron Geromy says, one that “produces a very pleasant square wave.”
On the edges of those systems, he has “discovered a lot of very beautiful, transient sounds produced by the feedback overloading [the] mixer and speakers, that once pursued further, disappear. These could be tones, or textures, or even just rhythmic patterns created by clipping,” he says. “But none of them can be sustained for too long.”
“People’s expectations of such sounds are very different than other genres of electronic music, so it creates an interesting space to explore live.” Ron Geromy
Molasses, Will Mullany’s solo drum performance project, developed out of what Mullany says is “a dissatisfaction with the alienating and detached nature of a lot of live electronic music. To the uninitiated, a lot of electronic performances can be hard to relate to, merely because the mechanism of the sound production is hidden away in synths, effects boxes and computers.”
With a performance built around a drum kit that Mullany has augmented with sensors, microphones and digital elements that capture sound from the drum kit then “mess it up and spit it out anew,” Mullany aims to give more physicality to digital sound. He says he’ll likely use other sound-making gizmos he’s found or made, too.
Molasses is “a pretty transparent ploy to summate my formerly incompatible interests in digital and analog sound processing, DIY instrument building, avant-garde rock and free-improv,” says Mullany, adding that he won’t decide the exact setup until the night of the show. “I’m going to play drums and things are going to come out of the speakers and beyond that, I’m not sure what else is going to happen,” he says.