On October 1st and 2nd in the heart of the country music capital of the world – walking distance from neon signs, country cover bands, line dancing tourists, and tip bucket buskers — downtown Nashville will waft with sounds unfamiliar. It’s fitting that SOUNDCRAWL, the year’s most challenging and innovative music festival, is happening on the turf of music’s lowest common denominator, thumbing its nose to an industry that stamps art into commodity.
The ambitious festival will envelop three downtown spaces: the Arcade, the Presbyterian Church, and the Bank Gallery. You can see the full schedule at the Soundcrawl website and find out how to get into Sunday’s ART OF THE FUTURE event FREE here.
Soundcrawl co-founder KYLE BAKER talks with Theatre Intangible about the festival’s past, present and future. For more on the crawl, check out last year’s Theatre Intangible interview with the other founder, AARON DOENGES.
TI: What was the genesis for Soundcrawl?
Kyle: In the spring of 2009, Aaron [Doenges] and I were on his back patio discussing a festival called SOUNDWALK in Long Beach, California. At the time, their website was down, so we just envisioned partnering with the Art Crawl and assumed that that’s what their event was like, too. Afterwards, we went back to their site and realized we had created something substantially different.
TI: How has Soundcrawl evolved over the past three years?
Kyle: Well, in 2009 the vision was more “art project” than festival, you know, like the project where somebody puts pianos on street corners or something. We loved the idea that we’d take these great works and serve them up for public consumption by putting them in art galleries for one night. Since then, we’ve been driven to serve the art well, and that’s led to a more structured and independent experience.
Kyle: Typically, the response has been something like, “This sounds like Star Wars!” When we first heard that in 09, we got defensive. “No! It’s ART, dangit!” Now I realize it’s a compliment. We’ve tried to run with that expression a bit.
We love the Art Crawl. We love the vibrancy and the energy of the whole event; and so our first stop is there, to present our Mainstage selections as we have in years past. The Arcade will pretty much be taken over by avant-garde audio. Continuing our embrace of emerging video art, we’re also presenting the video software Weiv on our new Soundcrawl Hologram. The software is one part game and one part art, allowing users to control aspects of the video art by using Wii controllers. It’s a lot of fun, and we’re pleased to help introduce it to Nashville.
TI: What are some of your favorite pieces playing the crawl this year?
Kyle: My favorites this year are “My Parents’ Phone Number” by Ethan Frederick Greene, and “Cloud I: Windmills I-65” by Bin Li. Both of them are inventive pieces that are very approachable. I recognize very clearly that Soundcrawl is introducing the whole genre of audio art during the Art Crawl, and it’s very pleasing to me to find works like these. They are clever and imaginative, strongly constructed, but are able to be understood at many different levels of engagement.
TI: What role does experience play? Why can’t I just download these works and listen to them on my headphones at home?
Kyle: Don’t tempt me! – Soundcrawl Internet Audio festival. . . (laughs). . . Because we don’t experience art that way. That’s not how we use our computers. I think a great deal about audience expectations, and I’ll tell you, that there are few things humans approach with as open a mind as an art gallery. Computers are tools, we evaluate the things we use them for based on utility, I think. We tend to know what we expect when we go to a concert too. Theatre and art galleries are the two spaces where I think the audience has only a vague idea what’s going to happen and is excited (rather than fearful) to be in that position.
TI: Soundcrawl:Listening Room takes place in a bank vault. Attendees are encouraged to bring a blanket and sandwich. I think it’s safe to say this will be the world’s first bank vault experimental music picnic. What inspired this incongruous listening party?
Kyle: Well, we were looking for a space near the Art Crawl to retreat to, and Todd just opened The Bank. It’s one of those friend of a friend connections. It’s a very good thing for us, because, like I said, there are few things we approach with such an open mind as an art gallery- and we don’t want it to be a concert. You should see the space. He’s painted all the walls with just super crazy images, it adds a ton of energy to the room.
TI: Soundcrawl:Art of the Future features live performances, audio installations, visual art, and video installations. What excites you about this program?
Kyle: Art of the Future is my baby. I’ve been waiting to put something like this together for a while. My background is in theatre and production design- I even ran a haunted house when I was young. To me, Art of the Future is a pop-up new media gallery that happens to be hosting some live performances. Ultimately, I’d love to present each piece in its own installed space, but we’re still a few years away from that. I love giving the audience options and having multiple things happening at once. I love the “magic” of automated art and the personal connections we have with live performances existing in the same space.
TI: New media can often be a challenging experience. Have you had any negative responses to the works in the past Soundcrawls? How do you deal with them?
Kyle: We haven’t really had any. I suppose that’s because of the “opt-in” format we use. If they don’t like something, they “opt-out” and go on with their evening.
TI: What about positive responses?
Kyle: What we hear most times is that people are surprised that the art is so profoundly moving. They didn’t expect to like it at all, but yet the beauty of a work touched them.
TI: You’re a graduate in Composition from Belmont University, and you won the university’s prestigious Competition Contest. How has your education shaped your composition? What was it like winning the award?
Kyle: My education has had a profound impact on my work, but a lot of my learning took place outside of school. I learned a ton when I toured with Drum and Bugle Corps during undergrad, and that sense of precision and pageantry has continued in my work. Belmont was incredibly gracious and supportive of my ideas while I was there. Winning the award was a great night, and meant that the piece was played by the orchestra. That was a lot of fun.
TI: Your album of compositions Bootcut Classical (including the sound art piece “Psychosis”) is available on Amazon.com and other outlets. How does being a composer yourself affect your selection process?
Kyle: When we listen to the submissions, I tend to root for the composer like it’s a sporting event. “Com’on man!… Awww, why’d you do that? Two-hand catch!” etc. I’m intensely focused on the internal logic and rhetoric of a piece. . . but I have a bias towards the aggressive.
TI: What else do you look for in Soundcrawl entries?
Kyle: Passion, agility & rhetoric. Say something!
TI: Who are some of your favorite artists and musicians in Nashville?
Kyle: I really like the band EASTERN BLOCK, and the Americana band FAREWELL DRIFTERS. Both groups are just incredibly talented. If there’s any justice in the music business, they’ll be headliners soon.
TI: What’s the number one thing you want people to take away from this year’s Soundcrawl?
Kyle: Wonder. I hope they walk a way with the same post-event high you get from a good play or concert. The world becomes incredibly real and different because you’re seeing it through the artist’s eyes.