See and Hear: A New Art and Music Series at Nightlight

Especially for 6:00 p.m. on a Sunday, it was crowded at Nightlight on April 21. The taco potluck on the Chapel Hill nightclub’s patio probably helped boost attendance, as did the fairly long list of names—each with its own distinct coterie of fans and friends—on the program. But mostly, people seemed excited to check out a brand-new curated event, “See & Hear,” that seeks to put local musicians and visual artists into equal dialogue rather than segregating them in their respective clubs and galleries. An eclectic, atmospheric, and well-paced first event, it left me eagerly anticipating the second installment.

See & Hear is the brainchild of three curators who worked together over the course of months to assemble this first show under the rubric of “Blood & Water.” Charlie Hearon, a co-owner of both Nightlight and All Day Records, is the music partner. For Blood & Water, he selected three musicians. Each of them gave brief performances of 15 to 20 minutes, with commensurate gaps between sets to draw attention, conversation, and perhaps sales to the art on the large easels and walls.
Zeke Gravesbegan the night by playing violin figures through effects like a rustic, wordless Arthur Russell before switching to electric guitar and pedal board to perform some of his shimmering pastoral blues. Cornelius F. Van Stafrin IIIturned in a clear and commanding drone performance for amplified magnetic tape, a bowed one-stringed Indian instrument, and antlers scraped on the floor. He also brought visual art into the music, his face hidden by a white shawl as he dripped and smeared food coloring over a leaf-veined pattern projected on a scrim.
The musical and visual integration continued in a closing set by Mike Taylor of Hiss Golden Messenger—a big draw at a time when his new album, Haw, is gaining great national notices—where artist Jina Valentine slide-projected bleached images along with Taylor’s dreamy, delay-flickered instrumentals and intimate, ominous vocal performances.
Leigh Suggs, a UNC-trained artist who works with mixed media and on paper, is See & Hear’s art partner. The artists she selected hooked into the Blood & Water theme from various angles. Valentine, a UNC professor who also showed an interesting-in-theory textual video work where she pronounced individual letters for a long time—it had something to do with Foucault—entered two of the strongest pieces in the show: cut paper scenes of firefighters putting out burning cars (there’s your water) during Parisian riots (and the blood).
Gory reds and watery blacks permeated what were mostly small, coarse paintings by the mysterious “Oleg Lulin,” who—blind item!—may or may not be the alter ego of a certain well-known local artist (keep an eye on the photos). And David Winton’s photographs laid bare the implicit “thicker than” relationship between blood and water with discreetly forlorn images of family and home. One of a houseplant spraying from an absorbing darkness, “Leaves,” was particularly arresting.
Winton is the overseer, set-designer, and originator of the See & Hear idea. A transplant to Chapel Hill from Jackson, Mississippi, he got the idea on a visit home when he encountered a music and art event called Land Vs Ocean.  “I saw the video they made of it,” Winton says, “and I knew I either had to make something like it here or move home.” With a little help, he built easels and designed lighting to display the artworks, including two large, custom-made paper-and-wood lamps onstage.
The goal, Winton says, is to serve up “finger sandwiches of music and art” in an atmosphere that makes them feel special and contiguous, all while capturing the event with an edited video document. Look for that soon to tide you over until the second See & Hear event, currently being planned for October.

Show Report: Grouper, McEntire & Miller

Heather McEntire and Jenks Miller have, I think, a pretty special dynamic together. At their performance at  Nightlight last night, opening for Grouper, their distinct individual styles were intact yet wholly integrated. McEntire played brooding barre chords that were clutching and stormy in stasis, elastic and sparky when they slid up and down the neck. Her strumming felt tidal, all swell and decay; the rhythm at times almost vanishing into little pools of prickly, half-muted notes. Riffs dragged across the floor like tangles of wire hangers. It strikes you that despite her beautiful voice, McEntire does just as much singing with her guitar. The words blur out; the moan prevails. Simultaneously, Jenks Miller played a very different kind of guitar. His parts were highly structural complements to McEntire’s impressionistic coils of fog. He played hypnotically repeating arpeggios and quietly flashy scale runs, and his finger-picking produced a rich, clear tone. It was classical guitar minus the virtuoso complex, feeling instead for the intuitive line of the song, like a hook trawling through miles of dark water. I am so stoned right now.

You know that feeling, when you start to describe an amazing dream you had to someone, and it dawns on you as you’re talking that nothing describable really happened? That’s what it feels like trying to describe a show by Portland’s Liz Harris, a.k.a. Grouper. She sat on a white chair, in a corridor of projected light–white reflections quivering on a black sea–holding a guitar that she touched once in awhile. Otherwise, she leaned down over her consoles and spun haunted cathedral sounds as heard through several walls out of thin air. Voices came and went; sometimes her mouth was open and sometimes it wasn’t. The music felt like it was always on the verge of remembering something. It took over everything. All the architecture of “performance” was in place, but it felt more like being something than watching something. Every vector in the space contained mysterious information. That saturated point when total presence and total absence become the same. A full-spectrum ambient takeover. No one made a sound. Someone spying through the skylight would have seen a dark room full of people slumped in chairs with their eyes closed and mouths slack, like a mass suicide. The walls breathed. The room filled up with water. When the lights came on I felt like a kid who’d just been rescued from the bottom of a swimming pool. A little brain damaged. Good morning, good night.

919 Noise Showcase: April Fool’s Edition

This Thursday, April 1, Ashley and I will perform at Nightlight as part of the 919 Noise Showcase. Curated by the inexorable Bryce Clayton Eiman, the monthly showcase features four to five local acts investigating the broad spectrum of noise music. The event begins around 9:30 and should wrap up by midnight. We’re sharing the bill with Zeke Graves, Sydney Koke, Khristian Weeks, and Weather Machine. Ashley and I have performed at this showcase once before, although this performance will be nothing like that one–when we do things like this, we always take the opportunity to put together something unique. We’re really excited to be performing on a day dedicated to trickery. Hopefully I’ll have some video to post after the fact.

The reading so good they canceled it twice

Ryan Martin, before transforming into this horrible tin-foil faced creature
My certainty that my reading with Brian Evenson was really going to happen last night proved rash. For the second time, inclement weather prevented him from flying through the air. I joked with Brian that people here must think I’m just inventing appearances by famous writers to lure them to my readings. (By the way, I hope you’ll come out to my reading with Thomas Pynchon next month.)

Brian Evenson wasn’t the only person stranded in a distant airport. My friend Maggie Zurawski, the organizer of the Minor American series, was too. By this diabolical turn of fate did I become both entertainment and host for the evening. I get gregarious on red wine, so this was no problem. We’ll give the Evenson event one more try at some point, but probably not until the next reading season, which will hopefully be less star-cross’d.

Despite our disappointment, we managed to pull together a really fun event. I got Chris Vitiello to step in for Mr. Evenson at the last minute. He just ran home and pulled some old forgotten manuscript out of a drawer that blew everyone away. I told the audience that it was always a bit humbling to read with Chris. It’s like getting up to do a magic show, and then the next guy reveals all your tricks. Chris sees through the devices of language like lace. “No one ever calls sunlight starlight,” is the line I keep remembering today.

Tony Tost had prepared an introduction for me, which saved me from the indignity of introducing myself. It was a really amazing and generous introduction. He was amazingly apt in his reading of my new work, which is just beginning to see the light of day, and which is so very different from the F7 stuff I’m “known for.” (Scare quotes!) It made me think about how long I’ve known Tony now, and how insightful and valuable an observer of my writing’s evolution he’s been.

The new book I’ve been reading from recently is called Wolf Intervals. A wolf interval is impossible to describe with total accuracy without sounding baffling. But basically, it’s a rogue interval in a musical tuning, which does not fit in, and beats or howls out of tune. They exist because a tuning is basically an elaborate series of compromises, where all this messy chaotic stuff gets swept under the rug to create an illusion of order. This is especially true of the tunings most common to Western popular music. And this seems almost ridiculously symbolic of Western life as it was taught to me. There is a lot of dismantling going on in these poems; a lot of two-way excoriation. I don’t want to belabor this point, only to mention that the title, while admittedly cool-sounding, is more than cosmetic. I also read, for the first time, from an even newer book called It’s Been This Way For So Long, which I began as soon as I finished Wolf Intervals.

We closed out the night with a powerful set by Ryan Martin, a.k.a. Secret Boyfriend. As I said last night, Ryan is someone who I like personally, and whom I appreciate for the energy he puts into this area. He was a founder of Nightlight, an indispensable out-music friendly club; he runs the Hot Releases record label; and is just generally a tireless creator and advocate in noise music, locally and beyond.

His set started off deceptively gentle– new wave synth and indie guitar jams, swathed in friendly interference. But it finished with a punitive harsh noise workout, with a contact-miked tin foil mask that turned Ryan’s shrieks into a symphony of distortion. Watching the transformation from sweetness to horror that guides Ryan’s performances is riveting. You really get a sense of something coming unleashed, some fundamental heartbreak or vitality, something magnetic that you can’t look away from and can barely stand. “You hear scribbles/ in the silence, oblivion/ in noise.” I read a poem that said that because I was thinking of Ryan.

The next installment of the Minor American series takes place on Sat. March 20, at 715 Washington in Durham, at 8 p.m., and features Therese Bachand, Magus Magnus, and Joe Ashby Porter