Big Ears: Photos from Day 2

Photos from Day 2 of the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, Tennessee, on March 24, 2017.

(See more Big Ears Festival coverage)

Maya Beiser

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Matmos

Performing Robert Ashley’s Perfect Lives (Private Parts)

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Robyn Hitchcock

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Gyan Riley

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Richard Teitelbaum

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Ståle Storløkken and Arve Henriksen

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Jóhann Johannsson

Drone Mass featuring ACME and Theatre of Voices

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Meredith Monk

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Michael Hurley

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Tortoise

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More Big Ears Festival coverage:

Read my main blog post about Big Ears Festival 2017.

Photos from Day 1 (Carla Bley with the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra, Emilia Amper, Matana Roberts, Anna Meredith, My Brightest Diamond and Blonde Redhead)

Photos from Day 3 (Lisa Moore, Meredith Monk & Vocal Ensemble, Xiu Xiu Plays the Music of Twin Peaks, Musica Elettronica Viva, Joan Shelley, Colin Stetson Performs Sorrow, the Magnetic Fields, Henry Grimes, Jem Cohen: Gravity Hill Sound+Image, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, Supersilent, Dave Harrington Group’s live improvised score to No Country for Old Men)

Photos from Day 4 (Pauline Oliveros’ “Rock Piece,” Knoxville Symphony Orchestra, Oliver Coates, St. John’s Choral Evensong, Colleen, Henry Threadgill’s Zooid)

Photos of Wilco (plus Jeff Tweedy with Chikamorachi, On Fillmore and Dustan Louque with Nels Cline)

Photos of the Gavin Bryars Ensemble

Photos of Nils Økland

Matmos and Fonema Consort at Pritzker

Millennium Park’s Pritzker Pavilion hosts a series of free concerts on Thursday evenings called “Loops and Variations,” which brings together electronic experimental music with modern classical music. (“New music,” if you will.) This past Thursday (June 27), the series presented a concert by the Baltimore duo Matmos, with Chicago’s Fonema Consort as the opening act. The Fonema portion of the evening was a good deal more serious. Matmos was downright silly. Still, somehow the two halves of the concert seemed to fit together in a strange way.

Matmos has collaborated in the past with artists such as Björk and So Percussion. They’re one of those electronic acts featuring guys hunched over their laptops, but they’re much livelier and more playful than the typical artist matching that description. On Thursday, they strolled out onto the Pritzker Pavilion stage clapping their hands and making goofy vocal noises, wandering around the stage as if they didn’t know where to sit down. After settling down with their gear and making an evocative soundscape, they explained that they’d been playing music that used recordings Matmos member Drew Daniel had made on recent trips to Istanbul and Beijing.

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Joined midconcert by a guitarist and drummer, the Matmos duo transformed into something slightly more like a traditional rock band. OK, hardly traditional — Matmos member M.C. Schmidt blew bubbles in a bowl of water during one performance that was described as a aural simulation of liposuction. And near the end of its set, Daniel expressed his desire for NSA leaker Edward Snowden and led the group in a version of “I Want Candy,” with the words changed to “I Want Snowden.”

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Fonema Consort focuses on 20th and 21st century vocal and instrumental music. According to the group’s website, it’s all centered around “our fascination with the exploration of vocal possibilities in music, including the traditional presentation of a text, the breaking down of words into phonemes, or the total absence of words, and the ramifications thereof.”

Those concepts were on vivid display during the consort’s performance on Thursday, including passage of spoken word whispered like auditory hallucinations. (Matmos member M.C. Schmidt later remarked that he’d been in the backstage bathroom listening to this music through the speakers there. “It was terrifying,” he said.) There were also some bravura passages of ear-shattering singing, and wind and string instruments dancing around the voices. The concert included works by Pablo Chin, Daniel Dehaan, Edward Hamel, Jonathon Kirk and Joan Arnau Pàmies.

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Matmos and So Percussion at the MCA

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While So Percussion played a couple of pieces on its own (as the two guys in Matmos watched, along with the rest of us), for most of the show, both groups were fully engaged in collaborating on the music. Before the concert began, I’m sure a lot of people in the audience were wondering why a small cactus was sitting on a wooden stool at the front of the stage. When the musicians entered, they went straight for that cactus, standing around it and plucking its needles. The amplified cactus sounded like a drum kit as shifting rhythmic patterns emerged from it.

The members of So Percussion moved off to the side a while later and played a Steve Reich composition for mallets hitting blocks of wood. As simple as that sounds, it was an impressively complex piece, performed with stunning precision. Two of the percussionists played continuously, while the other two would periodically and stop and then begin again, entering gradually into the beat.

At other points during the concert, the members of Matmos and So Percussion played around with cans of beer (chugging their contents first before ripping them apart) and buckets of water, among other objects. It created an intriguing mix of actual concrete sounds emanating from things right there on the stage with electronically treated sounds emerging out of the laptops. Some of the collaborations between Matmos and So Percussion off the new CD sound almost tropical or loungey, with a bit of an Esquivel zing.

In one of the stranger and more humorous moments of the night, a member of Matmos performed a monologue with no musical accompaniment into two microphones, one of which had a vocoder effect. An infant in the audience laughed, apparently at the sound of the vocoder, which prompted others to laugh, too. How odd.
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The evening began with an opening set by the Chicago avant-garde jazz trio Tiger Hatchery. It was pretty much a wall of noise, for better or worse. It was probably too much for that infant to take, as well as for some more mature members of the audience, but you had to respect Tiger Hatchey for launching such a full-on assault upon our ears.

See my photos of Matmos and So Percussion at the MCA.