The Fugue State festival, June 29 and 30 at the Empty Bottle, was two days of bands playing what is often called “drone music.” It was also billed as a festival of “expansive music.” Whatever you call it, these are musical acts that stretch out notes way past the duration you normally hear. Some of it is loud guitar feedback, some of it more like acoustic freak folk or Eastern music or minimalism. Given the seemingly narrow confines of the genre (if it really is a “genre”), it’s actually a fairly diverse field of music. Not for all tastes, of course.
These two days offered a stimulating sample of what’s going on with drone music, especially in the Chicago scene. Highlights included the looping guitars of The Number None, Estesombelo’s masterfully constructed glaciers of notes and the slightly more song-oriented work of The Zoo Wheel. All of the acts featured some sort of visual accompaniment, including a lot of abstract shapes morphing in video projections. Lisa Slodki’s montages – which she created live by mixing together images from four VCRs (how analog!) – were particularly strong during the sets by Haptic and The Fortieth Day.
My favorite bands of the festival were the headliners each night. On Friday, DRMWPN (aka Dreamweapon) played another performance of what is basically the band’s one song, a mesmerizing and spiritual drone with wordless vocals by Jim Dorling floating above it all and a spinning column of light. On Saturday, David Daniell assembled eleven musicians, including acoustic guitarists and classical strings, to perform a piece from sheet music that featured recurring, overlapping and repeating patterns of notes. It sounded more like Steve Reich than true drone, but that’s fine with me.