Susan Alcorn is a Baltimore-based composer, improviser, and virtuoso proponent of the pedal steel guitar who has spent over 40 years liberating the expressive potential of the harmonically rich instrument from its conservative role in the country western tradition. Initially inspired by a live Muddy Waters performance to pick up the pedal steel for its ability to play “the notes between the notes”, Alcorn later cut her teeth in country swing bands in her home of Texas before being encouraged by Paul Bley to “throw away the real book” and channel her diverse influences: the spiritual and free jazz of Ornette Coleman, Alice and John Coltrane; the avant-garde classical music of Messiaen, Feldman, and Varèse; and the lyrical phrasing of Roberta Flack and Carly Simon. Incorporating these styles via the philosophy of Deep Listening into the haiku-like economy and heartfelt immediacy of American country music, Alcorn has traversed new paths with the pedal steel, applying its singular attributes (contrary motion string bending, volume swells, natural sustain) and her own extended techniques to everything from group free improvisation to intimate solo composition.
Blank Forms has curated a program of music and poetry as part of Josiah McElheny’s new solo show, Observations at Night. McElheny’s sonic sculpture, “Moon Mirror,” will function as both an acoustic reflector and an open stage-like platform for performances, as part of an exhibition of optically dynamic paintings and sculptures inspired by cosmic revolutionary figures like Joe McPhee and Sun Ra Arkestra singer June Tyson. Tyson’s optimistic communication of the potential for world-building beyond the painful alienation of presiding earthly visions serves as the focal point for the series’ interrogation of how music and poetry might illuminate new pathways of resistance to our troubled political climate. An international assembly of artists from a diverse spectrum of creative improvising idioms have been selected to use McElheny’s parabolic structure as a catalyst for explorations of both acoustic feedback and social interaction between performers and audiences from heterogeneous cultural spheres. Featuring performers pulling inspiration from black American free jazz as well as experimental music, deep listening, and folk traditions of Korean, Japanese, Iraqi, Indonesian, and Persian music, the surreal convergence of mysteries of light and sound proposes that we might today not only pass through what can feel like a dream or nightmare state but find something here, visible or audible in the twilight that can lead into a cosmic future.