DOT AIR 2016 featured a diverse array of adventurous music presented in two non-traditional sites / modes at the parking structure at 1 Park Place in Pawtucket, RI. The second floor of the structure is a long concrete corridor with low ceilings dissected by girders that both trapped pockets of sound and allowed it to reflect across the space through expansive stretches of time. The top floor of the garage, while open to the noises of the surrounding environment, also featured a quadraphonic sound system, the borders of which demarcated an interactive listening space, which gave listeners the ability to navigate through the performances as active participants.
The afternoon began with an intimate site-specific a capella performance by vocalist Laurie Amat, who move the second story of the parking structure both figuratively and literally—drawing listeners in with barely audible incantations whispered across the walls and shattering silences with explosive outbursts and operatic vocalizations that filled the space, echoes decaying slowly between the concrete slabs overhead.
Audience members slowly found their ways upstairs amidst the sweltering heat of the midday sun, where they were greeted by a performance by Work/Death’s Scøtt Reber, whose ensuing compositions blended soundscapes reminiscent of industry from the local area that often melted into the periphery, lingering at the edge of perception and calling into question whether their origins were intrinsic or extrinsic in nature, with haunting melodies and swells of noise slowly conquering the spectrum.
Next on the program was Boston-based improviser Forbes Graham, whose angular trumpet improvisations were mutated by a variety of forms of live electronic manipulation, and juxtaposed with jarring interruptions recalling alarm clocks and indecipherable public radio broadcasts, intensifying and obfuscating the sounds of daily life.
The audience was led back down to the second floor, where Sarah Hennies’ durational performance endlessly repeated an even sequence of percussive strikes across a variety of instruments, beginning with a vibraphone, whose overtones interacted with the space, beating against one another and swirling overhead in shimmering, psychedelic patterns, and moving methodically through snare drum, wood block, and triangle, each calling to attention different properties of the space, and contrasting with the shuffling sounds of the Elm City Dance Collective members’ feet and breath echoing throughout the structure.
Moving back upstairs, the sun’s descent into the sky and the subsequent relief from the heat was equally reflected in the Providence Research Ensemble’s presentation of new works by founding member and composer James Falzone. These compositions took the shape of repeated harmonic figures performed on vibraphone and electric piano set against flute melodies, acting as a bridge between the severe minimalism of Hennies’ performance and the activities to follow.
Descending into darkness, vocalist Andrea Young unleashed a barrage of glossolalia and searing noise, ripping vocal fragments into shards, intersecting and colliding in unpredictable patterns, while sound-reactive stage lights were propelled into chaotic convulsions overhead, and projections slowly began to emerge throughout the surrounding environment.
Mark and Laura Cetilia’s electroacoustic ensemble Mem1 followed, beginning with sustained cello notes, rising and swelling, accumulating complexity, counterbalanced by needle-sharp frequencies at the upper limits of audibility, slowly wrapped into a blanket of sizzling noise from an off-tuned shortwave radio broadcast amplified beyond recognition, and overcome by constantly-rising glissandi, before being suddenly plunged into silence.
Moving down to the second floor, audience members were treated to a proper ear cleaning care of Donna Parker (Mary Staubitz)’s patented combination of highly-controlled hand-held microphone feedback, minimal effects processing, and powerful Traynor keyboard amp, powered off of her car battery, echoing both throughout the garage and for blocks beyond.
Bill Nace and Jake Meginsky’s duo, F/I/P, presented the penultimate performance atop the parking structure: a sweeping set full of extended tones both instrumental and electronic in origin. With Nace’s electric guitar resting across his lap and array of effects pedals at his feet pitted against Meginsky’s starkly minimalist use of an MPC-1000 sequencer / sampler typically associated with the production of dance music, the duo created an immersive expanse of undulating sound.
The final performance at 1 Park Place was one given by legendary Ethiopian jazz musician Hailu Mergia (accordian, electric piano, organ, melodica, and voice), and an accompanying band consisting of the essentials: bass and drums. Mergia was a member of the Walias Band (with Mulatu Astatke and others), dating back to the early 1970s. In 1981, the Walias Band were asked to join a tour of the United States with Mahmoud Ahmed; four band members, including Mergia, took the opportunity to escape the dictatorial regime in place in Ethiopia at the time. Mergia came to spend his days as a taxi driver in Washington DC, but recorded a number of tapes that merged the electronic sounds of 1980s drum machines and synthesizers such as the Yamaha DX7 with Ethiopian polyrhythms and accordion playing, which have been recently been re-released through the Awesome Tapes from Africa label, to great critical acclaim. For many years, Mergia did not play publicly, but as he put it: “I was practicing every day: I have a keyboard in my car, I have a keyboard in my basement, I have an upright piano in my living room… everywhere I go, there is music.” His performance at DOT AIR was a living, breathing testimony to his devotion to music, and a stunning conclusion to the festivities at 1 Park Place.
Not to be swayed by the city’s noise ordinance, DOT AIR picked up and moved to Machines with Magnets for an “after party,” a mere block away from 1 Park Place. The new series of performances kicked off with Christopher Forgues’ Universal Cell Unlock project, which offered up a mixture of found sounds, tape collage, and abstract rhythmic forms, pushing hard against the boundaries of what might be considered dance music. Valerie Martino’s performance was next, a solid set of tough, minimal techno with slinky bass that got the crowd moving and kept it there. Closing out the night was Blevin Blectum (Bevin Kelly)’s set, with live video by Alexander Dupuis. Their performance ranged from languid vocal improvisations to frenetic breakbeats and fractured rhythms, accompanied by psychedelic patterns rushing past and morphing into new shapes, fusing together into a hypnotic audiovisual feast for the eyes and ears, a night cap that left festival goers reeling in just the right way.