No Idea Festival

A long overdue backblog about the No Idea Festival that happened a couple weeks ago. Being the showcase of creative music performances that occurred in and around Austin.

No Idea Festival

I’m always fascinated by genre. What does creative music mean, exactly? It must be something special if it has a such a strong claim to creativity inherent in its name.

Judging purely on sound, I can only deduce from a layman’s perspective that it is some niche in the intersection between experimental, new music, avant garde, and free jazz, with the sharpest point of differentiation between these genres being audience and venue. Somebody needs to create a clever flowchart of all these pools of outsider music in the style of the geek hierarchy.

The first evening of the fest began at the Austin Figurative Gallery, which heretofore I’d only known for its SXSW day parties. But apparently they host low-key art parties there every Saturday, as well as other one-off events. As my focus on Austin sharpens, hidden details like this continue to emerge.

Nafta

Nafta (Chris Cogburn / Juan Garcia)

Here we see pictured Juan Garcia and Chris Cogburn, the local musician focusing on extended percussion technique. On the table next to him are laid out his tools of the trade — a collection of dust, brushes, tuning forks, and other stuff I won’t even try to identify; all selected for the way they sound when applied to a drum. I imagine that these sounds were chosen for their strong character, so that when you hear them in sequence they can speak their own narrative without relying on traditional structures.

Bhob Rainey

Most of the festival was improvisational music, of the quiet and still variety. My favorite set of the festival was Bhob Rainey, performing solo saxophone in the clip above.

Music like this only works in a small room, to a sympathetic audience. When is the last club show you saw where 50 people were willing to sustain a near perfect silence for a performer making almost no sound? All focused forward, ears strained.

This short video does cannot express the intimacy of the space, nor the tension of the audience, nor the softness and subtlety of the sound. It’s just an excerpt of the set, and the louder half of the set at that. Not captured is the two minute opening that consisted only of controlled breathing through the chamber of the sax, without reed. It filled the openness of the theater with a fragile, pitched whisper. And it was the perfect opening, slow and alluring, like the graze of a finger.

I have an analogy for this music. To me the comparison is obvious. I draw the same peculiar satisfaction from hearing it performed as I do from a visit to the doctor’s office. There’s something about the precise, slight exhalations of sound that are parallel in my mind to the precise, slight movements of the nurse performing a routine exam. Clinical, still, and restrained. The accompaniment of shallow breathing. The mediated touch of the stethoscope. The fullness of sensation from just two fingers on your pulse. The depressor on your tongue. In my mind these little strokes are exactly the same as the little sound objects a performer like Bhob Rainey uses to touch you.

Tetuzi Akiyama

Tetuzi Akiyama

Tetuzi Akiyama’s set was more of the same, except on acoustic guitar. The difference was that his set was also a treat to watch. Every movement from him is pure grace. He’d delicately land a single finger on the string, then lift it with a broad stroke that arced through his entire arm, like a motion you’d expect from a ballerina.

The Long Telegram

Next I saw Nick Hennies play this truly insane set with Kurt Newman, a lineup they call The Long Telegram, captured above. This virtuosity is so ridiculous it’s actually redonkulous. I love the long, full moments of empty, punctuated by sudden bursts of note clouds, made more electrifying by the unpredictability of either.

Nameless Sound Ensemble

Finally, I captured an excerpt of this larger ensemble of Houston and Austin area improvisers, during an extended lull.

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