The next three concerts at the Ecstatic Music Festival each feature at least one of my favorite experimentally-minded artists from the indie rock world (I say "from" in the sense that this is where they've gotten the most traction, not to say that this is necessarily where they see themselves as belonging), all coming into dialogue with incredible composers and new music ensembles. If you need a snapshot of what the festival can encompass, this trio of shows is a good place to start.
Deerhoof is a band that probably could have been a "new music ensemble", if things were a little different in the world. Some of their members come from the fertile music scene at Mills College, bringing the spirit of Pauline Oliveros and Fred Frith to the indie rock universe, a spirit that has helped to define the space of beyond-genre experimental music for almost two decades. On Wednesday, February 20, they'll be joined by two fabulous partners from Chicago: the recent darlings of Darmstadt, Ensemble Dal Niente (they won the Kranichsteiner Stipendienpreise at that festival last year, and from what I've heard of their performances, deservedly so), and Chicago-based composer Marcos Balter, whose beautiful and engaging music is constructed through careful, intelligent explorations of sonic possibilities and intricate forms. Deerhoof drummer Greg Saunier has written a set of "chamber variations" using the band's recent album as source material, and Marcos has written a new song cycle for the Deerhoof singers to perform with Dal Niente — among other things. This is going to be a wild, amazing show.
The next concert, on Saturday, February 23, is the sort of event that feels unusual now but will hopefully seem commonplace in the near future: three excellent artists who occupy a somewhat similar musical universe (sophisticated, intricate electrono-acoustic landscapes) are joining up for a continuous program that connects their music together and opens a space for the collective creation of new work between them. This really doesn't happen very often, except in the world of strictly improvised music, but here we have artists who are usually called "composers" or "electronic producers" or "songwriters" doing that kind of collaboration. I expect that it will be revelatory, largely on the strength of those three composers — Laurel Halo, Julia Holter, and Daniel Wohl — who all are wonderful artists, and who all occupy the same part of my fan-brain, where I don't really understand how they construct their sound worlds, and feel happier, on some level, for not knowing. Their worlds are worlds where texture is paramount, and even though Julia's last album, Ekstasis, veered toward more conventional song-form, I suspect that this concert will tend toward the ethereal — in a very, very good way. Ensemble TRANSIT, which Daniel directs, will be the "backing band" for this journey, offering fans of Julia and Laurel an opportunity to hear their work with live instruments, played expertly, among the other points of interest on this program.
Finally, on Wednesday, February 27, the Festival will bring in an unlikely long-term musical relationship for their latest collaborative iteration: the experimental Southern rock band, Megafaun, and the string-exciter architect/composer, Arnold Dreyblatt. This pairing has been around for half a decade, with Megafaun and Dreyblatt touring in 2008 and making occasional appearances since then. If you find this relationship surprising, it's probably because you haven't been following Megafaun's career closely enough; yes, they write incredible psychedelic rock anthems, but the noise outbursts and sudden breaks that punctuate their last record are as much their bread and butter as the sound that this touching tribute to Levon Helm would indicate. Dreyblatt is a composer that I know through his work with Bang on a Can in the late 1990s; he's one of the more specific composers from the world of what you might call "late minimalism", building up resonant sounds on specifically-tuned instruments. It's an awesome pairing and I think the fact that they've maintained it, between a constantly-touring band and a Berlin-based composer, is a testament to their feeling the same way.
More on the rest of the festival will be coming soon!