26 September 2007

Sonic Circuits 2007

I could only make it to two gigs in the festival this year, but I had to do my part here, to glorify and promote one of DC’s finest musical happenings...in the hopes that there will be another next year.

The Sonic Circuits festival of experimental music was greatly expanded for 2007, with a schedule that spanned 17 nights and some 60 performers. The musical range was vast, covering laptop/glitch electronica, lo-fi acoustic improv, guitar-pedal-driven walls of drone, full force power-noise, and a universe of invented sounds that were unique to each performer.

Jeff Surak (a.k.a. Violet, and formerly of V., 1348, New Carrollton, and founder of Zeromoon) was the organizing muscle behind the fest, and he made sure the lineup contained a healthy dose of local performers, as well as international acts to bring in the crowds.

So here are a few shots, in no particular order, from shows at the Warehouse Theater on september 8 and 21. Captions underneath.

TONY CONRAD & VIOLENT RAID ended the show on Sept 21 with an hour-plus of very heavy monotone, via Conrad’s violin and Violent Raid’s distorted cello and open-reel tapes. It was a punishing onslaught, just one note which built and released tension throughout the performance. By the end, I believe, only one violin string remained on that poor instrument. The audience was a devastated wasteland of bodies.

THE CUTEST PUPPY IN THE WORLD offered an elegant mix of acoustics and electronics. The two puppies in question (Layne Garrett=pictured, with Bryan Rhodes) improvised well together, producing a surreal bath of textures with enough changes and shifts to keep things fascinating. And these cats are from DC? Why have I not heard of ‘em until now? Damn this living-under-a-rock thing. I must get out more.

NOVELLER’s sound seemed entirely generated from a double-necked guitar fed into a bank of pedals and signal processors. Tones were created by plucking, bowing, and e-bowing, and built upon by live-looping and further processing. The dynamics were gorgeous and full and huge, sweeping from delicate to full-on Godzilla-strength. Hers was easily my favorite performance of the Sept 8 gig.

Speaking of “easy favorites,” ALL VIOLET gets the prize for the Sept.21 show. Jeff Surak and Scott Allison opened the evening, and set the bar very high for the bands that followed. An intro of fragile static, like distant shortwave radio transmissions, gave way to a tremendous tsunami of mad noise that didn’t relent until the performance was over. A stuttering growl of sub-bass was topped with a perfect dash of high-end harshness, and Surak’s classic amplified garden hose (ahh, how the sight of that hose caused a few flashbacks to New Carrollton performances in the ‘80s).

TWILIGHT MEMORIES OF THE THREE SUNS (from Gaithersburg MD, I think) brought on the heavy mad-scientist vibe, by combining open-mike feedback, bug-zapping lights, scraping/smashing plate glass, machine-vibrating steel springs, and god knows what-all. The glass-smashing did make some visibly nervous, but it added enough good meat to the sound to avoid being dismissed as theatrical cheapness.

The chief glass-smasher appeared later in the evening, sporting the wedding dress he performed in earlier (now dotted with appropriately subtle bloodstains), to bash out a cymbal solo that was so harsh, even the most curious observers could handle only a minute or two, before leaving with hands over ears.


It was impossible to catch all the Sonic Circuit events, but it was a vital festival for all who appreciate unpredictable music. If I can stay on my current creative roll and keep my ass focused, I’ll try to worm into a spot on the bill next year. (Surak? Think about it!)

The current level of “experimental music” activity in DC is tremendous. I used to think of the late ‘80s as a Golden Age for this kind of thing, but it seems that NOW, there are creative forces lurking in the ‘district and nearby suburbs that make previous golden ages seem like mere soundchecks for what’s to come.

Top photo: Corridors, during the Sept 8th gig.

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