Madison calendar, August 8 through 14
SistaStrings at the Madison New Music Festival, John Wiese at Arts + Literature Lab, and more events of note in Madison this week. | By Scott Gordon, Grant Phipps
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FRIDAY, AUGUST 9
Editor’s note: The lineup of this show has changed. This preview has been updated.
This show features two experimental artists from Detroit whose adventurous compositions collectively thrive on the intuitive interplay of jazz improvisation. The headliner, Throwaway opts for a raw off-the-wall style of post-hardcore, but its dedication to sound dynamics is intensive and stunning. In July, Throwaway dropped its first official album, WHAT?, after a single and split in 2016 and 2018, respectively. But lead songwriter Kirsten Carey has been crafting the group's aesthetic for the better part of this decade after her James Joyce-inspired post-jazz opus The Ulysses Project . Throwaway often finds Carey donning a brown paper lunch bag with deadpan emoticon-like expression as a character mask, and exploring a wry mythos that alludes to the weirdly engrossing world-building of artists like Gorillaz or Iglooghost.
Carey's interest in these zany personae manifests in an altogether different sonic form and personality, however, as she and drummer Oliver Dobrian channel the abrasive, tongue-in-cheek bravado of bands like Shellac. Her snarled, shouted sarcasms and condemnations mesh well with angular, disjointed riffs and percussive fills that further recall Circle Takes The Square. Maybe most appropriately, WHAT?'s coyly boastful and concisely composed first single, "I Work," is accompanied by some fantastically elastic handmade animation (by bassist and former Madisonian Ben Willis, who also performs here and last visited with a playfully extended appearance with his band Saajtak at the Children's Museum's Adult Swim series in May) that feels a bit like absurdist Don Hertzfeldt homage, complete with spiraling strings of lyrics (à la karaoke video). Other standout tunes are as spiritedly anthemic as they are angular, like "The Revenge Society," which ultimately emerges as a defiant, riot grrl-esque ode to independence. —Grant Phipps
Over the past few years in Madison, a variety of musicians and event organizers have injected noticeably more contemporary classical and "new music" into the city's music landscape, and have worked to shake up the format of classical-music concerts. The LunArt Festival's emphasis on women composers, the bold experimentation of groups like Sound Out Loud, the jazz-classical blurring of Mr. Chair, the Willy Street Chamber Players' dressed-down open rehearsals, and even the Madison Symphony Orchestra's video-enhanced 2016 presentation of Gustav Holst's The Planets all offered reminders that classical music is moving forward, and increased the odds of diversifying its audience. The Madison New Music Festival, now in its fourth year, is also advancing those goals. This year's festival spans four concerts and places a heavy emphasis on composers and performers with Wisconsin ties.
Friday's opening-night show, at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, is a program of music by "ten living composers who were born, educated, or currently reside in Wisconsin." Those composers include UW-Milwaukee lecturer Amanda Schoofs, whose work has spanned a number of avant-garde and electronic approaches, and Jeff Herriott, whose project Bell Monks ended up on Tone Madison's top 20 Madison records of 2016 list. During Saturday's "World Premieres" concert at the First Unitarian Society, cellist James Waldo will play a new work from veteran jazz saxophonist and UW-Madison professor Les Thimmig, and violist Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti and pianist Karl Larson will play new sonatas from composers Andrew Norman, Anna Thorvaldsdottir, and Scott Wollschleger.
Perhaps the weekend's most refreshing and accessible offering is a Sunday performance at Robinia Courtyard by the Milwaukee duo SistaStrings. Cellist/vocalist Monique Ross and violinist/vocalist Chauntee Ross play nuanced but compact pieces that elegantly twist together elements of classical music with widely varied strands of folk, pop, and jazz sounds. Both their original compositions and re-interpretations of older works combine a stately heft with sprightly inventiveness. "Cadenza For Chauntee," from SistaString's 2019 EP Lift, starts with a powerful violin solo, then launches off into something resembling a very harmonically adventurous bluegrass track. On "Her Name Was," an original song on the EP, the Rosses weave together warm plucked lines from both instruments and showcase their powerful yet vulnerable vocal chemistry. On top of all that, the song offers an empathetic portrait of a young woman's struggle to find her place in the world: "I saw a girl, her name was / She always smiled / It never reached her eyes." SistaStrings' music is so much more than a mere novel hybrid; it's really a whole dimension of different influences and ideas, converging upon two musicians who explore it with patience and skill. This year's festival wraps up later on Sunday at the Terrace, with a free set from the Madison New Music Ensemble. —Scott Gordon
SATURDAY, AUGUST 10
Nate Gibson, who moved to Madison a couple years ago for a job as a curator at UW-Madison's esteemed Mills Music Library, is both a musician and a historian of music. The two pursuits perhaps inevitably blended together as he researched the contributions of Starday Records, an independent label founded in the early 1950s in the east Texas city of Beaumont. Starday released an influential run of country and rockabilly records throughout the '50s and '60s, including George Jones' first recordings, and Gibson digs into its significance in his 2011 book The Starday Story: The House That Country Music Built, co-authored with label co-founder Don Pierce. (Madison's resident country-music authority, Bill Malone, has praised the book as “a meticulously-researched and highly-detailed account of one of the most important record labels that helped to introduce country music to an international public.”) In the course of researching the book, Gibson interviewed dozens of the artists and behind-the-scenes players involved in Starday, and some of them became collaborators.
A miraculous number of Starday's artists are still alive and playing music, some of them pushing 90. Over time, Gibson managed to line up sessions with about a dozen of them, recording new duet versions of some of Gibson's favorite Starday songs for a 25-track album released this June, Nate Gibson And The Stars Of Starday. Gibson is clearly having a lot of fun here with artists he looks up to as influences (the charming music videos accompanying the album portray Gibson and his collaborators as marionettes), but he's a flexible foil, never getting in the way. Margie Singleton's "My Special Dream" becomes both richer and more ethereal in a new duet version here—Singleton's voice has become more raspy and breathy, and with some low-register backing from Gibson, offers a fond but ethereal take on the original's starry-eyed teen romance. On three different tracks here—"Lonely," "All The Time," and "I'm Through"—Gibson pairs his voice with the still massive baritone of rockabilly trooper Sleepy LaBeef. While gathering together a cast of players that also includes Betty Amos, Darnell Miller, and Little Roy Lewis, Gibson also demonstrates a grasp of a moment where staunchly traditional gospel-country intersected with rough-hewn hillbilly music and the raucous modern rhythms of rock music, in arrangements that get a boost from versatile country master Marty Stuart.
Gibson won't be bringing along any of the original Starday performers at this show, but will be performing some of the songs from Stars Of Starday, alongside original material that draws on honky-tonk, rockabilly, and western-swing sounds. He will have some other far-flung collaborators along in guitarist Kari Kunnas and bassist Jarkko Lähdeniemi, both of the Finnish rockabilly trio (!) Hi-Fly Rangers. Joining them will be Tim Moore on drums and Mark Roeder on steel guitar. —Scott Gordon
Dwelling in a meticulously sculpted world of abstract sound and uprooted harmonics, John Wiese has created a remarkably vast and vivid body of work. Whether he's creating installation pieces, playing with his grindcore duo Sissy Spacek, or performing laptop-driven solo sets, Wiese dissolves the boundaries between composition and experimental sound art. His discography spans dozens of releases, from a solo work to collaborations with experimental greats like Merzbow, Aaron Dilloway, Kevin Drumm, and drone-metal outfit Sunn O))). His solo albums have explored a variety of approaches; Wiese recorded 2015's Deviate From Balance with ensembles of 20-plus other musicians, whereas releases like 2009's Circle Snare delve more into full-on musique concrète territory. The common thread across all of Wiese's work is that he's able to imagine and harness such an astonishing variety of sound sources and textures, and arrange them into what feels like a new physical space. During Wiese's solo sets, beauty and abrasion melt into each other, and even those most skeptical of experimental music are hard-pressed to dismiss his unnerving movement and layering as mere noise. Wiese's last solo set in town was an opening slot for Zola Jesus at the Majestic, and it was a rare treat to hear his work on a large sound system. This show at Arts + Literature Laboratory, presented by us here at Tone Madison, will be a bit more intimate but no less transportive.
Madison-based musicians Erik Kramer and Jeremy Van Mill will open up this early show. Kramer's 2017 debut album as a solo artist, A House, Floating In The Middle Of A Lake, pulled together lyrical acoustic guitar, electronics, and scratchy field recordings into an ambitious and tender meditation on the natural world and the threats humanity poses to it. (It's no accident that Kramer made it the debut release from his own label, Anthropocene Recordings.) Kramer's approach has continued to morph in the live setting, but it's still as warm and disarming as experimental music gets. Van Mill, meanwhile, has promised a set of "synth drones, tape feedback, and ambient guitar loops." We have a no-fee ticket presale online, and admission is discounted for Tone Madison Sustainers. —Scott Gordon