Deep Syrup without the Sentiment, H-Town Oozing Upward
Maria Chavez (Peru, Houston, New York) – turntables, Chris Cogburn (Oregon, Austin, Houston, Austin) – percussion, David Dove (California, Houston) – trombone, Sandy Ewen (Canada, Houston, Austin) – guitar, Juan Garcia (Mexico, Houston, Arizona) – bass, Jason Jackson (Houston) – saxophones, clarinet, trombonophone, flute + Pauline Oliveros (Houston, New York) – accordion
Houston, Texas has long been the backdrop for idiosyncratic, isolated, and potent soundings from the musical underground. What factors affect these renegade stirrings and outbursts from outside of the avant-garde mainstream? Extreme weather slows thought and action to surreal tempos and a broad sense of space and time has always marked much of Houston music across genres. This is most recently heard in the singularly syrupy street music of visionary Houstonian DJ Screw; but it has always been present in Houston’s country, noise, punk, Latino, and avant-garde genres.
Reckless, no-zoning, laissez-faire attitudes of public development correlate to certain cultural audacity. Unbridled immigration adds to this situation to make a city of unpatterned and chaotic diversity. Houston is a perfect home for outsiders. Everyone in Houston is an outsider.
In 1997, Houston trombonist David Dove began working at MECA, an inner-city arts community center. With a diverse group of teenagers, Dove developed a unique, non-traditional approach to music education based on improvisation and creativity. In 2000, Pauline Oliveros invited Dove to start a branch of her Foundation in order to develop this pioneering work. Deep Listening Institute Houston began in 2001. In 2006, it became Nameless Sound, an independent, Houston-based, non-profit organization.
In 1999, Jason Jackson would ride his bike to MECA in the sweltering Houston heat with his instruments strapped to his back. The teenager had a natural talent and he embraced all the musical experiences that he could access. At night, Jackson’s mother would take him to sit in on blues jams at their Northside neighborhood bars. In the afternoon, he came to MECA where, through Nameless Sound, he was in workshops by some of the most important names in Creative Music, including: Joe McPhee, Sun Ra Arkestra, Keith Rowe, Steve Lacy, Bhob Rainey, Leroy Jenkins, Sam Rivers, John Butcher and many others. Jackson is currently a teacher in the Nameless Sound program.
Percussionist Chris Cogburn (from Oregon, currently living in Austin), also met David Dove in 1999. Cogburn and Dove became close collaborators in performance and workshop situations. They continue to steadily hone an ever-evolving aesthetic that finds its way in the context teaching projects, their duo, and in collaborations with many international artists. Cogburn is one of the most active improvising musicians in the US, organizing the No Idea Festival for several years and working with an array of musical and multi-disciplinary artists, such as: Liz Tonne, poet Joshua Beckman, and dancer Jennifer Monson.
As a teenager, Juan Garcia discovered the music of Xenakis and Penderecki on the radio in his hometown of Monterrey (Mexico). Garcia came to Houston in 2000 and found Nameless Sound after seeing a workshop at Milby High School, a public school in a working class neighborhood near Houston’s ship channel. Garcia is currently getting his masters in performance. In 2005, he played bass on the first ever US concert by another underground musician from Houston, Jandek.
In 2002, a teenaged Sandy Ewen , was spotted purchasing Sun Ra and Captain Beefhart Records at Houston’s Sound Exchange. It was only a matter of time before the Canadian transplant joined the group. Soon, she would abandon traditional guitar playing for her ‘sit-on-the-floor and lay her guitar down’ approach. At a young age, Ewen has carved out a distinct language hi-lighted by the mesmerizing harmonies of her ‘chalk-on-the-strings technique’. Ewen is a member of the band The Weird Weeds and plays with Tom Carter, among others.
Turntabilist Maria Chavez (originally from Lima, Peru) was a club DJ when she met David Dove and came to MECA. After her first workshop, she immediately “retired” from DJing and dedicated herself to musical improvisation. Since then, she has toured extensively and performed with Kaffe Matthews, Thurston Moore, and Christina Carter, among others. She currently lives in Brooklyn and owns Hounds Tooth, a vintage clothing store (that also doubles as a music venue).
David Dove met Pauline Oliveros through her mother Edith Gutierrez, a well-known Houston piano teacher and composer of children’s music. Dove became friends with Edith when the two worked together selling tickets for the Houston Ballet. At the time, Dove would visit Edith and play boogie-boogie songs with her in her studio. He was unfamiliar with Oliveros’ history and significance and came to know her during her visits home to see her mother. Oliveros became an important mentor to Dove and later she would take a similar role to the other Houston musicians.
Pauline Oliveros , composer, performer and humanitarian is an important pioneer in American Music. Acclaimed internationally, for four decades she has explored sound — forging new ground for herself and others. Through improvisation, electronic music, ritual, teaching and meditation she has created a body of work with such breadth of vision that it profoundly effects those who experience it and eludes many who try to write about it.
Oliveros has been honored with awards, grants and concerts internationally. Whether performing at the John F. Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., in an underground cavern, or in the studios of West German Radio, Oliveros’ commitment to interaction with the moment is unchanged. She can make the sound of a sweeping siren into another instrument of the ensemble. Through Deep Listening Pieces and earlier Sonic Meditations Oliveros introduced the concept of incorporating all environmental sounds into musical performance. To make a pleasurable experience of this requires focused concentration, skilled musicianship and strong improvisational skills, which are the hallmarks of Oliveros’ form. In performance Oliveros uses an accordion which has been re-tuned in two different systems of her just intonation in addition to electronics to alter the sound of the accordion and to explore the individual characteristics of each room. (Tuning Chart)
Pauline Oliveros has built a loyal following through her concerts, recordings, publications and musical compositions that she has written for soloists and ensembles in music, dance, theater and interarts companies. She has also provided leadership within the music community from her early years as the first Director of the Center for Contemporary Music (formerly the Tape Music Center at Mills), director of the Center for Music Experiment during her 14 year tenure as professor of music at the University of California at San Diego to acting in an advisory capacity for organizations such as The National Endowment for the Arts, The New York State Council for the Arts, and many private foundations. She now serves as Distinguished Research Professor of Music at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Darius Milhaud Composer in Residence at Mills College. Oliveros has been vocal about representing the needs of individual artists, about the need for diversity and experimentation in the arts, and promoting cooperation and good will among people.