Elemental Fringes

February 20, 2008
Flagpole Magazine

Elemental Fringes
The Second Coming Of AUX, Athens’ Experimental Music Festival, Grows Considerably

by JoE Silva

Come the end of March, that unsettling thud you may hear down on West Washington Street will be the tomb-like sealing of the X-Ray Café. Driven to shutting its doors in part because of the trends in rising downtown rents, the X-Ray was perhaps the last permanent toehold of local fringe musicians.

“The kind of business I was doing was popular. Otherwise I wouldn’t have been doing it for 20 years,” says owner Paul Thomas about closing down one of that part of town’s longest-running downtown businesses. “People like the store and the cultural events that have gone on there. But downtown has changed.”

What then will become of WUOG’s Equinox and Organic Compound listeners while the station is busy spinning Pattern Is Movement discs? Where will they go? The Max Canada? Allen’s, Mark II? No… these are not the sort of people who will be allowed to stalk the threshholds of the East West Bistro or the Five & Ten with worn copies of Wire magazine jammed into their hip pockets.

Well, on Saturday, Feb. 23, they can all breathe deep from the gathering gloom that is the diminishing of weird downtown and rejoice in the faint but distinct scent that is the second Aux Festival.

This installment of the festival will be grown to three locations in the western quadrant of downtown Athens. There will be a video program at Ciné, music, video and dance at Little Kings and more “sound happenings” at the Flicker. While some of the line-ups and schedule specifics haven’t been nailed down yet, the range of participants includes Thomas performing with assorted friends, the Black Swan Network (members of the Olivia Tremor Control), a tweaked version of Dark Meat momentarily known as Pterodactyl Wingspan, Howling Jelly (Elf Power’s Andrew Rieger aside Mark Tissenbaum), New Sound of Numbers, Kid Pork, Eyes and Arms of Smoke, and the return of Dr. Irene Moon’s Auk Theatre.

Festival organizer Heather McIntosh (she of The Instruments, Japancakes, and soon as touring bassist/cellist for Gnarls Barkley), is keyed up about Aux and the possibilities given to musicians faced with a boundless canvas.

“Some of these people are kind of known for playing rock or pop music, so it’s kind of nice to see them when they’re given free reign to do whatever they want,” she says. “And the last one was a blast. It was nice to have that kind of carnival atmosphere and watch people have their inner freak rip.”

For those who missed Aux the first time around, the physical event took place at the ATHICA gallery back in August of 2006. Music, dance, and art sale were put in place to celebrate the release of the Aux CD, a curated compilation of experimental sound commissioned by the University’s Ideas for Creative Exploration (ICE) outfit. The collection was a set of 18 tracks featuring Athens’ musicians who were very much in evidence at the ongoing performances at the X-Ray as well as others who’d moved on to Brooklyn, California, St. Elsewhere and other far-flung locales. Pieced together with great care by hand, using archival materials and the skilled chops of several book-arts students, the elaborately packaged CD was sold exclusively online at AUXcd.com, and sent to specialty art collections the world over. The record spawned a fascinating multimedia online experience also at AUXcd.com, custom-designed by Athens artist John Crowe.

This year the artist market will return, thanks to the help of Kristen Bach, one-time Flagpole hand model and local artist of many stripes. You might know her work from the staggeringly impressive 13-foot-long dress Of Montreal’s Kevin Barnes wore on the road and on Conan O’Brien’s show last year. “We’re trying to get together a good representation of local artists that are active in trying to sell their work,” says Bach.

Bach will have some hand-sewn items and T-shirts of her own for sale and Dynamite Refinery seamstress extraordinaire Jocelyn Negron will also be represented along with folks such as Matt Blanks, Lou Kregel and Winston Parker.

The whole shebang kicks off with a semi-improvisational dance number late Saturday afternoon at Little Kings put together by Athens’ own Julie Rothschild and Laura Hoffman .

“Laura and I are working with a group of people here in town that we’ve handpicked to create a training practice.” says Rothschild. “And out of those practices come workshops where we work with exercise movements and improvisational structures. We’re trying to build awareness [about dance].”

The 16 dancers will work with musical accompaniment provided by an ensemble that features McIntosh. Their piece features no props, and only some structure.

“The space is really the prop and the structure. Within that structure something real happens on stage.” says Hoffman. “So if you bump into each other, you bump into each other and see what happens from there. We may react to the music dynamically and rhythmically, although not structurally. But working with Heather has added a thick layer to what’s happening.”

Rain or shine, the outdoor components of the day will go forward. In fact Hoffman just sees any potential inclement weather as just “another element” of what their group will try to achieve. Discrete music and video spaces will also be set up for attendees to check out and plans for the various elements on display will probably continue right up to show time. Video artists taking part in this year’s activities include Jonathan Railey, Dickie Cox, Dixie Blood Mustache (AKA Laura Carter, formerly of Elf Power), former Athens resident Kevin Hoth, Jorge Torres and Mark Callahan.

Callahan, who heads up ICE, is psyched that the project he kicked off with McIntosh and company two years ago will see another outing.

“This is a great way to showcase the talent and creative energy that exemplifies the collaborative spirit of ICE,” says Callahan, “and I am tremendously pleased with Heather’s efforts to organize this second event and believe that it is the beginning of an annual experimental art festival that can take place in downtown Athens and hopefully continue to grow to the point where we can invite more regional, national, and international artists to participate.”

Interested parties might not have to wait that long, however. McIntosh is committed to trying to stage a second CD release and another event in 2008, once the September harvest of freshmen arrives at UGA.

“I waited a year and a half for this one to happen,” she says, “and I felt like that was too long. And there’s something great about getting the kids at the beginning of the school year. This is definitely a labor of love at this point, so it would be great if this could be built into a regular thing.”