Colorful Experimentations in Art and Music

February 18, 2009
Flagpole Magazine

Colorful Experimentations in Art and Music
By Gordon Lamb 

Even as the Athens music scene becomes ever more surely adopted into the pure mainstream of Athens society, the experimental arts continue to work at their own pace and, indeed, in their own sphere. While it may be tempting to assume the artists involved are marginalized by the seeming non-stop rock and roll party that distinguishes downtown Athens in 2009 from, say, even 1995, the fact is that the players and performers of this weekend’s event, many of whom are in their own more readily accepted combos, operate by the earliest of Athens’ music credos: if you want to see it or hear it, make it yourself.

That’s the remark one will get from festival founder and organizer Heather McIntosh. “You have to make it happen or be willing to find it,” she says. Now happening for the third time, the AUX Festival is a one-day event dedicated to pure creativity. For 2009 AUX has expanded to feature a substantial artists’ market, a kids’ performance, 10 video artists, modern dance and 18 musical performances taking place in two venues, Ciné and Little Kings Shuffle Club. Scheduled to last a mere 11 hours, from 3 p.m.–2 a.m., it comprises a veritable marathon of stimulating engagement.

McIntosh is well known around Athens from her years-long involvement with the music scene. Her connection to Athens, though, preceded her arrival by several years. “I first came to Athens when I was a freshman in high school. I’d seen [1987 documentary] Athens, GA: Inside/Out and I came during spring break with my parents, and it was so perfect,” she says. “We used to drive through Athens on the way to my grandparents’ house.” A key meeting during this time influenced her decision to eventually study music at the University of Georgia. “The town was kind of empty because of spring break, but cello professor Dr. David Starkweather was around, and I made an appointment to meet with him. It was cool that he took the time to speak to a 14-year-old girl who wanted to study cello.”

After moving to Athens circa 1993 to study cello and electronic music, McIntosh began working at Jittery Joe’s original Washington Street location (bar Max Canada now occupies the space) and, from there, immediately began playing with other local musicians. She did time in punk band Year Zero, pop band Snowball and eventually joined instrumental band Japancakes. Perhaps most importantly, though, McIntosh began playing music with someone who had already indelibly placed her mark upon Athens: Deonna Mann.

“The second I started working at Jittery Joe’s I started playing with Deonna and [then-Athens musicians] Omar [Khalid] and Katja [Seltmann]. Around that time I started playing with [installation-oriented musicians and artists] Dixie Blood Mustache and that was my introduction to all the Elephant-6 stuff,” she explains.

Mann, with her boisterous personality (to put it mildly) and daily recreation in terms of personal costuming and free flowing, non-stop doing of art and music, personified the ethic of doing it yourself. And once a person had been witness to any of Mann’s creations, it was clear that she was a monumentally singular personality.

Having lived in New York for the past few years, Mann cherishes her Athens friends and says, “It is a true joy to work in Athens with my closest friends and family. It is so great to be supported from home. Without this web of love I could not have accomplished living in New York.”

Mann returns to Athens this weekend to perform at AUX with her Medaglia d’Oro Orchestra. Mann first created Medaglia d’Oro in the early 1990s here in town. The show she will present is named “Liquifaction” and will feature two sculptures by artist Beverly Babb, “This Is for You” and “Mother’s Finest.” Mann says of the show, “Liquifaction is the special effect that occurs during a shockwave when ground sediments turn to run like water. I would like to give you an equatorial essence of carnival – a tiny splash of what could possibly be Victorian and apocalyptic, i.e., slightly upsetting.” Further, Mann says to expect “throbbing and haunted music by a fluid line-up of pros. Medaglia d’Oro delivers a cavalier suspension for whatever I may expose visually.” Therein we have what is, really, the heart of AUX, which is presented in conjunction with UGA’s ICE (Ideas for Creative Exploration). That is, everything blends seamlessly and naturally. There’s no separation between music, art and dance. AUX recognizes and encourages the synergy between art forms.

When asked whether they would hold art or music as their first love, both McIntosh and Mann are quick to make almost no distinction between the two. McIntosh says, “I love it when it all comes together. I’m a big fan of integrated media and seeing how other people can incorporate all that stuff together. All the tendrils influence and inspire the other parties.” For her part, Mann holds, “I’ve always been spoiled not to have to separate a love of art and music. Blending the two makes my life worthwhile.” It seems a safe bet the same could be said for the rest of this weekend’s lineup, too.