They, Who Sound at Avant Garden

After weeks of listening to “Dada et la Musique” (Muza), John Cage, Fred Frith, Hauschka, and other music in the realm of prepared instruments, Monday night I made a research excursion to Avant Garden to see They Who Sound. It was the first time I’d been, and I was floored.

Damon Smith & Alauna Rubin at They, Who Sound
Damon Smith [r] & Alauna Rubin [l] at Avant Garden, 1/21/2013
The show featured extended techniques galore and some seriously out-there singing (Ivette Roman-Roberto & Alauna Rubin), piano plucking (Rebecca Novak), sax- (Jason Jackson) and clarinet- (Alauna Rubin) playing, and Damon Smith on the double bass.

Free music challenges you to enter a different mode of listening. Where is the line between music and silence? Between music and noise? In the middle of one piece an ambulance drove by. Toward the end of another a bar stool creaked and a few people laughed. Were these intrusions or solos? Maybe this question seems strange or even pretentious out of context, but in the moment the answer was obvious. Damon (who grew up listening to SST Records, has played with Mike Watt and others) compared free music to punk in a 2011 CultureMap interview:

“Punk rock ended up being a really conservative thing – especially when you hear (saxophonist Peter) Brotzman’s recording “Machine Gun” which was released nine years before punk happened. No punk rock – not even my favorite – has even gotten to that point.”

I stuck around after T,WS for drum hero Nick Cooper and Free Radicals’ Monday night residency. It was amazing to see such a tight band playing the music they do (explosive afrobeat, funk, roots dub, soul jazz) in a tiny club setting.