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[[ March 7 - 9, 2002, New York City ]]
COOKING AT THE KITCHEN
"I like to curate the unknown," says John King, music curator of the legendary New York City performance space, The Kitchen. Since it first opened 30 years ago, literally in the kitchen of the Mercer Hotel (it's since moved), that's always been what The Kitchen does best -- present the unknown.
It's not as if no one's ever heard of the thirteen artists performing at Electronic X-Travaganza, a three-night electronic music festival featuring four solo sets and an improvisation jam session each night. They're avant garde regulars. Many have performed around the world. But they're not household names, and that's the point. King chose artists from within the electronic music community, and from different facets of that community at that.
Opening night sessions include the voice / percussion trip-hop duo Douce with a Sixties-era Chromo organ and samples taken from opera, Lukas Ligeti (yes, he is György's son) mixing percussion and electronics with sampled sounds from his worldwide travels, and Holland Hopson and his new electronic rattle inspired by Marcel Duchamp's sculpture, 'Hidden Noises.'
The festival headliner (though King insists there are no "stars") is pioneer David Behrman, reviving two works that he premiered at The Kitchen: 'Homemade Synthesizer Music with Sliding Pitches' (1973) and 'Touch Tone' (1979), with DV camera and laptop computer. He and King first met in the '80s, when they were both writing music for Merce Cunningham's dance company.
In putting the festival together, King is going for historical significance, not just in terms of artists who were there in the early days of downtown experimentalism, but also those who understand experimentalism as a genre. "[These] people have a sense of electronic music history, they know kind of where they stand, and they know what they're doing that's different, that stands out, that is unique to them, their own approach," he explains. "And they do it with a sense of craft, and a skill factor. It's not like they're stumbling onto the thing, but they know what they're going after."
On the same program with Behrman, veteran sound designer David Linton -- the man behind the experimental music collective Unity Gain -- performs a remix of 'Ozonepark' with Charles Cohen and the Buchla Music Easel. Unity Gain alum (there are several among the festival participants) Marina Rosenfeld performs 'hot warm soft sharp' for three turntables and acetate records.
The festival also includes the multi-channel audio surroundings of o.blaat (Keiko Uenishi), curator of last year's '[electroluxe]' series at Tonic on the Lower East Side, and Ben Neill, inventor of the hybrid electro-acoustic instrument he calls the 'mutantrumpet', who likes to blur the lines between the technological worlds of DJ club culture and experimental avant garde. One day you might bump into him performing at a rave. The next day in a concert hall.
King says he'd love to institute a weekly or monthly experimental music series. But short of that, he hopes the festival will become an annual event. "Something that has a regular pattern of being presented always stands a better chance of gaining an audience and holding an audience," he says. As much as this music exists on the fringe, King doesn't think it has to: "There are other audiences to go after. In my mind, there's no reason why MTV couldn't have a slice of time, just like The Kitchen's giving a slice of time to these people." Move over, Britney.