Monday, September 24, 2012


Text of Light: Ulrich Krieger, Lee Ranaldo, Alan Licht, and Tim Barnes 


On Saturday, September 22, 2012 I headed out to Barnavelder Movement Arts Complex in the sketchy part of downtown Houston to see a performance by Text Of Light, an avant-garde improvisational ensemble that performs music accompanying, and in conversation with, the films of Stan Brakhage, and other experimental American filmmakers of the mid-20th century.

If that sounds like an artsy-fartsy music nerd's wet dream to you, then you'd be correct.  The drone-filled sound collage created by these musicians is an awesome force, drowning out one's thoughts  and taking one's consciousness for a wild ride on the leading edge of cacophony.  The odd aspect of all this is the amount of restraint, of care in execution, that these musicians bring to the performance.  It is chaotic, atonal, drone-soaked and difficult listening at times, but above all it is always tasteful.  These are not hacks squealing away on their instruments trying to be artsy and loud.  These musicians are all seasoned veterans, capable of judicious restraint when it is needed, and tight cohesion throughout.

The intimate performance was made possible by a collaboration between two different Houston organizations, both devoted to the cutting edge.  Aurora Picture Show is a long-standing cog in Houston's arts scene, airing art films from around the world, providing Houstonians the access to cinema's fringe that is unavailable anywhere else.  The other organization is Nameless Sound, devoted to contemporary music and music education.  They have brought some of the most varied and edgy sounds to Houston for over 10 years.  It makes perfect sense to combine their forces to bring Houston a group like Text of Light, who themselves are an amalgam of film and music.  Barnavelder provided the performance space.

The event was a very casual affair, with the members of the group mingling among the patrons before the performance, as well as interacting with them afterwards.  I managed to talk shop after with everyone but Alan Licht, and thanked them all for making the trip to Houston, not generally known as an avant-garde group's destination.  Drummer/percussionist Tim Barnes and I talked about his varied instruments, especially a set of gamelan-style mini gongs that looked to be handmade.  Free improvisational percussion is one of the most difficult things to do well, and Mr. Barnes was amazing.

Saxophonist/electronics man Ulrich Krieger was also very cool, sharing his process and describing how, over time, he has refined his "toolkit" of electronics.  He was open and engaging, and a treat to talk to for a music nerd such as myself.

The biggest thrill of the night was meeting living legend (and one of my top musical idols) Lee Ranaldo.  Lee's other group, Sonic Youth, is my all-time favorite musical act, and I have loved his free form guitar skronk abilities ever since I listened to "Mote" off the Goo album, specifically the 5 minute long noise outro of that song.  I had never heard melody and dissonance put together in such a way.  It remains and all time favorite of mine.  Lee is well known for being a great guy and being open to talking to his fans, but I was still shaking  a bit with nerves as I approached him.  I stood by, not wanting to interrupt a conversation he was having with another fan but he looked at me, smiled, and said "Hello," first!  I introduced myself, told him I was a huge fan for so long, thanked him for the great show and the amazing sounds he makes, and shook his hand.  I then asked him, if it was not too much trouble, to sign my 10" vinyl of "100%," which also contains my favorite Lee song "Genetic."  Ever gracious, he signed it and he asked me about my art, and where online he could check it out, as I had told him I was a visual artist.  Amazing!  He could tell I was giddy and nervous (I almost forgot my own name) and he laughed and said "It was great to meet you Roberto."  CLOUD 9, PEOPLE!!!!

I made my way out to my parked car in a bit of hero-worship daze.  Not only did I get to see a performance by an amazing group of musicians but I got to meet and converse with a man I had idolized  since I was 16 years old.  I do not know if anyone else had as great an experience as I did, but I don't care!  I drove home enjoying a celebratory cigar and reliving the whole night, with the sounds of Text of Light bouncing around in my skull.  It was the best $15 I ever spent. 

Below is a performance by Text of Light from 2 years ago, to give you an idea of what I love. 



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