What happens when you give a group of musical and visual artists free reign to collaborate and create something new and cutting edge, as well as a prestigious venue in which to perform it? That’s the question that Peter Anthony and Will Funk are asking this weekend at the premiere of their months-long labor, “Light + Sound” an audio visual exhibition at the Quixotic headquarters downtown.
The format for the Saturday, March 11 show is simple: Pair four musicians (JPino, LION, Rick Maun and X.Wilson) with four visual artists (Zach Latas, Branson Hundertmark, Will Funk, and Noah Hogan), give each pair a 20-minute set, and let them run wild putting together a performance piece that incorporates both musical and visual elements.
Anthony, who runs the home label for the musicians in the show, Intelligent Sound, said the idea stemmed from the success of his label’s showcases, which have firmly planted a flag in the electronic and production-based music scene since it was founded in 2014.
“I wanted to incorporate a stronger visual aspect to our shows,” Anthony said. “And I was thinking about how we could step outside of that box to push ourselves and make the event feel bigger, instead of just going with what was already working for us.”
Anthony, who is long-time friends with Funk, a visual artist and Technical Designer for Quixotic, said the two set out to put together a showcase that would marry the label’s electronic music with some of work being created by the area’s more promising young visual artists.
“We wanted to use all local people and create something original, something that was beyond our standard work,” Funk said. “It really challenged me to go out and find different visual artists to pair up with these various musical styles.”
Executing a collaborative, cross-discipline performance to fit the format was not an easy task for any of the artists involved, but the broad concept and lack of rules proved to be fertile creative ground.
JPino and Zach Latas quickly established a concept for their performance that centered on a single limitation — that all of the content had to come from newly created material, eschewing pre-made beats and samples or film from previous projects. The duo recorded one minute and 30 seconds of video and audio of someone walking across a bridge, and every element of their performance will be pulled from that recording.
“It was an inspiring process to take the simplest sound of walking through a field — gravel footsteps, brushing the grass, and wind blowing, and force ourselves to make something out of it,” Latas said. “It was just a vague and general field recording. But we would take the gust of wind and map it into a subwoofer hit or a snare drum. And we would end up with overtly digital recreations of super-organic audio.”
JPino said their differing styles meshed in a way that kept improving the joint work.
“I’m somebody that has to flesh things out. I just keep moving things around until it sounds right,” JPino said. “[Latas] is more adept at structures. So we worked together in really interesting ways. It was really good to have that, because it definitely took the work to places I would have never taken it musically.”
X.Wilson and Noah Hogan are taking a different approach — an improvisational mixture incorporating a live piano performance and the use of midi controllers to trigger sound and video samples. In this sense, the visual components have an almost instrument-like live performance element. Both musicians have a general idea of their themes, but they plan to mostly improvise and react to one another live, not unlike jazz musicians.
“We have four songs that we have mapped out to trigger different events visually. We will improvise by playing on top of that and adding different layers to the mix,” Wilson said.
“It’s a lot of experimentation being put onto a screen,” Hogan said. “It’s not a cinematic thing, like going to a movie. It’s a manipulation of the screen and audio, using the software tools that we have. For me that’s the true enjoyment — for the audience to see that laboratory experiment happening live on stage.”
For Rick Maun, who is paired with Will Funk, the collaboration was something of a relay, with each artist moving his piece forward separately based on the prior work done by his counterpart. Funk’s success with Quixotic has made him something of a jetsetter — making shared time working on the project a commodity. The overall performance changed as each artist made his contributions. But they were in agreement that going big was the only option.
“I came to [Funk] with a lot of crazy ideas and he was supportive of all of it,” Maun said. “It made me realize that we could take this thing to a whole new level artistically and elevate what a live beat experience is supposed to be. And it’s manifesting itself exactly the way we had seen it in our heads. Thinking like that has changed the way I operate. I’ve grown as an artist.”
The visual elements of their piece will constantly build, shatter, and rebuild upon the rubble, which Funk described as a nod to Maun’s style of music.
“I was inspired by the rawness of Rick’s music and the way that he composes in a real organic way,” Funk said. “Seeing him with a big library of creative, emotional music inspired me to focus more on the rawer side of my personal work and challenge myself to be more emotionally invested into what I’m releasing.”
The visuals, both within each set and across the four pairings, are a varied, constantly evolving cascade of shapes and colors. Some of it is solely reactive to music and filtered through a range of effects. Some of it is dizzyingly morphing and kinetic. In either case, the visual elements give their musical counterparts an added depth, as though the music itself has a corporeal existence.
In a digital age where computers are constantly blurring the lines between traditionally analog and traditionally digital artistic expressions, Anthony and Funk have hit on something special here. The melding of the musical and visual mediums clearly complement each other, creating something inspiring and transcendent. And given the manner in which each of the involved artists has developed throughout the process, it would seem the show is already a resounding success.
Light + Sound will premiere at 6 p.m. Saturday, March 11, at the Quixotic headquarters (1616 Broadway). Proceeds go to Imagine That!, a creative arts studio for individuals with developmental disabilities.
— Dan Calderon is Kansas City native, an attorney, and contributor to Flatland. You can contact him by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @dansascity.