Monday, November 3, 2008

The Big Sur Experimental Music Festival..2003..over 100 musician performing for two days..called "Sound Shift"

folks performing on this video are Robert Silverman--theremin; Ron Thompson--guitar; James Edmiston--upright bass; Douglas C Wadle--trombone; Jeff Ridenour--double bass; Tom Djll--trumpet; Theresa Wong--cello; Alicia Marvan--contact improv dancer; Matthew Purdon--action painting; Paul Santoleri--action painting...

Lynn K. Jones, an audience member, succinctly wraps up the Sound/Shift event as the following, "I believe that this festival epitomized what Rollo May called 'creative courage.' The structure of the festival was that musicians came and went in 40 minute intervals. With five musicians playing and one replacing another every 10 minutes or so, there was a constantly evolving combination of musicians and a changing musical dynamic. Ultimately, there was two 7-hour days of uninterrupted improvised music. No musician ever attained center stage or individual acknowledgement-- it was music making in a collective spirit."

Sound/Shift is like a Zen koan, a simple concept yet very powerful due to its egoless structure. The lack of headliners and clapping is a radical release from the normal participant and spectator experience because there is no ongoing barometer to measure an individual's contribution. Our basic human need of being collective (at least for a moment) is something we have little opportunity to experience in our hyper-individualistic society (except perhaps in church, sports, and war). By its very nature, Sound/Shift is transformative because it is against the grain of our psychological and social history. Music, potentially the highest art form due to its immaterial essence, is often held captive by the constraints of the ego. When released the results were often compelling. Entering the space of this type of sound sculpture is as much about life as it is about the music.

It's only natural to want to mention the performers that moved me the most, mainly my friends of course, when writing a review of any sort. But I will resist this temptation and only mention the performance of Jonathan Horne, the 21-year-old guitarist who traveled out from Charleston, South Carolina with his painter mother. My conversation with him kicked off my weekend in Big Sur, his enthusiasm absolutely contagious. He was amazed at how many master musicians were playing this weekend, . . . how he recognized so many of their names, . . . had many of their CDs. And the thought of playing music with them made him so sickeningly nervous that he had been practicing for months for this Sound/Shift event. He couldn't get over the uncanny good fortune that was providing him with this opportunity. He was thrilled to meet and play with these musicians that he respected. And when Jonathan Horne stepped onto the stage he radiated all of this. His body vibrated with an "Oh-my-god! Here I am! This is really happening!" as he struck perfectly mindful notes from his electric guitar, absolutely in the moment, channeling perhaps the only muse that ever exists. Undoubtedly, his enthusiasm is a possible gift to the more seasoned player, as it melts the potentially petrified spirit that our culture creates.

It was great to see one woman after another enter the stage this year. The Russian metaphysical psychologist Gurdieff believed that the only way an organization or institution of any sort could achieve a transcendental state is when there is a balance of women and men. This year with eighteen women out of ninety-some-odd musicians performing (yet about a four hundred percent increase from the Big Sur Sound/Shift 03), a shimmering was present. Women after women, not anomalies, contributed to the morphing sonic river.

When the idea came up to curate a mini film festival component at Big Sur, I was met with the challenge of what type of film would complement the intimacy of the Sound/Shift musical conversation. The event's occurrence at the Henry Miller Library triggered my thoughts about Anais Nin, the noted diarist. Then the diary film appeared like an immediate choice because it is playing with the present moment and inviting spontaneity. It is improvisational. The home movie is raw and more democratic than most genres of filmmaking, but one would have never guessed from the dearth of submissions that we received. But overall I was genuinely pleased with the selection of films that we screened, that came to us one way or another, and created the first Anais Nin Video and Film Diary Festival.

Anais Nin loved the word furrawn, which means the intimacy created through conversation that creates a better understanding of ourselves, others, and the world at large. It's an easy word to love because it is hopeful about humanity. It is hopeful while we are simultaneously standing witness to brutal political lunacy and inhumanity. It is this musical consciousness and expansiveness that will hopefully protect us. And perhaps these gatherings are a form of political protest like Ha Kim Bey believes, "Simply to meet together face-to-face is already an action against the forces which oppress us by isolation, by loneliness, by the trance of media."

Another awesome component of Sound/Shift 04 was the location of Big Sur, California and the blessing of idyllic weather. The mountainous edge, the tall trees, the fresh air are natural intoxicants for nature-starved urbanites. But it appears for the moment that some cycle is complete in Big Sur (for reasons too long, boring and tedious to go into), and the question remains, "Could a festival of this sort travel?" Where? Somewhere in nature perhaps? Vermont? The Southwest? Marin Headlands? Europe? Can it go on, will it go on without anyone being paid? Is there a patron saint? Or perfect as is?

--Marjorie Sturm 6/10/04

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Marcos Fernandes and friends, Ellen Waller flute, Bob Waller on keys, Nathan Hubard at the Big Sur X Music Festival 2007

Le Grnde Finale,' The Big Sur Experimentlal Music Festival 2003

"In the intoxication of conviviality in the carneval, music emerges as a kind of structure or shaping force- music becomes the very 'order of intimacy." --Ha Kim Bey

After five years in the making, this year's Big Sur Experimental festival felt like a little miracle. A DIY shamanic sound installation, accompanied by action paintings, contact improv dancers, and a film diary festival was a beautiful ruminative remedy to these not-so-beautiful times.

The music portion of the festival was organized around a variation of John Berndt's Sound/Shift concept, which is ideal for bringing musicians from different geographies, ideologies, and experience together with no aesthetic constraints other than that the music be wholly (holy?) improvised. In this way it is possible to discover the musical outer limits as a new common ground. At Big Sur this year there were over 90 musicians, none paid, with the equivalent of 80 different ensembles. This potentially was the largest grouping of free improvising musicians ever attempted in North America.

Ernesto Diaz Infante'

Ernesto Diaz Infante..Executive Producer
of the Big Sur Experimental Music Festival