Featured Creator: Q&A with Unsound LABS
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For the last two years Unsound LABS, in conjunction with the New York City iteration of the luminous Polish avant music festival, has provided an outlet for artists and audiences to join together to discuss, create, and observe electronic music — for free. We chatted with the folks behind this ambitious musical endeavor about their Kickstarter project, and all that this year's LABS holds in store.
Unsound has become a NYC institution over the past few years. How has the LABS project evolved? What did last year's LABS yield?
The LABS project came together organically after the first year of the festival in New York, in 2010. Collaboration between artists and audiences was a big part of the idea behind everything from the start, but last year was the first time we used the tag "LABS" for part of the program. It applied to a series of concerts at ISSUE Project Room pairing musicians from Europe with artists from New York, each in curated couplings that we thought could be fruitful. (They were!) Artists for that included Gang Gang Dance singer/yelper Lizzi Bougatsos and the legendary Swedish improv artist Gunter Muller...the two of them (and all the space that lurks between them) work well as markers for what we have in mind.
Also we presented talks and discussions, a no-less crucial part of the LABS idea. Last year we gave a free guided tour of the site of the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center and featured talks or presentations by sound-artist Stephen Vitiello (about bells!), movie-soundtrack composer Alan Howarth (Halloween, Escape From New York, The Thing, etc.), and many more.
What is the overall mission for Unsound LABS? Has it evolved? Does it work in unison with the Polish festival?
The mission is to mix things up, move things around, and take things seriously without losing sight of the energy and immediacy that we all go to music for. It has evolved greatly since the beginning, but that is in large part the point. And it works entirely in unison with the Unsound festival in Poland — the projects are interconnected and interrelated in every way. We like to think of that connection as a good and interesting way to make good on the ubiquity of connectivity these days.
What are the plans for the upcoming edition of Unsound LABS? Will it only take place during the fest, or will it be ongoing?
Our goal for LABS — which is why we've gone to Kickstarter for help — is to present six collaborative LABS concerts and an expanded slate of talks, discussions, etc, all for free. We noted a concert pairing already on our campaign page featuring New Yorker Black Rain (a.k.a. Stuart Argabright) and a Ukrainian electronic-music maker named Kotra. Likewise some of the other events we can announce now include author Dave Tompkins talking about Miami bass, a screening and discussion of a new movie about Sun Araw and the Congos together in Jamaica, and a presentation by Jeremy Grimshaw, author of an interesting new book on legendary NYC minimalist composer La Monte Young.
Also, and this is at least as important, we really want to expand to do more stuff throughout the year. We've already taken to doing occasional one-off talks and discussions outside of the festival proper, but we have so many ideas for things to do in New York that we'd like to continue and push it further. That is a big part of what we're hoping for support for.
Aside from pledging, are there other ways backers can get involved?
Help us spread the word! Another key part of the idea behind Unsound is to get outside our own orbit — to expose different kinds of music and ideas about sound to new audiences, including ourselves — so we can use all the help on that front that we can get. Also, come to LABS events at the festival in April and dig them!
Last year's Howarth/Emeralds show was pretty amazing! What special events does Unsound have lined up for this year?
Lotsa good stuff. Some of it is noted at the fest website here but one thing that will be extra-special is a commissioned project called TRINITY for which the ambient-music legends Biosphere and Lustmord traveled together to New Mexico to do field-recording in the desert around old nuclear test sites. They're going to make a piece out of it all and perform it for the first time in New York.
How do you see Unsound LABS evolving over the coming decade?
We really want to continue playing around with ways that music, sound, and ideas in general can connect across borders, span generations, and scramble presumed allegiances that all of us have. It's an insanely exciting time to get to think about such things, and it only seems sensible to guess that that won't stop being the case any time soon. We have goals and ideas for years to come, for sure. But at least for me personally, I think a good goal is for someone down the line, more than a decade from now, to turn back on this time in the musical culture of New York City and think that Unsound mattered, in however big or a small a way.