Hallo! I am back from a beautiful musical celebration/reunion/adventure in Germany and want to share my thoughts and feelings about what took me across the pond.
For those of you who met me during my time in Oklahoma (or later), you might not know that many moons ago I used to play in bands, and toured all over the United States and Europe performing non-classical music. It really feels like a different lifetime, and sometimes I find myself thinking “Did I really do that? Did I really play there?” Those were the days before graduate school and orchestra auditions, and dissertation writing, when I was wild, young, and free without a care in the world or a smartphone anchoring me to virtual reality. How I miss those days sometimes.
The first band I ever worked with was called A Whisper in the Noise. It was not your typical “band” set up. The group went through many instrumental mutations, but by the time I joined, it was me (violin), Matt (drums), and West (vocals, keyboard, guitar), and electronic sounds that came from somewhere - maybe Matt? Maybe West? Who knows? We also performed occasionally with a bass player, although that was mostly programmed into backing tracks, and we also had a video that was synced to the music. Looking back, it was an exceptional time in my musical development, and working with Matt and West when I was just a little undergraduate music baby shaped me in ways I am just now starting to unravel.
A Whisper in the Noise had the good fortune of being uncovered or discovered or liked, or some odd combination of those things plus a little extra sorcery I’m sure, by a record label based in the town of Borkheide (just outside of Berlin) Germany called Exile on Mainstream Records. Exile put out 2 records for AWITN, “Dryland” in 2007 and “To Forget” in 2012. “Dryland” as far as I can remember was an unexpected success in Europe and fostered a fan base for us to do an 8-week tour in 2008 that took us far and wide across the EU and included some of the most hilarious and bizarre stories of my life.
Exile on Mainstream, it is important to remember, upholds a beautiful and specific artistic vision that celebrates uniqueness, small pressings, boutique packaging, and sounds that are not mainstream but come from fantastically talented and creative individuals and ensembles. In fact, the landing page of the website reads
“Beware the lollipop of mediocrity; lick it once, and you’ll suck forever.” ~Brian Wilson
And that pretty much sums up the label. Every person I have ever met who is associated with Exile has a specific tangible energy. Not all the same type of energy, but something you can feel or hear humming at different speeds and frequencies.
Back to the performance...
We decided not to play the hits at this show. Nobody really felt like dusting off old songs and doing what we did 10 years ago. So much has changed in all of our lives and it didn’t seem like a fair representation to do that to ourselves. Instead, we put together a live performance of new sounds interwoven haunted by the ghosts of old songs. We (I should say West and Matt because I really didn’t play a significant role in all of this until the actual performance) created sound beds that were manipulated in real time. We referenced songs from the past, as well music from West’s most recent film score for the movie “Glass” while leaving space for me to improvise over the top and create new sounds only for that moment at that performance. Matt also created some incredible video art for this performance to enhance the show. We rehearsed once, 6 weeks before the concert. This is not my typical performance preparation process these days, and I was pretty nervous leading up to showtime (and I mean for about 2 weeks before the show). We talked and texted about everything regularly. West sent me sheet music from the Glass score to look at, I practiced with my cool new loop pedal at home, but this felt like a giant leap of faith for me, and mostly I didn’t want to let Andreas down.
EOM20 took place over four days in Leipzig, at UT Connewitz and Paul Gerhardt Church (where we played). The festival was a celebration of 20 years of Exile which means bands and performers from every era of the label showed up to perform. April 4-7 were filled with music and reunions both musically and social, with old musical family members and new friendships. There were some very familiar faces to me, like Ostinato, Bulbul, the Antikaroshi, and the Winchester Club who I’ve had the pleasure of touring and performing with in the past, as well as totally new sounds to my ears like Darsombra, Dalek, Bell Rope, Kristian Harting and many more. Several bands reunited specifically for this occasion, like A Whisper in the Noise, Ostinato, and the legendary VOLT who I am so happy I finally witnessed live.
I hadn’t seen some of these people in nearly 10 years and returning to Germany and sharing the stage with these beautiful people was an honor and a privilege. It was also a great reminder that following an artistic urge or direction that is deeper than commercial success brings great satisfaction. That what you excel at, and how you express yourself may not be something that everyone can relate to, and that is incredible and beautiful. Resonating at a unique artistic frequency is something to cherish more than a paycheck.
Maybe it is the move to Los Angeles, or perhaps it is just the season of life that I currently find myself in, but preparing for and taking part in this festival jolted my system awake in a way that I have been in desperate need of for a long time. I forgot about the musical strengths I have that rarely get flexed. I forgot how important working with people I respect and admire is, and how much I need these relationships. I forgot what it means to close your eyes and trust that you can create something extraordinary onstage for yourself and the audience. I forgot how satisfying it is to just play, create, and perform and not constantly analyze. I forgot that the creative process cannot be summed up on social media (or a blog). I forgot that being marketable really doesn’t matter when you offer something genuine. I forgot, I forgot, I forgot.
...and now I remember.
Upon returning home, all I can really say is “thank you” - to everyone who was there. To those who witnessed the AWITN reunion, to those I met and re-met, who helped me order a vegan burger or a beer (or both), to my fellow musicians, and most importantly, to Andreas who had the idea to call us out of the blue and invite us to reunite for this one-off special event. He knew. He always knows.
Love. Noise. Freedom.