A Musical Surprise

By Andrew Gilhooley / 411

BORED WITH the blues? Fed up with funk? Tired of rock, reggae, roots and rap? If you think you have exhausted all of the possibilities for musical entertainment, then a trip down to Big Sur this weekend might just prove you wrong.

This entire weekend, the Henry Miller Library will host the 2004 Big Sur Experimental Music Festival.

The Big Sur Experimental Music Festival was founded in 1999. After obtaining his MFA degree in music from California Institute of the Arts, Salinas native Ernesto Diaz-Enfante was working on an experimental music project at the Martin LaBorde Gallery in Carmel.

There, he met Robert DeFord, and the two began discussing the possibilities of holding an experimental music festival. They brought their idea to Henry Miller Library director Magnus Toren; he liked it, and the festival has run every year since.

The 2004 festival will feature approximately 100 musicians from around the Bay Area and beyond, playing everything from violins and guitars to laptop computers, metal plates and light bulbs. For the second year running, the event will be presented in the Sound/Shift format invented by Baltimore musician and arts event organizer John Berndt. Berndt conceived the Sound/Shift event as a way of bringing together a large number of musicians with different instruments, techniques and approaches to produce long, improvised pieces that are different at every performance.

The format is basically this: A group of four or five musicians takes to the stage and begins playing. After 10 or 15 minutes, one or more of the musicians is replaced by others, without a break in the music. Alternatively, musicians may join those on stage, so the ensemble may vary between three and 30 people during the course of the event. The end result is a freely improvised piece of music, several hours long, with a constantly changing sonic palette.

The results are unpredictable, surprising and often stunningly beautiful. Diaz-Enfante, who played at the original Sound/Shift event in Baltimore, said that the format perfectly fits the expansive Big Sur landscape and creates a greater connection between performers and audience, many of whom will be waiting to go onstage themselves.

In addition to the Sound/Shift performances, the Henry Miller Library will present the first Anais Nin Video and Film Diary Festival each evening. The films will be first-person narrative movies, mostly short-form, with, according to library director Toren, “no sexual or political limits.”

Movies to be presented include “Honey and Eggs — The End of Fantasy” by Marjorie Sturm. Shot between 2001 and 2004, the film documents the feelings and decision-making that occurred after falling in love with an Italian man in Mexico and being reunited with him three years later.

Also to be shown is “In the Bathtub of the World” by Caveh Zahedi. This piece is a video diary, shot one minute per day over the course of a year and covering events such as the film-maker trying to release a pigeon that has flown into his apartment.

A trip to the Experimental Music Festival this weekend, coupled with a walk among the Big Sur redwoods and dinner at Nepenthe or Deetjen’s, could be an experience you will remember for a long time.

First published in "411", The Salinas Californian, May 27, 2004

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