The Mill & Mine
Quick Cuts for Big Ears
Tyshawn Sorey @ Big Ears 2018. Photo: Molly Sheridan

Quick Cuts for Big Ears

Attending the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville is a delicious game of choice and chance, forcing you to pick between such things as overlapping performances by Rhiannon Giddens, Theo Bleckmann, and Joan La Barbara—and that’s just the first night! But with only a week to go until the kickoff of the 2019 edition of the festival (March 21-24), decisions will need to be made, so we’re combing through the schedule and getting excited to consume as much music as we can cram into our ears (and the hours available each day).

Meanwhile, we’ve been digging through our archives and revisiting the amazing conversations we’ve had with some of this year’s featured artists to get ready for what’s ahead.

The time Joan La Barbara gave us a masterclass in extended vocal techniques

(“The Unexpected Importance of Yes” 3/1/06; @ Big Ears here)

These are things to play with; they’re just ways of experimenting. These are the beginning rudiments of extended vocal techniques. What I want to give to you and what I want to give to every singer is just to play with voice, just play with it and see what else it can do. There are all sorts of wonderful things and if you listen to the music of other cultures you’ll hear very, very different uses of the voice.

The time Gabriel Kahane told us the tale of the golf sweater, the crumpled letter, and the Tupperware container of chocolate chip cookies hidden in the back of the closet

(“NewMusicBox LIVE! Presents” 8/4/15; @ Big Ears here)

The time Meredith Monk spent an hour sharing personal stories and trading ideas about music with Bjork

(Radical Connections, 3/16/07; @ Big Ears here)

Counterstream Radio OnDemand: Meredith Monk and Björk

 

The time Wadada Leo Smith explained how to leave room for personal interpretation

(“Decoding Ankhrasmation” 5/1/12; @ Big Ears here)

I have all kinds of music, but I use the specific language that I have to experiment with instruments and people, sometime extracted from their history, sometime using their history as well. Most things that artists do will find this course.

Other deep conversational dives with this year's Big Ears artists:

The time Carl Stone showed us how to make music on a laptop using MAX (in the year 2000)

(“Intellectual Property, Artistic License and Free Access to Information in the Age of Sample-Based Music and the Internet” 11/1/00; @ Big Ears here)

 

The time Alvin Lucier offered us some excellent advice on evaluating new music

(“Sitting in a Room with Alvin Lucier” 4/1/05; @ Big Ears here)

I’m not interested in your opinions, but I’m interested in your perceptions.


With an admittedly overwhelming number of options to explore, last year I took festival founder Ashley Capps’s advice when selecting from among the myriad options:

The art of fully enjoying the festival experience is to “be here now” as they say, and once you make your decision, to go all in and be fully immersed in what that experience has to offer.

It was guidance that held up under the pressure of so many great performances in 2018. We’ll be reporting from the festival again live this year via our social channels if you want to follow along, or get a taste of what’s to come right now with our 2019 Big Ears Playlist.

The Tennessee Theatre

The Tennessee Theatre, Big Ears 2018. Photo: Molly Sheridan


NewMusicBox provides a space for those engaged with new music to communicate their experiences and ideas in their own words. Articles and commentary posted here reflect the viewpoints of their individual authors; their appearance on NewMusicBox does not imply endorsement by New Music USA.

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