Move over, chaos theory-there's a new force in the universe.
***image2***Three am Monday morning. Sixty enthusiastic fans are on their feet, grooving to D Numbers, the closing performance of last weekend's Fourth Annual High Mayhem Emerging Arts Festival. The Wise Fool warehouse space is warm and inviting, transformed into a combination of black box theater, dance club and reverent temple to the new. This upbeat finale is a fitting close to a remarkable event, which marks High Mayhem's emergence at the forefront of local arts presenters-professional, adamantly focused on its mission, capable of marshalling a squad of dedicated volunteers, with the skills to produce a well-attended three-day, 30-hour festival of coherence and unrelenting quality.
Especially remarkable for its combined diversity and ambition, the festival lineup featured 30 performances, each one distinct, fitting into an almost seamless flow either by implicit connection or timely contrast. Program Director Carlos Santestivan chose with obvious care from innumerable submissions and the High Mayhem team crafted a schedule with assiduous attention to pace, affinity, variety and evident respect for each performer.
Magically, the Wise Fool space felt as though it expanded to accommodate growing crowds. The theater itself, with plenty of seating, a small stage sometimes chin-high with gear, well-lit and with impeccable live sound by Andy Smith of Moon Recording, felt like a long-established venue, despite being constructed in what is actually a fairly stripped-down warehouse. Extended festival space included large tents, Second Street Brewery's populous beer garden, the open parking lot, and Bikanda Studios across the way.
Much of the unexpected multilayered fascination of this year's festival derived from Bikanda's studio and can be attributed to Alex Ferris' "Anarchestra," a phenomenon difficult to describe. Ferris, a playful high-conceptualist, hand-built roughly 50 instruments which were strummed, bowed, whacked and otherwise activated in unending combinations by anyone and everyone who was so motivated. Itself a vast post-industrial iron-age sculpture, the instrumentarium, with items bearing evocative names such as the wheely wheely, thump, squat, kalimbent, and phorques, was capable of producing everything from thunderous ambient cacophony to eerie whispers of microtonal ephemera.
On the main stage, the aural and visual goodies appeared at a brisk pace, yet each was provided a loving bubble, distinctly set off from preceding and subsequent artists. Broadly categorizable as rooted in ambient noise, electronica, oxymoronic fringe pop, electroacoustics, jazz, movement, image and spoken word, the performances were endlessly engaging, even when casting the audience into entirely unmapped lands. Taiji Pole, with Santestivan on electric upright bass and effects, JA Deane on live samples and Matt Deason on electric bass, launched the festival with a standard-bearing shot across the bow on Friday, creating a massive, roiling, thunderously jagged soundspace. As if to welcome everyone back to the planet, Gary Glazner's ingenious Precision Poetry Drill Team, a game troupe of young adults brimming with The Muse, followed. This contrast between music that rearranged the molecules in one's body and approachable populism worked seamlessly and reflected the ensuing proceedings.
On the jazz-influenced side, The MAD Trio, the Rob Brown Trio, and Grilly Biggs represented with adventure and energy. MAD Trio's Carolyn Lechusza on electric cello, Mark Weaver on tuba and composer Alan Lechusza on baritone sax played through a variety of hair-raising electronic effects, maneuvered adroitly through Lechusza's imposing compositions. Grilly Biggs, hailing from Katrina-battered New Orleans, were warmly welcomed. The ensemble, consisting of Matthew McClimon on vibes, Matthew Golumbisky on bass, and both Quin Kirchner and Milton Villarrubia on drums, specialized in a strategy of construction and destruction similar to MAD Trio's, except when they put their feet down it was to stomp out sinuously danceable grooves. Rob Brown, on alto sax, masterfully supported by Zimbabwe Nkenya on bass and Dave Wayne on drums, explored the unexpected within melodically tight forms, crafting alternately tender and searing emotional soundscapes.
A fascinating series of performances by many of the festival artists revealed the challenging emerging field of electroacoustic music. This tricky blend of live instruments and digital and analog electronic effects is an increasingly successful nexus between artist and machine. Particularly mind-blowing was Last Chance for the Loneliest Kitten, consisting of Ava Mendoza on guitar, Kurt Kottheimer on bass and Josh Smith on tenor saxophone, with all three also manipulating a frightening array of analog feedback loops.
Impossible to convey, the breadth and depth of this festival mark it as among the most extraordinary events for emerging arts, not only locally but on a global scale. The good news is that the entire festival was documented intensively with high quality audio and video. Also good news is that Wise Fool plans to continue offering its space as a venue (visit www.wisefoolnm.org for more info). The best news of all-High Mayhem will continue to be a highly accomplished and adventuresome presenting organization, supporting the best of emerging arts. As Director Max Friedenberg says, "High Mayhem, everyday the same thing…variety!"