Since its inception in 2001, High Mayhem Emerging Arts has been a uniquely poised collective of local musicians whose ethos has remained the same even as its methods and members have changed: to create improvisational and experimental music. The collective has always played by its own rules—namely, that there are very few rules—and gone through everything from being fully DIY and self-funded to receiving city funds to running a performance space and record label, all not-for-profit.
Things have been relatively quiet in the past few years, however, but founding member, current director and prolific musician Carlos Santistevan (aka The Uninvited Guest) says, "As artists, we haven't been dormant—just not public." Now, he and other devotees are ready to kick off a new webcast and album release series titled On(e) Day (pronounced "on one day").
During High Mayhem's stint at their previous midtown warehouse location, they would not only host live performances but webcast them online for out-of-towners who wanted to see what the desert's avant-garde and assorted genre-shirking vanguards were cooking up. We can think of this like a sort of prototype to what High Mayhem's getting into now.
"We're in a small town and the audience is limited," says Santistevan of the genesis of these webcasts. "You'd have the same 20 people show up at every show. That's awesome and great for those 20 people, but how could we expand an audience beyond that?"
High Mayhem performances wound up being viewed remotely from all over the globe, with viewers from Africa to Norway and all points in between tuning in. Since the closure of that space in 2015, Santistevan and High Mayhem have built an entirely new private studio on the Southside with the help of a $5,000 grant from Kindle Project, which has sporadically funded the collective since 2009.
"We never would have survived [in the old space] without them," Santistevan says of Kindle's assistance.
So plans to resume operations in the new space with a focus on webcasting rather than live events have become reality. Santistevan cites the rise of other DIY-friendly venues like Ghost and Zephyr Community Art Studio as part of High Mayhem's collective realization that there is a reduced community need for another such space. On(e) Day gives musicians exactly one day (or, says Santistevan, roughly 10 hours) in the studio to create a release of whatever length they can complete.
"Time spent in a studio is generally a very private practice that people don't see," Santistevan tells SFR. "It also has a lot of challenges in replicating the energy of a live show. Is there a way to make the exchange [between artist and audience] go both ways?"
Littlefield, Texas' Satin Spar is scheduled for the premiere performance and recording on Sunday March 10 at 9 pm (find High Mayhem on YouTube and/or Facebook to check it). The experimental duo's music is generally created in a live environment. Courting jazz with spikes of member Connor Sorenson's cornet and trombone playing, the duo excels at ambient, experimental compositions that blend synths and percussion from member Andrew Weathers to engaging, ponderous effect. It's very much in line with modern, minimalist composition in the mold of John Cage by way of Tortoise. In other words, it's a near-perfect marriage for High Mayhem's love of music made in the moment. It's a smart move, hopefully capturing what is most exciting about improvised music while keeping things simple.
Santistevan says not every album will be handled this way, and that High
Mayhem wants the artist to have as much control as they can have within the
"The goal is, when the artist uses the studio it pretty much defines what the album is going to be," Santistevan says. "It will be up to us as High Mayhem to finish the album, and it is up to those artists to trust us in finishing that."
With mixing and mastering expected to be a minimal process, he hopes to have a turn-around of monthly webcasts and releases. The next planned event in the series features indefinable heavies
Bodies in April, plus Santistevan also hopes to curate ensembles of players who have not worked together before to see what they might come up with.
"Overall, what's really going to be cool is the collection of [albums] and the diversity," Santistevan predicts; "being able to see all these different approaches to the studio."
In the meantime, it's equally exciting just to see High Mayhem entering a new period in its nearly two-decade existence as one of Santa Fe's great stewards of the unexpected and fiercely creative.