I’m quite a fan of experimental music, and lately I’ve been considering the notion of Stockhausen Syndrome. It's a variant of the psychological phenomenon known as Stockholm Syndrome, wherein kidnap victims develop sympathy for their kidnappers. Those suffering from the Stockhausen condition believe they’ve obtained a deep appreciation for boring or poorly executed avant-garde performance. This syndrome helps suppress the infuriating realization that someone—likely yourself—is wasting your time, money and/or mental energy. If, like me, you’ve been subject to this malady, A Cabinet of Curiosities may hold your remedy. And, if you've never cared about sound art, this event may give you a whole new set of ears.
Chuppers are hybrid instruments designed by UNM instructor Manny Rettinger and his UBIK Sound studio. In my interview with Rettinger on KUNM’s Other Voices, Other Sounds program, he described them as “little conglomerations of different equipment that I put together, first to teach with, and then it just totally got out of hand.” Rettinger's chuppers weld analog and digital sound-making devices into organic, jerry-rigged tech assemblages—as wonderfully weird to see as they are to hear. Steampunk aficionados will naturally be sold on the aesthetic. Rettinger, an ardent science fiction fan, chose the name “chuppers” from The Simulacra, a Philip K. Dick novel where the term refers to evolutionary throwbacks. UBIK is also titled after a PKD novel. “Each Chupper’s got its own personality,” says Rettinger. Every chupper is a self-contained instrument creating a specific ambience, and they can just as easily be appreciated as a folk art form as an academic endeavor.
For Cabinet of Curiosities, UBIK Sound commissioned two composers to create work incorporating several chuppers and inspired by their unique attributes. Mexico City-based Carmina Escobar—who holds degrees from both CalArts and Mexico City’s Escuela Nacional de Música—has a week-long residency at UNM as part of the Latin American Concert and Speaker Series. A skilled opera singer, Escobar also uses extended vocal techniques, body motion and sound processing for her intermedia performances, and she's done extensive collaborative work such as with the border-crossing Estamos Ensemble. To some listeners, material like this can seem unnecessarily outré or even intimidating. However, you don’t need to be well-versed in avant-garde music theory to appreciate the sound of someone exploring their voice or making interesting noises. Put another way, and to revamp the much-maligned '70s maxim “If it feels good, do it”: If it sounds cool, dig it.
Escobar collaborates with Marisa and Monica Demarco on Saturday. The Demarco sisters are well-established musicians and performers in their own right. Both have strong vocal abilities, create within genre-bending bands and solo projects and are deeply involved in the larger experimental music community, including the Gatas y Vatas women’s experimental music fest. They’ll provide an ideal complement to whatever Escobar devises for the composition. Escobar's residency includes a concert—focused on modern composers like Alvin Lucier, John Cage and (much respect, really) Karlheinz Stockhausen at Keller Hall—on Thursday, Feb. 28, at 6:30 p.m.
Multi-instrumentalist and prodigous composer Drake Hardin will use chuppers in a UBIK-commissioned piece. In addition to his endlessly inventive solo output, Drake has been involved in a constant stream of mind-blowing local bands over the last decade—notably Mammal Eggs, Teetotum and Tapered. I don’t have specifics about his plans for this event but, judging from past experience, it's bound to be one-of-a-kind and utterly engrossing.
Throughout the '80s, Rettinger convened Martian Funk, an ensemble inspired by the electric structured-improv of Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew. Newly reincarnated for this gig, the band features Rettinger and Hardin on guitars, Clifford Grindstaff (of Phantom Lake, The Jeebies) on bass, Henry Hutchinson on “chuppercussion” and Micah Hood on trombone. All instruments are redoubled with electronics and, of course, chuppers. “It’s improvised music, but it’s not … lazy,” Rettinger assured KUNM listeners during our interview. Given the caliber of involved musicians, I don’t doubt it. Conceived as “the pit band,” Martian Funk kicks off the evening, provides transitions between compositions and jumps in wherever else they’re needed.
Cabinet of Curiosities' doors swing wide on Saturday, March 2, at The Kosmos (1715 Fifth Street NW). All those curious should arrive at 7:30 p.m. Admission is $7, and all ages and brow levels—from high to low—are welcome.