Field Report: Friday Night Thing

Heather Strycharz

Starting in January, my boyfriend decided to resurrect an event he used to hold every last Friday of the month which he called ‘FridayNightThing’. It began in Rochester, NY as a regular event where new music composers and video artists could come together and share their work. They could show new work, collaborate/improvise or talk shop and share code. In New Haven, FridayNightThing (aka FNT) has been different every month.  It is a salon of sorts, gathering like-minded people who come to show art, perform and discuss ideas. Most people show up to hang out and get exposed to art and new ideas while having a good time.

In February we had electronic composer/musician Carl Testa and his wife, singer Anne Rhodes perform an improvised song. Each had written/drawn a composition for the other, minutes before performing they handed each other their composition. After a few minutes of clarification and planning, they performed. When they finished, we held a discussion that was part critique part Q&A. There was also an impromptu performance where Scott used the program SuperCollider (used “for acoustic research, algorithmic music and interactive programming” via Wikipedia) , while classical guitarist Simon Powis and Anne Rhodes improvised.

For March’s FNT we had everyone make short songs on a Mac Classic II using a program called Super Studio Session. Although a few people who showed up had a background in music, most did not. The interface is extremely simple, and after a brief tutorial (shown above) everyone took turns (under a 10 minute time limit) using the Classic II to create a song. At the end of the night we played the songs. It was pretty interesting to see how everyone used the program differently. For the length of their song, the composer was in the spotlight and we all laughed at the usually hilarious results. Above all it was an exercise in playful composition.

This past weekend, FNT featured a presentation by artist Fritz Horstman.  Fritz is currently finishing up his masters at MICA. He used FNT as an opportunity to talk about his artwork and to test out his master’s thesis presentation on a live audience. It was great to be able to look at and talk about art out of the traditional gallery or academic setting and amongst people from a variety of backgrounds.  Only a few guests had any visual art experience, most had backgrounds in music, while others worked in the fields of science and technology. We were able to ask Fritz questions that most art viewers never get a chance to ask. Sometimes Fritz refrained from answering questions as to leave some mystery to his work, but he was quite generous with his information.

Every FNT contains multiple levels of unfolding. As the guests and performers change from month to month, there is always a particular energy to each FNT. The one constant about FNT is that there is always improvisation. Whether it is someone creating a song for the first time, musicians coming together to improvise, or an artist talking about their work – there is always a sense of spontaneity. The relaxed setting of FNT provides a safe haven for people to present/perform without the pressures that usually come with a venue or gallery. This lack of pressure provides people to explore without fear of judgement. Questions are asked, ideas are mulled over in conversation, each FNT we are exploring the focus of that particular FNT.

Deleuze’s ideas of difference and repetition can be applied to our various musical performances. Improvisation, as we’ve discussed on this blog in terms of jazz, usually lends itself to exploring difference & repetition and unfolding. It seems that whenever SuperCollider or handmade instruments are brought into improvisational performances, the “smooth space” of the composition is widened. Unruly and unpredictable they add a level of spontaneity that humans cannot match. Although the electronics can be manipulated by the musician, their reactions to touch or changes in code cannot be reliably predicted.

After our reading of ‘1440: The Smooth and the Striated’ in A Thousand Plataues, I began to think of FNT as a smooth space.  Every month we have a vague idea or set plan for FNT, but as the guests arrive, bringing with them their own experiences, associations and memories the energy and direction of the night changes. The informal setting allows for guests to perhaps join in to a musical improvisation whether they know how to play an instrument or not. My favorite part of FNT is when a guest tells me afterwards that they did more research into a topic that was unfamiliar to them before that night, that they learned something new or never thought about X or Y in that particular way before. I also share in this experience, after FNT I find myself thinking about art/music/X or Y in a new way. I look forward to seeing how FNT develops over the rest of the year and hopefully further into the future.

PS- In the off-chance you ever find yourself in New Haven on the last Friday of the month, feel free to stop by!

Upcoming FNT (and pictures from past FNT) are usually posted at Scott’s website: http://scacinto.wordpress.com

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