By Keith Prosk
I interview Dave Dove, the director of Houston, Texas’ Nameless Sound performance series, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2021 by diving into archives of previously unreleased sound, video, and stories from musicians and related people with deep connections to the series in a project named 20 Years Of Sound . At the time of the interview, these thorough profiles feature Joe McPhee , Maggie Nicols , Alvin Fielder , and Pauline Oliveros and a module on the dialogue between The Aural And The Visual has since been published. Over video chat, we talk about the history of Nameless Sound, the logistics of the project, its future directions, the improvising scene in Houston, and how Nameless Sound is not just a presenter but a cultivator of community through listening and sounding.
Dave Dove is a practicing trombonist and has released a couple of things this year, including A EYES ALWAYS ON YOU with trumpeter and vocalist Jawaad Taylor and The Very Cup of Trembling with Alvin Fielder, saxophonist Jason Jackson, and contrabassist Damon Smith. As becomes clear in the conversation, each of these collaborators have deep connections to Nameless Sound.
Keith Prosk: Hey, how’re you?
Dave Dove: Hey, Keith, how’re you doing? Nice to see you in the flesh.
KP: Yeah, same. How’s your day going so far?
DD: It’s going fine. Lot going on.
KP: Are y’all getting a lot of rain that way lately?
DD: Uh, yes, always this time of year. You’re in Austin, right?
KP: Yeah, and I feel like we usually have a wet month in May and then it super dries out and everything dies again around this time, so it’s been nice to have a little rain our way and keep temperatures a little cooler than they usually are.
DD: Where are you from?
KP: San Antonio.
DD: Oh, you're from San Antonio, so you know the region and all that. I mean this time of year in Houston we’re always waiting for the big hurricane
KP: Yes. Are you or MECA or Nameless ever affected by the flooding that comes with the hurricanes?
DD: I have never been flooded. MECA has definitely… that building has suffered a lot of damage, from Harvey particularly. Damage to the roof, actually. And maybe some flooding... They have a basement, which is very unusual in Houston, so probably some flooding in their basement, I’m not sure.
KP: Man. Well, thanks so much for chatting with me a bit about the 20 Years Of Sound project that you’ve got going on.
DD: Yeah. Thank you.
KP: Of course. I guess, just to get us started - I know you go over some of this in the different profiles and modules - but if you kind of wanna give a brief intro to what Nameless Sound is and maybe how you got started and some watershed moments along the way.
DD: Mmm, OK. Well feel free to direct me cause I might be a little bit redundant with what’s already in the project there. But Nameless Sound is an organization that works with experimental music, improvised music, collaborative music, both as a presenter of local, national, and international artists but also as an organization that has a very thorough and active workshop program. We bring artists from all over the world to perform in Houston in different spaces. We’ve never had our own space, so we’re always moving around, collaborating, partnering, setting things in different locations, curating things to space, responding to spaces. But also we... you know everything that we do is done with partners, so our workshop program is done the same way. We’re going into different spaces and doing workshops with different, well, embedding in different communities, and cultivating communities in different spaces. So that program started a single workshop at MECA, before there was a Nameless Sound in 1997. And then Nameless Sound formed originally as a branch of the Pauline Oliveros Foundation in 2001 and in 2006 we broke off and formed Nameless Sound. By that point we had started to do these workshops not just at MECA - and the workshop at MECA is an open workshop that anyone can go to - but we started receiving invitations to go into different spaces like homeless shelters, after school programs for refugee youth. We had already been doing a lot of in-school work. And then the artists that we bring in will often do work in those communities as well. Sometimes they’ll do one or two workshops but sometimes they’ll do something more extensive like a week or two residency. We have a staff of facilitators who are practicing improvising artists. And through 20+ years of practice, a pedagogy has developed, and that pedagogy outlines that what we are doing is responsive and collaborative work. And, as practicing improvisers, we are in a special position with our practice to be able to immediately respond to the environments we’re in, to ideally work in the most collaborative way with the youth that we work with, to go in without fixed goals, without curriculum, but with our sense of possibility. And to work from our own musical practice in those spaces too. There’s a lot of detail about all of that stuff that I could go into further so if there’s anything you want to zero in on we can…
KP: No, yeah, that’s great. I was kind of aware of the youth opportunities that y’all had, not so much the adult opportunities, but it’s been very clear to me - cause we’ve got PG in Austin kind of close to your practice as well - that you’re not just concert presenters. You are more community cultivators. And pretty much everyone you bring in usually works with the kids and does these workshops. And of the four profiles so far on 20 Years Of Sound, that’s what stuck out to me. That they’re not just there in the capacity of musicians in this context, but they’re all teachers and mentors as well, from Alvin Fielder taking on some of the young percussionists as mentees to Joe McPhee considering them like his kids, and then Maggie and Pauline’s more overt efforts towards cultivating spaces for learning around sound. I know that’s a conscious mission with the program, has that been a conscious perspective that you’ve wanted to show people with these profiles?
DD: Definitely wanted to show people that with the profiles. We’re moving away from… what you’ve seen so far are these editions centered on specific artists and at this point we’re going to have editions more focused on particular themes rather than specific artists, so there will be one just about that, actually. That will just be featuring different work that we do with youth and even sharing our pedagogical work behind that. We’ve developed a whole pedagogy from the practice, right. Much like an artist develops an approach from practice, we develop a pedagogy from our practices - it’s a practice-based research, right. So we will share essays of the pedagogical statement, information about how we assess this work, probably we’ll share information about work that we’ve done with a psychotherapist in being responsive to trauma, which is very specific to a lot of the sites that we work in. So hopefully you’ll even get to see that in more detail. For us, this is not an outreach program. This program, these workshops, predates being a concert presenter. So for a lot of non-profit organizations, a presenter, you sort of do what you do on stage and then you have what’s called an outreach program. For us, it’s kind of the opposite. I Mean I wouldn’t want to put one in front of the other in terms of what we do, our identity, our activity. Because they’re both very active and oftentimes they don't overlap. We do have artists that perform and don’t work in those workshops, and we do have kids that we work with who never meet those artists also. Though they do overlap strongly. And this is to say that in Houston, Nameless Sound reaches a lot of different people for different reasons and in different ways, and that even the people we reach don’t know everything else that we do. I would like them to, but they don’t. It’s just too much, or it doesn’t happen that way. We started… you know, I didn’t have any plan to start a non-profit organization. I had an idea about doing improvisation workshops with kids. And my background is I’m a musician, I’m an artist. And back in the late 90s I had this idea like, ‘Oh I’d really like to work with kids doing music improvisation’ because i felt that music education was very conservative and that growing up I’d never really had an opportunity in my formal education to do something creative. You know in the school band, even in the jazz band we didn’t really improvise. We weren’t composing music. We weren’t experimenting on our instruments. It was sort of through my other musical life, punk rock, that I learned like you go ahead and you don’t wait to make your own music. Someone doesn’t have to tell you that you’re ready. You can start writing your own songs and putting on your own shows. I really feel that when I was 11, 12 years old, when I first started getting into music, I had this formal education and I had this other thing, and it was really important that I had this other thing. And though that’s not the kind of music I do anymore, that thread definitely runs into this period of time where it’s like I really wanna work with kids and give them an opportunity to do something creative. And me, my practice is improvisation so that became the way by which to do that, but I also felt that improvisation was the way that you could immediately start being creative, without waiting for anything to happen. And that it was also a way of working that did not require a common musical background, a traditional idiom, or language. So if I were to compose for an orchestra, I would need people who know how to read music. If I were to work with a jazz ensemble, I would need to know people who could play the chord changes. In improvisation you can have the punk rock kid next to the conservatory kid next to the mariachi kid next to the kid who’s programming on the computer and right away you can start doing something creative with them. So I identified improvisation not only as my own practice but as this thing that could immediately get the wheels turning and get kids working creatively. Like many things in my life - and this is before there was a Pauline Oliveros Foundation or Nameless Sound - Pauline was an important connector in this. She was a mentor who I knew originally through her mother, who was a piano teacher living in Houston, and one day Pauline was in town visiting and she said, ‘Oh i have a workshop I’m giving at this art school called MECA I was invited to give,’ and she invited me and a friend to come along. We went with Pauline to do the workshop and I thought, ‘Oh maybe these guys will let me do this improv workshop. They’re having Pauline in here, so maybe they’ll let me come in and do something regularly...’
Listen to Pauline Oliveros at MECA here.
KP: ...and this was a Deep Listening workshop?
DD: It was not… I mean, in a way everything Pauline does is a Deep Listening workshop because I think she would identify Deep Listening as something that all of her work is connected to. So, yes, but it wasn’t really a Deep Listening workshop from my memory, it was more of an improv workshop. I don’t remember it… this was a long time ago and I’ve been in many Pauline workshops since… but I don’t remember it being a capital Deep Listening workshop in the ways that many have been into it, I remember it as more of a playing thing from my memory. And what was important for me about that day is that it introduced me to that building and I met the director, Alice Valdez, and she was open to me coming and working regularly with those kids. At that same time, I had joined an artist-advisory board at DiverseWorks which is a local art space here and they gave me some opportunities to bring some musicians to town. The first one was Joe McPhee and Arthur Doyle, which is told in that story there, and then I thought, ‘OK well I’m gonna bring Joe to do a concert and I’m gonna also bring him to work with these kids I’m working with.’ This became the seed of Nameless Sound. Which is I had this opportunity to present a concert. I was already working with these kids. And I thought, ‘Why don’t we just mix it all together,’ you know. And I’ve often said it’s great… it was really Joe who gave that workshop, and it’s great that… and I didn’t know Joe at the time other than his music and it’s great that he was such a wonderful, generous, sweet guy, because there are a lot of people who I could have invited to do that might not have been so cool. And I often think that if it had gone a different way I may never have done it again. So there was a couple of years of doing projects like that and then at one point Pauline said, ‘Hey, why don’t you start an organization and you can be umbrellaed under us.’ She kinda poked me about that for a year or two before I did it. You know, we’re both a presenting organization and a community organization, but we were an organization that worked with kids first. I think it’s important to say that. And I don’t see the organization as two halves. I just see it as different sides by which to do this work. It’s like people gather, they have a listening experience, they participate in that experience, we’re cultivating a space, I’m simplifying but the same thing… I have the same priorities, generally speaking, that I do for sitting with a group of kids and playing. Which is making a space where everyone feels comfortable. Where you can have this experience. Where the experience doesn't have to be defined for you, it can be your experience, where you can learn from that, you can heal from that, you can be creative in that space. And it’s important to say that one of our most recent projects - recent meaning the last three years or so - and there will be a future edition about this - is a series called They, Who Sound , and They, Who Sound is our weekly concert series. So in the past our presenting was more like 8 or 10 concerts a year of international artists. But we’ve added a weekly concert series, which is a little less formal, it often has visiting artists but it always has local, original artists on it, so the basis of that is local and regional artists.
KP: Just to give people a sense of the community in Houston, I know the readers of this blog will be familiar with like Damon Smith , Sandy Ewen , and Susan Alcorn . I was surprised to see in these profiles people like Maria Chavez , Bryan Eubanks , and Ben Roidl-Ward . I know Jawaad Taylor . But are there some other people that you want to shout out that are pillars of this weekly or the local community?
DD: Well some of these people you’re talking about, they’re all very associated with Houston - maybe Bryan a little less so, I mean he’s been here a lot and done great things here - but all of the other people you’ve mentioned have lived in Houston and several of them don’t live here anymore, unfortunately for me. But Maria, Sandy, Jawaad, those three came out of our youth program. So I met Sandy when she was a teenager. She was in the record store and she was buying Captain Beefheart and Sun Ra records on vinyl and I was putting up a poster for a Sam Rivers concert and I was like, ‘Oh, do you like that?’ And she was like, ‘Yeah I read about this, it seems like it might be cool, and I said, ‘Well if you like that you might like this - you should go to this concert.’ And then she came to the concert, which was at MECA. And I said, ‘Oh I met you at the record store’ and then I said, ‘I bet you play an instrument.’ And she said, ‘Yeah I play guitar’ and I said, ‘Well you should come to this workshop that we have here.’ This is when Sandy was still playing like this [makes traditional strum movement] and I remember the day that she laid her guitar flat very clearly. Similarly Maria, though she came to us a little older, in her early 20s, she started her practice as an improviser and a sound artist with us. When I met her she was a DJ. And Maria came to one of our concerts and she was doing a music business degree and she said, ‘I need to do an internship’ and I said alright - we had only been around for a year or so, I didn't have any apparatus to take on an intern - but I was like, ‘You’re gonna volunteer, right?’ And she said yeah and I said great. She sent me her resume and her CV all this, I didn’t even look at it. We had a meeting and she was really upset that I didn’t study her resume and I said, ‘Well you just seem like a cool person and you want to help so that just seemed like enough.’ And then I invited Maria… I said, ‘Well if you’re gonna help me out then you should come to my workshop.’ And she said, ‘I don’t play an instrument.’ And I said, ‘You’re a DJ right.’ And she said yeah. And I said, ‘Well, bring your turntable.’ And she brought her turntable and I remember the moment she played - and she tells this story in the edition i think - she often says, ‘The moment I did that improvisation I realized that I’m not going to DJ anymore, I’m going to do this.’ And there are others too. Jawaad was not a teen when he came to us but he was maybe in his early 20s. When Jawaad came to us he was… I might be misrepresenting this but this is my understanding. He came to us as… you know Jawaad grew up as like a rapper, who would like sneak out of his house as a kid and go to rap battles and stuff. This is the story he always told me. I might’ve been at some of those things, you know, who knows. I mean, I know some of the clubs he was going to and I was going there too. Of course he was a kid and I’m older than him. I met him at one of our concerts and I don’t know how I got to talking to him but he told me that he played trumpet and I said, ‘You should come to my workshop.’ And he came to the workshop, playing his trumpet, and I learned, ‘Oh you’re also a rapper, you know you can do that also here.’ So I think the way Jawaad tells it - and he can confirm that or elaborate or deny it - I really think through the improv workshop that’s where he started bringing these two practices together. I think they were sort of separate practices for him. And I think Jawaad is someone really special in that he really has integrated rapping and beats and programming into a really flexible improvisational language almost like no one else I’ve heard I think. Where one doesn’t have to accommodate the other, they’re very flexible, they’re very responsive languages in the way he does that. Some others ones who came up, maybe you’ve heard Jason Jackson , he’s on our staff now. He’s a fantastic saxophone player, he plays in The Young Mothers . Jason was a teenage student of mine and now he runs the education program. There’s a bunch of them. There’s a whole lot of them out there. Who started as young kids in the Nameless Sound workshop and are now… some of them are active experimental musicians, some of them are active in other kinds of music, some of them are artists otherwise. Other people in the Houston music scene that have been... not students but who you may have heard of that are connected to Nameless Sound, well, Tom Carter and Christina Carter , Charalambides . They’re very old friends of mine. Christina’s been a friend since we were teenagers actually, so I go way back with them. Oh Susan Alcorn. When I first started getting into this kind of music in Houston in the 90s Susan was living here and she was like the light for me in a way. I was like, ‘Oh here’s someone else that’s into this’ and she’s doing it at a very high level. So Susan has been a very important inspiration since before Nameless Sound, just being around that level of artistry, commitment, and individuality and talent, that’s just really big. A lot of great music in Houston. We could take that conversation in any direction. And it’s always changing. It’s a city where people are coming and going, it’s a big city. I still find people… I mean we’ve been in a pandemic so we’re getting ready to start concerts again. I think it’s going to be… I think we’ll be learning to see where the scene is now. But people are always moving into this town. You mentioned Damon Smith, he was here for several years and he certainly brought a lot of energy to the city when he was here. And yeah, so a lot of good people here.
KP: Yeah, just to go back to Maria, I think that story in Pauline’s profile really spoke to Nameless Sound, where - I guess Pauline was a little more active in helping out with Nameless Sound or your activities more than visiting musicians - but not just having these people hang out with the kids or present their music to the kids but actually helping them cultivate their practice and providing safe spaces to experiment.
DD: You know one thing I realized, I learned as time went on. And I learned from some of our people leaving Houston, and it’s a little hard for me to see in the center of it. Is not only is it important that like Maria had an experience with Pauline or Sandy when she was a teenager had workshops with Keith Rowe or Jason when he was a teenager he basically had workshops with every great creative saxophone player. Like Steve Lacy, Evan Parker, John Butcher, Marshall Allen, Joe McPhee, Kidd Jordan, Bhob Rainey, Sam Rivers, he kind of experienced the whole gamut. He experienced a pretty thorough runthrough of who were really great creative improv free jazz experimental saxophone players. I think in hindsight what we see is that - and what none of us really saw at the time (I mean these things are still happening) - and I think maria, her story speaks to that - though she maybe doesn’t directly say it - was that it was a very casual encounter too. So much so that these kids, only later sometimes did they realize who it was that they were hanging out with when they were 19 years old. I think Maria kind of speaks to that. I don’t think she quite knew who was in the room with her and who was encouraging her and then later you kind of realize… and I don’t think it would happen it like that... I mean Houston is a big city, and I wonder if it would happen like that in another big city.
KP: I don’t know, I feel like Houston, like San Antonio, has the reputation of being more on the chill side.
DD: It’s a pretty chill scene. I think it’s hard for me, from my position, it’s hard for me to assess that but I was talking to a couple of other people about this recently, there’s a pretty serious scene here, but it’s not very competitive. There’s not much to compete for, actually. There’s probably a downside to that. Well, you know, maybe I shouldn’t embrace such a capitalist framework about the value of competition on quality but I think… there’s something to that but there’s just as much to the opposite because people work together here. And I think they work together even across… they often work together across the supposed subgenre lines of this music in a way that they might be less likely to do so in more competitive music scenes. In music scenes where people have moved to that city to be in that art scene or to be in that music scene. But there’s some brilliant people here, there’s some really brilliant people here, and I think that’s a really healthy thing about it. I think there’s not really like a dominant genre in improvised music here. It’s not like a free jazz scene or an electroacoustic scene or whatever. There have been really strong noise scenes in Houston, distinct from what we’re doing, but they also have a healthy overlap with the improvised scene. As an artist I’ve found it to be a really stimulating and healthy environment. And the audience listens really well here. That’s something I’ve learned over the years. Artists who are on tour come here and they’re like, ‘Wow the audience really listens here.’ There’s a real quality to the listening, they think the audience really supports in listening.
KP: That’s good. I’ve only been to one Nameless Sound show; I drove in for the Radigue quartet a couple years ago. But my impression was that, at least what I thought were locals, were very in tune and very enthusiastic and attentive to the music and that’s a music that requires a lot of focus and attention as well.
DD: Yeah, that concert would have been a good test for that, wouldn’t it. I think the the crowd stayed for the whole thing, do you remember?
KP: Oh yeah, maybe a person left cause a phone went off but I don’t remember anyone just leaving...
DD: Yeah and that was a pretty intense one. That was not a short concert. Yeah I’m looking forward to getting back to it.
KP: Just roping back to 20 Years Of Sound, you mentioned you’re going to have a little stuff on They, Who Sound and your pedagogy, but anything else you’re willing to share that’s on the horizon?
DD: Sure. What we’re planning - and it could evolve, it could shift between now and when it happens - but there’s an edition that’s coming out in the coming days, at some point, any day now, that is around the theme of the aural and the visual. So dialogs, blurred lines, intersections between the aural and the visual. This is around events that we’ve had that speak to that. It’ll have audio of Keith Rowe and Loren Connors each playing solos in the Rothko Chapel , not included just because it’s the Rothko Chapel but included because of the place that Rothko figures in both of those artists’ work. Rothko really hovers as a heavy influence over both of those guys. It’ll have video and audio of a project called Film Noir by the pianist Ran Blake, where he performs to these film noir clips. It’ll have a video of Phantom Orchard, which is Ikue Mori and Zeena Parkins, performing a concert with live video projections that they use. It’ll have audio of Text of Light, which is Alan Licht, Lee Ranaldo, Ulrich Krieger, and Tim Barnes performing to Stan Brakhage films - without the films, even though the concert had the films. Those are those pieces, and then it has a subfeature on James Magee and The Hill , which is a whole conversation unto itself.
KP: Yeah, the installation…
DD: James Magee is an artist in west Texas who has been building this monumental work out in the middle of the desert, off the grid, with no electricity or anything, since 1980. And we’ve done four concerts there. So it’ll have audio of one of those concerts, of Peter Brötzmann playing there. And it’ll also have audio of a concert of James’ with Bob Ostertag that James… the titles of these pieces are these very long poems that are very musically recited by James. And then it has another subfeature about four of our poster artists over the years, three of them writing about the process of designing the posters - three of them are musicians and they’re writing about the process of designing the posters and how they’re responding to music. I’m pretty sure we’ll have an edition about They, Who Sound, which goes...see They, Who Sound is only three years old as a Nameless Sound project, but it’s like nine or ten years old as an independent project of mine. So They, Who Sound used to be my own kind of weekly concert series that was just sort of designed to put me and my friends on. And it was just very DIY and it wasn’t Nameless Sound. And it really became this thing, it became very important, it became like a meeting point for local musicians, and it became an opportunity for touring people to collaborate with locals and it just became really important. So at some point we took it on as a Nameless Sound series officially, in partnership with Lawndale Art Center . So They, Who Sound will actually reach back in its pre-Nameless Sound history, when it used to be held at a bar called AvantGarden . Then we’ll have one about creative music communities, our work with the kids, including some media of visiting artists working with those kids as well as those kids own projects from teenagers to little kids and maybe some pedagogy about that. Hopefully some essays or some voice, well, we’ll definitely have voice of those participants. And then I’m thinking we’re gonna have an edition on Nameless Sound Ensemble. Nameless Sound Ensemble is basically any local ensemble assembled for a specific project, usually assembled to work with a visiting artist. Can I speak to any of those pieces yet? Might not be able to speak to those pieces because I don’t have approvals yet. I’m trying to think of any of them I have approvals for and off the top of my head I don’t think I’ve worked on that yet. But, you know, so and so comes in and then sets a piece on the local ensemble, that’s the Nameless Sound Ensemble. And then we’ll have a couple of editions that they’ll sort of find themes within them, but they’ll just be kind of like curatorial samplings of different concerts that we’ve done with maybe a looser theme connecting them, or subthemes where we might write about a particular venue as a subfeature in there that we use a lot…
KP: So you mentioned approval and these are super deep profiles, with hours and hours of audio and video and multiple perspective from the participants that it seems like are gathered recently. So what have been some of the challenges of this project, cause I know you’ve had to think on your feet a bit too and readjust scheduling along the way.
DD: Yeah.. The challenges for me are just total… the approvals for me have been very smooth. The thing is, my practice, I’m not like wired towards documentation or putting things out. I’m wired towards making the next event. I’m wired towards what is happening in this space right now, that was great, let’s go on to the next one. That’s been my driving thing my whole life really, so this project really stretches me because it’s very much not that. Part of it came up because of the pandemic, what are we gonna do this year instead of putting on concerts. That this pandemic coincided with our 20th anniversary. And also the reality that we have all this fantastic material. And that I have a few very dedicated videographers and audio engineers who have put a lot of work into it and I think they’re very happy to see it come out. So it’s, you know, it’s been a scramble to get it together and we have a fantastic team but the challenges are just going through that material. One is that you actually have to go through that material, and what you’re seeing is only a slice of what there is, right. I couldn’t possibly even go through all the material we have. And in the case of the video, a lot of it isn’t ready until Don the videographer makes the edit so there’s a lot of coordinating of waiting for an edit to come through, or waiting for an approval copy to come through of audio or video, of getting it to an artist for approval, of maybe me seeing it, of figuring out whether it fits into an edition or a theme. And then my fantastic editor Veronica Salinas, her being able to lay this out and to frame it and to be the editor of those essays and help me shape that. She’s really the one helping me shape this, she’s the one shaping it really. In a way I worry that we’re getting into the most challenging phase of it. (1) because we’re getting back to the work that we do when we’re not in a pandemic, so I’m still doing this this year but I’m also getting back to what i was doing before. And (2) because what we have left is - we have a lot of fantastic stuff left - but now I’m like… the process of waiting for those approval masters, getting them to be approved, us seeing it, Veronica and I working with it, everyone is working their butts off to make all of this happen. It’s just like a chain of tasks and protocols that are quite intricate and that’s not normally the ones that I’m working on. You know, that’s the thing about music, time-based art… I mean I know this from releasing records, it’s like yeah that concert took an hour to play but I’m gonna listen to it like 30 times before it comes out. So you have to actually go through the material in real time many many times. Definitely my video editor has to do that. That’s part of the challenge of it.
KP: Yeah, have you had staff throughout the years recording and filming or are these pulled from the community?
See Maggie Nichols at The Silver Slipper here.
DD: The videos have almost all been pulled from two sources. One is a videographer named Don White, who is really like the head of video on this project. The credits are on them but he did all these multi-camera ones that you see. There’s certain years in our history where he caught a lot of them, and certain years where he caught fewer of them. But he has been with us since not the first day but quite early years. I think Don is thrilled to see these finally coming out because he did a lot of work and they were just sitting around on hard drives, you know. Then another person who videoed a lot of them but in a more casual way was Pete Gershon, who used to work with us. Pete used to be the editor of Signal To Noise magazine and he lives in Houston now and he worked for Nameless Sound. He worked with us for a couple years, and it wasn’t his job but Pete is an archivist and he’s writing several books now about the history of visual art in Houston and other topics, so unlike me he’s a real documenter. So when he was working with us, he would always throw a camera up. And some of those videos, he was also working the door, so he couldn’t man the camera, so he would just find a spot, throw the camera up, and work the door. So some of those videos are more appealing than others I think, just in terms of they’re not professionally done. Some of them are gold. Some of them are like like, ‘Oh this is just a side camera of the stage and it doesn’t quite capture this thing.’ But we’ve used a lot of his. And we have a few videos from a guy names Chris Nelson, who is a board member of ours and is a professional videographer and he’s caught some key ones also, just a few. Like between him and Pete they caught the Roscoe Mitchell, Alvin Fielder duet. I mean, you know, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to all these people cause like I told you I’m sort of the one making the thing happen and I’m just not thinking about documentation. But wow this is one of my most proud concerts, to get those guys together. You know that Alvin is very important to us and to me and to our org and you know Alvin was on the very first recording of AACM music which is Roscoe Mitchell’s Sound and they hadn’t played together for forty years before the concert. So to bring those two together to play duet. Of course we want to capture that and document it. So I owe a huge debt of gratitude to all these guys for doing that. And then some of them, like the little things in the workshop, there’s a few little camera phone things in there. Not of like whole concerts, but of just little moments that we want to include. For example Maggie Nicols singing at the Houston blues club, Silver Slipper . You know, the Silver Slipper is this fantastic blues club that’s been around for sixty years in Houston in the Fifth Ward - well actually it’s technically in a neighborhood called French Town, Kashmere Gardens - and we brought Maggie there and she got up and sang and sat in with the band so I just got my phone out. And there’s like two minutes of that in there which is a fantastic camera phone video. Or there’s a video of - is that in there? I think it is in there. Yeah it is in there - there’s a video of Maggie doing a workshop with these kids at a program called Kijana Youth that we do. And Chris videotaped that workshop though he kind of like, yeah, he was sort of videotaping it more for like little one minute bits that could be used for maybe grant purposes or something but I was like, ‘Chris we have to put all of these together because this workshop is a really important document.’ But there’s also a part of that where I was recording it with my phone and one of the kids said, ‘Hey can I take that’ and I gave my phone to one of the kids and she’s walking around recording it. So there’s other little bits that get in there too. Hopefully they’re the right bits when they’re lofi, hopefully they transcend the medium. I mean another lofi bit that’s in there that I hope transcends the medium is the recording from the very first concert I ever presented, and its of Joe McPhee and Arthur Doyle playing together. The only time they ever played together other than the next night in Austin. And this was long before... well we did not record that concert, but there was someone who comes to our concerts who always records these concerts, I see his little recorder, so we reached out to him and he was like, ‘Yeah I have a cassette of that.’ So I thought that document was important enough to like say yeah this is a noisy cassette but these two guys meeting on that night… I’m amazed at how much is documented, calling around. Or things that I didn’t realize. The recording of Joe and Susan Alcorn playing together. You know like I’m very disorganized around here and part of this process is just digging through old shoeboxes of CD-Rs and looking at them and going, ‘Joe McPhee, Susan Alcorn? did we record that concert?’ I pop it in. ‘Oh, wow, we did record that concert. It’s like a really good recording and it sounds really great.’ So it’s been a trip. It’s been a trip. It’s very good that we’re doing this. And it’s also very good that it looks like we’re handing over our archive to the University of Houston’s special collections, so that Nameless Sound will actually properly and professionally be archived at the University of Houston.
See Alvin Fielder and Roscoe Mitchell at Contemporary Arts Museum Houston here.
KP: That’s very cool
DD: Yes, yes I’m real excited about that. So that way all these CD-Rs sitting in boxes in my house will be protected and backed up and cared for and if someone wants to dig into them for research purposes they’ll be there.
KP: That’s all that I had prepared but did you want to go in any other directions?
DD: Be careful, I could go into any direction you send me in. I just hope people dig into this. I know it’s a lot of material. And I hope that we present it in such a way that the casual viewer can go in and skim through and maybe find the media materials that they want, or that the person who wants to go really deep can go in really deep and read it all. I hope it’s laid out in such a way, Veronica and I are trying to do that, lay it out in such a way so that it’s friendly. Maybe someone is seduced into it by a certain Joe McPhee video or a Pauline Oliveros video and that they learn about the organization because I feel like we’re a real unique organization, I feel like we’re very much of our city - I don’t think we could have happened anywhere else. We’re trying to share fantastic documents of fantastic artists who have shaped the organization through their involvement with it. And as you mentioned put in various voices. Nameless Sound are these artists, they’re the kids, they’re the people in the audience, they’re the volunteers, they’re the staff members. We’re trying to have all of these different voices in there because Nameless Sound means something different to any of them. And what we try to do is be a responsive organization, and I think we’re a really unique organization for that reason. And I hope that people will sort of learn a little bit about Houston by reading that maybe. And learn a little bit about the organization by diving into it.
KP: Yeah, I think that came through super clearly. That this is not just an opportunity to present archives about musicians but really to present a model for cultivating community through sound.
DD: Well if it inspires someone to do that, that’s great. That would be the ultimate, you know. And I believe in sharing information. You know I’m not really into… when we present these concerts and when we do these workshops with these kids, for me the idea is to make a space that anyone can feel like they can be part of and that the work and the community and the space will evolve from anyone who chooses to be in it. And also particularly the work we do with kids and the community work we do - and that work is also with adults as you mentioned, we have workshops that adults can go to - that anyone who is interested in that can draw some information and inspiration and do it in their own way somewhere. I think we have to… I think that this is a kind of musicmaking that’s really powerful because… well, let me put it this way, I feel like most movements in the so called avant garde have like a ten- or generously twenty-year period where they’re really vital. And the thing about collaborative experimentation, not just improvisation but creative collaboration in music, is that I think it’s openness to a diversity of voices is what keeps its edge, its what keeps it evolving, and hopefully keeps it out of its complacency. You know I’m speaking out of an extreme bias, as someone who does this work, but I still hear all kinds of improvised music that to me really excites me and is really interesting - and I hear a lot that bores me too, cause I’ve heard a lot, right - but I still hear lots that really excites me. But the problem of the activity that anyone can do… well… the problem is that it’s not enough just to go like, here’s the space, anyone can do it, anything goes. That if you really want an inclusive, diverse, and equitable space in every sense, you have to cultivate that actually. It’s not enough just to say like, ‘Freedom.’ You have to cultivate that, you have to be conscious of that. And that’s a statement that’s as complicated as can be. But I also feel like the vitality of artistic movements are doomed if we don’t make that effort.
KP: Yeah, I’m super behind that. I think you see that in the safety and support of extended family versus the nuclear family, or cooperative models, or biological ecosystem health, the more diverse voices you have, that offers a certain resiliency, just because you can be adaptable, changing, open. That’s definitely the key to longevity. Which is why it’s important that organizations are cultivating it. But it does take work. It’s not something like you can just say, ‘Hey this is a community now.’
DD: That’s right. And if you go out and work with kids - and the reason I work with kids is not to recruit musicians, in spite of what I just said - the Nameless Sound pedagogy identifies that if you do this work in a secure framework and it’s collaborative, then it has the potential for healing, knowledge exchange, creative work, and play. That being said, as you know, there are musicians that have come into this field through our workshops. And I’m thrilled about that. And my life has benefited greatly from that. Most of my collaborators are these people who I knew when they were kids now. Maria, Jawaad, Sandy, Jason, etc. But the thing is you also have to go into that space trying to let go of your idea of what this music is or should be, and ready for the new voice to be part of that evolution. And that’s a really hard thing. I mean it’s inevitable that a teacher of the arts - and I don’t consider us teachers, but just to put it in that framework - it’s inevitable that a teacher of the arts is going to bring the heavy weight of their own style or aesthetic into the situation. And the thing is to be conscious about that. Just like to be conscious about everything about oneself. Like being conscious of yours biases - you don’t lose your biases, you just gain consciousness of them. You know I think if we want this artform to thrive, we have to listen to what potentially is coming into it. I don’t know if that makes sense.
KP: It does.
DD: Yeah. And you know, the obvious becomes more and more clear to me with time. Pauline was visionary about this stuff. I owe everything to Pauline in this work, but there’s also a certain tendency of mine to distinguish it from Pauline’s work. And Pauline would support that, and she did support that 100%. And of course I am my own person and I have the way that I do this. But Pauline was a real visionary when it came to that. You know In the early 70s, she could have just continued on being a great electronic music composer, all these great works that she did in the 60s, Bye Bye Butterfly, Alien Bog, I of IV, all these fantastic electronic music pieces. And the thing about that kind of work - and I don’t do that kind of work but I love that music - the thing about that kind of work is like... it is where the composer really comes closest to being a studio artist. Meaning they don’t really need a performer, they don’t really even need an audience. They work in their studio, alone, and they make this piece, they make their opus or whatever it is. So much so to the degree that we have this confusion now between experimental music and sound art - ha ha ha, we’ll set that aside, that’s another conversation - but she could have continued to do that stuff and in the early 70s she really embraced working with communities and working with people who did not identify as musicians or have musical backgrounds. Originally it was a group of women. And that was a radical shift, I think, for her. And it was a really important moment in the cultural history of experimental arts and experimental music, because she knew that through listening, the type of listening that she was cultivating, and through sounding, that there was so much more to get from this experience than just to make a great piece of art and have an audience that enjoys that piece of art. That there’s community building, that there’s healing, that there’s research, that there’s consciousness expansion, that there’s play, also. I mean Pauline was fantastic at just play. You see it in her titles and stuff, funny little plays on words, humor is in there also. Obviously Nameless Sound owes everything to Pauline, but I realize that more and more as time goes on that she really, before I was born, she laid a groundwork for this kind of work. And she did it so… to me, there was no pretense and it was so inclusive and so open. I don’t know where I was going with that except just to float around on the future of our communities and none of us know where they’ll go, we have to be open to where they will. Cause the kids are alright, huh?
See Tom Bickley, David Dove, Juan J. Garcia Jimenez, and Lisa E. Harris each sound the cistern here.