Are you an adventurous listener? If you think you might be, you'd do well to investigate the strange sounds coming from the Irving theater this Friday and Saturday at the Midwest Electro-Music Experience (MEME) Festival. It's an annual celebration of experimental electro-acoustic music featuring local, national and international performers.
As MEME enters its third year, I spoke with Charlies Shriner, event organizer and performer – he'll perform at MEME this year as part of the long-running Faux Pas Quartet. Shriner says above all, MEME is about sharing this music that he loves.
"It's like going to a restaurant and eating food I've never had before," he says. "I think to myself, 'This is really good!' and I just want to share it."
MEME also creates a platform for artists whose non-mainstream music might have difficulty fitting in elsewhere.
"It's all about building community and creating opportunity for musicians to do the kind of music they haven't had the opportunity to do in the past."
That's all well and good, but what exactly can a newcomer expect? What is experimental music? It turns out the answer to that question is, by design, a little tricky.
"The definition is very broad," Shriner says. And when it comes right down to it, separating the "experimental" from the "non-experimental" has more to do with process.
"The primary motivation for its creation is artistic and spiritual expression, not show business," he says.
As such, the sounds at MEME are diverse, ranging from Jason Breitigan's ultra-minimal ambient sounds as jmtta, to Jeannie Allen's synth explorations as EarthGirl.
Veronica Pejril, who is also the coordinator of the Music Instructional Technology Center at Depauw, says she likes to, "improvise around the intersections of musical traditions that are close to me." She plays "what if" with sound, imagining, for example, what "a funk groove might sound like played with kitchen appliances and rubber toys."
Adam Rivere, a percussionist and MEME performer says his music draws from around the world, including"Middle Eastern, Latin/Afro-Cuban, West African, Indian, Native American and American jazz."
The community around MEME is as diverse as the music being made. Joe Howard, who will perform at MEME as part of Angry Red Planet, describes the people involved as a sort of "island of misfit toys."
MEME is an outgrowth of the Indiana Electro-Music Group or IEMG, a collection of experimental musicians from all walks of life around Indiana who regularly meet to perform, collaborate, and learn from one another. Several members of IEMG, in addition to performing at MEME, made up MEME's planning committee, including Aaron Urbanski of Faux Pas Quartet, and Kelly and Bunny Sheets who together form the group Surrealestate.
IEMG is a tight-knit musical community, something every artist I spoke with said is very important. John Gore has performed under a number of names including kirchenkampf and The Oratory of Divine Love for 20 years, and also runs his own Cohort Records label. He explains,
"This kind of music can be a bit isolated, because most of us are playing in our bedrooms."
As such, Jason Breitigan describes discovering IEMG as a "very freeing experience," and James Harkins, who often performs under the moniker Dewdrop World, says he feels that a close community is vital for music to reach its full potential.
"Electronic music in particular runs the risk of becoming a solitary, solipsistic activity, and it needs events like this one [MEME] to remain true to music's purpose, which is to strengthen the connections between ourselves, others and the world."
And lest anyone worry that more "mainstream" music or musicians will be unwelcome in this community, Shriner reminds me that despite any sonic particulars, what's truly important here is a connection over a shared love of music, period.
"Everyone comes from such different backgrounds, and everyone has traveled so many musical roads to get to this point," he says, "so there's a genuine respect for any music at all that's well-thought-out and well-executed."
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