If the goal of the inaugural Outsound V.1 music and video festival is to present work that is "weird and new and beautiful," as one organizer put it, then it has an appropriate headliner in Son Lux.
The Manhattan-based artist – an IU music graduate known as Ryan Lott in his day job as a commercial composer – met all three criteria earlier this year with his second album, We Are Rising. The otherworldly song cycle combines contemporary classical composition with digital cutting and pasting to create a sometimes delicate, sometimes imposing synthesis of acoustic and electronic music. And the story behind it is just as unconventional.
The album was sparked by a suggestion from National Public Radio's All Songs Considered music blog, which picked Son Lux as its best new artist of 2008 on the strength of debut album At War with Walls and Mazes. This winter, the editors asked if Lott/Lux would be willing to enter the annual RPM Challenge, in which a New Hampshire-based alternative culture magazine invites musicians to compose and record an entire album during the month of February. Not only that, but the ASC folks wanted him to document the process online, which he did in text, photos, audio and video that are still available on the site.
Lott had already been working in his spare time on a planned Son Lux follow-up album, so initially he saw no possibility of accepting the challenge.
"I let the e-mail fester in my inbox for a few days, trying to come up with enough reasons to say no," he says in an interview.
But upon the urging of friends, Lott decided to plunge into the unlikely project, enlisting a broad roster of collaborators to quickly generate the raw material for a new collection of 10 songs, nine of which made the final cut.
"It wasn't a solitary affair. I had lots of help and lots of inspiration from my friends and many musicians," he says. "For that reason, I can stand to hear it, because I'm basically listening to my friends. I love it. Normally, I stew over things so long that by the time it's released, I'm done with it."
Indeed, Lott spent three or four deliberative and experimental years on his first album, but in the more recent case, he relied on serendipity and the spontaneous contributions of the various players and singers. Chief among them were a versatile New York sextet called yMusic, which specializes in applying its strings, woodwinds and brass in unusual contexts. Lott brought the members into his studio in various combinations to record fragmentary patterns that he sometimes jotted down just before their arrival.
"I was just writing stuff from my gut, just raw ideas," he says. "How those ideas fit together to form a whole piece or a whole song was to be decided later."
After two weeks of tracking live sounds, as well as creating hybrid instrument sounds electronically ("It takes a lot of time and a lot of coffee"), Lott spent the next two weeks manipulating and piecing together those elements to create songs in which rhythm and texture count as much as melody and harmony. Some are set to heavy 4/4 drum beats, others to exotic meters that defy easy grasp.
"I sort of compose everything twice," he says. "I write things kind of traditionally – in fragments, at least, notes on paper with instructions. I captured that stuff (while recording) and in the moment also captured things that I thought of while listening to the musicians bring to life what was on the page. Then I thought of it all as negotiable.
"The precise way in which all the parts interlock and come together to form the whole, then, was the second round of composing. And that round was more akin to the production process of hip-hop, more like collages. I'm working with what's given. In this case I gave it to myself, but I'm working with what's given to create a new whole."
Atop his beautiful and/or brutal mixes ride vocalizations from guest singers, including Asthmatic Kitty recording artists DM Stith and Shara Worden, along with Lott's own fragile tenor. His sparse lyrics are sometimes unsettling, as in the ominous "Claws," which endlessly repeats the phrase "You've got your claws in me, don't you?
Understandably, the music has to be adapted for live performance. The Indianapolis show will feature Lott on vocals, keyboards and other electronics, accompanied by fellow New Englanders Jonny Rodgers on guitar and Ryan Fitch (who grew up in Zionsville) on drums. The three can generate a broad spectrum of sound, Lott says.
"It's probably more dynamic than the record," he says. "You can create a big angry sound, which is really fun, but you can also sustain really simple, small ideas longer than you can on a recording."
Opening for Son Lux on Thursday at the Indianapolis Museum of Art is Helado Negro, a vehicle for experimental producer Roberto Carlos Lange, who in May released his second Asthmatic Kitty album, Canta Lechuza.
Outsound, at a glance
An exhibition of new video art and three nights' worth of local and touring electronic music acts will highlight the inaugural Outsound V.1 experimental media festival.
The festival is presented by Big Car arts collective and the Indianapolis Museum of Art, with talent coordinated by Michael Kaufmann, A&R man for Asthmatic Kitty Records and manager of the festival's centerpiece act, Son Lux. It's also the first substantial arts event to be staged at Big Car's Service Center for Contemporary Culture and Community, a former auto shop that the grassroots group is transforming into an arts and neighborhood-building hub for the Lafayette Square area.
The video work tends toward the abstract and aesthetically driven, rather than traditional narrative. Featured artists include Gala Bent, Zack Bent, Lynn Cazabon, Austin Dickson, Jonathan Dueck, Nadia Hironaka & Matthew Suib, Ryan Irvin, Roberto Lange, Mike Szegedi and Lauren Zoll.
The music ranges from ambient and game-influenced electronic sound to compositions with more conventional orchestral and ethnic elements.
August 10-12, 2011
Service Center for Contemporary Culture and Community, 3919 Lafayette Road
Indianapolis Museum of Art, 4000 N. Michigan Road
Wednesday at Service
7 p.m., $5, all ages, beer available for 21+
Nathan Monk (Indianapolis)
the glitch clique (Indianapolis)
Thursday at IMA
7 p.m., $12, all ages
Son Lux (NYC)
Helado Negro (Brooklyn)
Friday at Service Center
7 p.m., $5, all ages, beer available for 21+
Matt Davignon (Oakland, CA)
Kristin Miltner (Oakland)
Additional sound and visuals by Jordan Munson (Indianapolis)