Subtropics XXIV


Gustavo Matamoros’ beard has gone gray, but his passionate promotion of listening as a way of engaging the world remains fresh.

Whether bats in the Everglades or the ordinarily inaudible resonances of Robert Thiele’s bronze sculpture, Matamoros records these kinds of sounds, then combines and transforms them into musical compositions. Acute curiosity about how we perceive the world through our ears also underlies his role as impresario. Since arriving in Miami in 1967, Caracas-born, Matamoros has initiated a range of public performance programs to showcase the adventurous work of local and far-flung colleagues. Best known is Subtropics Festival for Experimental Music, now beginning its 24th edition.

The three-week festival offers a unique mix of experimental, conceptually-based music, sound art installations and freely improvised music from these genre’s most advanced practitioners, explained Matamoros. The program also features a series of films by Charles Recher, a dear, respected colleague and frequent collaborator who died in January.

“LISTEN,” a sound installation produced in partnership with History/Miami museum exhibition designer, Freddy Jouwayed will open the festival on July 5 in ArtCenter/South Florida’s 924 Project Gallery on Lincoln Road. It plays homage to the original Listening Gallery, that surreptitiously offered original sound art compositions by multiple composers through speakers mounted under the Center’s storefront awnings along Lincoln Road. This re-interpretation provides a more conducive setting for extended listening. Jouwayed has created concentric rings of colorful translucent walls that surround a central listening chamber. This intervention dims the bright window walls of the gallery space, leaving a circular array of speakers visible, but shielded. QUOTE

Nearby, in Studio #209, Colombian-born Alba Triana will unveil her latest sound sculpture, “Microcosmos,” which remains on view through September 3. Sharing the sensibilities of a poet and scientist, she explores and manipulates the fundamental properties of sound and light waves. In this piece she activates a brass cymbal via electronic signals. The generated vibrations, intuitively programmed as an elegant eight-minute composition, are audible – and simultaneously visible around the disc.

Hands-on workshops, led by prominent scholar-experimenters in sound art, Jennie Gottschalk and Christoph Cox, will guide participants' attention to the sound environment and teach practical strategies for collecting sound and creating unique compositions.

The 45-seat, acoustically balanced and well equipped Audiotheque space (Studio #201) serves as a sound art lab and cozy presentation venue for the Subtropics concerts and follow-up discussions. Live performances will include works by Olivia Block, John Driscoll, Richard Garet, Barbara Held and Matamoros himself. They range from elaborately composed, multilayered compositions (including compositions by guests from Spain’s Association of Electro-acoustic Music), to extravagant improvisations by solo saxophonist Jack Wright, (who will also lead a workshop). Veteran percussionist/band leader and martial arts aficionado, Abbey Rader, delivers a classic melding of jazz arrangements with spontaneous responses by ensemble members to the spirit of the moment.

John Driscoll’s kinetic DIY instruments combine sophisticated miniature electronics with household odds and ends. Joysticks and other devices allow the performer a combination of control and whimsical chance mixing of generated sounds, that often include feedback.

Olivia Block’s immersive sonic installations derive from her processing of sampled radio broadcasts, fragments of found microcassette tapes and organ music. She composes these elements to create sound experiences, customized to specific performance spaces, such as Audiotheque.

The ever-popular Subtropics Marathon provides the festival finale on July 22. Primarily featuring regional artists’ relatively brief works, the predictably unruly program will run from 5p.m. until around midnight and likely encompass audience participation, noise, high-tech gadgetry and virtuosic musicianship. José Hernández Sánchez will present “Broken English,” which offers unsettling discontinuities to the expectations that he instigates by first offering minimalist lines of rhythm, then introducing classical melodies and even sound effects. The composer’s skillful weaving back of “loose threads” provides coherence, even as he determinedly unravels listeners' comfort.
During a period when our sensibilities are relentlessly assaulted by contentious political noise, Subtropics XXIV offers a welcome alternative focus for ears, minds and hearts.

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Program info:

Video from Subtropics Marathon: