Noise along the Potomac: The Washington D.C. Scene

Source: Perfect Sound Forever, where Dan Barbiero reviews the Washington D.C experimental scene.

The Washington D.C. area is home to a community of experimental musicians and sound artists who, while existing largely below both the surface and notice of the area’s official culture, have created an eclectic field for the exploration of sounds in relation to other sounds and to the environment. While “experimental” is difficult if not impossible to define in relation to music, it is nevertheless a term with an established history of use, and all or nearly all of the artists discussed here would accept it to describe their own work if for none other than expedient reasons. For present purposes, “experimental music” isn’t meant to name a genre but rather to characterize a set of practices shaped by an attitude of curiosity often informed by a DIY spirit; these practices run the gamut from playing pitched sounds on conventional instruments to creating harsh noise with electronics and non-instruments, and much else in between. The backgrounds of the individuals involved are varied, but virtually none are professional musicians or affiliated with institutions. All are highly committed to their art, which exists as a marginal yet vivid presence in such venues as art galleries, former industrial spaces, basements–and occasionally, the Kennedy Center.

What follows is a set of impressions organized into loose aesthetic groupings. A caveat: I write as a participant, not as a disinterested observer. The artists covered here are friends, colleagues and in very many cases collaborators. A second caveat: music deriving from the tradition of free jazz improvisation, while a significant presence within D.C. area experimentalism, won’t be covered here; it would require an account all of its own.