Most churches, by design, deal mainly in looking toward the past. Services for any storied and chaptered faith function as a sort of spiritual history lesson, reminding people to train their eyes backward to models of experience that have come before.
The Church of the Friendly Ghost is not a church. At NMASS IV on June 14-17, a group of forward-, sideways-, upward- and elsewhere-looking artists come together to model and test a whole host of new experiences for the good of humankind.
A bit of history: CotFG began as a loose collective of ideas coalesced into a chapel complex on Pedernales south of 3rd Street in 2003. A few especially noisy events brought the hard light of administrative scrutiny down on the young congregation a couple of years later, and the friendly ghosts were let loose upon the city for lack of proper paperwork.
Performance friends Salvage Vanguard Theater had done some programming at the 3rd Street chapel in years past, so it was natural to invite the free-roaming vapors of CotFG into the theater's Manor Road headquarters in 2007. CotFG has contributed to the eclectic schedule of happenings at SVT ever since.
It’s at that very space where NMASS IV — the 2012 New Media Art and Sound Summit — will be going off. The opportunities for surprise and delight are practically innumerable. CotFG co-founder Aaron Mace sums up the NMASS experience in tidy fashion: “It’s serious fun, silly fun and connoisseur fun, all in one.”
The film arm of the festival kicks off on Thursday with experimental-ambient-bluegrass-electroacoustic-folktronica outfit Silent Land Time Machine on the main stage and features, later, a performance in marionette and shadow by Private Lives Puppet Theatre.
Headlining Thursday is a dynamic and kinetic footage party programmed by Experimental Response Cinema, a relatively new collective headed up by local auteurs Scott Stark and Ekrem Serdar. They’ve themed their NMASS piece around the sensory overload experienced in the modern city, so be ready for some hot, frenetic, synapse-boggling stuff.
Early in the evening on Friday, pop magistrates Ichi Ni San Shi take the main stage and pave the way for Brooklyn-based artist Steve Cossman, whose traveling show features a compilation of video works done by direct filmmaking. Artists showcased in Cossman’s set make visuals without cameras, by scratching, splicing, painting and otherwise interacting directly with the film itself.
Great American mystery creature Jandek headlines Friday evening, and rumor has it that he’s just about finished with performing. Even if his NMASS set didn’t feature a full bucket of wondermind accompanists drawn from the local well, you’d be a pure fool to miss a chance as rare as this.
The party starts early on Saturday with Chi’Lantro’s murderously good Korean-Mexican comestibles and a lunchtime set by Chicago’s Hieroglyphic Being. Friendly ghost George Pasterk’s brainchild Re-Surfaced designs a new soundtrack for surf music in the early evening, and NMASS soul-father and Interdimensional Song-Seamstress Daniel Higgs headlines SVT with a two-hour infusion of poetical imagination starting right around sundown.
Saturday night also gives us a dance party for the ages at Beauty Ballroom, with Hieroglyphic Being, Flying Turns and Woolfy on deck til the place shuts down. Austin indie gaming collective Juegos Rancheros and the incomparable Quick Draw Photo Booth will be in attendance, and your eyes and minds will be alternately crushed and caressed by the visual sorcery of Party Time! Hexcellent! and Mac&Cheez.
Circuit-bending guru Thomas Fang opens Salvage Vanguard on Sunday with Get Bent!, a workshop for hacking electronic toys that will almost definitely make you smarter. The studio theater vibrates throughout the day with soundscapes from the likes of Skullcaster and ::kai/ros::, and the self-described loud-as-**** quadraphonic listening experience of Immersion III – CATHEDRAL closes the festival with a double feature-length set in a room full of projections and feelings.
Patrons at Salvage Vanguard for any day of NMASS IV will be treated to galleried video installations by visualists Sam Sanford and Rebecca Carlisle-Healy, transmogrified wall-forms by guitarist and architect Sandy Ewen, and invitations to create beauty with extremely fun lo-fi animation studio The Edge of Imagination Station.
Austin collective LaRuche will be showing a freshly iterated installation throughout the fest. Tesseract 02 is the newest in a series based on childhood recollections of A Wrinkle in Time, which you have read. Really, you must’ve.
All this wonder and more! Tasty treats purveyor The Ice Cream Social will be on hand each day as well, because no multimedia event is truly complete without works of art that feature temperatures, flavors and textures. This whole thing is going to be a blast.
CotFG’s volunteer corps has raised a good piece of production costs through Kickstarter, but a little bit more is necessary to put them over the top. Support Austin arts! Tithe to the Church and not only do you advance the cause of creative expression in your city but you can get one of many extremely excellent thank-you gifts.
Whether you’re new to the ministrations of these good-time risk takers or an established stalwart of the CotFG retinue, take a day at least with NMASS IV and walk away raptured.
NMASS IV takes place June 14-17 at Salvage Vanguard Theater and Beauty Ballroom. Tickets will be available at the door. Visit the event’s Kickstarter page for advance tickets, t-shirts, poster prints, LPs, scientific mixtapes, freelance string music and other reasons to help out your friendly neighborhood friendly ghosts.