Navigating the fringes, edges and spaces outside of the box of the dominant culture in Austin can cause any trustworthy compass to spin. Luckily, Church of the Friendly Ghost is making it easy, gathering some of the most exciting artists in Austin and beyond under one comfortable roof for its annual festival, NMASS (New Media Art and Sound Summit).
For 10 years, Church of the Friendly Ghost has been thriving as the paranormal counterpart to the conventional reality of Austin’s music and cultural scene. “COTFG is a community-based organization inhabiting the space between the industrial and the institutional,” states COTFG Founder Aaron Mace. “This is to say, it is a fertile ground for the Austin music and culture community across the board.”
This year, NMASS is orienting itself around a grassroots approach, incorporating film, art installation, interactive elements and even D.I.Y electronics construction. And as Church of the Friendly Ghost celebrates its 10th year of probing the unconscious of Austin’s music and cultural scene, the lineup offers an opportunity to meditate on the local artists who have defined COTFG in the past while charting its future.
This iteration of NMASS has broken itself down into four separately themed days offering something for the whole family. “This year, there are are several people responsible for parts of the programming and each of them take it on more or less autonomously,” adds Mace. “Each piece could be a stand alone engagement, but when we fit them together they combine into a powerful 90-foot-tall robot entertainment wizard.”
On Wednesday, protean sound artist Lisa Cameron will kick off the festival with her interactive piece for acoustic cymbals at Lady Bird Lake; the audience is invited to walk around the site-specific work, experiencing the different acoustic possibilities of the piece. On Thursday, the audience will speak with local Texas filmmaker Michael Morris and others regarding their experimental films as part of the cinema segment of the programming. On Friday, attendees will attempt to construct their own Modular synthesizer at Salvage Vanguard Theater.
“One of the things that makes NMASS so special is the dialogue that occurs between artists and attendees,” notes COTFG Creative Director George Pasterk. “I have seen one similar model pop up in recent years, but I really think that was one of Aaron Mace’s master strokes when he conceived of the festival five years ago.”
In addition to a bevy of local talent, the festival is packed with interesting national arts, both alive and dead. A not-to-be-missed experience, the COTFG crew takes attendees back to the future with Conlon Nancarrow’s music for player piano. “In Mexico Nancarrow hit upon the idea of creating music for player piano, his intent being that he wanted to create music which exploited the capabilities of a machine,” adds Pasterk. “He hand-punched his roll and even souped up his pianos to play at extraordinary speeds.”
For those looking for something more contemporary, Atlanta-based sound artist Richard Devine will be melting minds, faces (and maybe even himself) with his visceral soundscapes. On the other end of the sound spectrum improviser, composer, instrument builder and conceptual artist Bryan Day will give the audience a brief glimpse into his enigmatic art.
NMASS takes place June 12 - 15. Daily tickets are available for $15; three-day passes are $35.