golden retriever

The Radically Mused: Improvisation Summit of Portland

Creative Music Guild's annual convocation presents a broad spectrum of spontaneous creativity


No one comes to a Creative Music Guild show to hear a familiar tune or a classic work. CMG concerts are places where joyful noises erupt and drone on, where genres are fused and exploded, where everyday objects become artistic tools, where risks are taken—a space is made in which anything and everything is welcome. And if you step into this space and join the performers, attending to the free flow of their intuitions, then you might just find some revelations—artistic, personal or otherwise. The first night’s performance of this year’s edition of the organizations’s annual Improvisation Summit of Portland exemplified CMG’s mission and what it continues to offer the Portland community.

Pure Surface Collective at Improvisation Summit of Portland

Pure Surface Collective at Improvisation Summit of Portland

For over 20 years CMG has championed spontaneous creativity and experimentalism through concerts bringing together local and international artists. A non-profit, volunteer organization currently directed by Alyssa Reed-Stuewe, Brandon Conway, Ben Kates, and John Savage, CMG is one of the greatest and longer-standing landmarks in Portland’s artscape, though it seldom gets the attention it deserves. CMG’S annual Improvisation Summit is not only a good introduction to the organization, but also to Portland’s more radically mused artists. The 2016 ISP took place on June 2, 3, and 4 at Disjecta Contemporary Art Center in the Kenton neighborhood of NE Portland.


Golden Retriever review: Fashion over form

Portland ensemble's large-scale show is heavy on stamina and virtuosity, light on contrast and form


Hell, in all aspects this should have been my thing:

1. I’m a Millennial and Golden Retriever came to their October 20 show at Portland’s Old Church armed with a synthesizer and enough microphones to give the American people a voice.

2. I’m an avant-garde nerd who has equal wet dreams to Kronos Quartet as to Sonic Youth and they hired a classical string quartet and chamber ensemble of improvisers.

So that leaves us with the question: How did the whole night still end up being a clusterfuck of godawful-ry?

Golden Retriever's Sielaff & Carlson.

Golden Retriever’s Sielaff & Carlson.

Culture creates music and music creates culture and culture creates music and music creates culture. . . It’s the chicken and the egg / nurture versus nature / art imitates life therefore life imitates art conundrum, they are impossibly interwoven and you sound a bit foolish bothering to distinguish between them. Music subcultures are as important as the music those subcultures surround, for those people are the human embodiment of the music; they are the living, breathing incarnate aesthetic of their chosen music’s emotional quality. When someone’s walking down the street rocking their Slayer shirt you know what they’re about: metal ass shit.

So, upon arrival I quickly realized I was in for a show that so badly wanted to be cool. Wanted to be cool above anything else, including creating or listening to emotionally engaging music. Walking through the door I had to initiate the transaction with the ticket collector who wouldn’t talk, make eye contact, or confirm or deny that the transaction was over, because being the gatekeeper to this sanctuary of cool he needed complete apathy. . . obviously.

It seemed a majority of the audience members were there to maintain an image. Problematically their image is bought on trust fund money and adorned like an article of clothing from Filson, J. Crew, or Anthropologie with the tags cutout to look thrifted. Never have I seen so many different styles of elegantly disheveled heads of hair tousling around conversing about which music festival or estate they just came from. It’s a sadly common misconception – the poor souls – that cool is an image, something to be purchased when its trendy. Cool has forever been and will forever be about genuineness, a trait very few there wore well.

Performers assemble on stage. Lights go down. Audience shuffles and coughs. And I’m just sitting there rage-coring in a church pew and the music starts.

I’m prepared to hate everything by this point, but I don’t.


The Parenthetical Girls go for the fantastical

Now, about those technical difficulties...

Zac Pennington fronts the Parenthetical Girls/Nim Wunnan

By Nim Wunnan

To be grand is not the same as to be massive, loud, or ambitious. Grandness lives or dies by scale and tone, and requires more careful balance than a simple spectacle. Wednesday night’s TBA performance by Parenthetical Girls and a starry roster of collaborators didn’t need to be big or loud to complete the world opened by their cycle of five, expansive Privilege EPs; it needed to be grand and spacious and mythical. It was, and it was worth the hype.

The mix of dance, classical instrumentation, performance, and a stage band was thoroughly mashed and shuffled — the dancers and the orchestra were used in earnest rather than simply standing in as signals that This is Serious and Artistic. Besides a few moments when members of Classical Revolution PDX played up the straight-backed reserve expected of people holding classical instruments perhaps a bit too much, each member of the party was on equal standing.

The long and ambitious evening began with a contemporary orchestral score by Jherek Bischoff performed by Classical Revolution, leading to a solitary but powerful dance by Allie Hankins, then a set by members of Golden Retriever, and finally everything was put to bed by the Parenthetical Girls performance, which fit every name on the program on stage at once at least for a moment.


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