“Less like a music festival and more like a large-scale art installation.”
That is how Corridor Festival organizer Kirsten Thom says she wants the one-day immersive event to feel. Large-scale indeed: Fourteen musicians, nine visual artists, and three dancers will present work at Georgetown’s cavernous Equinox Studios, a warehouse-cum-industrial cathedral with a central chamber nearly half the size of a football field. The day will be as long as the venue is large, which seems only right for an event with ambitions of this magnitude: to transcend the human necessity of being alone.
“I’m really interested in what happens to people in intense group situations,” organizer Matty McBride tells me. “We’ve seen it at parties at 5 a.m., but I was curious as to what a long-form daytime scenario would look like. Especially with this particular kind of music. It’s not really party music; there won’t be many beats, so why do people go? What are people looking for? I mean, I definitely don’t know. Intimacy, maybe?”
Perhaps it was these questions that motivated the foundation of Elevator by McBride and Thom in 2014. Bringing national touchstones of musical innovation, such as Holly Herndon, Laraaji, or Julia Holter, Elevator showcases experimental local talent that might otherwise have a hard time finding a bill. With help from other local collaborators and friends, the group is now presenting Corridor Festival, an event they hope will do a lot more than entertain.
“I think that something akin to magic exists,” says Thom. “It happens when you can feel a complete erosion of ego and you feel connected to the awareness that everything and everyone is part of a whole and that separation is an illusion. . . . If we can create a space where people feel totally comfortable being themselves and being fully present, it will feel magical.”
McBride agrees that this erosion of self is something art aspires to, but that breaking down ego is not a demolition, but “a production. An excess. Like a halo. It’s pretty tangible. I don’t even think it’s that woo-woo to say. You could call it ‘community,’ but I also don’t think it’s very permanent, so whatever we call it will disintegrate soon enough.”
The word “community” is thrown around so often in the arts world, it’s become a pretty hollow signifier, but maybe community is what a group like Elevator is shoring up with the fragments of that halo after the moment collapses. The memory of a shared, transcendental moment sticks around like a residue; searching to relive that moment compels us to keep going out, and finding it again makes us feel like part of something.
I asked Corridor organizer Campbell Thibo why he does so much unpaid work coordinating and promoting events like Corridor for the “community.” Thibo is a self-described “systems artist” who works in the media of dance, music, voice, guerrilla readings, and anarcho-gardening. For Corridor, he booked dancers Belle Wolf and Coleman Pester and the a cappella choir The Esoterics, and will be performing himself.
It just so happened that Thibo had already written a “reflective essay” in which he asks himself the same question, composed on a whim and sent to the other Corridor organizers after a long night of “writing e-mails with my thumbs, sending text after text with a pasted link to [a Stranger] article about [Corridor].” He wonders rhetorically to his collaborators, “Why do I do this?”
Thibo first considers that he’s doing it for the money. He writes, “If it is money—that I think I will become wealthy by convincing people to, one at a time, pay 20 dollars—I need to be more realistic. The most I have ever personally made from any night of performance I organized is 50 dollars.” He considers that perhaps it’s actually the fear of losing money that keeps him promoting into the night—all the organizers of Corridor fronted the costs, and if no one comes he won’t even recoup what he put into the event, which means “shelling out money I don’t have to various artists, or the embarrassing chain of negotiations with them to lower their stipend.”
He then says something I’ve always longed to hear an event organizer say: “This festival makes me look good . . . This makes me appear to be doing Important Things, working with Smart, Creative People, and acting Wise, Culturally. Along with that, I appear Generous. Festival planning is Narcissistic.”
He then considers one text in particular he’d sent about Corridor, to someone “very compelling, if perhaps a bit cocky,” whom he’d “had a crush on, briefly.” Deconstructing his motivations for the invitation, Thibo weighs the value of her admission ticket, the possibility of getting to know each other better, how her presence at the event would improve his experience of it, and yes, how good it makes him look to tell her that he planned this.
“A final thought comes to surface,” he then writes: “that perhaps she will actually come, and so will everyone else, and we will all see or hear or touch one other. Which—togetherness—is what I think this is about.”
Thibo continues, “I have not stopped believing in at least fragmentary universal connectivity, where people see one another briefly for who they really are. Looking at one another should challenge us toward compassion. . . . I do not know why we need media like music or art to facilitate meeting, if we do. But sharing an experience of music, especially of new music, critically, may allow us to see some of ourselves in an other. I believe these relationships gradually build to create what I would consider rich life.”
It seems these organizers think their efforts worthwhile because they hope to build a rich life, for themselves and others, using the tools of the magic Thom hopes for or the halo that McBride described. Kellye Kuh, another Corridor organizer, touches too on the flashing bridges of understanding that she hopes Corridor can build among us. “When something provocative happens in a room full of strangers, “ she says, “you’ll remember it. You’re sipping a hot cup of tea, shocked and blissed-out at the same time, feeling resonance at the core, and when you look around you’re aware you’re not the only crazy one.”
With musical performances by A Box in the Sea, Ahnnu, as_dfs, Beastnest, Black Hat, decimus, DJAO, LIMITS, Raica, Ramzi, Rene Hell, Sarah Davachi, The Esoterics, and x/o. Art installations by Bristol Hayward-Hughes, Ceci Cor-Leo, Coldbrew Collective, Grey Ellis + TARA, Leena Joshi, Jinx’ 75- A Live Visuals Studio, Annisa Amalia (with HimeHime), and Robin Cullen. Dance performances by Belle Wolf, Campbell Thibo, and Coleman Pester.
I asked each of the 6 event organizers of this Saturday’s Corridor Festival to choose one of the artists performing and tell me why they booked them—what their work makes them feel, why they seemed right for the festival, and what they imagine when they imagine that artist’s performance. For a taste of what January 23rd’s Corridor Festival at Equinox Studios in Georgetown will hold, here are their answers:Kirsten Thom (Elevator co-founder, performing artist Bardo:Basho, TUF) on RAMZi
“I like to describe RAMZi’s recent album Houti Kush as field recordings taken on a distant planet, where lush plant life and cute little creatures are plentiful. Her music activates my imagination instantly, creating vivid sci-fi images. It’s cerebral while also making me want to move. I find her skill for sound design very impressive. RAMZi is a great fit for Corridor because she makes evocative music that does not adhere to existing forms, and she’s carved out her own sound that is inventive and original.”Gabriel Schubiner (of Elevator, Decibel Festival, Hollow Earth Radio, Noise Yoga at the Frye) on Beast Nest
“Beast Nest’s dark, intense soundscapes that mix harsh electronic atmospheres with sweeping, granular-sounding synths and distant echoic field recordings transport me to a beautiful dystopia. A cold wind rattles pipes and shatters the glass of unused buildings, and then my focus shifts to the micro-scale growth of high, detuned synth movements while a distant drip maintains a sense of spaciousness.
“Sharmi Basu (Beast Nest), for me, is one of the most interesting contemporary artists working in experimental music. Her work has sonic and conceptual depth, and she is one of a small subgroup of abstract musicians that explicitly situates her art within a radical political and social context. I personally struggle with the question of how, if at all, noise and experimental music can be political, radical, and relevant. Basu addresses exactly these questions in her music and through teaching workshops and speaking about how music communities can take on anti-oppression as a core mission. While it is easy for experimental arts communities to remain relatively insular, I believe that Basu is helping to create communities that are more intentional about their orientation to justice issues and are therefore more accessible and more impactful.” Kellye Kuh (Centered in the City and TUF) on Rene Hell
“Ah, Rene Hell. I feel like I’m being tickled—such insane feelings dreaming of his work. Imagine being cuddled by the most peaceful dinosaur. Frightened and cuddled in a good way, unsure of what will happen. A dinosaur is still a dinosaur. He’s an ambassador for journeys and surprises, visually and sonically, and there is a cohesive feeling combined with insane vulnerability— I can’t wait to hear it in such a massive space. Rene Hell kicked off the Elevator series, and my narcissism assumes he’s coming back because I was unable to attend. But in reality it’s because he is a genius and will surely set a generous mood we can all sink in, together.”Campbell Thibo (of Porchlit, Madison Square Gardens, and NYC’s Homestead Knoll) on Belle Wolf
“Belle Wolf waits. I think she lives like this, waiting, half awake in the land of feeling. When she moves it is a waking dream, utterly connected, somehow beyond touch. I once fell asleep next to her, and have never felt equally within to what you might call magic. I used to say, we don’t prepare music; we prepare ourselves to be music. Belle embodies this. She is adaptable to space, and amazingly intuitive. When I toured her through Equinox she immediately comprehended what I meant by Corridor, between and connecting. She illuminates when she understands something – that’s another thing I like about her.”Cecilia Corsano-Leopizzi (of Decibel Festival, Action Potential, and TUF) on Sarah Davachi
“When I listen to Sarah Davachi’s album Qualities of Bodies Permanent especially I usually imagine incandescent colorful particles floating, interacting and colliding, it’s unclear the scale of all the particles or shapes, whether they are galaxies or tiny atoms/cells. I have been watching too much Cosmos? Probably. Her work makes me feel transcendent, pensive and cerebral.”
Matty McBride (Elevator co-founder) on Ahnnu
“Ahnnu has performed at Elevator before – it was deepest I’ve ever seen a laptop performer go. One solid hour of subconscious trapdoors, durational drones, and hijacked codes from the pop void (including a memorable pitched down mantra-loop of Rihanna’s “We Found Love”). Looking forward to the sequel.”
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