‘Sonic Abstraction’ music event brings internationally acclaimed sound artists to MFA

Elizabeth Baker
Elizabeth Baker

 

BY J.A. JONES, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG – This Saturday, July 28, the city will experience a performance so rare that even Berlin’s International Sound Art Festival would be jealous.

Not one, but three experimental world-renown sound artists, composers and mixed media arts performers will share the bill at the Museum of Fine ArtsSonic Abstraction”–an evening of sound conceived to accompany the “Magnetic Fields” exhibition of African-American experimental woman artists (currently on view until Aug. 5 in the Hazel Hough Galleries).

St. Petersburg native Elizabeth A. Baker, youngest on the bill at 29 years old, proposed the idea of a show featuring black female sound artists to curator Katherine Pill after learning about Magnetic Fields.

“I was like, ‘Well if you were representing visual artists, maybe you can do some work on the sonic medium.’ Immediately she [Pill] was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s a great idea…I didn’t even know that that was a thing,’” Baker recalled.

Elizabeth Baker is a classically trained Spanish guitarist and concert pianist whose experimental sound work often involves moody soundscapes that combine snatches of historical references, layered voices and distorted instrumentation along with digital technology.

Her awards include a grant from the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance and the City of St. Pete to produce an original sound installation “In Our Own Words: A Sonic Memory Quilt,” presenting the stories of various African Americans in a fresh avant-garde manner.

She has also performed throughout the U.S. and in Canada, and recently released her first solo album worldwide in May to rave reviews.

While she stated that people either “love or hate” her work, she’s OK with that. She wants audiences to be moved to ask questions of themselves while listening to and watching her performances.

“My work is a place of Zen and openness,” said Elizabeth Baker. “It is a safe place for me and others to enter and continually question the very fabric of our universe –not necessarily on the quest for concrete answers, but through deepening our understanding.”

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Pamela Z

Pamela Z

Pamela Z, a composer/performer and media artist who works with voice, live electronics, samples and video, acknowledged that Saturday’s event is a novelty.

“It’s rare because until pretty recently, the field has been pretty white male-dominated.”

The San Francisco-based artist remembered often being the only female–and only artist of color– when she attended experimental music festivals.

“I feel like that’s changed a lot in recent years, but it’s still unusual to have three women of color doing experimental music and sound in one event.”

Pamela Z’s work ranges from solo performance, to film scores and creating chamber pieces for other musicians. She’s performed throughout the U.S. and at international festivals including La Biennale di Venezia (Italy), the Interlink Festival (Japan) and Pina Bausch Tanztheater’s 25 Jahre Fest (Germany).

She noted that experimental music isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but encouraged open-mindedness.

“The word ‘music’ itself has a lot of emotional baggage for people–so sometimes you’ll hear somebody who’s listening to something that they don’t understand or like say, ‘That’s not music, that’s just noise,’” she shared.

“I know a lot of artists who do not like to call their work music; instead they’ll call it sound art. I think that the reason for that is because people are definitely conditioned to have these very specific expectations about what the word music means,” she averred, adding that to most people includes catchy melodies to sing along with, a rhythm one can dance to or a certain kind of harmonic structure.

***

Renee Baker

Renee Baker

Renee Baker, whose resume includes 26 years as principal violist at the Chicago Sinfonietta, started her own orchestra–the Chicago Modern Orchestra Project–several years ago to offer her own compositions as well as contemporary creative and classical music.

A prolific, multi-dimensional artist, she has performed and created compositions for festivals in the U.S., Scotland, London, Berlin, Austria, Canada and the Netherlands.

She’s also a serious gallery-exhibited sculptor and painter and is currently scoring films for film companies such as Kino Lorber.

Renee Baker shared that she was never worried about whether her work was widely known and presented; as one who also managed orchestras and arts organizations, she realized that the process of doing the work was what’s important.

“We have a culture that says in order for you to be successful or popular we have to see you on TV, or that we have to hear it on the radio a lot. I believe just the opposite,” she said, adding that as long as the people who the “universe” intended should find out about her music are able to, then all is well.

As for what gives her a seemingly non-stop drive, she said it is to make her journey true.

“My life practice/ritual of creativity is my meditation– my contribution to the enlightenment of humanity.”

And hard work has never been an issue for Rene Baker. She’s not a dabbler and if she studies it and starts on the journey, she’s going to take it as far as she can while learning the entire time.

“It’s always about honing the skills; where can I keep expanding. Not anybody else’s expectations, but what is the next level for me. That’s why I just keep going.”

The Sonic Abstraction music extravaganza takes place from 2- 6:45 p.m. at The Museum of Fine Art, 255 Beach Drive N.E. Call for group rates and reservations at (727) 896.2667 or visit mfastpete.org.

To reach J.A. Jones, email jjones@theweeklychallenger.com.

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