It was my first time exploring this particular sub-downtown loading-dock region to locate the little art gallery Dangerous Curve, which has recently established itself as a prime outmusic showspot. And I experienced a regular Argosy shooting the gantlet -- wasted SUV pilots zooming and honking every which way on the near-empty streets; homeless hordes swarming dark alleys where I stopped to ask directions and score crack. The directions sucked, but the crack wasn’t half bad.
The music was good, too. After banging my foot on the metal door-guide (a ritual every entrant was obliged to repeat), I stumbled into a hushed environment of geometric/trash art, brick walls and gouged old wooden beams. There on the floor was skinhead raccoon Devin Sarno in his customary posture, crouched over an electric bass that generated an ever-mutating drone accompanied by the subtle notebook-computer accentuations of young collaborator Will Long, a.k.a. Celer. Several listeners were already nodding in the appropriate meditative state, semi-triumphing over the doorway rattle and the chatter of Sarno’s adorable smiling daughter, who must be almost 5 now. Sarno is used to the challenges of presenting quiet music in strange places, though, and seemed completely undisturbed. You can listen to an excerpt from his 31-minute “Symphony 19" at www.devinsarno.com, and discover Sarno working his long-practiced magic, slowly scouring the algae from the inside of your head like a pool robot. He’s also got a new CD with Nels Cline, available at the same site.
Next came about 30 effects devices, three electric guitars and two electric basses, which combined to bend the wills of the mere humans G.E. Stinson (a bearded mandarin) and Steuart Liebig (monkishly shorn). Just joshing -- machines and men always work in loving synergy when these two combine, which is often. The sound spanned the spectrum: synthy warbles, talk-box wah-wah, nebulous strummery, scraggly stringsmanship, even occasional bold rock-star crescendos, with foot-stimulating loops of industrial clank, cracked cowbell samples, and ping-vs.-sproing. This was postmodern improvisational abstract jazz, taking big chances because it had no chord changes or ordinary sounds to fall back on, so sometimes it didn’t cohere. But the moments when it made me hear new relationships, and see new pictures behind closed eyes, were many.
Afterward, I offered Stinson and Liebig my usual bad advice: Play about 10 times louder and get this shit going on the subcellular level. Of course, then the arty-lofty neighbors would complain, music would get kicked out of the gallery, and the musicians would be homeless again. But hey -- in this neighborhood, they wouldn't be alone.