Adam Overton and the Electric Arts Alliance set the tone(s) with the first Electric Arts Festival
Not so famous last words:
"I used to watch people with keyboards and computers hoisting all their speakers and coiling all their cables. And I said, 'Man, I'm so glad I'm never going to be doing any of that stuff.'"
That's Adam Overton, who, as initiator and coordinator of the Electric Arts Alliance of Atlanta, in fact finds himself awash in hardware these days.
In person, he doesn't seem like the kind of guy who's liable to speak impulsively or who's lacking in foresight. Though he's a drummer by training (which includes a jazz performance degree from Georgia State), Overton doesn't even speak with his hands or nervously tap like many fellow percussionists do. He's enthusiastic, but he sets forth ideas in an orderly manner, quietly formulating as his steady eyes study.
Based on his musical development — from the high school drum line to weddings bands, to straight- and free-jazz combos and indie rock acts, to teaching lessons in suburban music stores — the Snellville native's technophobic assertion would've seemed a safe bet.
But a growing interest in 20th-century composers like Steve Reich and Iannis Xenakis, and introductions to electronic "dance" artists such as Squarepusher and Autechre, led Overton to studies designing virtual aural environments using things like Csound software and the SuperCollider audio synthesis programming language.
His pursuits have gone so deep, in fact, that he's no longer simply networking laptops — he's now networking people as well. With the founding of the Electric Arts Alliance of Atlanta this past January, Overton provides a forum for some literally electrifying expression. And with the EAAA's Atlanta Electric Arts Festival 2002, running Nov. 8 through Dec. 5, the alliance is set to take its place among the city's more active, cutting-edge arts groups.
"The EAAA comes from me getting out of school and being interested in electronic music, media and the technology for sound and art," Overton says. "And out of selfishness — I wanted to be around people who were doing cool stuff so they could influence me. At first it was a subtle so-I-could-learn-their-licks thing, but also because there seemed to be a lot going on but not much organization."
Among those finding some salvation in the EAAA was local electronic activist Grant Aaron, who performs as Anomaly and coordinates the Lifeform Project collective of audio/visual artists (including Osaga, In.cept.date and Knamiproko). "Being from Atlanta," Aaron says, "and knowing what a scattered electronic community we've had, the EAAA was the light in undeveloped times. It's brought together digital geeks with old-school analogue heads and visionaries in video that needed an outlet for expression. It's created a melting pot for talent that has been, as of late, dug in home studios behind closed doors. The discussions have spawned debates over forms of media, creation and performance. In its purist form, the EAAA creates the type of community that unites artists in and around Atlanta, one step in 'catching up' with the rest of the world."
To hear Overton tell it, people like Aaron were, in fact, part of the impetus for founding the EAAA. Last year, Anomaly joined other artists — including Lewis & Maston, Faff, Dead Air Transmissions, Oliver Dodd and Little Jen — to present the Downtempo Lounge, a series of Wednesday-night showcases of IDM and experimental electronic music at the Masquerade. It was observing this and another similar-minded event — Construkt at Trinity (now held at eleven50) — that led Overton to conceive the EAAA during his 30-minute commute to work.
"I wanted to include the regular performance aspect Grant champions [with Lifeform], but also include other stuff, while not forcing people to miss other acts they wanted to catch on the weekends," says Overton. "So the result was a weekday artist forum, more a meet and greet, not just another gig."
Matt Jeanes, who heads the Sub:Marine record label (home to locals J. Smiley, Magicicada and stillife;gaijin), is among those who've taken a leadership role in the group. As a member of now-defunct local favorites Underwater and his current act, Larvae, Jeanes balances Overton's academic connection with his own record-label and live-band associations. Recently, Jeanes has begun shouldering the responsibilities of EAAA's "marketing coordinator" and Webmaster.
The beginnings were humble, but Overton found his vision of an event that would be part mixer, part workshop and part performance realized almost immediately. After setting up an e-mail mailing list, soliciting participants and holding an initial meeting (15 people attended), the EAAA hosted its first event — an improvisational "game" such as those of composer John Zorn. Twelve participants split into three teams and competed to compose a themed 15-minute piece built around randomly drawn rules. Then, usually over a smoke break, Overton says, people discussed technique. There's no stuffy formal discussion involved in the events, unless the program is a planned lecture.
Since then, the EAAA listserv has grown to 75 members, with 30-50 attending each monthly event. Promotions are strictly on a DIY budget — mostly press releases and handbills posted to the listserv to be downloaded, printed and passed out by all members.
"We're always looking to help people share and cross-pollinate each others' work so that the whole job of trying to extend your voice further than its natural reach isn't something you have to do alone," Jeanes says. "I always feel like standing on the top of a building with a megaphone to scream, 'Anyone with a laptop who is making music, come out Monday nights.'"
While Overton and Jeanes make a point to keep each month's approach fresh, the one constant is that events are held the third Monday of each month at the Eyedrum. Overton has had a long relationship with the collective/arts space. In addition to attending and participating in shows at Eyedrum, he actually performed his senior recital there. Indeed, Eyedrum seems to be a perfect match for the attitude and attendance the EAAA attracts.
"We've had discussions about hosting elsewhere," Jeanes says, "but Adam and I have been on the same page in that we haven't outgrown the capacity of Eyedrum and it's a terribly experimental open space. If there's something that someone can actually pull off doing that's too large-scale or strange for Eyedrum, let us know — we'll find a way, just because we'd love to see it."
Lest all this should conjure images of a dark room, illuminated only by backlit laptop LCDs and blinking sequencer LEDs, subsequent EAAA events should be described. There have been interactive installation shows, video and multi-media work, but also floor-filling performance art — everything from acrobatic poetry about harnessing electricity to Overton's own "Hair Ritual No.38," in which Overton mic'ed his body while MIDI faders on his iBook manipulated the sounds of his four-month beard, hair and clothes being cut off. The EAAA stresses the electric arts — that is, not just electronic music, and Eyedrum has proudly hosted the diverse series.
"I was really pleased with the performance art night," says Eyedrum's Robert Cheatham, who has participated in EAAA events himself and records shows for Eyedrum's CD-R label, ED Recordings. "Eyedrum has been trying to define the concept of a monthly performance-art night but have been having a problem getting it off the ground. Adam had the first, and I thought it was very successful. The EAAA has also had shows broadcast on PeopleTV [on "Electronic Music Television," run by EAAA-associated members in the band Modify]. That's something we've wanted to do. And the L'Objet Sonore show of sound-art objects [at Georgia State] in January, which Adam is curating, will only help strengthen our local university connections."
Cheatham and the rest of the Eyedrum collective have been so impressed by Overton's ability to generate ideas and organize with the EAAA that they elected the 23-year-old to the board of directors last month.
"Eyedrum has always been a feisty organization, close to the street level," Cheatham says, "and as we grow I think some people would like to combine that with more educational aspects. It's part of our mission as a nonprofit to not only aid emerging artists, but — especially when you're doing artwork outside the box — be able to help people articulate their observations. Adam's work with the EAAA has exhibited his ability to do that, and helps Eyedrum see what its mission is further into the future — in regards to not only electronic art and music, but also in ways to present both performances and philosophies. Adam's a gathering point for both artists and energies."
As a board member, Overton will have the opportunity to work with grant writers to plan larger events, as well as contribute to the intensive electronic arts survey Eyedrum's already planning for 2004. Overton's most immediate focus, however, is toward the Atlanta Electric Arts Festival. The event observes November as ElectroAcoustic Month, as declared by SEAMUS, the Society for Electro-Acoustic Music in the United States.
Friday and Saturday, Nov. 8-9, the Emory Dance Company performs "Connecting Voice" at the Emory Performing Arts Studio, with several portions of accompaniment provided by Overton and Ben Davis.
Monday, Nov. 11, Sub:Marine Records presents a showcase of Larvae, Magicicada and J. Smiley at 10 High.
Monday, Nov. 18, Eyedrum hosts electronic artists on the TigerBeat6 label, including Cex, Numbers and Stars As Eyes.
Monday, Nov. 25, is the EAAA Annual Survey 2002 at Eyedrum, featuring the viewing and discussing of 10-minute music, video or Web presentations (allowing the stress of live performance logistics to be relieved if desired).
Thursday, Dec. 5, the EAAA presents (as a joint venture with the Atlanta College of Art) Belgian sound and video artist Maria Blondeel and Florida's DropBox, who will do a live sound/film remix of a work by French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard. Also at Eyedrum.
"I'm not sure if it's harder to force people to come appreciate things without beats or things with beats — dance artists, laptop artists or 'other,' because people do separate it like that. But we're going to keep trying to present them all, keeping things as broad as possible," Overton says.
With the EAAA, the steady percussionist continues to drum up interest electronic work — not only his own, but of Atlanta's most captivating experimentalists. In between lugging laptops, speakers and copious cables, that is.