20 years of Railroad Earth

Atlanta collective marks two decades of creativity with art, music, performances, and molten iron revelry

Iron Pour.5a0f19a6b9220
Photo credit: Neil Fried
HEAVY METAL: A crew led by Carl Pelizza pours molten iron into molds inscribed with designs by attendees at a Railroad Earth.

In 1997, a group of friends in Atlanta Neil Fried, Scott Childs, Maurice Clifford, Joel Rives, and the late Clark Vreeland founded an arts collective and media production company. Based in the former Ar'lyn Worth private elementary schoolhouse in Emory Village, where Fried still lives and works, Railroad Earth remains a loosely-knit organization of artists from multiple disciplines committed to what Fried calls "the unique sound and artistic vision of our slice of the south."

During the past two decades, Railroad Earth has initiated, nurtured and sponsored gallery exhibitions, music concerts, theatrical performances, literary forums, and artists' residencies. It has produced original film, audio, and video projects for its own artistic purposes, as well as for commercial and non-commercial clients. Periodically, the Railroad Earth house has hosted public gatherings featuring a smorgasbord of art, music, and performance activities. The highlight of many of these events, including Creative Casting, the 20th anniversary celebration on Sat., Nov. 18, is an iron pour.

Recently, Fried took a few minutes to talk about what makes Railroad Earth one of Atlanta's most creatively diverse and enduring grassroots arts organizations.

What is the origin of Railroad Earth?

The name was inspired by a Jack Kerouac prose piece titled "October in the Railroad Earth." Trains were the first high speed transportation that connected communities in America. For me, the visual metaphor represents the connections that occur in the brain when people think and create in multiple ways.

Pauline NfDEEP LISTENING: Pauline Oliveros (from left) discusses collaborating with Railroad Earth director Neil Fried during her 2003 residency.Scott Childs
What are some of the most memorable Railroad Earth events or encounters?

Railroad Earth had a wonderful relationship with the late composer, performer, and educator Pauline Oliveros. In the early 2000s, while doing a residency at Agnes Scott College, she came and gave a talk at a monthly event we were hosting called "Third Sunday." In March 2003, Pauline collaborated with a number of Atlanta musicians on a performance called "Fire, Creek," which used quadraphonic sound. We put microphones near the creek and a fire in the backyard, and I mixed the sounds with the music. Three years later, Pauline collaborated with Monica Duncan and myself on a piece, which included the late Atlanta Symphony Orchestra violinist, composer and electronic music pioneer Dick Robinson. We projected video in the windows of the house while Pauline manipulated sounds using her custom instrument control software. Another time, in 1998, we live-streamed music from the basement studio in the house to WREK-FM. Scott Childs, our resident tech guru, figured out how to establish a point-to-point protocol between the WREK studio and our studio. FLAP (who perform during Saturday's anniversary event) and friends were broadcast live on the radio while Railroad Earth streamed the live video. At the time, that was something only big companies could do.

What is the significance of the iron pour in the Railroad Earth legacy?

At Railroad Earth, we strive to touch all of the senses. An iron pour event perfectly represents our mission: The transformation of elements cast in fire accompanied by video projections, music and performance art.

In what way has Railroad Earth fulfilled its mission?

Twenty years ago, one of the problems Railroad Earth set out to solve involved wrestling with the means of production. At the time, it was still expensive to create quality audio and video recordings. We were burning CDs when that was not an easy task, and each blank CD cost about $10. We were very crafty and created quality product at a fair price for our clients. That's how we kept the doors open.

Today, cheap technology, combined with a society dumbed down to complacency with regard to the sound and look of compressed, digital media, has all but eliminated the means of production as an interesting space to occupy.

Digital publishing is what I'm interested in now. I want to make the Railroad Earth catalog past and future available to the public. I want to see artists getting paid for their work. I want the unique sound and artistic vision of our slice of the south to enter the world.

To me, Railroad Earth now means lots of little boxcars of expression finding their way to new homes around the world.

Railroad Earth's 20th anniversary event, Creative Casting, features an iron pour, video projections, live music, performance, and visual art. Molds for the iron pour can be purchased for $15 in advance by contacting neilvfried@gmail.com. 1467 Oxford Road N.E. www.rre.net.

Free parking nearby in parking deck on N. Decatur Road.

Schedule (subject to change):
4:30 p.m. Doors open for sand mold carving
5:30 p.m. Iron pour light-off by Carl Pelizza and crew
7:30 p.m. FLAP
8:15 p.m. Chris Gravely
8:30 p.m. Valium Housewife
TBD p.m. Geoffrey Solomon (story and music)
9:30 p.m. Eva Sotus
10:15 p.m. Nicole Shashoua

Various ongoing:
Neil Fried (projections, music)
George Trotter (projections, music)
Glenn Anthony (music)
Special performance artist Maurice Clifford (painting, performance)

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