LISTENING POST: Pasquan as ground zero

The art compound in southwest Georgia inspires experimental music captured on ‘ZERO’

GROUND ZERO: Performances by Georgia State University and Columbus State University students are featured on ‘ZERO,’ a new album inspired by Pasaquan. PHOTO CREDIT: Travis Dodd
Photo credit: Travis Dodd
GROUND ZERO: Performances by Georgia State University and Columbus State University students are featured on ‘ZERO,’ a new album inspired by Pasaquan.

Once again, Pasaquan, the 7-acre art compound in southwest Georgia near Buena Vista, originally created by Eddie Owens Martin (aka St. EOM), has inspired an album of imaginative musical delights. Subtitled “An interdisciplinary project under the direction of Craig Dongoski, Stuart Gerber, Neill Prewitt and Travis Dodd, ZERO is a double-LP/CD release featuring separate but related public performances by two different groups of students from Georgia State University (GSU) and Columbus State University (CSU), the latter of which serves as the institutional caretaker of Pasaquan.

ZERO follows the 2016 release of A Circle of Atoms, which featured performances by artists and bands originally scheduled to play at Pasafest, an annual outdoor music and art celebration, which was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

ZERO’s music belongs in the experimental/improvisational/found sound category. Mostly quiet and contemplative, the recording consists of analog and digital sounds and vocals, performed live, in accordance with prescribed themes or frameworks and in specified sites at Pasaquan and a recital space in Atlanta. The ambient, meditative and exploratory nature of the music places ZERO in similar territory with works by contemporary composers such as Pauline Oliveros, Karlheinz Stockhausen and John Cage.

“As educators, we use many pedagogical constructs to teach and mentor students: technique, craft, critical thinking, and so on,” says Travis Dodd, Lecturer at College of the Arts at CSU. “However, this project focused on breaking students out of their comfort zones and dropping their usual modes of inspiration to reach toward the avant-garde.”

Side 1A of ZERO follows an untitled score for the 1927 silent film The Love of Zero by Robert Florey. Recorded live at the Florence Kopleff Recital Hall on the GSU campus, the music was performed by members of the Integrated Studies Lab, a multi-disciplinary art class dedicated to creating performance-based work. Side 1B features thirteen students from CSU’s Expanded Media course in a performance of “All We Have is Zero,” for which each student composed a 1-minute “sound design” inspired by Florey’s silent film. Recorded live at Pasaquan in April 2023, according to the ZERO liner notes, “the artists interpreted their audio compositions live using action, choreography, additional sounds and improvisational movements.”

Filling Side 2A of ZERO is a performance by ISL students of “Keep Kindness in Your Heart and Go on Along, and Keep in the Rhythm and Keep in the Song.” Described as “a soundwalk through Pasaquan…with its creaking doors and open skies blending with the sounds of seven site-specific works of music, video and performance art,” “Keep Kindness…” is perhaps the album’s most effectively immersive track, graced by delicate gongs, calm winds and otherworldly incantations. Side 2B showcases two works, “Levitation Ceremony” and “EOM,” both performed by ISL in the Pasaquan sandpit, a special space where St. EOM frequently conducted fantastical ceremonies and sacred rituals.

Regardless of whether you’ve been to Pasaquan, ZERO conjures up a captivating soundscape representative of the phantasmagorical experience you can expect when visiting. Speaking of which, thanks to a complete restoration completed in 2016, the main house and outbuildings, ornamental walls, statuary and thousands of brightly colored architectural features and ornamental details that make Pasaquan one of the world’s most spectacular outdoor art environments are exquisitely preserved.

Prior to the ZERO project, most of the GSU and CSU students did not have direct experience with the techniques and methodologies required to complete the mission. That’s a feature, not a bug, according to Dodd. “This was all about creating new paths of exploration,” he explains. “This journey into the avant-garde links the project with Pasaquan and St. EOM. Eddie’s life as a weird outlier in rural Georgia put him on the front lines of creative expression. Our students resonate with that legacy, which comes through in the record.”

To celebrate, an open to the public party for ZERO is scheduled for Sat., Mar. 30, 5-7 p.m. It will feature a live DJ playing the album and projecting video of the performances.
Free. 5-7 p.m. ZERO release party. Bo Bartlet Center, located in the Corn Center for the Visual Arts at Columbus State University, 921 Front Ave., Columbus, GA 31901. (706) 507-8432.

Sat., Apr. 6


WHOLE LOTTA SHAKIN’: Shaking Ray Levis founder Bob Stagner will join Klimchak at Atlanta Contemporary. PHOTO CREDIT: Ernie Paik

Ear Pollen: Bob Stagner & Klimchak, Atlanta Contemporary — The third installment of Ear Pollen, a monthly series of improv duets curated by Klimchak at Atlanta Contemporary, features the superlative percussionist, educator, swami to the Hubble Deep Field All-Stars and founder of the Shaking Ray Levis and Shaking Ray Levis Society, Chattanooga’s own avant son Bob Stagner. Only the Creator knows what magnificent pile of polyrhythmic mischief Klimchak and Stagner will conjure up from a few dozen instruments, toys, household items and sundry bits. A glance at Stagner’s resume indicates an extensive array of performances and recordings with critically acclaimed artists including John Zorn, the Rev. Howard Finster, David Greenberger, Fred Frith, Min Tanaka, Amy Denio and Derek Bailey. What more do you need to know? Oh, yeah, the concert starts at 4 p.m. outside if weather permits, otherwise inside the gallery.
Free with registration. 4 p.m. Atlanta Contemporary, 535 Means Street, NW, Atlanta, 30318.


HAIKU RELAY: Relay Station (l-r, John Arthur, Jeff Crompton, Monique Osorio, JD Walsh) will perform selections from Crompton’s recently published book, 50 Blues Haikus. PHOTO CREDIT: Steve Eberhardt

50 Blues Haiku/Relay Station, First Existentialist Congregation of Atlanta — Saxophonist and composer Jeff Crompton will read from his new book, 50 Blues Haiku. The title describes exactly what’s between the cover of the book, which was designed and illustrated by guitarist and frequent Crompton collaborator Colin Bragg. Following the haiku book intro, a concert by one such collaboration, Relay Station, will include musical versions of select haikus. It all takes place on Sat., Apr., 6 at 8 p.m. at the old stone church of the First Existentialist Congregation in Candler Park. Admission is free, but a $10 donation will get you a copy of the book. For a few bucks more, you can choose from a fine selection of beers and wine.
Free; donations encouraged. 8 p.m. First Existentialist Congregation of Atlanta, 470 Candler Park Dr. NE, Atlanta, 30307. (404) 378-5570


Thu., Apr. 18


SWANS SONGS: Swans perform music from their latest album, ‘The Beggar,’ at Variety Playhouse Apr. 18 PHOTO CREDIT: Jens Wassmuth

Swans, Variety Playhouse — One of the most intensely immersive, transcendentally mesmerizing and comprehensively loud concerts I have ever witnessed was Swans’ performance at Terminal West in the summer of 2016, which featured a special appearance by former Swans collaborator and longtime Atlanta resident Jarboe. This time around, Swans is promoting The Beggar, the band’s sixteenth studio album. Written and produced by founder Michael Gira, The Beggar features contributions from recent and former Swans, members of Angels of Light, and guest Swan Ben Frost. It’s unknown whether Jarboe will make an appearance at the Variety show.
$30+. Doors 7 p.m., music 8 p.m. Variety Playhouse, 1099 Euclid Ave. NE, Atlanta, 30307.(404) 524-7354.


Fri., Apr. 19


WATER RIGHTS & WRONGS: Wallers Coffee Shop will screen ‘Saving the Chattahoochee,’ a documentary that looks at the campaign led by Sally Bethea to clean up the river that runs through Atlanta. PHOTO CREDIT: Hal Jacobs

Saving the Chattahoochee, Waller’s Coffee Shop — Hal Jacobs’ moving documentary about Sally Bethea, one of the first women riverkeepers in the U.S., will be screened at Waller’s Coffee Shop in Decatur Fri., Apr. 19 at 7 p.m. An activist and advocate whose efforts led to a massive cleanup of the Chattahoochee River and a $4 billion investment by the City of Atlanta under the leadership of Shirley “The Sewer Mayor” Franklin. The film renders a vivid portrait of Bethea, a single parent of two sons, who became the face of the Chattahoochee at a pivotal period in the development of Atlanta. Following the film, Bethea and producer/director Jacobs will conduct a Q&A session.
$15. 7 p.m. Waller’s Coffee Shop, 240 DeKalb Industrial Way, Decatur, 30030. (404) 975-3060


Thu., Apr. 25


DREAMING OF DEX: ‘Dreams Don’t Cost a Thing: A Tribute to Dexter Romweber,’ features an impressive lineup of friends and associates of the late guitarist including Rod Hamdallah (pictured) Apr. 25. PHOTO CREDIT: Tim Casilovic

Dreams Don’t Cost a Thing: A Tribute to Dexter Romweber, The Earl — The passing of Dexter Romweber, who reportedly died of natural causes at home on Friday, Feb. 16, shook the indie-rock world to the core. On Thu., Apr. 25, a concert at The Earl organized by Jeffrey Butzer pays tribute to the life and legacy of the Chapel Hill, NC, native and guitarist extraordinaire. Romweber was best known as co-founder of Flat Duo Jets and Dex Romweber Duo, the latter with sister and drummer, the late Sara Romweber. Usually slinging a vintage Silvertone electric guitar, Romweber performed numerous times in Atlanta including an especially memorable solo set under a tarp in the rain during Drive-Invasion at The Starlight Theater. “He was always so present while performing, sometimes it felt scary watching him, especially if you cared about him personally,” says Butzer. “I miss him so much.” The band lineup for “Dreams Don’t Cost a Thing” features Gentleman Jesse, George Harris with the Compartmentalizationists, Tom Maxwell, Rod Hamdallah, W8ing4UFOs, Don Chambers, FLAP and Se. Artie Mondello. Earlier in the week, on Sat., Apr., 20 (Record Store Day), Criminal Records is hosting an “all Dex day” with some of the same musicians.
$15. Doors 7:30 p.m., music 8 p.m. The EARL, 488 Flat Shoals Ave.NE, Atlanta, 30316.(404) 522-3950.