Ethnomusical Analysis of The Electric Possible
Paper for Soundscape Project, Ethnomusicology course, George Washington University 

by Sam Goldblatt, Melissa Marquardt, and Josh Wilke

     The Electric Possible is a monthly gathering of musicians who push the boundaries of sound and art, in experimental and improvisational styles. These musicians come from many different backgrounds and have each developed a unique approach to their art. Their music is certainly not mainstream, some may even question the act of calling it music, but they have found a special niche in Washington, DC. We will examine this unusual soundscape and those involved with it, while raising questions about the definition of �music?or �art?and whether they can even be defined.
 

The History of This Scene and the Man Behind It
     The Electric Possible concert series was started by Jeff Bagato, who says that, back then, the scene for this kind of music in DC was �small but diverse.?Most of the activity was centered around shows organized by Chuck Bettis, who had a solo project called Trance and the Arcade and had connections with the Dischord record label. These connections fake breitling watches conveniently allowed him to use the Black Cat as a regular venue for the shows he organized. Bagato performed regularly at some of these events that went on until Bettis moved to New York City. Bettis?departure left a great deal of responsibility in the hands of two other active members in this music scene, Derek Morton and John Rickman, who were a part of many different groups in this genre. The performances they organized, however, featured mostly touring bands. Bagato wanted a scene that prioritized local musicians and gave them a chance to work on new projects and experiment with invention rolex new musical ideas and personnel. This vision led to the creation of the Electric Possible.

     The El Possible concert series began in May of 2003 at the George Washington University in room B120. To get this space on a regular basis, Bagato contacted Peter Fraize, professor of jazz studies at GWU, and explained his idea. �He got on board immediately,? said Bagato about Fraize, and �there�s no way to overestimate the important role he has played: quite simply, without his willingness to see this happen and run through the paperwork each month, there wouldn�t be a concert series.? Bagato�s design for these concerts included the idea that all the money received would go straight to the artists. This decision was made in the punk spirit of groups like Fugazi and the Dischord label, who already put on shows that only used volunteers, in an effort to create a base of economic support for the bands. The organizers of replica hublot these shows, along with Bagato, hoped this economic support would give the performers a maximum amount of creative freedom, taking away the necessity to be more accessible or more widely received that so often alters an artist�s work. Bagato�s desire to start the El Possible series was also fueled by the boredom he felt for the alternative rock scene at the time and his personal wish to see more live experimental music.

     At the same time, in Baltimore, a strong experimental music scene was steady and growing. This provided a good (and relatively close) model for what DC could also achieve. Baltimore�s scene was based around regular venues, such as the Red Room and an annual festival called High Zero. These were both inspiring examples for Bagato, �I had a really clear visual image of this: at the Red Room, I performed on a bill that included a trio where one of the musicians played a sewing machine. I thought, we need a place in DC where someone can play a sewing machine and people will be there to hear it.?People like Bagato couldn�t help but think that DC�s scene would be just as strong if musicians had a regular place to play, and they were right. Due to the El Possible series, Bagato has found musicians like Jeff Surak, an experimental musician since the 80s that happens to be well-known in Eastern Europe. The Baltimore scene also showed how, most of the time, instead of forming bands, individuals would enter into new partnerships and projects for each performance. Baltimore, along with the punk scene, contributed the most to the growth of DC�s experimental music scene. Bagato, who had been a member of a punk band for fifteen years prior, was able to experience much of this evolution first hand.

     Bagato started playing music in the 80s as the bassist in an improvisational rock band. He was in two later, more �chaotic rock?acts that were also based heavily on improvisation. It wasn�t until a few years ago that Bagato invented his own instrument or process of making sound. He plays vinyl LPs with a small hacksaw and incorporates looping effects, live remixing, and abstract vocal sounds. The influences he cites include Fugazi and the Dischord scene for the business end of music, and for making his own music he says the following played a part in �opening his mind? Throbbing Gristle, Z�ev, Merzbow, Ultra, Sun Ra, William Parker, Susie Ibarra, William Hooker, Albert Ayler, John Zorn, Lisa �Suckdog?Carver, Yoko Ono, Boredoms, Ikue Mori, Liliput, Fugs, and Captain Beefheart. About his own music, Bagato says, �I like to feel that I�m controlling the sounds I�m producing while the music sounds uninhibited and out of control. When the music gets out of control, then I don�t think it sounds so good. There�s just a feeling of energy that I go for, and an aesthetic sense of space and interesting clusters or movements of sound, and sometimes that can be achieved by being in control and sometimes by just following a series of accidents.?This idea is, at times, contrasted by the more structured improvisational styles of groups that play at the Electric Possible events.
 

The Electric Possible Experience
     On March 6th, 2005, three trios were the highlight of the night�s performance. In the small chamber setting of the GW classroom there is an immediate feeling of intimacy with the performers. Walking into the show a quiet man humbly asks for five dollars from each person, a small gift he pools together for the night�s performers. There is no formal door man or bouncers at this concert, just someone who casually walks around mingling and talking with the audience meanwhile collecting a small token for attending the performance.

     As soon as the show started with the band Trinary, a silence fell over the audience. Everyone in the room focused all their attention on the three members of the band. There was a bassist who furiously jammed sticks in between his strings, an electronics percussionist who had a laptop to sample and a mixer in front of him, and finally a reed player, who played both sax and clarinet throughout the show. The laptop performer had his laptop plugged into a mixer and a wave-modulation machine and then out through the PA. this man produced sound waves and used little knobs in front of him to conform it to his liking. The sounds he made were live sounds from his computer.

     The band played painful noise at high volumes which often came in shocking outbursts of feedback and static. One particularly loud outburst sounded like the ear-piercing pop of someone unplugging a live amp and had much the same effect: many audience members literally jumped in their seats. Trinary took some getting used to because they disturbed and alarmed the audience rather than soothing or relaxing them.

     The band used a lot of long, deep sounds to keep their music flowing; for instance, the bass player used a timpani stick to bang against the neck of his bass guitar to create a rumbling bass noise that shook the room. On the other hand, the reed player, who switched between his clarinet and sax throughout the show, played mostly disturbing atonal melody lines on top of the other musicians.

     Mind Over Matter, Music Over Mind, however, did quite the opposite. Turning down the lights and placing a shrine in the middle of the room, they created a meditative atmosphere which fostered the deep down-tempo groove of their music. The group, comprised solely of three African-American performers, revealed the diversity of DC�s experimental music scene by presenting a strong Black Pride message with sound clips. Electronics were mixed with ancient African art in a particularly poignant visual stage setup: the DJ�s mixer rested on an elaborately carved African wooden stool.

     The keyboardist announced his band and made the following cryptic comment: �All dead things look the same, but all living things are magic. We�re happy to be live with you tonight.?This beat-style poetry set the tone for the performance. The band played one really long song featuring many samples, live elements and loop effects. Many spoken quotations about race were sampled and repeated, such as the phrase, �no master race.?Also, one member was wearing a Black Month tee-shirt. The amount of pride the musicians had in their African American heritage was seen throughout every aspect of their performance.

     The Vector Trio was the only band that did not incorporate a computer into its music, although many effects were used to create unique sounds. The trio consisted of a bassist using a fretless electric bass, a drummer playing a standard kit, and a trumpet player on soprano trumpet with effects pedals lined up at his feet. The band used only live elements in their music. Although the music seemed a little choppy sometimes, the musicians seemed to have no trouble feeding off of and communicating with one another.

     The Vector Trio was the most traditional group tonight, as they played acoustic instruments and often settled into a nice rock groove. Still, easy-listening music they are not. In speaking with the members of Vector Trio, they recalled being kicked out of an Italian restaurant after their first set during a gig, and having to argue with the restaurant over whether or not they had to pay for the meal they had just eaten. They seem to have more luck playing at Asian restaurants, a correlation with interesting implications. Do the Asian restaurant proprietors recognize Vector Trio�s use of improvisation, Eastern melodic scales, and informal song structure as Asian? The band members said that they think this is the case.

     The musicians?backgrounds in Vector Trio are representative of the diversity of musical backgrounds in experimental music. As trumpet player Scott Forrey notes, �There are a couple ways into electronic music.?The drummer started with Miles Davis and eventually got more and more into experimental fusion, citing Herbie Hancock, Mahavishnu Orchestra and Sun Ra. The bass player, like others here tonight, cites King Crimson as the prog-rock band which opened his mind to more experimental possibilities. Forrey comes from a more formal academic background, having studied at Berkeley College of Music and playing classical music as a child.
 

What Does the Electric Possible Say About an Experimental Music Scene?
     Experimental musicians can come from almost a wide variety of musical genres, rather than only coming from a free-jazz or electronic background. Indeed, tonight�s crowd shows a wide diversity in age, race and class. Whites and Blacks mingle amiably, as do people of various socio-economic backgrounds: an international businessman and a jobless twenty-something chatted happily. Females, comprising about a fourth of the audience, blend in naturally, although none performed tonight. The one defining characteristic about the people here tonight? Glasses. Of the nine performers, seven wore glasses, and well more than half the audience wore them. Certainly this adds to the musicians?image as intellectual experimenters rather than rock stars.

     The idea of intellect over emotion explains a lot about the audience�s relationship with the performers. The crowd reaction is very similar to a classical music concert. Because much of the music has no stable tempo and doesn�t make for pleasant social dancing, the audience remains seated and silent, politely applauding after songs. One audience member, Dan, a regular on the DC experimental music scene, notes the intellectual environment, saying, �It�s the antithesis of a heavy metal concert, you know, with fists pumping. It�s very introspective. I would call it anti-participatory.?/font>

     The Electric Possible is as much a serious concert as it is a social gathering, though, and before and after each band�s sets, audience members mingled with each other. Indeed, well over half the audience members were experimental musicians themselves, and knew each other from other similar social environments. Three trios performed tonight, but a fourth was present in the audience. The Ten String Trio consists of a five-string electric violin, a guitar and a DJ who perform using improvisation. These three young people in their early-twenties have performed a the Electric Possible before, and frequently attend.

     The Ten String Trio speak very highly of the experimental music community�s friendliness in DC and Baltimore. In addition to the Electric Possible, the Ten String Trio frequent an event held in a venue inside a Baltimore used book store. Called �The Crapshoot,? this event is appropriately improvisational in structure. Musicians gather with their instrument, ready to play, and are selected randomly to improvise with other performers. Very much a postmodern style of chance performance, musicians seem to appreciate the opportunity the Crapshoot affords for new musicians.
 

What Will the Future Hold?
     Bagato�s vision for the future of this kind of music in DC is a modest one, focusing on building the audience at Electric Possibles. He would also like to do more concerts to accommodate the number of groups he knows about but for which he has not been able to arrange performances. He sees these concerts as one of the only chances experimental music groups have to develop and try out different collaborations and projects. Bagato�s firsthand experience and passion for this kind of music has made his work, in building up and sustaining DC�s scene, effective and lasting.

Despite, the undisputed popularity of these rolex replica sale many are still unaware of how it all began. Mondaine is actually a Swiss based hublot replica company. This is one of their earliest and most rolex replica sale companies which has managed to uphold this popularity the world over. Since 1951, they have been serving their world wide customers with their famous rolex replica sale. These are available in a widespread range of designs. The designs of these replica watches sale are so unique that they hold the honor of being displayed in museum anthology all around the world which includes the Museum of Modern Art in New York. One of their replica watches sale models made a new sales record which lead a huge demand for their watches in all of the major markets.