I remember walking into MassArt and hearing guitar shredding. Incongruous, I thought. This makes no sense. I rounded the corner and peeked into a side door of the theatre and saw/heard what has become one of my most favorite musical memories: there was Otomo Yoshihide, master composer and improviser and an out-an-out hero of mine, playing “Hey Joe” on his hollow-body electric. Not playing it, but tearing the hell out of it with a big smile on his face. The concert hadn’t even started and I was already giddy.
I walked into the main entrance and saw Dan Hirsch, then the sole member of Non-Event. He was excited, but hesitant. Would anyone show up? Here he had assembled some of the more forward thinking musicians in the world in a art school auditorium, was anyone going to be there to see it? I didn’t care, selfish fan boy that I am, I was going to see poire_z and Filament in my new hometown and that was the reason I moved here to begin with: to hear music, make music, meet other people that made it, etc.
Slowly, the hall filled up. Excitement was palpable. All my new friends were there, some curious folks who found their way to something new and…a baby in a carriage. “Oh no”, I thought, “do these nice parents know what they are in for?” Too late, the show has started.
poire-z began the evening. Two large tables of gear sat before the audience. I had read about Voice Crack (who were part of the quartet along with percussionist Günter Müller and turnablist Erik M) in Browbeat Magazine some years before and heard that they had requested a large table, which was funny at the time, the idea of musicians needing a large table. I’ve now spent the better part of ten years trying to find a table to play upon all over the United States. It’s become part of a gig. Show up, find a table, sound check, find coffee. At the time, it was like asking a promoter for a spacesuit.
Sound roared from the PA and four pairs of hands got busy. Knobs turned, bike lamps flashed on and off and were aimed at light sensors. Günter Müller’s percussion consisted of resting disassembled headphones on an amplified metal plate. I know all this because I had to sit up front. I did that at lots of indie rock shows, but this was different. I had to know how this was happening and given that there were people right in front of me doing it, I didn’t have to guess or lurch over someone’s array of guitar pedals at the end of a set. This was all in plain sight.
The set ended, suddenly. I heard my friend Howard Stelzer’s shout his patented “YEAHHHH!” of approval, which I counted as a good sign. I knew Filament was next and I knew it would be loud. Not “metal” loud or “punk” loud, but physically loud. Maybe it would be a type of loud that I wasn’t prepared to experience? I was right.
Otomo (no longer playing Hendrix covers) and Sachiko M took their places. It started quiet. And when I say IT, I don’t mean the set, I mean the sound, as IT became one thing. The room filled with a high-pitched tone the way one fills a glass of water. The air became solid. I grew sleepy and dim. IT got louder. There was nowhere to go. I knew I had to sit and let it happen. I looked up and remember the folks with the baby carriage. They were still there! I was shocked Part of me feared for the child’s safety and another part of me was pleased that such a young person was experiencing the same thing. As soon as both of these thoughts left me, parents and baby carriage rolled out. I have it on good authority that the baby’s hearing was unharmed.
IT continued, for an hour? 45 minutes? Twelve years? Who could say? I turned my head back and forth, allowing the difference tones to change the timbre of the sound. And then it stopped. The lights seemed brighter; the room seemed a little cooler. What the hell just happened? All six musicians did a short sextet at the end, but it almost didn’t matter. I was cooked and elated. I had seen and heard something special that would take me a long time to process, understand, question and love.
I think about that show a lot. I think about how lucky I was to see it. Since that show, I’ve attended countless Non-Events and have been lucky enough to play some of them. What I love about Non-Event by design (although they may not love it) is the lack of a dedicated venue. If the setting is available and the logistics are even remotely possible, Non-Event goes out of its way to make the show happen. I’ve seen Non-Events in garages, churches, dance clubs, coffee shops, university auditoriums, rock clubs and loft spaces and the invitation is always the same: turn off your phone, sign the mailing list if you like and enjoy.
Non-Event has grown and shrank and grown in membership, has put on shows with and without outside sponsorship and has the same mission that my man Hirsch had that night. Make the show happen, get people to show up, pay the artist. That’s an achievement in itself.
Non-Event goes further; it doesn’t just allow the music to happen, it allows the audience to make up its own mind. There has never been a Non-Event show that has been billed as “weird” or “avant-garde” or “wacky” for the sake of advertising. It’s treated as vital contemporary art: the kind of stuff people go to see and the kind of thing I have always hoped to experience.
Lots of Non-Event shows happen on weekend nights when people can get to them. The sound is always good. The audience, in other words, is treated with the same respect as the musicians. Here’s the music, yes it’s new, yes it’s not for everyone, but here it is, have a seat. This is new music, for lack of a better word, available to anyone.
Happy 10th Birthday, Non-Event. By the way, if you were the kid in the baby carriage, I hope you had a good time.