The first They, Who Sound event at Lawndale Art Center on Monday, February 5, will feature performances by Sun Ra Arkestra alumnus Damon Choice and local do-it-all-and-do-it-well Lisa Harris. DeLeon Harrison (not pictured) is also on the bill.
The first They, Who Sound event at Lawndale Art Center on Monday, February 5, will feature performances by Sun Ra Arkestra alumnus Damon Choice and local do-it-all-and-do-it-well Lisa Harris. DeLeon Harrison (not pictured) is also on the bill.
Photo courtesy of Nameless Sound

They, Who Sound Experimental Music Returns, and Now It's at Lawndale

When Nameless Sound founding director David Dove informally put together the first version of They, Who Sound in 2008, he wasn’t expecting a whole lot. Neither, apparently, was the to-remain-unnamed Midtown bar who hosted the weekly concert series.

On the Sunday afternoon of the third show, Dove and his friends showed up to the venue. The doors were locked. “The bar had cancelled They, Who Sound without notice,” says Dove.

Ultimately, AvantGarden owner Mariana Lemesoff opened her (unlocked) doors to Dove and his loose series that was open to giving a home to — as stated in the weekly e-mail announcement — experimental sound-making, improvised music, free jazz, noise, noises, electro-acoustics, psychedelia, field recordings, the recitation of words, the projection of light, the sounding of sculptures, ?, improvised dance, performed behavior, the performance of art, the sounding of art, and the recitation of phonemes.

It kind of blows the trombonist’s mind that the lifespan of the weekly Monday event nearly hit double-digit years.

“They, Who Sound was originally intended to be a personal project to satisfy my own needs, both as an artist and as a member of an artistic community. It grew to be much more than that, and I never would have imagined it lasting nine years,” says Dove.

“I’ve got plenty of other projects to maintain, and I often thought of retiring the series. But every week I would show up and be totally inspired. Sometimes by a collaboration of colleagues/friends, sometimes from a touring act and often by someone playing their first ever performance. Plus, I watched a loose community of artists and listeners gather and evolve around the series.”

(Full disclosure: The author of this piece has witnessed countless T, WS gigs as well as performed the series on several occasions. He even organized a few shows on a Monday night at AvantGarden. But more than that, the writer, who was brand new to Houston in 2011, showed up one night to T, WS, not knowing anyone, and immediately met (and later became friends with) so many good people. Hi, good people/friends.)

Though the series was doing well, Dove decided to pull the plug on They, Who Sound following the May 29, 2017, gig that presented the Dallas-based Yells at Eels with Rodrigo Amado and the Sonia Flores/Dave Dove duo. After all, Dove has his own music career to develop in addition to his Nameless Sound responsibilities, which range from holding improvised music workshops for young people and organizing big-name concerts.

“It seemed really important to me, and my musical world definitely felt more active and interesting and engaged than it had before They, Who Sound. But doing it every week does take a lot of work, and something had to give,” he says.

That’s why it came as a bit of a shocker when Dove announced last week that They, Who Sound would return – this time at Lawndale Art Center – and under the Nameless Sound umbrella.

How come? We thought there was too much going on?

“Good question,” laughs Dove. “A convergence of opportunities made this evolution possible. The idea immediately excited Lawndale director Stephanie Mitchell and it fit with some of the changes they are making in reviving performance at their space. By moving They, Who Sound under the umbrella of Nameless Sound and Lawndale, I get support for this series.

“Houston has a really exciting and unique creative/experimental music community, and Nameless Sound wants to give support and promotion to these artists. They deserve listeners. So this is good for Nameless Sound,” continues Dove. “We’re able to bring new attention to these great regional artists. It’s a win-win situation. The only problem is that I have to limit my own appearances as an artist. I can’t put myself on the program every other week. So to anyone out there reading this, I’m now looking for gigs.”

The first T, WS at Lawndale on February 5 will feature vibraphone player and Houston 5th Ward bred Damon Choice, a longtime member of the Sun Ra Arkestra, performing a duo with poet DeLeon Harrison. The evening’s second set will be a solo vocal and theremin performance by local songwriter, opera singer, improviser, performance artist, dancer and filmmaker Lisa Harris.

February 12 presents a solo by German electroacoustic trumpet player Birgit Ulher, who Dove says uses mutes with radio speakers inside of them, and a duo with Ulher and improvisational vocalist Ivette Roman-Roberto (she’ll also perform a solo), who recently moved back to Houston from her native Puerto Rico

“Ivette is the secret weapon of Houston experimental music,” says Dove. “She’s an intense and otherworldly improvisational vocalist with a background in performance art and experimental theater. These types of collaborations between international and Houston-based artists are one of the things that are going to make this series really special.”

Houston being a transient town, some names associated with “Houston improv” have moved away – for instance, Damon Smith relocated to Quincy, Massachusetts and Sandy Ewen is in New York and perma-touring. But then long ago Houston resident Tom Carter (Charalambides) moved back just over a year ago as well as Roman-Roberto. In other words, some leave, others come. The scene adjusts and evolves.

“For the past several years Houston improv has been as diverse, unique, creative and as truly ‘experimental’ as any scene I know,” says Dove. “It may not have the attention that other cities’ scenes have, perhaps due to geography or perhaps due to the fact that not all of the artists here are releasing records. But Houston. Y’all need to get out from under that hometown complex.

“This isn’t the ‘Houston version’ of anything. There are some very original and creative minds here. It’s happening now, and one day you may regret having missed this music.”

The new They, Who Sound debuts on Monday, February 5, at Lawndale Art Center, 4912 Main Street. The doors open at 7 p.m. and the concert/hang takes place from 7:30 to 9:30. Like before, there’s a pay-what-you-can-at-the-door policy, which usually means a $5 or $10 spot. See namelesssound.org and lawndaleartcenter.org.

Additionally, unlike Nameless Sound’s regular programming, They, Who Sound is a weekly series. That means there’s a separate email list for T, WS. If you’re into receiving regular emails for the weekly series, e-mail administration@namelesssound.org and type “TWS” in the subject line.

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