Come on a journey to the musical hinterlands. We begin at the vast tracts of mainstream suburban ranch homes and move past the downtown jazz neighborhoods with their mixture of high concepts and classifications. Head out to the edge of town where vernacular styles mix with bohemian high culture. Keep going farther, where the traditional pathways peter out. Here in the fringes of patterned structure, in the territory of ambiguity and improvisation, is where David Dove lives.
This is the path Dove has traveled since 1986, when he simultaneously began playing trombone in his high school marching band and bass guitar in a punk group. People who know Dove in his role as director of the Pauline Oliveros Foundation Houston and teacher at MECA (Multicultural Education and Counseling Through the Arts) might wonder why he didn't organize the first punk rock marching band. But remember, Dove was just beginning his musical journey.
After his family moved to Houston in 1987 at the end of his sophomore year in high school, Dove joined the seminal punk/funk/ska band Sprawl in the fall of 1988. "People are surprised when I tell them I used to play with Sprawl," says Dove. "But Sprawl was seven people getting together and coming up with parts. It wasn't a backup band for a songwriter."
That kind of collaboration gave the young Dove room to roam. Sprawl's exploratory, communal format encouraged Dove to experiment. "I was opening my ears to all kinds of music," he recalls. "I remember the first time I heard [John] Coltrane's Om and Albert Ayler, being intrigued and puzzled. I knew there was incredible emotion going on, but I couldn't put my finger on exactly what was happening.
"I was going out to see whatever Indian music was coming into town. I spent a lot of time practicing alone. I made it a point not to have too many responsibilities other than music. I knew it was a time I could do that in my life, and I took advantage of it."
Avant-garde music, whether rock, jazz or classical, challenges us. It is unpredictable, and that disturbs many listeners who prefer redundancy. Maybe because it threatens our sense of control. By contrast, Dove sees avant-garde music as a model for community living.
"What listening is to a musical group, awareness is to any social group," reasons Dove. "It emphasizes a group awareness and a group collaboration, a model for working together. It's not like a European classical form, where the composer is creative and the musicians are more like craftsmen. This music emphasizes each person's own voice, and as the music develops through time, the aspect of the individual identity has become more and more prominent."
In the mid-'90s Dove's gigs included dates with civic orchestras, community college jazz ensembles and a particularly important free-improvisational duo with Paul Guilford on bass and bass-triggered synthesizer. The daily Dove-Guilford practice turned into a weekly gig at Harvey's Club Deluxe.
Houston as a city has mixed feelings about free jazz. On one hand, it boasts no regular venues, very little press and few touring acts. Promoters obviously don't want to risk their money on an artist with no local following, but paradoxically, the lack of such a scene makes it hard for a community to develop. On the other hand, Rice University's KTRU offers 12 hours of progressive jazz every Sunday and six hours of progressive classical music on Saturday. That is an incredible amount of radio exposure for music that confronts even favorably disposed listeners.
Dove sees the glass as half empty. And he has positioned himself to fill it to the brim.
Through a telemarketing gig with Houston Ballet, Dove met piano teacher and composer Edith Gutierrez.
"I hung out with her because she's a firecracker," says Dove. "She told me her daughter was a pioneer in electronic music. Since I had an interest in this music, she brought me to Pauline."
Gutierrez's daughter is Pauline Oliveros, the Houston-born and -raised composer/ performer/theorist of new American music. For four decades Oliveros has explored sound through improvisation, electronics, ritual and meditation, and has created a large body of written and recorded work.
Central to Oliveros's work is her theory of "deep listening," the relationship among any and all sounds. According to Oliveros, our world is made of vibrations that connect us to all beings and all things. Unlike hearing, which is passive, deep listening means actively directing one's attention to what is heard, noticing the interaction and relationships of sounds. We listen, Oliveros theorizes, to interpret our world and ourselves, and to experience meaning.
By accessing many forms of listening, we grow and change, whether we're listening to the sounds of our daily lives, the environment or music.
Deep listening provided the framework for Dove's unorthodox musical development. It also led to a job. Oliveros came to Houston in 1997 for, among other things, a workshop at MECA. Oliveros invited Dove and Guilford to do the workshop with her.
"One thing led to another, and I wound up working at MECA," says Dove. "I'd always had an interest in education, specifically in regards to improvised music. I started there as a volunteer, and shortly afterwards it turned into a job."
Around the same time, Dove got an opportunity to serve on DiverseWorks's advisory board and to program some shows there. "As someone involved in the avant-garde music scene, you promote your own concerts, do your own publicity and present yourself," says Dove. "You can't wait for someone else to do it for you."
Thanks in large part to Dove's efforts, the Houston avant-garde music scene is alive and well. Dove has a trio-format CD coming out. Called A Joyful Warning, the threesome features Binx, a local singer, and Isaac Borsegui, a Mexican percussionist who builds drums and specializes in Aztec and Mayan music. Dove is also working with fingerpicking acoustic guitarist Susie Wasserstrom on a free-form folk music disc.
During the last four years Dove has presented six concerts at DiverseWorks and has started doing the same through MECA. Every artist that Dove brings in does a workshop with his MECA students. Although not every artist is a good teacher, the long-range goal is to build an avant-garde community.
"The artist who comes into town, plays a gig and catches the first bus out is not going to help build a community," says Dove. "As the kids who are around this music get older, they are going to be the nucleus of the Houston avant-garde.
"This kind of music is not taught in high school band class. We're trying to provide a place where kids can discover this music. It enables them to see something they've never seen before."
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