Amidst a vibrant and diverse music scene, Flagstaff’s Interference Series aims to introduce audiences to music on the fringes of conventional ideas. Founded by Viola Award finalist Owen Davis in 2015, the series offers a home for underprivileged art that may not get as much attention as the more mainstream genres, but it’s been gaining attention over the years and has been recognized as a valuable part of the creative community.
Davis was named a finalist for this year’s Viola Awards in the Community Impact (Individual) category. Winners in nine categories will be announced at the 11th annual Viola Awards Gala on Saturday, March 2, beginning at 5 p.m. Tickets are $75 per person and the evening includes entertainment, dinner and the award ceremony.
While some may find their passions later in life after decades of soul searching, Davis said he began playing percussion when he was 10 years old, and the rest is history.
“I was that cliché kid tapping away in the backseat of the car begging my mom to sign me up for band. Luckily, my mom was a parent that told me I could be anything and do anything I wanted,” he said. “At the same time, my personality is such that I want to feel ‘different.’”
This led him to experimental music, a genre he said was an inevitable home for him.
“It is a practice of music that is in some ways constantly at odds with any status quo or conventional way of making,” he explained. “It constantly wants to throw into question our notions of value judgments, beauty, tradition and more.”
By the time he was 14, Davis knew he wanted to teach music. After graduating from high school in Prescott Valley, he moved to Flagstaff where he attended Northern Arizona University and earned his bachelor’s degree in music education and percussion. He then continued his studies at DePaul University in Chicago where he earned his master’s in music composition.
Upon returning to Flagstaff in 2015 and equipped with the experience of being part of an arts community that emphasized underground and DIY scenes, Davis knew he wanted to build something similar.
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“We are lucky here in Flagstaff that we have a good number of arts organizations, artists, makers and institutions like NAU, the Flagstaff Arts Council and the FSO,” he said. “None of these, however, are dedicated specifically and explicitly to the avant garde, experimental and radical forms of art.”
The Interference Series fills that niche. Davis, along with fellow curators Rob Wallace and Eugene Brosseau, organize each detail of the Interference Series from managing finances and marketing plans to scheduling master classes with guest artists and booking venues.
“As of right now, all of us donate our time,” Davis said. “This is our labor of love. Everything is worth it when I am sitting in the audience at one of our performances and I look over and watch people who are engaged, listening, and open to anything and everything the featured artist is performing.”
A recent event presented by the Interference Series featured musician Jess Tsang who performed four compositions that were paired with specific beer at Dark Sky Brewing Company such as a doppelbock and the Interference IPA, created and named for the event. Often, the featured performer will give a brief talk about their creative style and vision for their art.
“We're trying to demystify this sometimes mysterious art so that everyone can have an opportunity to learn about it from a new angle or get a peek into the creative process for these artists,” Davis said.
He currently works as a general music teacher at Sturgeon Cromer Elementary School, but sharing the intricacies of experimental art remains his joy. He’s even brought in some of the series’ guest performers to his classes.
“I get the sense that people sometimes forget that music, or art, comes from people,” he said. “People are so wonderfully complex, complicated, messy, brilliant, noisy, contradictory, inspiring and more adjectives that fail to capture the breadth of who we are. The more we come into contact with art that is different than our normalized conception of what art is or can be, the more we are given opportunities to reconsider ourselves and our relation to the world. It is a space and a situation in which artists and all of us can present other possibilities. With this in mind, I find it to be crucial and necessary for all of us to come into contact with as many types of music, literature, theatre, visual art, movement, film, performance art and beyond.”