Between songs exists the space Owen Davis calls home. Somewhere in the static or the silence, accidental drum beats and the sound of the wind outside, is where he settles in. It might not be the song itself he draws on—Davis seeks sound we don’t normally listen for.
The Interference Series is about challenging what is considered normal. Founded by Davis in Flagstaff in October 2015, the series provides a platform for artists who are not often offered a stage to perform on—according to the series’ website, “underprivileged art.” The performances range anywhere from body art to surreal videos to noise, but the intent is to expose listeners to a show outside of what is conventionally considered art or music.
There is very literally an inherently interfering aspect of the series. It interferes with what we consider appropriate or comfortable.
“If you’re listening to the radio and you’re between the stations—the stations are the pillars of the mainstream, popular music—this series is everything that is in between the stations,” says Davis. “And, so in a way, it’s trying to put everything in front of you that you don’t normally look at—that is interference.”
Davis’ background is in music composition, and while he undoubtedly has an appreciation for accepted music, his interest was piqued by noise, which he discovered around two years ago and has been studying ever since. The noise genre fits the series perfectly—it’s oftentimes not described as pretty or pleasant, but brings up important conversations about what we are taught to accept as music.
Noise is not a completely new idea, yet it continues to intrigue artists and performers. Luigi Russolo, an Italian futurist, is commonly regarded as the first noise artist. He began working with noise-making machines in the early 20th century, to evoke sounds that had never been experimented with before. In his book The Art of Noises (1913), he describes how the evolution of music has led to noise:
“At first the art of music sought purity, limpidity and sweetness of sound. Then different sounds were amalgamated, care being taken, however, to caress the ear with gentle harmonies. Today music, as it becomes continually more complicated, strives to amalgamate the most dissonant, strange and harsh sounds. In this way we come ever closer to noise-sound.”
Davis contributes his own definition of the genre as well.
“You can imagine rock ‘n’ roll evolving and getting harsher and harsher and noisier and noisier and more distorted to the point where it breaks free from punk music,” Davis says. “What’s left is what I like to call ‘noise music’. But then within this genre or practice there is embedded a deep metaphor and that is one of noise—noise as an idea. Noise as an idea is a disruption of any sort: a political protest, art that challenges the mainstream, radical ideas of any sort.”
As to be expected, reactions to the Interference Series have been mixed. Davis describes how many people have approached him and thanked him for bringing experimental art and music to Flagstaff. It has had a lasting impact—one regular attendee told Davis she “listens to the world in a different way,” after being exposed to the series.
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Some have also expressed distaste. Davis says many people require art to have a function; the moment the function isn’t made clear, or simply doesn’t exist, the art is dismissed. But in this confusion, this “non-function” is truly where the purpose reveals itself. This is not always an easy conclusion, though.
Davis recalls one occasion after a concert at Firecreek Coffee Co.
“This man who was sitting near the bar, exclaimed, ‘That was the weirdest thing I have ever seen in my life,’ and then left,” Davis says. He wasn’t discouraged by the individual’s reaction, which some might deem an insult. “Just to stop and think about that for a little, he actually watched the whole thing, or saw the last part of it. Either way, he watched it. He didn’t walk away and didn’t just dismiss it. That’s actually a huge compliment.”
While some might have a hard time adjusting to the unfamiliarity of some of the series’ performances, Davis argues anyone can enjoy it. For him, it’s about exposure; once someone attends an event put on by the Interference Series, their minds have been opened to the possibility of music being far beyond what they once believed.
“I don’t think this is an elitist thing, you don’t need to have a master’s degree to understand what’s going on,” Davis says.
Even more so, he argues that being open to contemporary art and music may encourage an acceptance of more progressive viewpoints.
“I believe if we can find this space where people can open up, they’re not going to just accept contemporary art, they’re going to accept women’s rights, trans rights—more than just this,” he adds.
Davis firmly believes Flagstaff is ready for the Interference Series. Radical contemporary art is no longer limited to cultural big-city hubs like Chicago or Los Angeles—it has now graced the cafés and galleries of downtown Flagstaff. Davis is attracting artists to our town as well; the Interference Series is one of many working pieces helping place Flagstaff as a cultural destination conveniently located at the convergence of two major highways. And with a new sound, perspective and experience, nearly the best thing about it is that we hardly know what to expect next.
The Interference Series takes place three times per month. In March, all three shows feature out-of-state performers. Fri, March 10 brings Lia Kohl, Chicago-based Nick Meryhew and series curator Owen Davis to the Hive, 2 S. Beaver, for an evening of noise and improvisation. Seattle-based duo Bad Luck will be performing as part of the series on Sun, March 12 at Firecreek Coffee Co., 22 E. Rte. 66. Both of those shows start at 7 p.m. and are $5. And renowned clarinetist Gleb Kanasevich joins the lineup March 24 at the Hive.
To learn more about the Interference Series, visit www.interferenceseries.org.