“What happens when people get onstage with no advance planning and decide to make sound?” Tom Duff asks. The answer is a Skronkathon, an all-day showcase of what Duff and his fellow avant-garde artist friends call the local “creative music scene.” He explains that this scene consists of “people who are more interested in creating their own culture than absorbing and regurgitating what’s already out there.” It’s all about “moment-to-moment” spontaneity and the ability to improvise.
The current creative-music scene, whose universe revolves around 21 Grand and the Transbay Music Calendar, has its roots in the far-out free jazz typified by Archie Shepp, Sun Ra, and Pharoah Sanders — atonal, often unmelodic, abstract expressionism that carved out its own niche, rather than wallow in the well-worn footsteps of others — and the European art-rock and art-pop of the ’60s, which focused on what Duff calls “intuitive music,” far removed from trendy pop sensibilities.
So when does an antitrend become a trend? At the Fourth Annual Transbay Skronkathon this Sunday at 21 Grand, an extravaganza of experimentation and a smorgasbord of sonic what-the-fuck?-isms — everything from IDM electronica to analog/digital combos to laptop chamber music to Buddhist shakuhachi balladry to “punctuated equilibrium” and “potluck percussion.”
Musical discoveries abound at a Skronkathon. Two years ago, Duff recalls, free-jazz trio Sound on Survival appeared last and “just ripped the lid off.” This year’s safest bet for a similar dome-lacerating performance is Chaos Butterfly, a duo featuring Cirque du Soleil vocalist Dina Emerson and Camper van Beethoven violinist Jonathan Segel. Other acts with rippage potential include Reel Change, which improvises real-time soundtracks to short films; percussionist Gino Robair, who takes random objects from the crowd and makes them into musical instruments; and Ernesto Diaz-Infante, who augments his solo acoustic guitar playing with video projections. You can even catch Duff on electronics and his son on string bass, performing as the Eigenvectors.