Ear Taxi: an Introduction
OK look here’s the deal: I am writing about Ear Taxi.
Before and above all else, let’s both take a moment to check in on ourselves because woah, there is a lot of listening to do in the next six days. If you are reading Cacophony, first thank you and second thank the earth and heavens and finally thank Bethany and Lia, but also let me guess that you are reading because you know what Ear Taxi is, roughly speaking, to the extent that anyone can know what Ear Taxi is from this distance, even its creators and performers and sponsors. Later it will be important to consider more deeply what Ear Taxi is to you, to me, to the world, but for a moment can we all go inward?
Now, please. Take a breath. Listen to the sounds around you, please. Stop reading, it can wait.
Ear Taxi is an ambitious and large-scale event happening in our city and perhaps also about or for our city, and while it does seem very special at the moment, I feel a craving to hold onto knowing that Chicago is full of sounds now, before it begins, and will continue to be after.
Listen once more, please.
Also if you are reading Cacophony, you might already be a person who understands that your ear is a musical instrument, but what I would like to do for a moment is explicitly acknowledge the role your listening ear will play at Ear Taxi and honestly at every moment just in case you had forgotten: your ear made, makes, and will make the world, including Ear Taxi. I wanted to say so because it might be easy to forget the practically dictatorial power of your ear as you read about what a once-in-a-lifetime never-before-attempted death-defying blowout joyride rollercoaster traffic jam mega-jam-fest Ear Taxi is meant to be.
Once more listen, please. Remember: your ear is the one they are talking about.
Can we think on what an ear taxi is for a moment? You might already know what Augusta Read Thomas says about it, for example in The Chicago Maroon:
“Way, way back, when I had the idea for this, I had the idea of the famous bust of Beethoven’s head, and then out of each ear are coming little taxis,” Thomas explained. “Of course we wouldn’t use Beethoven’s bust, but it would be the head of a composer, out of which all these little sonic taxi rides are flowing. And so if you come to Ear Taxi you’re going to take lots of little taxi rides.”
Listen on this again, please, or re-read it and take your time. The taxis are music, music delivering you somewhere. Music emanates from the composer’s ears—not their mind, their hands, their score, their computer, their musicians, their speakers, their studio, their life, their city. Music out of their ears, out through the in-holes. A reversal of musical polarity, the current artificially running backwards (wait, you do know about the Chicago River, don’t you?), the ear as a musical instrument.
We might all listen closely to the composer-centric ideology of this take on the name, the composer as central dispatch and mastermind. Not that this meaning is good or bad—although maybe it is one or the other for you—but that it’s there taking up a certain space that potential alternatives might occupy. It could be that the ear is driving the taxi. It could be that the ear is so popular a destination that it requires a dedicated taxi service. It could be that the taxi moves through the ear as a water taxi through water. Anyway I don’t mean to belabor the metaphor, but what I do want to point out is that the name is 1) not as straightforward as it sounds and 2) that there’s room in it for you to make it work for you, maybe even that your job is to make it work for you. Listen to it, please.
Beginning today and running through October 10, Ear Taxi presents 32 events, including concerts, panel discussions, sound installations, and artist receptions. I hope that you attend. I hope to see you there. I plan to write a series of four or five responses to Festival events over the next few weeks and I think now is a good time to share what I think my approach will be.
On top of not being a journalist, I am not a scholar, critic, fortune teller (kiss-kiss and big ups to geofancer) or other public servant. Believe me, I love you and I want to hold you, but above all, I am listening and talking and writing as a way of figuring out my own shit and I hope you are doing the same for yourself. And I love music except for when I can’t stand it, but I know I can’t go to everything and retain any sense of identity, so I will attend some shows and miss others. My plan is to attend almost all of the panel discussions and mainstage evening shows at the Harris and drop in on the marathon events at the Cultural Center. I hope to make it to more than one sound installation. I’ve decided that I’ll give up seeing everything in favor of listening and writing more and better, and honestly you should know that the selection process was somewhat influenced by my professional and personal relationships to the artists onstage.*
Here are some things that I admit I probably will not be moved to do in writing about Ear Taxi:
Telling you in much detail what the music sounded like. I hope you’ll attend the shows and listen for yourself, but if you can’t and you’re curious about what the performances sound like, listen, don’t read. Not that you need anybody to tell you what to do and anyway, I bet you know that if you can’t find it on YouTube in a few weeks, you could probably ask artists for a recording or composers for a score and most people will just be happy that you’re curious.
Counting the number of things I hear or see. You can find that information in many other places and anyway, the spectacle of the Festival taken alone does not satisfy my imagination. Its bigness seems important to its organizers and I bet at some point this ambition will manifest musically and I look forward to writing my way through that, but anyway, what I mean to say is that you can turn to the Ear Taxi Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook for an as-it-happens tabulation of Festival specs.
Profiling the artists. First of all there’s so much to learn about the artists within the Ear Taxi website and I’d encourage you to dig your own rabbit holes if you find yourself curious. And if you can’t find what you’re looking for, relish that all are real living performers and composers with websites and Facebook pages and email addresses and if you need an introduction, consider who you know that knows someone that could put you in touch.
All disclaimers aside, I hope that writing about Ear Taxi will bring me closer to the experience of being present at the festival and of being part of new music in Chicago—as a performer, but also, and maybe especially, as a listener and writer. Ultimately I hope my experience somewhat intersects with yours and if it does or does not, I hope you’ll say so, being that you are also making music by listening, if not performing and writing it.** Thank you for getting through that with me. And thank you for listening this weekend.
*And, related: I want to be sure to point out that these relationships do diminish any pretense of journalistic objectivity, not that I wish I could change that. Would you like an incomplete disclosure of these potential conflicts of interest? I didn’t think so and it’s not about me and all the beautiful people I know, but I think it’s best to just pop the boil now and let the puss run: my record label, Parlor Tapes+, has released or will release records featuring Chicago Composers Orchestra, Ensemble Dal Niente, Fonema Consort, Spektral Quartet, Tim Munro, Quince Contemporary Vocal Ensemble, Marcos Balter, Eliza Brown, Chris Fisher-Lochhead, Ted Hearne, Hans Thomalla, Fracisco Castillo Trigueros, Kyle Vegter, LJ White, Katie Young, and probably others I’ve forgotten; I am currently consulting for Ensemble Dal Niente on donor cultivation and database management, and composer Tomas Gueglio-Saccone is on their Board; I have played or subbed or otherwise been paid to perform with Manual Cinema, International Contemporary Ensemble, and Dal Niente; more about Manual Cinema and me: one of its Artistic Directors is my roommate and in our apartment we share eggs and coffee; composer Kyle Vegter was my boss when I was an intern at Eighth Blackbird in 2012; before I moved to Chicago, I worked for Kyle’s girlfriend’s mom in Pittsburgh; I went to Tim Munro’s wedding and watched his cat Gizmo once while he and his wife were away; I’ve toured Mexico with Sean Connors of Third Coast Percussion and Italy and Spain with composer/pianist Daniel Pesca; during my most recent day job I reported to composer Steve Everett, a member of the Board of Directors of Eighth Blackbird; one of my partners is Michael Lewanski, conductor of Ensemble Dal Niente and Ensemble 20+; on Monday I had lunch with Katie Young totally by accident.
**And let me say that I do notice that this piece assumes a rather insular audience, not just reading Cacophony but also attending the Festival. I know that neither Cacophony nor Ear Taxi is explicitly fostering a for-us-by-us atmosphere, and by writing this way I do not at all mean to exclude readers who do not identify as members of an artificial musical community in Chicago. Really I write imagining that the listener plays an active and essential role in music-making in being both free to create and responsible for creating meaning—and that the reader has a similar role to play in criticism. In writing “you” and “we” and “us,” I do mean to include everyone, but if it doesn’t feel that way, please do say so.