New and Improv'd

The music of Tent/City has gone to pots and pans

"[During Tent/City gigs], I've played saxophone, guitar, voice, accordion, violin, bells, bowls, recorder, pedals, drums, kids' toys, the ground. Whatever is around me, instrument or otherwise," Hohm says. "I think I may have beat on a bag of potting soil once . . . It's been over a year's worth of grabbing whatever is around."

Fella, who also runs the progressive label Gilgongo Records, which specializes in unique noise and creative music, procures sound from the most unlikely places. "By taking source sounds from the cables being plugged and unplugged and feeding that through pedals and miscellaneous objects, I have essentially played nothing."

When Fella isn't playing "nothing," he is known to fiddle with more instruments simultaneously than Rahsaan Roland Kirk, the eccentric saxophone virtuoso who would jam several horns into his mouth at once. Drought, Tent/City's latest of four releases and its first on Gilgongo, is a 20-minute one-sided LP with a beautiful silk-screened B-side that showcases the group's experimentalism. "There's a part in the record where I was producing these echo-y sounds by flicking the bass with my right hand," Fella says. "Then I pushed a contact mic against the wall with my left hand to make noise while turning the distortion on and off with my knee. And I also had a clarinet in my mouth."

On the spot: Tent/City seizes the moment.
Stephanie Carrico
On the spot: Tent/City seizes the moment.
Tent/City sets up in the parking lot of Trunk Space.
Stephanie Carrico
Tent/City sets up in the parking lot of Trunk Space.

Despite the wide ranges of band members' music backgrounds (some have had formal training, others have had none whatsoever) and side projects (Fella, Ryan, and Hohm play in the hyperactive punk trio, Soft Shoulder; Thayer and Hohm recently formed a duo specializing in gloomy harmonies; and Roemer dabbles in collage recordings and visual art), there's a seamless interplay among the five members off- and onstage. The only point of contention seems to be the one thing a band should worry about the least: the name.

According to Roemer, local musician/artist Chris Corwin coined the name as a "bad joke that stuck," when the various band members would jam out in a tent in Roemer's backyard. "The name's association with the local fucked-up jail is unfortunate, but obviously expected."

Fella speaks more candidly about the issue. "Most of the members don't like the name. We are kicking off the tour in Prescott [on June 26 with Raccoo-oo-oon] and I guess there are a shitload of punk kids who think we are a bunch of stupid white kids who aren't funny. We aren't trying to be funny. If anyone were to have a conversation with any of the band members about the real Tent City, [Maricopa County Sheriff] Joe Arpaio, or politics on any level, I think that problem would be quickly eliminated."

Instead of overhauling the band's moniker, Roemer made the executive decision to add a slash between "Tent" and "City" to establish a visual and philosophical dichotomy.

"I accept the name as though it was just randomly assigned, and now it's up to us to assign our own personal meaning. Tent/City is consistent with various dualities that the band is about. Acoustic/electric, improvised/structured, hidden/exposed, traditional instruments/found junk, formally trained/self-taught, live/recorded, chaotic/repetitive, and deliberate/accidental."

Despite the slight controversy, Tent/City won't be held prisoner by the name. In the end, the ensemble hopes to continue challenging and enlightening crowds, one unique performance at a time.

"There's a really special energy and excitement created when we're completely improvising and it turns into something really beautiful sounding," Roemer says. "The music takes over and begins directing us, or just simply flows through us, and we're beyond even having a decision in the matter. And I think the audience feels it, too, and gets pulled into it. Those are the most rewarding moments of being in the band."

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1 comments
Ken Fasano
Ken Fasano

"Renowned minimalists like Karlheinz Stockhausen, John Cage, and Rafael Toral..."?

Stockhausen and Cage are not minimalists (with the possible exception of Stockhausen's "Stimmung" and Cage's "4:33"); and Rafael Toral isn't renowned.

 
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