EXPERIMENTAL | Bill Meyer
UPDATE: Ben Vida has had to cancel his Chicago trip. The Green Mill concert on Sun 5/20 will happen without him. The performers at Sonic Celluloid on Fri 5/18 are now Cleared, Wume, and Good Willsmith. The event at Strobe Studios on Thu 5/17 has been called off entirely.
When Ornette Coleman plugged in and got funky after decades of playing acoustic free jazz, he called his game-changing 1975 album Dancing in Your Head. If the title weren't already taken, former Chicagoan Ben Vida sure could use it—the sounds on his new LP, Esstends-esstends-esstends (PAN), do exactly that. Working with a hybrid rig that enables him to wield the pure, powerful tones generated by analog synthesis with computerized precision, he quite literally causes sounds to form inside your ears.
After living in Chicago for more than a decade, during which he played with groups such as Town & Country and Pillow, Vida moved to Brooklyn in 2009. He immersed himself in electronic music and enrolled in Bard College's MFA program, the academic base of one of the 20th century's great sound-art pioneers, the late Maryanne Amacher. Certain of Amacher's electronic pieces were designed to evoke otoacoustic emissions—tones that form inside the ear. "Though I never had the chance to study with her," Vida says, "her ghost remains and her influence is still very much felt within the program." Esstends-esstends-esstends lacks the brute power of Amacher's music, but it's just as psychedelic when his laser-sculpted tones start tumbling like dominos somewhere between your ears.
Vida is coming back to town for concerts on May 17, 18, and 20. The first, a solo set at Strobe Recording (2631 W. Division), will explore the same otoacoustic terrain as the LP. The next night at the Block Museum of Art, Vida will improvise accompaniment to silent movies by Walther Ruttmann and Ralph Steiner as part of Northwestern University's Sonic Celluloid series. And on Sunday afternoon at the Green Mill, he'll begin a collaboration with Access Contemporary Music's Palomar Ensemble—together they'll perform Liminal Bends, a work in progress that they'll play twice more this summer. "This commission allows for me to develop a piece in steps—it allows for trial and error," says Vida. "More than anything, I just want to continue to have experimentation at the heart of the work I am producing, and that means making mistakes. Having an ensemble that is willing to go through that process with you is rare."