The Personal Is Experimental

LGBT artists examine politics and identity with music in Queering Sound

May 31, 2012

J.S. Adams performs experimental music with BLK w/ BEAR, one of the acts featured at Saturday’s Queering Sound event.

D.C.’s first Queering Sound event was back in 2001, but this now-annual staging of experimental audio art has its roots in a 1999 performance titled “Deconstructing the Bea(s)t.”

“We were jokingly calling it the ‘anti-Pride,’” says J.S. Adams, a member of local music group BLK w/BEAR and curator for the Queering Sound series. Adams’ group wanted to put a new twist on D.C.’s annual Gay Pride festival that year, so they used turntables and visual effects to deconstruct two much-loved audio tropes of gay culture: Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” and Donna Summer’s “Last Dance.”

“It was an alternative to what people perceived [gay music] to be — dance music, or folk music,” Adams says. “There’s a long history of LGBT folks working in independent art.”

Adams is one of those folks. The 57-year-old artist has been producing experimental visual and audio art since the 1970s, most regularly as BLK w/BEAR (which is now a full band). Adams’ soundscaping live-remix group performs this weekend at Queering Sound — an offshoot of Sonic Circuits, a local organization that puts on year-round experimental music events — along with six other artists: one-woman electronica act Arthur Loves Plastic, Richard Chartier’s flowing Pinkcourtesyphone, guitarist and Genesis Breyer P-Orridge collaborator Bryin Dall, poets Kathi Wolfe and Dan Vera and guitarist Michelle Webb of the recently reformed prog-jazz group Lovecrywant. There will also be digital contributions by visual artists Mary Coble, Nowhereians, Teho Teardo and Nick Lopata.

“The original idea of ‘Queering’ was the dictionary version of what queering was: to make different, to put in disadvantageous situation, to spoil or ruin the effect of success. The subliminal, the subverse,” Adams says.

A prime example of that is Coble’s contribution, “Fighting Cocks,” which reworks audio of a three-hour-long towel fight staged in Toronto into a performance piece exploring masculinity, play and violence.

“Mary’s work is very much involved in queer politics, sexual politics and body politics,” Adams says. “Her piece is taking things out of time and the construct of space. The idea of ‘queering’ can work in that way, too — not necessarily as a gender issue but in terms of place and time.”

“What I like to do as a curator and presenter,” he says, “is take things out of context.”

 Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St. NE; Sat., 7:30 p.m., $12-$15; 202-399-7933.
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