Arts Beat

'Lit Rock' Duo Turns the Page for Jewish Music Festival

Michael Hearst, left, and Joshua Camp will bring their unusual mix of instruments and
Michael Hearst, left, and Joshua Camp will bring their unusual mix of instruments and "lit rock" sensibility to the Washington Jewish Music Festival next month. (Photo By Chris Smith)
By Jonathan Padget
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 26, 2005

Your coolness quotient shoots up a few points if you're in the know about One Ring Zero. The Brooklyn duo makes quirky pop music with instruments you've probably never heard of -- claviola, theremin -- and makes instruments out of things you wouldn't believe: bread machine. Box of kitty litter.

Your cleverness quotient goes up, too, if you check out the band's latest project, "As Smart as We Are," a CD-book combo that showcases lyrics contributed by 17 authors including Margaret Atwood, Paul Auster, Dave Eggers, Myla Goldberg, Daniel Handler and Rick Moody. (The title isn't as pretentious as it may come across; it's taken from novelist Jonathan Lethem's lyrics for "Water," expressing the perspective of a cockroach.)

The endeavor, which has picked up a cool-sounding "lit rock" label in press coverage since its release last year, is the result of connections forged after One Ring Zero started performing regularly for readings at a Brooklyn storefront outpost of McSweeney's, the alternative publishing company.

So when the band comes to town June 11 with authors Jonathan Ames and A.M. Homes in tow to throw down some lit rock -- complete with a pre-concert documentary about the making of "As Smart as We Are" and a post-concert party -- whom can you thank?

Would you believe . . . the Washington Jewish Music Festival?

"They're too hip," festival producer Brett Rodgers says with a chuckle. "It almost walks a fine line. But I hope a lot of people will take to it."

Now, let's not begrudge the festival any trendiness. Here's the more obvious question instead: What's so Jewish about One Ring Zero that makes it festival-worthy?

"We try to push the envelope," says Rodgers about programming for the festival, launched in 1999 by the D.C. Jewish Community Center's Morris Cafritz Center for the Arts. This year's festival opens June 7 and features six events.

One Ring Zero's Michael Hearst, 32, says that the influences of klezmer -- traditional European Jewish dance music -- in the band's style have made the group appealing to some Jewish cultural events, though he and band mate Joshua Camp, 34, haven't sought out such performance opportunities.

"The JCC circuit is on to us," Hearst says jokingly.

He says the band is as at home at a Jewish festival as onstage at New York's Knitting Factory.

"We're not going to come up onstage with yarmulkes on," says Hearst. "But I'm Jewish, and a lot of the writers are Jewish. . . . It's not like Jewish people only listen to Yiddish klezmer."

Rodgers hopes the One Ring Zero program will appeal to younger audiences in their twenties to forties. "It requires something special to draw them to the festival," he says.

Rodgers says he is also confident that there's as rich a cultural experience to be found in the One Ring Zero event as any on the festival schedule. Other programs include the Masada String Trio, performing avant-garde classical compositions by John Zorn; David Shneyer and the Fabrangen Fiddlers, devoted to liturgical folk music; the Persian-Jewish instrumental ensemble Queen's Dominion with Basya Schechter; and a concert exploring the roots of klezmer with the Cleveland sextet Harmonia and the Alexandria Kleztet.

"I love it when people come expecting one thing and leave with a different understanding about what Jewish music is," says Rodgers. "I've very rarely had people say, 'That's not Jewish enough.' "

The Washington Jewish Music Festival at the D.C. Jewish Community Center, 1529 16th St. NW, and National Geographic Society, 1600 M St. NW, June 7-15. For schedule and ticket information, call 202-777-3251 or visit .

© 2005 The Washington Post Company