What if more music existed purposefully at the borders, or at the nexuses of genres? And what if that happened so often that we no longer though of it as unexpected when something good actually came of it? That is, what if the norm was to shirk expectations of what any one form had to offer, to always think across the boxes?
That's the central question Wendy Spitzer, longtime Chapel Hill musician in Eyes to Space and Felix Obelix and a conceptual artist, is asking with The Liminal Festival, her three-night, three-venue event that ends tonight with a seven-band bill at The ArtsCenter. Spitzer drafted nine bands from as far away as Texas and Philadelphia to play the fest, subsidized by a grant from The Strowd Roses Foundation, and those bands shake and shift expectations of genre and sound.
"Just bringing all of these musicians together to see what a festival like this might sound like was the primary goal," Spitzer said on the first day of the festival. What these bands sound like might be beyond your expectations: Chapel Hill's Wes Phillips, formerly of late, great trio Ticonderoga, interweaves complex melodies and rhythms into lattice with his new material, assembling unorthodox pop from ideas of jazz, folk, hip-hop, math rock and straight-ahead rock ’n’ roll. He lands hooks inside songs you can't even imagine how to play.
Meanwhile, Philadelphia's splendid Make A Rising hops between textures and tempos and themes like wunderkinds with Attention Deficit Disorder, and Austin's Bee Vs. Moth moves from twisted doom to straight jazz within a single set. Invisible will present a sound installation with an analog drum machine. Billy Sugarfix brings his theremins and costume, of course, and Maria Albani of Schooner's new project, Organos, will make its live debut. Spitzer's own Felix Obelix laces lyrics about time and memory beneath song structures that peculiarly recall the sonics of mid-career Philip Glass.
You might remember Spitzer from her work with another fascinating ArtsCenter show earlier this year: At Felix Obelix's live debut in January, attendees were invited to bring an object to place into a time capsule that was sealed and buried and is scheduled to be unearthed in 2059. Audience members committed memories to video in a special recording booth at the show before Spitzer played songs about, of course, time and memory. Tonight's show will feature "liminal baked goods" and a mural onto which people are asked to write about a liminal time in their lives.
"After a while, I stopped being interested in music as a pure form of expression, and I wanted to think more thematically. So things would get caught in my head—like the time capsule or the Felix Obelix album," she says, referring to the band's mixed, mastered and awaiting-released debut. "I wanted to tackle the problems of those themes as an artist in all of the art forms I'm interested in, and not just thinking of music necessarily as the medium."
Spitzer has tested a few other boundaries with The Liminal Festival: On Thursday, Reid Johnson and Jay Cartwright—songwriters with bands of their own—played the Ronald McDonald and SECU Family houses in Chapel Hill, offering entertainment to families living in temporary quarters so as to be close to family members in University of North Carolina. And Friday evening, Billy Surgarfix and his band played a free show at the Carrboro Century Center under the auspices of The Liminal Festival. Spitzer sent invitations to various community organizations, encouraging those normally outside of the purview of the town's rock club scene to attend.
"That's intended as a performance that anyone can come to. There's no cost involved," says Spitzer. "I've invited the Latino groups in the community, some retirement homes in the area, home-schooled children and their families. That's the big community-building event."
Or, as she should say, another moment where she hopes to blur some boundaries.
The last night of The Liminal Festival is also its pièce de résistance: Wes Phillips, Organos, Felix Obelix, Invisible, Bee Vs. Moth, Billy Sugarfix and Make a Rising play The ArtsCenter tonight, beginning at 8 p.m. Tickets are $7.