Pastoral, idyllic, bucolic — these are not words one naturally associates with the Northeast Florida noise scene. But they're bons mots on this particular Monday morning, as saxophonist Jamison Williams sits in repose at the Funk House, one of several places hosting performances by the Experimental Arts Union of Florida (EAUF), which he launched a year ago. Sipping coffee from an X-Men mug, Williams, in a sweater, slacks and saddle-shoes, looks every bit the dedicated musicologist he is — the dutiful student of sound.
As birds chirp and the sun reflects off the garden's greenery, it is quite literally the calm before the storm — a storm largely of Williams' own making. He was hooked on noise from his first exposure to free jazz some 15 years ago, and his trajectory from fan to student to performer to promoting this year's Pre-International Noise Conference, on Feb. 1 at Shantytown, has been linear, like a sniper's bullet. Williams has been attending International Noise Conference events since 2007, performing since 2009 and helping organize its local incarnation since 2011.
Each set's limited to just 15 minutes; the
PINC lineup (tentatively) has more than two dozen acts, all free to do whatever they want.
"Noise," as a self-contained genre within the music industry, often repels the average listener. It's because, in part, the word noise is itself prejudicial, suggesting chaos and cacophony. However, the music can be far more logical, if not euphonious, than its label implies.
Williams says, "It's very hard, it's challenging music. It takes a technique, a skill, a desired interest to create that type of sound design.
"If the person's using a pedal, and their interest is [to create] as much sound from that one pedal as possible, they're going to try to find all the extended techniques they can get from it. They can try to get every element that it wasn't designed for originally. It's like, ‘What color has not been created, that this tool can help you to find, to showcase, to explore?' That's what I like about it."
Shantytown is one of many venues around the country hosting festivities in the run-up to the International Noise Conference held Feb. 4-8 in Miami's Little Haiti neighborhood. It started a decade ago as a one-day affair, then expanded to five. A number of the musicians at Shantytown on Feb. 1 will be in Miami the next week — including Williams, whose work has been a festival staple for years. He's played in every configuration from solo to big band, but his primary INC gigs were in trios with drummer Steve Bristol and guitarist Dan Hosker. Sadly, that group disbanded after Hosker's death in a hit-and-run two years ago.
It's certainly not a scene for everyone, and that's the point. "Some people go to Art Basel for the refined elegance of art," Williams says, laughing as he recounts a litany of lurid tales from conferences past. "Nooo! You go to Little Haiti, man, that's where you go — where hobos are parking your car, and you can trust these guys. … You don't want sweet, cutesy niceness!"
Many of these artists are also members of EAUF, which Williams conceived to fill a gap in the way improvised music is presented in this part of the nation. Most EAUF events have taken place at the venerable Karpeles, which has some of the most sumptuous acoustics anywhere in the Southeast. (Exposing that fact has been a major coup for the community.)
EAUF's Feb. 17 concert at Karpeles showcases the Chicago-based percussionist Tim Daisy and Polish saxophonist/clarinetist Mikolaj Trzaska; previous events have featured artists such as Jaap Blonk, Jeb Bishop, Chris Corsano, Nate Wooley, Eugene Chadbourne, Jeremiah Cymerman, and Tatsuya Nakatani. It was the Peter Brötzmann/Joe McPhee show last June 4, though, that really put EAUF — and Jacksonville — on the map as a hub for experimental music.
As the afternoon begins, the conversation ends. Williams has work to do. Music is a labor of love, and that love does require actual labor, and lots of it. "I sold a 1947 Conn 6M ‘Naked Lady' alto saxophone — that's the Holy Grail of my arsenal — for Peter Brötzmann, so he could come here. That's like selling a 1958 Gibson Les Paul, and that's what you do."