The Gathering: The Exponential celebrates the release of their first album

A salon performance by the Exponential (courtesy of Giovazkie Perez and Brian Murray)

Chicago-based music collective the Exponential is set to celebrate the release of their first album, “Encuentro,” at Pilsen’s locally renowned Chicago Art Department. The evening will be an intimate gathering of both friends and strangers to Chicago’s ever-expanding experimental music scene, as the gallery’s atmosphere has the feel of a DIY space–so common to experimental and noise shows–combined with that of a more formal venue. Though the night is dedicated to celebrating the Exponential’s latest work, the stage will be shared by a number of artists. The CI Dance Troupe is first on the list, followed by Neon Sea, WUMMIN, and finally, the Exponential. At the end of the final set, all of the performers, accompanied by JSun Howard and Angela Gronoos, will congregate onstage for a grand finale group jam.

Each of the performers is from Chicago and shares a personal connection to members of the Exponential, and a further common thread of experimental innovation ties the evening’s performances together. Neon Sea’s throbbing electronic soundscapes bear little resemblance to the heavily composed violin and cello prog storms of WUMMIN. Negotiating the space between anchored sound and improvisational odyssey, and traditional and non-traditional instrumentation, the Exponential’s music is grounded in heavy percussion, with layers of free-form vocals and strings, promising to induce the bliss of a soulful trance in all present.

The Exponential began three years ago as a collaborative effort between percussionist Brian Murray and Eastern string wielder Ben Perkins. Roughly a year ago, however, Margaret Morris, a friend of Murray’s wife, approached the two after one of their shows and suggested that they connect in the studio. Morris, a graduate of Columbia College Chicago with a BFA in Dance Choreography, brought both a physical presence to the group through movement, as well as another dimension of musical expression with her classically-trained voice.

Through Murray’s membership with the Chicago Art Department, the group was able to make use of one of the Department’s studios as a practice and recording space. They would spend hours brewing and recording their improvised sonic journeys, and then sit and discuss their performances at length. These critical sessions provide a window into what is perhaps the essence of the Exponential experience. As the title of the upcoming album suggests, the group’s creative output is more than just a combination of vocal and instrumental frequencies. Brian Murray explains that the title, “Encuentro,” refers to a “grand gathering of people…[and] spirits from far-off places.” Accordingly, Morris, Murray, and Perkins have striven not only to connect on a spiritual level in their performances, but also to create music that they personally enjoy. Murray also says of the group’s chemistry, “We really felt like our souls decided to gather in what we do…Our existence as a trio has sort of a life of its own, and so we kind of feel like our ideas, our souls, and our musical experiences come together as a gathering.”

By scrutinizing their output they were able to approach such a connection from different angles and in different forms, building on elements of the music that they felt best expressed their artistic bonds, and straying from those that did not. Due to the breadth and quantity of the group’s recorded material, these sessions were vital in determining the songs that made their way onto the album. “Encuentro” is comprised of ten tracks, all of which were recorded before last June. Given the amount of thought and consideration that went into determining the selection, “Encuentro” should be full of energy, nuance, and soul: a portrait of this trio’s spiritual connection through sound and movement.
Chicago Art Department, 1837 S. Halsted St. January 16. Saturday, 8-10:45pm. Doors open at 7:30. $10 suggested donation.