A Noisy Protest: ONO brings its provocative musical performance to the Woodlawn Collaborative

(Anna Gregaline/courtesy of ONO)

Art is meant to draw people together, to forge cultural bonds that cross social boundaries. And yet, for decades, issues of race have impeded the diffusion of artistic innovation across the South Side’s social and racial lines. Although the University of Chicago’s presence in Hyde Park has engendered cynicism from surrounding communities, a few years ago, several Woodlawn residents and UofC students joined forces in an effort to dismantle the boundaries that have been impeding productive musical and artistic dialogue. The result was the creation of Woodlawn Collaborative, a communal space for art and activism. This Friday, the space will encourage the larger South Side community to come together and make music by providing a smorgasbord of artistic forms and flavors.

The evening’s performers have been drawn from various sectors of the profoundly heterogeneous Chicago music world. Organized by Noah Moskowitz, who will head a number of classical composers and musicians from the University of Chicago, the event also features Dada-esque free-improvisers Suckling Pigs (who describe their sound as “fiber fullified flavored cesspools when eating snakes”) and anemrostone, a local synth-based drone outfit. No-wave war gods ONO will also lead the audience through their spiritual exercise in musical diversity. Indeed, it is quite appropriate that ONO appear, since they were one of the pioneers of destructo-wild-man performance art in Chicago, overcoming perpetual and severe criticism of their unique and experimental form. Moskowitz, who runs the Student Composer Alliance at the University, says, “The idea was…to have a general performance within a timeframe with lots of different stuff going on: lots of different styles and ideas and methods of communication.”

The venue, the Woodlawn Collaborative, was created with this very goal in mind. Beginning in the spring of 2006, travis, the psychotropic wundermensch vocalist of ONO, along with students and graduates from the University, began toying with the idea of creating a space for experimental art on the South Side, where students and local artists could congregate and mingle their artistic outpourings. However, travis laments, currying support for a collaborative effort with the University from local members of the community was not an easy task, “I was trying to get people I knew had been active in the South Side community [to help establish the Woodlawn Collaborative]. People still have a lot of wounds from the ‘60s and ‘70s on the South Side, and they don’t come easily to this idea of [participating in a project with the University].”

Though issues of race may have hindered the establishment of the Collaborative, they will certainly figure prominently in ONO’s performance there this Friday. In radical contrast to the traditional classical pieces that are to be performed by the student composers, ONO has planned a post-apocalyptic slave spiritual. With a sampled slave chant droning in the background, travis will be led around the space on a makeshift barge, drifting amidst a sea of harsh noise, orchestrated by P.Michael, the band’s bassist and founder, and Jesse Thomas, its guitar and saxophone noisemaker. Upon reaching center stage, travis will then bellow lines from another traditional slave song, “I’ve Got Shoes,” before resuming command of his processional barge and sailing out of the room. “In this Black History Month,” travis proclaims, “so many black folks have forgotten that the revolution isn’t over…[Our presentation is meant to be] a noisy protest.”

The performance seeks to draw local musicians out of their respective corners and into the diverse community of South Side artists. Those attending the show will be subjected to musical eloquence and harassment, both meant to demonstrate the universality of diverse kinds of authentic music.
Woodlawn Collaborative, 6400 S. Kimbark Ave. February 26. Friday, 7pm. Free. woodlawncollaborative.org

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