View Post
Rain sets the backdrop for a unique Spark performance

Rain sets the backdrop for a unique Spark performance

By Rob Peoni, Spark writer in residence 

My routine of walking from my home in Fletcher Place to Monument Circle for Listen Hear’s ambient, experimental, Mellow Monday set was interrupted due to weather this week. A late afternoon rain was showering downtown Indy. Despite the weather, the performance by local multi-instrumentalist Rob Funkhouser was scheduled to proceed – rain or shine. With walking out the window, I called an Uber rather than attempt to negotiate parking.

“Look at that mural!” my driver chuckled as we emerged from beneath the parking garage on Virginia Ave. She was pointing at the image of a man on a ladder, supporting an impossibly large scroll. Franklin, TN muralist Michael Cooper, designed the piece, entitled “Indy – Always On A Roll!” My driver admits she has never noticed the mural.


Rain falls steadily as we roll onto the circle from Market Street. Upon exiting my ride, I see Big Car’s Spark crew arranging chairs beneath the marquee in front of Hilbert Circle Theatre. On a folding table in front of the chairs, Funkhouser is assembling his rig: a MINIBRUTE SE analog synthesizer, a MacBook Air, a composition notebook and a cluster of cords connecting the devices.

Droves of umbrella-headed business suits pass by abandoning their day’s work at their desks. By the time the bells toll at Christ Church Cathedral signaling the six o’clock hour and the start of Funkhouser’s performance, the rain is reduced to a drizzle and the large cabanas arranged to protect the crowd and Funkhouser’s gear are deemed unnecessary, folded, and set aside. The sun peeks through the clouds, baking the soaked bricks of the circle.

Funkhouser kicks off with spacey, ambient notes that seem to sparkle and burst like globs of hydrogen in the cosmos. The music becomes more full, with Funkhouser adding swaths of sound by playing chords on the keys of his synthesizer. It grows darker and more ominous, with the occasional wave of calm. A pattern of distortion cuts through the atmosphere adding a backbeat to the ambience. A teenage couple looks on while silently sipping fluorescent sodas before ambling onward.

Big Car executive director Jim walker captures photos or video footage from a tall tripod across the street. He’s standing just beneath a statue of Oliver P. Morton. The 14th governor of Indiana stands with his hand extended, waist high, palm held upward as if inviting the cacophony at his feet. Walker is wearing a Big Car mechanic’s shirt, cargo shorts, and teal blue socks. He’s smiling. He looks like an urban safari guide. Most days, that description isn’t too far off.

A trio of skateboarding teens rolls by. On the other side of the marquee, a leather-clad guy who looks alarmingly like Julian from Trailer Park Boys revs up his Harley Davidson. Befuddled, quizzical smiles from passers-by walk on the sidewalk behind Funkhouser.

I can’t help but chuckle at my surroundings, pinching myself at how lucky I am to witness this experimental performance on the doorstep of Indy’s most hallowed musical institution, Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. This isn’t something that happens with regularity across the country. Experimental musicians are rarely offered this type of platform, and the unique nature of the performance isn’t lost on the crowd.

John Flannelly, the curator for Listen Hear’s contribution to Spark is seated in the front row. He’s wearing a jean jacket, white paints, purple sunglasses, black dress shoes and is sporting a fresh haircut. For the previous two performances, Flannelly has been on top of the time, reminding performers: 30, 15, 5 minutes left. Today, he lets Funkhouser roll. He’s right to do so, as Funkhouser closes the set promptly at 7 p.m. Flannelly is on stage himself on Monday Aug. 24 at 6 p.m. as this week’s Listen Hear artist.

With Funkhouser’s performance and rainfall in the rearview, I decide to walk home along the Cultural Trail to digest what I’ve just heard and seen. This fall, Funkhouser will return to school to study musical composition at Butler University. I can’t help but wonder whether one day the symphony held inside the doors in front of which he just performed will be celebrating and rearranging his works.

Rob’s pick for this week’s Spark programming:

At 6:30 p.m on Wednesday Aug. 26, Indianapolis artist Kipp Normand will lead a themed walk that begins at Spark’s welcome trailer parked in front South Bend Chocolate Company on Monument Circle. As an artist, Normand uses found and repurposed materials as the building blocks for his celebrated installations. For a primer, check out Jennifer Delgadillo’s recent profile on Normand via Sky Blue Window. As one who specializes in found art, Normand’s view of his surroundings likely differs from the rest of ours substantially. With that in mind, I’m anxious to hear his interpretation of “Indy Oddities.” RSVP for the walk via Facebook.

View Post
Listen Hear brings experimental ambience to Mellow Mondays

Listen Hear brings experimental ambience to Mellow Mondays

What happens when you give a bunch of avant-garde, experimental musicians whose work is typically confined to living rooms and contemporary gallery spaces an hour of free rein at one of Indy’s most prominent public spaces? Stop by Monument Circle at 6 p.m. on Mondays to find out.

The onset of the workweek brings a bit of routine and the launch of themed days as part of Spark Monument Circle. Until mid-October, Mondays will consist of “Mellow Mondays” which are designed to “encourage low-tech, relaxing experiences.”

Local musician and artist John Flannelly will curate musical performances in connection with Big Car’s Listen Hear initiative to close out Mellow Mondays. For Spark Monument Circle, Flannelly was given broad guidelines. The Listen Hear contribution, which will take place from 6 p.m. until 7 p.m. on Monday evenings, will feature hour-long performances from Indiana artists. It will focus on experimental music, and generally leans toward more ambient, longform pieces. “A lot of musicians who are playing generally don’t get the opportunity to play for an hour,” Flannelly says. “So, they’re kind of stretching out some things or trying different things.”

Duncan Kissinger will be the first experimental musician to take the stage at Monument Circle this evening. Kissinger initially made a splash on Indy’s music scene while still in high school as the guitarist in celebrated rock band Hotfox. Since those early days, Kissinger’s sound has leaned toward the more experimental, outsider or fringe side of things. This change in direction first surfaced under the name of Skin Conditions, a project with a deep catalog (given its short lifespan) of bedroom recordings available via Indiana music archive Musical Family Tree. Skin Conditions underwent several iterations, including a full backing band at different points in time. More recently, Kissinger has recorded and performed solo under his given name.

“When you think about Duncan’s music,” Flannelly says, “he does a lot of different modes: guitar and singing, every once in a while he’ll whip out a keyboard and do something more spacey. He’s someone who likes to try out different things.”

Kissinger’s idea for his Monument Circle performance came to him as he was drifting to sleep on a recent evening. “It came to me that I should get a bunch of fans – like fans that cool cool a room, not that are supportive of a team or something,” Kissinger laughs. “I’m going to get a bunch of fans in a configuration of a live band … I’m going to have them mic’d and I think I might run them through some effects, but I’m going to just be the sound guy for that. I’m going to work a mixer in a choir robe, because [Flannelly] said it has to be an hour and it has to be an ambient set. So, I was like what’s a better ambient instrument than fans, you know? Plus it’s probably going to be hotter than Hell.”

Flannelly is anxious to bring these experimental sounds from the relatively sequestered spaces of music venues and the bedroom to a historic stage as prominent as any in the city. “Most live music, just by circumstance of the venue is going to be kind of hidden away,” Flannelly says. “It’s in a building with a cover, possibly. Or it’s in a house where not everybody knows about it. That’s even more true of the experimental side of things. So, I think it’s awesome. You never know how a wide audience will react to these things in general.”

Kissinger echoed that sentiment, saying, “The Listen Hear opportunity on the circle is really great, because that’s some weird, heady, out-there stuff … It’s going to be a really fun dynamic, especially with all of the other people that are doing the Monday sets. I know a lot of them. We’re all weirdos. I’m excited to watch everyone fly their freak flag in the middle of downtown.”

Listen Hear Performance Schedule:

  • August 3: Duncan Kissinger
  • August 10: Jim Walker
  • August 17: Rob Funkhouser
  • August 24: John Flannelly
  • August 31: Landon Caldwell
  • September 7: [No performance on Labor day]
  • September 14: Teen Brigade
  • September 21: Drekka
  • September 28: Sommer
  • October 5: Kaiton Slusher / Levi Villines
  • October 12: Sedcairn Archives

Listen Hear is an ongoing sound-art project that Big Car launched in 2014. The fundamental purposes of Listen Hear are to (1) highlight sound as a material in art while bringing people together to enjoy this, (2) give focus to the importance of our daily soundscape, (3) engage new listeners with tools and techniques related to deep listening, (4) provide opportunities to new and uninitiated audiences to experience sound as art.

Stay up-to-date on Listen Hear’s contribution to Spark Monument Circle via Facebook.