A new musical underground at the Exploratorium

“I want to expose our visitors to underground music that they’ve never heard before,” says curator Wayne Grim, explaining the mission of the Exploratorium’s Resonance Music Series. “I want them to hear music from many different genres and cultures, and expose them to different musical processes.”

Kicking off the Resonance Music Series on Thursday is the Oakland based duo, Black Spirituals. Described as the “ecstatic intersection of the tone-generating electronics and guitars of Zachary James Watkins and the heart-thumping acoustic percussion of Marshall Trammel,” Black Spirituals derives its name from a workshop that Bernice Reagan, founder of vocal ensemble Sweet Honey and the Rock, gave at UC Santa Cruz in the 1970’s.

“Marshall and I are two soloists with two distinct solo vernaculars,” says Watkins. “We each have our own self-determined vision of our identities, and it’s important we maintain our individual identities as we perform our solo vernaculars simultaneously. As we listen to each other and improvise, we create a new emergent sound from the duo context. In our case, 1+1 = 3.”

True to Grim’s vision of mirroring the philosophy of the Exploratorium by making the series into a quasi-laboratory environment where artists can go beyond their typical practice, Watkins is excited about taking advantage of the toys and gizmos already in the space, which he calls “a playground for all people.”

He may work with the Exploratorium’s echo tube: “I came across one installation that’s a long metal pipe that creates a huge reverberation,” he says. “I want to use it to record and generate new sound. I'm also thinking of working with video and the 100 speakers in Kanbar Forum. I may also use my own software to create feedback between me and Marshall, and transform it into any number of possible things. We think of this as an opportunity to develop a new chapter in our work.”

Questioning the artists about what emerges will be ever-insightful radio host and pianist, Sarah Cahill. Sure to be on her agenda is Black Spirituals’ melding of jazz, rock and electronics, and Watkins’ unique harmonic tuning system. Her invaluable chats, which accompany each performance in the Resonance series, focus on the techniques, and inspirations behind the music.

IF YOU GO

Exploratorium’s Resonance Music Series

Where: Kanbar Forum, Exploratorium, Pier 15, S.F.

When: 7 p.m. Thursdays

Tickets: $25 (includes museum admission); $100 for series

Contact: (415) 528-4444, www.exploratorium.edu/resonance

The lineup

Black Spirituals – Thursday

Dan Deacon – Dec. 11

Susie Ibarra – Feb. 12

Kronos Quartet — April 9

Colleen — June 11

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