The Best St. Louis Noise/Experimental Concerts: September 2014

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Mary Halvorson of Thumbscrew. - PETER GANNUSHKIN
  • Peter Gannushkin
  • Mary Halvorson of Thumbscrew.

Deliberately shrill and mostly dense, "noise" has become a blanket term for bands that explore and experiment around the beaten path. The genre, like others, isn't without its share of hangups, but that's why we're here. Every month, we supply a short list of sure bets in St. Louis, ranging from needlessly complex to minimalist drone. Connect the weird to your ears.

When January 2014 rolled around, St. Louis was sorely lacking a consistent experimental concert series. Recurring events tend to snowball and become larger -- if they're good, that is. And for a city as small as St. Louis (hey, we're no New York or LA), one such source for off-the-wall sound would be enough.

Nine months later, there are at least four reliable series that cater to fans of outsider jazz, noise and experimental music. Bruxism, Mild Power, New Music Circle and NOiSE all deliver sounds from off the beaten path, and they do so with distinction. All of our recommended events this month are tied to these series -- proof that St. Louis is overloaded with music that can hardly be classified.

New Music Circle presents: Thumbscrew Mary Halvorson (guitar) Michael Formanek (bass) Tomas Fujiwara (drums) Friday, September 12 at Joe's Cafe 6010 Kingsbury Avenue 7 p.m. | $10-20 | All Ages

The trio of Mary Halvorson, Michael Formanek and Tomas Fujiwara bends jazz into a warped musical playground, complete with playful percussive flair. Halvorson's guitar audibly warbles around the disparate drums, matching with every pluck of Formanek's monstrous bass.

A self-declared experimental group, Thumbscrew stays true to its namesake with a heavy use of free improvisation. The band could fall apart at any moment, or stay glued to a beat with no end in sight. That's what experimentation means for better or worse: Failure and success are both on the table. Thumbscrew tends to enjoy the latter, and will make you question if the players share some sort of sci-fi psychic link.

NOiSE presents: Alex Cunningham Beauty Pageant Dave Stone Eric Hall (featured in the video above) Stone Hen Willis Thursday, September 18 at Blank Space 2847 Cherokee Street 9 p.m. | Free | All Ages

Shows with the designation "NOiSE" (the lowercase "i" is a distinguishing feature) have more of an "anything goes" vibe than typical experimental outings. Starting in 2012 as a year-long installation at the old Mushmaus warehouse/art space, the series returned midway through 2014 with much of its former glory: Late nights, lots of bands and insane live video art by Chad Eivins of Chizmo.TV.

The video above gives an accurate account of what one will see at a NOiSE performance. Eric Hall, in particular, is a recurring performer at these gigs, and he uses the monthly format to expand and explore new ideas. Local artist Mr. Ben conceived the series in 2012 as a way for one large pool of people to congregate and collaborate monthly. Watch the progression, or regression, depending on your outlook.

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Mild Power presents: Survival Unit III Joe McPhee (horns) Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello) Michael Zerang (drums) Friday, September 19 at Joes Cafe 6010 Kingsbury Avenue 8 p.m. | All Ages

Calling Joe McPhee's Survival Unit legendary would be a cop-out. After all, being told that anything is legendary sets up unrealistic expectations -- but what about the rare case when something actually lives up to its reputation? Survival Unit III, featuring Joe McPhee, Fred Lonberg-Holm and Michael Zerang, brings the utmost in acoustic free-jazz. The songs here feature a heightened sense of urgency, but the speed and high volume don't detract from the quiet subtleties. These points only speak to the band's massive range.

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BRUXISM presents: Larva Charlie Turner desoeuvre bruit/Gnomonclast Thursday, September 25 at Apop Records 2831 Cherokee Street 9 p.m. | $5 | All Ages

BRUXISM aims to provide an entry point into experimental and electro-acoustic music. The bimonthly series has reached its fifth installment, meaning the end is nigh, so check out this collaboration between Apop Records and the close/far music label before it goes away.

Larva does especially haunting synth-based, ambient work while Charlie tends to perform a busy, complex wall of hyperactive noise. As a special bonus for this month's event, attendees will receive a free cassette tape release featuring local artists Regicide Bureau and NNN Cook.

See also: Nathan Cook's Show Series BRUXISM Begins

Think I left something out? Piss off! No, actually, you're probably right. I usually cap this column at three or four shows. Share what you know in the comments below. For the future, drop me a line any time at joseph.hess@riverfronttimes.com

Joseph Hess is the editorial coordinator for the Riverfront Times. When he's not, you know, coordinating, he is the DJ of the experimental rock show Wrong Division over at KDHX (88.1 FM). Visit his personal blog here for more on this city's DIY and experimental music. Or stalk him on Twitter.

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