What Am I Listening To?

Apr 10th, 2012 | By | Category: Entertainment, Sounds

F-Art Ensemble, April 6, 2012, Mack and Mack Clothing.

F-Art Ensemble has been around Greensboro for about thirty years. They have the unique ability to attract crowds and empty the house at the same time. But that is the nature of the ensemble.

Art is communication. You can subdivide art and come up with categories: music, visual art, performance art, theatre, etc. F-Art is often all of the above, although the primary concentration is improvised music.

Many people have trouble appreciating “modern art” – they may be revolted by it, confused by it, but with each genre of art and music, there is a context. Someone sees a Cubist painting by Picasso and turns to walk away or stares, trying to find a reason to like it. But having no context, they fail to appreciate it. A short look at Expressionistic art and its predecessors like Impressionism and you begin to get the context for Cubism.

F-Art requires a bit of context. First of all, it is improvised music. From the New World Dictionary:
improvise: (ˈɪmprəˌvaɪz) def.2 to perform (a poem, play, piece of music, etc.), composing as one goes along.”
Quite possibly the very earliest music was improvised when someone figured out that striking two pieces of wood together made a sound that could be pleasing. Throughout history, music has relied on improvisation for much of its content. In J. S. Bach’s time, the accompaniment to the main melodic strain was often improvised within a given set of parameters. Later, the cadenza became common. The original cadenzas were improvised, especially by virtuosic performers such as Mozart and Lizst. Later, someone decided they should be written out (that trend has begun to reverse itself in the last 20 years or so). In the late 19th and 20th centuries, jazz became a haven for improvised music. In the fifties, rock and roll introduced another form of improvisation.

F-Art draws from all the above. The improv is often nearly without structure, giving the listener a soundscape that can be thrilling or annoying, depending on the way the different performers interact with each other. Some pieces have more structure but the element of improv is always there. There is often a feeling of no control and then everything coalesces into a pleasing and interesting soundscape. Their improv also includes a wide variety of instruments with some performers switching in the middle of a piece. The framework can move from jazz to folk to rock avant-garde to things that defy a category or style. But that is the attraction. Non-traditional ways of playing traditional instruments also enter into the mix. For a great example of this, listen to “Threnody –To The Victims Of Hiroshima” by Krzysztof Penderecki. It is disturbing but it was written for the darkest moment in human history. The orchestration consists of 52 stringed instruments played in many non-traditional ways.

So that is the context and framework of F-Art. Factually, F-Art is usually musings from the minds of Gil Fray and David Doyle, the original members who still regularly perform with the group. Fray is normally the ringmaster/conductor of the F-Art performance and his vocalized commentary is usually entertaining. Over the course of the evening, I laughed at many parts as well as being intensely drawn to unexpected soundscapes. Some of these sound canvases were created by invented instruments and others by traditional instruments. Enlightening, sometimes nearly frightening, but worth the time.

And don’t forget, this whole concert took place in a dress shop.

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2 Comments to “What Am I Listening To?”

  1. Bill Payne says:

    I think Dwight may have hit it on the head. F-Art is, indeed, modern art for the ears. It's not always easy to listen to, but it is (almost) always entertaining, fun, and interesting. It's the other end of the spectrum from the music that Triad Acoustic Stage brings to Mack and Mack, but it's always worth considering. One cannot live on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches alone!

    For a sound that's somewhere in the middle, consider attending the next Triad Acoustic Stage performance on Saturday, April 21. We'll feature a duo known as HuDost (; they regularly perform music with a deep mid-eastern bent, with a bit of Rumy thrown in for good measure. See you there!


  2. F- Art sounds harder than other forms of art where an artist normally specializes in one particular area. It is must take a lot of effort to master the art of performing this kind of F-Art since it incorporates almost all other forms of art. However, it sounds really interesting especially to artist that love to take on challenging art.

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