Different Skies: 2003-2012
Many years ago, I discovered the work of Italian architect Paolo Soleri, inventor of unique design and construction modalities for city living, whose chief contribution to the language was the very sci-fi concept of the arcology, an entire city of many thousand people designed as a single huge building, pulling the urban center together and freeing the biosphere from the poisoning effects of urban sprawl. Soleri had proposed a test arcology called Arcosanti, and wrote about it in his book Arcology: The City In The Image Of Man. I loved that book and my dreams of possible futures were filled with arcologies…
It wasn’t until 2002 that I discovered, quite by accident, that Soleri’s dream had been given form, albeit in a very small way. Arcosanti actually existed! It was a cluster of small architectural test buildings on the edge of a cliff in the Arizona desert, where a foundry and ceramics shop made beautiful bells and sculptures that helped to fund the laboratory/city’s slow growth over the decades. I was stunned to learn that there was even an amphitheatre there, the Colly Soleri Music Center, where many artists made pilgrimages to perform for enthusiastic audiences of art-lovers from Phoenix, Tucson, Sedona, and points farther away.
I blurted out my shock and wonder in a message to one of my electronic music mailing lists, and was answered by Tony Gerber, the Nashville-based space musician whose friendship and influence would figure heavily in my musical life to come. Tony mentioned that he’d been to Arcosanti years before and had been awed by its possibilities… it was a pity that no one had ever attempted to do a proper space music concert there…
And that switch in my head went ‘click’…
Right then and there, I declared my intention to create and run a space music festival at Arcosanti the following year. I had no idea what I was doing or how to do it, but I felt I could learn, and I began to assemble people, gear, and resources. Sixteen of us played that first festival in 2003, and we had an utter blast… but the best part was what happened after all the acts that had signed up to play had finished their sets in two concerts on Friday afternoon and evening, and we suddenly realized that we had one more show to perform and no acts for it. No one wanted to do their set all over again…
Someone, and I have no memory of who it was (I wish it had been me!), said, “Well, we have nothing to prove, and after a week of listening to each other rehearse, we know what each other can do—let’s break up and regroup into entirely new groups and write some music for tonight!”
That is precisely what we did… and that evening’s performance of raw, fresh, exciting music for an enraptured audience was the birth of what I believe to be (sorry, no false modesty here) the most amazing electronic music festival series of all time.
The following year, we came together with the understanding that there would be no previously formed groups doing music on their own: groups could invite guest musicians to play their tracks, or entirely new groups could form and create new tracks on the spot. We would also play live improvisations together every night to hone our listening and collaborative skills. This plan led to a smashingly successful concert and the release of a CD and DVD, Arcs & Angles.
And we went from strength to strength, each year adding people, changing the lineups, with different music, new approaches, but always collaborating and breaking new ground… with no fewer than six albums released from the 2007 and 2008 performances, four of which are available for free as Creative Commons releases.
But all good things must end; the 2009 performance was perhaps our first stumble for a variety of reasons. Sensing the end, I indicated that I would be taking a break after 2010, which became a triumphant week of amazing music that has yet to be released (but I’ll get to it, I promise!).
In my absence, the 2011 Different Skies was run by Allen Goodman with able help from regular attendees Giles Reaves and Tim Walters and strong cooperation from virtually everyone on stage, DS veterans all. But the experience was exhausting, and Allen said he couldn’t do it again without my help… and no one else was willing to step forward and take the helm.
What the hell, I thought, ten years is a nice round number. So back I went for one more show in 2012, no better prepared for the stresses than I had been when I took my hiatus, and with the help and musical talents of a small group of hand-picked players we did it one more time for the fans, struggling through to showtime amid record-setting rain and hail. And with that final successful curtain call, I staggered home and closed the door behind me. Enough.
If you’d like to read a bit more about the festival and see some photos from various years, you can go to differentskies.com and see what’s there; the site hasn’t been updated in a long time and may never be again. But the music’s out there, and perhaps more will be released some day from 2009 and 2010.
The friends I made there will be with me forever, and the many concert series that spun off Different Skies—City Skies in Atlanta, Pocono Skies in eastern Pennsylvania, Mountain Skies in Asheville (now the Asheville Electro-Music Festival), Western Skies in Silicon Valley, and Karelian Skies in Finland—have made me too proud for words.
Over that decade, over fifty people performed at Different Skies as musicians and visual artists, and I love them all (well, most of them, cough), but besides Allen, special mention must be made of a few heroic stalwarts: Giles Reaves, who was my quiet good right arm for nine shows and Allen’s for one; Otso Pakarinen, who made the flight from Helsinki ten years in a row and gave so much of himself for the sake of the music; Jim Combs, whose contributions to the early years of DS resulted in a better festival and who took his lessons home to form City Skies; Tim Walters, whose strong artistic standard was the best kind of challenge and whose unstinting hard work helped assure that the results matched the promise; and Rus Foster, who usually ended up providing us with just what we needed, even when we didn’t know we needed it.