Asheville Electro Music Festival showcases high technology on a human scale

HIGH-TECH MEETS HIGH-TOUCH: Where innovation and accessibility meet, the human scale of the Asheville Electro Music Festival encourages interaction between performers and audience. Photo by Hong Waltzer

In his influential 1982 book Megatrends, author John Naisbitt wrote, “Whenever new technology is introduced into society, there must be a counterbalancing human response, or the technology is rejected.” The very human and innovative nature of 21st-century synthesizer-based music is a real-world example of Naisbitt’s observation in action. A local group of musicians has focused on the nexus where music and technology intersect, creating the Asheville Electro Music Festival to showcase local and international music. The event takes place Friday and Saturday, May 6 and 7, in Black Mountain.

“It all grew out of the Internet-based electro-music community — people who wanted the opportunity to get together and share their musical ideas and expressions,” says festival organizer Greg Waltzer. The event started in Philadelphia and eventually moved to New York. After Waltzer and his wife relocated to Asheville, they decided to start a similar gathering in 2012. It was initially called Mountain Skies.

“There’s a great artistic community here, and there are a lot of creative people,” Waltzer says. Plus, Asheville was already a popular vacation destination for many of his musical friends.

Though it features more than two dozen acts performing over the course of two days, the Asheville Electro Music Festival is distinctly different from other similarly themed events. Waltzer characterizes the participants as “more interested in their passion for music and for sharing it, than in music as a business or commercial enterprise.” He says the focus has always been more on community than “drawing big-name artists who will sell a lot of tickets.”

For participants, it’s partly a networking event, says Waltzer: “It’s a chance to get together and collaborate with other artists who have similar interests.” He adds that it’s also an opportunity for the broader community to “experience music that’s a little bit different than what you see and hear in mainstream music.” Waltzer characterizes the music showcased at the festival as “less constrained to the conventional genres.”

The lineup does emphasize accessibility. “It’s engaging music that’s innovative at the same time,” Waltzer says. The festival encompasses electro-acoustic and electronic music, which means attendees will see and hear performances that employ synthesizers, homemade circuits, wooden flutes, voice and any number of found objects. Trance, ambient, space and electro-pop are just a sampling of the styles that will be featured.

Candy Durant of Charlotte-based Tenderlash (performing Friday afternoon) believes that electronic music has the ability to be emotive and organic “if you let it. Turn that attack knob, add some delay or resonance, and even though the pattern is the same, it sounds completely different,” she says. “It takes on a whole other personality and mood. That’s a very organic process.”

Performers are primarily drawn from the community that Waltzer has come to know via the electro-music.com website and larger events in New York. About half are local or regional acts. If there’s a common thread among the performers, Waltzer says, it’s “passion for innovative music and expression, for doing something out of the ordinary.” While many of the acts on the bill have played at previous festivals, Waltzer says that he actively seeks to bring in as many new performers as possible for each year’s event.

The intimate, up-close nature of the festival also means that there’s much less of a wall between performer and audience: It’s a living example of Naisbitt’s high-tech/high-touch paradigm. Attendees socialize with each other and with the musicians, Waltzer says. After each performance, concertgoers often “go up on stage and talk to the musicians about their technique and equipment, and how they make their music,” he says. “So it’s really interactive.”

From the start, visuals have been a key component of the festival. Waltzer says that the goal is to “create visuals that will complement the music and enhance the experience.” Each of the two days kicks off with a seminar/performance workshop.

Waltzer’s goals for the future are decidedly modest and human-scale. “We’re not trying to grow it and become another Moogfest,” he says. “We’re not trying to make a profit. We just hope to keep doing it every year.”

WHAT: Asheville Electro Music Festival, emavl.com
WHERE: White Horse Black Mountain, whitehorseblackmountain.com
WHEN: Friday and Saturday, May 6-7, 2 p.m. to midnight. $15 one-day pass/$25 both days

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About Bill Kopp
Author, music journalist, historian, collector, and musician. His first book, "Reinventing Pink Floyd: From Syd Barrett to The Dark Side of the Moon," published by Rowman & Littlefield, is available now. Follow me @the_musoscribe

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