The ninth {Re}HAPPENING explores global sound and cross-genre collaboration

IT’S ALL HAPPENING: The lineup for this year’s {Re}HAPPENING includes global music from artists such as Kiranavali Vidyasankar, top left, and Arooj Aftab, bottom right, as well as a dance, music and sculpture collaboration initiated by Daniel Homero, top right, and the interactive installation “Untitled Toilet Piece” by DJ Kutsu, among many other exhibitions, performances and experiments. Photos courtesy of the artists

The annual {Re}HAPPENING is, in part, a re-envisioning of an experimental music event, staged by John Cage at Black Mountain College in the 1950s. The first Happening “was meant to explore ‘purposeful purposelessness,’” according to the Rauschenberg Foundation website. In that spirit of exploration, many of the {Re}HAPPENING’s concerts and exhibitions delve into and build off of the concepts engaged by midcentury Black Mountain College teachers and students.

This year, for the {Re}HAPPENING’s ninth iteration, the daylong art immersive offers “an emphasis on global sound and its influence on Black Mountain College visionaries like John Cage and David Tudor,” according to a press release. The event takes place at Camp Rockmont (the former site of the BMC campus) on Saturday, March 30. It features dance, film, collaborative performance, interactive experiments and — among many sonic offerings — two trios based in Asian sounds.

Award-winning South Indian classical (Carnatic) musician Kiranavali Vidyasankar, who has lived in the U.S. since 2002, says, “American audiences have been receptive to Indian music.” She finds that when she lectures on the music (a melodic system that doesn’t use harmony) it can be a little too complex for the nonacademic listeners, “but their response to the performance has always been very positive.”

For the {Re}HAPPENING, Kiranavali (on vocals) — with Sandhya Anand (violin) and Vinod Seetharaman (mridangam, a percussion instrument) — does plan to offer some background on each song. “For example, I can help [the audience] understand the rhythm I’m going to use … or I’ll probably give them some information about what is the composed part and what is the creative part.”

Once considered a child prodigy, Kiranavali comes from a renowned musical lineage. She could identify more than 200 ragas by age 2 and began her singing career at 5, according to her bio. But though Kiranavali performs and teaches a style of music that dates back 2,000 years, she explains there’s plenty of room for experimentation.

“Depending on the venue, the audience and the occasions, the ratio between compositions and creativity can go from 80/20 to 20/80,” she says. “I can vary the amount of creative music I’m giving.”

The musician also enjoys collaborating across genres. “So far everything has been positive,” she notes. “Because [South Indian musicians’] music involves a lot of creative improvisations, we go to the stage with an open mind and an idea we can pick it up and improvise. We tend to do less rehearsal ahead of time because everything is not fixed.” That’s not to say she doesn’t prepare, Kiranavali points out. “But there have been times I can gauge the comfort level of the person I’m collaborating with. … Even though there’s creative stuff involved, I do my homework.”

Less in keeping with any particular tradition, Arooj Aftab “is a neo-Sufi and minimalist composer/singer who gracefully experiments and bends the lines between ancient mystic poetry, South Asian classical, jazz, soul and electronic dreamscape musics,” according to her bio.

Of blending venerable verse and contemporary instrumentation, Aftab reveals, “I’ve just begun doing it, after thinking on it for many years. I’ve felt that a lot of classical South Asian voice and poetry has been used alongside electronic music over time, and I’ve been trying to sort of build out a newer and more careful way to do it.” She continues, “The analog synthscape is great, though. It [can] dramatically emphasize the harmonic concepts of the melodies and bring more depth and nuance to the poetry. It also does have the ability to become cacophonous, which kind of startles us and our listeners, too, since the music is expected to always be soothing and beautiful.

“But,” she adds, “It’s very fun to go there, too — to disrupt expectations.” And it’s that spirit of adventure that makes Aftab’s project an apt fit for the art-filled day at Lake Eden.

This is not the first visit to Western North Carolina for the New York-based musician. In October, she performed The Jacob Lawrence of Jacob Lawrence with Jace Clayton, aka DJ Rupture. The piece — a hand-drawn animation with texts accompanied by a live, sonic presentation — was created by Clayton in response to the BMCM+AC’s Jacob Lawrence exhibition. “That’s how I became acquainted with [the center’s executive director] Jeff Arnal, and we’ve been looking for an opportunity to program something together,” Aftab says.

That chance came with this year’s {Re}HAPPENING, where Aftab will perform with Anjna Swaminathan (violinist, composer, multidisciplinary artist) and Rafiq Bhatia (composer, producer, guitarist). “The trio setting … is this very crazy and beautiful amalgamation, where all three of us kind of move into a post-state of the music we usually perform separately from each other in a more traditional way,” Aftab explains. “The result is a sort of minimal, fragmented, improvisational, journey-esque new music which can speak to listeners on many planes.”

The production The plants are going to win is a group effort of another variety. Artist and dancer Daniel Homero, dancer Alexis Miller, nature builder Karen George and musician Marc Hennessey will pool their talents to explore “the power of nature, our blindness to it and, ultimately, our oneness with it,” according to the piece’s description.

Homero, who lives in Merida, Mexico (where he has performed with Miller and other members of the Asheville Contemporary Dance Theatre), has visited Asheville twice. He’s taken part in the Asheville Fringe Arts Festival and two years ago, attended a {Re}HAPPENING. “I really loved the experience and I knew that one day I would be collaborating and being part of this incredible event,” he says. Through Miller, he connected with George and Hennessey.

Initial chats among the four artists — three of whom are based in WNC — revealed that “we had a profound respect for nature, so we decided to create a project where all what we feel about the destruction of the Earth could be said in one performance,” Homero explains. “I think it’s wonderful to create with artists of different backgrounds and the interactions that can be developed.”

Much of the project will be fleshed out online, through emailed videos and cellphone rehearsals. Homero will arrive in Asheville a week before the {Re}HAPPENING for final, in-person refining. But there’s also room for improv as “that’s mainly what all the artists involved do,” he says. “Personally, I love improvisation scores where we can let ourselves interact with the moment and the space that surround us.”

A happening allows for the element of chance to be a key player, Homer explains — a sentiment in keeping with the Black Mountain College aesthetic of more than 60 years ago. “We are including all of these concepts in the piece we are presenting,” Homero says. “Just part of the piece is being rehearsed, and the other will have a chance to be transformed by the interaction with the audience.”

WHAT: Ninth annual {Re}HAPPENING
WHERE: Camp Rockmont, 375 Lake Eden Road, Black Mountain. $15 on-site parking/free shuttles leave and return to the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce’s lower lot, 36 Montford Ave. Reserve online.
WHEN: Saturday, March 30, 3-10 p.m. $15 youth and students/$20 adult advance tickets/$25 adults at the gate. rehappening.com

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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