Church of the Friendly Ghost and the Salvage Vanguard Theater partnered once again to host their fifth annual New Media and Art Sound Summit (NMASS), June 12-14th, bringing together an eclectic multitude of positively weird and experimental media artists to Austin for the three day festival. The presenting artists came from both near and far, including some from outside of the country, and their work was likewise equally as diverse. The shows included videography , physical installations, jam sessions with interactive iPhone applications, and musical performances that crossed a multitude of genres and aesthetics.
We recently caught up with George Pasterk, the creative director for Church of the Friendly Ghost, and asked him a few questions regarding the festival and how it all came about.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about the history of NMASS? How long have you all been putting on the festival, and when/how did it come about, and does it have a particular ‘mission’?
The festival got its start in 2009, when our founder Aaron Mace proposed a version of the festival, as the Church of the Friendly Ghost’s contribution to the annual Fusebox Festival. Like today’s NMASS it featured performances and workshops, our first circuit bending workshop happened there. Many of the works were site specific and the whole thing was held in the original Austin location of the Acton School of business.
The festival environment of Austin wasn’t quite as populated back then. For the sort of performance and music we deal in, there was some cross over in Chris Cogburn’s No Idea festival, but that was about it. Something like Yeast by Sweet Beast was (unofficially) associated with SXSW and the Fast FWD Festival didn’t exist yet, so it seemed like a natural progression for Aaron to spin the festival off into an annual event.
Like COTFG itself, the festival’s mission is to provide the space and support for various communities of musicians, composers and makers who have projects that are under served by the Austin music economy. These are projects that exist outside of what is either economically or physically not feasible for the predominantly bar based music industry in Austin. The way our Managing Director Henna Chou (who is a working musician herself) says it: If I didn’t write my music in or for a bar, why should I only be able to perform it in a bar? As far as what we cover, I’ve always liked Aaron’s description of the Church as something which fits in the gap between academe and a house party.
We certainly have an emphasis on local makers, performers, composers and programmers. We do, of course, provide space for artists from outside of Austin but we tend to favor national project which in some way involve local performers, composers or programmers. For example this year’s performance of JG Thirwell’s chamber music, or the Jandek performance two years ago, were backed or played entirely by local musicians.
I think we attract unique audiences as well. It has been more than once; that a musician has told us that they appreciate what we do, because of the type of attentive audiences we help bring to their work. To this end the environment of our festival is very important. So for the last couple of years we’ve worked with designers to not only give our festival a unique sense of place but to create an engaging social space for audiences and artists to meet in.
In its recent incarnation we’ve expanded the festival to include more visual and installation work as well. Thanks to our collaborations with, the programmers of Experimental Response Cinema, and individual maker/programmers such as Jeanne Stern and Stephen Fishman we’ve added an ever increasing amount of film to our programming too.
Q: The NMASS website lists several Austin sponsors. Could you talk a little bit about the types of support that you get from local Austin establishments, and how they play a role in putting together a festival like this?
For any music festival, especially for a non-profit festival like ours sponsors are very important. Not only for material support of providing meals for artists, donating equipment, funds and supplies, but we see our sponsors as additional collaborators. For example, a person like Don Tischa at Ascension Audio, who camps out at the festival every year, providing technical support and low cost, high quality sound equipment is essential to the process.
It’s indicative of the deep relationships we’ve developed with our city and fellow like-minded organizations over the years. It’s a spirit of non-competition that we’ve tried to foster. Many of us volunteer with other organizations and provide help and advice to new organizations and programmers. We feel that promoting, and referring others to local businesses, either directly or through sponsorship is another aspect of that spirit.
Q: Anything else you’d like me to mention about NMASS or CotFG?
The Church of the Friendly Ghost and NMASS is a volunteer run, non-profit community based arts organization. If anyone is interested in what we do, they can help shape our programing and mission by becoming a volunteer. We constantly need help at every level, if you have a particular skill that you believe is useful, please feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Everyone in the current administration started out working the door, putting up flyers and serving beverages, nobody started out as an arts administrator but we have become this over time.* So, if there is any sort of skill you’d like to develop, please contact us as well. The communities we serve are constantly changing, if you feel that we fall short in some aspect, again please contact us and become a volunteer.
*The administrators all still work the door, sling drinks and put up flyers but now we have cooler titles J
Q: Any Future Big Events?
Well, NMASS is kind of our topper for the season. We do have a couple of shows coming up, one is composer/performer Chris Schlarb and trumpet player/stand-up comedian Derek Phelps on July 9th at MASS Gallery, and Jessica Pavone / Dark Tips at the Museum of Human Achievement on August 14th. Coming up also,(don’t have a date yet) we are doing another version of Adam Rudolph’s Go: Organic Orchestra (with a new set of local players) which will be exciting!
Later in the year, one of our core members, Melissa Seely is putting together a mini-festival of works by women, and women performers. I don’t have the exact dates or line up on that yet.
There are a couple other collaborations we are negotiating (that I can’t talk about) and I’m really having to bite my tongue on. I will let y’all know, the minute they are set in stone. One in particular is just…I really can’t say, but everybody is really excited about it. I think you folks will be too.