Daring improvisations from Togishi, the second annual LunArt Festival, and more events of note in Madison this week. | By Scott Gordon and John McCracken
Sponsor message: The weekly Tone Madison calendar is made possible with support from Union Cab of Madison, a worker-owned cooperative providing safe and professional taxi services.
THURSDAY MAY 30
Tone Madison teamed up earlier this year with Madison electronic producer Jordan Cohen, who performs and records as Chants, to launch a new podcast series called Digital Warmth. On each episode of the podcast—which will be released in sporadic seasons—Cohen joins producers, DJs, and other figures in the electronic-music world for conversations about their experiences as both artists and human beings. Some of the artists featured have connections to Madison, and some don’t. The first season comprised sit-downs with Joshua Jenquin (aka DJ Anonymous), Ariel Zetina, and Sage Caswell. Cohen’s patience as an interview and his gift for eccentric but vivid sound design drew me in the first time he sent me a pilot episode of the podcast, and so we decided to host it here.
Cohen is currently working on Digital Warmth‘s second season and is preparing to release some new Chants recordings—including his first full-length album since 2015’s We Are All Underwater. We’re teaming up for this special event at the Corral Room, the cozy cocktail bar under the Tornado Steakhouse (and at one time a beloved local music venue). First up, Cohen and I will be doing an interview for a live audience, to be released on both the Digital Warmth and Tone Madison podcast feeds. Then Cohen will be spinning an ambient DJ set. Attendees at the event who sign up to become Tone Madison Sustainers will be able to enjoy some free drinks, as will existing Sustainers who pledge to up their monthly donations. In the interview portion, Cohen and I will have a lot to discuss about both music-making and podcasting. Chants has undergone a transformation over the past four years, moving from largely gentle and atmospheric music to blistering and heavily syncopated club tracks on three EPs, Carious Motion, Amethyst Dust, and The Zookeeper. Thanks also to our partners at Tucci Team for their support. —Scott Gordon
SUNDAY JUNE 2
The Cleveland trio Togishi improvises its way through a wild array of harmonic possibilities, but also hops across a number of approaches to atmosphere and mood. On the self-titled debut album Togishi released in March, the band variously sounds like a relatively straightforward free-jazz outfit, a noisy drone project, a gentle ambient venture, and a plucky acoustic folk group with a dash of abrasive saxophone. There’s still an instinctual cohesion at work in Togishi’s music, but given who’s in the band, it makes sense that things would stretch in a number of improbable directions. Drummer Joe Tomino is best known for the bruising metal-reggae hybrids of Dub Trio but has also worked extensively as a session and touring musician for hire with artists ranging from Lady Gaga to Matisyahu to the Fugees, in addition to various other solo and collaborative outings. Saxophonist Dan Wenninger has worked extensively in free jazz, plays in the gritty New Orleans-second-line-style ensemble Revolution Brass Band, and played in genres ranging from reggae to psych-rock. Guitarist Mike Sopko’s collaborators over the years have included Twin Cities electronic artist Dosh and bassist Bill Laswell. Tomino and Sopko also play together in a doom-metal duo called Yellowstone Apocalypse.
So, that gives Togishi a lot of experiences and ideas to work with, and the flexibility and endurance to explore those possibilities. “Flow State” begins with Sopko laying down soft, delay-soaked chords, as Wenninger’s murmuring sax and Tomino’s electronic manipulations gradually build the piece toward a generous, ecstatic crescendo. Wenninger leads the trio into the nine-minute “Western Reserve” with sinuous melodies that gradually become more tense and volatile, and Tomino gradually shapes things into a tumultuous shuffle. Elsewhere, on “Charity Shuffle” and “Van Swernigan,” the trio heads straight into distortion and squawking reeds, but with an ear for depth and texture amid the overload. The album closes with “The Force,” a slow descent into cavernous territory, with Sopko plodding away on the lower strings of his guitar and Tomino creating ominous rustles and scratches. Togishi is slated to play a fully improvised set here, so expect the trio to expand even further. —Scott Gordon
MONDAY JUNE 3
The return of doom-metal pioneers Sleep is not just for your roommate who never does dishes. Yes, so much branding and marketing goes into reinforcing Sleep’s attachment to stoner culture that it’s quite literally a buzz-kill, but the music itself accomplishes far more than that. While one aspect of Sleep’s music is that it is probably real cool to close your bleary eyes and zone out to a song that’s literally over an hour long (namely the title track of 2003’s Dopesmoker), there are plenty of other ways to enjoy Sleep. You can use the band’s hypnotic tracks to quell a newborn back into a dream state. You can be a gearhead and geek out about the insanely well-sculpted low end that guitarist Matt Pike and bassist Al Cisneros create on tracks like “Marijuant’s Theme,” from 2018’s reunion album The Sciences, and “Holy Mountain,” from 1993’s Sleep’s Holy Mountain. And like most stoner metal, it serves well as background music in high-fantasy DND campaigns.
I’m also a big fan many of the bands that Sleep influenced in the doom genre, such as Conan and Slabdragger, two other bands that are perfectly enjoyable whether or not you’re squarely within the stoner-dude demographic. The fact that Sleep emerged from its 10-year TH-Coma—erh, hiatus—is a testament to the band’s resounding musicianship, the impact of Black Sabbath’s Vol. 4, and the power of gnarly riffs that can transcend decades. I’m just not gonna roll up and become extremely paranoid while listening to songs that revitalize the story of a giant sand-worm eating people in a desert, in space. Big Business, the furious and often smart-assed duo of bassist/vocalist Jared Warren and drummer Coady Willis, open up here behind a new album, The Beast You Are, which brings a more melodic and psychedelic touch to the band’s sound. —John McCracken
WEDNESDAY JUNE 5
The inaugural LunArt Festival in 2018 comprised a series of performances, talks, and workshops that focused heavily on elevating women in the arts, and particularly contemporary women composers. That’s still a big part of the focus in the 2019 lineup, which features versatile flautist and composer Valerie Coleman serving as composer-in-residence, presenting new works (alongside those of other composers who submitted new work to the festival) in a June 6 concert at the Maiahaus Project Space at 402 E. Mifflin St. and taking part in a June 8 panel discussion at the Madison Public Library’s Bubbler space, among other activities. But LunArt also branches out a bit this year to shed extra light on comedy, dance, and poetry. Stand-ups including Vickie Lynn, Cynthia Marie, and headliner Chastity Washington will perform what promises to be a varied night of stand-up comedy on June 7 at Robinia Courtyard, and perhaps just including this show in the LunArt lineup will help a broader audience discover the strengths of Wisconsin’s stand-up scene. The festival is also partnering with the Women Against Hate group art exhibition at the Overture Center, and the fest closes with a June 9 poetry reading at Common Ground in Middleton.
One of the most intriguing programs in the lineup is the “Portraits Of Josephine” concert on June 7 at Overture Center’s Promenade Hall. Building off the compositions Coleman has created over the years about the life of Josephine Baker, “Portraits” will also feature work from four other composers and two dancer/choreographers, including Edna Alejandra Longoria’s “Danzas Cautivas” for string quintet and piano. The musicians performing that night will include some versatile players in Madison’s classical, jazz, and avant-garde music circles, like pianists Satoko Hayami and Vincent Fuh, and cellist Mark Bridges. There’s still more new music to be heard in a June 8 “emerging composers concert” at Capitol Lakes, which covers work from six women composers who have been workshopping their pieces with Coleman and the other musicians participating in the festival. Some of LunArt’s events are free and some art ticketed, so be sure to browse the full schedule. —Scott Gordon