It wasn’t until the jazz/rock hybrid experiments of the ‘60s and ‘70s that the violin began to wriggle free of its high-rent ghetto in a truly meaningful way. Sugarcane Harris, for instance, started out as a blues violinist in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers before Frank Zappa tapped him to add a new sonic wrinkle to the Mothers of Invention’s innovative weirdness. Zappa later made Jean-Luc Ponty a household name, and the signature sound of the Mahavishnu Orchestra was defined as much by the electric violin flights of first Jerry Goodman and later Ponty as it was by John McLaughlin’s double-necked guitar. Around the same time in the jazz world, Billy Bang was undertaking similar extraterrestrial explorations with the Sun Ra Arkestra.
But these guys were exceptions to many rules, and to this day, someone like Laurie Anderson – even after over four decades in the music business and getting to play on movie soundtracks and at the Olympics – is still seen as cutting-edge, avant-garde. You’re just not supposed to do things like that with a violin, somehow. It’s not seemly.
Mia Zabelka isn’t interested in seemliness – nor, apparently, much concerned with the narrative component that is so important in Anderson’s work, except in some of her collaborations. On her own, she just wants to see what sounds she can make come out of that instrument. Nor does the gamine-looking, multi-award-winning Austrian violinist regard her style of playing as a crossover among different musical styles; rather, she filters various genres “in order to create a new language out of this concentrated material: my own very specific means of communication.”
One music journalist, Paul Poet, described Zabelka’s approach as “perfectly Minimalist shoe-gazing electronica,” while others fall back on the adjective “anarchic.” Zabelka herself describes her work as “automatic playing,” as in automatic writing; but the process is visceral, not intellectualized or spacey. It’s the kind of improvisation in which the performer’s body – and the instrument, as its extension – just seem like unobstructed channels for whatever the Muse has in mind today.
Considering this, no one in the Hudson Valley who pays any attention to the avant-garde music world will be greatly surprised to hear that Pauline Oliveros has been one of Mia Zabelka’s mentors. The two continue to perform together on many occasions, and Oliveros’ Deep Listening Space – now relocated from the Rondout District to the third floor of the Shirt Factory at 77 Cornell Street in Midtown Kingston – will welcome Zabelka for a concert this coming Tuesday, January 25 at 8 p.m.
Zabelka, who studied music and composition with Roman Haubenstock-Ramati, Dieter Kaufmann, Kurt Schwertsik and Alexander Arenkov in Vienna, is described by the Deep Listening Institute as “one of the most innovative freestyle violin-players of the world. As a composer and performer of improvised, experimental and electro/acoustic music, she has developed a unique language based on the de- and reconstruction of the violin’s sonic possibilities, expanding the instrument using live electronic effects and innovative performance techniques.” On YouTube, for instance, you can find illustrative clips of her layering sound loops by tapping out various rhythms on the body of her headless violin before ever touching bow to strings.
Admission to the performance is $10 for adults, $8 for students and seniors. For more information and reservations visit www.deeplistening.org or call (845) 338-5984.