We’ve written about our friend Phillip March Jones. Institute 193 in Lexington, Kentucky, is his gallery, a music venue, and multi-faceted publisher, which recently released a compilation of recordings from artists who have performed in the space. Phillip joins us as a contributor to the journal, with an introduction to 193 SOUND.
Sound is a mechanical wave that is an oscillation of pressure transmitted through a solid, liquid, or gas, composed of frequencies within the range of hearing. 193 SOUND is a collection of musical sounds: continuous, regular, and in this case, site-specific vibrations that tell the story of our small space, Institute 193, in Lexington, Kentucky. This compilation records the artists, performers, musicians, and general sound-makers who have emitted, transmitted, and radiated their own SOUNDS from within our walls and that now travel into your range of hearing.
Institute 193, a project I began in October 2009, is a non-profit contemporary art space and publisher that collaborates with artists, musicians, and writers to document the cultural production of the modern South. We produce exhibitions, books, and records with the goal of unearthing significant ideas from the region and sharing them with the world. Institute 193 engages and directs, steering and shaping projects into reality without sanitizing the vision of the artist.
Outside of Lexington, Institute 193 is mostly known, of course, as a gallery – a place where exhibitions of visual art are installed and observed. But our foray into the music world began just a few weeks after the gallery opened when Ben Sollee, a cellist and pop musician, offered to play a benefit concert at the Red Mile’s Round Barn. Three months later he invited a group of friends to play a post album-release party at the gallery, and Institute 193 unofficially assumed its role as performance space. At roughly 300 square feet, it is perhaps the smallest venue in the United States.
To date, Institute 193 has hosted over forty musical performances by artists and musicians who play before crowds of twenty to forty people for donations (we pass around a white mop bucket). During these performances, the gallery has the feel of a dedicated listening room. There is no loud talking or bar chatter to compete with the performers. Hardwood floors and high ceilings offer great acoustics and most acts perform with little or no amplification.
The concerts have ultimately inspired collaborations among artists and musicians. In 2011, Coleman Guyon (Trailblazer) directed a music video for Ben Sollee, and Robert Beatty will be directing several upcoming music videos for Lonnie Holley, who performed with Anna and Elizabeth and Ben Sollee at the Lexington Opera House in December 2012. These new projects, which grew directly from experiences and events at the gallery, were part of the impetus to produce the album. We wanted to bring these artists together onto a single record – a document of things past and a catalyst for things to come.
The vast majority of musicians featured on 193 SOUND are from Kentucky: Ben Sollee, Idiot Glee, Matt Duncan, Street Gnar, The Smacks!, Cross, Ellie Herring, Trailblazer, Goldenrod, Three Legged Race, Resonant Hole, and Warren Byrom and the Canelands. Robert Beatty and Ben Durham, both from Kentucky, have contributed an experimental sound piece that pairs an electronic noise improvisation with the recitation of text from one of Durham’s graphite drawings. The artists performed this piece at Institute 193 in December 2012. The writer Silas House delivers an introduction to the album, and also reads from a new work to the accompaniment of cellist Ben Sollee.
The record also includes songs by artists from across the Southeast: the Atlanta band Ruby Velle and the Soulphonics , North Carolina fiddler Rayna Gellert, the Virginia duo Anna and Elizabeth, and the quilters Georgiana Pettway and Creola Pettway of Gee’s Bend, Alabama. Lonnie Holley, a renowned visual artist, whose work is included in the collections of the Smithsonian and the American Folk Art Museum, has contributed a track, thanks to his label and occasional 193-collaborator, Dust-to-Digital.
193 SOUND also highlights music by ex-pat Southerners Morgan O’Kane, Zeke Healy, and Archer Prewitt. Prewitt, a native Kentuckian living in Chicago, plays with the band, The Sea and Cake, and is creator of the comic book series Sof’ Boy. The celebrated videographer, musician, and musicologist John Cohen has lent a rare recording of a traditional Appalachian song performed by the Shepherd Family circa 1960.
193 SOUND is designed to give the listener a taste of what is happening within our four walls, hopefully encouraging them to learn about our space and the artists we have been fortunate to work with over the past few years. It is the first of many projects that allows us to share the sounds of our region with the world and ideally will create opportunities for the musicians, artists, and performers involved.
Addendum: Throughout the preceding post, I have often used the pronoun we to describe the forces behind Institute 193. During the first two and a half years of the gallery’s existence, I often used we in the royal sense. It was just me. Since June 2011, however, I have had the opportunity to work with the ever-talented Chase Martin, currently director of Institute 193, who comprises the other half of we. He has been instrumental in every part of the gallery’s operational shenanigans since that time, and we are ever so grateful.
Photos by Tom Eblen and Matt Arnett.