Checking In: Tara Bhattacharya Stages Interference Fest – Women Making Noise 2020
Sound artist and festival curator promotes the creative class
By Raoul Hernandez,
9:09AM, Fri. Dec. 4, 2020
“Over a decade in Austin, [tonal producer] Tara Bhattacharya invited performance and sound artists from around the globe,” writes Rachel Rascoe in this week’s Faster Than Sound. “Not until recently did she realize most were men. That launched Interference Fest: Women Making Noise in 2019, named after works by Italian electro pioneer Teresa Rampazzi.”
Austin Chronicle: Where are you sheltering and under what circumstances? Who else is there and how’s that going?
Tara Bhattacharya: I’ve had to move around a number of times, since my separation and divorce late last year. It took me a while to find an appropriate rental in North Austin, but I’ve been here for a few months now and I’m still settling in slowly. I live on my own and take the concept of social distancing very seriously, therefore I barely see people anymore.
I’ve lost six people to COVID-19 and age-related deaths since March. Social distancing is an exercise in protecting others as much as myself, and the people I’ve lost are truly irreplaceable. To honor their memory and exercise respect and consideration toward my fellow neighbors and friends, I make myself as scarce as possible and get on with my life.
Although every loss broke my heart, I know this year has been a continuous flood of sadness – sadness and anxiety – for everyone in Austin whether or not I know the peculiarities of each situation. Everyone’s struggling and entrenched in a collective state of mourning, which I’ve come to take a strange comfort in. Mourning in isolation definitely weirded me out, because grieving is an innately social exercise in the South Asian culture I was born and raised in. It’s done together in a group setting and people share their emotions out in the open.
No one buries those emotions on their own.
I think a lot about mortality more often than not. As artists, I think we do that. Not only can we finesse our intuition to be more receptive in the world, but we’re always able to access intense emotions and move through them gracefully, and find our very own solutions because we’re in the habit of using our creativity.
Dealing with the subject of mortality with the breadth of intensity I have during these past 10 months has helped me cope with being totally alone. I embrace stillness. I enjoy being in a vacuum. I watch the flora and fauna bloom and die with heightened awareness. And when you allow something your full attention and go through the motions whether they are pleasant or not, you start to feel a sense of empowerment in solitude.
It’s poetry, actually.
Getting a divorce at the beginning of the year, being compounded with temporary displacement both physically (no permanent home, for a while) and (socially) from people I used to know in the Austin music scene, plus ongoing battles with physical and psychological traumas to both body and mind, got a little too much at the beginning and middle of this year, I’m not gonna lie.
Yet, after all that – miraculously – I have the opportunity to run this amazing festival online called Interference Fest: Women Making Noise 2020, which is keeping me afloat financially and spiritually. Suddenly, I feel as if I have a purpose and am learning to overcome feelings of sorrow and loss with care and responsibility for a community of people I truly care about. I live to serve and without a sense of responsibility or “doing” things for others, my life feels pretty meaningless.
I am attempting to bring back the community I loved and knew so well in the virtual realm. It’s been a very positive experience re-connecting with people in this strange new world of virtual reality, but the possibilities are infinite and I’m saying that as a live promoter of just over two decades.
I’ve enjoyed all the Zoom tests we’ve done with the festival participants so far, and I hope the festival runs smoothly this weekend. Zoom is like our very own home teleportation device, transporting people’s spirit and imagination across many miles. It’s kind of lovely, actually.
The only thing is, I do wish we could make people materialize through Zoom. I just miss hugging people. I’d love to hug them again. What frustrates me about online interaction is the dislocation of tactility – touch, smell, and taste (even) – but at the end of the day it’s still worth it just to get a glimpse of a toothy grin or listen to a new tune a friend’s working on.
Simple expressions are oftentimes the best.
AC: At what point did C-19 shut down operations for you, and what went down with the ship, so to speak, both personally & professionally?
TB: Lots of things were happening to me privately and professionally just as Austin was in the process of shutting down. I suffered from a horrible leg injury in early spring, so I was in a lot of pain, but I had to keep working in order to sustain my life.
At the end of February, I booked a really great presentation at the Museum of Human Achievement for Ian Nagoski of Canary Records, who taught us about the musical history of Eastern European diasporas in New York City during the early 20th Century. I was also booked to play an amazing showcase on March 22 at the Carpenter Hotel during SXSW that featured Carl Stone as the headliner. If people know anything about electronic music, well, that guy’s a god!
I was very nervous about that particular gig, because I had no permanent place to live at that time and (temporarily) had no instruments in my possession, so it was a real noggin’ scratcher, like, “What on earth am I going to play?” However, I was extremely determined to perform on that show. I’ve always been grateful for any opportunity to play live.
In addition to those, I had booked two big showcases, both at North Door in April – Interference Fest: Women Making Noise 2020, which I was struggling to finish organizing and starting publicity for, plus a tour for a group of European sound artists passing through town, featuring Carl Michael von Hausswolff. The other gig I had booked and was super excited to present was for ex-Harry Pussy guitarist Bill Orcutt at Hotel Vegas in May, alongside Kevin Whitley, Nathan Cross, Christina Carter, and Julia Hungerford.
I also spoke to Barracuda to bring Fitted with Mike Watt (Minutemen) and Graham Lewis (Wire) to Austin. That was going to be a massive undertaking, but I was so determined to do it and looking forward to the challenge.
A friend of mine came to the shop and told me they had been warned during a conference at SXSW that something major was about to happen in Austin. Of course, that story kind of fell on deaf ears for a while, but about a week later I got a rude awakening and was laid off from my main job at Breakaway Records on North Loop. After that, Austin started looking like a ghost town pretty much overnight.
I felt pretty helpless for a couple of weeks there. I don’t like not going to work.
AC: As a global culture, people employ music for every purpose imaginable, obviously spanning religion to entertainment and everything in between. What happens to communities like ours when people can no longer access it in person?
TB: My friend Presley sent me this incredible video of hardcore punk bands playing at a Denny’s in California just before it shut down at the end of last year. The energy was off the charts! The music, the moshing, the blood, sweat, and furor.
You don’t know how good something is, until it’s gone. How amazing that we took scenarios like that for granted.
Also, I was raised Hindu, so I’ve been feeling quite nostalgic for street music performed by local groups of men and women during [annual lights celebration] Diwali in particular. I’ve been watching a lot of older YouTube Diwali videos. You don’t have to be religious to feel moved or to “get it” somehow. The music is so primal (it runs deep), and each performance is a wonderful spectacle – lots of people, lots of sound, lots of color, total fun, all around!
The last live music I remember hearing before the pandemic hit was the house band Saturday night at Donn’s Depot. I also take photos in my spare time, so I was envisioning putting together a whole tableau vivant series from that space. I went alone and felt totally awkward by myself at first, mostly because l don’t think I have very much in common (culturally) with the regular clientele who frequent that spot. However, by the end of the evening, oh my god, the atmosphere was so incredible that I’m really glad I went. It was such a rewarding experience!
There’s a lot to be said for just sitting around complete strangers LOVING the same songs as you and feeling joy together through pure osmosis. That’s pretty magic and why live music is unbeatable. It’s the great EQUALIZER and connects us together, no matter who we are or where we’re from.
I know a lot of people (artists and audiences) who feel a deep void without live events. I get it, but it's a compromise between having your health or not. It’s a choice between protecting yourself and others or not. Yes, human beings are social creatures and we feel a need to gather during all the peaks and troughs we go through on our life journeys. However, there are exceptions.
I totally understand the need for BLM protests in response to police brutality and the non-stop violence against Black men and women across this country. The power to congregate and stand up against injustice cannot be underrated. However, when it comes to congregating for live entertainment purposes only, I feel very strongly about it as someone who’s promoted live music since my late teens.
I’ve heard and seen evidence of gigs taking place in Austin both indoors and outdoors with audiences there. I don’t really care how socially distanced you “think” you are being, it’s not necessary to do gigs right now and in my opinion, you’re being irresponsible if you’re doing that as a promoter. Don’t forget what’s been happening to Black and brown folks in El Paso.
It’s truly horrifying.
Until we have more concrete evidence about the behavior of this virus and its long-term effects, it is not necessary to play with people's lives under the guise of conjectures. I would never dream of putting my artists or audiences at any kind of health risk just to come and see my show. That’s unfathomable to me!
Losing six people who meant something to you shifts your perspective on things.
AC: Everyone’s had to shift or drastically alter their work situation. What does that look like for you?
TB: I’m working from home on the festival now, but I’m itching to find more work. I’m someone who thrives on social interaction in my job, and I love working for small companies, so I feel a bit lost without having to get up and go to my place of work every day like I used to. I loved that routine, but hey, we’re adaptable creatures.
Sometimes, it’s nice not having to make that hard commute back and forth. The traffic in this town is nuts during rush hour.
AC: What’s your soundtrack for the apocalypse and what role does music play for you as a fan and scholar of it in times of hardship?
TB: Minimalist composer Julius Eastman has been on my playlist since March. His album Unjust Malaise is so powerful to me. I played him a lot after George Floyd died.
Also, even though spiritual jazz has always had a special place in my heart, it’s become an even more crucial genre for me in 2020, which is precisely why I invited Angel Bat Dawid as the headliner on Friday. She will appear in her newest all female trio, Angel Bat Dawid + Sistazz of Tha Nitty Gritty, featuring Anaiet and Brooklyn Skye Scott. Angel’s work incorporates themes around Black identity and she expresses these themes with intense passion, beauty, pain, rage, and transcendence.
She is my favorite female artist in the world, right now.
I’ve been listening to Angel Dawid + Tha Brotherhood LIVE a lot on Bandcamp. Ooh, they are so good! Norman W. Long from Tha Brothahood will be headlining with his colleague Amanda Gutierrez on Interference Fest this coming Sunday, Dec. 6. They’re both accomplished field recording researchers and experts in the art of listening. Very happy they’re on the line-up this year.
Jeff Hunt from Table of the Elements also put out an epic Tony Conrad and Faust box set called Outside the Dream Syndicate just before the pandemic, so because I totally dig endurance pieces, it’s been a pandemic fave. I’m hoping to present experimental musician MV Carbon to the festival next year in addition to screening Tony Conrad's documentary, in which she appears, in fact. I’m always dreaming, dreaming big!
Nine out of 10 ideas falls through, but I’ve come to accept that’s the nature of the business.
My primary role is a listener/observer of music and art. Secondly, I’m a creative. And third, I’m a promoter/organizer/curator of cultural events. I want to be here for artists in whichever way I can to help. At the end of the day, it’s not an ego trip for me. Supporting people is fulfilling to me. I feel happiest doing that.
My one and only hope is that people stop treating creators and makers disrespectfully. Artists need to get compensated realistically for all of their time and effort. We’ve all been through a crazy existential crisis since March and who have helped us get through this? Filmmakers, musicians, writers, artists, animators, dancers, actors, yoga, and meditation teachers.
All of these people have sustained and nourished our souls, and have been our guides through weeks and weeks of consternation. The creative class is vital to society. The pandemic has proven that, even further.
It’s time we stood up and did better by one another.
Interference Fest: Women Making Noise 2020 Friday, Dec. 4 – Sunday, Dec. 6 Instagram: antumbrae_atx Tickets====== DAY 1 Angel Bat Dawid & Sistazz of Tha Nitty Gritty w/ Angel Bat Dawid Brooklyn Skye Scott Anaiet + Sonia Flores Sandy Ewen Sarah La Puerta Sarah Ruth Alexander + Suspirians w/ Marisa Pool Lisa Cameron Stephanie Demopulos ================= DAY 2 Yuliya Lanina + Lily Taylor Anisa Boukhlif Rebecca Novak + Chronophage w/ Sarah Beames Adam Jones Parker Allen Casey Allen ++ A Visual Interference Curated by Anna Kipervaser & Nayantara Bhattacharya w/ Sarah Almubarak, Zaina Junidy, Diana Barrie, Emily Chao, Lauren Henschel, Caroline Charry Quintero, Nour Ouayala, Naomi Uman, Kristin Reeves, Ashley Manigo, and Stephanie Barber ============================================== DAY 3 Amanda Gutierrez & N.W. Long + Blendways (Rachel Weaver) Leafblower (Raquel Bell) Jana Horn Aga Zet ++ A Self-Care Interference Workshops: Yoga, massage + healing techniques in quarantine
Feb. 26, 2021
Feb. 5, 2021
Tara Bhattacharya, Interference Fest: Women Making Noise 2020, Ian Nagoski, Canary Records, Carl Stone, Carl Michael von Hausswolff, Bill Orcutt, FITTED, Julius Eastman, Angel Bat Dawid, Tha Brothahood, Norman W. Long, Jeff Hunt, Tony Conrad, Checking In 2020