Q&A With Gustavo Matamoros on the Subtropics Festival

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This year Subtropics marks its 21 year anniversary and 20th edition (more on that later) of bringing together sound minds in South Florida. The conference features performances, lectures, networking opportunities and exhibits for audiophiles and the uninitiated alike. Artistic Director of the festival Gustavo Matamoros, a sound educator at the highly ranked Design and Architecture Senior High School, took the time talk about the festival, its impact and its role in the community....

I've been called the the Artistic Director from the beginning. We started in April 1989 at the library downtown. They had that auditorium there.

This is the 20th fest. We didn't do one in 2008. In 07' we decided to make it a biennial event, that mean it's every two years.

Our idea is that maybe this becomes more like a bigger event that involves a larger portion of the community, we're staging an open community forum, we'd like to discuss what sound art and experimental music is and what it means to have it in the community and what it means for the future of the festival.

We got $20,000 from the Knight Foundation through its donor-advised program at the Dade Community Foundation,. We described this idea to bring together the members of the experimental music community from across the country, we had this intention to all get together, to do this open meeting of the advisory board, we're gonna turn it into a forum. I'd really like other community leaders and organizers and the public to come be a part of it and see how all this stuff relates to what they do and help make a larger event all around.

Experimental music is not a style, but an attitude toward creating music.

I teach at DASH and I tell my students to ask questions about sound and then  try to answer them by making experiments, there are as many interpretations of experimental music as there are artists who make it.

Do sounds have a tendency to get along, absolutely

It's a significant community, there's an r&d element, there's teaching, we're not so interested in trying to answer questions about dance music, Im interested in what is inside improvistation, what is miami music, what does it mean to be a composer in the community, the answers are different for every person that does it.

The experience of sound is personal to everybody and everybody builds their own relationship with sound, we all get different things from sound and that's what makes it so wonderful.

Let me tell you a story. In the 70's I wanted to be a composer, I went to a concert by a chamber music ensemble. It was interesting, people were playing regular instruments but in really unusual ways. Then, 4 people walk in with what looks like a matress, they set it on the stage and set some microphones on it, but it's more like a bag, a brown bag, I hear a sound, 10 seconds later, another sound, and it starts to move, 7 minutes later theres a bag jumping on stage and the sound out of this bag was like a jet, I mean really loud, finally a dancer breaks out of a bag and the lights go off and I tell myself if that's music I wanna be a composer, and its something I've never been able to forget.

It was a defining moment in my life, it changed my life. That's what tends to happen with sound, we thrive in discovery and that kind of thing, it's honest exploration. Sometimes I have difficulty with the media, they have the need to try to transcribe or translate what they see into something more digestable by a regular audience. They end up talking about "the weird sounds" of this and that as though our aim was to shock people, a shallow interpretation of what we actually seek. Some of us don't make any money out of this, it's a certain belief that's deep rooted and that's very honest about learning how the world works.

Jim Staley - his area is improvisation, what we call free improvisation, he's been doing this for 25 or 30 years. He has a space called Roulette up in New York, that somewhat represents the kind of activity that we have down here.

The world Im describing is one that's often associated with classical music and experimental jazz, at the edge of the edge.

We also have the Interdisciplinary Sound Arts Workshop (ISAW) - what we been doin is, last year we brought in Nicholas Collins during WMC, he's the director of sound at the Art Institute of Chicago, he put out a book about the art of hardware hacking, and we hosted a 2 day workshop on how to hack electronics (to get sounds from them).

The festival is always our biggest draw for grants. It's a general audience, you never know who's gonna show up, it's a big challenge, we print a newspaper as a flyer, we print 10,000 programs, we hand em out, in local stores, the record stores, Churchills, we take em to the hotels, Lincoln Road, we hand em out, it's not easy to mail a newspaper, and we have a strong email list. But the newspaper gets to people that we normally can't get to. The difficult thing in Miami is that there's not just one way to get to everybody.

We're very much interested in education, we have a relationship with Miami Beach Senior High School. We started going in January to interact with the students and teach classes. They have a sound engineering and film program, and since we work with sound in a way that's not just confined to music, it relates to everything, and that's how we apprach what we do, from the perspective that everything relates to sound, all of these things are ways of organizing so that it becomes a part of any class, but without the kids we wouldn't be able to do it, they're in outer space man. We've been able to engage younger people, they get it right away, they explain it to their parents. It's not directly intended for kids but they just relate to it naturally because it's intended for discovery and they're in the midst of discovery themselves, so what better audience is there?

The content of what we do is often unknown so we often have to embrace new ideas and new ways to organize so it's an experimental organization altogether and I imagine that's why we've survived all these years, cause from one year to the next we're not the same organization, we're always starting from scratch.

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