Local experimental musician Mike Tamburo -- known for his work with Arco Flute Foundation; his solo guitar, dulcimer and electronic music; and his label, New American Folk Hero -- has been known to spend months out of the year touring. His latest venture, though, is kind of like a tour in reverse: Instead of exporting Tamburo from Pittsburgh, he's bringing folks he's met while on the road into town for his second annual Fantastic Voyagers festival, a two-day event taking place this weekend at ModernFormations Gallery.
"I'd grown really close to some people from touring, with Keenan [Lawler], and Eric [Carbonara] and Tusk Lord. I wanted them all to meet and play together here," says Tamburo. "That was one of the initial reasons for getting the festival together."
This year's installment, subtitled "Electric Boogaloo" (a reference to the second Breakin' movie), brings back many of last year's performers: Lawler (the trancey American primitive guitarist from Louisville); Layne Garrett (the soundscape artist from Washington, D.C.); and Carbonara. But while last year's festival was devoted wholly to solo artists, this year there are some exceptions.
"I mostly wanted to have [recent Pittsburgh transplants] Black Forest/Black Sea play, so I decided to bend the rules a little to let more than just solo artists in," Tamburo says. "A lot of it still isn't what I'd call bands, though, even if there's more than one person."
Another difference this year is the number of drummers on the bill. While Disappearo (a.k.a. Arco Flute's Jeff Komara) assaulted last year's audience with a blistering solo drumming set, the second installment will feature a more collaborations involving percussionists. Pittsburgh's Harangue represent the only true rock band in the lineup, but Nick Shillace returns this year with a drummer (under the name Indoor Park) and another new Pittsburgher, Melissa St. Pierre, plans a collaboration with drummer and electronic musician Jesse Stiles, of Troy, N.Y.
St. Pierre, whose weapon of choice is often a prepared piano (a la John Cage, for example), relocated to Pittsburgh from upstate New York earlier this year, after releasing her solo record, Specimens, on the Radium imprint of the Table of the Elements label (think Rhys Chatham, Megafaun). Fantastic Voyagers is only her second Pittsburgh show, and she plans "20 solid minutes of electronically enhanced hardcore rock on prepared piano" with Stiles' accompaniment.
Another new Pittsburgher (but longtime musician) performing at the festival is Geoff Mullen, a noted dark droney guitarist who until recently inhabited the storied Providence experimental scene. Mullen arrived in town not long after Black Forest/Black Sea made the leap from Providence to Pittsburgh as well.
More familiar locals appearing at the two-day fest run the gamut from Tusk Lord (Mike Kasunic, the solo guitar/electronics musician who toured with Tamburo earlier this year) to Margaret Cox (perennial local noise artist) to local folkie scene vet Daryl Fleming.
Solo acts and side projects of local musicians otherwise known as rockers also pervade: Pete Spynda and Ian Bonnet (both once of Natura Nasa, Spynda having collaborated with Tamburo in Arco Flute as well) each have a solo spot on the bill. thoel:eme, featuring Joel Grimes of Allies (and formerly Pikadori), debuts during the Sunday show, and Centipede Eest drummer Sam Pace performs in his solo drums/electronics act, Gangwish, on Sunday as well.
With characteristic big-picture perspective, Tamburo describes the festival's participants as simply "people in the world with me making art at the same time." He adds, "I'm just happy to celebrate stuff that's good in 2008."
Beyond that, "It's nice when people don't sell out and become pop stars," he says. "It's nice that there's a reason for making art that's bigger than fame and recognition." While there's admittedly a "small audience" for the types of music these voyagers produce, that doesn't mean it's not worth putting together or coming to see.
"Last year, I was just amazed to be in a room full of people I admire and respect so much," Tamburo notes. "There are real explorers."
Fantastic Voyagers II: Electric Boogaloo. 3:30 p.m. Sat., Nov. 22, and 3 p.m. Sun., Nov. 23. ModernFormations Gallery, 4919 Penn Ave., Garfield. 412-362-0274
Sat., Nov. 22 lineup:
Harangue, Indoor Park, R. Keenan Lawler, Insect Factory, Ryan Jewell, Geoff Mullen, Eric Carbonara, Layne Garrett, Teen Milk, Robert Dingman, Daryl Fleming, Pairdown, Chris Niels, Ian Bonnet, Dean Cercone
Sun., Nov. 23 lineup:
Mike Tamburo, Melissa St. Pierre, Black Forest/Black Sea, Gangwish, Tusk Lord, Jim Storch, Margaret Cox, Nature, Hunted Creatures, Evil Twin, Pete Spynda, Noctuelles, thoel:eme