Aurals + Optics: Bringing Milwaukee’s best together.
When Friday the 13th came by this April, Milwaukee found itself immersed with plenty of drinks, skinny ties, mustaches, pretty ladies, friends, and good fortune. The event Aurals + Optics, held at Linneman’s Riverwest Inn, paired the city’s music and film talent to showcase a creative dynamic that left people feeling blessed and buzzing and looking forward to other multi-media events.
Aurals + Optics gave its audience a hearty and unique lineup with screenings of the music video “Candy Council,” made by Kurt Raether and WC Tank, the trailer of “Savage Land,” by Farmland Dynamite, and birthday boy Andrew Nordstrum’s short film, “Commit,” scored by Josh Evert of The Fatty Acids. These visual pieces traded off between the live performances from WC Tank, Canopies, and The Fatty Acids, with DJ sets from the Wax Addicts. Jason Nanna and Ross Oldenburg sat side stage, bent over an electric hive of wires, giving visualizer effects to the live acts with an analog machine that was built from scratch. With all of these names packed into one evening, Milwaukee did not pull out early on the sprawling celebration of its native gems.
Nearly two hundred people stepped into the boozy old-world charm of Linneman’s hardwood floors and high ceilings. After little time, the entire length of the bar was filled with people talking loudly and smiling freely. Groups moved on into the backroom where a projection screen spread across the back center of the stage. Opposite to the stage were the Wax Addicts’ DJs, Mickey Comerford III and Sammy Brown. The two huddled over record crates, running their fingers over their vinyl on deck in preparation.
The house lights softened, the projector’s image faded in on the screen, and Mickey Comerford III moved his needle onto the record. He spun out the relaxed beats of West Coast hip-hop’s Dilated Peoples while Jean-Luc Godard’s famous collage-like tale, “Pierrot le Fou,” glows bright across the stage. Everyone’s face in the crowd lit up, sparkling like the beer in their pint glasses.
With the backroom filled by a crowd at ease, Kurt Raether, of The Fatty Acids, got on stage, introducing the music video he made for WC Tank’s song “Candy Council.” The music video was well received, moving the audience from laughter to thoughtful examination and enthusiastic applause.
WC Tank followed up the showing with a live performance of his nerd hip hop album, ‘Painghosty Dreamlaughs.’ Dedicated to his deliverance, WC Tank moved about the stage with a camera strapped to his chest, projecting his image with other effects behind him. His voice has a wavering intensity, with it scaling a various lines in one breath, backed up by beats with fuzzy bass effects and synths. WC will be dismissed as a joke rapper by those who neglect to admit the hard work he’s put into making a fifteen-track album with bizarre yet evocative song titles like ‘Goliath Shards.’ WC is serious about having a sense of humor as his voice gives fun inflections over lines that make the crowd laugh and then changes gears to rattle off complex verses with grace. He best explained this range of tonality in his work by saying that, “My dad says it’s a comedy routine, but I see it as a performance art.” WC Tank finished his set and the crowd enjoyed chattered and bobbed heads to the beats of the Wax Addicts vinyl selections. At the bar there was one gentleman who was shouting to everyone that he was not in a band, but that he would be up on stage soon, shaving his head.
In the back of the venue, where the stage is located, the crowd hushed and the music faded out. The screening of the trailer for “Savage Land,” a [Mid]-Western film by the local production company, Farmland Dynamite, grabbed everyone’s attention. The trailer gave us brief, but impressive, shots. “Savage Land” depicts a town of Western folk that have settled into the remains of a broken society. The plot revolves around the character of Sheldon Miller, a man set out to get vengeance for his murdered friend and stolen horse. The movie becomes even more engaging when Sheldon Miller’s path crosses another’s, whose dangerous mission is to reform a society of restive people. The trailer’s beating drums and reeling scenes evoked curiosity about the stakes its story raises, excitement with cuts from various action scenes, and wonderment about how the film would unfold and when we’d be able to see it. After the trailer ended, the excited crowd was treated to a spectacle. The man shouting who had been earlier at the bar, turned out to be Adam Gillmore, the writer of “Savage Land”. His intentions were to spread awareness about funding needed for the film’s postproduction and also to celebrate a benchmark in the fundraising goals the film had reached. Just as he promised, he shaved his head. In the slideshow below are pictures of it, captured by Cole Quamme.
Next to take the stage was the talented four-man, awe-inspiring band, Canopies. Their set started off with their drummer laying down a driving rock tempo with his kick drum, joined along by their keyboard player with a floor tom of his own. Canopies charged the crowd with energy with catchy synth rifts, hip bass lines that moved its spectators to dancing, and vocals that stretched themselves over the sounds with notes and words that clearly sounded in place and well executed. The most intriguing aspect of their set was the versatility that the members shared, as nearly all of them traded instruments and delivered songs with confidence. With a performance like this, Canopies let us know that they are a talented and inventive group to be watched, as we can only expect good things to come from them.
Aurals + Optics stayed up on its delivery, consistently getting the next work ready for screening. Even though Canopies had brought everyone into an ecstatic hunger for more music and dancing, the crowd immediately shifted gears and quieted down for the screening of “Commit,” by Andrew Nordstrum, the film’s maker who was also there celebrating his birthday. “Commit” is a short film that centers around a male character’s self-inflicted struggle of infidelity. The short film juxtaposes the man’s true relationship with blurs of sincere happiness with his girlfriend to various other scenes of nights on the town with other women, with multiple instances shame, sex, and despair.
“I wanted to show a cycle of sex and emptiness,” said Andrew Nordstrum, when asked about the concept of the film. Nordstrum accomplished demonstrating his concept, as the film ended with its beginning shot with the naked back of the male character. When seeing the scene the first time, it appears as if hands of someone in front of him are shown hugging him. Only upon taking us through the cycle, “Commit,” gives us more contextual meaning at the end, where the audience realizes that it is not a woman hugging the man, but the man hugging himself in loneliness. “Commit” dazzled the viewer with its camera work, editing, and amazing selection of score, composed by Josh Evert, the lead singer of The Fatty Acids.
Bringing the night to its pinnacle of celebratory excitement, The Fatty Acids took the stage. The six-man band rocks with addictive keyboard melodies, fun accents of trumpet notes, group vocals on choruses, and an overall stage presence that induces the crowd into full-blown dance. All acts this evening have shown impressive work, but The Fatty Acids capped it off, having its audience moving to its songs, from the front of the stage, to the back of the room.
At the close of the night, everyone trailed out of Linneman’s with an energy of fulfillment. People grabbing drinks at the bar, already talking amongst each other and revisiting the awesomeness of what it is they had just experienced. You could look at anyone in the crowd, and when your eyes met, you both shared a smile and eagerness that said, I can’t wait until we go to another Aurals + Optics again!
And we will.
Written by: Phil Haebig
Photos: Jordan Kalb
Edited by: Anne Conway