Sound science

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

In local doom-metal band Deadsea, guitarist Adam Smith strives for songs that are expertly composed and meticulously arranged. But when he comes to play at a small apartment studio on Rich Street, he's free to experiment with tape loops, percussion, synthesizers and other instruments modified by hand.

So too are Gerard Cox, who grew up playing organ and piano, and Hasan Abdur-Razzaq, a saxophonist and hand-drummer with a background in various jazz forms.

Together they form one arm of the Outpost Creative Music Collective, a loose affiliation of musicians, poets, DJs and other sound scientists headquartered at Cox's Downtown practice and performance spaces.

Like others in the collective, theirs is improvisational music - a blissfully amorphous amalgam of rock, jazz, funk, fusion, blues, spoken word and, at times, doom metal. Boundaries are blurry, definitions are scarce, and the energy of live performance reigns supreme.

"This is a great opportunity for me to [play] in a more natural and organic way," Smith said. "With these guys, they're such intuitive players. They're listening and creating at the same time."

Local and national interpretations of modern jazz - in which composition and performance occur simultaneously - will be showcased Tuesday during Out-Posted Vol. 1, a night of improvisational sets at the Columbus Dance Theatre.

To ears accustomed to the structure and rhythms of pop music, improvisational compositions can sound messy, aggressive and unresolved. Crashing and soaring, whispering and shouting - even familiar instruments can feel foreign and otherworldly.

"There's a lot of chaos," said Cox, whose Icebox series of free-jazz concerts catalyzed a growing community of improvisational musicians.

"When you have a solid rhythmic feel underneath, you can play a lot of things that otherwise might seem very dissonant and unresolved. While you don't start out with a chart, you really strive to create a sense of composition and development throughout a piece."

Improvised music lies outside the lines, and it revels in finding new meaning when sounds are placed, often haphazardly, in new contexts. There is, if you listen closely, method to this madness.

"I find that oftentimes when I'm playing the horn, it's based from a spiritual level," Abdur-Razzaq said. "Because of my background of spirituality and the different things I've encountered, all those things reflect in my playing."

In the coming months, the collective hopes to broaden the scope of the Out-Post series and weave its music into various visual arts, including video montage and live dance. Cox's trio hopes to release an album by fall.

"Never before have we had such access to music and cultural forms from across the world," Cox added, "and I think people are beside themselves with the possibilities."