Nomi Epstein
Nomi Epstein Credit: Billie Howard

CLASSICAL | Peter Margasak

September 5 is the centennial of John Cage‘s birth, a landmark in the classical world—throughout the year concerts, lectures, and other commemorations will honor his music and philosophies. Cage has few equals in the modern era when it comes to transforming what music can be, from his early embrace of electronics to his efforts to get listeners to reconsider the definition of “noise.” On Sat 3/31 at Floating World Gallery (1925 N. Halsted), pianist Eliza Garth will perform one of Cage’s earliest and most enduring works, Sonatas and Interludes (1946-’48), which consists of 20 short pieces for prepared piano—”prepared” meaning it has bolts, screws, bits of rubber, and other objects inserted into its mechanisms. The free concert (reservations are required) is a preview of A John Cage Festival, presented by local experimental-music collective Aperiodic and running from April 13 to 15.

Composer and Aperiodic director Nomi Epstein says she didn’t realize how underappreciated Cage was in the States till she attended Germany’s Darmstadt festival in 2010. “I was shocked that nearly every lecture given by the list of European notables mentioned Cage,” she says. “It was an enlightening experience for me to consider Cage’s influence was so strong and so alive in European circles of academia, when in America his works are often presented briefly on the day in class that graphic scores and 4’33” are discussed.”

Epstein’s festival includes concerts at the Chicago History Museum, PianoForte, Collaboraction, and the Fine Arts Building’s Curtiss Hall. Most of the performers are from local groups—Fulcrum Point, the CSO, Ensemble Dal Niente, and Allos Musica, among others. The programs feature Cage works from throughout his career, many of which employ indeterminacy—one of Epstein’s interests. Perhaps most impressive, considering the number of performers and the amount of rehearsal time, the shows are cheap—$12 to $15, and as little as $8 for students. “It’s a very grassroots initiative, where everyone involved has been incredibly generous and driven to make the event successful,” Epstein says.

“I think there is a misconception that a lot of this work is ‘easy’ to perform based on a glance at the score, but I believe it requires a real commitment,” says Epstein. Most ambitious are the two rare performances of the monumental 1965 multimedia work Variations V, both at Collaboraction on Sat 4/14. Photocells triggered by dancers send signals to TV and VGA monitors, and audio and video of the performance is fed back into the electronics—suffice it to say, it’s complicated.

FOLK | Bill Meyer

If anyone deserves credit for being ahead of his time, it’s Sandy Bull. Equally handy on guitar, banjo, and oud, the late American multi-instrumentalist recorded three superb albums for Vanguard in the 1960s, blending bluegrass, jazz, rock, gospel, and Brazilian and Middle Eastern sounds into hypnotic, open-ended instrumentals that presaged both the panglobal fusions of world music and the drone epics of artists like Roy Montgomery and Steve Gunn. Bull’s use of electronic rhythms and prerecorded backing tracks in live performance was quite rare at the time, but such tools have since become essential for pedal-reliant solo performers like Noveller.

Musician, artist, and Reader contributor Steve Krakow has just released Sandy Bull & the Rhythm Ace: Live 1976 on his Galactic Zoo Disk label (an imprint of Drag City), and this previously unissued concert recording adds “ribald raconteur” to Bull’s curriculum vitae—he explains that the psych-swampy groove “Alligator Wrestler” is named after the masturbation technique of a roommate from rehab. Bull has been dead for 11 years, so the LP’s release party at the Hideout on Fri 4/6 will feature Bull-themed sets by guitarist Jeff Parker and a duo of guitarist Matthew Clark and drummer Frank Rosaly; between them the organizers will present the second Chicago screening of the film No Deposit No Return Blues, a remembrance of Bull by his daughter, K.C.

PUNK | Kevin Warwick

What’s so special about an eighth birthday? Justin Schwier of Underground Communique Records admits that there’s no real reason his punk label is throwing an anniversary party on Sat 3/31 at Township, as opposed to doing it some other year. The label didn’t pat itself on the back when it turned five, and it probably won’t when it turns ten—why now?

Short answer: because some of the acts on the label decided to. Most of UC’s 60-odd releases have been about finding audiences for Schwier’s friends’ bands, and those friends want to show their appreciation. “The bands are super supportive,” Schwier says. “Shot Baker, who were behind this whole thing, have been waving the Underground Communique flag the highest.”

UC began as part label, part radio program, but in 2005 Schwier handed off the WLUW-branded show to friends so he could focus on putting out music. “I was frustrated seeing friends’ bands not getting the attention I thought they deserved,” he says. “It just drove me to the point where I was like, ‘Screw it, I’m going to put my money where my mouth is.'” Since then his label has dropped albums by no-frills local punk groups such as Vacation Bible School, the Methadones, Rollo Tomasi, the Copyrights, and Mexican Cheerleader.

Like any grassroots label run out of an apartment by one person—especially a person who slaves all day reading contracts at a computer sales company—Underground Communique is sustained by ambition. Even after eight years, Schwier sounds wide-eyed when he talks about his plans—which include reissuing 90s ska records.

“The one that’s out already is a reissue of a 1995 split CD between the Suicide Machines and the Rudiments,” he says. “We also did a Kickstarter campaign to do four records, and those are going to be from the Pietasters, the Pilfers, Edna’s Goldfish (who were on Moon), and a band from California called the Suburban Legends.”

On Saturday, Schwier will be hawking crisp new T-shirts and copies of the hot-off-the-presses debut seven-inch from the first band, Eastland Disaster; the rest of the bill, headliner first, is Shot Baker, Vacation Bible School, and Infected.