Improvisation plays an entrenched role in Southern discourse. Anyone living below the Bible Belt has seen or heard about preachers speaking in tongues, or in more recent terms, dirty South hip-hop heads spitting freestyle rhymes at events like the annual Breaklanta competition. And even celebrated Southern authors like William Faulkner, Walker Percy and Harper Lee embraced a sense of letting unknown and spontaneous chains of events establish rhythm in their works.
Across genres like jazz, classical, rock and noise, Atlanta has cultivated a scattered crop of adept musicians who aren't afraid to break free from musical form and structure -- or sheet music. The Third Eyedrum/Atlanta Eclectic Improv Festival brings a sampling of the city's brightest improv-oriented artists together under a common roof for a two-day showcase.
The idea for the festival was hatched in 2002 with Jump to Eyedrum Festival, a collaboration between local free jazz fixture and Atlanta Creative Music Ensemble (A.C.M.E.) trumpeter Roger Ruzow, Eyedrum Executive Director Robert Cheatham, and New York performing arts organization, Jump Arts Inc. At the time, a handful of NYC artists associated with Jump -- including saxophonist Daniel Carter and Ruzow's Atlanta expatriate group, the Gold Sparkle Band -- were heading toward Atlanta on tour. This offered a rare opportunity for musicians from both Atlanta and New York to pool resources and play side-by-side. "I wanted to do something that melded my people who went to New York with my people in Atlanta," Ruzow explains.
The following year the festival was rekindled, this time built around bolstering the improv community at hand. Adopting the title Eyedrum/Atlanta Eclectic Improv Fest, the seemingly annual event became a platform for Atlanta's various improv artists to showcase their talents.
In 2004, the festival fell silent but returns this year with its gaze once again fixed on the local improv community. "The prime goal is to focus on what Atlanta has to offer," Ruzow says. He continues, adding that the festival is as much a celebration of Eyedrum as it is the artists who are performing. "Eyedrum is such a powerful force in this town," he says. "It gives artists and audiences a place to see music and art that is often times way outside the mainstream, and it's not the Roxy and it's not 10 High or any other place in town that wouldn't normally give any love to these artists."
The lineup is a pastiche of homegrown artists, including Lie and Swell, A.C.M.E., G.F.E. and Zandosis, as well as individual performances from Andy Ditzler, Brian Parks, Ben Davis and a few others.
Ruzow includes the Classic City as part of the local scene, so Erik Hinds makes the longest commute to play a free improv set Friday at 9:30 p.m. The Athens-based composer and performer forges primitive folk, heavy metal and sacred music from around the world into a quirky and experimental voice. His most recent offering is a darkly acoustic and experimental reinterpretation of Slayer's '86 metal opus, Reign in Blood.
"Eyedrum is like a second home to me, and besides, everyone thinks I'm from the ATL anyway!" Hinds says. "The gas factor has curtailed some of my travel this fall, though Atlanta's not a deal breaker just yet. With everyone around the country's travel slowed down a bit, we get a chance to woodshop on our own turf. The results will be dazzling."