Experimental music has been strong in the city of Houston for sometime now, but one problem for musicians and the creatives presenting this type of music is the city’s general lack of venues for such musical fare. Presenting experimental music can be difficult and interdisciplinary. Not to mention, presenting experimental sound and music is not the same as presenting classical Jazz or a rock show. This limits the playing field for those looking to perform, leading to noisey coffee shops, sporadic and unreliable mixed use spaces, or genuine spaces that have no longevity due to rising rents and gentrification.

Recently this week, our hearts sank with the closing of the legendary Walters music venue. It was one of those venues where anything could fit the bill, and some pretty stellar memories were created there for both musicians and spectators alike. There will always be a need for legit presenting venues.

In light of all of this, it was great news to hear that Nameless Sound would be making a permanent home for its series “They, Who Sound” at Lawndale Art Center and that they will be presenting every Monday! Nameless Sound and “They, Who Sound” have been a strong creative pillar for Houston for many years. Lead and organized by musician and Director David Dove, the organization has presented some of the best improvisational and experimental shows around.

Lisa Harris. Photo: Sonia Malfa

This Monday, Feb. 5 will mark the beginning of this new collaboration of organizations. This performance features some amazing national and international talents, including celebrated interdisciplinary artist Lisa Harris, poet DeLeon Harrison, and Damon Choice, long-term member of Sun Ra Arkestra. Of the mix of creative greats, we are especially excited to hear from artist Lisa Harris, who is a perfect selection for this monumental Monday performance.

Lisa, who was recently recognized by the Huffington Post as “One of Fourteen Artists that are Transforming Opera,” has been zig-zagging all across the state and US over the past several years and has been part of some amazing projects both locally and internationally. In addition to performing at the 52nd Venice Biennale, the artist also received a grammy nomination in 2014. And through the course of it all, the renowned artist and performer has been a champion of Houston. 

Free Press Houston caught up with Harris recently to talk of her latest performance and collaboration with “They, Who Sound.”

Free Press Houston: Lisa, it’s an honor to have the time to talk with you! You are so involved and active with your work. What have you been up to lately?

Lisa Harris: Hi Paul. I’ve been well, thanks. I’m just returning from the University of Virginia where I was performing in a series “Dancing While Black” with Rashida Bumbray and the Dance Diaspora Collective.

FPH: Your work is so multi faceted, tell us about your marriage of music, art, film and performance?

Harris: It’s funny that you use the word marriage. I’d like to think the relations are more fluid than that. I did the most formal studying as a classical vocalist and performer. And I’ve written most of my life. I am a storyteller in many ways, so film and the visual movement of dreams unfolding was a natural and complementary extension of my expression. Environments, not just stories, are what I aim to recall.

FPH: You have always been dialed into your surroundings with your projects. Given all that has happened in the past year and its intensity, along with our local tragedy of Harvey, how has this changed your work and its presentation as an artist?

Harris: Hurricane Harvey hit when I was very deep in to my deep listening practice and meditation. I wasn’t sure how I could help so many in need, so I just took a look at my self love practices and began sharing them on the internet, including live meditations, prayers, wholistic wellness and contemplation — environmental listening as a means of calm and preparation. Since Harvey — I felt like we survived that together — I’ve been more apt to share a net of strength and community on the internet in ways I hadn’t explored before. My work has increased focus on being present as the central-most valuable action in which we can be engaged. That and breathing.

FPH: How did your involvement with this performance with “They, Who Sound” come about?

Harris: I have been a proud supporter of “They, Who Sound” since 2013 when I was first introduced to Dave Dove and Nameless Sound. I really liked what they were doing, especially in the ways of liberating the minds and the bodies of the people. Dave Dove encouraged my improvisational spirit and offered me my first solo piano concert — something I had never imagined would actualize one day. He also introduced me to the composer and sonic theorist Pauline Oliveros. When Dave told me the series was moving to Lawndale and invited me to perform, I thought it would be great for a change of perspective at the new year.

FPH: What excites you about the artists you are performing with, and how do you see this in relation to your other international projects and other collaborations?

Harris: Any time I can play with a master, I should be glad — honored — and I am. These artists are working on frequencies far beyond my experiences, and I probably have a lot of information that they can convert for their use as well — as fuel, as life force, as food, as joy. The Sun Ra Arkestra…the history and the agency behind these performance practices are all keys to unlock frequencies of freedom. That is what I am invested in with every project I show up for. Harmony with the Earth and the space around her.

FPH: What is next for you? What is the latest great project you are gearing up for?

Harris: I have a wonderful recording of meditations available very soon. And I really happy about that. I’ve been recording so much and on such a wide range, I think people will be pleasantly surprised that their ears work. And if their ears work differently, I hope the sound will find its way in, somehow. Feb 9, I will be at Discovery Green with Kam Franklin, performing a musical public service announcement “Pause.” What I’m very excited about is my collaboration with Young Audiences Houston to bring a new series of workshops and a festival to Houston in the Spring of 2018. The Free Time Flow Festival at MacGregor Park will celebrate the intersections of improvisation, creativity, athleticism and performance in the park I grew up in and love. The full schedule will be on the Facebook page. This is a time to celebrate. The portal has opened, joy is here for those who will receive. I’m receiving.

“They, Who Sound,” featuring Lisa Harris, DeLeon Harrison and Damon Choice, will be presented by Nameless Sound at Lawndale Art Center on Monday, Feb. 5 from 7:30 pm to 9:30 pm.