Out and About: Arts and Culture in Gainesville

MICHAEL HOLCOMB

At a titanic university like UF situated in a small city like Gaines- ville, it can often feel from the inside as if the whole town is swallowed up by the school. Indeed, the weight of the university draws in excellent arts and culture, but this is not where the soul of Gainesville begins and ends. Outside the literal and metaphorical walls of the university resides a quietly buzzing cultural scene rife with creative minds and grand visions.
Elestial Sound is a co-operatively owned record label focusing on experimental indie and electronic music, and in recent years has evolved into what director Davis Hart calls “an all-around media company, doing a lot of live shows with art installations.” In line with this development, the owners realized they wanted to provide more events to meet the demand coming from concertgoers and touring artists alike. Elestial takes pride in its large showcases, usually staged several times per year, which call for extensive planning and energy. This high level of production is difficult to sustain with frequent events, and as a happy middle ground the board envisioned a series of smaller, more collaborative shows. So it was born in July of this year: the Prototypes series, a more-or-less monthly string of art-meets-mu- sic shows staged by Elestial at Gallery Protocol.

Evan Galbicka, who works on installation design and fabrication, recalls how the first installation unfolded in the warehouse shop the label inhabits. “Our first Prototypes had Pariah from Miami; they wanted to do a show so we invited them to do the visual aspect of it. It worked out perfect- ly: they went down to Repurpose Project and then came here and used the space and our tools and made an outstanding installation for their show. It was a wild experiment, but that’s what we’re going for.”

As technical director Charles Rye described, “We wanted to maintain a high level of quality without doing a big show. With a smaller scale we can have high quality but not as much intense work.” With this freedom, an experimental quality emerges in the staging process. “Prototypes is our way of working with other people in the art realm and throwing shows that are a little more fast and loose rather than really planned or intricate,” Hart explained. Musically, they also recognize the importance of small D.I.Y spaces in contributing to a quality music scene. The Prototypes series certainly fills this niche, giving a home to conceptual music and art that otherwise might not see an audience in Gainesville.
That the shows take place at a gallery is pertinent: one of the core tenets of the Prototypes series is the innovative blending of visu- al arts and music. Each event contains an installation element, which may be provided by the musicians or an outside artist or a member of the Elestial crew. Through this combination, Elestial hopes to challenge current notions about how viewers engage with art, both visual  and audial. Rye said one of  his goals  with the project is “to put on a show that takes art into consideration just as much as music. I hope it pushes more people to do more artful music shows.”

Benji Haselhurst, a visual artist and designer with Elestial, ex- plained their approach to visual arts and music with a metaphor: “I think they’re part of one body, maybe music is the feet and art is the hands. It all lends itself to the experience. That’s what we’re driving at here: we’re look- ing to curate experiences. At the end of the day, it tells stories and stories are what connect human beings. Stories are what people take with them, and that’s what we want to do to make a deeper impact.”

The most recent iteration, Prototypes Version IV, was held in early November. On an unseasonably warm evening, three musical acts and a slew of curious listeners converged on a hollowed-out backhouse on the Gallery Protocol lot. White metal tubes hung by threes and arced in a semi-circle swayed gently in the center of the room, illuminated spottily by multicolored lights. This installation was the vision of Haselhurst, who has been involved with Elestial from its earliest stages. “I wanted to poke at this notion of engaging with a musical experience on a ritualistic level,” he said. “The installation builds up the band but also mimics the people watching the music and engaging with it.” Indeed, the piece gave the impression of  a solemn neon church procession or a minimalist altarpiece. There was no light in the room except the stage effects: part underground, part art school, an approach which encapsulates the event itself quite wholly.

The musical lineup featured therearenothieves and Cuddle Formation, touring together from New York City, followed by Orlando psych-rockers Moon Jelly. The opener began with a droning, wistful storm of looped synths and guitar, morphing into a warm and touching weave of strums and effects. The colored stage lights pulsed and flickered, adding a cinematic quality to the performance. Cuddle Formation picked right up, creating escapist and hopeful electronic music with looped samples. Com- bined, they forged a meditative and dreamy atmosphere. After a flurry of setting up in a race to beat the noise curfew, Moon Jelly provided the psychedelic sounds fully-fledged. Well-engineered soundscapes melded electro- psych-rock into a swirling, pulsing whole. The performance was captivating, transporting the room to another dimension.

Overall, Elestial Sound feels a deep connection to the Gainesville community. As Galbicka put it, “The conversation I would like to stir up is that Gainesville has a vibrant arts and music scene. It’s happening monthly and these are amazing shows. I feel good about what’s happening in Gainesville; it’s obvious that there’s a lot of interesting talent and quality art experiences to be had in this town.”

Of course, a city is nothing without the creative, driven citizens who make it breathe. As Hart concluded, “It’s more about the people than the place, always.”

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