When the first trans-Atlantic cable message between Europe and the United States was sent on Aug. 16, 1858, the event was considered to be so momentous that Queen Victoria later sent a congratulatory message to President James Buchanan. Of course, technology in those days was fairly primitive, so it took a full 16 hours for the queen's 98-word note to transmit across the pond.
When Denny Jiosa plays his electric guitar into Robert Bond's laptop computer this Sunday evening at Zeitgeist Gallery's new location at 516 Hagan St., his music will be heard almost instantaneously via Skype some 8,500 miles away in a Chinese classroom. President Obama probably won't IM his "gratz" to Chinese President Xi Jinping after the show – especially since the White House took Obama's beloved Blackberry away from him when he became president. Nevertheless, congratulations will be in order.
That's because Jiosa, Bond and a group of high school students in East China will be engaging in one of the world's first real-time intercontinental improv sessions. "We're definitely looking to break new ground with this performance," says Bond.
Exploring new musical frontiers is the mission of Indeterminacies, the new-music series at Zeitgeist that's hosting Sunday's free performance. In recent years, the series has presented everything from the Tennessee premiere of David Lang's The Little Match Girl Passion to the music of Stanley Link, a composer at the Blair School of Music. Link's performance, by the way, featured computer processing, making it a good warm-up for this weekend's concert.
Bond got the idea for Sunday's performance during a recent Skype conversation with his friend Fran Zinder, a former Nashville-based visual artist who's now teaching English in the Chinese city of Ma'anshan. "Robert suggested that my students could participate in the Indeterminacies event," Zinder wrote in an email. "I asked the students and they were very enthusiastic. So we tested out the Skype link in the classroom and decided to do it."
Zinder's students have prepared their own arrangement of Chinese music and poetry, which they will perform live over Skype. Jiosa will provide improvised accompaniment in real time that will be channeled through Bond's MacBook Pro. "Denny will use a full pedal board of effects and a new looping pedal device," Bond explained in an email. "I will be using sounds from software and manipulating them live. I'll also be running Denny's guitar through my computer, so that sometimes I'll be manipulating his sound while he is playing."
A noted contemporary jazz guitarist, Jiosa has recorded six albums of his own and has been nominated for four Grammy Awards for his work with gospel singer Yolanda Adams and polka artist LynnMarie. On his most recent album, Jiosa on the Edge, he ventures for the first time into the realm of instrumental rock. This Sunday, he'll make his first foray into the world of electronic music.
"I'm definitely going to be stepping outside of my usual comfort zone," says Jiosa. "The textures in electronic music are a lot different from what I'm used to, so it's going to be a challenge to figure out what scales I need to use over my flat-five chord."
Bond concedes he's also heading into musical terra incognita. "I have never performed as a laptop artist before, and for sure none of us have performed via Skype between Nashville and China," he says. "We're hoping the novelty of this project creates a big buzz for our concert."