Sun Araw brings improvisational sonic exploration to Florida

Catch the experimental artist at two very different shows this week

SUN ARAW BAND with D/P/I, Moon Jelly, Kris Gruda

9 p.m. Friday, April 4 | Will’s Pub, 1042 N. Mills Ave. | | $8-$10

SUN ARAW SOLO with UCF Collide Ensemble play Toru Takemitsu

7:30 p.m. Sunday, April 6 | Timucua White House, 2000 S. Summerlin AveA. | | free

The theory of semantic satiation states that repetition of a word or phrase can cause it to temporarily lose all meaning for a listener, turning an otherwise recognizable term into a meaningless sound. If you ever want to put this idea in motion, say the word “jam” a hundred times in a row.

A vital component of contemporary music’s lingua franca, today “jam” connotes not only the act of jamming, in which every musician partakes, but also the patchouli-scented “jam band” culture that’s sprung up around acts like Grateful Dead, Phish, Widespread Panic and Disco Biscuits.

In certain circles, however, the art of the jam – freeform, improvisatory, genre-devouring, often hallucinatory – connects musicians to a much higher sonic plain. And very few artists reach higher for such elevated levels of musical consciousness than Cameron Stallones, who records and performs as Sun Araw.

To use a stoner metaphor, Sun Araw’s jam is the gourmet marijuana edible to the jam band circuit’s seed-and-stem-strewn dirt weed. Put even more bluntly, no one goes as far out as Sun Araw: a dizzying array of minimalist psych-dub releases; collaborations with Jamaican mystics the Congos, sun-dappled droners Pocahaunted and space-rockers Eternal Tapestry; a burgeoning experimental film focus.

It all makes linguistic sense, of course, considering Stallones’ band name pays phonetic homage to jazz cosmonaut Sun Ra, the king of far-out musical abstraction. “[Improvisation] is the central aspect of my process,” Stallones writes via email, “Though I also spend time developing structures that can provide focused direction to improvisations. It’s trying to think in advance of ways to keep you making the right turns when you’re not thinking. It’s a system of responding, but each response has the ability to change how the original statement is perceived. There’s an aspect of freedom in that.”

Freedom is also the key element of Stallones’ upcoming mini-tour in Florida, which finds him playing two nights in Orlando – a full-band rock show at Will’s Pub on Friday, April 4, and a solo performance with the UCF Collide Ensemble at Timucua White House on Sunday, April 6. When Thad Anderson, UCF assistant professor of music, suggested a program of music by Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu to Matt Gorney of creative booking and promotion organization the Civic Minded Five, Gorney reached out to Stallones and received an immediate response.

“Takemitsu is a really interesting musical character,” Stallones says. “When I was working on [2014 Sun Araw album] Belomancie, his work occurred to me several times. I was definitely using manipulation of timbre and silence, two things that he wields masterfully, as load-bearing walls in these tunes. I think he is exceptional at creating the space for you to really hear the sound; he creates attentiveness, which is a powerful act. That’s something I aspire to.”

Although Stallones says he’ll leave the performance of Takemitsu’s music to the UCF Collide Ensemble, he hopes to “express a spirit in kind” for the new material in development for the two Orlando shows. “All [tours] are based on the nature of the invitation and the idea,” he says. “But I’m quite restless musically, so I really do enjoy opportunities like this to develop a set for a specific event. It’s a good way to stretch yourself out of a monotonous place with a fixed repertoire.” 

That sense of self-satisfaction is the ultimate pay-off for an experimental artist like Stallones, who will never move a million records or fly above a sold-out arena crowd on a giant hot dog. But it’s also what connects Sun Araw with true titans of jam: Toru Takemitsu, Sun Ra, the avant-garde musicians who’ve graced Timucua White House in the past. “I haven’t developed any skills of ‘songwriting,’ which is a craft very different from what I do,” Stallones says. “I’ve just never had a beautiful song or lyric flow out [of me]. My process is much more about texture and space.”  

Can an artist of such persuasion still carve out a successful career? Stallones thinks so. “We are at a unique time where the audience for this sort of music isn’t necessarily any bigger than it used to be,” he says. “But it can be accessed with greater facility due to the Internet. More importantly, the connection can be direct and not mediated through any sort of corporate structure. That’s really nice.”


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