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Blues add to 'Sound Waves' at the Pulitzer

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 21, 2010 - Last Thursday evening, the roads were in an iffy state, with the previous night's freezing rain dropping a thin sheen of black ice atop the metro region. Grand Center wasn't immune to the slick nature of travel and attendees at several gallery events braved the elements, much to the delight of those bringing the shows to life.

At the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, a hardy crew assembled to take in the current show, the light-sound-and-installation-based "stylus: a project by ann hamilton." But unlike those Thursday nights when the sonic components would be classical combinations with the intriguing, interactive sound designs created by Hamilton's collaborator Shahrokh Yadegari, this evening featured the blues, compliments of veteran KDHX deejay Ron Edwards.

A musical mainstay at the community radio station since KDHX's first week on-air, Edwards mixed a pre-recorded soundtrack of piano work, heard near the main entryway to the Pulitzer Foundation, alongside live cuts performed by himself and a pair of sidemen. Playing guitar solo, and as part of a duo and trio, Edwards says that he played "for two-hours and fifty minutes of the three-hour event, without a break."

Though accustomed to playing a wide variety of rooms and situations throughout his long career as a blues musician, radio show host and historian, Edwards says, "I think it's a very innovative program, the kind of thing that only KDHX would work on, among radio stations in St. Louis."

Part of the continuing "sound waves" series, Edwards brought his unique take to the monthly meeting of musicians playing against the PFA's standing shows. In the past, DJs have played alongside musicians working in the same genre. Or they've incorporated different corners of the space, literally moving through the Pulitzer's rooms with their instrumentation. For Edwards, he created the piano cuts to play a certain, early-entry portion of the space, then used a corner of the main room to play traditional blues to a group of seated attendees, a slightly different, more "concert-style" formation than previous events.

Working with the natural components of the room's architecture was a big part of Edwards' prep process, as he learned when soundchecking the space last Thursday.

"It's a remarkable series, just working with the gallery, itself," he says. "When we went in, we tested different portions of the gallery to hear the acoustics. There, you have extremely high, vertical walls. Its surfaces are cement and in different parts of the room, there were variations in the volume."

Using speakers installed in the floors for vocals, Edwards and his compatriots set up their amps on ladders that serve as part of the exhibit, taking care "to just be louder than the sounds that were already in the room. We didn't want to overpower things. I think the arrangement worked quite well."

Lisa Harper-Chang, the Pulitzer's community projects director, concurs with Edwards' thoughts, saying ""The great thing about the blues is that it just puts its head down and just plays on, regardless of the setting. The uncompromising nature of both this musical style and the exhibition produced a brilliant marriage highlighting the evocative calls and haunting responses emanating from both."

And as much as anything, Edwards was happy with the turnout, despite the rather readful conditions outside.

"I'm glad that those people came out," he says. "The event was a challenge, and I'm glad to have taken part in it."

The next "sound waves" event will take place on Thursday, Jan. 20, when highly regarded hip-hop spinner DJ Needles matches wits with the Pulitzer acoustics, the last round of "sound waves" with Hamilton's work on display.

Thomas Crone is a freelance journalist. 

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