Wed Sept 1, Sunset, 9 pm, $6.
Playing with free-jazz/improv trio Floss on a hot July night at LO_FI, Bill Horist is doing things to his guitar that violate several Geneva Convention laws: With maniacal intensity, he inserts under his strings screwdrivers, metal rods, calipers, and business-card holders, while running a glass finger over them or tapping the strings like a caffeinated data-entry wiz and toeing effects pedals. Amid the fractured din made by saxophonist Wally Shoup and drummer Dylan van der Schyff, Horist surgically places eerie wails, hoarse groans, pig squeals, metallic cricket chirps, and riffs that would melt Ed Van Halen's veins. When he starts sawing with a violin bow, he erects a Sonny Sharrockian firewall of noise. It's all just another night for Seattle's foremost guitar anti-hero.
Horist's rise to in-demand collaborator among experimental music's elite (see his disc with KK.Null, Interstellar Chemistry, and his work with Nervewheel, Ghidra, Zahir, and many one-off ensembles) and a renowned solo improviser essentially boils down to his "short attention span and high metabolism, which makes losing interest with things like guitar picks easy," he says. "Being a lefty who plays guitar right-handed, I'm predisposed to different dominances in my approach. Preparing the guitar enables me to play with these reversals. Additionally, the sounds one can get by not playing by the rules is much more expansive, idiosyncratic, and personal. The main thing is that I can't play an earnest blues lick to save my life, but when I cram a drum cymbal under the strings, it feels sincere!"
While a teen in rural Fennville, Michigan, Horist developed a taste for industrial/goth groups like Death in June, Coil, and Current 93. With a friend, Horist "would make these weird four-track recordings. I think that is where my actual passion for music was born--feeling that sense of magic and possibility through the construction and assemblage of sounds into a whole," he explains.
In the early '90s, Horist discovered Mahavishnu Orchestra's Birds of Fire and John Zorn's Naked City, which "fostered an exploration into jazz and avant-garde music that informs my present activities." His film studies and work as a lighting director for a TV station also influenced Horist's music. Unconventional guitarists like Fred Frith, Hans Reichel, Johnny Marr, and Leo Kottke further inspired his growth.
Horist attended nearby Western Michigan University and Grand Valley State, which he describes as consisting of "me skipping all my classes and screwing around with my four-track." In the mid-'90s, he met Randall Dunn, who was studying audio engineering and running the Endless label. Both Dunn and Horist ended up moving to Seattle in 1995 hoping to find more dedicated musicians. (Dunn and partner Mell Dettmer now run Seattle weird-music laboratory Aleph Studios.) They succeeded. "[There] is a wildly diverse scene for a city of its size," Horist asserts.
Horist has infiltrated many of Seattle's scenes with mad promiscuity--his discography could easily fill a page of this paper. The guitarist's latest release, Lyric/Suite (Accretions), is an abstract-expressionist score for dance choreographed by Davida Monk.
"I'll pretty much try anything," Horist admits. "Being an improviser affords me the opportunity to collaborate in a number of different configurations without having to make long-term commitments, although these days I favor working somewhat consistently with a group of people and cultivating that language."
In Horist's bony hands, the guitar takes on a disturbing otherworldliness. The methods by which he achieves his bizarre emissions are as interesting as the noises themselves. But, he notes, "As time goes on, I'm less and less interested in being innovative for its own sake, and more interested in doing something that's emotive."
Much of Horist's music is psychedelic. Is it his intention to disorient listeners, to take them out of their mundane surroundings?
"It is my intention to coax listeners into letting themselves be disoriented, and that, I think, is a different thing. Despite the apparent unorthodoxies, there is also a certain accessibility that I have tried to cultivate. I like to throw out a little something that has a tinge of familiarity, be it rhythmic or melodic, for the listener to feel comfortable enough to take the next step with me, so that when they find themselves in the unfamiliar territory, they feel invited and more comfortable to experience it their own way."