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No Idea Festival brings avant-garde improv to San Antonio

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This year marks a decade since the launching of the surreptitious No Idea Festival. It is a progressive, multifarious connection between sound and surge — a challenge to musicians, dancers, and poets alike as they perform provoking, avant-garde improv pieces, usually in an intimate setting such as an art gallery or performance space.

The Festival is the brainchild of percussionist Chris Cogburn. After living on the West Coast for some time, Cogburn moved to Austin in 1998 where he spent years incorporating brassy electric-acoustic movements (reminiscent of Free Jazz of the '50s and '60s) into his compositions. He began playing percussion alongside electronic musicians in Austin and Houston, a concept that would become the impetus of No Idea Fest.

"I realized that there was so much great music happening in the two cities," Cogburn said from Austin in an email interview with the Current, " … though there was not so much collaboration between the two cities' artists."

In the summer of 2003 Cogburn created the first No Idea Fest in Austin to bring together artists who would have originally never worked together.

"The people participating," Cogburn said, "has grown to include artists from around the world — though the intention has remained the same: To build networks of artists, curators, organizers and institutions for creative music (experimental art practice in general) to move in and to give time to the artists to really get to know one another..." The spectrum of artists and musicians who have participated in No Idea has varied from Texas natives to talent from Europe and, most recently, Mexico. "I've been going to Mexico a lot recently and am putting a lot of energy into helping artists from Texas and Mexico connect and build relationships."

This year, the No Idea Festival will hold performances in both Austin and San Antonio during the week of February 16-24 with an exchange of performers each show. This year's fest in SA boasts an impressive lineup of experimental artists such as bassoonist and composer Dafne Vicente-Sandoval, laptop player Xavier López, electronics from Bonnie Jones and Bryan Eubanks, composer/violinist Catherine Lamb, a performance from Maggie Bennett and percussion from Cogburn himself. In addition to this assorted cultural lineup of U.S. and European artists, musicians cultivated from south-of-the-border include saxophonist Remi Álvarez, accordionist and guitarist Misha Marks, and percussionist Milo Tamez.

"The decentralized nature of experimental practice interests me," said Cogburn. "I see No Idea as a contribution, one node, in a large rhizomatic network of working artists and the audiences, institutions and organizations that support their work."

In 2006, Cogburn connected with local artist and presenter of the heavy Denim organization Ben Judson, to bring the No Idea Fest to San Antonio. This will be the eighth year the fest returns to SA, which will include not one, but two performances held on separate days in different locations. The first performance will be held at the Southwest School of Art on February 20 and the second will take place at the faded dream of the South Side, former bath house Hot Wells Hotel on February 24.

"I can see sound art, installation and interventions taking root in San Antonio more than other cities in Texas," Cogburn said. "I will say that San Antonio has a strong visual arts culture that is uniquely sophisticated and independent and, for lack of a better word, DIY."

No Idea Festival

Day One
$5 suggested donation
7-9pm Wednesday, February 20
Southwest School of Art
Elizabeth Huth Coates Chapel
300 Augusta Street
(210) 224-1848

Day Two
6pm Sunday, February 24
Hot Wells Hotel
5503 South Presa
Tickets may be purchased at the door

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