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Weekly preview: Really loud, really dense, soothing, relieving

GUZO, Shane Mcdonell, and Physical Strength perform on the third concert of Creative Music Guild’s Discordance series.

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Creative Music Guild–the nonprofit organization that has been a fixture of the Portland arts community since 1991–has spent the last few months slowly ramping up activity after two years of being stuck in the shadow of the pandemic. This week alone, artistic director Mike Gamble hosted an event at No Fun featuring visiting experimental artists Painted Faces and Matt Robidoux, and at KEX, former CMG artistic director Ben Kates and trumpeter Noah Simpson both performed solo sets. And next month at Holocene, the team welcomes the duo of saxophonist Tim Berne and guitarist Gregg Belisle-Chi, and oud player Gordon Grdina. (Look for my feature on Grdina next week).

But the most fascinating event under the CMG umbrella is Discordance, a new series of concerts that centers on noise and other extreme sounds. Curated by local musician Caspar Sonnet, these performances — held at the St. Philip Neri Catholic Church on SE Division — have been humbling and appropriately worshipful. At the most recent Discordance concert last December, Brooklyn artist Leila Bordreuil used the natural acoustics of the space and the added oomph of an amplifier to send her cello lacerations and groans swarming around the room, while local musician Soft Fantasy filled the air with a violent clash of rumbles and static. 

For the third iteration of Discordance, Sonnet has coaxed one artist out of a self-imposed stasis. Madelyn Villano, the Portland musician who records as GUZO, has been laying low for some time now, and not just because there weren’t any shows to play until recently. “I was working in tech for a while, and it just wiped me out of being in the creative world,” she says. 

Before that, Villano had found her way straight into the heart of Portland’s experimental music scene. After interviewing Eric and Jackie Stewart, members of the foundational avant garde band Smegma, for her senior thesis and then jamming with the couple, she was asked to join a new iteration of the group in 2011, adding violin loops and various noises into their crumbling madcap racket. She was soon touring with Smegma through Europe and playing the occasional Stateside show. 

Through the Stewarts, Villano found her way into the underground experimental community, a scene that was much more welcoming than what she had experienced with the music department at Reed College. “It was a little pretentious,” she says, putting a haughty tone to that last word before slipping into laughter. “Jackie and Eric and a lot of the people who were setting up house shows in North Portland were much friendlier. I learned a lot about noise by hanging out with them.”

She soaked it all up quickly and, alongside her work with Smegma, was soon recording and performing solo. Through her work as GUZO, she’s sharpened her two-pronged approach, with elements of harsh noise and more textured ambient drones. Her releases to date — a 2013 cassette called American Girl and various splits with Smegma and its offshoots — feel both infinite and tiny. The lo-fi melodies of piano or processed violin appear like intricate details in a tapestry of noise and hiss that seems to stretch on for miles.

Villano has kept playing even if she isn’t taking the noises she makes public. Of late, she’s put her violin aside and is playing around more with electronic beats and textures, a mode she will be burrowing into when she takes the floor at St. Philip Neri tonight. The idea, she says, is to make use of the hefty PA that Sonnet employs for his Discordance nights and push the volume to overwhelming levels. 

“I want it to be really loud,” Villano says. “I want it to be really dense, but I also want it to be soothing. I mostly intend for it to be relieving.”

Discordance III w/ GUZO, Shane Mcdonell, and Physical Strength takes place at St. Philip Neri Catholic Church (2408 SE 16th Ave, Portland) on Thursday February 24 at 7pm. Admission: $10. Masks and proof of COVID vaccination required for entry.

Madelyn Villano, aka GUZO, performing in 2011. Photo courtesy of the artist.
Madelyn Villano, aka GUZO, performing in 2011. Photo courtesy of the artist.

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Robert Ham is a critic and journalist living in Portland, Oregon’s outer reaches. During his time in the Rose City, he has contributed to The OregonianWillamette WeekPortland Mercury, and Portland Monthly, while also amassing a healthy amount of clips for print and online publications including PitchforkDownBeatBandcamp, and Village Voice. In 2019, he was the recipient of the SPJ Award for Best Sports Feature. In addition, Robert produces and hosts Double Bummer, a radio show focusing on new and newly reissued experimental music from around the world that airs every Tuesday night at 11pm PT on XRAY-FM. To read more of his work, visit his portfolio site or follow him on Twitter at @roberthamwriter.

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