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Festival of Space & Sound: Mike Vargas

A Report by Allison Ristaino '14

Mike Vargas, a skilled musician on several instruments, played for the final installment of the Festival Space & Sound.

Smith community members came together in the chapel for a performance by musician Mike Vargas as a part of the Smith College Festival of Sound & Space on April 12th. Mr. Vargas' performance was titled Curiosity is Gravity. Mike Vargas is a skilled musician in many different instruments, and is also a skilled improvisational musician. "Ninety-five percent of the music I've made was performed once and never heard again," he wrote in his program. Mike Vargas has played in many different styles and has been finding different ways to play through exploration and adventure. Mr. Vargas also wrote "for the last ten years, I've found myself most often in rooms full of improvising dancers, collectively deciding on the nature of the dance in real time." He has been inventing music on the spot for forty years, but played beautifully for us with a conventional way of playing music.

Mike Vargas played a series of different approaches to music. The first was a spoken word piece using a cowbell. In the second piece, Stripes, he had a specified number of notes used in each gesture he made. The third piece, Zones with Trunk, had a specified range of pitches. He also added other instruments such as a harmonica and whistle to this section. In the fourth piece he exerted a powerful, strong sound, exerting a maximum amount of physical effort throughout the entire six minutes. In the next movement, Curiosity is Gravity, the chapel was unified in complete silence and we, as the audience, were asked to move about the room as we got the impulse to do so. In this way, we changed the organization in the space, and created interesting pathways and stories. The next few pieces were all very beautiful and had a large range in the tone and feel of the music. Personally, I was able to relate different emotions with the different ways that Mr. Vargas played. The first of these was called Wind, in which he played for half of the allotted time, and didn't play for the other half. The next was With, which was played very softly with no fingers. Then there was What is an Open Mind? which involved his playing and also constantly interrupting himself. The last piece was Bourden, in which he played a single line with his left hand and a single line with his right hand.

The entire performance was inspirational and the audience participation created a real feeling of togetherness in the group as we listened to the changing feelings and tones throughout Mike Vargas' incredible music.