Weston Olencki

The Graham Foundation

Madlener House
4 West Burton Place
Chicago, Illinois 60610

In recent projects Weston Olencki has explored fusions of experimentalism and noise with American traditional musics.

For Lampo, they premiere new work for pump organ, Sacred Harp hymnody, and electronic synthesis, and offer a vine that grew over the city and no one noticed for electromechanical banjo, …

… magnetic resonators, solenoid motors, AM radio transmitters, handheld radio, railroad spikes, carriage bolts, Markov-driven three-finger banjo picking, and a neural net-generated resynthesis of The Carter Family’s Will the Circle Be Unbroken (1935) as “performed” by the reanimated and digitized voices of Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Hank Williams, Charley Pride, Elizabeth Cotten, Jimmie Rodgers, Buck Owens, Loretta Lynn, Uncle Dave Macon, and Willie Nelson.

About the pump organ work, titled It lays in heaven the topmost stone, Olencki writes:

“This piece highlights and abstracts three tunes from an obscure shape-note text, ‘The Ethereal Harp.’ Thought to be lost, the hymnal was found in the 70s in a dusty storeroom of Curtis P. Smith’s beloved curio shop, An Teak, located on the outskirts of Erie, Pennsylvania, and later given to and digitized at the University at Buffalo.

“‘The Ethereal Harp’ was published in 1899 by Walter Jameson Reed, a prominent music teacher, amateur electrician, and devout Spiritualist from Oneida, New York, who was known for his eccentric views on the metaphysics of musical counterpoint and its relations to the then well-known eschatological concept of the Summerland. The Summerland was the Spiritualist’s manifestation of a physical afterlife, one that Reed believed he could contact via the spiritual (i.e. nervous) resonance of local séance participants, combined with communal singing and regimented, balanced diets of pungent and bland foods.

“While many of his compiled hymns are of much older origin, there are unique marginalia unlike anything I’ve seen in other books—notably the addenda of handwritten alto lines (presumably in Reed’s script) and replacement of conventional clefs by the symbols +, -, and G (likely for ground, or bass). The plate of the interior cover also contains what seems to be an erased dedication ‘to the workers of the Adams No. 2 hydroelectric station, may your voices forever ring in harmony with the dynamos you so valiantly steward.’

“Some unearthed cylinder recordings of this regional Niagara/Buffalo hymnody indicate a curious, orally-developed practice of pure interval tuning, or just intonation, likely cultivated amongst local singers via Helmholtz resonators provided by the Westinghouse’s engineers. In the Mary Wright Special Collections held at SUNY Fredonia, documented correspondences from these individuals say they developed these educational tools directly from instructions given by Herr Helmholtz himself, whom they met briefly here in Chicago at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.”

Weston Olencki (b.1992; Spartanburg, S.C.) is a musician, composer, and sound artist based in Berlin, Germany. Their current work is centered around questions of instrumental music and its contexts and constructs, various mediated practices of listening and improvisation, and the technological, material, and cultural histories of rural space and time.

They have presented work at the Borealis Festival, Issue Project Room, REDCAT, Donaueschinger Musiktage, Ghent Jazz Festival, Philharmonie Luxembourg, Black Mountain College, Musica Nova Helsinki, the American Academy in Rome, Roulette Intermedium, and Frequency Festival, among other festivals and venues. Residencies include CalArts, Columbia, Harvard, NYU, Northwestern, Princeton, Stanford, and the University of Huddersfield. In 2016 they were awarded the Kranichsteiner Musikpreis from the Internationales Musikinstitut Darmstadt. Their recording project Old Time Music (Tripticks Tapes) was named in Bandcamp’s “best of” 2022 music round-up. They have an extensive discography, with upcoming releases on Astral Spirits and Infrequent Seams. Olencki is a member of RAGE Thormbones, the Wet Ink Large Ensemble, Harmonic Space Orchestra, Clone Decay (with Mary Halvorson and Kalia Vandever), the Hollows (with Nick Dunston and Etienne Nillesen), and other projects, and performs regularly as a soloist and ensemble member on low brass instruments, winds, banjo, organs, and various electronic media.

Presented in partnership with the Graham Foundation