By this time last year, Nick Jenkins had released three records — the percussion-oriented Beets in March, the muted Ginkgo and Turtlenecking DJ School in June, and FauxDub, a score for an independent film. He'd release another record, Hoi Polloi, to Bandcamp on Christmas Day. His only release in 2014? A short-run cassette called Do Daydreamers Have Infinite Auras?, quietly released on New Year's Day via D.C. creative collective Deep Space Arts. Like much of his solo music, Auras is dream-like and patient, built on hazy and glitchy piano loops that repeat and intersect at odd intervals. It is at once mercurial and beautiful.
But just because Jenkins hasn't been releasing much music, it doesn't mean he hasn't been making any.
This year, he says, he's had a handful of projects keeping him busy. He's worked on creating graphical scores for the Designer Audio School, a loose and wide-ranging group of musicians and sound artists founded by Jenkins specializing in "the exploration of the exciting and experimental elements of sound." One of those works was the live soundtrack to animator Myles Walsh's Slam Dunk Summer Camp, an open-ended piece Jenkins and Walsh debuted in Charleston in January with 14 musicians; in April they reprised the work — this time with eight musicians — at the Indie Grits Festival in Columbia. Written by Jenkins, the Summer Camp score expands upon his solo oeuvre, adding a symphonic element to his humanist musique concrète — meaning it's not rigidly restricted to the typical Western musical rules of melody, harmony, rhythm, meter, and even notation.
"Essentially the symbols are lines, dots, steps, squiggles, and other sonic prompts on a timeline, spanning however long the film happens to be," Jenkins says of Summer Camp's graphical score. "Those symbols are defined in the performance notes to the piece. The idea is that we create a cacophonous wall of beautiful stuff that induces a semi-dream state."
Jenkins has also composed works for site-specific installations and uniquely curated performances like Madame Magar's Fashion Fête, a fashion show in Columbia; his soundscape was based on "train sounds, tap dance, and sewing machines." He's also working on a draft of a potential musical, as well as some songs for a new album. Both albums, he says, are titled Frankenstein / On A Date / With Eva Hesse.
His newest project, a sound experiment residency at King Dusko called Dojo Nowhere, debuts Sunday. He's been incubating the concept of Dojo Nowhere for at least a year.
"It was instigated by previous collaborations with artists and relationships with venues that left me wondering why people congregate and wondering how important a space is to the ideas it presents," Jenkins says.
This sort of experimental gig is squarely in Jenkins' wheelhouse. While Jenkins has been an extraordinarily prolific solo musician — he's released a flurry of solo albums and EPs since November 2006 — he's also an extensive collaborator whose musical network spans genres (he's played in pop bands like Run Dan Run, backed fiery country singer Lindsay Holler, and improvised with far-reaching jazz musicians like Ron Wiltrout) and cities (many of his revolving Designer Audio School collaborators come from the experimental music scene in Columbia). But who shows up to participate in Dojo Nowhere, he says, "will entirely be up to the chance of the universe."
At least initially, the music will be spontaneous and improvised. Instead of presenting musicians with a score or preconceived musical ideas, each Dojo Nowhere session will begin with a "provocative idea workshop," an exercise in improvisation aimed at defining, if broadly, the central sounds of the following improvisation. After that, he's not sure what will happen. Therein, Jenkins says, lies the experiment.
"We'll be testing the possibilities of collaborative potential for improvisers in town," the musician says. "We'll also be testing the idea that a venue [or] space for such an activity could be anywhere at anytime. So the hypothesis could be this: Are we able to transcend space and time with open logic to make beautiful sounds with strangers?"
If that's the hypothesis to the Dojo Nowhere sound experiment, the results, Jenkins hopes, will be revelatory.
"Basically, I'd like to dig under the normal stuff of our lives and talk about the possibilities of music as a life-changing catalyst," Jenkins says. "Solving world problems doesn't have to be about wars or tiny debates. It could be as simple as having the patience to realize how we are all harmonizing together on a continual wavelength. Dojo Nowhere serves as a vehicle for these thoughts."
What he's most after, though, is building a scene for outsider artists using sound as a medium.
"I don't think that I'm being especially progressive in my ambitions," Jenkins says. "But I hope that I can help build encouraging environments for unusual things and ideas."