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"I think some seeds were planted for
something that's gonna be very important here in Houston in the future.

I think there is going to be a houston school, as it were. ...

There will be a houston school of improvised music which will have its own characteristics and its own heroes."

                                  joe mcphee

I’ve often said that if it weren’t for Joe McPhee, there might not be a Nameless Sound. Joe’s first visit to Houston was in January of 1998, three years before the founding of Pauline Oliveros Foundation Houston (the organization that would eventually become Nameless Sound.) Other than my own DIY performances, it was the first concert I’d ever organized. After several years in a very different musical world, my interest in jazz and more experimental forms had taken hold of me for the better. I’d started volunteering at MECA where, among other things, I was leading an improvisation workshop comprising a mix of teenage students of classical and mariachi music. And it was through my service on the Artist Board at the multidisciplinary arts organization DiverseWorks that I was given an opportunity to program a concert by a visiting guest. I immediately thought of Joe McPhee. I’d recently stumbled upon Linear B, an entrancing and moving piece of music from 1990 that was unlike anything I’d ever heard. It was both heartfelt and experimental, and it still may be my favorite among McPhee’s many recordings. And though I knew the music, I knew nothing of the man. Besides Pauline Oliveros, who I had befriended through Edith Gutierrez, her mother and my co-worker, I didn’t personally know anyone in the world of experimental music outside of Houston. So, based on Linear B, I decided that we should bring this guy Joe McPhee to town. The music spoke to me. I responded.  

On the evening of January 23 1998, almost 23 years to the day from the publishing of this essay, a capacity crowd filled DiverseWorks’ black box theater. The enthusiastic applause that I now hear on the recording confirms my memory and affirms something that I’ve been thinking ever since that night. Houston was ready and hungry for the experience of this music, live and in-the-flesh. Joe played a marvelous and moving solo, highlighted by a trumpet/electronics rendition of a Pauline Oliveros score. (Edith was in the audience.) And very important to our story, he led an inspiring workshop for my kids at MECA the next day.He was so authentic and generous with them. Responsive and deeply engaged, he was genuinely moved by the music they played. And he was generous and patient with this young, first-time concert presenter. 

There was no shortage of great musicians who I could have reached out to for this first concert/workshop engagement. Not really knowing anything about the personalities or reputations of the musicians who I loved to listen to, I might have chosen someone without Joe’s kindness and generosity. (Believe me. These musicians do exist.) If my first effort at bringing this music to Houston hadn’t been so positive, would I have bothered to continue? It could have gone another way. And it’s worth repeating: If it weren’t for Joe McPhee, there might never have been a Nameless Sound. It’s not like I’d been cultivating ambitions as a concert promoter.

But it wasn’t just Joe who came to Houston for that first concert. The singular tenor-thrasher and outsider-songwriter Arthur Doyle was also on the bill. Doyle had already been to town once before, blowing minds from a big outdoor stage on the campus of Rice University, courtesy of Rice radio station KTRU. I can remember biking to the concert and hearing his drawl and squall ringing for blocks through the very staid and proper residential neighborhood bordering the university. Very popular on KTRU, Doyle was worthy of a return trip. And his inclusion on the program helped secure some financial and promotional support from the station. Through the networking of these resources (MECA, DiverseWorks, KTRU), a blueprint for future projects was formed. We bring an artist to Houston for a public performance, and also a workshop engagement with the kids in my MECA improv workshop. KTRU, a 50,000-Watt radio station which had been cultivating a Houston fan base through 12 hours of far out jazz and improv every Sunday, would promote and often help to financially support these events. And there was one more very important piece to this blueprint. All of the early concerts were presented in coordination with my old friend Pedro Moreno in Austin. Pedro was one of the people who really got me into the music and educated me about it.When I called him up to consult on this first event, he volunteered to set up a show in Austin. And the mighty org Epistrophy Arts was born. 

Joe McPhee’s encounters with Nameless Sound run a thread throughout other important moments in our history. In 2005, Joe would become the first recipient of our Resounding Vision Award, which “honors musicians whose efforts transcend aesthetics and resonate beyond the performance venue” and “honors artists who pursue a vision of progress in our communities.”

Click to view more images of the Resounding Vision Award Presentation

In 2010, McPhee and English saxophonist John Butcher were the first musicians Nameless Sound presented at The Hill of James Magee, the enigmatic art installation constructed in a remote area of the West Texas desert. (The recording of that site-specific event, Butcher and McPhee’s first ever collaboration, can be found on Trost Records.) In 2017, he performed on the memorial and birthday concert for composer and Nameless Sound mentor Pauline Oliveros.

Many more fantastic Joe McPhee experiences are found along the way. In 2005, we curated another first-time duo, an encounter with pedal steel guitar innovator Susan Alcorn, who was still living in Houston at the time. (The recording is included in this edition.) There was a 2006 performance with William Parker and Nameless Sound/MECA students on the occasion of the 2nd Resounding Vision Award, presented to Parker. Joe and William played on the bottom floor of the atrium of the Arena Tower high-rise, while 17 kids each occupied their own floor of the building, sounding the space from the walkways in a spatialized performance. (Video of this site-specific spectacle will be included in a future edition of Nameless: 20 Years of Sound.)  

There’s a beautiful solo from 2010 that is included in this edition, played among Dan Flavin’s untitled installation in The Menil Collection’s acoustically resonant Richmond Hall. (John Butcher’s solo, performed on the same program, was released by Northern Spy on his album Bell Trove Spools). And there were five different hard-rocking performances with relentlessly touring Scandinavian garage-free-jazz monsters The Thing. Two videos of those concerts are included in this edition, including a trio performance without Mats Gustafsson. (Lookout for The Thing’s 2021 box set Made In Texas on Sonic Transmissions. Nameless Sound is working with the label to include documentation from several of the band’s Houston concerts, including one without McPhee.) And there were many workshops with youth in a range of Nameless Sound sites, including high schools, homeless shelters, and several more at MECA.  

For every concert you have ever attended, there are loads and  loads of context, volumes of life lived off stage. For every hour of music  you hear, there are hours and hours of travel, meals, and hard work that makes that moment possible. The artists that you listen to spend time in our city. They not only perform and give workshops. They eat, drink, dance, laugh, go to museums, shop for socks, make new friends, and carry out the  spectacular and mundane stuff of life. And among these moments, strange and  special things happen, especially when strange and special people are  involved. And in the archive of my memory, a web of joyful, uncanny, and just-plain-odd reflections and ephemera paint pictures that accompany the resonance of the music itself.

Reflections from the archive of my memory:

Joe and The Thing love The Silver Slipper, a 70-year-old blues club in Houston’s Kashmere Gardens neighborhood. It’s a time warp with great music, good people, BYOB setups, delicious fried catfish, and relentless dancing. To bring a European jazz musician to a Texas juke joint is a special thing. And shows by The Thing were always timed for a post-gig Slipper trip. They even worked a Silver Slipper  zydeco staple into their set list, “Call the Police” by Stephanie McDee. (Hear it in the  trio with McPhee, Håker-Flaten, and Nilssen-Love.)  

Joe asks a student at a high school workshop in Galveston how playing the music made him feel.
“Like chocolate milk.”
Joe asks, “You felt like you were drinking chocolate milk?”
The kid says, “I was the chocolate milk.”        

A call comes to our office on the afternoon of a concert. A woman’s strange  and ghostly voice asks to speak to Joe McPhee, claiming  that she had once spent time with him and Albert Ayler in Paris. (No such meeting  ever occurred and Joe declined the call.)  

Strange claims and coincidences often seem to pop up around Joe. A friend of a friend from Poughkeepsie (Joe’s hometown) calls home to his mother after the concert. He discovers that Joe’s father and his father once worked together. Once at a Nameless Sound event, the mother of a  board member’s friend comes along. She has no knowledge of the music, but she looks at a poster and sounds surprised. “You know Joe McPhee? I used to work with Tyrone Crabb. I banged a pencil on a tin can for the Nation Time album.” It’s a very  unlikely claim coming from this very proper and conservative-seeming woman. I call Joe. “She’s lying. It’s not possible.” I’m inclined to believe Joe. But how would she even know about Nation Time?

Well, Joe does have his alter egos. The Superman hat is a recurring thread, worn while conducting “Freedom Summer” and appearing again in the 2010 trio concert with Håker-Flaten and Nilssen-Love (until he switches to an “I Love Poughkeepsie” Hat for the 2nd set). And deep in the West Texas desert, Joe finds a spectacular pink “Superbitch” hat in a roadside gas station. Like many superheroes, Joe occasionally designates alter egos to others. It’s a tall order, but Joe has called me “The Man without Fear.” (I’ll do my best to live up to that, when appropriate.) Weeks after the West Texas trip, the Superbitch hat arrived at the office in a package addressed to Nameless Sound staffer Ayanna Mccloud. She had been christened. So after 23 three years of moments that are inspiring, uncanny, unbelievable, joyful, uproariously silly, touching, life-changing and just plain odd, and after 23 years of music that is unlike any other, and just plain beautiful, I think there may be hundreds and hundreds of people in Houston (and maybe thousands around the world) who now know to keep their super-man powers sharp, trust their spidey sense when it tingles, and keep their cape at the ready. Thanks Joe.  


ARTHUR DOYLE + joe mcphee

In the process of researching this project, something special turned up, something that I had not known even existed: an audience cassette recording of the McPhee/Doyle concert, courtesy of jazz writer and former Houston resident, Frank Rubolino. What a trip it is to hear this now, to go back to a moment in time when a foundational seed of Nameless Sound was planted. It was a night that, until now, has only resonated in memory. The magic of their musical meeting transcends the limitations of this cassette document captured by a fan in the audience.

So we kick off Edition: Joe McPhee and the whole Nameless: 20 Years of Sound project with a taste of this low-fi recording.
Its significance not only lies in its place in Nameless Sound’s history. But the concert, comprised of two solos, ended with a first-time duo between Joe and Arthur. The following night in Austin would be the only other time they will ever have played together. Doyle left the planet in 2014. The two had never met before that Texas trip, and would never meet again.

So, it’s 1998 and I received an invitation to come to Houston for a concert and I was caught completely off guard. Although I’ve been traveling to Europe for concerts since 1975, I had only been invited to the West Coast a few times, and not often to New York, only 75 miles away from where I live. It was there and then that I met the inimitable Double D, the man without fear (David Dove) and the equally inimitable musician Arthur Doyle. I gave David that moniker because he is indeed fearless, like the Marvel superhero Daredevil. It was my first encounter with Mr. Doyle and I liked him immediately, he was full of fun, with a most infectious manner and unforgettable laugh, which came easily. Arthur played tenor sax, flute, and sang. I played tenor, pocket trumpet, and what I called vocal infusion. We played solo and finally we shared what was for me, a most unforgettable duo experience. If I remember correctly, Pauline Oliveros’ remarkable mother Edith Gutierrez was in the house. This was the beginning of many wonderful visits to Houston and Nameless Sound.  – JOE MCPHEE

Nameless Sound · Arthur Doyle/Joe McPhee: Duo at Diverse Works

dedication + solo


Trio X at Diverse Works, June of 2002. Joe McPhee is giving a joint dedication for his alto saxophone solo, opening the 2nd set.Throughout that week, he had been working with a group of teenagers at MECA, an arts community center in Houston’s Sixth Ward. Together, they created the score for Freedom Summer, and performed the piece for the children in MECA’s summer day camp.  
Until a couple of weeks go, I’d never listened to this recording from that concert nearly two decades ago. The DAT tape had been shelved in my office for all of those years, until I handed it off to the project's audio archivist, Ryan Edwards to make the transfer and load the file up to our Dropbox.  And here I am, listening to these words from nearly 19 years ago, just days after an unprecedented and desperate raid of our nation's Capitol - a direct attack on democracy, the result of a relentless campaign of voter disenfranchisement. A thread connects: 1962 … 2002 … 2021. – DAVID DOVE


Nameless Sound · Joe McPhee: Dedication and Solo at Diverse Works


In 2002 I was a member of the Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet, an extraordinary experience to be sure but when the band was invited to perform at a jazz festival in Victoriaville, Canada, the organizer decided to save money by combining the Tentet with Peter’s Die Like aDogQuartet, so I was bounced. Not nice but not to worry, Double D invited me once again to Houston and I was as happy as a pig in (expletive deleted!)I was introduced to an absolutely amazing group of young people who I’m so proud to consider “my kids.” We created an orchestra in no time.They worked hard and we had big fun, it was not about who was best, everyone was given an opportunity to grow day by day and in the end to shine. I remember one young guy who played cello. His dad would have much preferred for him to play football (soccer). There was also a young guitar player who was deep into Cecil Taylor and a young lady pianist. So many and such joy. Also invited was my band from New York, Trio X, with bassist Dominic Duval who in fact had played with Cecil for ten years and drummer par excellence, Jay Rosen. Dom took one look at the proceedings and declared, “You can’t do that, you have to study Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Sarah Vaughn, Monk and cats like that if you want to play jazz.” But, who said anything about playing jazz? I was talking about having a good time making music and exchanging ideas in free space. 

Moving right along, after a rehearsal which included a former circus tightrope walker, Chris Cogburn, who by the way was flipped off of the tightrope into the audience because it was not tight enough, we went for drinks at Warren’s, one of Houston’s oldest bars. We thought what a disaster it would be if that happened with the parents and authorities of MECA in the audience. Should we do this walk, which was to happen while the music played? Chris didn’t miss a beat. He said, “let’s go for it.” He started across ... and halfway the rope began to sway. Chris stopped, balanced himself and continued to the end, perfectly. It was a big hit. As I said, everybody had a place to shine, the pianist, the guitarist and especially the cellist, whose dad was in the audience and quite visibly proud. Dom conceded that the experiment was OK in his book. Pauline Oliveros was in the house, beaming. I dare say all had a good time.  – JOE MCPHEE

Click to view more images of the whole score

The score for Freedom Summer was co-created by Joe McPhee and ensemble members during a week of workshops. The first page in this gallery was drawn by Joe and references the individual pages that were drawn by ensemble members (images 3-13 here). At the end of the 1st page score, you can see where Chris Cogburn’s walk across the slack rope is indicated.

Nameless Sound · Joe McPhee and The Nameless Sound Youth Ensemble: Freedom Summer


Joe McPhee - leader, conductor
Graham Coco - drums
Chris Cogburn - slack rope
David Dove - trombone
Jovan Espinoza - guitar
Bryan Eubanks - clarinet
Lucas Gorham - guitar
Diego Imaná - drums, slide whistle
Jason Jackson - alto saxophone
David Jahn - piano
Chris Lambeth - bass guitar
David Lugo - alto saxophone
Jairo Monroy - alto saxophone
Alec Walker - alto saxophone

Click to view more images of the Freedom Summer Performance

I remember MECA. I can still smell the building. It smells exactly how a hundred-year-old school that was repurposed into a community center would smell. I remember the bewildered audiences of students and parents at any number of events. Were they supposed to clap? Did the moments of silence in the performance indicate something? It was clear that they couldn’t tell. The phone rang in the office making its own exclamation. I remember the constant din of the students in the whole building being ever-present; the confusing sound of students meandering and the squeaky doors were beautiful distractions. Sometimes we would be in class doing meditations on silence, trying to play the quietest sounds that we possibly could, and the mariachi band would be blazing down the hall. They always sounded so good.

My recollection of Freedom Summer remains hazy for many reasons that will go unmentioned here; granted, it was 18 years ago. In the summer of 2002, I continued in my already well-established path of being a student of Nameless Sound. By 2002, I had already been learning about “creative music” with David Dove for about four years, sometimes taking one or more classes on a weekly basis. I took much delight in being a part of the community there and our weekly workshops and various performances at MECA over the years are far too many for me to remember. From my time with Nameless Sound, numerous friendships and partnerships remain forged to this day. But more than anything those workshops, classes and performances that I was a part of for so many years taught me how to listen. My instrument then and now is guitars. A recollection of what my playing vocabulary was back then consisted of a large interest in impulsively making jarring sounds to change the direction of a groups improvised piece and cascades of indeterminate notes with heavily jazz-informed leanings. But mostly, I tried to just listen and not think, just react, but have fun. Live without regret. 

Meeting the legendary Joe McPhee and getting a chance to work with him as a 20-year-old still seems very wild. I remember really liking him. He was very friendly and open to talking to us even though we were inexperienced young people. There was no chip on his shoulder. He came with a really good attitude and vibe that I have never felt from anyone else. I think that really stuck with me and showed me something about how to live in general. Being around a person like that was inspiring and I try to carry that kind of joy with me every day. It’s a joy that springs from an unknown source from within. I carry joy with me for no reason and with no precedent. I try to share it with the world because it makes me feel better and it makes everyone feel better around me.  We drew some images on large pieces of paper. Mine was a circle that had the letter A scrawled about nine times inside of it. What it represented I have not the faintest clue. But back then I didn't really know how to see, I just lived life off the cuff. According to images of the score I had a solo, but I don't remember it. What I do remember is the ever-present use of silence in the music. The silence got our ears ready. I remember Pauline Oliveros talking about the sound of air hitting your eardrum this one time - it’s a hiss that's just constantly going. The body is making music constantly if you want it to, but you need silence in order to hear it. – LUCAS GORHAM

I recall that I came to Houston on the invitation of Chris and sort of crashed my way into the workshop and events with Joe as a volunteer. I ended up in the ensemble, as well as Chris's acrobatics, I guess, just because Joe has such an open mind and is such a great improviser - he just worked with all the people and vibes around. I recall that the creation of the piece was fun and involved everyone, and that might be one of the most important things the participants got out of it - making music together can, and probably should, be fun. Joe directed and just made it simple - we're here, you can do this, I can do that, etc. It was pretty wild music actually and some of those "kids" were already monster players. Having Joe there to encourage their playing was special and he did the same to me. After I heard the recording of the concert and the clarinet solo I contributed at the end accompanying Chris's tightrope walking I remembered that Joe came up to me right after we left the stage and said "where'd that come from? That was beautiful" with a wild and loving look in his eyes. – BRYAN EUBANKS

It’s so hard to recall many details from back then. Every time I’ve had the opportunity to meet with Joe McPhee, the experiences kind of blend together. Maybe because the emotional experiences seems so similar. There is something magical about Joe for me. His warmth and spirit in every interaction I’ve had with him has left me feeling encouraged, loved, appreciated, and kind of mystified. One thing that sticks out in my memory from the Freedom Summer project was how efficient Joe was in putting everything together. I believe one of the first things he did was have everyone play solos for the group. After hearing where everyone was coming from musically he started putting together different combinations of musicians together to explore various musical areas. Then, it may have been after a weekend break, he came to the rehearsal with a fleshed out visual score on a large poster board. I remember in one section of the score there were these bloody tears, painful imagery, and I remember feeling a little jealous of the person he selected to represent that section of the score. I wanted to be the one who played those bloody tears... – JASON JACKSON

I remember when I was 17 years-old in Houston and working in MECA as a volunteer. One day I remember seeing a flyer, or maybe it was someone who told me, that well-known jazz musician, Joe McPhee was going to be putting on a performance and they needed a pianist.
So I signed up for a performance of this new piece called "Freedom Summer." I'm 36 now, so this was definitely a long time ago and my memories are hazy. However the main recollection I have is of the absolutely powerful personality of Joe McPhee. Powerful not in a harsh way, but in his combination of being composer, conductor, conceptualist, professor, leader, and sort of alchemist of sound.
He was working with the raw material of just a bunch of teenage musicians, but somehow was able to mold us into a massive, almost quasi-symphonic wall of sound, structuring a massive and complex musical piece and performance artwork lasting nearly an hour.
All this he created in just shy of a week.It's that power and creativity of Joe that is my lasting memory, even if the individual notes and music and concepts I no longer remember. – DAVID JAHN


Nameless Sound · Susan Alcorn/Joe McPhee: Duo at MECA

Meeting Susan Alcorn was a dream given form. Having the opportunity to make music with her was discovery akin to the discovery of Star Trek in 1967, it wicked my world. She was not only kind and extremely generous but as soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy would say, “She lifted the band stand.” We have played several times since then and the meetings have gotten better and better. Most recently we released a recording with Chicago reed player Ken Vandermark called Invitation to a Dream, being mindful of the inhumanity and cruelty of the Trump administration’s destructive policies of putting children in cages and destroying families. – JOE MCPHEE

Click to view more images of Joe McPhee and Susan Alcorn

The thing with joe mcphee

In 1951, a film was released called The Thing from Another World, which I saw when I was 11-years-old (back before the invention of water). It scared the absolute hell out of me. Another THING, a garage rock/jazz band from Scandinavia, arrived in Houston with me as their more or less permanent guest, under the auspices of Nameless Sound. There was plenty of hard driving jazz, including a most memorable bit of food for thought, "Beans and Rice for Jesus Christ," but the after parties at The Silver Slipper are the stuff of legend. One night the bassist of The Thing, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, was on the dance floor when I believe a man asked him to dance with his wife. Ingo agreed and turned to meet her. The lady was a giant and the look on his face was priceless. She rose and rose, towering over Ingo. We all had a good laugh. – JOE MCPHEE

Click to view more images of concert posters
Click to view more images of The Thing with Joe McPhee

In 23 years of presenting music, it is hard to think of anyone as important to Epistrophy Arts as Joe McPhee. Joe was there at the very beginning and he has taken part in some of our most memorable events. That he agreed to fly down to Texas to play our first concert still blows me away. Nameless Sound founder, David Dove and I had no track record, no infrastructure, but just a deep love and appreciation for the music. We would have long phone conversations about this wonderful music we were just starting to get into and we would commiserate about the lack of opportunities to experience the music live in our cities. In late ‘97 Dave was volunteering at MECA and was presented with an opportunity and a budget to organize a concert in Houston. I immediately scrambled into action to get something happening in Austin. We brainstormed a list of artists to invite and began contacting folks. I was way too nervous and shy to call our musician heroes, but Dave immediately got on the phone. 

I’ll never forget how excited I was when Dave said Joe McPhee wanted to work with us. He had been taking a break from performing to care for his ailing parents and was slowly returning to the music. We also invited Arthur Doyle. The two had never met, even though they had many close friends and collaborators in common. The show in Austin, held at the now defunct record store 33 Degrees, drew a huge crowd of young jazz and indie rock freaks as well as older jazz aficionados and received great press and radio coverage. A real community of supporters and advocates formed around that single event, a community that sustains us to this day. I credit Joe’s artistry, generosity and kindness for the success of that day and for inspiring me to continue and try to make Epistrophy Arts the best it can be.

A year later, I had the opportunity to present Mats Gustafsson with the AALY Trio and Ken Vandermark at the Cinema Texas festival. Mats and I became good friends because of our mutual interests in whisk(e)y, music and food and because I was also born in Sweden. (Little known fact, Mats gave up vegetarianism in ‘98 after eating Ruby’s BBQ on that tour.) Ruby’s BBQ were some of the most enthusiastic supporters of Epistrophy Arts in our history, feeding most of the musicians in our series. When Mats put together The Thing in 2000, I insisted that they come to Texas. I came to jazz and improvised music from punk and indie rock and the band was the perfect encapsulation of my personal approach to this music. They brought the energy and power of punk and indie rock, with the nuance and broad emotional palette of classic free jazz. They were a very special band. We were able to present them 6 times over the years, 4 times with Joe McPhee. The combination of The Thing, Joe McPhee, Epistrophy Arts, and Nameless Sound was legendary. The band began wearing Ruby’s BBQ shirts at all of their shows. They are the only free jazz band in history to perform in uniform. I still can’t get over the many times I would see press photos and videos from all over the world with their Ruby’s shirts. Ingebrigt, the bassist in the band, loved Texas so much he ended up moving to Austin and is adding his own imprint to the local cultural landscape through his Sonic Transmissions concert series. I eagerly volunteered to drive the band to Houston after some of their Austin gigs so I could enjoy the shows without the responsibilities of being a presenter. Also, because Dave’s shows were always a blast.  Dave and the Nameless Sound community created the most welcoming environment for artists and guests alike. The hospitality is legendary, from the Vietnamese food, backstage refreshments, to the after parties at the storied Silver Slipper in the Fifth ward. I cannot wait to drive another band from Austin to Houston again soon.   – PEDRO MORENO


Click to view more images of John Butcher & Joe McPhee at Richmond Hall

In 2008, I returned to Houston after being away for nearly 10 years for school, life and love. My first job back was as Administrative Director at Nameless Sound. I was 30, which seems to be a milestone year for searching, recalling, and manifesting, which I was doing a lot of. As I was re-rooting in Houston and redefining my connections to art, my job at Nameless Sound was perfect timing and in alignment with something divine. Dave and I did a lot of dreaming of his vision for Nameless Sound and how I could support that through infrastructure and fundraising. We also talked lots of the transformative power of music and sound. It was here I learned of my deep affinity for “spiritual jazz” and was reminded of my love for Alice Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders, but I was also introduced to the likes of free jazz greats such as Albert Ayler, Don Cherry, The Art Ensemble of Chicago, and Joe McPhee, among others. 

When I first heard Joe McPhee’s Nation Time, it rang truths in my ear and body. It certainly deserves a listen now and seems so timely. The song begins with a running start, as Joe screams out “What time is it!” and a group of kids screams back in response, “nation time!” After a couple of rounds of this call and response, he kicks into full swing with his saxophone and later a band. A Black man calling out to kids about “nation time”and playing this frenzied, but clear and driven song in 1971 is a kind of rejoicing and reclaiming to me. I am here – take me or leave me. My favorite of all Joe’s songs is Cosmic Love. The shakiness and soul-searching sounds in the first part are warm and both enveloping and internally affirming.The end becomes unapologetically raw, piercing but deeply felt. It is whatI seek in love. This is Joe.  

I will never forget the Nameless Sound performance with Joe and John Butcher at The Hill, near El Paso, Texas. We stopped in Marfa and I just remember Joe walking the stark hyper-minimalist Donald Judd sculptures at Chinati Foundation with his pink Superbitch hat. It was a sight and made me smile. He knows how to be light even with his weight, no matter the place. The performance was one of those total art experiences, without all of the ego that often comes with art world experiences. In the middle of the desert we enjoyed this momentous James Magee installation and the sounds of Joe McPhee and John Butcher in dialogue. 

Click to view more images of John Butcher and Joe McPhee in West Texas

This is Nameless Sound, an honest devotion to creating real, raw and transformative experiences through sounds. It is not always about knowing where we will arrive at, but about being committed to the searching, self-discovery and collaboration that is part of the process of improvisation. In here we embrace and find light. 

While working at Nameless Sound, I launched labotanica, an interdisciplinary collaborative space at Project Row Houses for two years. labotanica was inspired by botanicas in Caribbean and Latin American communities. There is a lot of creativity and magic happening in these spaces. They are also not singular. There may be a store in the front, but a ceremony in the back. I wanted that plurality in my space. My focus was to function as a catalyst to facilitate connections and launch ideas that may have never materialized in other more structured and established environments. The principles around improvisation, including how it allows you to be vulnerable, uncertain, and collaborative, were very influential as themes at labotanica. I also was really happy to have a few Nameless Sound concerts there. One of the projects I launched which was especially an extension of NS was Hear Her Ear, a series devoted to women in sound and music and not allowing them to be in the background or minority. There was a wide assortment of different types of sounds made and featured.

 I’ve learned so much and how to exist in all of my selves and spiritual truth of sound, vibration and art through NS. With love and light to Joe, Dave, and Nameless Sound. -AYANNA JOLIVET MCCLOUD

Click to view more images of Joe McPhee in Houston



FEATURED ARTIST, JOE MCPHEE is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, improviser, conceptualist and theoretician. He began playing the trumpet at age eight, taught by his father, himself a trumpet player. He continued on that instrument through his formative school years and later in a U.S. Army band stationed in Germany, at which time he was introduced to performing traditional jazz. Clifford Thornton’s Freedom and Unity, released in 1969 on the Third World label, is the first recording on which he appears as a side man. In 1968, inspired by the music of Albert Ayler, he took up the saxophone and began an active involvement in both acoustic and electronic music.

His first recordings as leader appeared on the CJ Records label, founded in 1969 by painter Craig Johnson. These include Underground Railroad by the Joe McPhee Quartet (1969), Nation Time (1970), Trinity (1971) and Pieces of Light (1974). In 1975, Swiss entrepreneur Werner X. Uehlinger released Black Magic Man by McPhee, on what was to become Hat Hut Records.

In 1981, he met composer, accordionist, performer, and educator Pauline Oliveros, whose theories of Deep Listening strengthened his interests in extended instrumental and electronic techniques. He also discovered Edward de Bono’s book Lateral Thinking: A Textbook of Creativity, which presents concepts for solving problems by “disrupting an apparent sequence and arriving at the solution from another angle.” de Bono’s theories inspired McPhee to apply this “sideways thinking” to his own work in creative improvisation, resulting in the concept of “Po Music.” McPhee describes “Po Music” as a “process of provocation” (Po is a language indicator to show that provocation is being used) to “move from one fixed set of ideas in an attempt to discover new ones.” He concludes, “It is a Positive, Possible, Poetic Hypothesis.” The results of this application of Po principles to creative improvisation can be heard on several Hat Art recordings, including Topology, Linear B, and Oleo & a Future Retrospective.

In 1997, McPhee discovered two like-minded improvisers in bassist Dominic Duval and drummer Jay Rosen. The trio premiered at the Vision Jazz Festival in 1998 but the concert went unnoticed by the press. McPhee, Duval, and Rosen therefore decided that an apt title for the group would be Trio X. In 2004 he created Survival Unit III with Fred Lonberg-Holm and Michael Zerang to expand his musical horizons and with a career spanning nearly 50 years and over 100 recordings, he continues to tour internationally, forge new connections while reaching for music’s outer limits.

NAMELESS SOUND FOUNDING DIRECTOR: DAVID DOVE is a trombone player, improviser, composer and workshop facilitator. He is the Founding Director of Nameless Sound, which began in 2001 as a branch of Deep Listening Institute.

MANAGING EDITOR: VERONICA ANNE SALINAS is an artist, writer, researcher, and listener working in sound, electronics, performance, improv, installation, and experimental narrative. She has an MFA in Sound from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her essay, "Sounding La Raza Cósmica" is featured in the Routledge anthology, Latina Outsiders: Remaking Latina Identity (2019). She is currently the 2020 ALBA sound artist-in-residence at Experimental Sound Studio (Chicago, IL), an editor at the sound-based publication, The Eaves, and creator of the urban listening project, Chicagou Land Sound. She has attended, performed, and wrote about Nameless Sound events since 2014.

AUDIO ARCHIVIST: RYAN EDWARDS is a producer/recording engineer and improvising musician (guitar/voice/viola) based in Houston, TX. His work in recording is predominantly with classical and improvised/experimental music. Amongst many projects, he was mastering engineer for the Houston Symphony’s Grammy winning recording of Berg’s Wozzeck and many of his recordings of Nameless Sound concerts have been released commercially. His first exposure to improvised music was a February 2003 performance of the MECA Improvisation Ensemble on the Nameless Sound Collective series organized by David Dove and it was at the following weeks' concert where he was promptly drafted in to attend the workshop at MECA.

VIDEO ARCHIVIST: DON WHITE hates writing boilerplate fluff about himself and would rather be editing video. A lifelong musical omnivore, he loves coffee, cats, Frank Zappa, and looks forward to being able to attend live performances again someday. He has worked with Nameless Sound since 2003.

NAMELESS SOUND ADMINISTRATIVE COORDINATOR: ANTHONY ALMENDÁREZ is an artist working in music composition, sound, noise, improvisation, performance, fixed media, and moving image. His work challenges the hierarchy between audio and visual stimuli confronting their respective stereotypes in relation to identity. Almendárez ultimately seeks to inject new modes of storytelling that are inclusive of histories and collective memories of those thriving along the margins of society. He received a BA in Music Education at CSU Dominguez Hills, an MA in Music Theory and Composition at Marshall University in WV, and is currently a candidate for the MFA in Sound Art at Bard College, NY.


EUBANKS develops his music through solo work and collaboration. Since 1999 he has participated in many short and long term projects, and regularly presents his work internationally. Continually active in a variety of contexts: improvisation; composing electronic and acoustic works for small ensembles, solo instruments, computers, and electronics; organizing and curating concerts for other artists; building electronic instruments. He currently lives in Berlin.

is a musician, artist, and educator from Houston, TX. He is currently based in Los Ángeles, where he works as a librarian, a DJ, and a music producer.

JASON JACKSON is a saxophonist/multi-instrumentalist from Houston, Texas, and the Program Coordinator for Nameless Sound's Creative Music Communities. He is involved with many ongoing creative projects, a member of the band The Young Mothers, and frequently collaborates with the many talented artists who live in and travel throughout the city.

DAVID JAHN grew up in Houston, and now lives in New York City. He worked as a piano teacher for many years, and now works as a software engineer.

AYANNA MCCLOUD makes art about landscapes, mapping, and sensation. Much of her work is inspired by poetics and rituals of African-Americans and more broadly the African diaspora. She has exhibited and participated in residencies throughout the Americas, in the U.S., Caribbean, and Latin America, and studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Ayanna has led creative projects including labotanica, while in residence at Project Row Houses. She is director of education and public programs at the Houston Botanic Garden. A fourth-generation artist, she enjoys collecting maps, and is a proud mother to Zahir, which means radiance and light.

PEDRO MORENO is a librarian and the Director of Epistrophy Arts. He lives in Austin, Texas.

PHOTOGRAPHS: Special thanks to Ryan Edwards, Pete Gershon, Phyllis Hand, Pedro Moreno, Frank Rubolino, and Brittanie Shey.

POSTERS: Special thanks to David Dove, David Feil, Heather Leigh, and David Wang.

Nameless: 20 Years Of Sound Logo Design by Lillian Evans