Avant Garde in WNC: It Might Get Weird

Asheville and all of Western North Carolina is home to a wide array of musical styles. Though Asheville is rightly seen as a hotbed of bluegrass and a magnet for touring jam bands, there exist homegrown exponents of countless forms of musical expression. Some are widely accessible, but others appeal to a more select audience. Citing a variety of motivations for doing so, many avant garde musical artists have taken up residence in the area. The challenging music they make exists well outside the mainstream.

Nathan Duvall is one of the deejays at AshevilleFM. The nonprofit community radio station’s noncommercial status lends itself to support of noncommercial music. Asked which programs (beyond his own weekly show, Lucid) feature avant garde sounds, he says that “most of the programming on AshevilleFM is free form by nature.” He mentions four shows with an especially strong commitment to the experimental and unusual: Ecstatic Listening, Orchestral Maneuvers, Tenor to Tabla and Melody in Mayhem. All are as eclectic and engaging as their names suggest.

“At AshevilleFM it’s our responsibility to keep our ears to the ground and hearts open to the wide array of artistic talent,” Duvall says. “It’s our mission to balance professionalism with an ability to give the underrepresented – or even misunderstood – a voice in our community.”

Avant garde music purposefully redefines what society declares as the language of music, says AshevilleFM’s Duvall. And he emphasizes that the rewards are potentially great for listeners who step beyond the ordinary. “Curiosity and a willingness to explore boundaries that make folks uncomfortable: that’s avant garde,” he enthuses. And with a thriving local avant garde musical community to explore, Duvall recommends that approach for listeners, too: “Be curious.”

In the days to come, I’ll profile three Asheville-based avant garde artists: