Avant Garde in WNC: Tashi Dorji

Experimental guitarist-composer Tashi Dorji is initially nonplussed when asked how receptive Asheville audiences have been to his brand of avant garde music. “I don’t consider what I do ‘entertainment’ music,” he explains. “Most of my solo work is a practice of collaboration, the pursuit of ideas.” He characterizes a recent local engagement as “a drone series/installment” rather than a concert.

And while Dorji is happy living in Asheville, he doesn’t connect it directly to what he does musically. “With the music that I pursue, geographical restrictions or cultural boundaries really don’t matter,” he says. “Music is completely free from those things; I could be here, or I could be in Algiers or Bhutan or wherever. It’s about sound.”

Dorji’s collaborators are indeed located across the globe. A January gig found him in New York City, collaboraitng with Alex Zhang Hungtai, a Taiwanese-Canadian improviser whose work – like Dorji’s – bridges rock and avant garde. Dorji also plays in a duo called MANAS with fellow Asheville musician Thom Nguyen; the pair recently embarked on another collaboration, this time with Efrim Menuck from Canadian avant garde ensemble Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Other artists with whom Dorji teams up include NYC-based Susie Ibarra, saxophonist Mette Rasmussen (based in Norway), and SUMAC’s Nick Yacyshyn. “Nick and I recently collaborated at a festival in Porto, Portugal,” Dorji says. A recording of that is tentatively planned for release.

Yet even though his attention is globally (rather than primarily locally) focused, Dorji emphasizes that the Asheville arts and music community is very supportive. “The Catalytic Sound Festival was the first curatorial thing I’ve done in this town,” he says. “And I felt very supported. It was great to fly all those artists to Asheville, plus having some local artists play and collaborate.” He notes that the event required direct financial assistance from local businesses including synthesizer company Make Noise. “They were like, ‘We support you; what do you need?’” Dorji says.

And that kind of encouragement for his decidedly non-commercial musical endeavors has inspired Dorji. “There’s support [in Asheville] for experimental music in general. New venues are asking me to curate events. It’s really encouraging, and I’m really looking forward to doing Catalytic again next year, maybe even bringing more interesting musicians.”