Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

Kali Yuga experiments with music through chaos

Away from campus under the dim glow of neon signs and orange candles, Augustana’s improvisation ensemble, Kali Yuga, experiments with sound and music outside of what might be found in traditional campus spaces.

As an improv ensemble, Kali Yuga’s sets do not come with a set of instructions. Starting their sessions without a tune, plan or material, music professor Randall Hall, saxophonist and founder of Kali Yuga, said it works to marry both composition and performance into a cohesive union.

“We just start playing. Then we have to think about the kinds of issues that composers have to think about: we’re generating and developing the ideas [and] we have to think through questions of form of orchestration,” Hall said. “How are we going to change between instruments? How are we going to create climactic moments where we’re going to mellow it out? All of those decisions have to be made in real time.”

Hall created Kali Yuga in 2009 because of his long-standing interest in experimental music. As students filter in and out of Augustana and Kali Yuga, the instruments and ideas within the ensemble do as well. The ensemble works to experiment with instruments and sounds away from typical constraints of tradition and rules. 

“One thing we do a lot of is extended techniques, which is simply using an instrument to produce sounds it was not intended to make,” Hall said. “The piano wasn’t designed to have the string scraped, but you get really cool sounds, and so we incorporate the sounds into the musical vocabulary.” 

While experimental music strays from norms and rules, some can find this style to be unfamiliar or confusing. Senior John Flannery, pianist in Kali Yuga, said that people often expect sets to be like that of a jazz ensemble and find out that Kali Yuga greatly deviates from expectations. 

At Rock Island cafe Rozz-Tox, near Ragged Records & Music, Kali Yuga has found a community that embraces this unfamiliarity. 

“Rozz-Tox is a home for new music. It is a place for experimentation for weird sounds and for people to express themselves in ways that may not be typically well-received,” Flannery said. “When you go in there, the vibe is so welcoming of all things weird and interesting.”

Since the origins of Kali Yuga 15 years ago, Rozz-Tox has remained a venue for Kali Yuga’s performances. 

Junior Liam Haynes plays violin, upright bass, recorder and percussion in Kali Yuga. 

After joining the ensemble in the fall, Haynes said that the experimental style of Kali Yuga has given him a space to converse through music, fitting with the meaning behind the ensemble’s name. 

The name of the ensemble originates from Hindu cosmogony, which separates the world into four cycles. 

Kali Yuga is described as the “age of iron,” the era that Earth will be consumed by fire and rebirthed into a new spiritual place. In the case of the improv ensemble, this rebirth is seen in the form of new music and unique sounds.

“I always think of Kali Yuga as a conversation between people who have very different ideas and very different personalities,” Haynes said. “The exchange is always interesting, because when interesting people talk it’s almost always interesting.”

Haynes said it is this freedom that has given him room to express feelings that align with his interpretation of what the era of Kali Yuga means: Creating out of the chaos. 

“I see myself as just releasing my own fear in some sense. Being in a free improv ensemble takes a lot of courage because there’s no limitation,” Haynes said. “When there’s [no rules], it is the epitome of anxiety. It’s incredibly liberating to do that with people that you feel comfortable sharing with and who feel comfortable sharing with you.”

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