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Profile Fri Oct 24 2008

Matthew Golombisky and the ears&eyes Festival

One night in the winter of 2006, musician Matthew Golombisky had just finished playing a show with The Other Planets at Sylvie's Lounge. Golombisky is a composer and a jazz bassist, with dual clef tattoos spanning the length of both of his forearms. As he and his band mates, all natives of New Orleans transplanted to Chicago when Hurricane Katrina tore through their city, packed their equipment into their van, one of his musician friends was casually drinking a can of beer on the street outside of the lounge.

In New Orleans, the city of Bourbon Street and Mardi Gras beads, laws concerning open alcohol containers aren't quite as strict, but Chicago police don't take kindly to such activity. Accordingly, a police officer slapped Golombisky's unsuspecting band mate with a $250 ticket that landed all of the musicians in a financial pickle. Thanks to quick thinking and an offer from Sylvie's to play a fundraiser show on December 10th to recoup the fine, Golombisky's annual ears&eyes Festival was inadvertently born.

With two and a half weeks to plan and an ambitious mixed-media goal in mind, Golombisky slapped the festival of friends, musicians, and artists together. In the process, he cemented an artists' community that had rotated around the eyes&ears record collective. Musicians from all over the nation play in a lineup that increases each year; meanwhile, visual art is projected on the walls throughout the venue. In bringing together musicians who know one another and play together in varying arrangements, while also meshing aural art with visual art, the eyes&ears Festival's themes of convergence and connectivity set the tone for the festival -- not to mention the eyes&ears recording collective.

earsAndEyesFestivalPoster.jpg"There's a preconceived notion of what jazz is," says Golombisky. To an unfamiliar ear, jazz can sound frenetic and disconnected -- like a bunch of musicians playing four different songs that all happen to begin and end at the same time, Golombisky said. Yet underneath this ambient musical cloud there is an organization and cooperation that is intrinsic to the music and to the musicians. It's these initial misconceptions that inspired Golombisky to break down the barriers of strict musical genres in order to build up communities of like-minded musicians and artists, no matter their genre distinction or artistic medium. eyes&ears records is a community, first and foremost, says the collective's website -- a community that has proven invaluable.

While playing music and pursuing a master's degree in music composition at the University of New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina tore through the area, uprooting his ties in the New Orleans jazz scene and causing Golombisky to make the move to Chicago. As a transplant fresh from another musical culture in New Orleans, making the trek to Chicago was made easier by examining and experiencing new people and new scenes here. Once transplanted, Golombisky quickly found a new community in a network of musicians who knew each other and played together.

The idea of different music scenes meshing together loomed large for Golombisky in moving to a city with a musical scene as different as the climate. Shortly before moving, Golombisky had started Tomorrow Music Orchestra in New Orleans, one of his more ambitious projects. TMO is an ever-changing, monster of an orchestra that features Golombisky as both a bassist and a conductor. "Like in the 1750s when one piece of music was performed one time," says Golombisky, "we wanted to do the same thing with TMO" in making each performance a special event to-be-seen. Similar to the birth of the eyes&ears Festival in Chicago, the idea for TMO was sparked by a sudden opportunity to play a show at Café Brazil in New Orleans. On the day before their first show, Golombisky spent 14 straight hours composing music for the gig, made a mess of spaghetti and assembled a group of 14 musicians who would become the first incarnation of the TMO. The gig was a success, albeit a short lived one, with Golombisky's sudden move to Chicago.

Once dropped into the Chicago music scene and accompanied by many of his musician friends from New Orleans who also came to Chicago, a familiar occasion popped up: a sudden opportunity to play a show, this time at the now-defunct Ice Factory in Ukrainian Village. To prepare for the show, Golombisky reunited with his friends from New Orleans as well as new musicians he met via the Chicago music scenes and through his time studying at Northwestern University. While the goal for composing and playing all new music at each show proved too ambitious, now TMO's 30-plus members practice altogether about once per month and average 8 to 12 shows per year, each of which is a distinct event from the show before. Every show changes to fit each new or returning member of TMO. "TMO is a huge rock band. No drums, no amps, just me conducting," he says.

"I'm in 20-something bands. I want to write huge works. I wanna spread energy and focus over so many things," Golombisky explains. He's sitting just outside the on air control room of Northwestern University's radio station where he and fellow musician Laurie Herbert host a weekly program entitled "Connect the Dots." The theme of the radio show falls in-line with Golombisky's musical, social and artistic ideals: "This is a weekly show dedicated to showing the diversity in music styles and greatness between a string of musicians that is much more connected than you think," it says on the show's website.

While he attributes the eyes&ears record collective's success to musicians and artists who want to throw their hat in with a larger community, to "attach their name to your music," he still recognizes the connections between individual groups within the larger collective. With the third annual eyes&ears Festival slated for October 24th through the 26th at The Hideout expected to have the biggest lineup yet, Golombisky will continue to see how Chicago's music scene flows together.

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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »


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