Brian West presents Sunday March 3rd

The vast majority of the universe is empty space. The diameter of the Earth is just under 8000 miles, while the distance to Venus, our nearest planetary neighbor is at least 23 million miles. The scale of emptiness dwarfs the space occupied by solid ground by a factor of almost 3000. When considering the 3 dimensional volume that they occupy instead of just the linear distance, this disparity balloons to a factor of 50,000,000,000,000. That’s 50 trillion. In a cube-shaped space defined by the minimum distance from Earth to Venus, there is 50 trillion times as much empty space as the volume of the Earth. The distance between the sun and its nearest stellar neighbor is much larger, even in relations to the sun’s much greater size. The distance to Alpha Centauri is 30,000 times greater than the diameter of the sun. This vast emptiness repeats itself on every scale throughout the universe, the distances between planets, then between stars, then between galaxies rapidly growing so large that they can only be understood through metaphors. Everything we’ve ever experienced, everything we’ve ever heard or touched, every idea we’ve ever contemplated has all taken place on this one tiny island in an incomprehensibly vast sea. It is no wonder our minds are entirely unequipped to comprehend the distances between the stars, let alone between distant galaxies. We can try to grapple with this unnatural understanding by thinking that the light reaching us now from our nearest galactic neighbor left there two and a half million years ago. That light has been traveling across an empty void for more than ten times as long as the human race has existed. But even this metaphorical crutch suffers from the fatal weakness that light already travels so fast that it strains our ability to even conceive it.

The overwhelming emptiness of the universe even exists at the micro level. Not only are planets and stars and galaxies isolated islands in a sea of empty space, but even so called “solid matter” is composed almost entirely of empty space. Atoms are composed of a core of protons and neutrons, orbited by a cloud of electrons. Protons and neutrons occupy a tiny fraction of the space of the atom, while most of the space of the atom is filled by the fast moving cloud of electrons. But electrons make up almost none of the mass of the atom. They are so tiny they practically don’t exist, and certainly not as “solid matter”. It is only the repulsive force of negative against negative that keeps the atoms of your body from phasing through the atoms of the object you carry, the person you embrace or the very earth you stand on.

In such a universe, dominated on every scale by empty space, it’s no wonder that so many of us so often feel an overwhelming sense of emptiness. The human spirit is a vessel, and fulfilling experiences are called such precisely because they fill that vessel. But our cup has a hole in it, no matter how many fulfilling activities you’ve pursued in the past, they must be periodically pursued. Music, dance, poetry and other such activities must periodically refill the vessel, otherwise we feel ourselves returning to the emptiness from which we all come and to which we all return.

Photo cred Donal Lakatua

Ed Stalling & John Sporman present Sunday, April 8

The Seabag Letters

The canvas seabag went everywhere with my father during WWII. The place names
written on it tell their own story: Pearl Harbor, Saipan, Tinian, Iwo Jima, and
Kyusha Japan (Nagasaki). It sat in the corner of an attic for 60 years. Dad died,
mom moved to assisted living, we cleaned out the house and the seabag came with
me to Missoula. I didn’t know the empty ammo clip was in it until TSA saw it at the
Minneapolis airport. They detained me, emptied out the full contents, and called in
the head honcho. She asked me to explain the giant stack of old letters – all bundled
and tied with twine. The tough TSA woman said, “Now you’ve made me cry.” She
ordered the paperwork torn up and everything to be carefully placed back in the
bag, looked at me through tears and said, “These are so precious, my grandfather
was in WWII, get out of here and don’t say anything.”

All the letters written to dad from 1943 to 1951 are in that bag. Now, 75 years
later, I’m opening the letters from his father who’s on a ship in the Pacific; from his
brother writing from a foxhole on the front line in Italy; from an aunt back home on
her farm, and from girlfriends hoping the war is quickly over. One particularly
persistent writer is fifteen years old in her first letter and eighteen in her last. She
writes about how they’ll marry someday and name their first son Eddie Jr., which is
precisely what they do.

The writers share their experiences and thoughts: stories of tragedy, concern, love,
fear, daily life, and news of the day. They reminisce about good times from the past
and express hope for a better future. They hope that they will simply see each other
again someday.

John and I will use this session as an incubator for a larger project to tell these
stories. I want to hear how musicians across genres, genders, and ages react to the
stories and put them to sound. To kick it off, John Sporman and I will use my
father’s own reflections about his experiences in the war — especially about the first
wave of Iwo Jima — as creative triggers to freely improvise sound.

We’ll then create multiple small-group sessions – that’s you — and read excerpts
from the seabag letters. Together you’ll use those words as creative triggers to put
those stories – be it emotions, themes, concepts – into sound. We will record the
FreeSessions to use as ideas in a bigger project to come.

While you are welcome to just come and observe, the primary purpose of this
session is creation from a diverse group of musicians — so we encourage you to
come with your instruments, an open mind and heart, and most of all, your ears.

Drummer/Percussionist Ed Stalling moved to Missoula is 2006 from Minneapolis where he played with several jazz big bands and in over thirty musical-theater productions. You see him on stages all over the state with The John Floridis Trio, Ed Norton Big Band, Captain Wilson Conspiracy, Basement Boyz, Jim Driscoll Trio, Kimberlee Carlson, Joan Zen Jazz, and Contra Brasil. Inducted into the Missoula Blues and Jazz Society “Hall of Fame” in 2016, Ed likes to “gives back” by helping with all three local high schools jazz bands, and teaching out of his home studio.

John Sporman is a Missoula-based musician and composer. After studying music composition and technology at the University of Montana, John moved on to score over 30 silent movies, dance shows and theatrical productions. He has scored for The International Wildlife Film Festival, The Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, The Bozeman Film Society, Bare Bait Dance, The Montana Repertory Theatre, MCT Community Theatre, Sunshine Unlimited, Viscosity Theatre and for an array of independent artists. John is currently working as a national touring musician.

Bill Kautz presents Sunday, January 7

I am very excited to be curating the 2nd FreeSessions on January 7th and particularly excited to perform my music with Christopher Gray (guitar), Steve Kalling (bass) and Naomi Siegel (trombone and keyboard). These individuals have been extremely open to exploring new territories with these compositions and I want to thank them right off the bat for their flexibility and trust in me leading this ensemble. They’ve been such a pleasure to create with.

We will be performing 3 pieces for you tonight titled Segmented, Sehnsucht and Where is Solitude. Two of these compositions were performed 3 and 5 years ago as part of The Racer Sessions and the IMP Fest in Seattle under different instrumentation. I have wanted to revisit these compositions with new musicians and in a completely new setting to see how I hear and approach things differently. A lot has happened for me since I first wrote these…most recently becoming a father, moving to Missoula, taking on a very new identity as a stay at home dad for my daughter and spending a lot more focused time on the trumpet than I have in many years.

What we will be playing for you is based heavily around open improvisation. However, each piece has a defined melody with corresponding chord changes which will set up the flavor for the improvisations that follow the melody. A very similar progression as performing jazz standards…melody, solos, and playing through the melody again to end the piece. However, we may or may not stick to the structure introduced with the melody. This is a very exciting aspect of performing these pieces as each time is a different experience.

 Every individual in this group has the equal amount of power to introduce a framework or deviate from a previously introduced framework during the improvisation sections. A specific instrument, such as the bass, does not need to just act like a “bass”…think of whatever that may mean to you! Everyone’s role in the performance is of equal importance and purpose, which is to create original music where everyone’s voice and ideas are heard.

An exciting thing about this ensemble is that every player has some unique musical niche where they spend the majority of their time performing or practicing. So when we open up and get free, it’s amazing to hear the blend of influences weave together. We all have our unique influences and sound. It has been a hope of mine that those influences can be embraced and amplified in this ensemble. I hope you can pick up on that when we perform.

For the improvisation section that follows, I would like to encourage every ensemble to conference briefly before performing to establish a place to start and finish. This can be as abstract as a word, feeling, color, number, etc or as specific as a defined key, scale, rhythmic figure, etc. Wherever you begin your performance, try to revisit that idea through all instruments represented while improvising. Come back to the original idea to play it verbatim, chop the heck out of it or expand upon it.  And resist the urge to only have melodic instruments or voices take the melody.

Thanks for reading. We’ll look forward to seeing you Sunday January 7th at 6pm.

-Bill Kautz

Naomi Siegel & The Missoula Conduction Experiment present Sunday, December 3

Mayana Kantor – Cello

Ed Stalling – Drums

Nancy Seldin – Recorder

Tanner Fruit – Saxophone

Amelia Thornton – Violin

Linden Marie – Voice

Caroline Keys – Lap Steel

Naomi Siegel – Conductor

Steve Kalling – Bass

Joe Glassy – Guitar


Thanks for being a part of the kick-off of The FreeSessions – the new all-ages, improvised, curated jam session occurring on the first Sunday of the month at Imagine Nation Brewing Company.

Each month a curator will present, perform, discuss, and/or share from 6:00-6:30pm. From 6:30-8:00pm, participants are encouraged and invited to partake in group improvisations. The curator may set a theme for these improvisations.

I am thrilled to be kicking off these sessions with a demonstration by the Missoula Conduction Experiment – a multi-generational group of Missoula musicians spanning an array of backgrounds in music. We will play a short set of improvisations created through Conduction – a method of using signals to construct or modify sound in real time developed by Butch Morris.

I have had the pleasure of playing in a band for the last 6 years that uses Conduction. I love the feeling of having to stay on my toes, keep listening, and jump in to serve the music at any given moment in any given role as indicated by the Conductor. There is an inherent interplay and trust between conductor and improviser.

Conduction has a way of fostering an environment of immediate intentionality, of playing without judgment, of playing without planning out what you’re going to play ahead of time, of playing and listening. With less time to think, it can be easier to just play with conviction. To participate. To add to the music the best you can within the parameters of the given signal. It takes away a few of the decisions of when and how to play.

Group Norms for the Session.

Listening. Listening. Listening.

Take risks

Play your truth and trust your voice

No fixing

Experience discomfort

Listening to the group

For these sessions, let’s be inspired by Conduction by committing to listening, jumping in with conviction to serve the music, and being aware of what’s happening with the whole group.

The FreeSessions is a space to create and interact with other musicians in new ways. It is a place to experiment. It is a place listen, play with conviction, and let the pieces of music be how they are without judgment. This is an invitation to try something new, to play something you’ve never played before, to practice listening like you’re hearing things for this first time.

We will have a drum set, amps, and a keyboard available. For folks who play those kinds of instruments, all you have to do is bring your sticks, guitar, bass, fingers and so forth.

More from Naomi Siegel, the curator

I was introduced to Conduction in 2011 by Wayne Horvitz, who learned directly from Butch Morris – the principle theorist and practitioner in the evolution of Conduction. I’ve been a member of Wayne’s Royal Room Collective Music Ensemble for the last 6 years where we use Conduction in conjunction with written big band music. In this ensemble I have had the pleasure of playing with many of Seattle’s most prolific and creative improvisers who add their own unique voices to the ensemble, as directed by Wayne the conductor.

Many of the folks in the Missoula Conduction Ensemble have been taking free improvisation classes with me on Monday nights, which has been a thoughtful and beautiful exploration into creating music together without preconceived notions of tempo, key, structure, harmony, melody, form, genre. Instead, we cast those elements to the side to put an emphasis on listening and intuitive creation. We become in tune with our breath and bodies before creating sound. We are interested in proactive listening and participation. We honor the silences just as much as the sounds. We play games and set limitations to push ourselves out of our comfort zones. We practice listening, listening, listening. This class has been very much inspired by the work of Pauline Oliveros. I have been incredibly inspired by all the participants of this class to create in new ways.


Learn more about Conduction from Butch Morris himself:


Pauline Oliveros: Listening as Activism


Conduction by Wayne Horvitz used in conjunction with written music.



Conduction by Tyshawn Sorey.