If "drone show" conjures up images of Star Wars, you probably want to avoid the Riot Room Thursday night.
The evening's showcase features three local acts: Expo '70, Plante and Sounding the Deep. And it offers an experience that's entirely different from anything George Lucas would ever put his name on. (Unless, that is, Lucas is planning to release a 45-minute cassette tape of feedback loops, the occasional guitar pluck, and white noise that together produce the effect of a vacuum cleaner sucking out your eardrums.)
"It's not exactly How's everybody doing tonight? music," says Andrew Plante, a Kansas City musician who creates ethereal soundscapes with a guitar, delay pedals and loops.
"There's that point a few minutes into the set where you realize that this is what the band is going to be doing the entire set," he adds. (Plante, Expo '70 and Sounding the Deep are all one-man acts.)
"The thing that drew me to drone music is the intensity of the experience," Plante continues. "It's the kind of sound that will make the hair stand up on the back of your neck."
Of the three artists who will perform Thursday, Plante is the one who sounds most like a jet engine. His heavily distorted compositions seemingly have no form or anything resembling a conventional melody. To Plante's ears, the music is complete and utter bliss.
"It's a meditative practice, so I don't spend a lot of time flashing grins at the crowd," he says. "Externally, it seems very indulgent for a musician to be doing something like this, but I would be listening to this sort of music even if I didn't play it."
Plante would be more likely to find a support network for his experimental brand of music in cities such as San Francisco and New York, but he says Kansas City is beginning to hold its own.
"I feel like I'm living right at the center of the most exciting things that are going on," he says. "I hope that people are open to being immersed in the experience. There is that risk that they're not going to be along for the ride. All of us do play pretty loud."
Plante came to drone music through such artists as Sun O))) (a group of robe-clad metal musicians that pushes the decibels to 125), Earth and Robert Fripp, while Justin Wright took a different path, involving minimalist composers such as Terry Riley and proto-electronic artists such as Ash Ra Tempel.
Wright has released 15 albums under the alias Expo '70, developing an eclectic catalog of improvised sounds created with guitars, synthesizers, delays, loops, and analog drum machines. He typically performs with his back to the audience, obscured by a smoke machine and a giant stack of amps.
"I feed off the environment and what my mood is," Wright says. "At one show, all these girls behind me were talking, so I just kept getting louder and louder."
Wright previously played in the Los Angeles-based band Living Science Foundation, which released its only album, Last Call for Nightfall, in 2003 on the Kansas City label Second Nature Recordings. That group's blending of Krautrock and dub sounds into straight-ahead rock could hardly be classified as conventional, but Wright became disenchanted with the restrictive aspects of playing in a band.
"They were sucked in by the L.A. monster of trying to get big," he says. "I essentially used it [Expo '70] as an escape. Being in a band with four other people can be really constraining."
Expo '70 began to gain recognition in experimental-music circles when some of Wright's early recordings were picked up by Aquarius Records, a San Francisco store known for its esoteric bent. That led to offers from a handful of small experimental labels across the world — more than a half-dozen have since released Expo '70 titles in places as far away as Belgium and France.
Not surprisingly, the preferred format of those releases is something suitably unconventional: cassette tape.
"There's sort of a cult following for cassette tapes," Wright says. "It's nostalgic and it's analog. Plus, it's really hard to get rid of a thousand CDs when you don't have distribution or promotion."
Wright recently started his own label called Sonic Meditations, and this week he'll release a tape called Glacier by his friend and collaborator David Williams of Sounding the Deep. Williams' music is the most accessible of the local droneheads, favoring clean guitar melodies that evoke the work of Windham Hill guitarists such as William Ackerman and the late Michael Hedges — well, after a cocktail of horse tranquilizers, at least.
Williams promises an "exceptional night of relaxing, rejuvenating music" Thursday. You can even leave the chemical mood enhancers at home.
"I've never been super-high or super-drunk for a Sun O))) show, because the feeling I get afterwards is totally fucked up," he says.
Wright adds, "If you endure the show, it will have an effect on you. Someone will try to talk to you, and your responses will be really slow."
What better way to tell them about Kansas City's new drone masters?