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Electric Dreams 

Folktronic show promises a night of sonic experimentation

Do opposites really attract? In the world of electronic folk, they just might. 191 Toole is gathering local and nationally touring acts for one strange yet lively night of sonic experimentation. Each artist performing uses electronics in conjunction with their live sets, melding artificial sounds with the organic. The upcoming Folktronic show even stretches beyond the music, also including an artists' panel and "collab lab."

The night hosts two performers from Phoenix, CatRobot and DJ Musa Mind, local musician Sharkk Heartt, and nationally touring artist Sam Rae.

Holly Pyle is one half of the electronic-folk band CatRobot, performing this weekend. She's the electronic and vocal half, to be specific. She and her husband Shea create bizarrely fun atmospheres via vocal loops mixed with saxophone, stand-up bass, and any other instruments they can find.

"I don't play an instrument, so I needed an outlet to accompany myself," Pyle said. "It started as acapella looping, then we added all my husband's instruments."

Pyle attended school for music, and formerly sang in choir. Shea plays six instruments professionally. So the two of them together can create a wide range of interesting sounds and layers, especially when the electronic loops come into play.

Due to the improvisational nature of CatRobot's music, they haven't released any official albums in the four years they've been a band. Just see the video of their wildly ambient and glitchy cover of Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy" to understand why.

"It's hard to capture the elements of this project when recorded," Pyle said. "It's more of a performance act than a recorded act. The liveliness of it is different every time."

But for those still interested in more precise classification, Pyle describes her music as "jazz-ish, but with plenty of pop sensibilities."

Lara Ruggles, known on stage as Sharkk Heartt, is a longtime member of the Tucson music scene, as well as Folktronic's organizer. Sharkk Heartt's music spreads a message of equality, and this permeates into the show itself, as the line-up is entirely woman-led.

"It shouldn't be a big deal to host an event with an all-female lineup," Ruggles says. "No one blinks an eye when there's bill after bill of all guys, and there are so many ridiculously talented women who are working harder for less stage time."

Sharkk Heartt mixes keyboards, pop and incredibly personal lyrics together into a sentimental yet powerful platform worthy of her name.

Improvisational cellist Sam Rae will also be in attendance. Her melancholically soothing music comes from looping layers of her voice on top of each other, then mixing in an ambient foundation of cello strings.

"During my classical training in college I was barely sliding by," Rae said. "Once I graduated I completely stopped playing classically and started experimenting, looping my voice and cello. It was like a night and day switch."

Rae has released two solo albums, which work as peepholes into her live performances.

"My live sets are mainly voice layers, then I utilize a cello as my secret weapon in the background." Rae said. "It's a vulnerable place to be in, with these sounds coming directly from my body. But they're things that need to get out."

While her fans generally know her as an "improvisational looping cellist," Rae recently focused more on deliberate musical writing beyond improvisation. It's a combination that she says can be confusing but also attractive.

"I definitely notice a hunger for stuff like this," Rae said.

On the more purely electronic side of the spectrum is DJ Musa Mind, a queen of the club hailing from Phoenix.

"I'm mostly electronic and dance influenced," Musa Mind said. "I'm interested in producing house music. But I've been reaching out and trying new things to make my own identity."

Identity runs deeply through her music, although you might not notice at first listen to those grandiose beats and soaring electronic crescendos. Musa Mind grew up in Mexico and is also part of the LGBT community, so her music reflects both her roots and her sexuality.

"I grew up listening to cumbia and reggae in the rave scene in Mexico," Musa Mind said. "So now, if I make a house song, it's going to be a kind of Latin-house."

House music started in the early '80s Chicago club scene as a more electronic offshoot of disco. The genre, named for the warehouses it was often played in, became a kind of haven for outcasts and alternative forms of expressing one's self. Its simple 4/4 drum beats and electronic basslines were perfect for integration with other genres and cultures.

"For me, the history of house started for people segregated from normal clubs," Musa Mind said. "It's a form of expression for being who we are. I grew up with multiple forms of oppression and house is still a big part of that culture today."

Musa Mind began her career as a DJ in 2010, but only started crafting her own songs over the past few years. And as it's looking right now, she has no plans to stop.

"It doesn't matter who you are, or where you come from, or the color of your skin," Musa Mind said. "You just get together and dance."

More by Jeff Gardner

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