SIMF #2 – 1986.2

The supposed-second Seattle Festival of Improvised Music took place on November 23, 1986 at the Vogue nightclub, organized by Robert Jenkins.

It is generally agreed that Jenkins combined the second festival with a video shoot for a horror movie project he was working on. This is confirmed by the poster. According to Dennis Rea’s previous festival history, “The second Seattle Festival of Improvised Music took place at the Vogue nightclub, where it was held in conjunction with a shoot for Robert Jenkins’ and TV Kennely’s video Gorefest.”

And according to participant Eric Amrine, “The evening combined a live shoot for Gorefest with a full roster of improv/noise acts I don’t really recall much of, except that Rob Angus and I did an electronic duet of sorts. My recollection, given that Jenkins booked that within about 6 months of the first, is that more video people hung out than the core improv crowd…” (email, Aug. 14, 2016)

Amrine later added: “…what a chaotic over-imagined mess, had some rock bands from Jenkins’ court, not Hell’s Smells but probably Officer Down. Something with TV Kennely, the other Gorefest director and Robert’s ex. The evening’s version of the New Art Orchestra played, possibly Scott Granlund’s rock band Raging Maggots. No tape exists, but I would guess Ray Colby has footage since it was a Gorefest party as well… And, it was also a shoot, not a party for Gorefest – which I was in but not that scene. So add the chaos of a live shoot with heavily costumed and made-up ghouls. Drama types, musicians, long waits.” (email, Feb. 27, 2017)

No other info is currently available regarding participants in the second festival. The late poet and playwright Steven Jesse Bernstein apparently played a role in Gorefest, and it is listed on his Wikipedia page as: 1987 – Unreleased and unedited splatter film shot on VHS with a cast consisting of avant garde and underground Seattle artists.

Guitarist and filmmaker Robert Jenkins was a vital member of the Seattle music community whose activities spanned many different parts of the music and arts scene. He died in Boston on his birthday, December 29, 2011. Sam Wheeler founded a web site to compile an oral history of Jenkins via interviews with his friends and collaborators (it requires a password, but may have the the same content as this one).

History is messy, Part 2

Eric Amrine has a theory that there may have been two “second” festivals – one organized by Hoskin just before he moved to New York, and this one organized by Jenkins. He remembers a 6-hour event organized by Hoskin at 66 Bell in the Fall of 1985, which he thinks of as the first festival. That would make the 1986 event on the CD-R set the first “second” festival, and the Jenkins-organized event at the Vogue the second “second” festival. Confused? Read on, though don’t expect clarity…

In this 2014 interview, Hoskin claimed the first festival took place in 1985; this origin date also appeared in Dennis Rea’s history of the festival. This contradicts the 1986 date shown on Hoskin’s 2010 3x CD-R release of the first festival. We know for certain that the festival documented on the CD-R release took place in March 1986, because we have other solid evidence of New Yorkers Chris Cochrane and Doug Henderson touring in the Northwest then, and both confirm that was the only tour they did here together. The question, then, is whether that CD-R really documents the first festival as it claims, or if Hoskin got his dates confused and it actually documents Amrine’s “other” second festival instead.

Amrine claims to have had a cassette tape of what he thought was one of the two “second festivals” – the one organized by Hoskin, not Jenkins. This tape was given to Paul Hoskin to be digitized, which he never did, and it disappeared when he died in 2018. Here is what Amrine remembers about it:

“Recently, I found the cassette of a Hoskin improv fest lite from what was essentially just before/just after the first fest, a collective concert at 66 Bell. Lori, Amy, myself, Paul, Chris Cochrane, others. Gave tape to Paul with set list for CD duping… The cassette show I just referred to more or less served as the second fest, but Robert/Buzz may not have gotten that memo, and since Gorefest was in full swing with a trailer completed by then, Robert decided by gum, hell, let’s combine the two… It was pure chaos, and in fact many believe there are two second improv fests, the other one being that mysterious tape recently unearthed from the Lincoln Arts Center… Anyone who cared received Paul’s nicely packaged 1st improv fest on I think 2 CDs he handed out couple years ago. So my thought is, the recent tape is the other second improv fest. I think Robert miscounted … jumped a shark.” (email, Aug, 14, 2016)

“I think I’ve already addressed the missing cassette tape I gave Paul sometime before he expired and that was the first improv fest at the Lincoln Arts Center at 66 Bell Street… The first was indeed 6 hours, an epic endurance test and Chris was here for that I affirm… My memory is firm that the first 66 Bell 6-hour endeavor was in late fall of 85.” (email, Jan. 31, 2020)

There is no record of Chris Cochrane being in Seattle in 1985, nor does he recall being here then; he was here in 1984, but Amrine was not in Seattle yet. So if Amrine’s mystery cassette really did have Cochrane on it that would definitely date it to March 1986, negating his belief that it was from 1985. If we accept that the 1986 event documented on the CD-R set was indeed the first festival, it is possible that Amrine’s mystery cassette either documented a different part of it that Hoskin did not record, or it was a recording of a similar 1985 precursor to the first festival that was not officially named as such. Alternately, it might mean his mystery cassette documented the actual first festival in 1985, and the event on the CD-R was the first of two “second” festivals that took place in 1986. One other possibility is that this cassette documented an entirely different event in 1986. We know Cochrane was in the Seattle area for at least ten days; there are documents showing him playing a duo gig with Hoskin in Seattle on Feb. 20, the shows with Henderson in Vancouver on Feb. 28 and at UW on March 1, and the festival on March 2. So it seems quite possible that some other event could have happened within that time frame that was recorded on Amrine’s lost cassette tape.

Anyone having further information/documentation that might help set the record straight is encouraged to get in touch.