Jesse Thelonious Vance: Venture Compound's leader enters experimental new era
(Welcome to tbt*’s Ultimate Local Music Guide! All week we’re spotlighting 10 of our favorite local artists of the past year. Today: Experimental composer and St. Pete arts scene curator Jesse Thelonious Vance.)
Jesse Thelonious Vance creates.
Appeal isn’t a secondary or even a 101st concern as the noise artist and Pangaea Project president turns to his instruments of choice — synthesizers, saxophones, keyboards, typewriters, bullhorns and whatever else he can dream up — to express the sounds in his mind.
“My parents were professional musicians, like full-time,” Vance said. “So I’ve always loved it. But I still haven’t had any formal lessons. As a kid, I took a Suzuki method piano class and I’d do something wrong, but hear it and think, 'Well that sounded cool. Let’s do that again.”’
When he turns to his synths and performs as DC9V, those sounds take on a downbeat hip-hop vibe not necessarily conforming to the traditional beat-hook framework but more a Hot Buttered Soul-esque extended sound exploration. Occasionally, he performs and records under his own name and turns to unconventional instruments to try and mine harsh noises for emotional reaction.
“It’s more open, more free-form. It’s not confined as in the traditional, 'Oh well this is a samba. Now, he’s doing a bossa nova,” he laughed.
Not that he dislikes traditional music types. As he sat at his makeshift desk preparing to set up for a Friday night performance, he occasionally smiled at his cell phone, glancing at the titles of jazz standards he’d forgotten he’d known as they filled the space through the makeshift sound system.
Of late, Vance has been pushing forward with his non-musical creations, including the Pangaea Project, a newly minted 501(c)(3) that strives to support local arts that aren’t exactly commercially viable; and the Venture Compound, a south St. Petersburg warehouse space used to display those arts and performances. The 50th Pangaea Project show celebrating four years of performances is scheduled for Sunday.
Government inertia kept the project, which gathers local artists for group exhibitions and performances, from attaining its non-profit tax exemption for almost two years.
“It finally took me going there and making some noise to get some movement on that,” Vance said as he pointed to the big stack of non-profit how-to texts that became a part of his everyday life. “Now, I’ve got to learn to write a budget so we can start applying for grants and actually be able to fund this thing.”
Love is the only thing keeping Pangaea and the Venture Compound together. The directors make no money and often end up having to use their own resources to fund the things that come along. Part of the mission is to keep the art affordable, so admission prices rarely exceed $5 and paintings aren’t priced in the hundreds.
Accessibility is the whole point. Profit is not.
“One thing that I try to get across in is that in the St. Petersburg arts scene, there are opposite ends of the spectrum,” Vance said. “Galleries have shows to shove as much beer as possible at people. The major museums are mainly concerned with wedding receptions and special events. Our big thing is art for art’s sake. We like to have art and music not be a vehicle for which to sell beer. That’s really important.”
It all began when Vance needed a place to make his own music. He found and rented the warehouse space on Fairfield Avenue, expecting it to be a place for him and his friend, artist and Pangaea Project Vice President Bradley Kokay, to create and perfect their media before taking it out into the world.
After being in the space, it became abundantly clear that in the absence of local venues for art for art’s sake, the world could just come in.
In the past month, Vance and Kokay have held an art show titled Negro Y Blanca, a noise-art orchestral performance set to a screening of 2001: A Space Odyssey; and have been managing a Kickstarter campaign to pay local jazz ensemble La Lucha for a performance in the We Are jazz series aimed at bringing jazz music to young fans in a comfortable environment.
If that was all he did, Vance would be pretty busy. However, he also works a sound technician for St. Petersburg College’s theater and at a church on Sundays. The Venture Compound also occasionally hosts smaller genre music shows such as punk on non-arts weekends.
“I end up being the manager, the sound crew, the bouncer and it just gets exhausting, especially since we’re not making any money off it,” he said.
Fatigue has set in. “I’m not doing anything that doesn’t further the mission for a while. My thing is, 'Screw everyone. I’m taking a break.’ I used to play that game Oregon Trail as a kid and it lets you set the game pace. I would always set the pace to grueling. That’s what I think I’ve done — set the pace to grueling.”
In the downtime, Pangaea will still host shows, just not as many. It may also give Vance a chance to get back to creating and surviving.
“I’ll probably going to focus on music, record an album,” he said. He’s also working on a musical score for a script that promises the crowd will be soaked in fake blood and could premiere as soon as July. “It’s going to be awesome,” he smiled.
The Pangea Project No. 50, a fourth-anniversary sound art exhibition, is at 8 p.m. Sunday at the Venture Compound, 2621 Fairfield Ave. S, St. Petersburg. Cover is a $5 donation. Click here for details.
-- Robbyn Mitchell, tbt*