M.C. Schmidt of the avant garde duo Matmos soundchecks a microphoned cactus, above, in preparation for the band’s May performance in downtown Whitefish. Above top, Drew Daniel, the other half of Matmos, admonishes the camera as he and Brooklyn-based ensemble So Percussion set up for the show.
In the small brick-walled space of The Loft in downtown Whitefish last May, members of Brooklyn-based ensemble So Percussion huddle around a volleyball-sized cactus they’ve wired with a mic, plucking its needles to make a sound like water moving through a thawing stream. Behind them, Matmos, a San Francisco electronica duo who worked with Bjork on her Vespertine and Medulla albums, add some electronic tweaking. The small audience gets quiet and gathers in close for the spectacle.
It felt like something special, which was entirely the point. The bands had been invited to Whitefish by SnowGhost Music for a self-described “SnowGhost Session,” in which the company records the band at its state-of-the-art studio for free, and pays them to play a live show that is both videotaped and photographed. At the time of the Matmos/So Percussion show, Brett Allen, the owner of SnowGhost, wasn’t quite sure where this performance series idea was going, or what its purpose was.
Not so anymore.
SnowGhost is now going online. Since May, video footage of “June” (the cactus song), as well as performances by nine other bands brought to Whitefish by SnowGhost have been trickling onto www.snowghostmusic.com, along with photos, interviews and studio tracks.
On the site you’ll find more spectacles akin to the cactus plucking, such as video of psycho synth noiseologist Dan Deacon’s concert in late June. The bespectacled Deacon starts with a countdown that only gets to “three” before he shouts “Hurray!” and breaks into his eccentric electronic single, “Okie Dokie.”
Not all of the work is so novel. In fact, most of the other music on the site tends toward simple, stripped down and gritty, such as the meditative track “When You’re Traveling at the Speed of Light” by These United States.
And the current website, according to Allen, is just the beginning of what his company will offer. Starting Jan. 1, Allen hopes to unveil version 2.0, which will offer high fidelity downloads of the music, videos and photos from the SnowGhost sessions. Allen says access will be free at the onset, as it is now, but eventually SnowGhost will require a small subscription fee.
The site will open with new content from Stephen Malkmus (former Pavement frontman), Friday Mile, Erick Messler and George Kahumoku with Norton Buffalo. It will also feature bloggers from Los Angeles, Boston and Minneapolis writing about the national music scene, as well as offer limited edition posters, T-shirts and vinyl recordings of studio sessions for purchase.
In part, Allen and SnowGhost hope to take the idea of the mostly extinct neighborhood record store, where audiophiles used to go to learn about new music and buy rare recordings and memorabilia, and bring it to the Internet.
“People today are only getting a percentage out of music of what people used to get,” Allen says. “People used to read the biographies, they’d see the press, they’d look inside the liner notes and they’d get to know the artists, and they’d feel it, and the music would mean that much more to them.”
Allen also wants to create the community feeling record stores and small concerts once engendered, partially by providing user comments sections for all work posted on the site.
“Music has always formed communities,” Allen says.
He believes these communities have splintered online, with songs being purchased from Amazon or iTunes, memorabilia or rare bootlegs from eBay, and people learning about music through sites like Pitchfork Media. Allen wants to bring a part of the music community back together through SnowGhost’s new site. And Whitefish, he says, is the perfect place for this resurgence to happen.
“If this were in L.A., it would be harder to get that grass roots thing across to the artists,” Allen says. “Because it’s in Whitefish, Montana, artists come here and feel like they’re doing something special…The idea is to create this co-op that is local as far as recording, production and films, but as far as the content, opinions and ideas, is national.”
Eventually, Allen says, he would like to find a permanent Whitefish venue for SnowGhost to host shows.
In the meantime, SnowGhost’s shows continue to keep some semblance of a music scene in Whitefish—which all but died after Flanagan’s Central Station closed in September—alive. On Dec. 1 the subject of their latest SnowGhost Session, CarCrashLander, plays at the Great Northern Brewery in downtown Whitefish.
Allen describes them as a collective of all-star Portland musicians that play “sophisticated rock, similar to Radiohead.”
Beyond CarCrashLander, Allen plans to have shows by Victory Smokes, Roman Ruins and Broadband Shortwave this winter, and to have even more regular shows come spring.
Ultimately, though, what SnowGhost needs most to cement its place in the national scene is for one of its bands to make it big. Certainly having songs by Malkmus, a true rock icon, will help bring some traffic to the new site. But continuing to build SnowGhost will be a challenge—even Allen admits it’s “extremely ambitious.” At least now the owner has a vision for the studio’s future.
“We’re taking everything that has gone away in the music industry,” he says, “and reviving it in a new way.”
CarCrashLander plays upstairs at the Great Northern Brewery in downtown Whitefish on Tuesday, Dec. 1. Doors open at 9 PM, show at 10. Cover TBA.