Sonic Bloom Artist Spotlight: Michael Garfield

Michael Garfield by Rob Lenfestey

As part of our coverage for the ten year anniversary of Sonic Bloom, we will be featuring a few different artists that will be performing, leading up to the event. The focus this time around is on the multi-talented Michael Garfield. A true jack-of-all-trades, Mr. Garfield will be performing a “psych-western electronic guitar set”, doing live painting, giving a workshop on human-technology co-evolution, moderating a panel discussion on live painting and visionary art, and officiating a wedding at the festival!

This year’s Sonic Bloom will be Michael’s sixth, and the fourth as the only person bringing BOTH music and visual art to the event. As a musical artist, Michael has received praise from The Untz, and has had gigs at over a hundred festivals alongside the likes of artists such as Papadosio, Taylor McFerrin, The Floozies, Random Rab, Rena Jones, Sidecar Tommy of Beats Antique, DVS*, and many more. 

At Gratifly Festival 2013, Michael made history as the first musician to stream point-of-view video from Google Glass through a projector on stage, letting the audience see the show through his eyes. In addition to his artistic feats, Michael is also the editor for for, “a new media company exploring what the seeker’s path and awakening to non-separation looks like on the digital platform”. For more insight into this modern day renaissance man, check out our Q and A with him below.

ELCO: You’re a six year veteran of Sonic Bloom, and for the fourth year you’ll be the only person bringing both music and visual art. Safe to say you’ve experienced Sonic Bloom from a one of a kind perspective. In your opinion, what separates Sonic Bloom from other music festivals?

Michael Garfield: 
Honestly, I’m not that interested in what separates Sonic Bloom from other festival – since separation isn’t objective reality, just a story we tell ourselves (and a kind of maladapted one, at that).  I’m more interested in how a festival like Sonic Bloom exemplifies the best of festival culture in particular and the current state of human evolution in general, in all of its complexity.  It really isn’t easy to put on a show like this in a society where the profit motive is a necessary consideration, and where escapism is absolutely rampant (and understandable, because everyday life is so oppressive).  The human spirit really needs more opportunities for powerful transformative experiences, but there’s no way to avoid commodifying them and turning the whole thing into a business.  And you have to walk a very fine line to make sure you’re offering something that’s going to make a lasting positive impression and that you’re not just exploiting people’s desperation and deepening their confusion by marketing liberation but selling them addiction to distractions.

Every year Sonic Bloom has to wrestle with how they’re going to manifest the noblest possible goals in the face of the hard realities of the business, and throw a party that inspires people and opens them up and offers them the opportunity to go really, really deep and make a lasting change in their lives, AND do this all in a way that the festival can survive and sustain all the hardworking people involved so we can do it all again next year.  This is an olympian freaking challenge.  And it’s a microcosm of what we as human beings have to solve right now:  how DO we keep this party going sustainably and really thrive without losing ourselves along the way?  That tension is palpable, both at Sonic Bloom and throughout the festival community, and it’s awesome how the folks involved keep throwing themselves back into the ring to put the lessons they acquire into practice every year, and live in service to this greater thing.

You will be putting your musical talents, visual art, and speaking talents to work at this year’s Sonic Bloom. Is there one that you favor over the rest, or do you enjoy them all equally?

Live painting is the best way to meet people and enjoy the flow of synchronicity a festival environment provides, so that will always have a special place in my heart.  And I’m grateful Sonic Bloom provides a venue for ideas and intelligent discourse through the workshops, so both my personal talk on the future of human evolution and the panel discussion on live painting and visionary art I’m moderating should be well-attended and full of interesting questions and conversation.

But man, I was singing and playing guitar and tweaking looping pedals long before I ever took up live painting or started giving these freestyle philosophical performances.  I get into a flow while playing music that nothing else provides, and being able to move all that air and transport an audience with sound – to get up there cutting a “one guy with guitar” profile and then just taking people into another dimension – that’s the cherry on top of my life, that’s the wind in the wings of my soul.  If I knew that I could make it work just playing music every day forever, I would do it.

And luckily we have more of a live music emphasis at Sonic Bloom this year, so I’m not the odd man out so much as I was in the past.  I make a lot more sense on a lineup with That 1 Guy, Lynx, STS9, Random Rab, and Xerephine than I did back when it was almost all dubstep.  I expect the crowd is going to reflect that and appreciate what I am offering them this time around.

 You’ve described your upcoming Sonic Bloom set as “psych-western electronic guitar”. What goes into a Michael Garfield live set? What kind of gear is involved?

Take the idea of a singer-songwriter and the idea of a hardware live electronic producer and splice their genes together, then raise that kid on Terence McKenna lectures and Jurassic Park, and you’re starting to approximate the nature of the beast, here.  My music grew out of folk and into progressively more futuristic one-man-orchestra elaborations as I got involved with festivals and wanted to provide a sound that no one else was offering.  I’m a super dork psychedelic transhumanist AND a Jeff Buckley loving tender-hearted songbird, so my live shows and my albums both live at the intersection between the vulnerable human balladeer (I have the same birthday as Elvis, David Bowie, and Jenny Lewis) and the ecstatic, high-tech visionary spirit that inspires me through the music of artists like Four Tet, Boards of Canada, The Books, and Múm.

Doing that all live with no pre-recorded sounds and minimal gear has been my challenge and my delight now since 2005, and every year I get a little closer to the mark.  I spent about five years just improvising every show, but this year I have finally integrated all the fancy live production with some songs that take the cyberdelia to even deeper places.  My rig right now is still amazingly laptop-free – a rolling duffel bag of guitar pedals, a mahogany Taylor 322e acoustic, and the throat my parents gave me.

You will also be officiating a wedding at the festival! Tell us a little about that. Who are the lucky bride and groom and how did you land that gig?

It’s not my first Sonic Bloom wedding…oddly enough, this will be the third wedding (of five total) I’ve officiated at this festival.  So it’s kind of turning into a tradition!  I’ve never met the couple – Chelsey Robertson, the bride to be, had posted in the Sonic Bloom facebook group asking if someone knew a minister.  It just so happens that I was ordained online in high school and my friend Michele Beyer, whom I’d married at the festival in 2013, tagged me in the comments.  Festivals are a fine place to get married, if you ask me.  Everyone’s in a great mood and the reception is already taken care of…!

You’ll be hosting a workshop about “human-technology co-evolution”. Can you give us a brief preview about what this discussion will entail?

Technology (meaning anything we use: language, techniques, tools) is something humans do.  But technology shapes us as well; it’s a part of the environment we all grow up in and live in, and we internalize it.   So there’s really not a clear boundary between us and our technologies, but to the extent we want to consider it separate it’s evolving with us; there are feedback loops between the environments we invent for ourselves and the selves that those environments produce.  I used to be a paleontologist and then I studied a little bit of developmental psychology before I dropped out of graduate school, and the hot topic right now as far as I’m concerned is whether or not we’re going to manage to settle on a healthy integration of the ancient biological realities and novel, artificial, almost god-like powers we’ve created for ourselves.  Human-technology co-evolution is the question of the day, as far as the story of life on Earth is concerned.

You’ve done live painting in a variety of places ranging from NASA’s Ames Research Center to New Year’s raves in the Costa Rican rainforest. Do you have an all time favorite location? What location/event is at the top of your bucket list?

I’m sure I’ll want to change my answer later if I think about this too hard, but off the top of my head my shiniest “good old days” painting experiences were back when I was in charge of live art at Wakarusa Festival.  I had such a hard time with that festival’s director and production staff that I left and promised myself I wasn’t going back, the treatment of the artists was just awful.  But the experience of the audience, the people I met and the kind of connections I made, the enthusiasm and appreciation that the folks at that festival just showered me with, the broad range of excellent music I got to paint for…it was formative. I’m glad I had those experiences, even though and maybe especially because it taught me what isn’t worth putting up with.

I don’t really have a list of places I would like to paint, but man, if given the chance, I would love to go back and do another event at NASA.  I was an embryo when I got that chance.  I’d like to get a second pass now that I have some clue at all of what I’m doing.

Who are you most looking forward to seeing perform at this year’s Sonic Bloom?

Cualli played one of my favorite sets last year; he’s got the vibe down pat and his heart’s in the right place, and he’s evolved tremendously in the few years since he started doing this.  Dude rocks my world.  I’m a sucker for the actual live instruments, so Dirtwire’s on my list for sure.  I like them more than Beats Antique; more soul and chops, less swagger.  Yes please.  Anything Ilya (LAPA) does is great, so I look forward to discovering what he’ll be up to this year. Templo is fantastic.  I haven’t seen STS9 since they brought on Alana Rocklin, so I’m eager to experience the band in its new shape, for sure.  Xerephine was a total sleeper set last year and I hope more people turn out for her this time.  Those aren’t the only folks that I’m excited for, but that’s where I would start.

More on Michael Garfield

About Michael:

“Michael Garfield writes passionate and visionary music for the head and heart – intelligent, emotional performances that reward repeated listening. Captivating audiences by any means available, he avidly explores new methods and technologies – both reveling in vocally athletic balladry and intricate percussive fingerstyle guitar technique, and pushing looping pedals into new terrain, creating and then deconstructing lush and atmospheric compositions on the fly.

Alternately tender and apocalyptic, simultaneously chill and energetic, his intensely technical yet vulnerable music is a potent reimagining of folk and psychedelic rock alike, updating “solo artist with guitar” to suit an age of existential wonder, cybernetic systems, and emerging planetary consciousness….read more

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