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Avant-Garde Music Advocate and Sonarchy Radio Host Doug Haire to End 22-Year Run on KEXP

Recording engineer/producer Doug Haire, host of the live-experimental-music showcase Sonarchy on KEXP, is ceasing production of it after 22 years on the air. The final show will happen February 25 and feature the Wally Shoup Electric QuartetHaire is also stepping down from Jack Straw Cultural Center, where his program is taped and where he’s worked since 1990. (Jack Straw’s administrative coordinator Levi Fuller says that it’s “still devoted to serving the musical weirdos of Seattle and beyond.”) He has become legendary for his open-minded approach to broadcasting and fostering a welcoming space in which musicians can test out their most adventurous ideas. Sonarchy will serve as a repository of the Northwest’s most adventurous music for as long as KEXP exists (unless something drastically goes awry). According to musician Rik Wright, “Kevin Cole has pledged to keep the Sonarchy archives alive on KEXP’s website indefinitely.”

In an e-mail, Haire announced, “After 22 years of new music broadcasts I feel done and ready to listen to music as it was intended—in front of a hi-fi with a double espresso and a bowl of sativa. [I’m] leaving Jack Straw studios, too. That’s 27 years, over 400 releases and a billion recording sessions. Looking for a new perspective on music and sound art—a perspective that nonstop studio work can’t provide. It’s all been lovely and I’m happy. I intend to get back to going to more live shows, so maybe we’ll cross paths.”

Several local musicians testify to Haire’s importance in Seattle musical history below. Their responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Jim Knodle: I recorded more Sonarchy broadcasts than I can count, and Doug’s aesthetic focus and dedication is beyond category. Sad as I am to see it end, I anticipate much more from this great musical soul. I think the sound collage he used as a weekly intro should be in the Smithsonian.

Benjamin Thomas-Kennedy: In the late ’90s, some friends and I used to make noise music in the deep woods of Port Orchard. We were young and isolated and as my mom still says, “We didn’t have the online.” We thought we had invented noise music. One day, we happened upon Sonarchy and discovered that there was at least one other person in the world that liked to listen to banging sheet metal, breaking light bulbs, and amps plugged into themselves. We quickly recorded our sounds on a karaoke machine and mailed the cassette to the radio station.

Weeks later I received a letter from Doug Haire thanking us for our submission. He said that we should keep at it, but that this was not something he wanted on his show in its current form. I was elated because I had just received a handwritten letter of encouragement from a man I believed to be the only other fan of noise music in the world.

Cut to 2012 and my mushroom-worshiping collective Fungal Abyss is booked on Sonarchy. It’s a dream come true that only took 15 years to realize. As we were setting up, I told Doug about what the letter had meant to me. He looked me in the eye and said, “I didn’t send you a letter. There is no way I did something like that.” I have no idea why this memory exists in my reality and not his; but it changed my life. Some mystical space warrior performed a miracle in his name that day and I have suffered the curse of “keeping at it” ever since.

Patrick Neill Gundran/Uneasy Chairs: Being an experimental-whatever musician, doing Doug Haire’s Sonarchy was always on my to-do list and I’m glad I got to do two sessions with him. I dug the two-set, anything-goes format. Being an improviser, it was exciting to just go for it and create in the moment, in that cool space he created. Doug is super-supportive and enthusiastic and it was an honor to be recorded by him. Bummed the program is ending; Seattle has been lucky to have it as a resource for a long time.

Chloe Harris (Raica): Did one of my first Raica live sets on his show. I like how he was very open to any style and any sound. Really challenged ears weekly. Thank you, Doug, for all you’ve done here supporting artists.

Norm Chambers (formerly Panabrite): I’ve done two Sonarchy sessions over the years. Both times were really relaxed and fun. Doug is always really friendly and helpful. He lets you set up and get comfortable and walks you through the process. He is also a tough cookie and tells things like they are, never sugarcoating, which I appreciate. I have limited “professional” studio experience, so it was great to experience a setting like this and work under strict time constraints. It was challenging and stressful, but ultimately was a fun experience. Doug’s selfless service will be missed!

Robert Millis: I have done several Sonarchy performances over the many years I have been active in the sonic arts of Seattle. With Climax Golden Twins, as a solo artist, with the Phonographer’s Union, in collaboration with Jesse Paul Miller… I even set up shows for friends who were passing through town. Sonarchy was an amazing asset to the community and a joy to tune into late on a Sunday night or revisit through its archives.

Doug has enormous ears. I don’t know how he manages to get through doorways with those things. Like the old strange pre-radar WWII listening devices you see in pictures. They suck up everything, and have solid opinions on all of it that are usually spot-on.

He was an early influence on me concerning the power of field recording. I was long interested in recording out in the world, but Doug helped solidify its potential: exploring through ears, listening, learning, finding your way by sound. I always loved the evocative other worldly (yet very much of this world) field recording collages he would open Sonarchy with. I remember long talks with him about the Kumbha Mela in India—where he made many hours of recordings. He took our Victrola Favorites project (recordings of old 78rpm records on period wind up players) and ran with it around the country, making field recordings of our recordings for his American Waysides project. Then there was the Crawford Opera, the Melancholy Aura, Wigwam Bendix, and more…and more again.

[Haire] was an early compatriot in the appreciation of the unheard and the impossible out here in the wilds of the post-grunge Northwest. I hope I am correct in saying that although Sonarchy will be missed, Doug himself will not be missed, as he will be around and working and recording and listening for years to come, and I hope some of that coincides with my activities.

Garek R. Druss: Doug Haire and his show Sonarchy was a real treasure for the Seattle area. Weirdos don’t get too many options to play live on the radio. Definitely an essential archive of the powerful experimental and far-out scenes in the Pacific Northwest. Over the years, I performed solo on Sonarchy, as a duo with Adam Svenson as Dull Knife, as a quartet with Aubrey Nehring, David Golightly, and Jamie Potter as Sten Skogen. Even my older brother Jared Hallock played a Sonarchy show, as an experimental-jazz trio. I am so thankful for what he gave us and I always looked forward to his dry wit and calm demeanor in the studio.

Jack Gold-Molina: Doug is one of the few people that I have met who encourages creativity at the deepest level. To do that live on the radio, on KEXP, has been one of the most valuable things that anyone could offer to musicians, especially experimental players who aren’t often treated very well. Each time I have worked with him, the band did something completely unexpected for the ENTIRE session. Doug has been there providing encouragement and support through my toughest times as a musician in Seattle.

Sam Mickens: Our trio Tokyo Sex Whale played on Sonarchy on 11.24.01. Back then I was just 19 and as maniacally excited by and invested in music as one ever gets; I was super-excited about and stimulated by the local and international experimental music community and, in Seattle, Sonarchy was really one of the defining pillars of the scene (along with Sil2K at I-Spy and some other, later concert series and venues). Playing on Sonarchy was a great honor and extremely exciting to us young kids eager to be an active and involved part of a musical community. I remember hearing so many great musicians, friends, and heroes on Sonarchy over the years and always remember feeling real happiness and gratitude that it existed as a platform in Seattle.

Ricardo Wang: Nothing lasts forever, but I still kinda hoped he would. Chuck Swaim with the Dead Air Fresheners played one of our best sets ever there in his studio surrounded by all the KRAB records. [Haire’s] energy and enthusiasm were key to bringing out our best. It just felt magic to be there and we used some of his recording for the session on our album Pleasure Is Where All Labors End. One of the great instigators of the NW music world.

Jeremy Moss: I had the good fortune of recording with Doug Haire for Sonarchy on two occasions in the early ’00s with two of the outfits I was involved with at the time (No Futuro and Exorcismo). What I remember more than anything was the relaxed yet inspiring atmosphere, the implicit vibe was that anything goes, the more experimental the better, which was really refreshing.

Jeff Anderson: I recently worked with Doug on a project composed by Blake DeGraw at Jack Straw Productions. Doug was warm but reserved, excellently organized and made the experience very easy for a bunch of musicians of various backgrounds improvising. The piece required us to produce vocal and violin plucked parts that lasted an hour. Doug was encouraging since it was obvious some of us were new to the piece. I have total respect for someone like Doug who has put in the time to curate such a rad listening experience, over the airwaves no less. I love the idea of Sonarchy and it’s a damn shame the project is ending. As you know, Seattle is full of interesting sound art and avant-garde music. I think we need more sources to explore these worlds.

Rik Wright: I first met Doug in 1997(ish) when he heard my band at the time perform at a festival and approached to perform on Sonarchy. At the time, Sonarchy was recorded live with an in-studio audience. That performance became my first professional CD release since relocating to Seattle from the East Coast. I went on to play Sonarchy at least a dozen times over the next 20 years. In that time, I released 17 CDs with various groups, 12 of them have tracks there were recorded with Doug at Jack Straw, several from live performances on Sonarchy.

By osmosis, Doug pretty much influenced my entire approach to a recording project. What’s fascinating about Doug is that even as technology was upending the way we recorded music, Doug was ingenious in finding ways to use the new technology to enhance the live feel of a performance rather than take away from it. Doug taught me the concepts of the “space of a room” and “the air around an instrument,” not by instruction, but by observation. If I’m going to set up a live band in a room and record it, Doug is the man I want behind the board.

Doug’s impact on fostering outside music in Seattle, particularly instrumental music, is legendary. When I was organizing concerts with Zero-G Concerts (partnering with Dennis Rea, Jason Goessl, and John Seman), we would advise each other on new acts to book. We were all driven to find something not derivative from what we had heard before. I was amazed by Doug’s capacity to find new artistic voices to showcase. I know very few musicians in the Seattle jazz, improv, or electronic-music scenes that didn’t work with Doug at some point in the last 20 years.

As a parting thought, I recently suggested to Doug that we throw a Sonarchy finale concert. He said there was no way he would attend such an event. Classic Doug!

The last Sonarchy Radio shows:

Feb 4 Blake DeGraw Large ensemble joins composer/improviser DeGraw for a radio communication summit. (blakedegraw.bandcamp.com)

Feb 11 Wu Wei Tao in the atmosphere tonight. Dick Valentine – flutes and Don Berman – percussion. (dickvalentine.com)

Feb 18 Mike O. Band New jazz music from composer/keys player Michael Owcharuk, Kate Olson – soprano sax, Jacques Willis – vibes, Mike Catts – bass and Mike Musburger – drums. (Owcharukmusic.com)

Feb 25 Wally Shoup Electric Quartet A freely improvised explosion of sound. Wally – alto sax, Dennis Rea and Bill Horist – electric guitars and Greg Campbell – extended drum kit.

You can check out Sonarchy’s archives here.