Big, Bent Ears

Kate Joyce - black & white wall mural

Kate Joyce, Listening I, 2015, Black and white wall mural, courtesy of the Artist

Big, Bent Ears: a multimedia installation about listening

May 23, 2015 – February 7, 2016

IN 2014 ROCK FISH STEW began developing two separate documentary projects—one on the Big Ears Music Festival in Knoxville, Tennessee, and the other on legendary New Yorker magazine writer Joseph Mitchell, a native of Fairmont, N.C. Big Ears is a truly unique music festival, presenting music as diverse as minimalist pioneer Steve Reich, Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, North Carolina’s own Rhiannon Giddens, and the deafening, face-melting rock group, Swans, set against the historic city of Knoxville at the foot of the Smoky Mountains.

Joseph Mitchell, meanwhile, was a devoted Brooks Brothers suit-and-fedora man. Between 1938 and 1965 he became one of the most influential writers in The New Yorker magazine’s history. Using fabled, lean prose, he chronicled the city’s fading neighborhoods, fish markets, overgrown cemeteries, and abandoned hotels, people and places bypassed by mainstream culture. In 1964, after the publication of his seminal work Joe Gould’s Secret, Mitchell stopped publishing. He reported to The New Yorker’s offices everyday without submitting another piece. Yet he kept wandering. Instead of chronicling voices, he collected abandoned objects—19th-century door knobs, scraps of housing trim, keys, and nails. In his small Manhattan apartment, he squirrelled away remnants from the world he’d written about, before it was gone.

Big, Bent Ears: an Installation in Documentary Uncertainty integrates video, photography, and audio from Big Ears, with a selection of objects collected by Mitchell. The exhibition asks whether the challenging sonic experiences available at Big Ears are analogous to Mitchell’s time-honored manner of venturing into neglected corners to listen to human voices and collect remnants of a disappearing world.

Curated by Sam Stephenson and Ivan Weiss of Rock Fish Stew

Big, Bent Ears: A Multimedia Installation About Listening - Gallery Guide

Image of racing train

Image of spotlight

Ivan Weiss, Surrender to the Situation (detail), 2015, Color and Black and White photos, printed on Epson Luster paper, courtesy of the Artist

Big, Bent Ears webseries by Sam Stephenson and Ivan Weiss

Alex Boerner filmmaker
Mika Chance filmmaker
Levon Henry audio documentarian
Kate Joyce photographer
Carter McCall filmmaker
Jonna McKone filmmaker
Victoria Ralston installation artist
Ligaiya Romero filmmaker
Pratishtha Singh
Ivan Weiss filmmaker

The Big, Bent Ears Kissa at CAM

Scene from the kissa

Photo courtesy Ivan Weiss

It's a small bar, and there's the owner behind the counter, and behind him is his entire record collection, and it's usually a pretty big collection, and usually quite specific, and there's a really good sound system, and you pick a record, and he plays the record and everyone sits down and listens to it, and no one really talks, and it's one of the most beautiful things.


The Kissa is an integral part of Big, Bent Ears. Kissas originated in Japan in the 1950s. They were bars and cafes where music lovers could share their record collections with devoted and curious listeners. Jazz was the focus of the early kissas and they evolved over time to include other genres.

Loosely inspired by Japanese kissas, CAM's kissa — in the Media Lab of the museum — provides an intimate setting where music lovers can bring their collections, talk about them, and most importantly, share them with the community on a high quality vintage sound system.

The Kissa at CAM takes place every Thursday 8pm-10pm. CAM has invited the Big, Bent Ears curators, and artists, as well as a diverse range music lovers, musicians, artists and citizens to share their collections. Some evenings will be tightly curated, while others will be loose and casual. Pop-up kissa nights may happen on additional nights, too.

Rock Fish Stew journal of Big, Bent Ears kissa DJs and Special Guests - check back often for updates

Kissa Schedule

Monday, June 8 : Ben Barwick (Kings Barcade, Tonk) & Dave Wilson (Chatham County Line) Mysterious Old Country Records
Thursday, June 11: Steve Grothmann (Countdown Quartet, Clear Spots)Traditional music from the Gulf Coast
Monday, June 15: Sam Stephenson (Rock Fish Stew) Sonny Clark's Blues
Thursday, June 18: Eddie Taylor (The Loners, Cousins) 60s & 70s funk and soul and related tunes
Monday, June 22: Luke Buchanan (artist)
Thursday, June 25: Greg Rice (Cousins, The Backsliders)  Brian Wilson & Beyond
Monday, June 29: Cicely Mitchell & Al Strong (Art of Cool)  Music of Ornette Coleman
Friday, July 3: Dave Wilson (Chatham County Line) Guitars, Man.
Thursday, July 9: Mac McCaughan (Merge Records, Superchunk) Music from New Zealand      
Monday, July 13: Groves Willer (Sharkquest)            
Thursday, July 16:  Laura Ballance (Merge Records, Superchunk) Songs about love & related emotions: A Gross Overview (Approximately 1956-1996)  
Monday, July 20: Cicely Mitchell & Al Strong (Art of Cool) Music of Kamasi Washington                 
Thursday, July 23: Caitlin Cary and Skillet Gilmore (Whiskeytown, The Small Ponds)
Monday, July 27: Various members (The Balsa Gliders) Sounds of Manchester
Thursday, July 30: Grayson Haver Currin (Indy Weekly) The Dope Tones
Monday, August 3: Luke Buchanan (visual artist)
Thursday, August 5: Peele Wimberly (The Connells)  80s singles, mostly British  and a little hip-hop
Friday, August 6: Colin Keesee (WKNC, NC State College of Design)
Monday, August 10:   Bill Thelen (artist, curator of The Nothing That Is) Music for shoulders     
Thursday, August 13: Sam McGuire (Both Kinds Radio) Classic Country 
Monday, August 17: Tricia Mesigian (Orange County Social Club)
Thursday, August 20: Mike Taylor (Hiss Golden Messenger) 
Monday, August 24:  Shepherd Lane, Bo Taylor, and Jay Brown of Tonk
Thursday, August 27: Mikey Peros (Kings Barcade) Juke/Footwork from  Chicago and world
Thursday, September 3: David Burris (The Veldt, Executive Producer of “Survivor” TV show)
Friday, September 4: Colin Keesee (WKNC, NC State College of Design)
Thursday, September 17: Laura Ballance (Merge Records, Superchunk)
Thursday, September 24: David Menconi (writer, News & Observer)
Thursday, October 1: Mac McCaughan (Merge Records, Superchunk)
Thursday, October 8: Jeb Bishop (musician)
Thursday, October 15: Bill Mooney (Tannis Root) Mostly music about music itself   
Thursday, October 22: Marshall Wyatt (Old Hat Records) 'Dont Call it Vinyl': An Evening of 78's & rarities
Thursday, October 29: Grayson Haver Currin (Indy Weekly, Pitchfork)
Thursday, November 5: Cicely Mitchell (Art of Cool) Artists for the 2016 Art of Cool Festival
Friday, November 6: Colin Keesee (WKNC, NC State College of Design)
Thursday, November 12: Caitlin Cary and Skillet Gilmore (Whiskeytown, The Small Ponds)
Thursday, November 19: TBD
Wednesday, December 2: Ben and Jennifer Barwick (Ashley Stove), M.C. Taylor (Hiss Golden Messenger)
Thursday, December 3: John Darnielle (The Mountain Goats)


Rock Fish Stew Institute of Literature and Materials • Arts Access • Triple Aught Builders • DecoRaleigh • SiteLink • CAM/now • Themeworks • Gensler • Theater Consultants Collaborative • The Wine Feed • The Betty Eichenberger Adams Society • Special Thanks: Ben Barwick and Dave Wilson

CAM’s educational and community programs are funded in part by the Goodnight Educational Foundation, The Grable Foundation, the William R. Kenan Jr Charitable Trust, the United Arts Council of Raleigh and Wake County. Family Sundaes are funded by the PNC Foundation. CAM’s Museum Access for Kids program is funded in part by a work contract with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Rock Fish Stew received funding for this project from the Reva and David Logan Foundation of Chicago and Visit Knoxville. Support provided by AC Entertainment, Big Ears Festival, and the Estate of Joseph and Therese Mitchell. Graphic design support provided by Natalie F. Smith.

Big, Bent Ears was also produced as an online collaboration with The Paris Review.

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