Order and chaos are the twin poles that guide what is generally accepted as music and that which is dismissed as noise. If Plato is correct and "rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of soul," where then does the atonal, the distorted, the accidental, or the arrhythmic take us? What comes of straddling the chasm of control and release? The recorded and live works of Bl_ank wrestle with these dichotomies to create a psychedelic listening experience that is a journey inward and outward simultaneously.
Bl_ank is the working moniker of Nashville's William Hicks. Classically trained on piano but working primarily as a percussionist, Hicks started his music career in a noise rock band before a personal loss moved him toward solo work just three years ago. "I needed to take a step back from everything and everybody to process it all. In that alone time I turned to music to try to healthily express these negative feelings," says Hicks. "This isn't the sole reason that I quit that band but it definitely made the move to solo work feel so natural."
A marriage of frenetic live drumming and seemingly random and melodic synthesized sounds, Bl_ank's music is a powerful unleashing of the Jungian collective unconscious, primal and instantly recognizable as intimately human. Hicks is grounded when describing his motivations: "I'm really just out here doing whatever I want. Lately I've been playing these newish songs that are more listenable than the original Bl_ank noise stuff. But if I'm playing a noise show or an improv piece with somebody, that's usually for my own pleasure."
One of Bl_ank's latest and more melodic songs, "8 p.m. Offering Plate," sees Hicks recalling a moment from his childhood about attending church, where he distracts himself from the preacher's fiery sermon by thinking about a piano piece he wanted to be at home composing. "Religion has definitely influenced my art pretty heavily," he says. "I'm usually mocking it or focusing on the harm it has caused for so many people. Those kind of thoughts are feeding tubes for all kinds of creative ideas to me. I think that means, funnily enough, that it has very positively influenced my art."
Though a solo artist primarily, Hicks is a generous and prolific collaborator, having worked with Greg Saunier of Deerhoof, Wayne Coyne and Steven Drozd of Flaming Lips as well as releasing split singles with R. Stevie Moore and Philadelphia guitarist Ada Babar. In Nashville, Hicks made himself a staple of such DIY spaces as Drkmttr Collective, Queen Ave and the East Room. In March of last year, he played a set at Knoxville's prestigious Big Ears festival that garnered him critical accolades and even a writeup in Rolling Stone. As a working performer, Hicks has been touring extensively with his partner, painter Lydia Kozar, playing smaller venues and intimate house shows.
No stranger to Central Florida, Bl_ank was one of the opening acts for Dan Deacon's show at the Atlantic in Gainesville last November, recently played the Nook on Robinson with Orlando's Ron Dahl and Gainesville's Cabo Boing, and even threw down at a house show here in Orlando in 2018. Always on the move, Hicks recently decamped from Nashville to Baltimore in a fashion befitting his experimental style. "I had been in Nashville for almost my entire life," he remembers. "While we were in Baltimore on tour, my friend there told us that they were moving to a new place and trying to find someone to take over their current room there. So we just took it!"
Always bridging the gap between order and chaos in both art and life, Bl_ank continues to explore the possibilities that exist in improvisation and experiment. The In-Between Series brings him back to Orlando this Monday, as part of a brief Florida jaunt that included a raucous set at Miami's infamous International Noise Conference.– This story appears in the Feb. 12, 2020, print issue of Orlando Weekly. Get our top picks for the best events in Orlando every Thursday morning in our weekly Events newsletter.