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Eric Hall | Ancona Il Piu Estino

Roughly translated, “Ancora il Piu Estino” is Italian for “play as softly as possible.” For a few years now, Eric Hall has made this phrase come to life in an intriguing space, with a vast, rotating cast of collaborators.

Every Thursday in May, from 8 to 10 p.m., up to a couple dozen musicians (and other, assorted noisemakers) will be scattered throughout Dunaway Books, a South Grand retail storefront that offers an array of quirky little spaces over three distinct levels. Tucked away in corners, stashed between shelves, the players bounce ideas off one another, with the resulting soundscape differing wildly, depending on what area of the store you happen to be in at any given moment.

With varied folks on hand, no week will be the same as the next. And considering the free spirits involved, no one evening will be exactly the same, itself, from start to finish. This year, a few extra shows will be added on Fridays to entice players from outside the area with a chance to double dip on their St. Louis fun, which Hall discussed during a recent lunch-hour chat at Mangia Italiano.

What was the genesis of this particular project?

Walter, who owns the place; I initially met him while I was working here and he was in for a lunch or beer. I ran into him at a couple performances, which surprised me, because it’s usually the same nine people that go to those kinds of shows. I knew he had an interest in new music, or whatever people want to call it. I usually don’t perform loud anyway, so I liked the idea of coming up with a space, to use a venue that would discourage people from playing loud. In bookstores or libraries, people are subconsciously trained to keep their voices down. From there, it was a matter of seeing what could be done to make it more interesting and it turned into what it is.

There are so many cool nooks and crannies in that particular space.

It works so well for it. A lot of people have come up with really creative ways to use the space itself. I think Chris Deckard did something with the sounds of the cash register. Ben West used the duct work, put pickups on them and amplified those sounds; people used the stairs. Not only are people going through these different sound fields, but they’re contributing to it, so it’s very interactive.

How do you go about assembling the roster of participants?

At first it was just contacting anyone I thought would be good for it and then sweet-talking them in, because, of course, there’s no money in it for anyone. It was just calling a lot of people, asking how quiet they’d be and what they thought of the idea. Then it was a matter of screening my phone calls, because everyone came out of the woodwork wanting to do it.

Is there some particular appeal to this series that you hear people clamoring to be involved?

On one hand, it’s very low pressure. There is no singular stage or spotlight where anyone has to have any performance anxiety, so it’s a really good process for people interested in this kind of thing, but they don’t have a full set or composition; they can just go and tinker around. And also a lot of people just dig being a part of the larger collective. I would hope that’s the reason for most.

Do you ever get a sense, as people are moving through the store, that they weren’t anticipating “this,” or they were looking for a particular book and found themselves in something much different?

Yes. There’re a lot of people who you could tell didn’t know what was going on. One night, in particular, there was one couple that was very loud about how confused they were. Well above the sounds that anyone was making, these two were complaining. “I just wanted to find…” “Where’s the Crichton?” They actually seemed fairly pissed off; I don’t know how long they stuck around.

In your mind, who’s the audience?

What I’d done in previous years, I’d put the names on a press release of anyone involved in any of the nights. And I started having people ask, “Hey, where’s this person?” “Well, they played last week,” or “They’ll play next week.” And people started to seem disappointed. I didn’t want the focus to be on any individual performer. People are going to have to take their chances. That said, there are some incredible people coming through. There are people from the Symphony involved, New Music Circle people, the South Grand rock elite are making contributions, and half the staff of Vintage Vinyl. You’ve got the full gamut of jazz and electronic and rock and classical and everything else. And of course, they’re all on separate nights. And we’re doing some shows in the [Dunaway] basement on Fridays, after the Thursday shows, but the schedule’s not totally worked out yet. Using that, we can stretch out a bit and bring people into town by offering them a solo piece the next night.

Not looking at this in a backward or negative way, but someone can come to this, sample it, and if it’s not for them, there’s no commitment other than some time.

In my opinion, it’s very active and dynamic, but it’s by no means intrusive. You can not care what’s happening and still come in and look for books. Or you can not like what’s happening and leave the store. That’s fine, too. There’s no cover, no time people have to be there and no time they can’t leave by. It gives as much as people what to take, but doesn’t ask anything.

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