How a Heavy Metal Flutist and Composer Perfected the Art of the Yell

“As a kid, I was a little flute wiz. And at some point, I kind of went bad.”

Rebel Spring (Sam Gehrke)

For Maxx Katz, yelling is a multilayered act of self-expression that manifests itself in many forms.

“There’s a Cookie Monster death growl,” she says. “And then there’s more of a middle-range [yell]. Also, there’s a super-high one. It can take a couple years to get your technique down so that you’re not harming yourself if you practice regularly.”

Yelling is at the heart of Katz’s work as a performer and composer. Best known for her flute-guitar-vocals experiment Floom—the name is a portmanteau of “flute” and “doom”—she has leapt across the boundaries that divide classical, jazz and heavy metal.

“God, I just feel like I’m so weird,” says Katz, who has an M.A. in critical and comparative studies in music from the University of Virginia. “Doing a metal set with flute…when people ask me, ‘What kind of music to you play?’ I get so boggled.”

Audiences who want to get boggled can see Floom at the High Water Mark in March and the Old Church in April. Katz is also attending the American Choral Directors Association Convention in Spokane, where Yelling Choir—her femme and nonbinary group of shouting singers—will perform.

WW spoke to Katz about Floom, Yelling Choir—which is currently seeking donations to fund the trek to Spokane through a GoFundMe campaign—and the empowering artistry of creating a musical yell.

WW: When did you first start playing the flute, and when did you first start playing the guitar?

Maxx Katz: As a kid, I was a little flute wiz. And at some point, I kind of went bad. I embraced the dark side. I felt really constrained by the prettiness of the flute, gender roles, and being quiet and nice.

You’ve called the flute an instrument of radical transformation.

The flute, to me and a lot of other people, it’s a pretty gendered instrument. It’s frustrating to me. I love making it sound horrible, either through processing it with electronics or just playing it in unorthodox ways.

Could you tell me how the idea of Yelling Choir came to be?

It was actually at an art residency in Florida. I did a short Floom video and there was some yelling involved. And afterwards, completely independently of each other, these six women came up to me and they were like, “Will you teach me how to yell?” So I put them all together in a workshop. And I was like, “This could be a thing.”

I think that the average person doesn’t think of yelling as something you learn, even though there is an art to it, as you have proved to incredible effect.

One of the beautiful things [I’ve gained] hanging out in the heavy metal scene for so long is an appreciation of the art of the various kinds of yells—and also the experience of the sheer joy of it. When I yell, I feel connected to the vastness of existence in a way that feels amazing. And also, in our culture, there’s not a lot of room, in my experience, for expressions of big emotions or even acknowledgment of big emotions. Doing it publicly feels liberating. I think that’s especially valuable for those who have historically or personally, for whatever reason, had less of a voice in our culture or in their life.

You have a couple of Floom performances coming up in the next few months. Could you talk about what audiences can expect?

I have these two pedalboards when I do the Floom set. There’s one for flute and one for guitar, and they both have these rocker pedals that affect the volume of various things. So I started really playing with those to combine sounds and movement in this performative way that’s been very entertaining for me, at least.

So much of our cultural work and anti-oppression work is seeing these almost invisible pressures of society that are molding us. And so doing it with music and art, it feels like I’m physically leaning against some constraints from the inside—and when I actually strike through with some foul swoop of the flute or something, there’s the freedom and clarity of being able to move more freely.

SEE IT: Floom plays with Rezn and Young Hunger at the High Water Mark, 6800 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., 9 pm Tuesday, March 22. $12. Floom plays with Rick Maguire at the Old Church, 1422 SW 11th Ave., 503-222-2031, 8 pm Tuesday, April 5. $15-$18. Yelling Choir performs at the American Choral Directors Association Convention in Spokane, Wash. Saturday, March 12.

See more of the 2022 Spring Arts Guide 2022 Here!

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