Vacuum Tree Head and More at All Tomorrow’s After Parties 2016

No sooner was I back from New York than I found myself preparing for another series of performances, this time in various groups for NextNow Present’s All Tomorrows After Parties 2016 at Berkeley Arts in the town of the same name. The three-day long festival was both a musical showcase for the community and a benefit for homeless action and support in the Bay Area. This article focuses on the first evening which featured a performance by Vacuum Tree Head.

Vacuum Tree Head
[Photo by Polly Moller]

The band is ever evolving, with a changing cast of musicians joining Jason Berry and Mike de la Cuesta. On this night the band included Amanda Chaudhary on keyboards, Justin Markovits on drums, Richard Corny on guitar, Galen Stagner on bass, and Jason Bellenkes and Joshua Marshall on horns. From just the images alone, one can tell this is a new incarnation of the band, with a well-dressed frontline coincidentally featuring “Nord red”; and a funkier, jazzier sound anchored by a tight rhythm section. You can hear our entire set in this video.

While the funky finale EMS Deluxe might be the most memorable of the set, each song was played well and had something unique to offer. This was my favorite rendition of Nubdug to date. The “Mystic Chord” and Gnostic Charms medley was our most abstract, featuring synth, a Waterphone and complex tones evolving into a driving rhythmic finish. And Hegemony Cricket opened things up with a bang. The set was well received by the audience; and I think everyone in the band that night was very happy with the performance. We hope to play together again as a unit in the not-too-distant future, so please look for updates here on CatSynth and elsewhere.

Vacuum Tree Head closed out an evening that was primary focused on music with words, although like us the first set was entirely instrumental. Joshua Allen and Rob Pumpelly combined forces in a frenetic duo.

Pumpelly / Allen Duo

Joshua Allen brought his virtuosic saxophone techniques to the performance; and between the two of them the energy never let up for the entire duration of the set. Their set reminded me a bit of the Coltrane album Interstellar Space.

Next up was Cartoon Justice, a noise-jazz project featuring Mika Pontecorvo on guitar, flute, and electronics, Kersti Abrams on winds, Mark Pino on Drums, and Elijah Pontecorvo on bass. They were joined by Meg Pontecorvo who read some of her science fiction writings.

Cartoon Justice

The music moved though a variety of sounds, but had a “space” vibe that complemented that texts. The concept brings to mind Sun Ra, though the sound was more reminiscent of Musica Elettronica Viva, a 1970s Italian improvising group that sometimes featured the likes of Steve Lacy and Frederic Rzewski. Of course, their sound is their own, particularly with Mark Pino’s unique drum style, Eli Pontecorvo’s bass bringing a bit of a rock/metal sound to the mix, Mika Pontecorvo’s electronic manipulations, and Meg Pontecorvo’s words.

Cartoon Justice was followed by Poetics of Narrative, a trio with guitar, electronics, and voice. I spied experimental writer Andrew Joron on theremin.

Poetics of Narrative

This group was fun and I liked there sound. It ranged from more noisy moments to playful songs with complex lyrics and melancholy melodies. In addition to the theremin, the performance featured accordion and other instruments among the ever-present small electronics. The combination of elements was reminiscent of the Tone Dogs and other avant-prog groups of that era. And the costuming and theatrics were a welcome addition.

Poetics of Narrative

I regret not being able to see the set by Oa, the duo of my friends Matt Davignon and Hugh Behm-Steinberg. But I know that their unique mix of electronic processing and poetry fit into the evening’s theme while taking the concept of music and words in a very different direction from the previous sets.

Overall, it was a wonderful evening of music, and in some ways I am still glowing from our Vacuum Tree Head set. We had a good and appreciative audience, and raised some good funds for the causes. We are grateful to have participated, and in particular would like to thank Mika Pontecorvo, Eli Pontecorvo and Mark Pino for all their help with both our set and the entire event.

Amanda Chaudhary / Tania Chen, SMOMID, Teerapat Parnmongkol at Brick Theater, Brooklyn

I recently reported on my performance with Tania Chen at Spectrum in New York. However, this was not the first of our New York collaborations. A few days earlier we debuted our set at The Brick Theater in Brooklyn.

First up that evening was our friend Nick Dimopoulos as SMOMID, which is also the name of his invented musical instrument.

The SMOMID is a “Strong Modeling Midi Device” that allowed him to control multiple synthesizers and sequencers. His performance was highly dynamic and uses a lot of familiar performance idioms from the guitar, but in the service of a very different musical style that included fast electronic drum runs and other rhythmic patterns. Overall it was an intense and visual performance.

Then it was time for us to take the stage! We started quietly and a bit tentatively with Tania on melodica and myself on keyboard and synthesizer. As with the Spectrum gig, the principle instruments for me were a Nord Electro and a DSI Prophet 12 (for some reason the Moog Mother-32 wasn’t working that night). After a bit of the sound became thicker and more animated. And then we moved to the central part of our performance: two pop-style songs, the first of which was called “Cheezy Love Song.”

The second was a decidedly more melancholy song called “I Still Love You”, with a darker tone provided by the P12 beneath Tania’s singing. From here we segued directly into another experimental electro-acoustic improvisation that showcased the variety of sounds and objects at our disposal.

Our final piece was a cover of the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back”, which was of course a lot of fun and allowed me to exercise my pop and jazz keyboard skills. Overall, it was a good first performance, but we did learn a lot of things that we used to make Spectrum a few days later a great performance.

One feature of performing at The Brick is that it is a theater. Indeed, there was a play being staged that week, and all the sets had to accommodate the stage set. But it did make for a fun and unusual setting for the music, and in particular we took advantage of some of it within our performance.

The final set featured Teerapat Parnmongkol performing live ambient electronics along with live electronic video.

The music was reminiscent of electronic dance music in a club setting, but it did go off in other directions with noise hits, breaks in the rhythm and more. In the darkened space, however, one’s attention was squarely drawn to the video.

Overall it was a great show and we here happy to share the bill with these other artists. I would also like to extend a thank you to The Brick Theater and to Craig Flanagin for hosting us and making sure things ran smoothly. Hopefully I will be performing in Brooklyn again soon.

#WeAreOrlando Personal Response

More than any of the mass shootings in the last few years (and they seem to happen more and more often), this one has especially rattled me and affected me. There is the realization that this wasn’t random, but targeting a specific group. Targeting the LGBTQ community. Targeting us. I see more of myself in the 49 names and faces than I do in the victims after most shootings, not because their lives weren’t as precious, but because these victims could have been me. And then there is the frustration that this will get lost in the prevailing rhetoric that predictably goes to gun control and fears of Islamic terrorism. Sure, there have been a lot of statements of sympathy towards the LGBTQ community, and articles documenting the sad history of attacks over the decades, but nothing that puts the violent hatred towards us at the center of the conversation or looks at the causes of why this persists despite so much advancement legally and politically.

It is connected to things that do not involve guns but involve similar hate, such as the series of killings of trans women of color here in San Francisco, or the “bathroom laws” targeting the trans community that “other” and demonize trans women making them such likely targets. It’s the long history of arsons of gay clubs and even churches. Of beatings, particularly of gay men. Of the much mythologized Stonewall Riots themselves.

This occurs not in a vacuum but in the context of issues in the U.S. that don’t get enough scrutiny. We need to talk about how toxic masculinity fuels hatred towards sexual minorities. Young men already disaffected by whatever repulsed by two men kissing or a woman who may have been born a man. And we need to talk about the problem of religious fundamentalism. Even when it’s not in the forefront such as discrimination based on “religious freedom” it’s lurking in the background, with some connection to Christian or Islamic fundamentalism in particular used as justification. One must wonder why these religions would put so much focus on sexual identity and behavior that they would justify hurting or killing someone, but they do. And statements simply saying “we believe in peace” is not enough – we need people of faith to question why tenets against sexual minorities are even important to their religions at all, let alone something of such dire importance to discriminate or incite violence (or call special legislative sessions). They should to start to move away from these doctrines even if it is a break with “tradition”, and make it a priority to speak out against fear, hatred and violence of LGBTQ individuals. And those on the progressive left of U.S. politics, whom I see as comrades in most circumstances, need to also make this a priority. It’s hard to care about who is getting campaign money from whom when misguided laws and violence put ones own existence in question.

I certainly hope this moment doesn’t turn into an excuse for counter violence against anyone, much less a call to war. That would be the wrong outcome. The important thing is for those from communities most responsible for the hate and violence, angry disaffected men and religious communities, to question and show that they are ready to change and to say “no more of this. Not from us.” That’s a lot to ask, but we can at least start.

KrOB, bran(pos), Amanda Chaudhary, Passions Nouveau at Second Act (SF)

KrOB, bran(pos), Amanda Chaudhary, Passions Nouveau at Second Act (SF)

Another week, another show, or so it has seemed since late May. This one will be a solo set, combining my jazz and funk keyboards with experimental electronics on an analog modular synth; and of course the Theremini. Plus, hopefully, a mix of music and fashion if a recently acquired dress gets back from the dry cleaner in time. If you are in the Bay Area tomorrow, details are below.


Wednesday, June 15. 7:45PM
Second Act, 1727 Haight St, San Francisco

KrOB
Subholy priest of the subgenius, KrOB knows that sight and sound are united most when most they are exploding. Heads seem always to blossom in gore, pants burst timely into flame, and each babystroller leaps from its screaming caregiver right on cue. Come get your sweet spot pummeled by the best of the very best, the lowest of the unfathomable.

Podcasts

bran(…)pos
Diehard fans have seen every interior of the bran(…)pos writhe into view via handbuilt multimodal apparatii of self-extrusion. From costumed dissimulations and facial piezoelectrics, to Great Oz-headed video, circuit-bent stiletto, mic swallowing and pharyngeal-cello right between the knees. But until now, the engine at the center of it all has remained hidden: the bubblegum. Keep your eye on the event horizon as the first wad hoves into view at this tape release show for The Bubblegum Forgeries, first in a four volume series.
https://branpos.bandcamp.com/album/the-bubblegum-forgeries-vol-1

Amanda Chaudhary
Modular synthesizers, kids’ toys, and all manner of folk instruments combine to confound and awaken heretofore undiscovered sensibilities of her audiences. Chaudhary is also a photographer, fashion model, designs technology for creativity, and operates the foremost blog on cats and synthesizers, CatSynth.
http://www.amandachaudhary.com/

Passions Nouveau
Glen Park sound artist and Ka coach repurposing homemade electronic instruments as accompaniment to raw field recordings of degenerate ultra underground sex culture.
TorLink to dark stream available on request.

Happy 11th Gotcha Day Luna!

Today marks Luna’s 11th Gotcha Day (adoption anniversary) since I first brought her home from the Santa Cruz County animal shelter on June 10, 2005. She has come to be the queen of her home in the years since.

This Gotcha Day is a particularly sweet one, considering all that has happened over the past year. It was about one month after her previous anniversary that we saw the first signs of her cancer and got the formal diagnosis soon after. She was given only months at best with aggressive treatment. But with love, attention and the best medical care available, she is still with us a year later and thriving!

And she is still the star of CatSynth.

We are looking forward to a weekend of celebration and treats.

Please join me in wishing Luna a very happy Gotcha Day!