This article features a few highlights from a a very musical extended weekend – something we at CatSynth would like to see become “routine.”
We start out Thursday at the Luggage Store Gallery, where OutSound hosts a regular Thursday night series. This is the series and venue that I played with Polly Moller and Company in February, and where I will be doing a solo set in May. On this particular night, there were two rather contrasting sets that featured “guitar and electronics.”
The first set was a duo by San Diego-based Nathan Hubbard and Noah Phillips. This is one of several groups I have seen generating sound from purely from electrical noise in the devices. Essentially, this involves taking the low-volume noise present in most electronic lines and processing and amplifying it to generate sounds. The result is a mixture of standard electrical noise and hums, heavy distortion, chirps and whistles, and staccato textures. The best moments were when the noise was at low volume, subtle, and you had to specifically listen for it behind the guitar.
The second set was from Berlin-based Schriftfisch and billed as “experimental ambient noise with Julian Percy & Farahnaz Hatam.”
It is amazing how different the computer-based electronic sounds from Farahnaz Hatam were from the electrical sounds in previous set. Guitar techniques included bowing and other electrical and mechanical devices, as well as standard “rock electronic guitar”. There were many times were the guitar and laptop-electronics blended such that one could not tell who was generating which sound. At other times, it was easy to tell the guitar, even with processing, from the sounds of the laptop, which had the “computer-music” sound, liquidy, percussive and granular.
A very different night of music occurred Sunday at the Switchboard Music Festival. For one, it was in a small concert hall, rather than a gallery. And it was largely focused on “contemporary classical” music and various crossover styles rather than the more experimental music offered by the Luggage Store series.
I got to the festival around 5PM or so. Unfortunately, this meant that I missed Slydini, which includes fellow “Polly Moller & Company” member Bill Wolter and other musicians that I know. Sorry about that. I did arrive to hear one of the more “contemporary classical” sets featuring a small-ensemble composition by Jonathan Russel that was reminiscent of minimalism (i.e., John Adams, Philip Glass, etc.) and folk influences, but with a backbeat (including a few disco moments). Such pieces are a reminder that “contemporary” music is different from “modern.” Contemporary music tends to be less focused on pushing the boundaries (in sometimes harsh directions) and more into embracing (multiple) traditions. I am an unapologetic modernist, but I still enjoy hearing “contemporary” music sometimes.
This was followed by one of the more intriguing pieces of the evening, Parangal by Robin Estrada. It featured a collection of wooden instruments that were simultaneously “primitive” and “modern”, buzzers, tubes, whistles and plates.
Towards the end of the piece, the musicians handed out small stones to the audience, which of course we all instinctively knew meant that we were supposed to play. The musicians gradually fell silent as the audience’s stone rhythm emerged. Of course, someone dropped his/her stones, and others had to follow, and this became part of the performance.
The next set was a chamber-ensemble piece by Aaron Novik. I probably wasn’t the only who noticed that people were clapping between movements, which is generally a big “no no” in concert performances. But Aaron encouraged the audience to continue doing so, indeed he was quite a character with jokes in between movements. The piece did move between long tones (such as the opening with tuba and bass clarinet) and more percussive sections, and was one of several works during the evening to have a rather strong Klezmer influence.
Amy X Neuberg performed next, and her set included several pieces I recognized from the previous times I have heard her perform – I have even shared a program with her a couple of times (notably the 2003 Woodstockhausen festival). There was “My God” (is Hiding in a Foxhole), and “Life Stepped In”, among others. One thing I am always impressed by is how tight her performances are, very clean and punctuated and “professional”, given the technology she employs. The highlight of her set was the “special secret surprise appearance” (or something to that effect) by the Del Sol String Quartet. It was a great combination.
Perhaps this is a good moment to point out how hard it is to photograph performing musicians, especially if you don’t have a tripod and feel obliged not to use a flash.
The Del Sol String Quartet performed a full set, with clarinetist Jeff Anderle (one of the organizers of the festival), playing Osvaldo Gilijov’s “Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind.” This piece was very strongly influenced by Klezmer and Eastern European folk music that permeated late 19th and early 20th century classical music. Indeed, it contributed to a sense I had that this was turning into the “Klezmer Festival”, which so many pieces featuring clarinet. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
The next set brought “featuring clarinet” to another level, with a bass-clarinet quartet of Cornelius Boots, Jeff Anderle, Aaron Novik and Jonathan Russel:
I was very interested in the bass-clarinet quartet format, and would actually like to write a piece this or an equivalent ensemble. The instruments have a great range of tone, from traditional clarinet sound, to robust bass fifths and octaves, to harmonics and distortion reminiscent of electric guitar. The latter was very strongly on display in their cover of a tune by the Pixies. Indeed, the whole set had a very humorous feel, including a piece that moved from a more modern intro do a section that sounded like “50s rock” and got a laugh from the audience.
The final set was Gamelan X. Not exactly a traditional gamelan, but rather a mixture of gamelan instruments, electronics, drums and saxophone:
And their music had a strong jazz/funk feel, mixing gamelan percussion and the easy-to-recognize sounds of a Nord Lead (well, easy to recognize for someone who has a website about electronic music). Here we see the reyong players “getting down” with some serious choreography:
So in the end there was more variety in the festival that just “contemporary classical.”
I could have actually made it a clean sweep this weekend with music events – I did have more personal events going on Friday and Saturday. However, even those were musical, but that is a topic for another time…
This post was included in the April 2 edition of the Carnival of Cities at Perceptive Travel Blog.