On March 16 I attended the latest installment of Pamela Z’s ::ROOM:: series at the Royce Gallery in San Francisco. This concert, entitled room: GLASS NOODLE, featured Pamela Z and Carl Stone in solo performances, and then together as the duo.
The performance opened with a series of solo works by Pamela Z. I had heard several of these before, at the San Francisco Electronic Music Festival and earlier ::ROOM:: performances. As in previous performances, she began with a piece that featured live looping of melodic singing turned in harmonies, along with extended vocal techniques, “street textures” against sung lines, and bubble wrap. This was followed by a humorous piece the features the sounds and gestures of a manual typewriter, both key clicks and the carriage return – the narrative at the beginning of the piece is that the performer is writing to her penpal on a typewriter because her MacBook is broken. In the background, the video features transformations on old QWERTY typewriter keys. The round mechanical keys lent themselves to playful rolling animations. Over time, the music shifted to short voice loops and sample glitches, and gradually became darker. One piece that featured the experience of going through airport security (including an operating singing of the familiar “did you pack your own bags” inquiry) seemed familiar from SFEMF, although in that performance I recall a longer section in which people spoke about their contents of their suitcases. Pamela Z concluded her solo performances with sketches from new pieces. There were eerie loops of pure tones, whispers, stop motion video of the artist on a wooded path – bits of sound that resembled prepared piano were followed by several voices talking about memory.
Carl Stone’s performance was an electro-acoustic tour de force. His continuously changing samples and other electronic sounds weaved together a complex structure with both energy and sense of direction. It started off subtly, with a build-up of granular synthesis and complex harmonics that quickly became enveloping. Some of the sonic elements evoked a sense of relaxation, even as they were metallic and machine-like. A section of rhythmic percussive sounds and plucked strings seemed to suggest a rock influence, which gradually morphed into something more South Asian featuring tabla and other drums. As the sounds further transitioned from percussion to vocals with rolling watery lines, it seems we were traveling further east towards Southeast Asia. The music settled into an undulating six-eight rhythm, that every so often would pause abruptly and resume. String instruments provided both the harmonies and the rhythm, the vocals grew more tonally complex. Bell sounds emerged into the mix, at first part of the overall Asian sound but then becoming a more abstract element. It seemed that the bells were growing, with a soundscape of large metallic sounds, and constant harmonies against an ethereal background. The overall sound grew in intensity and sounded “choral”. After a period of time in this pattern, the Asian-influenced percussion and voice fragments re-emerged, although at times the voice seemed to be in a more classical Western style. Towards the end of the continuously evolving piece, there was at least one false ending where the sound disappeared, before returning, until it drew to a true close.
After a brief intermission, Carl Stone and Pamela Z returned to perform as a duo called Glass Noodle. The set started out very quietly with low granular sounds and low pitches that seemed like machinery winding down. Slowly, the sounds became a little higher and faster. Videos of glass noodles were projected on the background as Pamela Z began reciting noodle recipes. (For anyone reading this article who is not familiar with glass noodles, they are quite tasty and I highly recommend trying them.) The short vocal samples, which were looped and granulated, built up and became more complex over time, and were eventually joined by percussion and melodic bell-like sounds. As the voice and electronic sounds again became more subdued, the video became more glitchy, and I heard a recipe for fish source thrown in amongst the noodles, as well as vocal sound effects that evoked “deliciousness”. Minor harmonies emerged against the recipe recitations, along with references to red chili peppers and pickled garlic. If I had not already eaten before this performance, I am sure I would have been quite hungry (glass noodles and the other foods described are all quite tasty). The order and complex counterpoint of the music eventually decayed into a series of asynchronous loops.
The next section began with classical piano and granular sounds, sparse vocals and bird calls. The loops, pitch bends and other effects were quite playful, and evoked the sound experiments of the late 1960s (think “Revolution 9”). The sounds of the birds and voice gave way to strange percussive sound effects, squeaking and rubbing, before the voice returned in the distance. Over time the texture became more complex, with short hits of metal and glass sounds and a glitchy voice loop. The noodles being projected at this point seemed more brittle than the sinuous textures from the earlier part of the set – then all of a sudden they “melted” as the sounds grew more extended. As the sound once again grew glitchier and noisier, the piece drew to a close.