Paul Stapleton improvisation sets, Luggage Store Gallery

Today we look back at a recent concert at the Luggage Store Gallery that featured composer, performer and musical inventor Paul Stapleton in three improvisation sets with a variety of collaborators from the Bay Area and beyond.

In all three sets, Stapleton performed on his “Bonsai Sound Sculpture” a contraption with various metallic and electronic elements, including bells, metal rods, a thumb piano and a turntable. While this provided a common grounding element for all three sets, it did not limit the variety of sounds or musical possibilities. It was apparent that Stapleton could explore quite a range of sound and musical structure within just a few minutes of the first set which also featured Ted Byrnes on percussion and Laura Steenberge on bass.

Paul Stapleton

The performance started off with frenetic motion before shifting into a software texture with gamelan-like sounds followed by percussive bowing of long tones. As the intensity ebbed and flowed, the most distinctive element was (for lack of a better term) the “turntable thingy” in Stapleton’s sound sculpture, though I did like the rhythmic work by Byrnes on the drums and how it played against the bells and other metallic sounds.

The next set featured Stapleton together with Edward Schocker on Asian wind instruments and Matt Ingalls on clarinet and violin. I have only heard Ingalls on violin a few times, but this was the instrument he used to open the set. He was then joined by Stapleton bowing a section of the sculpture and Schocker on a small reed instrument that I believe was a pir’i – the small instrument packed quite a punch with wobbly tones the weaved in and out harmonically between the long bowed tones. This gave way to a period of high scratchy timbres and then an interlude of rough metal thumb piano and Ingalls on clarinet. Schoker also switched to sho, a free-reed instrument, in a section with Stapleton that was more drone-like There was a varied texture over all, but some exceptionally loud sections.

The final set of the evening brought back Byrnes and Steenberge on percussion and bass, respectively, along with Matt Davignon on turntable and electronics and John Ingle on saxophone. Things got off to a staccato start, with lots of short notes, and turntable gestures. Indeed, one of the fun parts of this set was to hear how Davignon and Stapleton used their turntables differently, with Davignon using the instrument to manipulate recognizable recorded sounds with voices. The turntables also interplayed with cymbals and with vocalizations by Ingle. In addition to flurries of short notes, there were loud rough textures, a very “jazzy” moment, and static noise set against soft percussive tones.

The evening went by quite fast, with each set relatively short. But I thought it worked well this way, keeping up the energy and variety. Say what you need to say, and then stop. And on that note, we sign off.

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