Last week I attended an evening of “sonic innovations” at the Turquoise Yanta Grotto, a new venue for experimental and eclectic music here in San Francisco.
Based in a modernist Eichler-style house nestled in the Diamond Heights neighborhood, the Turquoise Yantra Grotto hosts a monthly series in an intimate setting. The performance space itself is a giant musical instrument, with every inch covered with sonic creations that provide both aural and visual interest. Among the more formal instruments one can find here is this gamelan piano, but one can see that even it is adorned with other musical possibilities.
The sonic possibilities extend out into the adjacent courtyard where tuned metal cylinders share space with tropical birds.
The first set featured a collaboration by Jaroba and Keith Cary on a variety of invented musical instruments, with Jaroba focusing on winds and reeds while Cary focused on strings.
Their collaboration worked well musically, moving back and forth between harmonic and inharmonic sounds, playing with the defined rhythmic structures, and weaving in some idiomatic elements like a bass line from one of Cary’s instruments. I do also like drones or wild runs of notes, but musical phrasing and rhythm makes a performance more distinct and memorable. I was also quite fascinated with Jaroba’s changing instruments, which included combinations of pipes, standard mouthpieces, bells, and amplification. One of the most fun was a long tube that fed into a large bullhorn. The resulting sound reminded me of an analog synth moving from long sub-bass notes with a rhythm of their own to high piercing cries.
Jaroba also played an old found instrument: a “player saxophone” that used player-piano style roles. It turns out that this is a Q.R.S. Playasax from the 1920s. I found it intriguing as an usual piece of “music technology.”
Host David Samas joined the duo for a final piece, featuring the gamelan piano shown above and other of the instruments around the venue. His use of metallic sounds filled in the space between the winds and strings nicely.
The second set featured Bryan Day on an intricate contraption of his own design.
The music was quite a contrast to the first set in that it featured metallic sounds instead of winds and strings. There is something captivating about the sound of metal, whether it is tuned or not. In the case of Day’s sounds, it is clear that worked quite hard to get his sounds and modes of interaction. The “instruments” in the rig ranged from tuned tape measures to suspended magnets to small bits of metal with contact microphones. This was definitely an electro-acoustic setup rather than acoustic, and I even saw a Kaoss pad in the mix.
[Photo courtesy of David Samas.]
The sounds were as varied as the sources, and assembled together into long rhythmic phrases. There was enough rapid motion to focus attention on the musicality, while pauses allowed the timbres to linger and the audience to take in the unusual sounds. You can hear a short except of Day’s performance in this video.
As with the first set, David Samas joined Bryan Day for a closing piece, and provided contrasting sounds and textures including wood, water and shells.
[Photo courtesy of David Samas.]
Both the timbrally rich music and setting of the concert made for an evening that was both captivating and peaceful at the same time, even with sounds that could get loud and noisy at times. I am glad to have discovered this venue and series, and look forward to many creative concerts there in the coming months.