Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Base 4 and the Bay Area Improvising Tag Team Ensemble

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Despite being extremely tired from a major event as well as a rehearsal this past weekend, I did manage to catch a performance of jazz and improvisational antics at Berkeley Arts this Sunday evening. The evening opened with Base 4, a jazz trio featuring Bruce Friedman on trumpet, Derek Bomback on guitar, and Alan Cook on drums and percussion.

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They performed very abstract versions of standards, including Afro Blue and Solar, two favorites of mine. There was also free improvisation and some lesser-known compositions. It was a technically strong performance, a full of creative details.

Then we switched rooms for a completely different experience with the “Bay Area Improvising Tag Team Ensemble.” Not really an ensemble, this cast of characters assembled by Moe! Staiano performed free improvisation “refereed” by Gino Robair. Basically, performers were given signals of when to start and stop, and could within that context tag one another to play together and switch instruments. There were, however, penalties that could be levied against performers. A penalty meant holding a can of motor oil and not playing until it lapsed or another penalty was committed.

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As with sporting events, one could find disagreement with the referee. In this case, I strongly disagreed with Gino’s giving Polly Moller a penalty for using a wah-wah pedal. We at CatSynth approve of wah-wah pedals.

Here are some other scenes from the evening’s performance. We begin with Matt Davignon on turntable and Moe! Staiano on drums.

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Bandmates Polly Moller (Reconnaissance Fly) and Melne Murphy (Surplus 1980).

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Mark Clifford and Kyle Bruckmann. Mark does not usually play bass.

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Brian Tester and Yacob Roli Glowniss.

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Rounding out the ensemble for the evening were Dominique LeoneJacob Felix HeuleJason Hoopes, and others who I have missed.

Overall it was a lot of fun to watch, especially when things got more rhythmical or when a penalty was eminent. The performers who I talked to seem to have a lot of fun as well.

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Lucie Vítková and Joe Snape, CNMAT

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Today we look at a recent concert at the Center for New Music and Audio Technologies (CNMAT) featuring two very different solo performances. Both explored subtle details in sound, but in very different ways.

The first performance featured Lucie Vítková, a visiting artist from the Czech Republic. She primarily played accordion, but also included harmonica and voice.

Lucie Vítková

This was not your typical accordion or harmonica performance, or even a typical avant-garde performance with this instruments. Her playing was soft and exquisitely subtle. Once could hear the subtle changes in tone from the bellows, and the percussive effects of the instrument’s mechanics. She brought a similar slow-moving attention to detail to the pieces with harmonica. The most impressive part of the performance combined long accordion tones with voice, producing very strong difference tones. Once could hear the resulting fundamentals inside one’s ear, which is a pretty amazing effect to hear live.

The second set featured Tired Music by Joe Snape for cassette and electronics.

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In a darkened room, Snape manipulated long quiet sounds from cassette recordings and computer-based signal processing. Some were deliberately monotonous, but others provided punctuated detail, including a section of spoken word. As with Vítková’s performance, the sound moved slowly, but more enveloping coming from the multichannel speaker system instead of a single point.

Overall, a different set of sounds, certainly quieter, than what I have been attending of late. I am glad I was able to visit CNMAT to catch this show.

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Quick takes: MAS attack LAxSF and Surrey Street Salon

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It’s been a while since I have reported on one of those evenings with multiple cultural events that enrich life here. One recent rainy evening involved a visual art opening and a salon with a variety of performances.

I started at 17th Street Studios in the Mission for MAS Attack: LAxSF, a one-night show that featured 30 artists from Los Angeles and San Francisco, respectively.

One of the particularly intriguing pieces in the show was Miri Chais’ Rabbit Hole, with its organic circular forms but technology-inspired details and changing blue patterns of light. The mixture is intentional, and the title is inspired by Alice in Wonderland.

Miri Chais Rabbit Hole

Utopian Heads by L.A. artist Mark Dutcher caught my attention for its evoking of painting styles and concepts of the early twentieth century experiments. The title of the piece seems to fit with that as well.

Mark Dutcher, Utopian Heads

It seemed that the artists from L.A. dominated my attention at the show. As with the above pieces and the one below by Steven Wilkoff, they seemed to unapologetically modern.

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But these piece from Oakland-based artist Scott Greenwalt did provide a contemporary take on abstraction.

Scott Greenwalt

It was then off to Glen Park, just a short trip south from the Mission along the miniature freeway known as San Jose Avenue. (But that’s a story for another time.) My destination was the Surrey Street Salon for a fun evening of performance with a circus theme. So of course there were clowns with vaudeville-style musical numbers.

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There was also serious musical talent on display. I was quite impressed with Tin Sandwich, an all harmonica band.

Tin Sandwich

Their instruments ranged from tiny inch-long specimens to the large bass harmonica.

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Their arrangements, while mostly traditional songs, were quite tight, and included some impressive solos. I would definitely want to see them again.

Surplus-1980 bandmate Moe! Staiano also performed, this time on solo percussion.

Moe! Staiano

His avant-garde percussion playing is frenetic, moving quickly from on idea and one instrument to another, whether it is part of his traditional drumset or superballs against the window.

In all, it was a great evening of music and art, and the two events provided quite a contrast in style.

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Reconnaissance Fly CD Release and Plurality of Worlds

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Well, our CD release show for Reconnaissance Fly has come and gone, and it was quite a successful evening. We were joined in celebrating the release of our album Flower Futures by Emily Hay, half of a new project with Polly Moller called Plurality of Worlds.

Our preparation for the day started quite early, with stage setup, sound checks, and professional lighting design by our friend Travin McKain. But we got it all done, cleaned ourselves up and made ourselves presentable for the evening.

Reconnaissance Fly
[Photo by Michael Dawson.]

As you can see, we are a rather eclectic bunch, which is very much in line with the music we play.

First up was Plurality of Worlds, which brought together Polly Moller and Emily Hay for the first time as a duo of avant-garde flutes and vocals. Each brought both a standard concert flute and one of the bigger models, bass flute for Moller and alto flute for Hay. Their vocals played off one another in amusing ways, with absurdist babblings (Hay) responding to recitations from written texts (Moller). It was clear they were having a lot of fun performing, and we all enjoyed watching them.

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[Photo by Michael Dawson.]

They were joined by Reconnaissance Fly bassist Tim Walters on Supercollider, providing all variety of effects processing that filled the spaces both temporally and timbrally in the sparse texture of the duo.

Then it was time for us to take take the stage, with band members Amanda Chaudhary (keyboard), Rich Lesnick (reeds) and Larry-the-O (drums) joining in. As with our album and many of our live performances, things began with the ritualistic first note of Small Chinese Gong.

Small Chinese Gong

We then went into a full set that mixed selections from the album such as One Should Never and the combined Electric Rock Like a Cat / sanse is crede nza, with newer pieces such as Spiders and Snakes and How Now is Soon (actually, and older piece, but relatively new to Reconnaissance Fly). The set was quite lively and energetic, and also filled with humorous moments, and the audience responded well to those.

Reconnaissance Fly at Berkeley Arts
[Photo by Michael Dawson.]

The above picture does not include Larry, so here he is.

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[Photo by Michael Dawson.]

Overall, it was a good night, with great stage lighting, a packed house at Berkeley Arts, and even a few CDs sold. If you are interested in checking the album out, you can do so via Edgetone Records. And if you want to see us live, we have a few more shows coming up, including at The Luggage Store Gallery (1007 Market Street in San Francisco) tonight (Thursday, Feubrary 13)!

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CatSynth pic: Singing kitten

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Submitted by Reconnaissance Fly bandmate Polly Moller via Facebook. Let’s just consider this another one of those synths that is more analog than analog ;)

This also seems like a convenient time to shamelessly plug our new album Flower Futures.

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Wordless Wednesday: Red and Green (NAMM Jam)

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NAMM Jam

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NAMM 2014: New WMD / Steady State Fate modules

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Analog-module makers WMD had a strong presence at this year’s NAMM show. In addition to their existing offerings, which include both utility and more esoteric modules, they presented a set of devices that were jointly made with Steady State Fate (SSF). You can see a demo in this video.

It was fun how they made Zip, our trusty stuffed kitty, rock out to the modular :)

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Battle of the iPad Docks NAMM 2014: Miselu C.24 vs Focusrite iTrack

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Once again, iPad docs were a popular offering at NAMM. Perhaps the most unusual and interesting was from Miselu, a small San Francisco-based company. The C.24 acts as a hard-shell case for a standard-size iPad, but opens up into a dock with a two-octave keyboard and other controls.

Miselu C.24

The keys, which feel quite different from standard keyboard/synth keys, are magnetic rather than mechanical, and include aftertouch. The connection to the iPad is via bluetooth, bypassing the issue of Apple’s changing the port shapes. And it includes a space for expansion controllers above the keyboard. This is an intriguing device, though it is not yet available.

The iTrack from Focusright is perhaps more conventional in the world of iPad docks. But what makes it different is that can support both iPad Minis and full-sized iPads.

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It also includes audio support based on Focusrite audio technology and with mic and line level I/O. MIDI is supported via USB.

Both of these are interesting devices, it depends on ones need for portability and MIDI keyboard versus audio support.

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NAMM 2014: Waldorf 2-pole

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Waldorf introduced a new analog filter, the 2-pole at this year’s NAMM show.

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Those of us who spend time with analog synthesis are quite used to all sorts of complex filter topologies, most of which have at least four poles. So a two-pole filter seems a bit simple by comparison. But Waldorf is known for taking simple concepts and turning them into complete instruments. The 2-pole includes low-pass, band-pass, and high-pass elements, and also includes drive and rectify settings. It also includes its own envelope and LFO, as well as live triggering capabilities.

You can see a full demo of the Waldorf 2-pole in this video:

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NAMM 2014: Moog Theremini

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The most notable new offering this year from Moog Music, Inc. was the Theremini, a very accessible incarnation of the classic theremin.

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The design of the instrument evokes classic science fiction of the 1950s and 1960s (in which the theremin was a mainstay), and it features modern enhancements including a variety of tones and effects, support to stabilize pitch, and CV and MIDI for external control. And it’s MSRP is $299.

I decided to try my hand at this fun and photogenic instrument.

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You can see a bit of my attempt to perform one-handed in this video.

I can see this being a great tool for live performance, both standalone and as a controller for analog synths. I look forward to learning more about it.

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