Outsound New Music Summit: Vacuum Tree Head, avantNoir and Cabbages, Captain and King

While the first night of the 2015 Outsound New Music Summit was billed as “Quiet Noise”, the second night was something altogether different. The concert features three exuberant but very different bands spanning a wide variety of musical techniques and styles.

First up was Cabbages, Captain and King, a trio featuring Eli Wallace on piano, Karl Evangelista on guitar, and Jon Arkin on drums.

Cabbages, Captain and King
[Cabbages, Captain and King. Photo: peterbkaars.com.]

I have become quite a fan of Eli Wallace’s piano playing, which is virtuosic and energetic. Combined with Evangelista’s intense and varied guitar performance and Arkin’s drums, the trio packed quite a punch. The speed and energy rarely let up throughout the 45-minute set. The music had an unsettled quality, always moving forward and never quite reaching a groove or tonal center. There were occasional quiet moments when the overall intensity of the performance let up, and the final notes with prepared piano were a nice touch.

Eli Wallace
[Eli Wallace. Photo: peterbkaars.com.]

Next up was Liza Mezzacapa’s Bait & Switch performing her project avantNoir. The pieces in this project were all inspired by noir fiction. The first half was based on “hard-boiled” stories by Dashiell Hammett set in 1920s San Francisco – with many familiar places and streets references – and the second half was based on “soft boiled” stories by Paul Auster set in 1980s New York (also a familiar setting).

Lisa Mezzacapa's avantNOIR with Bait&Switch
[Lisa Mezzacappa’s avantNOIR with Bait & Switch. Photo: peterbkaars.com.]

The music fit into the punctuated jazz style I have heard many times from Mezzacapa and her bands. But there was a distinctly 1970s crime show vibe to many of the pieces that contrasted with the times and places of the original stories’ settings. The interplay of bass, guitar with wah wah and drums, along with some of the electronic sounds from guest performer Tim Perkis led to this 1970s feel. The project itself suggests film scores for the stories, and I liked the idea of changing listeners’ expectations, especially if they have seen Hollywood versions of these stories. In addition to Mezzacapa and Perkis, the set featured Aaron Bennett on tenor saxophone, Jordon Glenn on drums, John Finkbeiner on guitar and special guest William Winant on vibraphone and sound-effects percussion. I found Winant’s seltzer bottle and tiny door particularly amusing.

Aaron Bennet and William Winant
[Aaron Bennett and William Winant. Photo: peterbkaars.com.]

Then it was time for Vacuum Tree Head to take the stage.

Vacuum Tree Head
[Vacuum Tree Head. Photo: peterbkaars.com.]

Led by Jason Berry who was conducting this evening, led us through fast-paced set of short pieces that ranged from classic jazz to deep funk to something approaching metal rock. Above the fray were vocals by Amy X Neuburg, who brought her theatrical and operatic voicings to the rather challenging music along with her very distinctive performance personality.

Amy X Neuburg, Vacuum Tree Head

Jason Berry, Vacuum Tree Head
[Amy X Neuburg and Jason Berry. Photos: peterbkaars.com.]

Many of the pieces, which were composed primarily by Berry and Michael de La Cuesta who together formed the band in 1989(!), were premiers. The band made the most of the variety of music, with an extended fusion keyboard solo by Amanda Chaudhary in DL DS, deep funk from the whole band behind Rich Corney’s guitar in EMS, a blindingly short jazz tune inspired by the Akhnaton dynasty of ancient Egypt, and a loud metal tune that may have been a first for an Outsound New Music Summit.

Amanda Chaudhary et al, Vacuum Tree Head
[Amanda Chaudhary et al. Photo: peterbkaars.com.]

Rich Lesnick (also a band-mate of mine in Reconnaissance Fly) brought solid saxophone and bass clarinet, including an extended moody bass-clarinet solo in Cushion Fortress; and Michael de la Cuesta featured in many songs on analog synthesizer, guitar and glockenspiel. Justin Markovits held things together with his drumming, assisted in the rhythm section by Tom Ferguson on bass. There was even a bit of abstract electronics from Amy X Neuburg on Blippo Box and Amanda Chaudhary on modular synth.

Michael de la Cuesta, Vacuum Tree Head Justin Markovits, Vacuum Tree Head
[Michael de la Cuesta and Justin Markovits. Photo: peterbkaars.com.]

The set was very well received by audience, some of whom were longtime fans of the band and some hearing us for the first time. And personally, it was quite a privilege to be part of the band for this event.

Overall, it was a strong evening for the summit, one that stood out as quite contrasting among the sets as well as with the other concerts.

Outsound New Music Summit: Cheryl Leonard and Machine Shop

The opening concert of the 2015 Outsound New Music Summit open with a very elemental program based on music from wood, stone, earth and metal.

First up was Cheryl Leonard performing compositions for natural objects, including shells, stones, wood, and water. Each of the pieces was accompanied by a video created from other artists.

Cheryl Leonard
[Photo: PeterBKaars.com]

Water and extreme weather were major themes of her set. The first piece was based on field recordings of melting ice on lakes in Yosemite National Park. As an ominous sign for the chronic drought we are facing here in California and climate change worldwide, the ice was thawing an crackling without a snow cover in mid January. Nonetheless, the music Leonard created from this was beautiful, the thumps and crackles formed a surprisingly strong rhythm with changing meter. Another piece focused on a storm while in open waters of the Arctic ocean as seen through the porthole of a ship, with video by artist Genevieve Swift. This piece was more turbulent compared to the more mesmerizing nature of the melting ice.

Cheryl Leonard playing dried kelp

Leonard also employs quite a variety of musical techniques for her natural objects, not simply percussive techniques. In the photo above, we see her playing dried kelp as a wind instrument.

Next up was Machine Shop, a duo featuring Karen Stockpole on gongs and Drew Webster on electronics. The dominant element in this set was metal, but not simply metal as found objects, but forged into strong and beautiful instruments.

Karen Stackpole, Machine Shop
[Photo: PeterBKaars.com]

Gongs can of course be loud and chaotic, but the rich harmonics and interplay among them can be brought out for subtle musical phrasing with a master artist like Karen Stockpole. The sounds ranged from loud booming drones to individual nearly pure tones and beats among harmonics from different instruments. There were also more abrupt staccato notes that she played with a mobile gong while walking around the stage. The overall effect was hypnotic, but nonetheless very musical with phrasing and a subtle form of rhythm.

Karen Stackpole
[Photo: PeterBKaars.com]

It was often difficult to tell where the acoustic sounds of the gongs ended and where the electronic processing began, which is not a bad thing, as I think electro-acoustic ensembles should often blend these elements. In the last two pieces, however, Webster’s electronics were more apparent, and one could here the processing as well as his synthesizer contributions to the sound which complemented the amplified gongs.

Machine Shop

Overall, it was a strong start to this years summit. Both sets were very well received by the full house in attendance; and it was refreshing to see that the artists received support for their recordings for sale (at least one of the new releases is now in the CatSynth collection).

Most photographs for this article are from Peter B. Kaars, who was featured earlier in the week with an exhibit and reception. You can read our report from that event here.

Outsound Music Summit: Peter B Kaars Photography and Tim Perkis’ Noisy People

If you have followed our past coverage of the annual Outsound New Music Summit you have encountered the photography of Peter B. Kaars. Indeed, his photos appear on many of our reviews of Outsound events and beyond. This year, his work was the subject of an evening of the summit, with a gallery installation and reception.

Peter B Kaars Photography
[Image by Rent Romus, Outsound Presents]

For this event, Kaars selected images that were single portraits, each capturing an aspect of the performers’ musical personality.

Peter B Kaars photography

I was particularly happy and honored to be the subject of one of his selections: a close-up of my hand on a modular synth.

Peter B Kaars photo of Amanda Chaudhary on modular synth

The exhibition was a chance to see Kaars’ work as an artistic endeavor independent of the performances being documented. Or as Executive Director Rent Romus put it: “an artist making art of artists making art.”

The evening also featured a screening of Tim Perkis’ film Noisy People, which documented the Bay Area new-music and free-improvisation scene in the period 2002-2007 by following a collection of familiar artists.

Tim Perkis' Noisy People

Indeed, all of the artists featured in the film are people and I know and in many cases played with, either during the period chronicled or through countless events after I moved to San Francisco in 2008. It was fun to see some folks I know now in an earlier incarnation, and how their music has collaborations have changed. Of course, seeing it in an audience comprised of members of scene made the experience that much more fun.

You can find out about the concerts for this year’s Summit at the official website.

Vacuum Tree Head returns! Outsound New Music Summit 2015

More on Vacuum Tree Head’s upcoming show at the Outsound New Music Summit, via the Red Robot Show!

Vacuum Tree Head returns! One night only, 30 July 2015, VTH will perform as part of the Outsound New Music Summit in San Francisco at the Community Music Center, 544 Capp St. in San Francisco. Please come!

Vacuum Tree Head at Outsound New Music Summit

Vacuum Tree Head at Outsound New Music Summit, July 30

The band Vacuum Tree Head returns for a performance at this year’s Outsound New Music Summit. The event will be on July 30, 8PM at the Community Music Center, 544 Capp Street in San Francisco.

Vacuum Tree Head is led by Jason Berry – that’s “J.B.” who draws the Mensa Cat Monday cartoons. The poster that appears above is his artwork as well. The new lineup for the band features Amanda Chaudhary on keyboards, Rich Corney on guitar, Michael de la Cuesta on guitar, orchestral chimes and synthesizers; Tom Ferguson on bass; Richard Lesnik on saxophones and bass clarinet, Justin Markovits on drums, and Amy X Neuburg on vocals and custom electronics. From the Summit website:

VTH has created music ranging from ambient electronics pieces scored for feedback, bass clarinets, singing bowls and bowed gongs (Tar’Hai Wizard, a piece dedicated to the great Jean “Moebius” Giraud), to tightly composed, guitar-based punk/prog songs (the album “THIRTEEN”), to abstract electronics and audio collage (the album “Aum Carve Etude H”), and all stops in between. The band is currently moving into areas involving the intersection of tightly composed compositions and free improvisation

The even also includes two other great bands. Cabbages, Captain, & King is a trio of Jon Arkin (drums), Karl Evangelista (guitar), and Eli Wallace. I have heard Wallace’s virtuosic piano a few times already this and looking forward to more. Finally, we will be treated to a performance of a new project avantNOIR by Lisa Mezzacappa with her Bait & Switch.

Please visit the Outsound New Music Summit for a full rundown of all the evenings. (We at CatSynth will be the to cover all four concerts.)

Analog Ladies at Robotspeak

Today we look back at the recent Analog Ladies edition of the Church of the Superserge that took place in late June at Robotspeak in San Francisco.

The Analog Ladies show featured solo performances by five women on analog synthesizers (along with some additional items). It was a diverse cross-section of musical and performance styles, with each artist being different focus to her set. First up was series regular Elise Gargalikis performing on a Serge Modular synthesizer with along with vocal samples and loops.

Elise Gargalikis

Gargalikis, who often performs as part of the duo, Slope114, has a mellifluous voice that rises above some of the noise sounds from the modular synth, while blending as a high note in longer drones.

Next up was Miss Moist, an Oakland-based electronic musician who describes her music as “electro candy pop // tropical kitsch”. She combined analog electronics with a Korg Electribe and Mini-Kaoss Pad.

Miss Moist
[Photo by Tom Djll.]

The result was a blend of rhythms and sweet tones that did indeed match the description, but also moments of harsh glitching and moderate noise hits before returning back to the main patterns.

The next set featured Jill Fraser performing on her vintage Serge modular synthesizer.

Jill Fraser

Jill Fraser’s set featured fully formed compositions ranging over different parts of her career all the way to very recent. Some were very abstract, but with intricately detailed sound design on the Serge. I’ve always been impressed with the woodwind-like sounds that some musicians have been able to get from this instrument. There were also some melodic and rhythmic pieces as well, reflective of her career in film and TV.

Next up was Mint Park, who performed with an analog modular synthesizer made composed primarily of TipTop Audio modules along with a laptop running Ableton Live!

Mint Park

Her performance was intense. A strong set of beats with punctuated breaks was feed through the modular with hard grating noise that worked well in context. She kept up the energy for the entire duration of the set.

Then it was time to take the stage as the final act of show.

[Photo by Dmitri SFC]

For this set, I brought the full analog modular system, including some recent acquisitions such as the Hexinverter.net Mutant-Hijats – I opened the set with the Hihats controlled by the Make Noise Rene and the Moog Theremini. The Theremini, used exclusively as a CV controller for the modular synth, was the centerpiece of the set as it enabled full embodied performance. I also brought along the Garrahand drum, which works well fed into the Make Noise Echophon.

Amanda Chaudhary synthesizer setup

You can here my full performance in this video.

Amanda Chaudhary at Analog Ladies, Robotspeak, San Francisco from CatSynth on Vimeo.

I always try to make sure there is a variety of textures and energy-levels and weave together a narrative structure even within improvisation. Overall, I was very pleased with this set and the response from the large crowd.

ac platforms
[Photo by Tom Djll.]

Indeed, all the artists were well received by the overflowing crowd at Robotspeak – it’s not a large place, but it was filled with synth enthusiasts and those who enjoy more adventurous music. This was the first Analog Ladies edition of the Church of the Super Serge, but I certainly hope it won’t be the last.

analog ladies robot patch cords
[Photo courtesy of Robotspeak.]

Y’reka and Pamela Z, Luggage Store Create Music Series

Today we look back at a show featuring music by Pamela Z and the duo Y’reka at the Luggage Store Gallery Creative Music Series, which was still at its temporary home at 998 Market Street.

The evening opened with Y’reka, a duo featuring Aram Shelton on alto saxophone and Owen Stewart-Robinson on guitar. Both Shelton and Stewart-Robinson also had an array of electronic effects.

Y'reka: Aram Shelton and Owen Stewart-Robinson

Their improvised music had a subtle noisy texture overall, with slowly changing timbres and dynamics. There were some moments were the effects triggered more dramatic changes, which especially stood out with the subtle texture. They also successfully combined their electronically-processed tones in sections such that it wasn’t clear who was playing what, a characteristic I often find fun in freely improvised music. The pair did acknowledge the death of Ornette Coleman the previous morning, a gesture that was both appropriate and appreciated by the audience.

Next up was Pamela Z who presented a variety of works for voice, sound electronics and video. This was in part of “preview” of her upcoming full-scale work Memory Trace which will be happening at the Royce Gallery. In addition to her versatile and virtuosic vocal techniques, she controlled a variety of audio processing via sensors both worn and placed in DIY electronic boxes in front of her. There were also several pieces featuring interactive video. One which I had seen before presented an array of real-time clips of Pamela Z from her laptop’s webcam during the performance, which she then appeared to call up as if they were individual percussion instruments.

Pamela Z

There was also an intriguing video featuring a clock and other imagery related to time.

Pamela Z\

Overall, it was quite an interesting pairing of musical sets, and I was happy to be able to see both of them together in one evening.

Outsound Dinner: Nava Dunkelman and Jordan Glenn Duo

As happens every year approximately one month before the Outsound New Music Summit, we gathered for the annual benefit dinner. This year the dinner took place at the Finnish Kaleva Hall in Berkeley, a location steeped in history of its own. There was a good company, delicious food provided by Slippery Fish Catering, and a performance by Nava Dunkelman and Jordan Glenn.

Outsound dinner: Nava Dunkelman and Jorden Glenn
[Photo: peterbkaars.com]

Both Dunkelman and Glenn and accomplished percussionists in the local music scene, but this was the first time they performed together as a duo. And the result was an exceptional performance filled with a variety of textures ranging from subtle to angry and aggressive. There were moments where the individual materials and timbres stood out in stark isolation, and others where the two worked together to form repeating rhythmic patterns (one might even say a “beat”). The two have contrasting styles that they brought from their other projects (I most often see Jorden Glenn as a drummer for bands, and Nava Dunkelman as a collaborator in improvised duos).

Nava Dunkelman
Jordan Glenn
[Photos: peterbkaars.com]

Overall, a great evening of music, food and friends. There were many familiar faces among Outsound’s supporters at the event, but also newcomers, which is always good to see.

[Photo courtesy of Outsound Presents]

Now it is on to the Summit itself, which begins on Sunday, July 26 at the Community Music Center in San Francisco. Please visit Outsound New Music Summit website for a full roster of performances and events, information and tickets, and more on how to support the continuation of new and adventurous music in our community!