28 Chinese, Asian Art Museum.

Last week I finally had a chance to see 28 Chinese at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. It was in many ways an inspiring exhibit and I had been hoping to write about it earlier than today – a series of unfortunate personal matters have gotten in the way of that. But it is nonetheless worth reading about, and seeing if you can this afternoon or tomorrow before it closes.

28 Chinese presents the work of 28 contemporary Chinese artists working in a variety of media. It ” is the culmination of more than a decade’s worth of exploration and research by art collectors Don and Mera Rubell,” who met with 100 artists in China between 2001 and 2012 to learn about them and assemble works from their collection. The exhibition features famous artists like Ai Weiwei, but also up-and-coming artists such as Lu Wei, whose large-scale oil-on-canvas work Liberation No. 1 was among my favorites in the show.

Lu Wei.  Liberation No 1. Oil on Canvas
[Liberation No. 1, 2013, by Liu Wei (Chinese, b. 1972). Oil on canvas. Courtesy of Rubell Family Collection, Miami. © Liu Wei.]

It depicts a colorful and unfathomably dense urban landscape, even beyond what I experienced in Shanghai in 2009. It might be disquieting to some, but I find it welcoming. Lu Wei used computer software to generate the patterns which we then rendered as oil on canvas. Another work that made use of mathematical processes to direct traditional painting practice was Shang Yixin’s acrylic work 1061.

Shang Yixin.  1061.  Acrylic on Canvas.

[1061, by Shang Yixini (Chinese, b. 1980). Acrylic on canvas. Courtesy of Rubell Family Collection, Miami. © Shang Yixin. Photo by CatSynth (Instagram)]

The artist uses the the square as the fundamental building block in all of his paintings. He uses precise rules to generate the patterns of colored squares, which result in different images each time. It seems he must be using stencils or edges to get such precise shapes and textures from acrylic.

An equally modernist but very different type of painting could be found in Zhu Jinshi’s Black and White Summer Palace – Black. The paint was applied using trowels to create a thick and presumably quite heavy topographical structure. It brought to mind the incredibly heavy painting The Rose by Jay DeFao.

Black and White Summer Palace – Black by Zhu Jinshi
[Black and White Summer Palace – Black by Zhu Jinshi (Chinese, b. 1954). Image from The Asian Art Museum’s Tumblr.]

There were quite a few interesting sculptural and conceptual works in the exhibition. One of the highlights was Zhu Jinshi’s monumental installation, Boat. It composed entirely of layered calligraphy paper and bamboo rods suspended from the ceiling. It was over 40 feet long, and visitors could walk inside of it.

Boat, 2012, by Zhu Jinshi (Chinese, b. 1954). Xuan paper, bamboo, and cotton thread
[Boat, 2012, by Zhu Jinshi (Chinese, b. 1954). Xuan paper, bamboo, and cotton thread. Courtesy of Rubell Family Collection, Miami. © Zhu Jinshi. Photo by CatSynth (Instagram)]

Not as large in size, but also quite monumental in its weight was Ai Weiwei’s conceptual sculpture A Ton of Tea, which literally was a ton of tea compressed into a cube.

A Ton of Tea, by Ai Weiwei
[A Ton of Tea, by Ai Weiwei (Chinese, b. 1957). Courtesy of Rubell Family Collection, Miami. © Ai Weiwei. Photo by CatSynth (Instagram)]

The setting for this piece and many others was inventive juxtaposition by the museum of works in the exhibition with the more traditional pieces from their permanent collection. The contemporary works stood quite a part from the traditional, but was interesting to see a few thousand years of Chinese artist practice all together.

One more surprising and intense conceptual work was He Xiangyu’s installation Cola Project, in which he boiled down 127 tons of Coca Cola to create a highly corrosive black residue. He used this as an ink to create traditional Chinese ink-on-paper drawings. In addition to the drawings, the installation featured a case of the rather disturbing substance, and the even more disturbing photos and videos from the worksite where large industrial cauldrons were creating it. The scene suggested a poorly regulated industrial site, and the room was filled with an odor of burnt caramel (probably emitted from the drawings). It was a rather intense work. And fortunately I am not fond of cola.

Like any good exhibition, this one inspired me in my own artist ideas – especially the two-dimension works. It also made me reminisce about my adventures at galleries and art districts in urban China, such as Shanghai’s Moganshan Road, which I’m sure has changed in the 6 years since I was last there.

28 Chinese is on display at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco through tomorrow, Sunday, August 16. If you are in the area I recommend checking it out.

Outsound New Music Summit: Vision Music 

The final night of the Outsound New Music Summit featured three sets combining music with visuals. The room was dark, with all illumination coming from the visuals on the screen and the sonic elements abstractly arrayed around them.

The evening opened with Mika Pontecorvo’s project Bridge of Crows performing an improvised set to a segment Pontecorvo’s film The Bedouin Poet of Mars: The Last Poet.

Mika Pontecorvo
[Photo: PeterBKaars.com]

The film’s story is a bleak tale of a poet who is the last survivor of a once-thriving civilization on Mars, searching for a home for himself and the last surviving plant. He sees the results of several self-destructive civilizations on his journey. Despite the dark subject matter, the visuals themselves were lively and abstract at times, with lots of interesting visual and image processing.

Bedouin Poets of Mars : The Last Poet

The music moved in and out of a variety of textures and dynamic levels, though the focus remained on the visuals throughout. Joining the regular ensemble was Bob Marsh, wearing one of his trademark suits and performing on a string instrument made from a tree.

Bob Marsh
[Photo: PeterBKaars.com]

One disadvantage of the darkened environment was that I did not get to see much of Marsh or his instrument, which I would have liked to. Rounding out the ensemble were Kersti Abrams on winds, Elijah Pontecorvo on electric bass, Greg Baker on electronics, hydrophone and clarinet, Mark Pino on percussion, and Mariko Miyakawa on vocals.

Next up was Tender Buttons, a trio featuring Tania Chen on small instruments, with Gino Robair and Tom Djil on analog modular synthesizers. The trio performed sounds against live interactive video by Bill Thibault.

Tender Buttons
[Photo: PeterBKaars.com]

The set was anchored by Chen’s piano, which ranged from intricate and complex to loud and aggressive, augmented by small toy instruments. The piano interlaced with Thibault’s abstract visuals, which started out simply but grew more complex over the course of the set. Throughout, the visuals displayed words from Gertrude Stein’s poem Tender Buttons, but were increasingly mixed with the more complex elements.

Tender Buttons
[Photo: PeterBKaars.com]

Robair and Djll provided a variety of adept sounds from modular synthesizers and circuit-bent electronics to complement the piano and video.

The final set featured live interactive video by Bill Hsu with James Fei on reeds and Gino Robair returning on percussion.

James Fei with Bill Hsu visuals
[Photo: PeterBKaars.com]

I am quite from the minimalist quality in Bill Hsu’s visuals. The began with very simple geometric elements, but soon hope added a bit of controlled chaos that led to very organic elements on the screen.

Bill Hsu visuals

Befitting the visuals, the music in this set was more sparse, with moments of quiet and loud solo bursts from Robair and Fei. Robair percussion worked best with the early geometric elements, and Fei’s complex runs on saxophone worked well with the more organic visuals.

I enjoy sets that integrate visuals and music into a single unit. It can sometimes be a challenge to take everything in, much less write about it afterwards. But I hope this gives a little insight into the evening. It was a good closing concert for this years Summit, and was appreciated by those who came only that night as well as the loyal audience members who were there most or all days. This concludes the 2015 Outsound New Music Summit, and I look forward to its return next year.

Outsound New Music Summit: Electro-Plate

The third night of the Outsound New Music Summit featured three sets that spanned a wide range of electronic music history, from analog modular synthesizers to digital laptops and an eclectic mix of technologies in between.

First up was a “power trio” on Serge Modular synthesizers featuring LX Rudis, Doug Lynner and Dmitri SFC.

Serge synthesizer trio
[Photo PeterBKaars.com.]

I have heard all three perform of Serge synthesizers before, but never together in this way. The result combined their very different performance styles, with intricate and meticulous musical details from Doug Lynner and driving beats from Dmitri SFC. There were also a variety of drones, noise hits and other sonic elements throughout the performance, which consisted of a single 40-minute improvisation.

Next up Instagon with edition 684 of Lob’s long-running project. This all-electronic mixer set featured Andrew Wayne, Tim White, Thomas Dimuzio, Marc Schneider, Mark Pino and Jack Hertz.

Instagon
[Photo PeterBKaars.com.]

As with most Instagon mixer sets, each of the performed improvised freely in his instruments, with Lob conducting and sculpting the performance in real time on a mixer. The result is at times chaotic and cacophonic, but appropriately so and mixed with sparser moments where the details of a particular playing were brought out. One of the unifying elements was recorded text that appeared at various times before being obscured beneath the noise.

The final set was a digital laptop trio featuring Thea Farhadian, Aaron Oppenheim and Tim Perkis. This was an ensemble formed specifically for this concert.

Thea Farhadian, Tim Perkis, Aaron Oppenheim
[Photo PeterBKaars.com.]

For a while it was rather common to see musicians performing solo or in ensembles exclusively with laptops and digital-processing software. It seems to be less common at the moment with the resurgence of hardware synthesizers, and it is becoming more common to see electronic musicians including analog synthesizers like the classic Serge modulars from the first set. This transition is something I have myself participated in as a performing electronic musician. But the trio on this night reminded me of some of the unique sounds that digital systems can create, with access to samples, jumps, and signal processing that takes advantage of artifacts and computation, such as FM and granular synthesis. There was also more subtlety in the music for this set, with some very quiet moments. Unlike the previous sets, this one was broken up into a few distinct compositions.

Overall, it was interesting to hear the different strains of disciplines within electronic music juxtaposed as they were on this evening. Perhaps an interesting follow up would be to pair a modular synth performer with a digital laptop performer in a future concert.

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 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.)