New False Gods &The Xman, LSG Creative Music Series

It’s been a while since I have been able to attend Outsound’s regular weekly music series at the Luggage Store Gallery, but I was finally able to do so a week ago. The show featured two very different sets focused on electronics.

First up was the New False Gods, a “supergroup” of sorts featuring Eli Pontecorvo , Jack Hertz, Doug Lynner, Tom Djll, and R Duck.

New False Gods

I am quite familiar with all the artists and count them all as friends, but this is the first time I heard them together as this unit. Musically, this was an improvised set, but Jack Hertz’s rhythmic percussion helped provide a structural foundation for the other sounds, which varied from sparse and light to thick noisy pads. Doug Lynner provided intricate sounds on his Serge modular, and Tom Djll had an intriguing setup with trumpet driving a modular synth.

Doug Lynner, Tom Djll

Next up was Charles Xavier, aka The Xman performing a solo set with electronics and small sound makers. The central instrument in his setup was a malletKAT, an electronic MIDI mallet percussion instrument.

The Xman (Charles Xavier)

The Xman was musically quite different from the New False Gods. In addition to presenting a series of composed pieces as opposed to a set-length improvisation, his music was centered on standard tonal pitches, albeit sometimes in more atonal arrangements. There was a gentle and playful quality to many of the pieces.

Overall, it was a good night to come back to the series. Hopefully it won’t be so long before I attend again.

Wayne Shorter Quartet at SFJAZZ

Last month I had the privilege of seeing the Wayne Shorter Quartet at the SFJAZZ Center.

Wayne Shorter Quartet at SFJAZZ

Over the years, many of his compositions have become standards in the jazz world, and he has had a long and illustrious career with Art Blakey, Miles Davis Quintet, Weather Report, and more. In each case he has reinvented and reinvigorated his music, most recently with an all acoustic quartet featuring Danilo Pérez (piano), Brian Blade (drums), and John Patitucci on bass. It was this band that we saw on this occasion.

This band took a very original approach to Shorter’s compositions, some of which were very recent (there was a suggestion some the material was even new for the show). What made it most interesting was how subtle and sparse the music was, rarely did we hear a head or chord pattern in its entirety. The music was nonetheless extremely intricate and tight. There weren’t defined roles of a rhythm section and solo instrument in a traditional sense, but everyone took on every role, including Brian Blade’s drums. Especially when Wayne Shorter was playing, it affects the whole tenor of the proceedings (no pun intended). He would only play a few notes and then pause for a time, but those few were enough to take command of the direction of the song. But each musician had a role that transcended their instrument. Blade’s drumming could be at times quite forceful and his use of vocalizations quite curious, but these were moments of punctuation and in between he was very metric and even quiet at times with just enough hint of time to keep things moving. Danilo Pérez was a force of nature on the piano, and his pouring through reams of sheet music as he played was a reminder that these were fully formed compositions and not simply free improvisations.

The complexity and subtlety made it challenging even for seasoned fans to pick out the individual tunes. But we are pretty sure we heard an extended workout on Sanctuary (best known version appears on the B side of Bitches Brew); Aung San Suu Kyi (timely given the elections in Myanmar); and we thought that encore was an acoustic and distilled version of Joyrider. It was a perhaps funkier and more accessible way to send the audience off for the evening.

Ellis Street, San Francisco

Looking westward out from my office in San Francisco, I can see the entirety of Ellis Street, heading from downtown towards the interior hills of the city. Recently, I finally got a chance to walk the street from one end to the other.

Ellis Street downtown view from building

Ellis Street is a relatively modest east-west street, but like many others in this city it traverses a diverse cross-section of terrains and neighborhoods. It begins at the intersection with Market Street and Stockton Street, shown in the photo above. At the corner is the San Francisco’s flagship Apple Store. The large construction project that has taken over the intersection is part of the new Central Subway project, in particular, a series of tunnels that will connect the existing Powell Street BART and MUNI station to the new line that goes up Stockton Street.

At ground level, we can see the mixture of tall buildings, hotels, restaurants and tourist places that dominate the blocks around Union Square.

Ellis Street near Union Square

The street is an exercise in contrasts. As we move just a couple of blocks westward, the cityscape gives way to older ornate buildings house boutique hotels, lounges, dive bars, massage parlors, youth hostels, and apartments of long time residents trying to hold on in a changing and increasingly unaffordable city.

Ellis Street sign

Heading into the heart of the Tenderloin (“TL”) we cross Taylor Street, which we wrote about this summer. The neighborhood has its reputation for being sketchy and having among the last concentrated pockets of poverty in the city, but the diverse neighborhood contains beautiful architecture and a wide range of people and interests.

Ellis Street, TL

Friends live here. There are cultural institutions here, such as the “509 Annex” of the Luggage Store Gallery where the regular Outsound New Music Series was temporarily hosted (it is now back at the main LSG building on Market Street). A couple of blocks south is the new home of Counterpulse, an experimental performance arts organization. Glide Memorial Church is a veritable institution at the corner of Ellis and Taylor that serves many in the neighborhood and beyond.

The social and architectural landscape again changes dramatically as we approach Van Ness Avenue, one of the main north-south boulevards in the city. It is lined with both tall (and expensive) apartment buildings as well as quite a few car dealerships.

Ellis and Van Ness

Heading west from Van Ness on Ellis we continue up an incline to Cathedral Hill. Not surprisingly, there is a cathedral here: specifically St. Mary’s, a beautiful gem of modernist architecture. They also have a huge modern pipe organ and I have heard several concerts there.

St Mary's Cathedral

Several of the apartment buildings in these blocks are quite tall, and remind me more of 1960s/1970s New York City apartments than those typically associated with San Francisco. I particularly like this cylindrical building.

Apartment building on Cathedral Hill

Continuing westward, we enter a more low-rise residential neighborhood, and the first of a few continuity gaps in Ellis Street. It stops at block of schools anchored by Rosa Parks Elementary School before picking up again a block later.

Dead end at Rosa Parks Elementary School

This section of the street has quite a few gaps, actually, some of which are probably from the redevelopment of the Fillmore District. Indeed, Ellis is mostly pedestrian walkways at its intersection with Fillmore in the middle of the “Jazz Heritage District”. A block south is the building Fillmore Heritage Center that housed the ill-fated San Francisco branch of Yoshi’s.


It still has a restaurant and concert venue under various managements, as well as the larger-than-life photos on its facade.

When Ellis Street resumes two blocks to the west, it is a smaller, treelined residential street with pretty two-story residences of the classic San Francisco style.

Ellis Street residential block

The next large crossing is Divisadero. I have never quite figured out exactly what it is that Divisadero is dividing.

Ellis and Divisadero

In recent years Divisadero has been a destination street in itself. I have done a bit of photography here a few blocks south, and had one of my photos from that set displayed in a show at Rare Device.

Just past the intersection is the final uphill block that I had been able to see from the office window.

Final block of Ellis Street

It is the steepest block of the street, and the houses reflect that. This is a rather archetypical San Francisco street scape.

Iconic San Francisco residential block

Ellis Street ends at the top of the rise at an unassuming intersection with St Joseph’s Street.

Terminus of Ellis Street

St Joseph’s is one of several streets here that is confined to the small hill neighborhood of Anza Vista. Over a century ago, this area was a large cemetery. All the plots have long since been moved to Colma, and it is now a fancy hilltop neighborhood whose apartment buildings and houses look more like the Berkeley hills or Daly City than the traditional parts of San Francisco.

Anza Vista

The architectural dissonance is not surprising as Anza Vista was developed after World War II.

The walk was quite a nice one, not too long or strenuous and it was a lovely warm autumn day. But I was ready for a break, and caught a 38 Geary Express MUNI back downtown and plotted future walking adventures for the city.

APAture 2015: Music and Comics

Kearny Street Workshop’s APAture 2015 festival continued this past weekend with more showcases in multiple fields. I was able to attends parts of two of them, and share these brief notes.

The Music Showcase took place last Friday at Bindlestiff Studio in the SOMA neighborhood of San Francisco (it’s our home neighborhood at CatSynth). There was a wide range of musical styles present.

The evening opened with reggie-infused sounds and rhythms from Iridium.


Next up was ebolabuddha, an intense metal band that featured reading of books in addition to the playing of instruments (quite loudly).


The band featured some familiar faces, including Eli Pontecorvo on bass/vocals and Mark Pino on drums with Steve Jong on guitar and vocals.


Combination of the forceful and physically driving music with the book readings (in addition to guest performers, everyone was invited to come up and read) was quite fun.

The tone and energy changed abruptly with MC a.K.aye (aka Ahmed Kap Animo), whose words with both playful and at times featured strong messages that resonated with many in the audience.


Next was The Vibrant Things featuring Amy Dabalos on vocals. Dabalos had a fantastic and inspiring voice that worked well the group’s mixture of jazz, R&B and cabaret sounds. I also always enjoy seeing other groups with Nord keyboards.


One of the more unique showcases of APAture is the Comics and Illustration showcase, which took place on Saturday at the main branch of the San Francisco Public Library.

Comics and Illustration showcase

At first glance, the event has a nerdy vibe and many familiar styles and tropes of popular Asian comics. But many of the artists also featured strong messages in their work. Artist Bo explores queer and transgender identities in his comics. Pixelated follows the experience of a biological female passing as a male and suddenly being assumed to have strong technical skills, poking fun at gender stereotypes around technology.

Featured artist Thi Bui presented meticulously drawn art including her graphic novel The Best We Could Do, an “immigration epic” about her family. She also made drawings of visitors to the event as a fundraiser for Kearny Street Workshop.

[© Kearny Street Workshop/ Shuntaro Ogata]

I particularly enjoyed Cecilia Wong’s colorful illustrations, many of which featured cats. I of course had to purchase a copy of one. I look forward to seeing more of her work in the future.

Cecilia Wong

Wong also gave a presentation of color, with tips on both theory and practice. It gave me a few thoughts for color in future graphic designs to complement my usual black&white styles.

Also present at the event was the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, a “non-profit organization dedicated to the protection of the First Amendment rights of the comics art form and its community of retailers, creators, publishers, librarians, and readers.” I was not familiar with them, but on reflection I’m not surprised that many comics artist may need such defense, especially when the challenge traditional norms and authority (something that we at CatSynth wholeheartedly support).

Optical Sounds: Dementia (Frith, Custer, Stanley)

Optical Sounds is a monthly series at the Center For New Music in San Francisco, curated by Tania Chen with Benjamin Ethan Tinker featuring live improvisation to soundless films. We had the opportunity to attend the most recent installment, which featured a trio of Fred Frith, Beth Custer and Christina Stanley interpreting the 1955 dialogue-less film “Dementia” by John Parker.

DementiaWe at CatSynth often enjoy unusual films, but “Dementia” is weird even among weird films, though the Variety description “May be the strangest film ever offered for theatrical release” seems a bit hyperbolic. The film follows the inner thoughts and actions of a woman as she wanders through dark corners of Los Angeles with even darker characters, while recalling violent events of her childhood. The film is part psychological thriller, part film noir, and part surrealist experiment, constantly jumping between the tropes of all three.

The original soundtrack featured music by George Antheil and a section with Shorty Rogers and his band who also appeared in the film. For this performance however, the original soundtrack was absent with Frith, Custer and Stanley providing the music. The constantly-changing nature of the film was reflected in the music, with eerie vocals by Beth Custer, percussive hits by Custer and Fred Frith, and a mixture of processed violin and analog synthesizer by Stanley. Overall, the music was energetic, with moments of chaos, but also some mellower pads by Stanley on synth. They did blend some film-score tropes into the performance, such as eerie sounds for the internal memories and thoughts of the main character, tense bits of sound for the dark streets of the city, and jazzy cabaret style riffs for the night-club scenes – the latter were definitely my favorite parts of the music.

The dialog-less nature of the film does facilitate such an improvised score, but the oddness of its structure must have made it challenging. But the trio pulled it off. I am glad to have been able to attend the performance and look forward to more in this series.

APAture 2015 Visual Arts Showcase

Kearny Street Workshop’s APAture 2015: Future Tense is underway. This year’s festival invited 65 emerging artists to “imagine what’s possible for the future, with particular interest in how social change might be exhibited in their work.” As in past years, the opening night featured the visual arts showcase with performances and food.

APAture 2015 opening

Here we see part of the wall-sized piece by featured artist Kimberley Acebo Arteche. Traditional clothing patterns are reimagined on a larger-life-scale with pixelated digital prints on cloth. The work brings together traditional practices and a bit of personal nostalgia with a modern ubiquitous technology for images.

Another large piece that makes use of technologies and mixed media was Grace Kim’s room-sized installation Breathing Wall IV, which combined LED lights, sound, tape and other media into a visually captivating immersive space of colors, light and lines. You can experience a bit of it in this short video, though it truly must be seen in person.

Grace Kim. Breathing Wall IV. Mixed media and electronics. #APAture #apature2015

A video posted by CatSynth / Amanda C (@catsynth) on

We at CatSynth are always on the lookout for cats in art exhibitions, and we weren’t disappointed. Alan Khum’s art frequently features cats – I had just seen many of his feline works at a completely separate show for First Thursday the night before – and here he combines house cats together with one of their larger wild cousins.

Alan Khum

I particularly like the expressiveness of the cats.

Another playful piece was Austin Boe’s mirrored pieces exploring queer identity. This one featured a mirrored surface and the French phrase je vous aimas (I like you).

Austin Boe

We can see Grace Kim’s piece in the background, along with a video piece by Tianxing Wan called Invisible Man, juxtaposing a ghostly figure simultaneously in San Francisco’s bustling Union Square and in a Chinese village.

Another challenging work was Nicholas Oh’s ceramic piece. A sideways glance suggests a simple ceramic tea set with traditional materials and configuration, but on closer inspection one realizes that the figures on the set represent the Japanese Americans held at internment camps during World War II. Indeed, Oh uses his medium of ceramics to lay bare images of racism.

Nicholas Oh

Jeremy Villaluz’s photograph series Midnights was, by contrast, quite comforting, despite the dark and moody nature of the images. Here we see the dark but nonetheless alive corners of urban life.

Jeremy Villaluz

There is a starkness to these images and lots of space, but also a familiarity with these edges of the urban landscape, and perhaps a bit of sadness (on my part) that such places are fading.

In additional to the visual art, there were presentations and performances. Kimberley Arteche had a chance to speak briefly about her work and her participation in this year’s festival standing in front of her piece.

Kimberley Arteche

Caroline Calderon presented poetry and music around issues of community, identity, and social justice.

Caroline Calderon

Her spoken-word and musical tributes to her complex relationship with the city of San Francisco rang pretty true for me as well, as I continue to feel in love with this city while simultaneous feeling a bit more alienated at times.

Joseph Nontanovan presented poetry and food and words about food, in particular about his Lao heritage and the characteristic ingredients of Lao cuisine. He treated us to words as well as the aromas and a chance to sample a traditional dish made from fermented sausage, vegetables, rice, and of course cilantro. It was delicious.

Joseph Nontanovan's culinary offering

It often seems that food, words and images intersect at Kearny Street Workshop events, a combination which is welcome and also reflects to increasing shift of programs back to the organizations roots in combining arts with identity and community activism. I look forward to more of this year’s APAture festival over the coming weeks. You can see a full schedule of events at the official website.