Surplus 1980 10″/CD release. Please support us!

I am excited to be part of not one but two upcoming recording releases. In addition to Reconnaissance Fly, I will be appearing on the next release of Moe! Staiano’s Surplus 1980 project. This is also my first recording that will be released on vinyl :).

Surplus 1980 is a post-punk band of a rotating line up of some fine musicians, many extending from great bands to be heard on this project including members from the Ex, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, and Faun Fables, among others, including Mute Socialite…Musicians, besides Moe! Staiano (drums, percussion, guitar, bass, piano, vocals), on this release will include guitarist Bill Wolter and Melne Murphy, Bassists Alee Karim and Vicky Grossi (also doubling on violin), percussionist Jordan Glenn, keyboardist Amar Chaudhary, alto clarinetist Aaron Novik, and on oboe, Kyle Bruckmann. Possible vocal guest from G.W. Sok, formerly of the Ex (and currently with the French band Cannibales & Vahinés).

You can find out more at our Kickstarter page, and please consider supporting us so we can make this release happen!

ReCardiacs Fly, Wiener Kids, and Dominque Leone at the Starry Plough

After our first ReCardiacs Fly performance this past spring, we were hoping for an opportunity to perform again. That opportunity came (and went) at the beginning of December as part of an energetic night of music at the Starry Plough in Berkeley that also featured Wiener Kids and Dominique Leone.

ReCardiacs Fly is the coming together of several members of Reconnaissance Fly (Polly Moller, Amar Chaudhary, Tim Walters, Chris Broderick) with Moe! Staiano, Marc Laspina and Suki O’kane as a tribute to the UK band Cardiacs. We performed a full set of Cardiacs songs – the four from the previous show as well as several new ones – with as much authenticity and energy as we could. Much of the work in learning these songs involves mastering the complex meter and rhythm changes that can often be quite unpredictable, and we spent a lot of time practicing in preparation for the show. And the work paid off. I thought R.E.S. in particular came out well, but you can hear for yourself in this video:

[Videography by Marjorie Sturm.]

I am still not sure what R.E.S. stands for.

I also thought Wooden Fish on Wheels came out well – it’s not as hard musically as R.E.S. and some of the others, as it stays in a relatively steady 4/4 ska-like rhythm. I would like take another shot at getting Burn Your House Brown and In A City Lining (both of which I quite like) up to the same level. Overall, however, it was a great performance, and we had a very enthusiastic response from the large crowd at the Starry Plough.

[Photo by Tom Djll.]

As one can see from the above photo, Polly was definitely getting into the character of lead singer Tim Smith. Most of our digital cameras cannot keep up.

The evening opened with Wiener Kids (Jordan Glenn, Aram Shelton and Cory Wright). They are one of the more unusual trios, with Glenn on drums and Shelton and Wright on reeds. As a result, their music has a very sparse texture, which they use to great effect for complex rhythms and lines. I found myself caught up in the patterns with lots of syncopations and unisons and empty space. Every so often they would come together into one jazz-like idiom or another before spreading out again with their unique texture.

Wiener Kids were followed by Dominique Leone together with Ava Mendoza, Aaron Novik and Jordan Glenn pulling double-duty by appearing in two out of three bands. And they were quite a contrast, with thick textures and rich harmony and a more song-like quality, but equally tight in terms of rhythm and phrasing. I found myself particularly interested in Aaron Novik’s use of bass clarinet as the equivalent of a bass guitar, complete with electronic effects.

This won’t be the last ReCardiacs Fly show, as we already have one planned for March in San Francisco. But until then, it’s back to some of the other musical projects. We conclude with an image of some flowers that fulfilled their deranged-rock destiny that evening.

[Photo by Michael Zelner.]

May 9 at Bluesix: Aaron Novik’s Thorny Brocky and Sqwonk

Last Saturday, I went with friends to the Bluesix Acoustic Room. As the name suggests, this small venue in the Mission District of San Francisco presents acoustic acts. I have seen several interesting shows here, including some experimental ensembles, dance and avant-garde jazz. This show tended towards the latter, with Aaron Novik’s Thorny Brocky ensemble and special guests Sqwonk.

Sqwonk are a bass clarinet duo consisting of Jon Russell and Jeff Anderle. By their own admittance, there is not much of a repertoire for two bass clarinets. But they were able to put together a full set of composed pieces, including one by Novik. Much of their performance was quite harmonic and consonant, including power chords (check out the selection on their MySpace for an example). But there were also interesting microtones and multiphonics that one can do on a clarinet. They also played with the effects of playing unison or near unison or similar lines out of phase. Towards the end, things got quite loud (especially for such a small space as Bluesix), demonstrating the power of these instruments. I am quite partial to the clarinet family, having played the instrument in my youth and composed for Bb and bass clarinet quartet.

Aaron Novik’s Thorny Brocky began their set with bass and light percussion – drummer Jamie Moore definitely has a very light touch that several of us noticed and remarked upon. The bass and percussion were matched by Novik’s bass clarinet key clicks, and eventually by the strings. The odd-time rhythms and phrases of the first two pieces had a strong roll and undulation that was easy to get lost in. There were other moments throughout the set that caught my attention, such as the unisons between different the bass clarinet, violin and accordion, and a bass solo with ethereal accordion tones. A rhythmic moment where the ensemble switched from their syncopated rhythms into a straight swing. There were sections that evoked classical and dramatic music of the 19th century, and some softer “show-tune-like” harmonies. The set ended with what Novik described as their “metal project” – it actually sounded quite familiar, and made me recall that I had seen them at Bluesix before.

Weekend music events

This article features a few highlights from a a very musical extended weekend – something we at CatSynth would like to see become “routine.”

We start out Thursday at the Luggage Store Gallery, where OutSound hosts a regular Thursday night series. This is the series and venue that I played with Polly Moller and Company in February, and where I will be doing a solo set in May. On this particular night, there were two rather contrasting sets that featured “guitar and electronics.”

The first set was a duo by San Diego-based Nathan Hubbard and Noah Phillips. This is one of several groups I have seen generating sound from purely from electrical noise in the devices. Essentially, this involves taking the low-volume noise present in most electronic lines and processing and amplifying it to generate sounds. The result is a mixture of standard electrical noise and hums, heavy distortion, chirps and whistles, and staccato textures. The best moments were when the noise was at low volume, subtle, and you had to specifically listen for it behind the guitar.

The second set was from Berlin-based Schriftfisch and billed as “experimental ambient noise with Julian Percy & Farahnaz Hatam.”

It is amazing how different the computer-based electronic sounds from Farahnaz Hatam were from the electrical sounds in previous set. Guitar techniques included bowing and other electrical and mechanical devices, as well as standard “rock electronic guitar”. There were many times were the guitar and laptop-electronics blended such that one could not tell who was generating which sound. At other times, it was easy to tell the guitar, even with processing, from the sounds of the laptop, which had the “computer-music” sound, liquidy, percussive and granular.

A very different night of music occurred Sunday at the Switchboard Music Festival. For one, it was in a small concert hall, rather than a gallery. And it was largely focused on “contemporary classical” music and various crossover styles rather than the more experimental music offered by the Luggage Store series.

I got to the festival around 5PM or so. Unfortunately, this meant that I missed Slydini, which includes fellow “Polly Moller & Company” member Bill Wolter and other musicians that I know. Sorry about that. I did arrive to hear one of the more “contemporary classical” sets featuring a small-ensemble composition by Jonathan Russel that was reminiscent of minimalism (i.e., John Adams, Philip Glass, etc.) and folk influences, but with a backbeat (including a few disco moments). Such pieces are a reminder that “contemporary” music is different from “modern.” Contemporary music tends to be less focused on pushing the boundaries (in sometimes harsh directions) and more into embracing (multiple) traditions. I am an unapologetic modernist, but I still enjoy hearing “contemporary” music sometimes.

This was followed by one of the more intriguing pieces of the evening, Parangal by Robin Estrada. It featured a collection of wooden instruments that were simultaneously “primitive” and “modern”, buzzers, tubes, whistles and plates.

Towards the end of the piece, the musicians handed out small stones to the audience, which of course we all instinctively knew meant that we were supposed to play. The musicians gradually fell silent as the audience’s stone rhythm emerged. Of course, someone dropped his/her stones, and others had to follow, and this became part of the performance.

The next set was a chamber-ensemble piece by Aaron Novik. I probably wasn’t the only who noticed that people were clapping between movements, which is generally a big “no no” in concert performances. But Aaron encouraged the audience to continue doing so, indeed he was quite a character with jokes in between movements. The piece did move between long tones (such as the opening with tuba and bass clarinet) and more percussive sections, and was one of several works during the evening to have a rather strong Klezmer influence.

Amy X Neuberg performed next, and her set included several pieces I recognized from the previous times I have heard her perform – I have even shared a program with her a couple of times (notably the 2003 Woodstockhausen festival). There was “My God” (is Hiding in a Foxhole), and “Life Stepped In”, among others. One thing I am always impressed by is how tight her performances are, very clean and punctuated and “professional”, given the technology she employs. The highlight of her set was the “special secret surprise appearance” (or something to that effect) by the Del Sol String Quartet. It was a great combination.

Perhaps this is a good moment to point out how hard it is to photograph performing musicians, especially if you don’t have a tripod and feel obliged not to use a flash.

The Del Sol String Quartet performed a full set, with clarinetist Jeff Anderle (one of the organizers of the festival), playing Osvaldo Gilijov’s “Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind.” This piece was very strongly influenced by Klezmer and Eastern European folk music that permeated late 19th and early 20th century classical music. Indeed, it contributed to a sense I had that this was turning into the “Klezmer Festival”, which so many pieces featuring clarinet. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

The next set brought “featuring clarinet” to another level, with a bass-clarinet quartet of Cornelius Boots, Jeff Anderle, Aaron Novik and Jonathan Russel:

I was very interested in the bass-clarinet quartet format, and would actually like to write a piece this or an equivalent ensemble. The instruments have a great range of tone, from traditional clarinet sound, to robust bass fifths and octaves, to harmonics and distortion reminiscent of electric guitar. The latter was very strongly on display in their cover of a tune by the Pixies. Indeed, the whole set had a very humorous feel, including a piece that moved from a more modern intro do a section that sounded like “50s rock” and got a laugh from the audience.

The final set was Gamelan X. Not exactly a traditional gamelan, but rather a mixture of gamelan instruments, electronics, drums and saxophone:

And their music had a strong jazz/funk feel, mixing gamelan percussion and the easy-to-recognize sounds of a Nord Lead (well, easy to recognize for someone who has a website about electronic music). Here we see the reyong players “getting down” with some serious choreography:

So in the end there was more variety in the festival that just “contemporary classical.”

I could have actually made it a clean sweep this weekend with music events – I did have more personal events going on Friday and Saturday. However, even those were musical, but that is a topic for another time…

This post was included in the April 2 edition of the Carnival of Cities at Perceptive Travel Blog.