Experi-MENTAL night at TheaterLab, New York

Today we look back at the second of my November performances in New York. This one took place at Theater Lab in Manhattan in one of the venue’s stark white studios that served as both performance venue and blank canvas. There were several now-familar faces from east coast shows, as well as new artists that I heard for the first time.

The show opened with an acoustic performance by PAS, featuring Robert L. Pepper, Amber Brien, Michael Durek and John “Vomit” Worthley with guest Carlo Altomare (one of the founders of TheaterLab) on piano. The acoustic instruments included a wide variety of percussion, strings and winds, as well as DIY combinations of objects (buckets, balloons, etc.) to produce other sounds. In this way, they played acoustic instruments as if they were synthesizers.

[PAS. (Click images to enlarge.)]

The performance moved between gradually evolving by strongly rhythmic material and more freeform noise textures, all expressive and performed with a wide dynamic range. At various times, the performers moved around the space, among the audience and up into the loft, which added a theatrical element as well as spatialization. You can see and hear for yourself in this video:

PAS live with Carlo Altomare at Experi-MENTAL Night at Theaterlab. November 26th, 2011 from PAS Music on Vimeo.

The particular combination of instruments and idiomatic playing gave portions of the performance an Asian feel (particularly at the beginning of the video), but even there the piano provides an avant-gard counterpoint and the overall texture moves to something more reminiscent of Henry Cowell before moving into a more experimental dramatic mode featuring Altomare soloing on piano and Pepper repeatedly chanting “Piano Man!” I like how they were able to move so easily between the different timbres and textures and rhythms without stopping, except of course for the silences that occurred in response to the instruction “Silence!” In all, a great set that set a confident tone for the entire evening.

Next was a duo featuring Richard Lainhart on a Buchla synthesizer and Lucio Menegon on strings and effects. They performed a live improvised set to a film by Scratch Film junkies.

The film was beautiful and mesmerizing, though I did find myself also watching the Buchla to see and hear what was happening. In general, the synth performance was subtle and blended well with the string sounds to produce an overall ambient texture, with occasional metallic and inharmonic swells. The eerie and slowly moving sound fit the abstract video, with frequently changing clips overlaid with digital effects that simulated paint and chemical treatment. At times, the harmonies and timbres seemed to approach an acoustic orchestra and choir, as one might hear in a science fiction film, while others seemed to channel the sounds of bowed metal and glass.

PAS presents Experi-MENTAL Night with a duo by Richard Lainhart and Lucio Menegon at Theaterlab from PAS Music on Vimeo.

This was followed by a trio featuring Jay Pluck on piano, Julia Violet on vocals, and Michael Durek returning, this time on theremin.

[Jay Pluck, Julia Violet, and Michael Durek. Photos by Michael Zelner. (Click to enlarge.)]

This was the most traditional and idiomatic of any set during the show. The songs were songs, quite lyrical and featuring traditional harmonies and melodic lines for voice and theremin. The introduction featured a theremin solo – Durek is quite good at getting standard pitching and phrasings from the instrument – set against gently rolling arpeggios of romantic chords on the piano. As Violet’s vocals enter, the music takes on a light cabaret feel, but the theremin backed with Mini-Kaoss Pad effects, continues to give it a somewhat otherworldly quality. The second song, which featured more major harmonies, had a bit of a 1960s rock quality to it, as if it was it was a song from a popular album rescored for piano and voice. Here the theremin had a bit of a darker tone.

After that it was time to take the stage. It was basically the same setup as a few nights earlier at the AvantElectroExpectroExtravaganza in Brooklyn, but with a few musical differences. I opened with a newly programmed piece that featured timbres based on the Bohlen 833 scale in which I could call up individual pitches and harmonics via the monome and iPad working together. The end result was a somewhat an ambient piece that was relaxed but with anxious undertones.

[Click to enlarge, if you must.]

I did reprise my Wicks Looper and Korg Monotron improvisation that had worked well at the previous performance, as well as another another piece featuring additive synthesis in which iPad-controlled tone clouds are set against short percussive tones. At the end of the set, I was joined by Robert L. Pepper from PAS for a duo improvisation featuring acoustic instruments and electronics. We started with a steady pattern on the dotara and large drum, gradually bringing in some electronic sounds controlled by the monome and other acoustic instruments and effects. Overall, we meshed very well musically despite this being our first time ever playing together! I particularly liked the moment where we were both playing string instruments, as it felt particular aligned and expressive. This gave way to a finale with dotara and drums that approached traditional folk music and a well-defined final note. You can hear the full solo and duo in this video:

Amar at TheaterLab, New York. from CatSynth on Vimeo.

The final set featured Richard Lainhart’s film The History of the Future with a live soundtrack performed by the “Orchestra of the Future”, an ad hoc ensemble featuring many of us who had performed in the previous four sets. The film featured clips and images from old educational and demonstration films featuring depictions of possible feature technologies. It’s a snapshot of “what the future used to be” in previous eras.

[Orchestra of the Future.]

The improvised soundtrack, which featured a variety of acoustic and electronic instruments, was rich in texture and dynamism and dramatic moments. Everyone did a good job of watching what was happening on the screen and listening to each other. There were moments where it seemed like the relative volumes of instruments were off, but that was a minor issue. It was a great way to end the evening (and a bit of a relief to be in the large ensemble after performing solo).

We had a decently sized audience for the show and a very positive response both during the event itself and in talking to people at the small reception afterwards. It was interesting that although this event was in New York, there were Bay Area connections both among the performers and the audience. This year has been a good one for bi-coastal collaboration and I look forward to more of it next year.

[Additional photos available at Michael Zelner’s flickr set. Additional videos available on vimeo by PAS Music and CatSynth.]

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.]

AvantElectroExpectroExtravaganza. Experimental Music Brooklyn, New York

Today we look back at the first of my two performances in New York, the appropriately named “AvantElectroExpectroExtravaganza” with a diverse collection of experimental electronic musicians. It was a small an intimate space nestled in a building in an industrial section of Brooklyn, east of Williamsburg. But we had a decently large stage and good sound reinforcement, and a small but attentive audience. And the industrial setting was one conducive to both my playing and enjoyment of art and music.

The performance began with a procession by members of the SK Orchestra improvising to sampled phrases “Hi” and “How are you doing”. For those who are not familiar with the Casia SK-1, it was a small sampling keyboard from the mid 1980s which allowed users to record and manipulate live sounds in addition to standard consumer keyboard features. The low fidelity and ease of use now makes them coveted items for many experimental electronic musicians. There were no fewer than five of them in the ensemble this evening.

[SK Orchestra. (Click image to enlarge.)]

As they sat down for the main part of the set, the sampled sounds grew more fragmented and processed, mixed with lots of dynamic swells and analog-filter-like sounds. Combined with a wide array of effects, the sounds were quick thick ranging from harmonic pads to noise to moments that could be best described as “space jam music.” I was particularly watching articulation with a Morley pedal and how it timbrally and rhythmically informed the sound. Taking advantage of the live-sampling capabilities of the SK-1, they resampled the output from the amps and PA and fed that back into the performance for a slow motion feedback loop that grew ever noisier and more forceful. The rhythms got more steady over time, with a driving beat set against the phrase “Holy Jesus!”, and eventually moved into a steady bass rhythm and pattern.

Rhythm was the main theme of the next set featuring Loop B. His theatrical and technically adept performance featured tight rhythmic patterns on found metal objects with playful choreography and beat-based electronic accompaniment. In the first piece, he performed on a large piece of metal salvaged from a vehicle with syncopated rhythms set against an electronic track. This was followed by a piece in which he donned a metal helmet, which he played against more Latin accompaniment.

[Loop B. (Click image to enlarge.)]

Other metal instruments included a wearable tube, as featured in this video clip.

And a return to the original car metal, but with a power drill.

The rhythmic character of the different pieces seemed to alternate between driving electronica and Latin elements, but this was secondary to the spectacle of the live playing. It was a unique and well-executed performance, and fun to witness. It would be interesting to hear what he could do in an ensemble setting with musicians with an equally tight sense of rhythm.

Loop B’s energetic and dynamic performance was followed by a very contrasting set by Badmitten (aka Damien Olsen). It began with eerie, ambient sounds that soon coalesced around watery elements. It gave me the sense of sitting near an alien sea shore. Pitch-bent tones were layered on top of this, and eventually noises and glitches that deliberately interrupted the ambience. A low-frequeny rhythm emerged along with a slow bass line. It seemed that music was moving from the sea to a forest.

[Badmitten. (Click image to enlarge.)]

The sounds were quite full and luscious, with guitar chords and synth pads. Over time it became darker, with modulated filter sounds and strong hits. Seemingly out of nowhere, a voice speaking in French emerged (which amused French speakers in the audience). The various sounds coalesced into a more steady monotone rhythm with minor harmonies, which started to come apart and become more chaotic. The set concluded with an electric piano solo.

It was then time to take the stage. Fortunately, we had quite a bit of time and space to set up before the show, so most everything was in place and I was able to get underway quickly after checking that the local wi-fi network between the iPad and the MacBook Pro (running Open Sound World) was working. I opened with a new version of the piece Spin Cycle / Control Freak that used the iPad in lieu of the Wacom Tablet from the original version 11 years prior. It worked quite well considering the limitations of the interface – and indeed the more rhythmic elements were easier to do in this case. This was then followed by a stereo version of the piece I composed for eight-channel surround and the dodecahedron speaker at CNMAT back in March. The timbres and expression still worked well, but I think it loses something without the advanced sound spatialization.

[Click image to enlarge.]

Perhaps the best piece of the set was the one with the simplest technology: I connected the output of the Wicks Looper to the input of the Korg Monotron for a pocket-sized but sonically intense improvisation, which you can see in the video below:

I concluded with a performance of Charmer:Firmament from my 2005 CD Aquatic.

The final set of the evening was Doom Trumpet, which did not feature a trumpet. Rather, artist David Smith performed improvised music with guitar and effects set against a video compiled from obscure science-fiction movies. I found myself focused on the visuals, and particularly liked how he opened many of the clips with a highly-processed version of the MGM lion. Musically, he layered samples and loops with live guitar performance through a variety of effects. The combination of the music and visuals (which seemed to be dated from the late 1960s through early 1980s based on costumes and hairstyles) kept things appropriately dislocated from the source material and more abstract.

[Doom Trumpet. (Click image to enlarge).]

Overall, it was a great night of music, which I was glad to be a part of. A few participants will be part of my next New York show at TheatreLab this coming Saturday, but I certainly hope to cross paths with everyone at concerts in the future.

Outsound GearExplore at Chamber Music Day

Back in mid-October, a few of us from the crew at Outsound Presents participated in Chamber Music Day at the De Young Museum in San Francisco.

There were over 140 musicians participating, with performances and demonstrations scattered around the museum. And “chamber music” was defined quite expansively to include a wide variety of instrumentation and genres, ranging from traditional classical music to experimental avant-garde ensembles and crossover groups. Our contribution was a demonstration of electronic-music gear – a mini version of “Touch the Gear Night” from the Outsound Music Summit. I primarily focused on software-based sound generation, with an iPad and a Monome connected to a MacBook running Open Sound World. Matt Davignon presented his setup featuring drum machines and effects pedals. CJ Borosque demonstrated her input-less effects change where the noise in the signal chain is the source for sound manipulation; and Rent Romus demonstrated live sound processing with a setup that included a Korg Monotron.

There was quite a large turnout overall for Chamber Music Day, and we had a lot of traffic at our demonstration table. Reactions ranged from mild curiosity to deep technical conversations. We were a particularly big hit with children, who are naturally attracted to hands-on demos and electronic gear.

[Amar Chaudhary and Matt Davignon demonstrating gear for young attendees at Chamber Music Day. Photo by Scott Chernis.]

This trio of young ladies spent a lot of time at the table exploring the various devices in great detail.

[Exploring the gear. Photo by Scott Chernis.]

They were particularly interested in the iPad. Here they are trying out the Korg iMS-20 app.

[Playing the iPad.  Photo by Scott Chernis.]

I would like to think that some of the kids (as well as a few of the adults) went off and downloaded some music-making apps for their devices and started playing. Or perhaps a casual guitarist found a new way to make sounds with his or her pedals.

Overall it was a great experience, and an opportunity for us to share what we do with musicians outside our small “new-music” community and with the general public. Thanks to the San Francisco Friends of Chamber Music (SFFCM) for inviting us to participate. To find out more about Chamber Music Day and their other events and programs, please visit their website.

[All photos in this article by Scott Chernis and provided courtesy of SFFCM.]

San Francisco Open Studios at Art Explosion

San Francisco Open Studios has been going on all of October. I have live tweeting from my various studio visits each weekend using the hashtag #SFOS. But as both the month and Open Studios draws to a close, we look back and my own experience on the first weekend, showing my photography at Art Explosion and in the showcase at SOMArts.

The works were mostly drawn from the same set that I featured in the solo show at The Parts Room in Oakland in early September, include the “triptych” of the large red, blue and yellow pieces.

The show in Oakland was a great experience, the best visual arts show to date. And I learned a lot about hanging which I put to use for Open Studios. This was most true for the showcase at SOMArts, where I showed up fully equipped to have my piece perfectly centered and mounted in the allotted space. The tools and meticulous measuring and drilling of holes seemed to impress the staff at ArtSpan.

And the work paid off with the end result (though the camera distorts the leveling a bit).

During the preview party, I received numerous positive responses from visitors and various people in the arts community.

The response at the studio itself was also positive. There weren’t always a lot of people visiting, it came in waves throughout the weekend, but those who did come were quite engaged.

[Photo from Art Explosion Studios Facebook page.]

I received both positive and constructive feedback over the weekend. One thing that is clear is the strongest works are those, like the “triptych” that focus on details of the urban landscape, a particular shape or pattern or color. Those are also among the most rewarding to work on, so I will likely focus more on this in the future. I will probably continue to have humorous pieces as well. People of course loved the big orange cat. The doll was a lot more polarizing (see the most recent Wordless Wednesday for an example), with some people really liking it and others hating it.

In balance it was a good experience – it was also great to share it with the other artists in the studio. It was also nice to get it out of the way during the first week, and spend the rest of the month as a viewer rather than presenter. But I am left with a sense of “OK, what next?” in terms my visual-art work…

Reconnaissance Fly, Equators and David Douglas, Luggage Store Gallery

Today we look back at Reconnaissance Fly’s performance last week at the Luggage Store Gallery in San Francisco. We were the third act in a concert that also featured Equators and David Douglas.

We performed selections from our “spong cycle” Flower Futures, with each band member contributing pieces based on “spoetry”, or poetry from spam messages. The Luggage Store is quite acoustically active, which can make our highly-rhythmic and punctuated music challenging. But we did the best we can with the environment, and in fact a couple of our songs, the tango-like As Neat As Wax and funk-latin-combo sanse es crede nza, were the best we had played them to date. You can hear a recording of As Neat As Wax below:

Another challenge arose from the fact that I can had forgotten the small Chinese gong that is featured at the beginning of Small Chinese Gong. Fortunately, I was able to substitute a “small iPhone gong”, and the rest of the song unfolded smoothly after that somewhat amusing start.

Once again, we performed as a quartet, with myself on keyboard and electronics, Polly Moller on flute and vocals, Tim Walters on bass and electronics, and Larry the O on drums. When we next perform, we will be five – Chris Broderick will be joining us on saxophone and clarinets.

The show opened with a set by Equators, the experimental music project of Trevor Hacker, with Cody Hennesy. They performed with guitars and effects, and an instrument that resembled an “electric hurdy gurdy.” Things started off quietly enough, with ambient guitar chords centered around a suspended major harmony. After a short time there was a sudden switch to rather loud noisy material, and the remainder of the first piece moved back and forth between these ambient and noisy elements. One particular moment featured descending noise and a loud “analog burst” followed by a softer, pentatonic pattern. The next piece followed a similar pattern, starting with odd major-mode harmonies and eerie effects, with slide guitar and looping as the major elements – gradually, the sound moved towards more noise-based elements.

Equators was followed by David Douglas performing a solo set with drums and laptop-based processing using Max/MSP. He had a standard drum set as well as numerous additional percussion instruments and a small electronic drum pad. These were used as source material for a variety of signal and event processing elements on the laptop. There result was richly textured both rhythmically and timbrally. It started off with metallic sounds processed with stretching and harmonic effects, followed by drums with pitch and delay effects. A slow repeating rhythm emerged that served as the foundation for subsequent elements with bass drum, cymbals, and other percussion. I thought the effects Douglas chose with the bells were particularly effective. Some of the rhythms were more free form, which small runs and loud hits combining with delays to form fast rhythmic passages, and longer metric patterns were combined with delays and loops to form complex counterpoint rhythms. Throughout, Douglas demonstrated a strong skill in playing the acoustic and electronic elements off one another.

It was interesting to contrast our more idiomatic set with the two more “experimental” sets that preceded us, but I thought the overall program was effective. Experimental audiences shouldn’t be afraid of a tango or a funk rhythm after noise improvisation, and I like the energy and emotional balance as a listener. Overall, it was a good show, and look forward to our next outing.

Reconnaissance Fly and FPR Trio at Luna’s Cafe, Sacramento

Today we look back Reconnaissance Fly’s performance at the Nebraska Mondays series at Luna’s Cafe in Sacramento. We had played this series last year as well and had a positive experience, and looked forward to performing again this past June. And of course, I cannot turn down an opportunity to play someplace called “Luna’s Cafe.”

It was a hot day in Sacramento. Though I have to admit, I was actually feeling relatively comfortable in the evening warmth, and took the opportunity to walk around, take photos and experience the atmosphere. Inside the cafe, things were once again a bit on the cozy side.

But we somehow managed to get a keyboard, drum set, bass and concert and bass flutes onto the stage along with the four humans that were supposed to play these instruments. Interestingly, in this photo it seems a lot more spacious than it actually was.

[Photo by George R. Thompson.]

It is always interesting to perform for a relatively intimate audience in a setting such as this, especially with a program as varied as our Flower Futures spong cycle. People seemed receptive to both the more purely experimental pieces and the more idiomatic jazz shuffles, sambas and rock ballads. It was also our first show featuring our drummer Larry The O – I thought he brought a new vitality to our most rhythmic pieces in particular, such as An Empty Rectangle and sense iz crede nza. In balance, it was a successful performance.

We shared the bill with the FPR Trio, consisting of Phillip Greenlief, Frank Gratkowski, and Jon Raskin on saxophones, and after a hasty teardown of our equipment we settled by the bar for refreshing beverages, tasty snacks and the opportunity to hear this accomplished ensemble. They performed several pieces based on graphical scores (which I got to take a look at after the performance). The first pieces featured complex polyrhythms with occasional bursts, blurts and squeaks. Every so often as things built up, they would resolve softly, either to an anxious harmony or even to something tonal. There were moments of very defined counterpoint embellished with virtuosic flourishes.

However, the most impressive and memorable part of the set was when all three saxophones came together in a trio of multiphonics. It is a tribute to their skills that they were able to produce complex harmonic series, periods of unison, and intricate beating effects. The timbres moved in and out of stability, and at times seemed like the metallic resonance of a digital subtractive synthesizer. They went on for quite a while in this way, and I and many of the other members of the audience remained captivated throughout.

Thanks to Ross Hammond for continuing to support us through this series, and to Art Luna for hosting us at the cafe.

Regents Lecturer Concert, CNMAT (March 2011)

Today we look back on my solo concert at the Center for New Music Technologies (CNMAT) at U.C. Berkeley back in early March. It was part of my U.C. Regents Lecturer appointment this year, which also included technical talks and guest lectures for classes.

This is one of the more elaborate concerts I have done. Not only did I have an entire program to fill on my own, but I specifically wanted to showcase various technologies related to my past research at CNMAT and some of their current work, such as advanced multi-channel speaker systems. I spent a fair amount of time onsite earlier in the week to do some programming, and arrived early on the day of the show to get things set up. Here is the iPad with CNMAT’s dodecahedron speaker – each face of the dodecahedron is a separate speaker driven by its own audio channel.

[click image for larger view.]

Here is the Wicks Looper (which I had recently acquired) along with the dotara, an Indian string instrument often used in folk music.

[click image for larger view.]

I organized the concert such that the first half was more focused on showcasing music technologies, and the second half on more theatrical live performance. This does not imply that there wasn’t strong musicality in the first half or a lack of technological sophistication in the second, but rather which theme was central to the particular pieces.

After a very generous introduction by David Wessel, I launched into one of my standard improvisational pieces. Each one is different, but I do incorporate a set of elements that get reused. This one began with the Count Basie “Big Band Remote” recording and made use of various looping and resampling techniques with the Indian and Chinese instruments (controlled by monome), the Dave Smith Instruments Evolver, and various iPad apps.

Electroacoustic Improvisation – Regents Lecturer Concert (CNMAT) from CatSynth on Vimeo.

The concert included the premier of a new piece that was specifically composed for CNMAT’s impressive loudspeaker resources, the dodecahedron as well as the 8-channel surround system. In the main surround speakers, I created complex “clouds” of partials in an additive synthesizer that could be panned between different speakers for a rich immersive sound. I had short percussive sounds emitted from various speakers on the dodecahedron. I though the effect was quite strong, with the point sounds very localized and spatially separated from the more ambient sounds. In the video, it is hard to get the full effect, but here it is nonetheless:

Realignments – Regents Lecturer Concert, CNMAT from CatSynth on Vimeo.

The piece was implemented in Open Sound World – the new version that primarily uses Python scripts (or any OSC-enabled scripting language) instead of the old graphical user interface. I used TouchOSC on the iPad for real-time control.

I then moved from rather complex experimental technology to a simple and very self-contained instrument, the Wicks Looper, in this improvised piece. It had a very different sound from the software-based pieces in this part of the concert, and I liked the contrast.

The first half of the concert also featured two pieces from my CD Aquatic: Neptune Prelude to Xi and Charmer:Firmament. The original live versions of these pieces used a Wacom graphics tablet controlling OSW patches. I reimplemented them to use TouchOSC on the iPad.

The second half of the concert opened with a duo of myself and Polly Moller on concert and bass flutes. We used one of my graphical score sets – here we went on order from one to the next and interpreted each symbol.

The cat one was particular fun, as Polly emulated the sound of a cat purring. It was a great piece, but unfortunately I do not have a video of this one to share. So we will have to perform it again sometime.

I performed the piece 月伸1 featuring the video of Luna. Each of the previous performances, at the Quickening Moon concert and Omega Sound Fix last year, used different electronic instruments. This time I performed the musical accompaniment exclusively on acoustic grand piano. In some ways, I think it is the strongest of the three performances, with more emotion and musicality. The humor came through as well, though a bit more subtle than in the original Quickening Moon performance.

月伸1 – Video of Luna with Acoustic Grand Piano Improvisation from CatSynth on Vimeo.

The one unfortunate part of the evening came in the final piece. I had originally done Spin Cycle / Control Freak at a series of exchange concerts between CNMAT and CCRMA at Stanford in 2000. I redid the programming for this performance to use the latest version of OSW and TouchOSC on the iPad as the control surface. However, at this point in the evening I could not get the iPad and the MacBook to lock onto a single network together. The iPad could not find the MacBook’s private wireless network, even after multiple reboots of both devices. In my mind, this is actually the biggest problem with using an iPad as a control surface – it requires wireless networking, which seems to be very shaky at times on Apple hardware. It would be nice if they allowed one to use a wired connection via the USB cable. I suppose I should be grateful that this problem did not occur until the final piece, but was still a bit of an embarrassment and gives me pause about using iPad/TouchOSC until I know how to make it more reliable.

On balance, it was a great evening of music even with the misfire at the end. I was quite happy with the audience turnout and the warm reception and feedback afterwards. It was a chance to look back on solo work from the past ten years, and look forward to new musical and technological adventures in the future.

ReCardiacsFly and Tim Smith Benefit at Cafe Du Nord

With the launch of our ReCardiacsFly YouTube channel, it seems like a good time to look back at our ReCardiacsFly performance at Cafe Du Nord, part of a benefit concert for Tim Smith, leader and founder of the UK band Cardiacs that took place in May.

In this video, you can see Polly channeling Tim Smith, along with Chris Broderick and Marc Laspina getting into their respective rolls:

[Videography by Josh Wolfer.]

The keyboard and marimba parts didn’t come out so strongly in the videos, but you can hear a bit of my attempt to get the original sounds in “Hello Mister Sparrow.”:

[Videography by Josh Wolfer.]

We did receive a great audience reception, undoubtedly some from Cardiacs fans who were familiar with the songs and performance style but perhaps from people hearing for the first time as well and taken in by the intensity of the performance.

We did get a little worried early in the evening as attendance was sparse. But by the time we got on stage and looked out, there was a full and enthusiastic house – when you see and feel something like that, it always makes it easier to get through a set, even something as complex and intense as Cardiacs covers.

Over all, it was a great experience, and we hope to perform again sometime soon!

ReCardiacsFly consisted of members of Rennaissance Fly (myself, Polly Moller, and Tim Walters) together with Moe! Staiano, Chris Broderick, Marc Laspina and Suki O’Kane. Although we were the unofficially dubbed “tribute band” for the evening for our accurate musical renditions and costumes and makeup, all the bands performed Cardiacs covers, each in their own way.

Amy X Neuburg opened the evening with arrangements infused with her trademark “avant cabaret” style. In a humorous gesture, she invited the audience to “sing along” to Tim Smith’s often difficult-to-follow lyrics.

Before Weiner Kids came on stage, there was an arrangement that I described on twitter as a “cool riff with four on the floor bass drum and household metal items. Very danceable by #Cardiacs standards.” Even in the midst of a prog-and-punk-rock night, I am still drawn to my particular musical roots.

Weiner Kids (with Jordan Glenn, Cory Wright, Aram Shelton) performed an arrangement for percussion and saxophones that made the often odd rhythms and meters of Cardiacs music very transparent. This is both the fun part and the biggest challenge of playing this music.

Grex, a duo of Karl Evangelista on guitar and Rei Scampavia on keyboard, performed purely instrumental arrangements. The interpretations were much freer, and in particular gave Karl the opportunity to apply his virtuosic guitar style to the music.

Inner Ear Brigade (featuring frequent collaborator Bill Wolter with Chris Lauf, Stevo Wright, Ivor Holloway, Melody Ferris, and David Shaff) also performed their own meticulous arrangements with their own personal stamp – their music tends is often itself an intense and energetic blend of jazz, experimental and art-rock influences. It was sometimes hard to tell where the Cardiacs’ influence ended and Inner Ear Brigade’s own style began, which I think made this performance all the more successful.

[Inner Ear Brigade.]

The concert concluded with Dominque Leone and his ensemble for the evening performing an “epic” arrangement of a Cardiacs song, building up towards a final climax that seemed almost religious in nature, with a full chorus of voices and loud frenetic keyboard and guitar (from Leone and Ava Mendoza) – this is one song that you can tell is the final song of the evening even before it ends!

So what is next? We are certainly hoping to do more performances as ReCardiacsFly, and welcome suggestions for Bay Area venues and programs that would be appropriate. And we would like to send “Healing wishes from everyone to Tim Smith and love and respect to all past, present, and future members and fans of Cardiacs.”