Today we look back at a show featuring music by Pamela Z and the duo Y’reka at the Luggage Store Gallery Creative Music Series, which was still at its temporary home at 998 Market Street.
The evening opened with Y’reka, a duo featuring Aram Shelton on alto saxophone and Owen Stewart-Robinson on guitar. Both Shelton and Stewart-Robinson also had an array of electronic effects.
Their improvised music had a subtle noisy texture overall, with slowly changing timbres and dynamics. There were some moments were the effects triggered more dramatic changes, which especially stood out with the subtle texture. They also successfully combined their electronically-processed tones in sections such that it wasn’t clear who was playing what, a characteristic I often find fun in freely improvised music. The pair did acknowledge the death of Ornette Coleman the previous morning, a gesture that was both appropriate and appreciated by the audience.
Next up was Pamela Z who presented a variety of works for voice, sound electronics and video. This was in part of “preview” of her upcoming full-scale work Memory Trace which will be happening at the Royce Gallery. In addition to her versatile and virtuosic vocal techniques, she controlled a variety of audio processing via sensors both worn and placed in DIY electronic boxes in front of her. There were also several pieces featuring interactive video. One which I had seen before presented an array of real-time clips of Pamela Z from her laptop’s webcam during the performance, which she then appeared to call up as if they were individual percussion instruments.
There was also an intriguing video featuring a clock and other imagery related to time.
Overall, it was quite an interesting pairing of musical sets, and I was happy to be able to see both of them together in one evening.
The concerts of the 2013 Outsound Music Summit opened with an evening of acoustic ensembles that combined improvisation and composition, each to quite different effect.
The evening opened with a performance by Opera Wolf, a trio featuring Crystal Pascucci on cello, Joshua Marshall on saxophone, and Robert Lopez on drums. They performed four pieces: one composed by each member of the group, and a free improvisation.
One structural quality that carried over all four pieces was the use of strongly punctuated phrasing. The initial opening sounds with harmonics and sparse arrhythmic hits was separate by a delineated silence before switching texture completely to growls and intricate cello runs, and then again into more melodious bowed phrases accompanied by the sounds of metal on a drum head. This punctuation continued into the second piece as well, which began quite noisily with scratching and unusual harmonics, but after a pause changed suddenly into jazzy runs followed by vocal effects and whistle tones. Other interesting sonic moments included Marshall cooing and purring with his saxophone against long bowed towns on the cello by Pascucci, and an extended run by all three members with scraping, tapping and clicking sounds.
Next up was KREation, an ensemble led by Kevin Robinson. KREation features a varying lineup, and this evening was somewhat different from the previous time I had encountered them. Along with Robinson, there was Christin Hablewitz, John Schwerbel and Tony Gennaro.
Their performance was a single continuous flow of music, starting with a modal and quite serene recorder duet of Robinson and Hablewitz. This gave way to percussion and prepared piano, and then to more fast runs on sax and piano accompanied by loud key clicks on the bass clarinet. The more melodious feel gave way to darker and more tense textures, but then got quite jazzy and rhythmic, especially when John Schwerbel switched over to a Rhodes Stage 73 electric piano (yes, it is one of my favorite instruments).
The textures and energy levels came in and out over the course of the performance like waves. There were some intricate counterpoints, including between recorder and saxophone, some pretty piano runs, and sections that moved between slower dramatic tones and bursts of fast motion.
The final performance of the evening featured Wiener Kids, a trio of Jordon Glenn, Aram Shelton and Cory Wright. Ostensibly, the group is a drummer with two masters of reed instruments, but on this occasion all three members also employed a wide selection of percussion.
This was a bit different from the previous Wiener Kids performances I have heard, which usually took place at clubs along side avant-rock bands. A couple of the pieces did employ the same sparse but rhythmically complex and driving sound I recalled, but there was also more detail and variety. The performance started with a somewhat humorous ensemble sound, like an odd-meter march. But it soon morphed into a solid four-beat funky rhythm with Wright on baritone saxophone acting as the all-important bass. The group came back to this funk idiom throughout their performance, and I thought it was their strongest element. They also employed complex polyrhythms and extended techniques as well as long melodic runs – one piece in particular featured a virtuosic saxophone solo by Wright.
The set ended with back-to-back songs starting with a more jazz rhythmic sound combining sax and drums, then moving into a second piece that was more percussion oriented, with polyrhythms and a focus on metallic percussion that gave the music a gamelan-like quality. Then it was back to the driving funkier 4/4 sound up to the finish.
In all, it was a strong start to this year’s Summit concerts, with dynamic performances. And it is quite a contrast to what comes next.
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.
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.”
Wednesday, May 18 was the final installment of the long-running Ivy Room Experimental/Improv Hootenanny series. It’s a bit sad to see it go, as I quite liked this home of weird music, mixed drinks and eclectic European-inspired decor. The evening was curated by Kattt Atchley (who together with Kenneth Atchley shared the bill with my quartet at the December Hootenanny). It was a very diverse program, ranging from experimental video to ambient electronics to “heavy metal jazz.” Special “cocktail menu” programs were provided. Here you can see the program next to a Manhattan, part of my personal ritual at these events.
The evening opened with Kerry Laitala presenting her appropriately named “Chromatic Cocktails”, selections from her 3D video work. Audience members were provided with 3D glasses for the full experience.
Among the pieces were two premiers, Chromatic Cocktail 180 Proof and Chromatic Reveries performed with live music accompaniment by Kenneth Atchley. These pieces focused on abstract shapes with undulating colors and motion, although Chromatic Cocktail 180 Proof also included realistic images if women that appeared and vanished within the abstract context. In Pin-Up in 3D, the figurative elements (short animated silhouettes of classic pin-ups) are more integrated into the abstract in that they are part of the chromatic effects
In the past, I have seen a video of Laitala’s that featured cats, though I did not see that in this set.
The overall experience of Laitala’s videos was mesmerizing. The images are their own universe with their own consistent rules about how color and motion work, so the viewer is naturally drawn in to process the entire experience. The source material is simple enough that it provides interest without getting in the way. Similarly, the music was abstract enough to enhance the feel of chromatic and spatial movement within the pieces without imposing a strong sense of narrative. Although the pieces took advantage of digital technology, there was something decidedly retro about her images – there was both the sources (such as the silhouettes of models) and the colorization effects that make it seem like it could have been part of a 1960s background film projection.
Kenneth Atchley followed with a solo set of ambient electronics. His sounds incorporate more harmonic ambience, noise, and some very distinct and punctuated synthesizer sounds. What I find interesting to listen to are the different levels of these elements, where a harmonic pattern seamlessly gives way to a section of more timbral interest. It is a little challenging to listen in detail in a crowded bar environment, however, and as such more ambient music becomes part of the environment and vice versa.
The final set of the evening, and of the series, was Go-Go Fightmaster, an ensemble featuring Aaron Bennett (saxophones and drinking straw), John Finkbeiner (guitar and drinking straw), Vijay Anderson (drum set), Lisa Mezzacappa (contrabass), Aram Shelton (saxophone), and Cory Wright (winds).
The set could be described as “avant jazz,: which veered between more experimental and more idiomatic styles over several pieces. There were very loud, punctuated percussive moments, and others where more expressive rhythmic patterns. The rhythmic sections tended anxiously build up in volume and complexity before getting software – a pattern I often hear in experimental jazz – rather than settling into a particular groove. With at times as many as three saxophones playing at once, along with guitar, bass and drums, there was a lot of energy – indeed quite aggressive and expressive at the same time. I don’t recall seeing any drinking straws. With punchy, staccato cadences and endings, this was a perfect conclusion to the series.
And so it ends. Thanks to Lucio Menegon, Suki O’kane, and others who have made the 14 installments of this series possible. So this leaves us with the question of where to go next? I have seen my share of experimental music series (and experimental-music-friendly venues) come and go. And as some disappear, new places emerge. But I think it’s important for us have a series and venue that isn’t too severe, where one can enjoy a nice cocktail while listening to weird music. The current thinking is for a Monday night series, “definitely not before September, and definitely involving fermented liquid.”
Imagine yourself an ordinary New Orleans bus driver, doing your normal night route on St. Charles. Just two or three passengers, quiet. Maybe even a little quieter than usual given that many people are home watching election returns. Then suddenly you come to stop where twenty or so weird people with laptops and beeds get on the bus. That’s what happened to a bus driver last night when participants at the ICMC conference boarded to attend the offsite late-nite performance at the aptly named Columns Hotel.
The election so far went as well as one could expect at 11PM, with headlines suggesting things are about to change for the better – a takeover of the House, Virginia is the new Florida (with George “macaca” Allen trailing), and social conservatives (i.e., the littering religious right) lost a trifecta on abortion, stem cells and gay marriage. Plus, I get to watch all of this from the home (and district) of William “Frozen Assets” Jefferson.
So what better way to celebrate than with experimental electronic improv music in an old hotel parlor? First on the program was Pink Canoes, who hail from the Bay Area. I was acquainted with several members of the group by name only (and vice versa), so it was quite ironic to meet in person in New Orleans. Musically, they played free improvisation with guitars, effects pedals, analog synths and circuit-bend instruments, similar to some of the group improvisations I have done with friends in Santa Cruz. I get the sense that many of the academics at the conference hadn’t heard much of this sub-genre of electronic music. Personally I would like to see more hybridization among free electronic improv, traditional computer music, and even things like the jazz duo that was also playing in the hotel at the same time.
Pink Canoe was followed by the due Andre Castro + Martin Aeserud, featuring laptop and “prepared” acoustic guitar. I found the guitar quite interesting to watch as well as listen to, and gives me some ideas for projects with the guitar that’s sitting in pieces on the floor back home.