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.


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


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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.

UC Berkeley Regents’ Lecturer Concert at CNMAT, March 4

The next event in my UC Berkeley Regents’ Lecturer appointment is coming up soon! This time it is a full concert of my compositions, including at least one new one that I have promised to write.

Look for at least one “Preparing for upcoming performance” post over the next couple of weeks. If I plan ahead properly it won’t have to be a “Preparing for tonight’s performance”.


Friday, March 4, 8PM
Center For New Music and Audio Technologies (CNMAT)
1750 Arch St., Berkeley, CA

CNMAT and the UC Berkeley Regents’ Lecturer program present and evening of music by Amar Chaudhary.

The concert will feature a variety of new and existing pieces based on Amar’s deep experience and dual identity in technology and the arts. He draws upon diverse sources as jazz standards, Indian music, film scores and his past research work, notably the Open Sound World environment for real-time music applications. The program includes performances with instruments on laptop, iPhone and iPad, acoustic grand piano, do-it-yourself analog electronics and Indian and Chinese folk instruments. He will also premier a new piece that utilizes CNMAT’s unique sound spatialization resources.

The Regents’ Lecturer series features several research and technical talks in addition to this concert. Visit http://www.cnmat.berkeley.edu for more information.


There is another performance coming up earlier than that, at Rooz Cafe in Oakaland on February 26. My upcoming performance schedule is always available here.

Polly Moller at Trinity Chapel

Today we look back at a concert of works by Polly Moller at Trinity Chapel in Berkeley, CA that I attended back in December. This concert was a large undertaking, not only with a full night of music by a single composer, but a large cast of characters from the Bay Area new-music scene, as one might see at an event like the Skronkathon, but in this case all working towards a single purpose and vision. There were several pieces I was already familiar with from previous performances, including two that I have performed myself. Three others were being premiered. Mythology and narrative seemed to permeate all of the pieces, whether drawn from specific mythological stories or unfolding through rituals and rule-based processes.

(As with several of the larger performances and events I attended last year, I was live tweeting @catsynth, and have included a few choice tweets in this larger review.)

The concert opened with a performance of The Flip Quartet. I had first seen it performed at Hypnogogia at the Climate Theater in 2009, and then had the opportunity to participate in a performance myself later the same year. This performance brought back the original lineup of Karl Evangelista, Jason Hoopes, Thomas Scandura and Bill Wolter. Four stations were set up, representing the four cardinal directions and the traditional elements of air, water, fire and earth. At each station was an array of instruments and other objects that in some way represented that element (e.g., wind instruments at the air station, electrical instruments at the fire station, etc.). Each performer starts at a station and improvises using the objects for two minutes before advancing to the next and repeating the process. Musically, this can really go in many any number of directions (no pun intended) based on the particular objects available and the sensibilities of the performers involved. Often the sounds happen coincidentally, but every so often the four performers come together and produce that is musically integrated (@catsynth Lots of nice gurgling and drumming and whistling. Strong musical moment.) This was the first time I had seen the piece performed on a traditional proscenium. The previous performances were done in the round with the audience in the center and the stations surrounding them. While it was easier to see all the performers at once this way, there was something fun about the round format, the connection to the elemental and directional aspects and the ability to see the instruments close up.

Next was the premier of Duo No. 1 featuring Gino Robair on a variety of instruments and Krystyna Bobrowski playing a “sliding speaker instrument.” The piece has a dual identity as a narrative following the life cycle of a moth and an excuse to make Gino Robair “play really, really quietly.” And indeed, it was relatively quiet and subtle, but still with a lot of dynamic energy. Robair played a variety of percussion instruments, including the signature broken cymbal that I often see him play. Robair’s sounds are fed into the speaker in Bobrowski’s instrument and excite the tube, which she can then vary in length to change the timbre of the sound.

Bobrowski was able to get quite a variety of interesting timbres from her “acoustic signal processor”, which then informed how the improvisational duet unfolded within the context of the overall graphical score.

The next piece, Penelope, was perhaps the most traditional of the evening, as it was through composed for a single performer on piccolo with supporting vocal and foot-stomping parts. It was commissioned for and performed by Amy Likar.

The piece based on the final chapter of James Joyce’s Ulysses (which is of course itself inspired by Greek mythology), and the extended piccolo techniques, combined with the irregular foot-stomp rhythms and repeated breathy voicing of the word “yes” are intended to “evoke Molly Bloom’s sensual stream of consciousness.” I found myself mostly focused on the combination of the foot stomps, trying to find syncopated patterns whether or not they were there, and the surprisingly powerful sounds from the extended instrumental techniques. (@catsynth Who knew the piccolo could be such an angry instrument?)

After a brief intermission, the concert resumed with a performance of the Three of Swords. I had first seen Polly perform this piece for Pamela Z’s ROOM series at the Royce Gallery in San Francisco. This version was performed by Sara Elena Palmer using vocals and electronics.

The narrative structure is a bit more abstract in this piece, but it is nonetheless present through the highly ritualized nature. The program notes describe it as a “sound-art divination ritual for solo performer and tarot cards.” It unfolds with the setting of a 20-minute hourglass and lighting a series of candles. For each candle, the performer draws a card from the tarot deck arrayed out in front of her, and interprets the card musically. (@catsynth http://yfrog.com/hsv2tzj pick a card any card.) At the end of each section, the corresponding candle is extinguished. Sara Elena Palmer’s bright red costume and head covering (which she removed during the recitation concerning the heart) seemed to be an integral part of her interpretation of the ritual. Among the more interesting musical elements she employed was a radio used to generate analog noise sounds.

The next piece, Alcyone is based on the Greek legend of Alcyone, the Kingfisher Queen, who calms the ocean for seven days before and after the winter solstice so she can incubate her eggs in a nest on the waves. (Appropriately, this concert took place three days before the winter solstice.) Musically, the piece opens with an energetic instrumental quartet featuring Philip Greenlief on clarinet, Cory Wright on bass clarinet, Lisa Mezzacappa on contrabass and Suki O’Kane on percussion. After a stretch of time, mezzo-soprano Laura Malouf-Renning entered the stage regally costumed with a black cape and crown and carrying a nest with Christmas ornaments (@catsynth A festive birds nest). She silenced the instrumentalists one by one with a tap on the shoulder, and began an expressive monologue.

The final piece of the evening was Genesis for 12 performers. I had first seen this piece at its premier at the Quickening Moon Concert last year, and then had the opportunity to perform it myself with Cardew Choir last summer. This version followed closely the personnel and interpretation of the original performance, featuring Polly as the conductor and Matt Davignon in the role of the new universe. The piece combines “Western magical tradition” with the concept of the 11-dimensional universe from string theory. The performers represent each of the dimensions, with special roles for the conductor, the timekeeper who represents the time axis, and three performers representing the conventional spatial dimensions. The final performer represents the new universe that is born from the multi-dimensional processes.

The performers are arranged in a very specific spiral formation with the new universe (Davignon) at the center. The conductor (Moller) carries chimes and walks the spiral, tapping each performer to enter or exit. The sound starts out slowly and gradually, but then builds into a loud crescendo as the new universe is born. At this point, Davignon took over with a solo on live electronics. Like many of his other electronic performances, he achieves a very organic sound with lots of textural details, sometimes liquidy or like a series of objects being shaken or dropped. After the new universe solo, the spiral reverses as the other dimensions re-enter, but gradually get softer before a final statement by the new universe.

(@catsynth #pollymoller concert concludes. Good night!)

Live Tweeting from Polly Moller’s concert tonight

Our friend and longtime collaborator Polly Moller is having a retrospective concert tonight. Those in the Bay Area tonight are encouraged to attend (despite the likely rain). But for those who wish to enjoy from afar, I will be live tweeting @catsynth with hash tag #pollymoller.

Polly Moller, composer – Trinity Chamber Concerts
Trinity Chapel
2320 Dana Street
Berkeley, CA

-The Flip Quartet for four improvisers (2006)
performed by Karl Evangelista, Jason Hoopes, Thomas Scandura and Bill Wolter

-Duo No. 1 (premiere, 2008)
performed by Gino Robair, cymbal
and Krystyna Bobrowski, sliding speaker instrument

-Penelope (premiere, 2010)
commissioned and performed by Amy Likar, piccolo

INTERMISSION

-Three of Swords for a solo improviser (2009)
performed by Sarah Elena Palmer

– Alcyone (premiere, 2010)
Laura Malouf-Renning, mezzo-soprano
Phillip Greenlief, Bb clarinet
Cory Wright, bass clarinet
Lisa Mezzacappa, contrabass
Suki O’Kane, percussion

-Genesis for twelve improvisers (2006-2010)
performed by Polly Moller (conductor)
Suki O’Kane, percussion (Universal Time)
Karen Stackpole, gongs
Marianne Tomita MacDonald, harp
Nancy Beckman, shakuhachi
Jayn Petingill, alto saxophone
Adria Otte, violin
Emily Packard, violin
Cheryl Leonard, viola
Ann Dentel, cello
Lisa Mezzacappa, contrabass
and Matt Davignon, drum machine (New Universe).

Berkeley, Pacific Film Archive, Le Bonheur

I actually don’t get back to the Berkeley campus or its surroundings very often, and when I do, it’s usually on the north side where my graduate-school life centered: the computer-science or computer-music centers, the winding roads of the hills, or the “gourmet ghetto.” It’s pretty rare that I find myself on Telegraph Avenue or along the south side of campus, as I did this time. It seemed like very little has changed, many of the shops, restaurants and institutions along the street are still there, many of the buildings look the same. But it did seem a bit cleaner.


While in Berkeley, I saw a screening of Agnès Varda’s film Le Bonheur at the Pacific Film Archive.

It basically a film about a young family living a Paris suburb and leading a life that seems so overly perfect that something bad clearly is going to happen. In this case, it is the husband and father François beginning an affair with another woman. As the affair progresses, the film, whose its rich colors and classical soundtrack do seem to resonate “happiness”, very gradually begins to feel a bit unsettling, and eventually a bit creepy.

Even as it is a film about a particular set of circumstances and events that happen to a family, it is also very much a film about colors. Each scene seems to focus on a specific color. The initial scene of the family on a picnic in the countryside is all yellow, and the family’s (somewhat small and cramped) apartment is blue. In each of these scenes, everything matches the primary color, from the flowers to the background light to the clothing worn by the family. This is particularly apparent with yellow and blue dresses of Therese, the wife and mother (and coincidentally, a dressmaker). She reprises these colors throughout the film, they seem to represent the “happy” aspect of the family. By contrast The scenes with mistress Émilie, particularly those in her apartment, are stark white, with only sparse adornment such as movie posters on the wall. The colors also change with the seasons over the course of the film, from yellow in spring to bright green in summer, to muted orange and brown in the autumn.


Before the film, I did take a quick trip through the Berkeley Art Museum. Although they did have interesting exhibitions – Mario García Torres’ multimedia installation focusing on ruined buildings on a Greek Island that once housed modernist performances and installations, and an eclectic assortment from the permanent collection – it was in some ways overshadowed by the building itself, with its large space and oddly angled concrete balconies.


Perhaps the thing that makes visiting Berkeley most different now is that I am living in San Francisco, so the trip is now going from a large city to a medium-sized college town and then back at night. It’s not good or bad per se, it’s just different, and coming home to the city at the end of the day (instead of the trip in the middle) has become quite familiar, and comforting.

Live from Berkeley, Part 1

Tonight's posts are coming to you from Berkeley, my home for six years while I was a grad student at the university. I was invited up for a two-day mini conference by my former colleagues at the Center for New Music and Audio Technologies and the recently created research group for parallel computing (aka “the View from Berkeley”). The interesting technical topics will have to wait for some other time – though I can't imagine the EECS faculty would enjoy seeing their research reviewed by a blog about cats…

For now it's simply worth noting that I'm sitting out with my laptop and a hot cider at an outdoor on a summer night. It's one of many things to miss from this much larger town, even as conference participants told me how lucky I was to now be living in Santa Cruz. I of course enjoy the ocean and the interesting cast of characters in my current home, but regular readers also know that I often miss being in a more urban environment…

It is interesting to compare Berkeley and Santa Cruz. Berkeley is much larger, more urban and culturally vibrant, better food, and spectacular streets to wander in the hills – stay tuned for more on that in part 2. Santa Cruz has the ocean, it's calm laid-back character, and an interesting community of creative and artistic people. Interestingly, Berkeley had little to no “night-life” in terms of live music and clubs during the time I was there. The nightlife in Santa Cruz is nothing to brag about, either, but it does have several live music venues that have managed to stay open despite the best efforts of residents to close them down – I never understand why people who hate nightlife live in downtown areas. In any case, almost every place in Santa Cruz closes by 10pm except a few clubs/bars, while in Berkeley things at least stayed open until 2am or later. I'm not sure one can conclude much from this comparison, except that either town would be a better place to live than most…

Not too much interesting to describe from a travel point of view, unless you count the Bay Bridge, which I don't think I have drivin in quite a while. There is a lot of contruction on the San Francisco approach, it looks like they might be trying to fix the remaining “errors” left over from the earthquake and subsequent demolition of the Embarcadero Freeway. With the changes to the 101 freeway described in a previous post, the 80/101 corridor might start to look civilized.

Then there is of course the new eastern section of the Bay Bridge (to replace the current seismicly dubious eastern span), which remains under construction. I wonder when they're planning to finish that…