Posts Tagged ‘bill wolter’

Surplus 1980 and Fred Frith Trio, Brick and Mortar

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A couple of weeks ago, Surplus 1980 joined the Fred Frith Trio at the Brick and Mortar in San Francisco from a night of energetic avant-rock and jazz. It was a show we have all been looking forward to for quite a while.

Surplus 1980 went on first, with a set that combined songs from our recent album Arterial Ends Here with older selections. In addition to Moe! Staiano and myself, the band includes Bill Wolter and Melne Murphy on guitar, Thomas Scandura on drums, and Steve Lew on bass.

Surplus 1980
[Photo by Michael Zelner.]

For this set, we expanded our Fred Frith cover “Cap the Knife” into a full medley featuring excerpts for some of his other songs. In a brief exchange back stage, it sounded like he appreciated the gesture, and even suggested that his group perform a “Moe! Staiano medley”, which would have been fun. But overall, it was our strongest performance as a band to date, with rhythms and phrasing much tighter as well as more sophisticated use of all parts.

After Surplus 1980 was done, Fred Frith took the stage with his trio that included Jordan Glenn on drums and Jason Hoopes on bass.

Fred Frith Trio
[Photo by Michael Zelner.]

It was quite a contrast, going from post-punk to avant-jazz. The trio played through longer pieces that moved between fast intricate sections and more familiar idioms with ease. The polyphonic sections were certainly impressive, but I do find when technically strong musicians play in unison or at least synchronous rhythms, it leaves a more memorable impression. Frith deftly filled up the otherwise sparse texture of the music, but not so much that one would get lost or overwhelmed.

Overall, it was a successful show, with a good turnout. Surplus 1980 is now looking forward to our next show in December, but I hope we get to play with the Fred Frith trio again.

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Surplus 1980, Satya Sena and Electric Chair Repair Company, Bottom of the Hill

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Today we look back at the December 5 show featuring Surplus 1980 with Satya Sena and Electric Chair Repair Company at Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco. It was a “post punk” affair, a night of loud, intense, and creative rock music. It was also my first time playing on stage with Surplus 1980.


[Photo by Polly Moller.]

I am somewhere there in the “back line” along with Thomas Scandura on drums and Steve Lew on bass. With guitarists Melne Murphy, Moe! Staiano and Bill Wolter in front. We were loud and aggressive with a lot of percussive pounding on otherwise tonal instruments, but there was also just the right amount of complexity with metric changes and chromatic riffs. Things were also deliberately out of tune, which when combined with ring modulation and other effects made it challenging to follow in a traditional melodic sort of way. But that would not have been the point. And the audience got that, enjoying moving along with our noisy percussive lines. It was also fun to play the vintage toy piano for our improvised piece and our finale Ed Saad (though I wish the contact mic had not fallen off halfway through it).

The evening opened with a performance by Electric Chair Repair Company, a self-described “post-punk noise trio.”

They lived up to their description with their instrumental performance, a bit more of the traditional sound that one would expect with loud driving chords and drums and switching between fast and slow tempos. During the set. they also joined forces with guests from “The Girlfriend Experience”, who were quite entertaining.

Electric Chair Repair Company was followed by Satya Sena, a duo of Jason Hoopes on bass and Peijman Kouretchian on drums. They also had a huge column of amplifiers.

Satya Sena was impressive to say the least. Their music was full of complex and intricate rhythms and they had a full dense sound that one wouldn’t necessarily expect from just bass and drums. I found myself watching Kouretchian’s frenetic drum playing through much of the set. It was almost impossible to capture a moment where he wasn’t in motion like this:

Hoopes of course was technically strong as well, and was interesting to see him performing in a different context like this.

Overall it was a fun night of good music. Our audience (on a Wednesday night in San Francisco) was not particularly large but was certainly appreciative, and I look forward to more performances with Surplus 1980 next year.

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

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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!

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ReCardiacs Fly, Surplus 1980, PG13 at Hemlock Tavern

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Today we look back at ReCardiacs Fly’s show at the Hemlock Tavern in San Francisco last month. It was a great show of music in prog and post-punk styles together with experimental/avant-rock groups PG13 and Surplus 1980.

The evening opened with PG13, the “power trio” of Phillip Greenlief (saxophone), John Shiurba (guitar), and Thomas Scandura (drums). I had originally heard them a few years back at the Skronkathon. They did have the loud-rock-trio thing down at the time, but in the intervening time they have become more finessed and detailed without losing that original intensity.

[Photo by Michael Zelner.]

They opened with driving syncopated rhythm and power chords. The rhythmic textures brought all three instruments (saxophone, guitar and drums) together. This was undeniably rock – held together by Scandura’s drums – but later sections did have a more jazz-like quality, which I thought worked when done with sudden changes in volume and texture. I of course did like that one of their songs (composed by Greenlief) was The Totally Unbelieable but Absolutely True Adventures of George Cleaver the Cat. Loud music with complex rhythms about cats works for me any day.


[Photo by Michael Zelner.]

After PG13, it was time for us to take the stage. For those who have not read the previous ReCardiacs Fly articles, we are (possibly the only) tribute group for the UK avant-prog band Cardiacs. We model our line-up after the original band, and don suits and creepy theatrical makeup reminiscent of their appearance in the 1980s. This music is complex and intense, and challenging to play, but a lot of fun for us and for the audience when we pull it off. A few songs came out quite well at the Hemlock, in particular “Burn Your House Brown”, which you can see in this video:

“In a City Lining” also came out quite well. On a technical level, the sound was the best we have had for any ReCardiacs Fly show, with the mix between the amps, speakers and acoustic space balanced so that we could hear everyone even in the loud parts. And we were quite loud, appropriately so.

As always, the performance was full of energy, and we got a great response from the modestly sized but enthusiastic audience. The full lineup of the band features Polly Moller on lead vocals, Masc Laspina on guitar, Chris Broderick on saxophone, Tim Walters on bass, Amar Chaudhary on keyboard,
Moe! Staiano on drums, and Suki O’kane on percussion.

The final set features Surplus 1980, a post-punk project led by Moe! Staiano with a rotating cast of band members. This evening features Moe! together with Bill Wolter and Melne Murphy on guitars, with Thomas Scandura returning on drums and Jason Hoopes on bass.


[Photo by Michael Zelner.]

The band was incredibly tight rhythmically and harmonically, as if they had been playing these songs together for years. In particular, there is the challenge of getting all three guitars to be in sync, which they were able to do, will Bill Wolter front and center. And the group’s lyrics were often quite funny (this in the context of our just completed Cardiacs’ set). It’s difficult to recall any particular line at this point, but they definitely worked at the time. Most of the musical techniques were standard but with complex rhythms and phrases, but Wolter did have quite an array of effects pedals, and during one of the final songs Moe! pulled out a vinyl record which he proceeded to use on his guitar like a pick and destroyed in the process (the record, not the guitar).

Overall, it was fun night of loud rock music from friends and colleagues whom I usually here in more overtly experimental contexts. I hope our bands will get a chance to play together again sometime.

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ReCardiacsFly and Tim Smith Benefit at Cafe Du Nord

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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.”

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Ivy Room Hootelatkenanny, December 2010

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Today we look back at the Ivy Room Hootelatkenanny, the December edition of the Ivy Room Hootenany improvised music series. The Ivy Room in Albany, CA, has in fact turned into a great venue for new music, with many performances even beyond this long-running series. The combination of music, mixed drinks and quirky decor seem to come together.

Despite the play on words in the title, there was nothing Hannukah-related about the performances that evening.

The first set featured a quartet I put together with Bill Wolter on guitar, Dave “Djembe” Coen on percussion and JP O’Keefe on drumset. Gear-wise, I kept things pretty minimal, with just the Dave Smith Evolver and the iPad running Curtis and the Korg iMS-20 apps.

I started out the set with my usual metallic patch on the Evolver, and quickly added granular sweeping with Curtis. Slowly the percussion came in, with soft rolls on the cymbals and djembe. As Bill Wolter with soft chromatic harmonies on guitar, I switched to a different Evolver patch and to the iMS-20 with some analog-like arpeggios. These set up a rhythmic foundation which the drums matched with a strong 16-note rhythm – the tempo and pulse were reminiscent of disco but texture and individual rhythmic phrases were more complex – something akin to 1970s fusion. The iMS-20 served as a de facto bass with heavily filtered patches set against the guitar improvisation – at various times I opted for a softer tone like an electric bass, others a highly synthetic sound like a “techno bass.” Harmonically and melodically, we danced around blurs, pentatonic, chromatic and tri-tone patterns against the ever changing but steady pulse rhythm of the two percussionists. At one point, Bill started playing the strings below the bridge and I used this sound effect opportunity to return to Curtis. We kept the pulse going for a bit, then cut out for a quiet moment. Then the rhythm gradually re-emerged, a bit more tribal and accented off beat, and with more inharmonic timbres on synth and guitar. Then we returned the jam feel with guitar, bass and drums, and continued in one of these patterns or another for the remainder of the set, at one point switching to a 6/8 rhythm with a more humorous sounding synth line. I have to admit, this was one of the most fun I have played in a while, both idiomatic and experimental at the same time, both completely free-form and rhythmically structured. I will have to get this quartet back together again sometime soon!

We were followed by the duo of Kenneth and Kattt Atchley. Their music also combined experimental electronic elements with a strong idiomatic style, in their case something reminiscent of late-night electronic music at dance clubs or lounges. They did several distinct pieces during their set. The had a slow steady rhythm with soft electric-piano chords set against analog or analog-like electronic sounds, relative high pitched with pitch LFO. The chords and rhythm continue in a very moody, almost R&B fashion while the high pitched electronic sounds ride above more rapidly. Then all at once it stops, replaced by a very distant-sounding synth pad, and the voices and poetry returned amidst the sparser texture. The music moved back and forth seemelessly between these two overall textures. Kenneth and later Kattt at various moments intone “I wouldn’t change a thing” and descriptive phrases about “East Bay nights” and “Pacific Fog cooling the air”. The texture eventually gave way to harsher electrical noises and pulsating sounds that still have a harmony of their own – and one can still hear minor chords in the background. When the chords and rhythm return to the forreground, there are a bit more fragmented than before.

The next piece was entitled Over Ice. It started with very liquidy and crystalline sounds, with words and melody in a descending minor scale. There was something vaguely religious or spiritual sounding about this pattern, almost like a chant. A sparse rhythm emerges, and the high crystalline sounds remain in the background. It eventually because very abstract, with electronic hits and noises sounding at first in a random pattern that gradually becomes more rhythmic. After a monologue section, the original melodic pattern returned, but with a more rhythmic foundation.

The final set featured Dean Santomieri with Michael Zelner on reeds, and Suki O’Kane “massaging the skins”, i.e. on percussion. It consisted of improvisation around a series of poems featuring “spine words” and “spine phrases” based on Jonathan Franzen’s best-seller Freedom. Things opened with resonating cymbols and Santomieri’s introductions, followed by the initial poem based on the spine word “Franzen.” The music consisted of short clarinet and percussion phrases filling in the spaces in between Santomieri’s words, with some more extended instrumental lines. The overall texture was very sparse with individual notes, but also some jazzy phrases and some extended wind techniques set against a diversity of percussive sounds. Among the spine phrases used were “left right rhetoric”, “Lolita” and perhaps the most memorable “Franzen, Franzen, Franzen”. Indeed, the author’s name was frequently used in many playful contexts, such as “Franzomancy reveals a function, the zen idolatry…”. Section with more complex and richly tonal words followed by noisier and squeakier instrumentals. During one of the poems, Zelner switched to extended-technique flute, which was set against small metallic and wooden percussion from O’Kane. He returned to clarinet this time employing multiphonics for the final poem, which again used the spine “Franzen, Franzen, Franzen”.

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Polly Moller at Trinity Chapel

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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!)

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Two upcoming performances this week

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Wednesday 12/15 9PM-midnight
Ivy Room hootelatkenanny
kingman’s ivy room, 860 san pablo avenue Albany, CA

Hanukkah may be over, but the Hoot still has its big barrel of boiling oil, thanks to

The Atchleys [kattt and Kenneth]
voice and electronics and latkes

Dean Santomieri [with special guests]
voice and reeds and percussion and jonathan frazen and latkes

Amar Chaudhary
with Dave Coen (djembe), JP (drums), Bill Wolter (guitar) and… applesauce, we need to balance this out

I am excited about this set. It combines experimental work based on iPad instruments (including Curtis and the Korg iMS-20 app) with my recent work in jazz and jam-session performance. It should be one big rhythmic continuum that elides into the Atchleys performance. Or maybe something else. The Ivy Room shows are always a bit unpredictable :)


And then on Thursday…

Thursday 12/16 8PM-10PM
Long Night’s Moon Concert: Droneshift
Luggage Store Gallery, 1007 Market Street, San Francisco, CA

Droneshift is a collaborative concert of improvised drone music. Between 15 and 25 musicians will gather to contribute to a continuous 2 hour drone, each adding their acoustic or electronic instruments here and there, and weaving their sounds together to create gradually shifting tapestries of music. The performance will most likely shift back and forth from completely acoustic music to electric ambiance and post-industrial noise.

Tom Bickley – wind controller
CJ Borosque – trumpet
Bob Boster – processed voice
Amar Chaudhary – iThings
Matt Davignon – wine glasses/vessels
Tony Dryer – bass
Adam Fong – bass
Phillip Greenlief – sax/clarinet
Ron Heglin – trombone/trumpet
Jeff Hobbs – bass, clarinet or violin
Travis Johns – electronics
Andrew Joron – theremin
Aurora Josephson – voice
Sebastian Krawczuk – bass
David Leikam – Moog rogue synthesizer
Cheryl Leonard – viola
Brian Lucas – electric bass / tapes
Melissa Margolis – accordion
Bob Marsh – voice
Marianne McDonald – didgeridoo
Chad McKinney – supercollider/guitar
Joe McMahon – didgeridoo
David Michalak – Omnichord
Kristin Miltner – laptop
Ann O’Rourke – bowed cymbal
Ferrara Brain Pan – sopranino saxophone
Rent Romus – sax/tapes
Ellery Royston – harp w/effects
Lx Rudis – electronics
Mark Soden – trumpet
Moe! Staiano – guitar
Errol Stewart – guitar
Lena Strayhorn – tsaaj plaim / wind wand
Zachary Watkins – electronics
Rachel Wood-Rome – french horn
Michael Zelner – analog monophonic synthesizer, iPod Touch

This is an impressive list of musicians participating in this version of the Droneshift! I will contribute my small part with “iThings” (iPad and iPhone) and using several apps, including the drone-friendly Smule Magic Fiddle.

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Reconnaissance Fly and Noertker’s Moxie at SIMM series

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Last Sunday (November 1), Reconnaissance Fly performed at the Outsound SIMM Series.

This performance was as a trio, with Polly Moller (Scorpio, and flute and voice), Amar Chaudhary (Pisces, and electronics), and Bill Wolter (Saggitarius, and guitar).

Photograph by Jennifer Chu. Click to enlarge.

We performed four pieces from our “spong” cycle Flower Futures. What is a “spong cycle”? It is a series of pieces based on spoetry, “the deliciously powerful results of robot efforts to evade your spam filter” (as well as the enormous spam queue here at CatSynth). Most spam is banal or poorly written, but occasionally one stumbles upon a particularly beautiful piece of text. We performed four pieces from the eventual full cycle. The two I wrote entitled “Small Chinese Gong” and “Seemed to be Divided in Twain” are improvisational pieces based on graphical scores. You can see an example symbol to right. The interpretation of the graphics can be musical gestures “inspired” by shapes, or a more literal interpretation such as tracing them out on a Korg Kaos Pad – for this performance Bill and I had dueling Kaos Pads in some sections, which produced dense textures or “forests” of pointed sounds that reflected the underlying text.

Photograph by Jennifer Chu.

Photograph by Jennifer Chu.

Bill Wolter’s “Spam-a-lot” is a combination of improvisational and traditionally written material. The highlight of the piece is the section in the middle concerning “the animal trade in Canada”, ending with a bluesy rock pattern set to “Ca-na-da-a!”, and is probably one of our favorite moments in every performance or rehearsal.

Polly Moller’s “Emir Scamp Budge” is a more idiomatic piece, scored for a standard quartet of keyboard, bass, guitar and voice with a bit of a jazz feel. The text is set to a rolling melody set against a walking bass line and an odd chord progression. It is quite a contrast to the graphical score pieces, and a great excuse to dust off the jazz chops.

It was a pretty solid performance, with all the practice and rehearsal time having paid off. Sadly, this was in all likelihood the last performance that Bill Wolter will be playing with us.

We were followed by Noertker’s Moxie, featuring Bill Noertker on contrabass, Annelise Zamula on tenor sax and flute, Jim Peterson on alto sax and flute, Jenny Maybee on piano, and Dave Mihaly on drumset and percussion. They were marking the release of their new CD druidh lacunae.

The piece, Kamilopárdali, started off very free-form, with lots of detached notes and percussive sounds, including a cloud of metallic-percussion sounds, and Maybee directly playing the strings inside the piano. Gradually, the music became more focused rhythmically and melodically, and then began to alternate between sections of standard modern jazz with rhythms and chromatic lines, and more free-form sections like the beginning. At one point the rhythm disappeared entirely with only sparse hits on the piano strings, drums and bodies of the bass and saxophones. After this, a section with a stronger and tighter jazz melody and rhythm emerged; I believe this was the segue into the piece Athenian Birds.

This was followed by Virage, which Noertker described as having been composed in Hungary and Slovakia in 1995. However, the impression I had of the piece was more East Asian, with lots of pentatonic scales and harmonies set against a latin rhythm. Indeed, one flute melody performed by Zamula sounded exceptionally Chinese, not only because of the scale but also the ornamentation of the notes – there is a particular sound in Chinese music with grace notes or bends on accented notes.

One other piece that particularly caught my interest was Desert Canto. It was described by Noertker as a “beautiful piece”, inspired by photos from Nevada Test Site (site of former atomic-bomb tests) that were “beautiful but also disturbing.” The piece was indeed beautiful, very atonal – but a traditional melodic atonality as opposed to percussive or non-pitched – and had a soft, more dreamlike quality, with frequent cymbal and drum rolls and freer rhythmic structure. You can hear a clip of Desert Canto on the Noertker’s Moxie website.

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Moe!kestra! “End of an Error” at Cellspace

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Last night I attended the latest performance of the Moe!kestra! at Cellspace.

“Imagine a man playing an orchestra as though it were a percussion instrument, and you might get some idea of the Moe!Kestra!”. Indeed the performance was in many ways a percussion piece even though the ensemble was almost entirely string instruments: violins, violas, electric guitars, and upright basses. All led by Moe! Staiano.

A Moe!kestra! often includes many familiar musicians. Frequent collaborators Bill Wolter and Clyde Niesen played guitar and upright bass, respectively. Suki O’kane (percussion) and Moe! were both participants in the July Flip Quartet performance. Marielle Jakobsen was part of the Blessing Moon concert that we reviewed here at CatSynth.

The piece being performed was “End of an Error”, inspired by the date January 20, 2009, a date that many of us were highly anticipating, both for its beginning and for the great national embarrassment that it (at least in a formal sense) ended.

The music started out with series of percussive notes on the basses. Soon the violin and viola sections joined in, not on their regular instruments, but instead playing “switches”, i.e., cut sticks that they shook vigorously. An “out of phase” rhythm emerged between the basses and switches, may two notes from the former followed by a splattering of air sounds from the other.

Eventually the other instruments, the guitars, the percussionists and the actual violins/violas entered with more of the percussive notes, and the music became louder and denser. At some point, with all the instruments playing, the texture changed dramatically to something more akin to a “rock orchestra” or a film soundtrack. The pitched material was tonal with lots of familiar chords, but what I call “tense tonality” that one hears in films, and behind it the rhythm of a conventional drum kit from the percussionists. I can’t pin point exactly when the texture and style changed, but it was a sharp contrast.

There were several such changes throughout the performance. Things grew to a crescendo, then “crashed”, with everyone playing long extended tones, forming an atonal drone. After a subsequent swell, there was another “film-like” element with string glissandi. Other moments of note included the tossing of an empty water cooler by Moe! over the heads of the violists. No one was hurt, and it landed a perfect hit in between the other instrumental rhythms.

There was a really thick drone of all seven guitarists playing slides out of sync. The guitarists also closed the performance with a series of repeating flange/chorus tones that gradually came to a stop.


The Moe!kestra performance actually did not begin until 9:30 (despite the announcements suggesting 8PM as the start). We were treated a Sun Ra tribute, featuring videos set to music from The Arkestra. The video included clips of Sun Ra and animations with pseudo-Hebrew lettering and odd vaguely extraterrestial elements, presumably from some of his films. But there were also many other unrelated elements including numerous anime scenes – there was one anime in which all the characters seemed to be playing keytars while doing battle with mechs; martial-arts comedies, a James Bond film (probably Diamonds Are Forever); and a transgendered singer walking down the street and then being transported to another dimension with a Sumo wrestler and bizarre Asian puppet characters. Four of us started playing iPhone Scrabble instead. It has a multi-player mode where one can pass the phone around in a circle and each player takes turns with their own tile set. Highly recommended as a way to pass the time.

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