room: GLASS NOODLE (Pamela Z and Carl Stone)

On March 16 I attended the latest installment of Pamela Z’s ::ROOM:: series at the Royce Gallery in San Francisco. This concert, entitled room: GLASS NOODLE, featured Pamela Z and Carl Stone in solo performances, and then together as the duo.

The performance opened with a series of solo works by Pamela Z. I had heard several of these before, at the San Francisco Electronic Music Festival and earlier ::ROOM:: performances. As in previous performances, she began with a piece that featured live looping of melodic singing turned in harmonies, along with extended vocal techniques, “street textures” against sung lines, and bubble wrap. This was followed by a humorous piece the features the sounds and gestures of a manual typewriter, both key clicks and the carriage return – the narrative at the beginning of the piece is that the performer is writing to her penpal on a typewriter because her MacBook is broken. In the background, the video features transformations on old QWERTY typewriter keys. The round mechanical keys lent themselves to playful rolling animations. Over time, the music shifted to short voice loops and sample glitches, and gradually became darker. One piece that featured the experience of going through airport security (including an operating singing of the familiar “did you pack your own bags” inquiry) seemed familiar from SFEMF, although in that performance I recall a longer section in which people spoke about their contents of their suitcases. Pamela Z concluded her solo performances with sketches from new pieces. There were eerie loops of pure tones, whispers, stop motion video of the artist on a wooded path – bits of sound that resembled prepared piano were followed by several voices talking about memory.

Carl Stone’s performance was an electro-acoustic tour de force. His continuously changing samples and other electronic sounds weaved together a complex structure with both energy and sense of direction. It started off subtly, with a build-up of granular synthesis and complex harmonics that quickly became enveloping. Some of the sonic elements evoked a sense of relaxation, even as they were metallic and machine-like. A section of rhythmic percussive sounds and plucked strings seemed to suggest a rock influence, which gradually morphed into something more South Asian featuring tabla and other drums. As the sounds further transitioned from percussion to vocals with rolling watery lines, it seems we were traveling further east towards Southeast Asia. The music settled into an undulating six-eight rhythm, that every so often would pause abruptly and resume. String instruments provided both the harmonies and the rhythm, the vocals grew more tonally complex. Bell sounds emerged into the mix, at first part of the overall Asian sound but then becoming a more abstract element. It seemed that the bells were growing, with a soundscape of large metallic sounds, and constant harmonies against an ethereal background. The overall sound grew in intensity and sounded “choral”. After a period of time in this pattern, the Asian-influenced percussion and voice fragments re-emerged, although at times the voice seemed to be in a more classical Western style. Towards the end of the continuously evolving piece, there was at least one false ending where the sound disappeared, before returning, until it drew to a true close.

After a brief intermission, Carl Stone and Pamela Z returned to perform as a duo called Glass Noodle. The set started out very quietly with low granular sounds and low pitches that seemed like machinery winding down. Slowly, the sounds became a little higher and faster. Videos of glass noodles were projected on the background as Pamela Z began reciting noodle recipes. (For anyone reading this article who is not familiar with glass noodles, they are quite tasty and I highly recommend trying them.) The short vocal samples, which were looped and granulated, built up and became more complex over time, and were eventually joined by percussion and melodic bell-like sounds. As the voice and electronic sounds again became more subdued, the video became more glitchy, and I heard a recipe for fish source thrown in amongst the noodles, as well as vocal sound effects that evoked “deliciousness”. Minor harmonies emerged against the recipe recitations, along with references to red chili peppers and pickled garlic. If I had not already eaten before this performance, I am sure I would have been quite hungry (glass noodles and the other foods described are all quite tasty). The order and complex counterpoint of the music eventually decayed into a series of asynchronous loops.

The next section began with classical piano and granular sounds, sparse vocals and bird calls. The loops, pitch bends and other effects were quite playful, and evoked the sound experiments of the late 1960s (think “Revolution 9”). The sounds of the birds and voice gave way to strange percussive sound effects, squeaking and rubbing, before the voice returned in the distance. Over time the texture became more complex, with short hits of metal and glass sounds and a glitchy voice loop. The noodles being projected at this point seemed more brittle than the sinuous textures from the earlier part of the set – then all of a sudden they “melted” as the sounds grew more extended. As the sound once again grew glitchier and noisier, the piece drew to a close.

Luxe at Hotel Biron, SF Electronic Music Festival, and “The Company”

I have been remiss in writing about the many art and music events from this past month. And especially in regards to the first week. I found myself attending events every night between September 4 and September 7, each of which had at least some personal connection. This was a coincidence, but it was also a great antidote to the just-concluded McCain-fest and the parade of speeches proclaiming “Small Town Good, City Bad.” What better response than to step outside for an evening walk in search of friends, art, music, food and drink.

The night of the 4th was the opening of a photo exibition by Luxe at Hotel Biron. It is not in fact a hotel, but a wine bar in the Hayes Valley neighborhood that features monthly art exhibits. It is a small, darkly lit and intimate space, with dark wines in huge glasses, and brick walls that provided quite a contrast to the photographs on display.

The exhibition was titled “Her Being and Nothingness” and featured a series of self portraits. In each image, the focus is on “the body.” The face is either absent or obscured, and the poses and attire vary in each. We of course know they are self portraits (itself an interesting concept in photography), but without the usual cues for identity. In this case, we draw the conclusion directly from the bodies.

Of course, the recognition is easier if the artist happens to also be a personal friend. Multiple of Luxe’s prints are on display at CatSynth HQ, so I can definitely be considered a “fan.” A more in-depth review can be found

On Friday, I attended the second night of the San Francisco Electronic Music Festival at the Project Artaud Theatre.

The performance opened with two works by Richard Teitelbaum, professor of composition and electronic music at Bard College. His first piece, Serenissima, featured two wind performers and a laptop computer running Max/MSP. The computer was performing spectral processing on samples and the live instruments, which could themselves control the sound. The wind instruments included several clarinets, including a contra-bass clarinet (which one does not see every day), performed by Matt Ingalls. The second piece was Piano Tree, for piano and computer, and was in part a tribute to Teitelbaum’s father, David and to “some musical forbears whose work has influenced me greatly.” The piano part, which included many extended and “prepared piano” techniques (a nod to John Cage), was performed by Hiroko Sakurazawa.

The next set was from Myrmyr, the local duo of Agnes Szelag and Marielle Jakobson. The combine experimental recording and live computer-based processing with a variety of acoustic instruments, including cello, violin and voice. The result is still very much “electronic music,” but it has a more traditional sound as well, especially in the parts that feature voice and songs. Myrmyr was accompanied by members of the sfSound ensemble during part of their performance, primarily with undulating long notes and “drones”. Again, the effect was both experimental and more “familiar” at the same time.

The final was from Ata “Sote” Ebtekar. He calls his music “a new form of Persian Art Music,” which I was very interested in hearing. However, the performance was so overpoweringly loud that I really was not able to appreciate it. I wish more electronic musicians would take care not to do that. Certainly, some music will be quite loud, I have come to expect that, but it should not remain so an extended period of time.

The following night was my performance with Polly Moller and Company at El Mundo Bueno Studios in Oakland. Polly Moller and Company in Oakland. We had a great set that combined elements from different past performances. And, as Polly relates, it was a “good crowd of nice people most of whom had not heard us before.” And it was interesting contrast to the other performances, which included folk music, traditional Celtic singing, and belly dancing.

On Sunday, it was back the SFEMF for the final night. This performance featured a collaboration of ]Pauline Oliveros and Carl Stone. Oliveros is of course on the giants in modern American music, the founder of the music practice Deep Listening and one of the founders of the original San Francisco Tape Music Center. History aside, this performance was quite contemporary, laptop-based, and very much in keeping with the other performances of the festival.

The second performance, Barpieces was a duo of Charles Engstrom and Christopher Fleeger. However, to those of us in the audience it appeared as a solo performance event though it was actually a “remote duo.” This was a bit of logistical improvisation in the wake of Hurricane Gustav.

The final performance of the festival was by Hans Fjellestad, a Los Angeles-based musician and filmaker, whom some readers of CatSynth may know from his documentary Moog. His performance featured analog electronics and custom instruments that were a contrast to the previous performances of evening, both sonically and visually:

In addition custom electronics in the transparent boxes with blue lights, he also had a Moogerfooger and one of the infamous tube-effects boxes from Metasonix. The performance consisted long evolving analog sounds, noise bursts and other effects. And it provided a conclusion to the festival by adding another variety of “electronic music” to the mix.