Fuzzybunny

Outsound Music Summit: Fuzzybunny, Transient, PMOCATAT Ensemble

The Outsound Music Summit continued on Friday with a concert entitled “Emanations and Artifacts”. All three sets featured manipulation of found sounds (as well as found visuals) but to very different effect.

The program began with Transient, David Molina’s electro-acoustic, ambient, experimental project. He was joined for this performance by Anna Geyer who provided visuals from a large collection of 16-millimeter film loops, some found, some hand-painted. The projectors and film segments hanging were themselves works of art.

16mm film clips

The performance itself was a fully improvised collaboration of sound and visuals. But the music had a very well crafted and even narrative quality to it. It was anchored by a series of stories told by undocumented workers in the U.S. about their experiences. Over this, Molina layered elements based on a wide variety of live acoustic artifacts from small bells and shakers to cello and banjo. These sources were composed using Ableton Live! into loops, rhythms and drones to create a complex ever changing soundscape.

David Molina - Transient
[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

The entire 40-minute performance was captivating and full of interesting details, stretched metallic sounds, scraped strings turned into rhythms. Perhaps my favorite part was Molina’s first bowing the banjo and then strumming the instrument over the looped recording. This was combined with deeper electronic sounds and set against a set of film clips that featured cats (yes, there was some cat spotting on this evening).

Cats in Transient performance
Cats in Transient performance

The next performance featured the PMOCATAT Ensemble, Matt Davignon’s projected based on cassette players and other sources restricted to cassette-like fixed-media manipulation. I was part of this ensemble, and managed to find a cassette-player iPad app for the occasion.

iPad cassette app for PMOCATAT Ensemble

The ensemble performed four pieces by Davignon as well as two by guest composers Daniel Steffey and Benjamin Ethan Tinker. Davignon’s pieces had a playful quality to them, and integrated the participants’ regular instruments into the media and the concepts of each piece. Perhaps my favorite was the “Avant-Jazz Trio”, which was billed as neither a trio nor really jazz. However, the end result, which featured manipulated recordings of bass, piano, drums and horns did have a jazz-like quality to it, and an ensemble-like texture. The effect was helped by the performers listening to one another as the would in a true jazz-improvisation ensemble as well as Davignon’s conducting.

A99-03288
[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

The pieces by Steffey and Tinker had very different tones. The source materials were more abstract, often deliberately noisy. The unfolding of Steffey’s piece reminded me of many of John Cage’s experimentations with media-based pieces, although in this case it was overlaid with recordings of speeches collected as a personal response to the George Zimmerman / Trayvon Martin case. Tinker’s piece used pre-composed cassettes that the performers manipulated based on a beautifully designed graphical score. The sounds were then passed through a looper and other effects and mixed into a single source.

The final set was the much anticipated reunion of Fuzzybunny, an electronic-improvisation trio consisting of Chris Brown, Scot Gresham-Lancaster and Tim Perkis. Their music is described as “All-out ‘carnallectual’ electronic improv, rocky-roaded with pop-music fragments and sonic gags define some kind of new style, difficult to describe.” And this was their first time playing together as group in a decade.

Fuzzybunny
[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

The performance started right way into their high-intensity onslaught of electronic sounds, pop-music clips, and loud hits. Perkis anchored the music with his steady laptop emanations while Chris Brown deftly moved through a variety of rhythms and familiar samples from popular music – I have a particular soft spot for the R&B clips – and Scot Gresham-Lancaster explored timbral possibilities of guitar and looping. The prevailing texture was loud and driving, but there were more subtle moments as well, with wobbly synthetic sounds, quieter percussive hits and scratchier recorders of older pop music. But then they would hit us with something surprising and louder. For a band that hasn’t played together in over ten years, they were very tight. And one could tell they were having fun (something that Brown mentioned during the pre-show Q&A as well). It was certainly a fun performance for those of us in the audience as well, and there was no question that we were going let them play a little longer, especially if it turns out to be another ten years before we can hear them together again.

Overall, it was another strong performance for this year’s summit, and one I was proud to be personally involved with as both a performer and curator.

2009 San Francisco Electronic Music Festival

This September was the 10th anniversary of the San Francisco Electronic Music Festival, and I had the opportunity to attend two of the performances. To mark the occasion, many of the original participants in the first festival ten years ago came back to perform.

The festival began with a piece by Miya Masaoka (whom Pamela Z jokingly referred to as the “mother of SFEMF” in her introduction). The LED Kimono project not surprisingly featured a kimono with LEDs, worn by dancer Mariko Masaoka-Drew. The dress itself was very pretty and simple, with a large LED array on the right-hand sleeve. Throughout the performance, different patterns were featured on the LEDa, sometimes very subtle with only a few active, and at other times large oscillating rectangular patterns.

The music began with a very traditional koto performance. There some delay, sampling and pitch-shift effects in the background. The koto was mostly struck or plucked, and occasionally bowed. During the section of the performance, there was almost no dance movement. Over time, more electronics came in, initially low, dronaning, and with overtones that sounded vaguely FM or inharmonic, almost like electrical noise.

As more electronic sounds came in, the dancer began to move, very slowly and subtly. Indeed, most of the movement throughout the piece was very subtle and slow, and did not clearly map to the musical material. On the other hand, the LEDs on the dress did match the rhythms and timbral changes. The first came on during and electronic arpeggio that sounded like classic FM synthesis. There were some dramatic swells with the higher FM-like sounds. The music primarily moved between the elements described, with the long drones and then the fast arpeggiation. But the physical movement of the dancer remained slow. As a result, I found myself mostly focused on the LEDs and the dress.

And the end, I stayed to watch the process of Masaoka-Drew being “unplugged” from the dress, and to fully observe the amount of electronics (and wiring) that were required for it to function.

The second set featured Lukas Ligeti performing his own compositions on the marimba lumina. He began slowly, with very low tones, one so low that the amplitude modulation itself became and audible rhythm. He then layered other sounds over these tones, including some vocal samples that sounded like chatters or whispers. Overall , I would describe his music as a cross between classic minimalism, world music, and electronic music. He described what we was doing as using the marimba lumina to play “samples and funny synths” on his laptop, with a focus on samples were collected from his world travels. One could definitely hear some of the instruments and voices from various places around the world, particularly Africa, in his performance.

The final performance of the evening was by Amy X Neuberg. Her performance was a combination of her “electronic cabaret”, which we have heard several times before and reviewed here at CatSynth; and a new work entitled “The Dude Trilogy”, a series of abstract poems for voice and the Blippo Box. The Blippo Box employs chaotic oscillators and modulation, and can be very difficult to control in a predictable way. However, Neuberg manages to perform it in a very poetic way, and more remarkably is able to match her voice to the sounds of the synthesizer. Rapidly changing vowel sounds matched a fast chaotic filter modulation, the rhythms of spoken word material matching the sequences. At other times her high sung tones followed the unstable high electronic pitches. During the piece, a video camera recorded and projected close-ups of her hands manipulating the instrument, including its theremin-like antenna.

Several of her electronic cabaret pieces were familiar from previous programs. They always are very tight and solid, combining voice, electronics and theatre. She did close with one song I had not heard before. It began with her striking the electronic drum pad repeatedly to produce a “banging piano-chord” pattern, which was matched by her vocals. It ended with a solo and fade-out on the Blippo Box, which almost seemed like a spontaneous moment.


The location of the festival, the restored Brava Theater in the Mission District of San Francisco, was itself an attraction. Besides the large theater space and lobby, the deliberately weathered foyer housed the installation The Exchange by Dukoro, the duo of Agnes Szelag and The Normal Conquest. This installation with subtly placed speakers and sounds generated interactively by visitors, complemented the architecture.


[click to enlarge.]


The Saturday performance opened with [ruidobello], aka Jorge Bachmann performing his piece Coleoptera_0909 for electronics and video. The piece centered around beetles, or scarabs, who are members of the biological order Coleoptera. Videos of scarabs were projected onto the screen. Some were crawling on skin, some were in dishes, a couple were on a corrugated cadrboard surface that resembled a Q-bert board. Initially the beetles were solitary, but then they started to appear in groups. One particular scene involved one poor scarab being madly chased and grabbed at by another (one can only speculate what was going on here). The sounds were based on recordings of natural sounds from scarabs. In the early part of the piece, the relation to the insect noises was quite transparent (i.e., it “sounded like insects”). Later on, the connection between the performed sounds and the original material became more abstract, and sounded like thick pads with delays, time-stretching and pitch-shifting effects. The piece ended with a scarab taking off in flight, and the sound following suit with an ascending glissando.

[ruidobello] was followed by an electronic performance of Gino Robair’s opera I ,Norton. It is an improvisational piece based on the writings of Norton I, “Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico”, and a famous character from San Francisco history. In 1859, Joshua Abraham Norton declared himself Emperor Norton I of the United States, and began to issue a series of decrees, including the dissolution of the United States Congress. The opera is based on the text from these decrees, but in an “open-ended structure [that] allows it to be assembled differently for each performance.”

In this version, Tom Duff played Norton I and read from his various edicts, while the spoken words are processed by three electronic performers Chris Brown, Kristin Miltner and Wobbly. Indeed. all the electronic sounds were based on Tom Duff’s voice. At first, the electronic manipulations kept the words intact through various delay, pitch and time effects; but over time the electronics became more complex, with delay lines or samples short enough for the snippets from the original voice to form completely different timbres, and as such became more detached from the stage performance. I found myself focusing heavily on the video work of Tim Thompson along with the theatrical performance, and the electronic sounds became part of the background. One particularly strong visual moment was when Tom Duff/Norton I built a small “city” out of colored translucent cubes and shining flashlights through them. This illuminated construction was then picked up by the video and projected onto the screen. There was a middle section in which our protagonist appeared to go to sleep (perhaps dreaming) and the electronic music became the focus, with the video playing against the sounds (which were still entirely based on previously sampled vocal material). There was an overall calm pace to the entire opera performance, punctuated by the dramatic proclamations and occasional abrupt shifts in timbre or visuals; and one simply became immersed in the whole experience.

Pamela Z concluded the festival with what she described as an “old-new sandwich” with several short pieces. The first “older” pieces included looped rhythms layered with rich vocal textures and harmonies, with one featuring a dramatic simulation of a manual typewriter complete with carriage return. There was a performance of a piece I had originally seen her perform at room: PIPES back in May. The next piece was the “new” part, a work in progress entitled Baggage Allowance. It opened with a video of a baggage carousel, with various people reciting the contents of their luggage (clothing, toiletries, books, etc.). The contents became a little more unusual over time, as people described confiscated items and even an attempt to hide a knife at LAX. A simulated x-ray of a bag included strange objects like a frog and a gun (actually, I suppose I gun isn’t all that strange). This was set against live electronic processing of vocals as well as other sounds such as the popping of bubble wrap. The final piece was another older work involving delays and dramatic harmonic vocals (it was originally done years ago with hardware effects boxes before being ported to modern laptop computers); as a representation of classic electronic music being redone with modern technology, it was a fitting conclusion to the festival.