Outsound New Music Summit: McCaslin/Reed/Pino Trio, and Animals & Giraffes

The second concert of the Outsound New Music Summit brought together two ensembles focused on more abstract improvisation.

The first set was a trio featuring Collette McCaslin, Amy Reed, and Mark Pino. McCaslin has collaborated with both Reed and Pino in other projects, but I think this is the first time the three of them have performed together as a unit. McCaslin sat stage right in a sitting meditative pose, surrounded by various percussion instruments as well as her cornet and soprano saxophone. Reed was in the center with her guitar, and Pino on stage left with an array of percussion.

McCaslin, Reed, Pino

The music was very sparse, with the space in between the sounds holding as much importance as the sounds from the instruments. And it worked. Each note seemed deliberately placed and balanced, and the space gave the audience time to mentally sit with the sounds. McCaslin’s opening gong tones were followed by a gentle flurry of punctuated hits and scratches from Reed and Pino on guitar and percussion, respectively. At other times her horns weaved in and out of percussive elements from the others. The trio clearly has learned to listen to one another as they have played together. In a sense, they were a percussion ensemble, as Reed mostly played her guitar with extended techniques that made it into another percussion instrument and there were few runs of pitched sounds outside of McCaslin’s saxophone and cornet sections. However, there was also a memorable moment were she paused and Reed and Pino started to groove on a jazzier guitar-and-drum riff. This was in contrast to the minimalism of the rest of the set and stood out, but I quite liked it musically and it showed the musicians’ versatility. I hope they continue to develop this trio project.

Animals and Giraffes also brought back some familiar artists in a new setting. Saxophonist and composer Phillip Greenlief teamed up with writer and performer Claudia La Rocco to explore text and sound in a musical setting. They were joined for this performance by Evelyn Davis on prepared piano, Aurora Josephson on voice, and John Shiurba on guitar.

Animals and Giraffes

La Rocco’s reading provided the overall structure for the music. The words seemed to be drawn from a variety of sources that included the pre-concert Q&A session, with references to the salsa band practicing in another part of the Community Music Center and one of the questions that explored the artists’ popular-music interests. In that sense, the text was as much an improvised element as the instrumental music – Aurora Josephson’s voice being a co-equal instrument with guitar, reeds, and piano in this ensemble. Greenlief’s saxophone and clarinet provided a steady counterpoint to the text; and Shiurba and Josephson added much color and texture to the mix. Evelyn Davis’ prepared-piano performance stood out as the most energetic and embodied performance, with quick changes and motions both on the traditional keyboard and inside the instrument with her wide variety of preparations.

There was a large and appreciative audience, which is always great to see both for the artists and for Outsound. it’s a reminder that quieter music can still get a strong response. We look forward to the next nights of the Summit and will report on them as they unfold.

Outsound New Music Summit: Deconstruction Orchestra and Rakin-Parker/Pearce Duo

We continue our reports from the Outsound New Music Summit with the concert on Friday, August 1. This evening featured two very contrasting sets, both in composition and volume.

The first set featured the duo of Teddy Rakin-Parker and Daniel Pearce. They performed new works by composer Renee Baker that were commissioned for the Outsound Summit.

Rakin-Parker/Pearce Duo

Baker’s compositions “use a wide range of graphics and cued micro-improvisations as a means to denote the various developmental stages of our planet’s evolution.” Musically, the result was a mixture of subtle sounds, often low in volume, with occasional bursts of energy and percussive elements. The latter worked particularly well for this duo, with the cello becoming a percussion instrument alongside the drums.

If the initial set was subtle and focused on details, the second set was the complete opposite. Joshua Allen’s Deconstruction Orchestra was a loud event with no fewer than 22 instrumentalists on stage.

Joshua Allen's Deconstruction Orchestra

The ensemble performed The Structure of Sound and Space, an original deconstructivist-inspired suite of cell structure game compositions. Allen conducted the group through gestures and a series of instructions on sheets of paper. The piece and the ensemble were described in advance as being “cathartic”. That characteristic was hard to discern, but they certainly were loud. It seemed that most of the ensemble was playing at the same time, creating a very thick, intense and sometimes chaotic texture; though there were points where subgroups performed and there were several solos by ensemble members. It was certainly a spectacle that had to be experienced live.

The full ensemble featured Aaron Bennett, Sam Flores, Vinny Golia, John Ingle, Matt Ingalls, Josh Marshall, Dave Slusser, Rent Romus, Cory Wright, Peter Bonos, CJ Borosque, Matt Gaspari, Ron Heglin, Jeff Hobbs, George Moore, Matt Streich, John Finkbeiner, Henry Kaiser, Lisa Mezzacappa, Timothy Orr, and William Winant.

Overall, this was a somewhat shorter program than the other nights, but it packed quite a punch.

Outsound Music Summit: Touch the Gear

The 2014 Outsound Music Summit in underway. And as usual, we began with our popular community event Touch the Gear. We had a large crowd of all ages, and delightful cacophony of unusual musical sounds.


This year, I brought the analog modular (specifically, about two-thirds of the current module collection) and the new Moog Theremini:

Amanda Chaudhary with analog modular and Moog Theremini
[Photo by Frank Lin]

There were several first-time participants this year, including Elise Gargalikis and Dmitri SFC of coa-modular.comwith their “wall of Serge”. It was fun to get to try this out myself.

[Photo by Elise Gargalikis‎]

There was more Serge modular to be found, courtesy of Lx Rudis.


Aaron Oppenheim brought classic circuit-bent toys, including a Speak&Math and the Talking Computron.


It was a bit of inspiration to get of my tuchus and circuit-bend the Speak&Spell sitting in my studio!

There was a Minimoog sighting, of course.


Long-time participants Matt Davignon and CJ Borosque demonstrated their recent work with effects pedals. Davignon processed drum machines and samplers while Borosque’s pedals were in a closed loop circuit generating their own sound.



There were acoustic instruments as well. David Samas brought his very impressive contrabass ehru. This beast was huge. And it had bells in addition to the strings and resonant chamber (made out of a trunk).



Bryan Day presented his mechanical/electrical/acoustic inventions.


Jaroba shared a variety of wind and percussion instruments with a bit of electronics.

[Photo by Frank Lin]

There were several more presenters, and as usual I don’t have room for everyone in this post. But it was a great event as always, and we at Outsound appreciated everyone’s contributions. Now it is on to the concerts including tomorrow night’s Poetry Freqs show. Please click here for the full schedule!

Outsound Music Summit: Lords of Outland, Lewis Jordan, Kyle Bruckman’s Wrack

The 2013 2013 Outsound New Music Summit concluded last Saturday with an evening of energetic jazz composition and improvisation, including the world premier of two large-scale works.

The concert opened with a set by Rent Romus’ Lords of Outland. Romus was joined by guest artists L.A. Jenkins on guitar and Hasan Razzaq on saxophone, along with regulars CJ Borosque on trumpet and electronics, Philip Everett on drums and Ray Scheaffer on bass.

Lords of Outsound
[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

The Lords of Outland performed The Proceedings of Dr. Ke, a suite of original compositions inspired by the essays of experimental psychologist Dr. Charles Ponce on what he termed “Blade Runner Psychology.” The music was high-energy and frenetic, as I have come to expect from this group, but punctuated by unison hits and silences. There were also spaces for each of the ensemble members to come to the front, in particular Jenkis and Razzag, as well as Romus on double-saxophone. One piece in particular centered around CJ Borosque on electronic effects pedals, with an extensive the rest of the group joining in with sounds that matched the noise elements from the electronics.

Lords of Outland was followed Lewis Jordan’s Music at Large. On this occasion, the ensemble included India Cooke on violin, Karl Evangelista on guitar, John-Carlos Perea on electric bass, and Jimmy Biala on drums/percussion.

Lewis Jordan's Music at Large
[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

The piece, composed by Jordan, was anchored by text relating to his experiences as an only child. The music was a mixture of scored and improvised material, and ranged from more luscious harmonic sections to fast virtuosic runs by Evangelista, Jordan and India Cooke. It was punctuated by quieter moments where the narrative text (read by Jordan) came to the front. Although there was improvisation mixed in, the music maintained a somewhat melancholy sound throughout. One of the more memorable elements came near the end, with a series of repeated “false cadences” with very idiomatic chords. After each repeat it built up more and added more improvised elements, eventually leading to a completely different section of more atonal sounds, before returning back to the harmonic cadence one more time.

[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

The final set featured Kyle Bruckmann’s Wrack and the world premier of Bruckmann’s …Awaits Silent Tristero’s Empire, a 2012 CMA New Jazz Works commission. This large-scale piece was inspired by the fiction of Thomas Pynchon, specifically three of his novels V., The Crying of Lot 49, and Gravity’s Rainbow. Bruckmann took cues from the many song and song-like elements in these novels, and his composition traverses just about every jazz idiom imaginable along with a variety of other song styles from the early and mid 20th century. Often these style quotes were quite humorous, especially when they took listeners by surprise.

Kyle Bruckmann's Wrack
[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

The music never stayed in one place for very long, but there were a couple of extended sections, including a fun one that featured trombonist Jeb Bishop displaying his talent in both traditional and extended techniques. Guest trumpeter Darren Johnston was featured in sections as well. Rounding out the ensemble were Jen Clare Paulson on viola, Jason Stein on bass clarinet, Anton Hatwich on string bass, and Tim Daisy on drums. The group made what was undoubtedly a very complex piece sound rhythmically and timbrally tight.

It was a musically impressive show, but also a very well-attended one with a packed house and possibly one of the highest attendance records for a Summit program. Now it time like to look forward to next year’s festival.

Pitta of the Mind, Red Thread, and Pet the Tiger at Turquoise Yantra Grotto

Today we look at back at the show “Noisy with a Chance of TEXT” that took place at the Turquoise Yantra Grotto in San Francisco earlier this month. The program of experimental music with textual elements intended to “break the ultimate taboo in noise: meaning” and featured performances by Pitta of the Mind (my duo with Maw Shein Win), Red Thread (CJ Borosque and Laurie Amat), and Pet the Tiger (David Samas and Peter Bonos). A secondary theme of the night was cats – with abundant animal print in the setting and attire of the participants.

The concert opened with an introductory set by Pet the Tiger, combining David Samas’ vocals and custom musical instruments with instrumental performance by Peter Bonos.

David Samas and Peter Bonos

Their performance combined a wide variety of sounds into a short period of time, with experimental voice, instrumentation and electronics. It set the tone for the evening of sometimes complex music but also warm and inviting at the same time.

Next up was Red Thread, a duo of CJ Borosque and Laurie Amat.

CJ Borosque and Laurie Amat

The set started (and ended) with extended-technique trumpet and voice, but in between it was a very sparse and captivating presentation of CJ Borosque’s poetry. Throughout, there was a counterpoint between the straight recitation of the text and Laurie Amat’s virtuosic vocal techniques.

Then it was time for Pitta of the Mind to take the stage.

Pitta of the Mind

We took the animal-print theme quite seriously with our costumes, and Maw Shein Win read a selection of animal-themed poems while I performed music on a variety of iPad synthesizer apps. You can see our full performance in this video:

Pitta of the Mind at the Turquoise Yanta Grotto, April 5, 2013 from CatSynth on Vimeo.

I particularly liked how well timed and structured the performance turned out, including the “cat piano” interludes. It was also great to see how much the audience got into the theme, meowing back at us. Afterwards, I was joined on stage by David Samas in an impromptu duo where he combined his extended vocal techniques with my improvisation on an analog modular synthesizer. It’s amazing how much Samas was able to “sound like a synth” with his voice. Again, you can see the full performance in the video below:

Amar Chaudhary and David Samas at Turquoise Yantra Grotto, April 5, 2013 from CatSynth on Vimeo.

Overall, this was one of the most fun experimental-music shows I have participated in for a while. Not only was it strong musically, but we had a large and appreciative audience that packed the intimate space of the Turquoise Yantra Grotto. I certainly hope for more shows like this in the near future.

Outsound Music Summit: Fire and Energy

The final concert of the 2012 Outsound Music Summit was Fire and Energy, a night of “improvised-jazz-inspired-music.” Labeling a new-music concert as jazz can often be treacherous, with some people all-too-quick to join arguments about what does and does not qualify as “jazz.” But in the case if this evening’s artists, who all had long established histories in the world of improvised free-jazz, there should be no argument.

The concert opened with a solo set by Jack Wright, a long-time veteran and leader of the Bay Area improvised music scene. His performance began on soprano saxophone with discrete notes and short phrases filled with overtone, microtones, percussive sounds. The were some moments that were quite subtle, with long notes that had deliberate microtonal variations or timbral variations on a single pitch- I found this to be quite expressive. There were other more melodic sections that made reminded me of old popular jazz recordings from the 1930s. Wright communicated a lot of emotion in his improvisations, with some parts sounding quite plaintive, almost a lamentation, while others were bright and happy. The first have of his set ended with some exceptionally high notes.

[Jack Wright. Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

Wright then switched to alto saxophone. There was something about this piece that just seemed “jazzier” – it’s difficult to pinpoint any one thing, but perhaps it is just the nature and expectations of the alto sax. This piece was also a bit louder and aggressive, with numerous scoops, bends, growls and noises. He employed extended effects with the bell to change the dynamics and timbre of the instrument (including at one point playing with the instrument pointed into his knee), and used key clicks, buzzing and voiced tones.

The next set featured Dave Bryant, first performing solo on acoustic piano and then in a trio with drummer Dax Compise and bassist Bryan Clark. Bryant is best known for his work as a member of Ornette Coleman’s Prime TIme group, and as an expert and teacher of Harmolodic Theory. His solo piano work was an impressive virtuosic display, with a barrage of fast moving chords up and down the keyboard that nonetheless were quite expressive. It felt like the music was constantly moving towards something, a bit frantically. Then all at once the energy was released as if in a sigh. He spent a fair amount of time in the often under-appreciated lower registers of the instrument, and kept the velocity of the performance going. The big loud low chords were followed by softer high chords in a moment that was reminiscent of late Romantic piano music. As he continued, he was joined on stage by Comprise and Clark, and in an instant the solo turned into an acoustic jazz trio.

[Dave Bryant Trio. Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

After a short section, Bryant switch to electric keyboard and the character of music changed considerably. It became softer and dreamier, with the bass setting the tone and pace. But there was still forward motion to the performance, and more of Bryant’s virtuosic high-speed chord work that at times seemed superhuman. The pace slowed down again, with a distinctly blues-like line and then pentatonic glissandi. After another reset, a new harmony and rhythm emerged with Bryant leading the group into heavy, almost final-sounding cadences. In between, there were bass and drum solos and more frenetic work, but the cadences remained as the framework. It all came to a sudden by definite stop.

The following set featured Vinny Golia with his sextet, including Gavin Templeton on alto sax, Daniel Rosenboom on trumpet, Alex Noice on guitar, Jon Armstrong on electric bass, and Andrew Lessman on drums. Of all the performances on this evening, this one most embodied the concert title “Fire and Energy.” There was an intensity to the full ensemble in both fast runs, hits, and the driving rhythm that underpinned the set-spanning piece. It began rather quietly, with Golia on pray bowls. Soon, the other members of the group entered with long drone sounds, along with soft symbols, trumpet noise and a chime harmony. Golia always has a collection of saxophones and other wind instruments at his disposal, and he switched to a smaller instrument that looked like a soprano sax but with a bent neck, which he played together with Rosenboom on trumpet. The music gradually became more animated and evolved in a unison rhythm and eventually into a rather funky groove. I can easily get absorbed into music like this.

[Vinny Golia Sextet. Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

The rhythm continued for a while, with various interruptions, including some solos – Rosenboom in particular tore it up during his trumpet solo. Then there was a sudden change in rhythm and texture, led by Templeton on alto sax. Rather then the unified driving rhythm, the ensemble played a complex intricate orchestration that still retained a rhythmic structure. There were more extended effects and sounds, such as squeaking and percussive effects, and Noice used a Kaoss Pad with his guitar. Golia switched to bass clarinet for a slower section of music that included a short four-part “chorale”. The ensemble quieted down and the prayer bowls returned, before everyone joined in for a final segment to close the set.

The final set of the evening and of the Summit as a whole was also the largest in terms of personnel. Tony Passarel’s Thin Air Orchestra is a project that brings together a large number of improvising musicians, and on this night the group swelled in number to include several musicians from the previous sets, including Vinny Golia and Dax Comprise, as well as regulars from Outsound. Festival director Rent Romus was able to temporarily remove his directors hat and play saxophones in the ensemble. Other players that evening included Ross Hammond, Randy McKean, Keith Kelly, John Vaughn, Cory Wright, Ken Kawamura, Tom Djll, CJ Borosque, Murray Campbell, Keith Cary, Mike Turgeon, Bill Noertker and Gerry Pineda.

[Tony Passarel’s Thin Air Orchestra. Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

The first piece began with unison trumpets, soon joined by viola. The texture was very sparse, but they were soon joined by Hammond on guitar and the other instruments followed in a crescendo made of small bits of sound. There was a brief sax-and-flute duo, and playing inside the piano strings by Passarell. The next piece began with the rhythm section (piano, electric bass and drums) in a fast sparse motion, followed by a huge cloud of sound from the entire ensemble. The music became more rhythmic for a bit and then everyone hit one big chord.

For the next couple of pieces, vocalist Loren Benedict joined the group. After an intro with ponderous piano and then a funky rhythm, Benedict launched into an impressive stream of fast highly rhythmic scat singing. The other musicians joined in the rhythm with him. Rent Romus also had a particularly crazy double-sax solo in this piece.

One of the last pieces was softer and did not have as intense a rhythm. The guitar and viola were rather bluesy and were joined by Tom Djll with extended-technique trumpet noises. Hammond’s hard-driving guitar and minor chords combined with the others made this the ensemble’s “Miles Davis Moment” (with apologies to Raskin and Haryman from the Sonic Poetry Night). Benedict came back and joined the group for a big finale.

This was once again a long concert, but it went by rather fast given the energy and vitality of the music. It was a very strong final concert in what was a particular strong Outsound Music Summit this year.

Outsound Music Summit: Touch the Gear and Composers’ Forum

The 2012 Outsound Music Summit began this Sunday with the annual Touch the Gear Expo. Visitors have a chance to see and try out the equipment used by musicians and sound artists. Although we had fewer presenters this year, we had a variety of instruments and devices, and a fairly sizable crowd of visitors.

In the above image, we see Matt Davignon presenting effects pedals driven using a Casio keyboard, and Joe Lasquo presenting laptop-based programs with Max/MSP.

One of the fun aspects of Touch the Gear is getting one’s hands on instruments that one only sees on stage. For me, one of those opportunities came when I got to play the Arp 2600 that Benjamin Ethan Tinker brought to the event. It was only a little over a week earlier that I heard him play it at the Luggage Store Gallery.

But it there is the discovery of new and never-before seen musical creations. The most unusual for me was this creation by Omer Gal:

The organic head-like element contained several mechanical and optical sensors that one could touch or put ones hands near to affect the sound. A second part of the installation included a mechanical “robot” that played a set of strings with a pickup. The performer can affect the operation of the robot and the sound through electronic controls.

Other unusual electro-acoustic instruments were presented by Walter Funk and Dan Ake. Walter Funk’s metallic instrument called Ulysses offered opportunities to explore different resonances and timbres through sheets of metal, rods and springs arrayed throughout its body. Dan Ake’s invention was a series of gridded metal inside a large wooden box, than one could excite with a variety of objects, such as bows, rods and a glove with long wooden fingertips.

I was presenting at this event as well. I always try to bring something a little different each year. This year, I decided to go with two ends of the technology spectrum: an iPad running Animoog and iMS-20, and a Eurorack modular system with a Metasonx R53, Make Noise Echophon, Malekko Heavy Industry Anti-Oscillator, and several others. Both technologies caught people’s attention, with some more excited about the analog modular system with its physical knobs and cables, and others gravitating towards the iPad.

Andrew Wayne presented a very tangible set of objects containing unpopped popcorn kernels in aluminum trays and other contains, augmented with contact microphones and electronic effects. He assembled his own contact mics to use with these acoustic sources.

Other participants included CJ Borosque with an Alesis Air, Laurie Amat with vocal and ambient sources into a Line 6, and a surface by April-Jeanie Tang with rubber-ball mallets. Through contact miss, the action of the rubber mallets and the surface and transmitted to effects processors for a deep, haunting sound. Tom Duff presented a series of software processes that could be randomly controlled from a MIDI controller. Despite the randomness, it was quite expressive after playing with it and dialing in on particular processes.  He also had a couple of critters from Bleep Labs.

Long-time participants Tom Nunn and David Michalak were back again with the most recent incarnations of the sketch box. You can read an interview with Tun Nunn and discussion of his musical inventions here on CatSynth.

And finally, Bob Marsh was back with his intriguing and “charismatic” metal creations.

I do tend to gravitate towards metallic sounds when looking for new material, something which seems to be common among those who are looking for invention and discovery in musical sound.

On Monday night, the summit continued with the Composers Symposium, a panel discussion featuring four of the composers in this year’s festival: John Shiurba, Christina Stanley, Benjamin Ethan Tinker, and Matthew Goodheart were on hand to discuss their work. And as a first this year, I acted as the moderator for the evening. It was a great experience, and I did not have to do very much besides seeding the discussion with a few questions. From those starting points, a lively discussion ensued among the composers as well as dialog with the audience. We talked about the role of notation in each of the composers’ music, such as Stanley’s use of paintings as her scores and Shiurba’s use of graphical elements derived from print newspapers (a major theme of his piece this year); and the dual role that these artists played as both composers and performers. One of the things that made this panel work was the variety of musical disciplines, styles and backgrounds among the participants, as well as the interest that the audience brought to the discussion with their numerous questions. Everyone had criticisms of the terms “new music” and “experimental music” that are often used as blanket designations for the music featured in the summit and indeed much of the music reviewed here on CatSynth, but that was to be expected. The two hours of the discussion went by rather quickly, and I’d like to think everyone on the panel and in the audience found the experience enjoyable and illuminating. I would definitely like to do more of these at events in the future.

SIMM Series: Hay/Honda/Kuehne trio and Forward Energy

Today we look at a recent show in Outsound Presents’ SIMM Series that featured two different but energetic ensemble performances. Jim Ryan’s Forward Energy was back for a CD release performance. And they were preceded by a trio of Emily Hay on flute+vocals, Motoko Honda on piano, and New-York-based Valerie Keuhne on cello.

[Emily Hay and Valerie Kuenhe]

Before the show, I went up to the piano to take a closer look at the array of gear arranged on top, including a Korg Kaoss Pad and 4ms Noise Swash. These were used by Motoko Honda during the set, though she mostly used it to control audio from the other performers.

The set opened with cabaret-style piano (no electronic effects yet), joined by flute trills and melodies. Keuhne’s cello complemented Hay’s flute, but then grew more intense and frantic, eventually reaching high-energy “bow-wrecking” levels. Hay switched from flute to vocals that nonetheless retained a flute-like quality. The rhythm of the voice and piano were set strongly against the cello.

Keuhne started the second piece, again with fast bowing, harmonics and percussive effects. Her performance was forceful and featured rich tones. The piano and flute came in more subtly, with processing by the Kaoss Pad. It was easier to hear the electronics with the flutter technique on the flute and percussive vocal effects, with a variety delays, pitch bends and harmonizations. While controlling the effects, Honda continued her vigorous piano performance, using the inside of the instrument in addition to the keys.

Hay opened the next piece with flute mouthpiece and electronic effects. Here I think the 4ms pedal was being used, particularly on the buzzing effect of the low drone from the cello. The overall texture became quite noisy, but the vocals and scraping effects from the cello came through. The final section featured the full ensemble, and particularly forceful piano performance by Honda that included shaking the instrument. The ending was a little quieter from all, but nonetheless still vigorous.

After a short break between sets, Forward Energy took the stage in a performance celebrating the release of their new CD The Awakening. The group featured Jim Ryan on voice and saxophone, Rent Romus on saxophones, CJ Borosque on trumpet, Scott Looney on piano, Eric Marshall on bass, and Timothy Orr on drums.

The set started off immediately with a burst of energy. After this opening fanfare, the music relaxed into a fast jazz rhythm with repeating atonal patterns. The horns (Ryan, Borosque, Romus) took turns with solos separated by ensemble improvisation sections. There were passages where the three horns played together as a single instrument; and Rent Romus’ solo had a more soulful and deep quality compared to the overall frantic and anxious quality of the piece. Scott Looney’s piano solo switched back and forth between rhythmic chords and fast runs that I couldn’t possibly play myself. The bass solo by Marshall was accompanied by scraping metallic percussion and prepared piano, including drumsticks and metal percussion on the strings.

The rhythm section opened the next piece, with resonances in the piano and slow percussion tones. This eerie mixture was set against slow trumpet. Then all at once the ensemble started playing loud and fast. Then a sudden silence followed by prepared piano. It kept going back and forth this way, soft versus angry. I found myself particularly noticing the various gongs that Looney was using inside the piano to both visual and aural effect

The final piece was where the reeds pulled out their virtuosic techniques. Rent Romus played double saxophone (similar to a few nights earlier at the Music of Invention concert), and Jim Ryan launched into his poetry (one friend on Twitter referred to this as “Jim going bore poet”) with lines ranging from “Naked on the plane of full being” to “Did you ever see an elf die?” I can with all honesty that I have never actually seen an elf die. It was delightfully weird, and I think some of the lines took the other musicians by surprise. The prepared piano accompaniment was noisier and scratchier than in the previous piece, which gave the overall background a more staccato and pointed texture.

Overall, the performance did live up to the name of ensemble, and it was clear that everyone, especially Jim Ryan, had a great time with it.

Outsound GearExplore at Chamber Music Day

Back in mid-October, a few of us from the crew at Outsound Presents participated in Chamber Music Day at the De Young Museum in San Francisco.

There were over 140 musicians participating, with performances and demonstrations scattered around the museum. And “chamber music” was defined quite expansively to include a wide variety of instrumentation and genres, ranging from traditional classical music to experimental avant-garde ensembles and crossover groups. Our contribution was a demonstration of electronic-music gear – a mini version of “Touch the Gear Night” from the Outsound Music Summit. I primarily focused on software-based sound generation, with an iPad and a Monome connected to a MacBook running Open Sound World. Matt Davignon presented his setup featuring drum machines and effects pedals. CJ Borosque demonstrated her input-less effects change where the noise in the signal chain is the source for sound manipulation; and Rent Romus demonstrated live sound processing with a setup that included a Korg Monotron.

There was quite a large turnout overall for Chamber Music Day, and we had a lot of traffic at our demonstration table. Reactions ranged from mild curiosity to deep technical conversations. We were a particularly big hit with children, who are naturally attracted to hands-on demos and electronic gear.

[Amar Chaudhary and Matt Davignon demonstrating gear for young attendees at Chamber Music Day. Photo by Scott Chernis.]

This trio of young ladies spent a lot of time at the table exploring the various devices in great detail.

[Exploring the gear. Photo by Scott Chernis.]

They were particularly interested in the iPad. Here they are trying out the Korg iMS-20 app.

[Playing the iPad.  Photo by Scott Chernis.]

I would like to think that some of the kids (as well as a few of the adults) went off and downloaded some music-making apps for their devices and started playing. Or perhaps a casual guitarist found a new way to make sounds with his or her pedals.

Overall it was a great experience, and an opportunity for us to share what we do with musicians outside our small “new-music” community and with the general public. Thanks to the San Francisco Friends of Chamber Music (SFFCM) for inviting us to participate. To find out more about Chamber Music Day and their other events and programs, please visit their website.

[All photos in this article by Scott Chernis and provided courtesy of SFFCM.]

Outsound Music Summit: Touch the Gear and Non-idiomatic composition

The Outsound Music Summit began this Sunday with the annual Touch the Gear Expo. Visitors have a chance to see and try out the equipment used by musicians and sound artists. We had a a diverse group of participants this year, and this short video gives a good overview of some of the sound and visuals that one would have encountered:

We had a decently sized turnout for the event, and the evening went by quickly. While not at my own station, I did my best to see others work, but did not get to everyone. For those who followed my live tweets from the event, the remainder of article might seem redundant, but I do provide more detail.

I brought a small rig that reflects my recent solo work, with an iPad as both a synthesizer and controller for software on the laptop, a monome, the Wicks Looper and a Korg Mini-Kaoss Pad.

The iPad was primarily running TouchOSC, controlling a version of my piece Charmer:Firmament running in Open Sound World on the laptop, as well as a few popular instruments like the Smule Magic Fiddle and Bebot. The monome was controlling sample loops, and the Wicks Looper was feeding into the Kaoss Pad.

Next me, Matt Davignon presented a turntable and effects pedals that was quite popular with visitors. There is still something compelling about a tactile and intuitive interface such as a turntable that compels people to want to play it. In contrast, the monome in particularly seemed to intimidate people.

There were many non-electronic offerings as well, including the quartz cantabile by Todd Larew. Who needs electronics when you have fire as your primarily technology!

Bob Marsh wandered the hall in a suit covered in plastic water bottles, some containing mechanical sound generating elements, and was quite a presence throughout the evening.

He also brought several other articles of sonic clothing for people to try on and play.

Tim Thompson brought his space palette, a large wall-sized controller in which one controls sound and visuals by moving in the various spaces in the panel.

I had seen him perform with the space palette before, but this my first opportunity to try it out myself.

Another original instrument, the Ernestophone, featured one main string and several sympathetic strings, and a very rich sonic palette of overtones.

Phogmasheen presented an instrument made from pick heads and cake pans.

One strikes the metal elements with mallets or sticks, and then pickups process the output electronically.

This is not the first time I have seen a classic 1950’s HP oscillator at Touch the Gear, but it’s the first time I have seen one paired with a Peerless transistor radio, for a very retro noise experience.

Noise rigs are a common theme, particularly chains of effects pedals and mixers that operate solely on the noise inherent in electronic circuits but then amplify and shape it through non-linear processes of the effects change into rich and chaotic sound palettes. One example is this colorful rig from CJ Borosque. I was able to get subtle an expressive control of the sound by focusing on only a couple of knobs.

Other participants included Tom Nunn presenting one of his sonic inventions, Rick Walker demonstrating high virtuosic use of live-looping hardware and Laurie Amat getting rather humorous results from the sound of the crowd in the hall processed through a classic green Line6 delay pedal.

The panel discussion on Monday night, entitled “Elements of non-idiomatic compositional strategies” was quite a contrast to Touch the Gear Night. Four composers, Kanoko Nishi, Andrew Raffo Dewar, Krystyna Bobrowski, and Gino Robair engaged in a discussion moderated by Polly Moller about their music, influences and views on composition in front of an intimate audience with plentiful wine, cheese and dark chocolate.

One of the interesting questions was whether each of the composers began their ideas with sound, or a focus on sound. Not surprisingly, the answer was no – although sound was the medium of creativity, the source ideas can come from anywhere. In speaking about his piece for the Friday concert at the summit, he described how the work was influenced very directly by paintings by the Argentine artist Eduardo Serón. Gino Robair similar painted a very visual and conceptual influence for his suite based on the engravings of Jose Guadalupe Posada of late19th -and early 20th-century life in Mexico, and the skeletons and skulls in particular. Kanoko Nishi referred “music completely devoid of symbols”; and Krystyna Bobrowski described her work with her created instruments as a “sonic bloom of resonance”, perhaps my favorite phrase of the evening.

Other topics discussed included composing for instruments or sounds versus composing for particular musicians, i.e., “instead of preparing the piano, prepare the pianist” (as I pianist, I am not sure how I feel about being prepared), and questions about the rewards of composing experimental music – because it was accepted by panelists and audience alike that their are neither financial nor sexual riches to be gained by this pursuit. Perhaps the response that rang most true to me was that composing music is an obsessive-compulsive activity that some of us just have to do whether we like it or not.

For those who not familiar with the terms, think of idiomatic music as music that falls into recognizable patterns and genres that one can readily identify, so non-idiomatic music is music that attempts to defy such categorization. However, I often find the dichotomy not particularly useful. I sympathize with the composers’ desire to two work that transcends past categorization, and I often strive to do the same thing – but we can’t help but be influenced by the music and sounds around us, and shouldn’t necessarily fear the appearance of these influences in music that we call “new”. It was also interesting how much all four panelists distanced themselves from mathematics, even while acknowledging the deep and longstanding interconnection with music.

All for composers will have work on the Friday night concert at the Outsound Music Summit. Click here for more details.