Posts Tagged ‘david samas’

Outsound Music Summit: Touch the Gear Expo

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The 12th Annual Outsound Music Summit began this past Sunday, opening as always with the Touch the Gear Expo. Musicians and sound artists from the Bay Area and beyond were on hand with their musical devices and inventions for the public to observe and try out. I participated this year with two technological extremes: soft synths on an iPad, and a full two rows of Eurorack format analog modules.

iPad and Eurorack modular

Both offerings were quite popular, eliciting curiosity from visitors of all ages.

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[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

There were quite a few analog synthesizers on hand, including a vintage Serge modular courtesy of Synthesizerman (aka Doug Linner).

Synthesizerman and Serge Modular
[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

One of the more intriguing analog synths I encountered was this creation by Andy Puls.

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The circular pattern represents a step sequencer controlling an internal sound generator. Conductive pegs can be moved around on the bars to change pitches and other parameters. There are also knobs as well. The overall geometry, control design and lights made this a visually appealing instrument.

Nick Wang also demonstrated some custom analog boxes with controllers, oscillators and a VCF.

Nick Wang synth demo

Fernando Lopez-Lezcano demonstrated his elaborate homemade analog synthesizer. I have had the privilege of hearing him play it in a formal performance.

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[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

Matt Davignon demonstrated his devices for working with fixed-media sources, a bit of a preview of what we can expect for Friday night’s PMOCOTAT performance.

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Acoustic creations, in particular sounds from natural sources, were a common theme this year as well. Cheryl Leonard demonstrated her expertly tuned instruments made from stones, bones, shells and wood gathered at the extremes of the earth. She also demonstrated her virtuosity with using these elements together, such as generating rhythms from a series of bones passed over the shells.

Cheryl Leonard
[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

David Samas was also on hand with his musical creations from natural sources found here in northern California.

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Missing from the picture above is his tuned aluminum rod, from which one can get quite a powerful sound with a well-rosined hand. I had the opportunity to try it out myself.

Bryan Day presented his instruments made from found objects, including the tape measures featured prominently in the image below. Other sources included springs and metal rods. His creations are quite ergonomic and easily to play, putting unusual sources into compact and intuitive arrangements.

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Horaflora combined acoustics and small electronics in a couple of lively offerings, including drum heads excited by magnets. I heard him play this in a program several months ago.

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Horaflora also demonstrated exciting natural acoustic elements atop a subwoofer connected to an iPhone synth. You can see and hear a bit of my attempting to demonstrate these elements together with him in the following video:


David Molina (aka “Transient”) also blended acoustic and electronic ideas. He had a variety of small instruments and sound sources on hand, which he used to generate source material for complex loops and textures controlled in real time via Albeton live.

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In his own words, this was only “about half of what he will be using in his performance on Friday.”

Tom Nunn, a prolific inventor whom I interviewed in 2012, was once again presenting his creations. This time it was an exceptionally colorful set of his Skatchboxes.

Tom Nunn skatchboxes
[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

There were others presenting as well, and unfortunately, I did not have time to see everyone and also attend to me own station. But I hope to see more of all the participants in more musical settings.

The Outsound Music Summit continues on Wednesday night with the first of the formal concerts, you can see a full schedule here. And of course, you can always follow along with @catsynth on Twitter if you can’t attend in person.

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

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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.

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The Green Wood, an opera by David Samas

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David Samas’ new multimedia opera The Green Wood premiered this Wednesday at Shotwell Studios. The piece, which featured Samas with Laurie Amat, Doug Carroll, Bob Marsh, Grace Renaud, Becky Robinson-Leviton and Jennifer Gwirtz combined visuals, music, inventions, words and dance into an immersive experience centered around the idea and experience of the forest.


[The Green Wood. Photo by Sam Ardrey.]

The Green Wood literally refers to the mixed-media installation that serves as the main set for the piece. It is a visual representation of the elements of the forest, but also serves as a primary musical instrument both through its main dendraphone structure as well as other attached sound-makers such as pine cones, courrugahorns and blocks. Indeed, the great majority of the sound-making in the piece comes from elements found in forests: seeds, stones, water, and primarily wood. These materials were not only in Samas’ many invented instruments but also in the traditional instruments used: cello, string bass and piano. There was also electronics integrated into the sonic fabric via microphones and loopers.


[David Samas and invented instruments. Photo by Sam Ardrey.]

The piece follows 24 hours in the life of a forest, moving from early morning hours through daytime to dusk and finally into late night. The lighting design and ambient sounds guide the audience through this framework. The music often followed the ambient sounds, such as the percussive playing during the early morning hours matching the insects and leaves, but also incorporated a variety of styles from traditional european folk music to throat singing to more esoteric. There was even a butoh piece featuring Bob Marsh in an elaborate tree costume.


[Bob Marsh as a tree. Photo by Sam Ardrey.]

The voices, traditional instruments and invented instruments blended well both acoustically and musically, a result of the strong musicianship in the ensemble and presumably a lot of rehearsal. I am familiar with Carroll, Marsh and Amat from numerous other performances, but this was my introduction to Samas’ range of vocal techniques which included throat singing as well as traditional Western practice. I also liked how well the looping was integrated acoustically, something I noticed particularly during the sections featuring throat singing and the pouring of water.


[Grace Renaud. Photo by Sam Ardrey.]

In many ways, however, the stars were the invented instruments in their visual and sonic variety. Different instruments were introduced as the piece unfolded, some were very polished and complex while others were incredibly simple, such as seeds poured onto ceramic plates.


[Becky Robinson-Leviton as the Nymph of the Flowers. Photo by Sam Ardrey.]

The performance sought to engage the audience beyond sight and sound with the use of incense made and the serving of a tea made from nettles and flowers. These were enhancements to the experience and not overbearing.


[Photo by Sam Ardrey.]

The was a dissonance between the text of the piece and the immersive and celebratory qualities of the music and visuals. It was dark at times, lamenting both environmental destruction and the dislocation of humans from natural habitats that nourish them. It is a challenge to make such topics not come across as didactic, but that could also be seen as part of the piece itself.

Overall, it was a great and unique performance, and it was well received by the audience on opening night. The show has performances tonight (Friday 3/22), tomorrow night (Saturday 3/23) and a Sunday matinee at Shotwell Studios. I recommend seeing it if you can.

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Jaroba + Keith Cary, Bryan Day, Turquoise Yantra Grotto

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Last week I attended an evening of “sonic innovations” at the Turquoise Yanta Grotto, a new venue for experimental and eclectic music here in San Francisco.

Based in a modernist Eichler-style house nestled in the Diamond Heights neighborhood, the Turquoise Yantra Grotto hosts a monthly series in an intimate setting. The performance space itself is a giant musical instrument, with every inch covered with sonic creations that provide both aural and visual interest. Among the more formal instruments one can find here is this gamelan piano, but one can see that even it is adorned with other musical possibilities.

The sonic possibilities extend out into the adjacent courtyard where tuned metal cylinders share space with tropical birds.

The first set featured a collaboration by Jaroba and Keith Cary on a variety of invented musical instruments, with Jaroba focusing on winds and reeds while Cary focused on strings.

Their collaboration worked well musically, moving back and forth between harmonic and inharmonic sounds, playing with the defined rhythmic structures, and weaving in some idiomatic elements like a bass line from one of Cary’s instruments. I do also like drones or wild runs of notes, but musical phrasing and rhythm makes a performance more distinct and memorable. I was also quite fascinated with Jaroba’s changing instruments, which included combinations of pipes, standard mouthpieces, bells, and amplification. One of the most fun was a long tube that fed into a large bullhorn. The resulting sound reminded me of an analog synth moving from long sub-bass notes with a rhythm of their own to high piercing cries.

Jaroba also played an old found instrument: a “player saxophone” that used player-piano style roles. It turns out that this is a Q.R.S. Playasax from the 1920s. I found it intriguing as an usual piece of “music technology.”

Host David Samas joined the duo for a final piece, featuring the gamelan piano shown above and other of the instruments around the venue. His use of metallic sounds filled in the space between the winds and strings nicely.

The second set featured Bryan Day on an intricate contraption of his own design.

The music was quite a contrast to the first set in that it featured metallic sounds instead of winds and strings. There is something captivating about the sound of metal, whether it is tuned or not. In the case of Day’s sounds, it is clear that worked quite hard to get his sounds and modes of interaction. The “instruments” in the rig ranged from tuned tape measures to suspended magnets to small bits of metal with contact microphones. This was definitely an electro-acoustic setup rather than acoustic, and I even saw a Kaoss pad in the mix.


[Photo courtesy of David Samas.]

The sounds were as varied as the sources, and assembled together into long rhythmic phrases. There was enough rapid motion to focus attention on the musicality, while pauses allowed the timbres to linger and the audience to take in the unusual sounds. You can hear a short except of Day’s performance in this video.

As with the first set, David Samas joined Bryan Day for a closing piece, and provided contrasting sounds and textures including wood, water and shells.


[Photo courtesy of David Samas.]

Both the timbrally rich music and setting of the concert made for an evening that was both captivating and peaceful at the same time, even with sounds that could get loud and noisy at times. I am glad to have discovered this venue and series, and look forward to many creative concerts there in the coming months.

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