Ivy Room: The Final Hoot

Wednesday, May 18 was the final installment of the long-running Ivy Room Experimental/Improv Hootenanny series. It’s a bit sad to see it go, as I quite liked this home of weird music, mixed drinks and eclectic European-inspired decor. The evening was curated by Kattt Atchley (who together with Kenneth Atchley shared the bill with my quartet at the December Hootenanny). It was a very diverse program, ranging from experimental video to ambient electronics to “heavy metal jazz.” Special “cocktail menu” programs were provided. Here you can see the program next to a Manhattan, part of my personal ritual at these events.

The evening opened with Kerry Laitala presenting her appropriately named “Chromatic Cocktails”, selections from her 3D video work. Audience members were provided with 3D glasses for the full experience.

[Photo by Michael Zelner.]

Among the pieces were two premiers, Chromatic Cocktail 180 Proof and Chromatic Reveries performed with live music accompaniment by Kenneth Atchley. These pieces focused on abstract shapes with undulating colors and motion, although Chromatic Cocktail 180 Proof also included realistic images if women that appeared and vanished within the abstract context. In Pin-Up in 3D, the figurative elements (short animated silhouettes of classic pin-ups) are more integrated into the abstract in that they are part of the chromatic effects

[Photo by Amar]

[Photo by Michael Zelner.]

In the past, I have seen a video of Laitala’s that featured cats, though I did not see that in this set.

The overall experience of Laitala’s videos was mesmerizing. The images are their own universe with their own consistent rules about how color and motion work, so the viewer is naturally drawn in to process the entire experience. The source material is simple enough that it provides interest without getting in the way. Similarly, the music was abstract enough to enhance the feel of chromatic and spatial movement within the pieces without imposing a strong sense of narrative. Although the pieces took advantage of digital technology, there was something decidedly retro about her images – there was both the sources (such as the silhouettes of models) and the colorization effects that make it seem like it could have been part of a 1960s background film projection.

Kenneth Atchley followed with a solo set of ambient electronics. His sounds incorporate more harmonic ambience, noise, and some very distinct and punctuated synthesizer sounds. What I find interesting to listen to are the different levels of these elements, where a harmonic pattern seamlessly gives way to a section of more timbral interest. It is a little challenging to listen in detail in a crowded bar environment, however, and as such more ambient music becomes part of the environment and vice versa.

The final set of the evening, and of the series, was Go-Go Fightmaster, an ensemble featuring Aaron Bennett (saxophones and drinking straw), John Finkbeiner (guitar and drinking straw), Vijay Anderson (drum set), Lisa Mezzacappa (contrabass), Aram Shelton (saxophone), and Cory Wright (winds).

[Photo by Michael Zelner.]

The set could be described as “avant jazz,: which veered between more experimental and more idiomatic styles over several pieces. There were very loud, punctuated percussive moments, and others where more expressive rhythmic patterns. The rhythmic sections tended anxiously build up in volume and complexity before getting software – a pattern I often hear in experimental jazz – rather than settling into a particular groove. With at times as many as three saxophones playing at once, along with guitar, bass and drums, there was a lot of energy – indeed quite aggressive and expressive at the same time. I don’t recall seeing any drinking straws. With punchy, staccato cadences and endings, this was a perfect conclusion to the series.

And so it ends. Thanks to Lucio Menegon, Suki O’kane, and others who have made the 14 installments of this series possible. So this leaves us with the question of where to go next? I have seen my share of experimental music series (and experimental-music-friendly venues) come and go. And as some disappear, new places emerge. But I think it’s important for us have a series and venue that isn’t too severe, where one can enjoy a nice cocktail while listening to weird music. The current thinking is for a Monday night series, “definitely not before September, and definitely involving fermented liquid.”

Bay Area travel madness

Living in Santa Cruz can be a challenge at times. One of the major challenges is getting to and from places in the Bay Area, where most of my musical, job-search, and social activities located.

For San Francisco trips, one takes Highways 17, 85 and 280 (or 101 as suggested below) into the city:

If I am not in a rush, highway 1 along the coast is always a rewarding experience.

For the east bay (Berkeley, Oakland, etc.), one instead follows highway 17, which becomes I-880, along the east side of the bay:

The trick is avoid the bridges. Sometimes this is unavoidable, and one ends up making a “grand circuit” to and from Santa Cruz around the bay.

The trip is about 70 miles each direction (slightly longer on the east bay side), and about 90 minutes unless one hits bad traffic. Really, it's not so bad, and I have been doing trips like this for years for music and art events, or to see friends, family, and such.

But when it becomes several times a week, and nearing every day, it starts to wear on you. Almost all of my job interviews are in the bay area. Then there is the upcoming performance schedule, back-to-back shows in SF and Oakland followed by the tour.

And this weekend will top them all:

Saturday. Rehearsal for Polly Moller and Company. Then br'er performs in San Francisco that night. It's quite a coincidence that br'er is touring the west coast right now, just as I am about to go on tour. Indeed we will also be crossing paths again in Seattle when we both play on October 20th.

Sunday. Rehearsal again. Then the :plug3: headphone festival in San Francisco. I have a solo set at 7:30PM.

Monday. The tour's kickoff show at 1510 8th Street in Oakland. I have a solo set in addition to our group show.

Tuesday. I need to stay overnight so that…

Wednesday. We leave on tour from SF and Oakland bright and early.

This is out of control. Not because of the activities themselves, which are manageable, but the fact that it is far from CatSynth HQ every day. I have options to stay overnight to make things easier (and will likely do so some of the nights), but that means being away from home, away from everything that needs to be done here, away from Luna (which also means setting up more cat sitting arrangements).

Living in Santa Cruz is becoming one huge liability. It was fine when I was working every day here and going up to the city once a week or so, but now my life and all the action in it seems to be back in the bay area. How long can I keep this up?