Wordless Wednesday: Electric

Wordless Wednesday: LSG show setup, May 2008

Some views of the massive setup for the show at the Luggage Store Gallery earlier this month.

Upcoming Concert: Luggage Store Gallery (San Francisco), May 8

An announcement for upcoming show in the city:

Thursday, May 8, 8PM

Luggage Store Gallery
1007 Market St.
@ 6th Street
San Francisco, California
Admission $6-10 sliding scale.

I will be performing a live electronic set, with two laptops, standalone
synths, “circuit-bent” toys and my collection of Indian instruments.
Mostly ambient and experimental, with bits of rhythm, beats and familiar
sounds thrown in.

I might even pull out the old graphics tablet, which I haven't really used
in the last year and a half!

Regular readers may recognize the Luggage Store Gallery from previous articles, including music reviews and my show w/ Polly Moller and Company in Feburary.

There's a lot going into this show, which is my first solo in a while. Watch for some more details during the week…

Weekend music events

This article features a few highlights from a a very musical extended weekend – something we at CatSynth would like to see become “routine.”

We start out Thursday at the Luggage Store Gallery, where OutSound hosts a regular Thursday night series. This is the series and venue that I played with Polly Moller and Company in February, and where I will be doing a solo set in May. On this particular night, there were two rather contrasting sets that featured “guitar and electronics.”

The first set was a duo by San Diego-based Nathan Hubbard and Noah Phillips. This is one of several groups I have seen generating sound from purely from electrical noise in the devices. Essentially, this involves taking the low-volume noise present in most electronic lines and processing and amplifying it to generate sounds. The result is a mixture of standard electrical noise and hums, heavy distortion, chirps and whistles, and staccato textures. The best moments were when the noise was at low volume, subtle, and you had to specifically listen for it behind the guitar.

The second set was from Berlin-based Schriftfisch and billed as “experimental ambient noise with Julian Percy & Farahnaz Hatam.”

It is amazing how different the computer-based electronic sounds from Farahnaz Hatam were from the electrical sounds in previous set. Guitar techniques included bowing and other electrical and mechanical devices, as well as standard “rock electronic guitar”. There were many times were the guitar and laptop-electronics blended such that one could not tell who was generating which sound. At other times, it was easy to tell the guitar, even with processing, from the sounds of the laptop, which had the “computer-music” sound, liquidy, percussive and granular.


A very different night of music occurred Sunday at the Switchboard Music Festival. For one, it was in a small concert hall, rather than a gallery. And it was largely focused on “contemporary classical” music and various crossover styles rather than the more experimental music offered by the Luggage Store series.

I got to the festival around 5PM or so. Unfortunately, this meant that I missed Slydini, which includes fellow “Polly Moller & Company” member Bill Wolter and other musicians that I know. Sorry about that. I did arrive to hear one of the more “contemporary classical” sets featuring a small-ensemble composition by Jonathan Russel that was reminiscent of minimalism (i.e., John Adams, Philip Glass, etc.) and folk influences, but with a backbeat (including a few disco moments). Such pieces are a reminder that “contemporary” music is different from “modern.” Contemporary music tends to be less focused on pushing the boundaries (in sometimes harsh directions) and more into embracing (multiple) traditions. I am an unapologetic modernist, but I still enjoy hearing “contemporary” music sometimes.

This was followed by one of the more intriguing pieces of the evening, Parangal by Robin Estrada. It featured a collection of wooden instruments that were simultaneously “primitive” and “modern”, buzzers, tubes, whistles and plates.

Towards the end of the piece, the musicians handed out small stones to the audience, which of course we all instinctively knew meant that we were supposed to play. The musicians gradually fell silent as the audience’s stone rhythm emerged. Of course, someone dropped his/her stones, and others had to follow, and this became part of the performance.

The next set was a chamber-ensemble piece by Aaron Novik. I probably wasn’t the only who noticed that people were clapping between movements, which is generally a big “no no” in concert performances. But Aaron encouraged the audience to continue doing so, indeed he was quite a character with jokes in between movements. The piece did move between long tones (such as the opening with tuba and bass clarinet) and more percussive sections, and was one of several works during the evening to have a rather strong Klezmer influence.

Amy X Neuberg performed next, and her set included several pieces I recognized from the previous times I have heard her perform – I have even shared a program with her a couple of times (notably the 2003 Woodstockhausen festival). There was “My God” (is Hiding in a Foxhole), and “Life Stepped In”, among others. One thing I am always impressed by is how tight her performances are, very clean and punctuated and “professional”, given the technology she employs. The highlight of her set was the “special secret surprise appearance” (or something to that effect) by the Del Sol String Quartet. It was a great combination.

Perhaps this is a good moment to point out how hard it is to photograph performing musicians, especially if you don’t have a tripod and feel obliged not to use a flash.

The Del Sol String Quartet performed a full set, with clarinetist Jeff Anderle (one of the organizers of the festival), playing Osvaldo Gilijov’s “Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind.” This piece was very strongly influenced by Klezmer and Eastern European folk music that permeated late 19th and early 20th century classical music. Indeed, it contributed to a sense I had that this was turning into the “Klezmer Festival”, which so many pieces featuring clarinet. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

The next set brought “featuring clarinet” to another level, with a bass-clarinet quartet of Cornelius Boots, Jeff Anderle, Aaron Novik and Jonathan Russel:

I was very interested in the bass-clarinet quartet format, and would actually like to write a piece this or an equivalent ensemble. The instruments have a great range of tone, from traditional clarinet sound, to robust bass fifths and octaves, to harmonics and distortion reminiscent of electric guitar. The latter was very strongly on display in their cover of a tune by the Pixies. Indeed, the whole set had a very humorous feel, including a piece that moved from a more modern intro do a section that sounded like “50s rock” and got a laugh from the audience.

The final set was Gamelan X. Not exactly a traditional gamelan, but rather a mixture of gamelan instruments, electronics, drums and saxophone:

And their music had a strong jazz/funk feel, mixing gamelan percussion and the easy-to-recognize sounds of a Nord Lead (well, easy to recognize for someone who has a website about electronic music). Here we see the reyong players “getting down” with some serious choreography:

So in the end there was more variety in the festival that just “contemporary classical.”


I could have actually made it a clean sweep this weekend with music events – I did have more personal events going on Friday and Saturday. However, even those were musical, but that is a topic for another time…

This post was included in the April 2 edition of the Carnival of Cities at Perceptive Travel Blog.

RIP Karlheinz Stockhausen

We have lost another of our musical heroes this year:

German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen has died at the age of 79.

Best known for his avant-garde electronic work, Stockhausen was an experimental musician who utilised tape recorders and mathematics to create innovative, ground-breaking pieces.

His Electronic Study, 1953, was the first musical piece composed from pure sine wave sounds.

Electronic Study II, produced a year later, was the first work of electronic music to be notated and published.

But the composer rejected the idea that he was making the music of the future, writing in 1966: “What is modern today will be tradition tomorrow.” [BBC]

In addition to being a strong influence on my own music, Stockhausen worked his way into my regular rotation of music. I can recall many Sunday mornings in Berkeley with coffee, fresh bagels, the New York Times and Stockhausen's Kontakte. This was a groundbreaking work of electronic music, but it was also one that I enjoyed just listening to, the way others might enjoy classical piano music on a weekend. And so, at least for me, Stockhausen's music did indeed pass into “tradition.”

You can sample some of Stockhausen's music here – I recall NPR using Kontakte in their obituary piece as well.

Here is a lecture on “sound” from YouTube:

Seattle

The last performing stop on the tour last week was Saturday in Seattle:

Not exactly the Space Needle, but still some impressive communications towers, and not too far from our venue, the 1412 Gallery:


Photo by Polly Moller

I played a solo set, which I think was the best one of the tour, musically. I look forward to hearing the recordings soon. And of course, we did our Polly Moller and Company show:


(Click to enlarge)

Polly has written a bit about our performance in Seattle, including how it was somewhat sparsely attended. This was in part due to the “Much Bigger Show” that occured in direct conflict to ours, and counted much of the experimental/improvised music community as audience or participants. We did get a chance to hang out together with them at Murphy's Irish Pub afterwards, where much drink, conversation and merriment was had by all…

Astoria

Just a quick note this afternoon, from Astoria, Oregon. Our second show of the tour (third, if you count 1510 in Oakland) will be here in Astoria tonight, at the Astoria Visual Arts center. And I will also be performing a solo set to open, again with electronics and my folk and toy instruments.

We have posters all over town, and a great write-up in the Coast Weekend, a local paper.

Astoria itself is an interesting little town, at the mouth of Columbia River on the Oregon coast:

The coast highway runs through and north across the river into Washington state.

Here are a few photos from town:

And here is the band at the “Astoria Column”:


Click to enlarge

More on the performance itself after it actually happens. Also, I might go backwards in time to our show and day yesterday in Portland…but in the meantime, Polly has already journaled the first two days of our tour

New Podcast: br'er: Rory Snake Handler


Click here to subscribe.

We're trying to open up and grow the CatSynth Channel, with releases on Tuesdays and Thursdays in addition to the Sunday release. Especially after going silent for two weeks, it seems like a good time to launch the expanded series.

Our first weekday podcast is a selection from Of Shemales and Kissaboos, the new album from br'er that was reviewed here at CatSynth in September. This release features “Rory snake handler”, which was discussed in the review and also featured on br'er's myspace.

We are happy to feature music from friends and reviewed groups here at CatSynth, and welcome submissions and requests. You can use our handy submission form, or contact us to get your music featured on the CatSynth Channel.

To subscribe, click the “Subscribe” button, or visit the CatSynth Channel page. As always, enjoy.

New Podcast: Suspension, Polly Moller and Company


Click here to subscribe.

After a few weeks hiatus, the CatSynth Channel Podcast is back. This Sunday we are featuring a track from Not Made of Stone by Polly Moller and Company. Regular readers may recall this is the group I am going on tour with in a little over a week, and Suspension is one of several tracks from Not Made of Stone that we will be performing.

“A woman travels into space to forcibly remove the source of her anguish.”

We began are tour rehearsals this weekend, including some changes from our previous performances. A new guitarist, Bill Wolter; and new live electronics processing for flute and voice.

More information on the album and tour can be found Polly Moller's official website.

To subscribe, click the “Subscribe” button, or visit the CatSynth Channel page. As always, enjoy.









New Podcast: Sean Carson (del *.*), "resting tones 5"

Click here to subscribe. You can also visit the CatSynth Channel page for more info or to listen live.

Sean Carson is the first the first to take advantage of our open submissions for the CatSynth Channel podcast. And we are very to happy to have his piece “resting tones 5”, which very much fits our standard aesthetics, and includes “cat-like” sounds as well.

one of my most bizarre pieces.

there are some cat like sounds made by the cumbus oud. Its a steel string fretless instrument from Turkey

To submit your own music, visit our submissions page. Anything is game, as long as it vaguely fits the aesthetics of the CatSynth blog and/or podcast.

And kids, whatever you do, do NOT type that stage name into your Terminal window ;-).