Posts Tagged ‘flute’

Blessing Moon – July 9, 2009

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The past Thursday was the latest in the Full Moon Concert Series at the Luggage Store Gallery, curated by Polly Moller. This month’s theme was Blessing Moon.

The first set was by a new all-improv trio Free Rein. The group focuses on “Earth music for space people” and includes reeds/flutes, Danelectro 6 string bass, percussion,voice, cymbal, keyboard and theremin.


[Photograph by Jennifer Chu. Click to enlarge.]

Musically, the set began with microtones and synchronicity among the flute, theremin and another wind instrument. Melodic elements were sometimes present, performed on one of the flutes or the theremin. Other elements that stood out included the bowed cymbal, which blended with the other instruments in drones, a bird-like slide whistle against a saxophone, and undulating tones and the formation of harmonies between the percussion and low-frequency modulation. This fit with their statement of “spontaneously collaborating with the Moon, sculpting a sound that reflects back to Earth, playing tones that wax and wane through vibration, harmonic bodies phase shifting.”

The second set was performed by Valka, featuring Agnes Szelag and Marielle Jakobson (who have also collaborated as myrmyr) with guest Noah Phillips on guitar. Szelag was performing with an electric cello, Jakobson on violin, and all three performers together had an impressive array of pedals arranged centrally between the string instruments:


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From the program notes, “Valka’s Blessing Moon rituals are inspired by ripe dreams and the balance between dark and light.” This includes drones, effects, lots of long tones and big masses of sound, with a mixture of harmonicity and noise. I did focus on slow bends and other gradual changes of tone through the performance. The first piece did end on a dramatic note, with a rather loud insect-like sound that seemed to have taken the musicians by surprise.

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and plays a molecular synthesizer

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“Tuesday at Tom’s” is a series of performances in a private home in Berkeley. This past Tuesday I had the opportunity to perform along with other small groups whose performances all took advantage of this informal and intimate setting.

Polly Moller and I performed the “Ode to Steengo.” The piece was originally inspired by spam texts that were forward to the Bay Area New Music list that seemed to describe the adventures of a musician named Steengo – “he is a percussionist and plays a molecular synthesizer.” The texts include a mixture of dialog about a band performing together, and sci-fi and surreal images.


[Photograph by Jennifer Chu. Click to enlarge.]

The performance included live electronic processing of spoken word as well as flute, bells and heatsinks. In addition to looping and effects, I also used a Korg Kaos pad, which has become one of my most reliable live-performance tools, to represent the “molecular synthesizer” as well as other interpretations of phrases in the text.


[Photographs by Jennifer Chu. Click to enlarge.]

The performance was well received , and I did get to hear part of it in videos. The balance and interplay between the synthesizer notes, spoken word, and instruments was very tight – once again practicing does pay off.

We were preceded on the program by New York-based guitarist and sound artist Terrence McManus.


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Although his performance centered around the guitar, the instrument served as part of a system for generating abstract sounds with electrical and electronic effects. Musically, the sound ranged from quite noisy to very harmonic and serene, often with gradual shifts. There were sections where McManus did pick up the guitar and play it like a traditional guitar, with delays and other effects; he also at one point used a cell phone in conjunction with the guitar.

Following us was the duo of Johannes Bergmark and Tippi. Bergmark’s homemade instruments are always intriguing, a mixture of found objects, sculpted creations of wood and metal, and contact mic:


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By contrast, Tippi’s contribution focused on electronics, including circuit-bent instruments and hardware synthesizers (such as the Nord Micromodular):

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Musically, the combination was an intense mixture of sound objects and textures, with lots of strikes and crackles, rich metalic sounds, static and synthesizer noise, and toy sounds. I mostly focused on Bergmark’s performance and his motions with the various toys and appliances and metal constructions.

The final set was the trio RTD3, consisting of Ron Heglin, Tom Nunn and Doug Carrol performing free improvisation.


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I found myself focusing quite a a bit on Nunn’s custom electronic instruments, two of which looked like boxes with interesting controls on top, and the third was a series of live metal rods that could be struck or bowed; and Carrol’s rather unusual and theatrical positioning of his cello in some sections. Although there was an electronic component, the music itself sounded “acoustic”, as it was dominated by cello, and Heglin’s trombone (and occasional vocal) performance.

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room: PIPES

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On Sunday, I attended the room: PIPES featuring Polly Moller, Pamela Z and Jane Rigler. The Room chambre series, hosted an produced by Pamela Z, take place in the Royce Gallery, an “intimate performance gallery” in the Mission District of San Francisco. The room: PIPES performance featured performances that incorporated flutes.

Before the start of the performance, we were treated to a welcome by “Ellie”, the freight elevator in the building that houses the Royce Gallery. While some music purists might be appalled to have a freight elevator included in a performance, I found it quite charming to incorporate an element of the industrial setting.

Polly Moller presented a new work, Three of Swords. The performance included an arrangement of Tarot cards, a timer and a series of candles to mark sections of the piece. In each selection, a card was drawn, and the music was an improvisation based on that card. The music focused on extended flute techniques; for example, the first draw led to an improvisation with the head of a bass flute using microtones, overblowing, whistles, clicks and other inspiring sounds. The one section of the performance that stood apart from the others was the drawing of the Three of Swords, illustrated to the right, which launched a very detailed but very expressive description of the human heart.

Pamela Z‘s playful and energetic performance did not feature flutes, but instead focus on voice. It began with live looping of tonal and harmonic singing (look up “live looping” here on CatSynth for a primer if you’re not familiar with the technique), and gradually moved to more extended vocal techniques, including clicks, screeches (with electronic processing), whispers, etc. The video in the background displayed an interior of an old industrial or loft space, empty except for a trunk that appeared and disappeared at various times. Sometimes it was open, to reveal drawers and messy clothes.

Jane Rigler opened her set with a virtuosic flute and electronics piece and the welcoming statement “Do not fear the microphone and piccolo.” She then performed her piece A la pintura, inspired by Robert Motherwell’s paintings, which were in turn a response to Spanish poet Rafael Alberti’s poems celebrating painting. Motherwell’s paintings, both as stills and as animations, were projected during the performance, and there were also moments where text was projected, presumably excerpts from Alberti’s poems. Motherwell’s paintings are quite abstract, focusing on textual elements and geometry. To have these images along with strong flute-and-electronics music (a favorite instrumental combination of mine) was a treat.

The performance concluded with a trio improvisation of all three performers. In addition to the flutes and voice, Polly Moller broke out her “tone nut” (doughnut-shaped wind instrument), and Pamela Z played the popular Ocarina iPhone instrument. It’s always interesting to hear how such disparate musicians play off of one another, and this group improvisation could have kept going on for a bit longer…

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Pmocatat Ensemble and Ivy Room Experimental/Improv Hootenany

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OK, so I have been delinquent in reviewing some of own recent shows. I was hoping to find photos, but so far I have not found any. It does happen once in a while even in this hyper-photographic society. In fairness, I have taken photos at many shows I attend, but then find out they were not good enough to post. So, we will just go ahead and use our visual imagination.


Two weeks ago, on the day I returned from China, I participated in Pmocatat Ensemble. From the official announcement:

The Pmocatat Ensemble records the sounds of their instruments onto various forms of consumer-ready media. (Pmocatat stands for “prerecorded music on cds and tapes and things”.) Then, they improvise using only the recorded media. Several different pieces will explore both the different arrangements of recorded instruments and the sound modulation possibilities of the different recording media.

In my case, my pre-recorded media was digital audio played on an iPhone. I used recordings of my Indian and Chinese folk instruments, and I “played” by using the start, stop, forward, rewind, and scrubbing operations.

Other members included Matt Davignon, James Goode, John Hanes, Suki O’Kane, Sarah Stiles, Rent Romus, C. P. Wilsea and Michael Zelner.

Matt Davignon, who organized the ensemble, had composed some pieces which provided much needed structure and avoid a “mush” of pre-recorded sound. Some portions were solos or duos, with various other members of the ensemble coming in and out according to cues. This allowed for quite a variety of texture and musicianship. I definitely hope the Pmocatat Ensemble continues to the perform.


The following Monday, March 16, I curated a set at the Ivy Room Experimental/Improv Hootenany with Polly Moller and Michael Zbyszynski. I know Polly and Michael from completely different contexts, so it was interesting to hear how that would work together. Michael played baritone sax and Polly performed new words as well as flute and finger cymbals. I played my newly acquired Chinese instruments, the looping Open Sound World patch I often use, and a Korg Kaos Pad.

Musically, it was one of those sets that just worked. I was able to sample and loop Polly’s extended flute techniques into binary and syncopated rhythms, over which the trio could improvise. Periodically, I changed the loops, sometimes purposely to something arhythmic to provide breathing space. Michael’s baritone sax filled out the lower register against the flute and percussion.

We got some good reviews from our friends in the Bay Area New Music community. The following comments are from Suki O’Kane (with whom I played in the Pmocatat ensemble):

Amar had been dovetailing, in true hoot fashion, into Slusser using a small
digitally-controlled, u know, like analog digit as in finger, that totally
appeared to me to be the big red shiny candy button of the outer space ren.
The important part is that he was artful and listening, and then artful
some more. Polly Moller on vocals and flute, text and tones, which had a
brittle energy and a persistent comet trail of danger.

The “big red shiny candy button of the outer space ren” was undoubtedly the Korg mini-Kaos Pad.

And from David Slusser, whom I “had been dovetailing”:

Amar’s curation seemed like a well orchestrated composition; Polly’s contribution on voice and flutes adding much to that.

Not bad for a birthday show :) .

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Portland

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I am reporting on Portland after Astoria, even though we visted and played a day earlier. That’s just how things sometimes work.

We did have some time to spend in the Rose City before our show at Rotture:


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We experienced Portland’s famously variable weather. Fortunately, many of the city’s attractions are indoors. This includes Powell’s Books. I could have spent the whole day in the Pearl Room, which contained the art and architecture offerings, as well as their extensive rare book collection.

Portland also has abundant public art. Across from Powell’s is this “brush,” a noted landmark:

And this “recursive elephant” was quite intriguing:

This sculpture includes other animals besides the elephants. I think I see a cat on the trunk:

It always comes back to cats, doesn’t it.

The show that evening was at Rotture, a club on the waterfront, conveniently located next to a construction zone. Although our audience was small, the show went well; and I did like the space, a converted early-20th century industrial brick building.


Click here to enlarge

They also had an interesting mural in the main audience area, and a nice large stage. We shared the bill with Emily Hay, who also does improvisation with flute and voice (although with a very contrasting sound and style from Polly); as well as Tim DuRoche and Resolution 51 (free jazz improvisation). So it was definitely worth sticking around after our performance to hear everyone else – although the entire evening was probably branded as “experimental night” or “improvisation night”, there was a great variety among the three groups, and I think the ordering worked well with us first, both musically and energy-wise.

More on Portland, our show at Rotture, and the trip up from the Bay Area can be found here.

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