Quickening Moon Concert

Sometimes things linger undone for a quite a while. And that is the case with reviewing the Quickening Moon Concert, which I am finally getting around to doing as the next Full Moon concert is about to happen. Basically, the process goes like this. I wait a few weeks to look at the video of my own performance with a fresh perspective. I review the videos. Then post them online. Then a few more weeks pass as life intervenes. So here were are, finally getting to it many “moons” later. Memories of course fade over time, but even going by my own recollections, there is much to recall fondly. Bottom line is that it was a really good performance, in fact I would consider it one of my best solo electronic sets to date. This was in no small part to the advance preparation, but also to the audience, which filled to the Luggage Store Gallery to standing-room only capacity!

This was also one of the larger setups, featuring the Octave CAT vintage analog synthesizer, E-MU Proteus 2000, DSI Evolver, Korg Kaoss Pad, a Mac laptop running Open Sound World and Max/MSP, and the Monome controller, along with an array of my folk instruments from China and India. Even the iPhone made an appearance as an instrument.

[Click images to enlarge.]

Of course, the highlight of the set was the premier of 月伸1, featuring improvised electronic music set against a video of Luna. Musically, I focused on the Octave CAT (seemed appropriate) with the other electronic instruments in a supporting role. You can see a full video of the performance of this piece below:

The music was improvised live, with some prepared guidelines. In this way, it was reminiscent of the live music performances from old silent films. I kept the music relatively sparse and maintained the focus on the visual elements, which moved back and forth between clips of Luna and abstract visual elements (you can read more about the video production here). The audience clearly responded to the video of Luna and the music, and their laughter at very points reminded just how funny a piece this was. It was easy to lose sight of that in the hours of very detailed and very technical preparation, and one of the delights of playing in front of a live audience. I also heard from people that could tell they were able to sense the affection for Luna that came through in the video, though the long shots and the breaks in the otherwise silent video where her voice came through.

The balance of the set leading up to 月伸1 featured various combinations of electronic and acoustic instruments. The monome was my main controller in several of the other pieces, including the opener that focused and live sample loops and patterns from the folk instruments.

I played the instruments live, and then replayed the samples in various patterns on the monome to create complex timbral and rhythmic patterns. I also used the monome in a later piece to control some very simple but musically interesting sound synthesis, as can be seen in this video.

The lights on the monome are visually compelling, but also provide a link for the audience between the actions (which are really just button pressing) and the music.

Several of the pieces including strong rhythmic elements, which helped propel the set forward – I even saw at least one person “grooving out” to one piece.

I replayed several of the pieces (but not the video) in another performance a few days later at the Meridian Gallery. I certainly hope I will have an opportunity to the video again as well.

My performance was followed by the premier of Polly Moller’s Genesis. Genesis is “a musical experiment in which the M-theory of the 11-dimensional universe combines with the inward and outward spiral of the Western magical tradition.” The 11 member ensemble represent the 11 dimensions (which include Universal Time, the three spatial dimensions, and seven others) who combine to bring the “New Universe” into being, as portrayed by Matt Davignon on drum machines.

[Photo by Tom Djll.]

Polly Moller conducted the piece, not from the traditional podium in front of the ensemble, but rather by walking in an inward and outward spiral among the performers. As she walks by, wind chimes in hand, different performers enter or exit. As the New Universe comes into being, Matt Davignon’s electronic performance emerges, culminating in an extended solo as the 11 performers representing the “parent dimensions” fade out.

Quite fortuitously, someone turned my video camera to face the ensemble, so I was able to capture some video of the performance. In the clips below, one can see the conducting by walking in a spiral, as well as parts of the New Universe solo.

Wind Moon Concert

At the end of April, I attended the Wind Moon Concert, the latest installment of the Full Moon Concert series at the Luggage Store Gallery. As the name implies, the theme of the evening was “the wind, and its moonlit travels through tubes”. Both sets featured wind instruments, but also wind-like sounds on other instruments, and an attempt to bring the disciplines of wind performance to all the instruments, as described in program notes for the second set by Sabbaticus Rex:

The instruments themselves are treated with reverence and are given as much if not more command over the path that the music takes. Inasmuch as metal particles or stalks of bamboo want to become instruments, at the point at which we discover them, the gongs and shakuhachi themselves are approached in a highly collaborative manner, i.e. letting sounds emerge from them, guiding rather than forcing, generally unifying with the instrument as much as possible.

Tom Nunn and his musical inventions. Click to enlarge.

The first set featured Ghost in the House performing the Wind Moon Suite, an “elemental arrangement” of pieces. It began with a procession led by Karen Stackpole on a hand drum, followed by Tom Nunn with a conical metal instrument called a waterphone, Kyle Bruckman and David Michalak with wind instruments. Upon reaching, the performers added their other instruments, Stackpole on gongs, Michalak on lap steel and Nunn on his various musical inventions. Nunn’s skatch box opened with long “angry wind” sounds howling and moaning, with more ethereal sounds from the others filling the spaces in between. Sounds gradually entered the mix with slowly moving pitch bends that sounded more “electronic” to me (perhaps even like samples with pitch bends). The metallic and wind sounds began to coalesce around a harmonic structure with minor chords. Within the structure, the lap-steel guitar emerged with its own minor chords and softly moving pitch bends. This was followed by a piece featuring an expressive solo by Bruckman (oboe and english horn) set against long tones on the gongs and the skatch box. Eventually, the melodic line of the reeds gave way to more long tones.

The next piece, which had the memorable title “I killed someone in my dream last night”, began with a strong “growly” note. The sounds of the reeds were set against bowed gongs, and it seemed that both instruments began to sound quite similar despite their obvious physical and acoustical differences. In this section, Nunn played an interesting instrument called the Crustacean, featuring wires on a metal plate set atop orange balloons, another allusion to the combination of metal and air. This was followed by multiphonics on the oboe or english horn set against the skatch box and distorted guitar tones, which eventually gave way to long tones on the gong and high pitched notes from the reeds. Scratching guitar tones added roughness. The piece then built to a strong climax before fading into metallic sounds.

For the final pieces, the group was join by Cornelius Boots on bass clarinet. His featured role in the piece described as the “Alfred Hitchcock” piece included long notes set against long low drones from the ensemble. This gave way to higher, shorter notes, loud harmonics and resonances. The final piece began with a melody on the bass clarinet. The sounds that entered from the skatch box at first reminded me of waves and then of gently moving sand, both of which are shaped by their interaction with the wind. Low drum sounds and a spinning “whirly” reinforce to the return to the elemental theme of wind. The music became more animated as more sounds are added to the mix, metal rods and wires, shakers and whistles. At one point, Cornelius Boots blew into the mouthpiece of the bass clarinet without the body, and then alternately into the body of the instrument without the mouthpiece. These sounds were set against the waterphone played by Nunn. As the piece drew to a close, the performers returned to their original instruments and departed the stage in a procession just as they had entered.

Mark Deutsch on bazantar. Click to enlarge.

The second set featured Sabbaticus Rex, a trio of Cornelius Boots on shakuhachi, taimu-shakuhachi, and throat-singing, Karen Stackpole on overtone gongs, and Mark Deutsch on bazantar, an upright bass with sympathetic strings, much as one might find on Indian stringed instruments. It began with a solo on the bazantar by Deutsch, with lots of bent notes and excitations of the sympathetic strings. Soon he moved to bowed bass, which was set against bowed gongs. Once again, neither instrument was a wind instrument per se, but the long bowed tones gave the impression of the wind that set the stage for Boots’ entry on the shakuhachi. The three performers combined together in long drones. The bass moved gradually between standard pitched tones and harmonics, while the shakuhachi played against the longer droning sounds. The overall feel of the music was quite contemplative. This was followed by a louder, more percussive section where the strings of the bass were scraped and struck with mallets, and rubber mallets were rubbed against the gongs. The effect of the rubber on the gong was very resonant and loud intense rises and a wealth of harmonies. At moments, they almost sounded like loud voices singing. Throughout the remainder of the set, there were lots of expressive moments with throat singing and wind-instrument playing that resembled talking, set against continued drones. The bazantar floated freely between low bass tones and harmonics. There was lots of space, harmonically and temporally, with opening and closing and sounds emerging in between. The music became stronger and louder and more rhythmic, with the bass acting as a drum, before drawing to a close.

Storm Moon Concert

A little over a week ago, I attend the lastest in the Full Moon Concert series, the Storm Moon, at the Luggage Store Gallery. The Storm Moon concert was all about electric guitars, and featured two very different guitarists with their own interpretations of “gathering and releasing the storm.”

The first set featured guitarist Joshua Churchill in collaboration with filmmaker Paul Clipson. The music began with recorded samples, with changes in pitch and speed. The music in these samples formed a drone of minor chords, against which Churchill sprinkled metallic tones from the edge of the guitar. The overall effect was quite ethereal. With this sound as a backdrop, Clipson’s film began. The film was actually a Super 8mm film (i.e., not a video), which brings with it a certain image quality and style of editing that was does not often see in contemporary live music+visual performances. It started with simple geometric patters of light and shapes, notably rectangles and parallelograms that suggested office windows or overhead lighting. Against these emerging patterns, the music moved to guitar loops and longer tones set against the earlier metallic sounds. This gradually gave way to full chords and drones. Both the movie and the music become more intense, but the building blocks of guitar tones and shapes and light remained.

At one point, the film became entirely patterns of red and green, as the music continued to grow in intensity and fullness. There were sounds reminiscent of wave motion and some trills, but there remained overall a droning quality and a minor tonality. This gave way to beating patterns and a “loud wall of sound.”  As the film progressed, I began to notice more familiar objects and patterns, such as looking through a chain-link fence. As distinct images of urban lights and street scenes emerged, the music became louder, faster and nosier. I was then able to recognize familiar images from New York, the Chrysler Building and some of the bridges. At this point the music came to a loud and noisy climax after which the softer harmonies re-emerged and both the music and movie gradually came to a close.

This interplay of sound, light and image was followed by a solo performance by Peter Kolovos. We had heard his very dextrous and energetic style of performance during his set at last year’s Outsound Music Summit; he brought the same energy and technique to channel the peak of the storm moon’s energies on this particular evening. He began with short blips, scrapes and squeaks. The overall effect was staccato and percussive – quite the opposite of the previous set – and it was quite loud. Even as the notes grew longer, they remained percussive. Kolovos not only moved fast on the guitar itself, but also with his effects, quickly switching between effects such as heavy delays and distortions even within single notes. Gradually, the texture began to include sounds with longer duration, such as feedback and overdriven delay patterns. There were even some harmonic chords in there, though I quite liked his inharmonic sounds on the guitar, with or without effects. As the tones grew longer, the music felt even louder, feeling it more in my entire body than as sound. Then all of sudden, it became software, with percussion and a tone that reminded me more of analog synthesizers. Gradually things became louder again – in one section I heard what seemed like a standard rock chord progression – and then drew to a quick and decisive close.

Blessing Moon – July 9, 2009

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:

[click to enlarge]

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.