Dieb13, Djll, Greenlief, Robair, and Ueno at CNMAT

Last Thursday, I found myself back at my old “stomping ground”, the Center for New Music and Audio Technologies (CNMAT) to hear an evening of improvised music.

Dieb13 (aka Dieter Kovacic) opened with a solo set for multiple turntables. It started with a single turntable producing noise/static sounds, and gradually incorporated electrical hums and synthesizer sounds, along with complex repeated rhythms. The rhythmic patterns were sometimes metric, sometimes more stuttering. With three turntables going at once, Kovacic’s performance seemed more “synthesizer” and less “DJ.”

Dieb31 was then joined by Tom Djll (trumpet and electronics), Philip Greenlief (saxophone), Gino Robair (percussion and electronics) and Kenn Ueno (extended vocal techniques). The set began with “scraping sounds”, Robair blowing a small horn against a drum and Greenlief scraping a mouthpiece cover along his tenor sax. Indeed, the acoustic instruments as noise sources dominated the first section of this extended improvisation, before the Blippo Box, the other electronic instruments and Dieb31’s turntables entered. It was interesting to hear how the sounds from the turntables an Ueno’s vocal techniques matched the acoustic instruments, and it was a challenge at times to tell which sounds were acoustic and which sounds were electronic.

Another notable confluence was Ueno’s throat singing set against low-frequency sounds from the turntable and the Blippo Box. There were also contrasting sections with percussive short notes on all the instruments (trumpet, electronics, sax, voice, turntable, percussion) in rapid succession. There was a very soft section with saxophone multiphonics (we have commented on Greenlief’s expertise with multiphonics in the past), vocal whispers, low-level electrical sounds, and a resonant tube; and very loud moments, screeching, high-pitched. One very rhythmic section featured Gino running fan against cymbals and Tom Dill running a similar fan against his trumpet. Greenlief joined in running keys against his sax. The piece ended with loud notes that came to a sudden stop.

This was followed by a much shorter “encore” improvisation, whose memorable moments were the variety of sounds from the turntable, which included an excerpt from a bebop recording and a toilet flushing.

Containment Scenario: FUEL, Luggage Store Gallery

This performance, entitled FUEL, was part of the Containment Scenario performance series “which explores the current environmental situation through the lens of improvisational music-dance-theater.” This was the third part of a five-part series adopted from the book Containment Scenario: DisloInter MedTextId entCation: Horse Medicine by M. Mara-Ann, who also directed this performance.

This was a multimedia piece with voice, text, instruments, dance and reactive video (Luke Selden). It began with the vocal leads (M. Mara Ann and Sarah Elena Palmer) sitting down in the front of the stage with computer printouts, loudly ruffling and connecting them up with packing tape. As video of bucolic grass scenes and a close-up of a human are projected on the walls behind them (and onto their reflective white dresses), we hear their voices come in, speaking words disjointed and percussively. The voices gradually become more melodic, but all the while the “paperwork” continues. The other performs move slowly onto the stage, all wearing white shirts. As they take their positions, first the guitar (Noah Phillips), then the electronics (Travis Johns), then violin (Emily Packard) and percussion (Anantha R. Krishnan) all came in.

Musically the texture remained very gradual, interspersed with vocals, though the words became clearer and louder over time. This was aided by the fact that the text (presumably from the Containment Scenario source) became synchronously part of the music and the projected media. Text scrolling by on the right video projection was recited in various musical styles, harmonic, percussive, expressive, while the vocalists took turns typing their words into a laptop that would project onto the other screen, sometimes mixed with other videos. During this section, the instrumental music was much more sparse, often silent as the written and spoken words became the focus.

Later textual recitations returned from the video to the computer printouts. At times the words came out as whispers, sometimes more melodically, with the instrumentals returning into the mix. As the performers moved around the stage, there were dramatic visual moments where they became part of the video projection, their white shirts and dresses becoming screens on which the video was reflected and distorted and combined with the flat background.

The dancers (Julie Binkley and Rebecca Wilson) eventually took the printouts used for the back screen and began to wrap each of the musicians in a cocoon of paper. First Travis Johns on electronics was encased, then the each of the others in succession, eventually binding the two vocal leads into a bundle of their own printouts. The piece concluded with the dancers bringing out large number signs (I’m not sure what these were about), and handing them to the vocalists, after which the sounds and words gradually stopped.


The performance of Containment Scenario: FUEL was preceded by two fun sets of improvisational music.

The first set was by Drew Ceccato, playing an electronic valve instrument (EVI) by Steiner and an analog synth by Crumar – a beautiful and intriguing instrument. The set began with a low rumbling, which joined with “watery” sounds and pitch modulation expressively controlled by the EVI to create a subtle rhythm. Over time, this become louder, with wider pitch modulations, beating, percussive sounds before returning to the low rumbling. The music then changed completely for more traditional “analog sounds” with traditional pitched notes, like a conventional wind instrument, though with extremely high pitches at times. It was a very brief, and very intense set, without a moment wasted.

Ceccato was followed by a duo of Gino Robair and Christopher Riggs who was playing “guitar and a box of cool looking stuff”. Of course, Gino Robair had his collection of cool stuff as well, analog synthesizers along with metallic resonant objects and various means of exciting them. It started with a metallic roar, which I believe was created by Riggs’ rubbing the guitar strings. This was combined with the chaotic sound of the Blippo Box and other synths. The two performers appeared to come to an equilibrium of sorts, with sounds repeated and played off one another. Indeed, it was sometimes hard to tell who was playing what sound – and this is a good thing. Robair moved on from the synths to cymbals, with loud dramatic resonances set against the guitar rhythms. I heard a plaintive brass synth set against a more “chattery” guitar; a styrofoam instrument that was “insect-like” in both its appearance and sound; a funny voice vaguely like throat singing made with a tube and a coffee can; and more metal objects excited by motorized fans crawling along the floor. After a climx with angry resonances and a metal on metal thud, lots of motion, convulsing and fast scraping, the sounds faded out.


The turnout for this particular evening was quite impressive, it seemed that all the seats were filled, even the extra “kiddie seats” that the folks at the Luggage Store often put out.

Outsound Music Summit: Part 2

This is the second part of my report on the Outsound Music Summit, focusing on the first two concerts. For those who missed it, the first part described the Touch the Gear Expo on the Sunday before the formal concerts began.

The first concert, which was titled “Free Improvisation | Free Composition” began the way I often begin my own performances these days: with the ringing of a prayer bowl. This signified the start of Sacred Unit, the duo of Alicia Mangan on saxophones and the percussionist Spirit. Overall, this set consisted of free improvisation that blended avant-gard and more idiomatic jazz techniques with other folk and world traditions. I did find myself paying most attention to Spirit’s drumming and use of other elements for percussion, including his body and voice.


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The Rova Saxophone Quartet performed a new, set-length performance piece created especially for the Summit titled The Contours of the Glass Head. This is one of those pieces where it is difficult to tell where composition ends and improvisation begins. The group describes it as “the intersection of improvisation and composition, using improvisational games and strategies.” The members of the quartet demonstrated their powerful technical and musical skills as an ensemble and as four very strong players working together. At times one could focus on an individual solo or line from one performer, while at others the timbres and harmonies of the four saxophones seemed to act as one. As with some of the electronic performances the following night, there were sections of long drawn-out notes, and some very quiet subtle moments, which were interrupted by flurries of fast notes and punctuated phrases. Even if it was largely improvised, one could follow an imaged narrative to go along with the music.

Throughout the evening, I couldn’t help but notice the rather large wind instruments on the right side of the stage:


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In this photo, we see a bass saxophone, a tubax, and a contrabass flute. These were all instruments used by Vinny Golia in the final set of the evening. Golia performed solo and group Compositions for Woodwinds together with Thollem Mcdonas (piano), Damon Smith (bass), Rent Romus (saxophone, electronics), Garth Powell (percussion), and Noah Philips (guitar).


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The lively and energetic performances centered on free jazz , with free improvisation and interaction among the performers, but showcasing the unique aspects of each musician and instrument. In addition to Golia’s virtuosic performance wind instruments large and small, I also noticed prepared piano sounds from Mcdonas, and hard driving guitar and percussion from Philips and Powel, respectively, and Smith’s ever present and versatile bass.


The second program, “Industrial Soundscapes”, opened with Ferrara Brain Pan’s Form of Things Unknown. Long droning oscillators served as the foundation, on top of which he layered various shakers, bowls and other sounds, processed electronically. Ferrara Brain Pan is also an accomplished wind player, and incorporated bass clarinet into the set, which complemented the low-frequency oscillators. Sometimes they matched precisely, while other moments were as a counterpoint. Perhaps more than any of the other sets, this one matched my own current style of electronic music performance.


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Guitarist Peter Kolovos was introduced as having “surgical precision”. And it was an apt description. The staccato articulation of the guitar as well as the frequent changes of effects were very precise. There was never a moment where the sound was not changing, and changing quickly. At times it was quite loud and the effects quite heavy, but his dextrous performance was great to watch.

Conure focused on analog and digital noise, with lots of distortion, feedback, delays and lo-fi effects. There were sections of steady-state noise, but what most stood out were the moments with interesting transitions and glitches. I realized that Conure and I had crossed paths at an Outsound event last year.

Hans Fjellestad presented Slimspor Cosmonau, a short video with improvised electronic sound accompaniment. I actually wasn’t sure whether or not the music was scored out precisely to match the film, but I was assured by the artist that was entirely improvised, which is possible if one is intimately familiar with the visual material. The film appears as a computer screen, with controls around a central video area depicting lunar and astronomical images as well as biological and anatomical scenes.


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Late in the piece, I recognized a distinctive squeak that I thought might be a Metasonix effects box, and inspecting his setup after the performance confirmed that he did have one of these infamous boxes. Indeed, Fjellestad’s performance featured an eclectic mix of analog instruments – fitting for creator of the 2004 documentary MOOG.

Thomas Dimuzio concluded the program with his complex electronics and timbrally rich and evolving soundscape. Dimuzio uses a variety of technologies, including live sampling and looping, feedback and modulated effects. The piece started quite simply with a relatively harmonic chord, and the overall effect was very calm but also metallic. Then a swell, and metal resonances. The overall motion of the set was very slow, a strong contrast to Kolovos’ set earlier in the evening. This is not to say that there weren’t discrete textures and details within the music, but it was more like the details one would focus on while examining a natural scene, or perhaps the industrial urban landscapes where I enjoy walking. With it’s gradual place and close, this was an apt conclusion to the “industrial soundscapes” evening.

Flip Quartet performance at Book Zoo, July 17

Last Friday, I performed at Book Zoo in Oakland. To start off the evening, I did a solo set, which was followed by a performance of Polly Moller’s The Flip Quartet.

Book Zoo itself was an interesting space, with high ceilings and bookshelves. For a space of this size, we had a decent turn-out as well.

This was the first time in quite a while that I did not use any software components as part of a solo set. The performance centered around the Line6 DL4 for looping and various delay effects. I made extensive use of the analog-delay simulation for echoes and feedback, with various wood blocks, gongs and the ektar as source material.


[Photograph by Jennifer Chu. Click to enlarge]

Of course, the Kaos Pad, DSI Evolver and E-MU Proteus 2000 were also used as electronic sound sources. I also included several beat-based elements, both from hand-drumming and from the sequences are the Evolver and the Proteus 2K, which were matched both rhythmically and arhythmically against the delay lines. Overall, it was not the tightest solo set I have done, but it worked and seemed to be well received by the audience, and stylistically it was a good lead-in to the Flip Quartet.

I had seen a recent performance of the Flip Quartet, and this performance followed the same structure and format, but with different performers. In addition to myself, there was Moe! Staiano, Suki O’Kane and Travis Johns.


[Photographs by Jennifer Chu.]

Basically, the Flip Quartet is a composition for four improvisers who move between four stations representing the cardinal directions (north, east, south, west) and the four medieval elements: earth, air, fire, water. Each station had a variety of instruments and sound-making objects to represent elements. Each performer has a three minute timer. The timers are synchronized, and when the three minutes are up, everyone moves to the next station. We rotate around all four stations twice.

The “fire” table, which included metal and electronic items, was the most populated, with the water table (liquids, strings) having the fewest items. However, Moe! did bring an interesting old string instrument. It was wooden, had four strings and piano-like keys for striking the strings. It was not an auto-harp, it was definitely something else – and it was the main instrument I played during my trips to the water station.

Another interesting addition was the box of worms that Travis Johns contributed to the earth station – the earth station mostly features drums and wooden objects. The worms, were in a box with dirt and vegetable manner, and the box was equipped with a contact microphone that could pick up audible signals from the worms that could then be interpreted musically by the performer.

Musically, this was very different from the previous interpretation of the Flip Quartet, a combination of the musicians involved, the objects available, and the setting. There were some cool moments, where two or more performers together make a musical phrase or pattern emerge from within the overall improvisation – that is something I am always looking for.

Pmocatat Ensemble and Ivy Room Experimental/Improv Hootenany

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.

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 :).

Greenlief @ 50

On Tuesday, I attended the fourth greelief@50 concert, a series marking the birthday of local musician and composer Phillip Greenlief. We haven’t actually played together, but have been on the same program several times, and we have crossed paths and numerous Bay Area new-music events over the last few years. The show took place at The Uptown in (downtown) Oakland.

The opening set was a performance by Weasel Walter/Devin Hoff/Darren Johnston/Damon Smith. I hesitate to say whether or not it was an improvisation set because they did have scores, but in any case it had the sound and structure of a free jazz improvisation set. The best moment was when a particularly dense section suddenly gave way to a tenor solo, and then back to the full ensemble just as suddenly.

The main set was a large ensemble, consisting of orchesperry (named for local musician Matthew Sperry) and the Cardew Choir. In total, this was indeed a large ensemble.

I’m not sure what the lab coats were about.

The group performed several compositions by Greenlief, who conducted in bold and dramatic style. Of particular note was the second piece, which opened with percussion and a string sound that seemed electronic. This was followed by a saxophone solo that was rather melodic, a voice solo, and then bursts of sound from various musicians. The piece then built up towards the standard loud and dense improvisation, before quickly coming to a close. The piece was rather short, so short that it seemed the audience wasn’t sure it was over, and performer Bob Marsh had to cue the audience to applaud.

Another piece of note, for me at least, was Monument, dedicated to work of artist Eva Hesse, whose work I have seen on several occasions here in San Francisco and elsewhere. The piece was “dedicated to the electronic musicians in the ensemble”, and featured the electronic sounds and textures to which we at CatSynth have become very accustomed – so that hearing synthesizers and processors in the midst of a large mostly-acoustic concert can have a very familiar and inviting quality – especially when one thinks about in the context of modern and contemporary visual art.

As is often the case, there are a fair number of familiar faces at these performances, so a certain amount of time is spent being social in addition to the music itself. Nothing wrong with that, though it was a Tuesday and I ended up not staying very long.

NOTE: this was the 800th post for CatSynth

Upcoming Shows: Saturday, Sunday and tonight!

In the midst of everything else going on, I have three upcoming shows, including two this weekend:

Saturday, December 6, 8PM
:plug4: headphone festival
5lowershop, San Francisco.

The headphone festival returns. I will be performing ofter electronic music, with a playful bent. It is a “headphone” event where people live at the venue as well as those listening online will be using headphones. For those who are interested, you can also listen live online on Saturday. visit http://www.deletist.info/plug4.html or http://www.leplacard.org for more info.

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Sunday, December 7, 7:30PM
Musicians Union Hall, 9th St @ Mission St, San Francisco.

SIMM Series Outsound Year End Blow Out Show

Polly Moller/Amar Chaudhary duo
CJ Borosque/Matt Davignon duo
Conure
Rent Romus, Philip Everett, Pete Martin, John Vaughn
and more guests! solos, duos, trios, and the Outsound SuperSize Ensemble.

The mission of Outsound Presents is to raise public awareness of sound and unique events not otherwise made available by presenting public performance, co-op promotion, and education throughout the year. Donations from this evening will be used to support Outsound’s future programming efforts…

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And a bonus show, tonight:

Thursday, December 4, 8PM
Luggage Store Gallery, 1007 Market Street @ 6th Street, San Francisco
Outsound Presents Ad-hoc experimental freeform improv.

Ad-hoc experimental freeform improv like dude whatever jam, followed by Chris Skebo (trumpet)/Luigi Marino (computer)/Karl Evangelista (guitar)

Edgetone New Music Summit

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the Edgetone Music Summit, including the Wednesday night performance SonicLight. All the performances including both musical and visual elements being “performed.” The visuals were as much a live performance element as the music, rather than simply films or videos that were being shown while the music was played.

The first set was a piece by No More Twist! entitled Inquisition for Suspect, Examiner and Audience. No More Twist! is the due of Les Hutchins and Polly Moller, who of course should be quite familiar to regular readers of this site.

The performance involved Polly Moller, as the “Suspect”, being attached to the Glove of Truth, a custom lie-detector that measures vital signs and transmits the data to a computer, where it is interpreted visually and sonically, and used to determine falsehood or truth, as in the sample below:

Audience members were invited to ask yes/no questions to invoke declarations of “true” or “lie.” This is of course especially fun for audience members who may be able to independently verify the answers to their questions. Of course, the most fun for everyone was when the word “lie” would appear on the screen in all its accusatory grandeur.

The next performance was by Kwisp, a duo featuring Walter Funk and Lenny Bove. It featured a variety of elements including a holographic projection that audience members were encouraged to come view at close range (but not too close lest one damage the specialized lens); and custom analog electronics including the tower electronique, displayed to the right.

Musically, Kwisp was closer to the standard “experimental electronics” performances that I perform or attend, with its combination of laptop-based electronics, analogue synthesis and processing, improvisation and noise.

The final performance was a video and live-music set by Thickness/Mono-Layer. The group, which includes John Reily, Eric Steinberg and Charles Kremenak, performed a “power duo” of bass and guitar (with synthesis and processing) against two videos projected on either side of the hall. The videos were incredibly detailed in their editing (several of us commented on the sheer volume of separate clips and cuts and the amount of time it must have taken to put them together). Indeed, I was quite involved in the visuals, that I didn’t spend as much attention on the music, though I did recognize the guitar synthesizer at various moments.

The Edgetone Music Summit is an annual festival in San Francisco that features “Independent artists most of whom are practitioners in music and sound of improvised and or experimental and or exploratory nature.” It began as an event to support the artists of Edgetone Records, an artist operated recording label for improvised and experimental music that includes several of our friends. As part of the summit, I had the opportunity to hear a lecture by Edgetone Records’ founder Rent Romus on the concept of the “Artist Run Label” the night before the SoundLight performance.

The programs provided for the summit each included a “drop card”, which can be used to download music by each of the performers from all events of the festival. We will be listening to, and probably commenting on, some of those tracks soon…

Last Saturday at 1510 8th Street

A quick review of a pair of performance at 1510 8th Street in the Oakland last Saturday. Yes, I’m a bit slow on posting these. Hence, the “quick” part. Plus, I didn’t bring a camera…

…which is unfortunate, because the first performance was quite visual. It featured improvised music and movement by saxophonist Phillip Greenlief and dancer Karen Fox. Greenlief’s performances are often full of motion, but the combination with Fox was something quite different, indeed her improvised movement was quite fun and provocative.

The second set was the “Kristian Aspelin Quartet” featuring (not surprisingly), Kristian Aspelin on Guitar, Damon Smith on bass and electronics, Scott Looney on piano and electronics, and Weasel Walter on drums. Although both Looney and Smith had laptop-based electronics, I probably would not characterize this performance as “electronic music.” But that’s not a criticism, I do like to hear more acoustic sets. The main word I would use to describe this set is loud, indeed one of the louder I have heard at 1510. Of course, these are were plenty of quieter moments, where I was able to hear Looney’s prepared-piano work (I would love to do more prepared piano myself). There were moments when all four members seemed to match the sound of the piano, or one of the other instruments, all bells, or all harmonics. And then there were more the loud moments.

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:


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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…