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.”

Ivy Room Hootelatkenanny, December 2010

Today we look back at the Ivy Room Hootelatkenanny, the December edition of the Ivy Room Hootenany improvised music series. The Ivy Room in Albany, CA, has in fact turned into a great venue for new music, with many performances even beyond this long-running series. The combination of music, mixed drinks and quirky decor seem to come together.

Despite the play on words in the title, there was nothing Hannukah-related about the performances that evening.

The first set featured a quartet I put together with Bill Wolter on guitar, Dave “Djembe” Coen on percussion and JP O’Keefe on drumset. Gear-wise, I kept things pretty minimal, with just the Dave Smith Evolver and the iPad running Curtis and the Korg iMS-20 apps.

I started out the set with my usual metallic patch on the Evolver, and quickly added granular sweeping with Curtis. Slowly the percussion came in, with soft rolls on the cymbals and djembe. As Bill Wolter with soft chromatic harmonies on guitar, I switched to a different Evolver patch and to the iMS-20 with some analog-like arpeggios. These set up a rhythmic foundation which the drums matched with a strong 16-note rhythm – the tempo and pulse were reminiscent of disco but texture and individual rhythmic phrases were more complex – something akin to 1970s fusion. The iMS-20 served as a de facto bass with heavily filtered patches set against the guitar improvisation – at various times I opted for a softer tone like an electric bass, others a highly synthetic sound like a “techno bass.” Harmonically and melodically, we danced around blurs, pentatonic, chromatic and tri-tone patterns against the ever changing but steady pulse rhythm of the two percussionists. At one point, Bill started playing the strings below the bridge and I used this sound effect opportunity to return to Curtis. We kept the pulse going for a bit, then cut out for a quiet moment. Then the rhythm gradually re-emerged, a bit more tribal and accented off beat, and with more inharmonic timbres on synth and guitar. Then we returned the jam feel with guitar, bass and drums, and continued in one of these patterns or another for the remainder of the set, at one point switching to a 6/8 rhythm with a more humorous sounding synth line. I have to admit, this was one of the most fun I have played in a while, both idiomatic and experimental at the same time, both completely free-form and rhythmically structured. I will have to get this quartet back together again sometime soon!

We were followed by the duo of Kenneth and Kattt Atchley. Their music also combined experimental electronic elements with a strong idiomatic style, in their case something reminiscent of late-night electronic music at dance clubs or lounges. They did several distinct pieces during their set. The had a slow steady rhythm with soft electric-piano chords set against analog or analog-like electronic sounds, relative high pitched with pitch LFO. The chords and rhythm continue in a very moody, almost R&B fashion while the high pitched electronic sounds ride above more rapidly. Then all at once it stops, replaced by a very distant-sounding synth pad, and the voices and poetry returned amidst the sparser texture. The music moved back and forth seemelessly between these two overall textures. Kenneth and later Kattt at various moments intone “I wouldn’t change a thing” and descriptive phrases about “East Bay nights” and “Pacific Fog cooling the air”. The texture eventually gave way to harsher electrical noises and pulsating sounds that still have a harmony of their own – and one can still hear minor chords in the background. When the chords and rhythm return to the forreground, there are a bit more fragmented than before.

The next piece was entitled Over Ice. It started with very liquidy and crystalline sounds, with words and melody in a descending minor scale. There was something vaguely religious or spiritual sounding about this pattern, almost like a chant. A sparse rhythm emerges, and the high crystalline sounds remain in the background. It eventually because very abstract, with electronic hits and noises sounding at first in a random pattern that gradually becomes more rhythmic. After a monologue section, the original melodic pattern returned, but with a more rhythmic foundation.

The final set featured Dean Santomieri with Michael Zelner on reeds, and Suki O’Kane “massaging the skins”, i.e. on percussion. It consisted of improvisation around a series of poems featuring “spine words” and “spine phrases” based on Jonathan Franzen’s best-seller Freedom. Things opened with resonating cymbols and Santomieri’s introductions, followed by the initial poem based on the spine word “Franzen.” The music consisted of short clarinet and percussion phrases filling in the spaces in between Santomieri’s words, with some more extended instrumental lines. The overall texture was very sparse with individual notes, but also some jazzy phrases and some extended wind techniques set against a diversity of percussive sounds. Among the spine phrases used were “left right rhetoric”, “Lolita” and perhaps the most memorable “Franzen, Franzen, Franzen”. Indeed, the author’s name was frequently used in many playful contexts, such as “Franzomancy reveals a function, the zen idolatry…”. Section with more complex and richly tonal words followed by noisier and squeakier instrumentals. During one of the poems, Zelner switched to extended-technique flute, which was set against small metallic and wooden percussion from O’Kane. He returned to clarinet this time employing multiphonics for the final poem, which again used the spine “Franzen, Franzen, Franzen”.

Two upcoming performances this week

Wednesday 12/15 9PM-midnight
Ivy Room hootelatkenanny
kingman’s ivy room, 860 san pablo avenue Albany, CA

Hanukkah may be over, but the Hoot still has its big barrel of boiling oil, thanks to

The Atchleys [kattt and Kenneth]
voice and electronics and latkes

Dean Santomieri [with special guests]
voice and reeds and percussion and jonathan frazen and latkes

Amar Chaudhary
with Dave Coen (djembe), JP (drums), Bill Wolter (guitar) and… applesauce, we need to balance this out

I am excited about this set. It combines experimental work based on iPad instruments (including Curtis and the Korg iMS-20 app) with my recent work in jazz and jam-session performance. It should be one big rhythmic continuum that elides into the Atchleys performance. Or maybe something else. The Ivy Room shows are always a bit unpredictable ūüôā


And then on Thursday…

Thursday 12/16 8PM-10PM
Long Night’s Moon Concert: Droneshift
Luggage Store Gallery, 1007 Market Street, San Francisco, CA

Droneshift is a collaborative concert of improvised drone music. Between 15 and 25 musicians will gather to contribute to a continuous 2 hour drone, each adding their acoustic or electronic instruments here and there, and weaving their sounds together to create gradually shifting tapestries of music. The performance will most likely shift back and forth from completely acoustic music to electric ambiance and post-industrial noise.

Tom Bickley – wind controller
CJ Borosque – trumpet
Bob Boster – processed voice
Amar Chaudhary – iThings
Matt Davignon – wine glasses/vessels
Tony Dryer – bass
Adam Fong – bass
Phillip Greenlief – sax/clarinet
Ron Heglin – trombone/trumpet
Jeff Hobbs – bass, clarinet or violin
Travis Johns – electronics
Andrew Joron – theremin
Aurora Josephson – voice
Sebastian Krawczuk – bass
David Leikam – Moog rogue synthesizer
Cheryl Leonard – viola
Brian Lucas – electric bass / tapes
Melissa Margolis – accordion
Bob Marsh – voice
Marianne McDonald – didgeridoo
Chad McKinney – supercollider/guitar
Joe McMahon – didgeridoo
David Michalak – Omnichord
Kristin Miltner – laptop
Ann O’Rourke – bowed cymbal
Ferrara Brain Pan – sopranino saxophone
Rent Romus – sax/tapes
Ellery Royston – harp w/effects
Lx Rudis – electronics
Mark Soden – trumpet
Moe! Staiano – guitar
Errol Stewart – guitar
Lena Strayhorn – tsaaj plaim / wind wand
Zachary Watkins – electronics
Rachel Wood-Rome – french horn
Michael Zelner – analog monophonic synthesizer, iPod Touch

This is an impressive list of musicians participating in this version of the Droneshift! I will contribute my small part with “iThings” (iPad and iPhone) and using several apps, including the drone-friendly Smule Magic Fiddle.

Ivy Room Experimental Improv Hootenany, November 16

Last Monday, I performed again the experimental improv “Hootenanny” at the Ivy Room in Albany, CA. This is always a fun series to participate in or attend. It starts a little later at 9PM, and is set in a rather plush bar that makes a great setting for drinks and experimental music.

Free Rein. Photo by Michael Zelner

The evening opened with Free Rein, consisting of Andrew Joron (percussion, theremin), Joseph Noble (woodwinds) and Brian Lucas (guitar).  They began with Joron playing a bowed metal percussion instrument and Noble on flute.  The bowed instrument had discrete pitches and the music was quite tonal and repetitive, almost hypnotic. They were joined after a while by Lucas on guitar, and together weaved between pentatonic and chromic sounds that were sometimes quite lush, and other times sparse. Joron switched the theremin at some point during the set, and there was a particularly interesting duo of theremin and pennywhistle.

Free Rein gave way to¬†The Lords of Outland with¬†CJ “Reaven” Borosque (electronics), Philip Everett (drums), Ray Scheaffer (bass), and Rent Romus (alto saxophone). ¬†There sound was loud, fast, dramatic, with many of the standard idioms from free jazz, run of fast notes (particularly from Romus on sax), squeaks, and loud hits. ¬†It was interesting to have the electronic noises set against the jazz sounds.

Lords of Outland.  Photo by Michael Zelner.

Lords of Outland. Photo by Michael Zelner.

The set was very energetic and seemed to go by fast, and I had to keep track of time lest I miss the start for the set that I was curating.  On cue, as they faded out, we began to fade in.

Photo by Michael Zelner

Photo by Michael Zelner

The set I curated included myself on electronics, Brandan Landis on prepared guitar, Beau Casey on violin and David Slusser on saxophone and the Slussomatic. As usual, I began by ringing one of my prayer bowls, which was answered by the metallic sounds of the prepared guitar and the violin, followed by the Kaos Pad and Evolver, and then the Slussomatic. ¬†None of us have played together as a group before, but I was happy with the way we able to play off one another. ¬†There were a couple of moments that particularly stood out for me, such as a rhythmic ostinato that emerged organically and I then reinforced; we went on with that pattern for a while, adding accents and syncopations; towards the end, the full ensemble played a series of loud and dramatic swells (anchored by a noise patch on the Evolver) that brought the set to a close…

Elizabeth Torres with Cansafis Foote. Photo by CatSynth.

…which segued to the next set featuring Elizabeth Torres on tenor sax, with Cansafis Foote on baritone sax and Mario Silva on trumpet. ¬†The set began with Torres and Foote as a duo, moving between very synchronous playing in which the two saxophones acted as one instrument, and Torres’ improvising freely against a driving but ever-changing rhythm provided by Foote. ¬† ¬†The duo was then joined by Silva, again moving back and forth between more free improvisation and rhythmic sections.

Thanks again to Lucio Menegon for hosting the series and Suki O’kane for being “virtual Lucio” on this particular night.