CatSynth TV Episode 1: Sahba Sizdahkhani & PC Muñoz / Karl Evangelista Duo

We proudly present the inaugural episode of CatSynth TV!

This first episode visits the Luggage Store Gallery for the regular Thursday night new-music series. This particular evening had two intriguing and performative sets: a solo for santour and drums by Sahba Sizdahkhani and a duo by PC Muñoz and Karl Evangelista on percussion/electronics and guitar, respectively.

Sizdahkhani’s set was a thing of beauty, with layered loops from the santour providing a rich harmonic and rhythmic background. The drums in many ways functioned as the melodic instrument, with expressive phrasing of the rhythms and textures. Muñoz and Evangelista had some powerful jams in odd-time meters, along with some more subdued moments featuring pedals and Muñoz on Korg Delay Monotron and spoken word.

CatSynth TV is not replacing our long-form articles, but rather a complementary offering. Please do subscribe to our new channel to catch more installments. There is another coming this week 😺

New False Gods &The Xman, LSG Creative Music Series

It’s been a while since I have been able to attend Outsound’s regular weekly music series at the Luggage Store Gallery, but I was finally able to do so a week ago. The show featured two very different sets focused on electronics.

First up was the New False Gods, a “supergroup” of sorts featuring Eli Pontecorvo , Jack Hertz, Doug Lynner, Tom Djll, and R Duck.

New False Gods

I am quite familiar with all the artists and count them all as friends, but this is the first time I heard them together as this unit. Musically, this was an improvised set, but Jack Hertz’s rhythmic percussion helped provide a structural foundation for the other sounds, which varied from sparse and light to thick noisy pads. Doug Lynner provided intricate sounds on his Serge modular, and Tom Djll had an intriguing setup with trumpet driving a modular synth.

Doug Lynner, Tom Djll

Next up was Charles Xavier, aka The Xman performing a solo set with electronics and small sound makers. The central instrument in his setup was a malletKAT, an electronic MIDI mallet percussion instrument.

The Xman (Charles Xavier)

The Xman was musically quite different from the New False Gods. In addition to presenting a series of composed pieces as opposed to a set-length improvisation, his music was centered on standard tonal pitches, albeit sometimes in more atonal arrangements. There was a gentle and playful quality to many of the pieces.

Overall, it was a good night to come back to the series. Hopefully it won’t be so long before I attend again.

Y’reka and Pamela Z, Luggage Store Create Music Series

Today we look back at a show featuring music by Pamela Z and the duo Y’reka at the Luggage Store Gallery Creative Music Series, which was still at its temporary home at 998 Market Street.

The evening opened with Y’reka, a duo featuring Aram Shelton on alto saxophone and Owen Stewart-Robinson on guitar. Both Shelton and Stewart-Robinson also had an array of electronic effects.

Y'reka: Aram Shelton and Owen Stewart-Robinson

Their improvised music had a subtle noisy texture overall, with slowly changing timbres and dynamics. There were some moments were the effects triggered more dramatic changes, which especially stood out with the subtle texture. They also successfully combined their electronically-processed tones in sections such that it wasn’t clear who was playing what, a characteristic I often find fun in freely improvised music. The pair did acknowledge the death of Ornette Coleman the previous morning, a gesture that was both appropriate and appreciated by the audience.

Next up was Pamela Z who presented a variety of works for voice, sound electronics and video. This was in part of “preview” of her upcoming full-scale work Memory Trace which will be happening at the Royce Gallery. In addition to her versatile and virtuosic vocal techniques, she controlled a variety of audio processing via sensors both worn and placed in DIY electronic boxes in front of her. There were also several pieces featuring interactive video. One which I had seen before presented an array of real-time clips of Pamela Z from her laptop’s webcam during the performance, which she then appeared to call up as if they were individual percussion instruments.

Pamela Z

There was also an intriguing video featuring a clock and other imagery related to time.

Pamela Z\

Overall, it was quite an interesting pairing of musical sets, and I was happy to be able to see both of them together in one evening.

Pitta of the Mind, Obando/Pumpelly/Wallace Trio

As Pitta of the Mind prepares for our upcoming show next week, we look back at our last show in February at Outsound’s periodic Soundspeak series featuring experimental music and poetry groups.

For our set we performed several new pieces on the theme of film, with several poems evoking treatments and plots for possible (or impossible) films. The music featured a mixture of piano, Moog Theremini, modular synth and DSI Prophet 12, which made for quite an impressive setup.

Theremini, analog modular, Prophet 12, Nord Stage keyboard

As with most Pitta of the Mind shows, we had a color/pattern theme. On this evening the theme was white.

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Maw Shein Win and Amanda Chaudhary Amanda Chaudhary
[Photos by Annabelle Port. Click to enlarge.]

The performance overall went quite well. You can here some audio excerpts below.

We were proceeded that evening by a trio featuring Nick Obando with Rob Pumpelly and Eli Wallace. The group performed several extended-length jazz pieces layered with Obando’s hip-hop-infused poetry.

Nick Obando with Rob Pumpelly and Eli Wallace

I have to admit I do not recall much of the words/poetry, but the instrumental performance was quite memorable. I am a fan of Eli Wallace’s keyboard performance style, and Pumpelly and Obando brought their own strong technical skills to the mix. I particularly liked one piece that featured a funk rhythm with complex solos and patterns on top. The rhythm cut out in a few spots for freeform improvisation that was just long enough before returning to the funk pattern.

Overall, it was a good show, though a quiet night – possibly a combination of other performances happening that evening and the fact that the Luggage Store Gallery is at a temporary location while the main building is being renovated. But we certainly look forward to performing again, and hearing more music in the meantime.

Jack Curtis Dubowsky Ensemble and Emergency (X)tet, Luggage Store Gallery

A few weeks after performing at Berkeley Arts, the Jack Curtis Dubowsky Ensemble returned to the Bay Area. This performance, at the Luggage Store Gallery in San Francisco, featured the same film as a few weeks earlier, but with very different music and thus an overall different experience.

The evening opened with the Emergency (X)tet, featuring Bob Marsh and a rotating cast of string players. This incarnation included Doug Carroll on cello, Kanoko Nishi on bass koto, and David Michalak on lap steel guitar and effects. This was actually a birthday performance for Bob Marsh, so the set opened with a rousing atonal rendition of Happy Birthday that included audience participation. After that introduction, the group performed a number of improvised pieces, each started by a different member. Each piece seemed to focus on a particular texture of the instruments, with long drones that favored the cellos and the slowly bending sounds of the lap steel guitar, to extremely percussive sounds especially focused on the bass koto.

Bob Marsh Emergency (X)tet

Then it was time for the JCDE performance of their project Current Events. Just as a few weeks earlier, the film opened with stark news images from the crash of Air France Flight 447. But the ensemble quickly veered off in a different direction, with Dubowsky providing a solid jazzy bass line and Erika Johnson and Fred Morgan on percussion holding down the foundation. This was quite a stark contrast to the dark and abstract sounds from the previous performance, but it was quite captivating and fun.

Jack Curtis Dubowsky Ensemble

The strongest of the sections, once again, was “Future Cities”, which featured more rhythmic work from the ensemble as well as Dubowsky with classic analog sounds on the Roland Jupiter Six synthesizer – think a space-music jam from the 1970s. Indeed, the musical content made it easier to see more of the detail in the films. In addition to the future cities, I was able to focus on the the critters and landscape textures of the desert section; and the disturbing nature of seeing journalists killed in a U.S. drone strike was much clearer (it probably had a more profound effect on my opinions of drone strikes than two years of reading incessant rants on Facebook).

In addition to getting to see the differences between the two separate JCDE performances, it was also the right order to see them, going from the serious and abstract sounds to the funkier, more rhythmic nature of the second performance. I look forward to seeing more of the ensemble’s work in the future.

The Use and Mountain Vs. Building, Luggage Store Gallery

The Outsound new-music programs at the Luggage Store Gallery often try to pair groups that complement one another geographically and musically. This was the case in late March with a program featuring The Use and Mountain Vs. Building.

The performance opened with Mountain Vs Building, a group featuring Sheila Bosco on drums and keyboard, Michael Lowe-Grandi on guitar, Brian Lucas on bass, and Mark Pino on drums. Given the instrumental lineup, there were two drum sets going at the same time during many parts of the set, including at the start.

Mountain Vs Building

With so much opportunity for rhythmic foundation, it wasn’t surprising that their music included strong and sometimes funky riffs overlaid with guitar and keyboard effects. The two drum sets worked well without being overwhelming. There were more freeform pieces as well that focused and timbral and noise effects via synths and effects boxes; and the final piece featuring vocals was fun. Overall, it was a strong set technically and musically. The visual effect of the lighting was a nice touch as well.

The Use

The second set featured The Use, the latest solo project by Michael Durek who was visiting from the New York area as part of a west-coast tour. I have seen many of his performances before with PAS Musique and the SK Orchestra, but his new project takes things to another level musically and technically. The electronic elements, a combination of Ableton Live and theremin, were more idiomatic, combining dark melodies, harmonies and rhythms. And it was as much a visual performance, with dance movements in time to the music. You can get a good sense of the overall performance in this video.

Outsound Presents: The Use (Michael Durek) at the Luggage Store Gallery from CatSynth; on Vimeo.

As a bonus, I had the opportunity to perform a duet with The Use to close out the evening. You can see our impromptu jam in this video:

The Use with Amar Chaudhary at Luggage Store Gallery from Michael Durek on Vimeo.

I am glad that The Use had the opportunity to perform at our Thursday-night Outsound music series. Indeed both bands performed well that evening to an appreciative audience. And I am happy to see more experimental music groups confidently incorporating popular idioms into their music.

Taraneh Hemami, Resistance, Luggage Store Gallery

Through our Thursday-night experimental music series at the Luggage Store Gallery, I have seen quite a few art exhibits on the walls (and the floor, and the ceiling). The current exhibition, Resistance!, is notable for both its theme and its presentation, and worth an article of its own separate from our musical exploits.

Resistance, a solo exhibition of work by artist Taraneh Hemami, is about “the visual culture of protest.” More specifically, it presents a history of dissent in Iran and among the Iranian diaspora through reinterpretations of elements from the archive of the Iranian Students Association of Northern California (ISANC). Art shows about resistance and protest are a dime a dozen in these days after the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street. This one is notable for being visually strong, with a very stylized and minimalist presentation that in some cases belies the violence of its subject.

This can be seen most clearly in Blood Curtain, in which a curtain of red beads hangs quietly in an empty corner of the gallery against monochromatic walls and curtains. It is at once beautiful and also uncomfortable with its obvious depiction of blood.


[Taraneh Hemami, Blood Curtain, 2013]

The curtain is made from 8mm glass beads and suggests a hand-crafted artifact, a theme that reappears throughout the exhibition. In Theory of Survival, portraits of martyrs from book covers are reproduced in glass frit on large panels, again in black and red. From a distance, the texture looks like carpeting, but when one looks closely the glass becomes apparent.


[Taraneh Hemami, Theory of Survival, 2010-2013]

More traditional craft can be seen a series of rugs that at first appear to be an elegant wall decoration but take on additional meaning when one realizes that these designs were from images of rugs created by prisoners. Other pieces were less subtle in their message, such as Notes from Evin Prison, named for the notorious Iranian prison that still appears in headlines today. Here, laser-cut metal is used to render both a harmless looking sign with the piece’s title as well a large and explicit figure in black and red being tortured. There were, however, more hopeful images as well. In People Power Revolution, the laser-cut metal forms depict throngs of revolutionaries. The main image of violence in this piece, a security guard being skewered, is almost cartoonish.


[Taraneh Hemami, People Power Revolution, 2013]

The prevalence of red among the pieces suggested an association with 20th century Communism in addition to blood and violence. The Communist motif was reinforced by the frequent appearance of five-pointed stars. I thought this was odd at first, because I was using the 1979 Iranian revolution and the recent protests against the Islamic regime as my reference. ISANC was actually active from 1960 to 1982, and thus its archives mostly predate the 1979 revolution and document earlier periods of resistance and protest when Leftists symbols would have been in wide use. Nonetheless, the images seemed like they could have been from the protests since 2009.

Resistance will be on display at the Luggage Store Gallery through February 28, with a closing reception that evening.

Matt Davignon/Hugh Behm-Steinberg duo and Bill Walker, Luggage Store Gallery

Today we review the February 8 concert at the Luggage Store Gallery, featuring poetry, music and virtuosic guitar. The evening opened with the music-and-poetry duo of Matt Davignon and Hugh Behm-Steinberg.


[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

I had seen them perform together before, and it was interesting to see how the collaboration has evolved since then. The structure has become more abstract, moving from a poetry reading accompanied by live electronics to an electronic-music duo using Behm-Steinberg’s words and voice as the sound source. Snippets of poetry were transformed through the many pedals, wires and other bits of electronics into percussive loops, slowly undulating sustained sounds, and other elements.

There still were places where the words and phrases remained intelligible amidst the electronic sounds, particularly at the beginnings of pieces. I thought it was good to have this in order to stay connected to the idea that there was poetry involved and that it wasn’t just an electronic improvisation duo. Having just performed there the week before in a poetry-and-music duo, it is quite tempting to compare our respective performances. Pitta of the Mind took a more traditional approach to the use of words, preserving the structure of the poetry and practice of reading alongside a variety of electronic sounds and stage performance, while the Davignon/Behm-Steinberg duo took a more abstract approach blending words and music into a single soundscape.

The next set featured a solo performance by Bill Walker on guitars and electronics. He brought a variety of electric and lap-steel guitars and array of electronics for looping and other effects.


[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

His guitar-playing was itself virtuosic, easily moving between different styles and playing and textures ranging from long drones to fast-moving percussive sounds. His use of looping allowed him to build up more complex layers with different textures. The lap-steel guitar sections, which included a visually interesting custom-built instrument, were haunting without resorting to some of the instrument’s cliches. It was an impressive display of both instrument technique and coordination of electronics, and was quite a beautiful performance overall.

During his performance, Walker played compositions in tribute to his father, as well as to Kim Flint, who was very active in the looping and electronic-music communities, and the founder of Loopers Delight. There were also moments of humor in his set, such as a piece based on samples of Mr. T.

Overall, this was another strong performance in the Thursday-night series at the Luggage Store Gallery, and I was glad I braved a downpour to go see it.

Abode (Paul Stapleton, Caroline Pugh) and RepoRoom, Luggage Store Gallery

Tonight we review last Thursday’s concert at the Luggage Store Gallery in San Francisco, part of Outsound Presents’ weekly series. I arrived to a darkened gallery with abstract bands and shapes of light being projected onto the wall, with Jan Pusina sitting in front controlling electronic musical sounds. The video was being controlled Bob Pacelli using analog video synthesizers.

The stripe patterns remained for a while with different combinations of colors and widths, before eventually changing to geometric shapes and even some curved forms. The music was primary long drones with complex timbres, but towards the last third of the set there were additional textures with shorter-length sounds. Overall it was a short performance, but I thought the duration worked well given the minimal nature of the visual and aural material and kept it interesting.

The second set featured Adobe, a duo of Caroline Pugh on voice and electronics with Paul Stapleton performing on his “Bonsai Sound Sculpture.” We have reviewed Stapleton performing with his creation before (see this article from last year). However, this was a more formal duo that has been performing together for a long time.

Stapleton’s electronic sounds blended well with Pugh’s vocals, which combined tradition Scottish folk singing with extended vocal techniques, feedback and cassette-player effects. I was impressed with her performance, both the range of sounds and techniques and the overall strength of her voice. Her sound ranged from long brilliant tones to rapid-fire sequences of phonemes that may or may not have been actual words. There was also an element of humor in her presentation and some of the text. Stapleton’s sounds ranged from DJ-like recordings played at variable speed to metallic noises and other scratchy bits of sound, and fill in the spaces in between the vocals. After the performance, I went to take a closer look at the Bonsai Sound Sculpture itself:

Overall, a strong performance with very contrasting sets, ranging from the more meditative opening to the more dynamic and virtuosic conclusion. I was quite happy I made the effort to come out on an exceptionally cold night in San Francisco to hear these sets.

Reconnaissance Fly and KREation, Luggage Store Gallery

Last week, Reconnaissance Fly returned the Luggage Store Gallery, with selections from our upcoming album Flower Futures, featuring songs based on spoetry (or spam poetry). We were joined on stage by the piñatas which I reported on at a previous show, including the manatee and the “pyramonster” that appears on the US one dollar bill.

We have played this music often enough now to feel confident, even routine, with what is still a challenging set. As always, we opened with Small Chinese Gong and wound our way through prog rock, jazz and more experimental styles to the closing catchy riffs of An Empty Rectangle.


[Photo by Tom Djll]

The acoustics of the Luggage Store Gallery once again presented a huge challenge for our performance, which requires tight rhythmic integration between players. But I thought we did a great set despite the challenge, including the syncopated unisons in sanse is crede nza and the abstract event-driven Oh! Goldfinch Cage.

We were followed on the program by KREation (Kevin Robinson Ensemble). It was interesting that their line-up for the evening was very similar to ours: two wind payers, keyboard, bass and drums. Neither group had a guitarist. But the music was quite different. Compared to Reconnaissance Fly’s structured set of composed songs, KREation’s performance was free-flowing, shifting between different levels of energy and texture in a continuous whole.


[Kreation]

They started off with the sounds of key clicks, scratches and other soft percussive sounds in a cloud of staccato noise, before shifting in a more tonal free-jazz sound. The rhythms, harmonies and textures shifted every few minutes, with a few instrument changes along the way, and different members of the band taking turns with abstract vocals.

It was a strong performance that kept my attention for the entire duration of the set, and I am glad we had the opportunity to share the bill with them.