Posts Tagged ‘luggage store gallery’

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

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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.

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The Use and Mountain Vs. Building, Luggage Store Gallery

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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.

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Taraneh Hemami, Resistance, Luggage Store Gallery

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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.

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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.


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.


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.

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

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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.

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Reconnaissance Fly and KREation, Luggage Store Gallery

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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.


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.

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Y2K12 Live Looping Festival in San Francisco

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For the past few years, the annual Live Looping Festival, which primarily takes place in Santa Cruz, California, co-hosts an opening-night performance in San Francisco with Outsound Presents at the Luggage Store Gallery. This year was no exception, with visiting artists coming from afar and braving the large flying piñatas on display in the gallery that evening.

The show opened with a solo performance by Philipp Zurcher, who was attending the festival from Switzerland. His set opened with dark and subtle tones on guitar and effects, and very little overt looping. The music remained sparse for a while, but eventually started to build up into a thicker texture as the loops came to the forefront.

[Philipp Zurcher.]

While Zurcher’s performance was subtle and sparse, the next set by Krispen Hartung and Aaron Davis from Boise, Idaho went in the opposite direction. Davis played fast runs and driving chords and rhythms on keyboard while the pair layered electronics and loops in a loud and intense rhythmic texture that they sustained for the duration of the set. There were moments where things grew a bit software which allowed Davis’ keyboard performance to come to the forefront, but overall it was a full-on barrage of electronic beats and semi-rhythmic long tones that enveloped the space and the audience.

[Krispen Hartung and Aaron Davis]

The final set featured Italian ” sound-sculptor” Luca Formentini. At first glance, he appeared to be another looper-guitarist, but that label sells his highly virtuosic and narrative music short. His guitar sounded other-wordly, aided by the fact that his performance was largely without any light. The dark, tense and melancholy tones were augmented by electronics and more complex loops layered with a mixture of effects. There were sounds that mimicked natural elements, such as water, fire and even sound evocative of cats. Rather than simply building up layers of sound, he adeptly added and removed the layers to forward an abstract narrative – one had the sense of a movie with something beautiful but tragic was about to happen. Overall, it was an impressive performance.

Overall, it was a good show, with a small but appreciative audience. The festival moved back to Santa Cruz after this opening performance. I was not able to attend any of the subsequent events, but glad I saw these artists on this night in San Francisco.

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Shani Aviram, Matt Ingalls, Benjamin Ethan Tinker. Luggage Store Gallery

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Today we look at last Thursday’s Outsound show at the Luggage Store Gallery, which featured music by Shani Aviram, Benjamin Ethan Tinker, and Matt Ingalls.

As I have mentioned in previous articles, the acoustics at the Luggage Store Gallery can be quite challenging. One of the things that made this performance notable is that several of the performers made creative use of the acoustics, working with it rather than against it. This was true of the initial piece for solo snare drum by Shani Aviram, where the staccato notes of the drum reverberated around the room in a manner that was quite dynamic. There were some exceptionally loud moments, but I liked the overall texture. The set also featured compositions by Aviram for cello and electronics (performed by Devon Thrumston), and computer and Arp 2600 (performed by the composer and Benjamin Ethan Tinker, respectively).

The best use of the room acoustics was by Matt Ingalls, who performed a 30-minute continuous tour de force of energetic microtonal improvisation on clarinet. His movement affected the diffusion of the sound from the instrument and off the walls of the room, adding more microtonal and timbral variation. It is difficult to describe the experience fully, but it was a very impressive performance. I managed to capture a few seconds on my iPhone, which you can see below.

In the subsequent break between sets, I went up to see the analog electronics. In addition to the Arp 2600, there was also an analog Echoplex that appeared to be in relatively good condition.

[Click images to enlarge.]

In the final set, Ingalls joined Shani Aviram and Benjamin Ethan Tinker for a group improvisation. Aviram performed using a banjo with electronic pickup, which she bowed. The resulting long tones were used as input into the 2600 and Echoplex for a complex texture of sounds with long tones generated from the banjo and overlays with loops and echoes. Ingalls was once again on clarinet, which he matched timbrally to the electro-acoustic sounds. Once again, the acoustics of the room worked with the longer and slower tones of improvisation and the electronic echo effects.

[Click image to enlarge]

It was a good night of music overall, and one I almost missed due to having just returned from an intense out-of-town trip. I am glad I made the effort to be there.

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Pas Musique and Thomas/Levin duo, Luggage Store Gallery

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Readers may recall that when I was in New York last November, I performed at TheaterLab in an evening organized by Robert L Pepper of PAS, and that he also joined me for an improvised electro-acoustic piece. I had the chance to return the favor when he and Amber Brien came to San Francisco as a duo Pas Musique and I hosted them at our regular Outsound Thursday-night series at the Luggage Store Gallery.

Pas Musique arrived with quite an array of electronic and acoustic instruments and sound-making devices including analog synthesizers, a looper, a garrahand (a beautiful resonant metal drum from from Argentina), and an inflatable dinosaur.

With these tools, they crafted an incredible performance of captivating rhythmic patterns overlaid with rich timbres. Even elements such as feedback and the dinosaur were seamlessly incorporated into the overall musical structure and themselves became rhythmic. Many of the electronically processed sounds have a very natural quality to them, which fit nicely with the garrahand sounds. You can get a sense of these elements in the following video from the performance:

Pas Musique at the Luggage Store Gallery, May 24, 2012 (Part 1) from CatSynth on Vimeo.

Another thing that is also quite apparent in this video is that it was incredibly windy in San Francisco that day, especially along Market Street. On one hand, the wind fit well with some of the more chaotic sounds in Pas Musique’s performance, and at the same time the relative order within their music provided a calming contrast. Musically, there were quite a few transitions, including more purely electronic sections with distortion, delays and vocoders, grounding mechanical sounds, and bells. Some points were quite meditative, others dramatic. Throughout, I was particularly taken with the musicality and sense of harmony and rhythm. This excerpt once again features the garrahand, along with looped electronics and a small flute.

Pas Musique at the Luggage Store Gallery, May 24, 2012 (Part 2) from CatSynth on Vimeo.

Towards the end of the set, the music became more frenetic with more intense vocal work by Pepper and a percussive performance on a metal ladder by Brien. After being out of time from one another, the rhythms converged into a forceful, eerie loop. This eventually gave way to more electronic robot-like sounds. As a finale, the air was let out of the dinosaur with the sound picked up and processed by microphones. This was set against a swing rhythm, ultimately ending in a loud thud.

Pas Musique were preceded by Oluyemi Thomas and Ike Levin as a free-improvisation duo. With saxophone and clarinet and handful of percussion instruments, their source material and texture was far more sparse. They began with Thomas performing long resonant gong tones and pattenrs on shakers against Levin on saxophone. Thomas then switched to bass clarinet and thus began an extended wind improvisation with high raspy saxophone tones and intricately wobbling clarinet sounds. At moments, it got quite loud (including a humorous synchronicity with honking instruments and honking horns outside on Market Street) but ultimately gave way to softer repeated notes and then breath sounds.

After a section in which Thomas returned to percussion while dancing in very slow deliberate almost ritualistic patterns, the two switched instruments with Levin on bass clarinet and Thomas on saxophone. There were loud tones, key clicks, and a jazz-like riff that gave way to scat singing. Each musician performed a solo on his respective wind instrument and then combined again in a duet moved from percussive to melodic and jazz like, at first forceful then softly rhythmical. It was ultimately a very warm and intimate performance.

Overall, it was a great show that I was happy to have curated. This is something I have been doing occasionally for the Luggage Store new-music series but I hope to do more frequently in the future.

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Rubber ()) Cement, bran(…)pos, Hora Flora at Luggage Store Gallery

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Today we look back at a recent show featuring noise and theater at the Luggage Store Gallery, part of Outsound Presents’ regular Thursday-night experimental-music series.

The first set featured Hora Flora, a project of Raub Roy. Most often, we associate noise music with electronic affects, but this set focused on acoustic noise opportunities. It opened to the sound of electric toothbrushes on drums. It turns out this sound can be quite rich, and also quite loud at times. Over the course of the performance, he used other acoustic generators for excite the drums, most notably large colorful balloons.

The set continued in this way, with the balloons and toothbrushes on the drums creating ever changing acoustic noise drones, with other elements such as didgeridoo and portable cassette players layered on top. The cassette players were very deliberately placed at even intervals on the beam that spanned the length of the gallery in front of the audience. I was right near one of them, but the sounds were still quite subtle when combined with the overall drone texture.

Horoflora was followed by bran(…)pos. I had last seen him perform at the 2011 Outsound Music Summit. Once again, he was performing from within a curtained space with video projections on the outside, but the setting was far more intimate setting. From my vantage point, I was able to see both his live performance “behind the curtain” as well as the enveloping video projection.

In his performance physical use of his face both generated and shaped the sound, which in turn controlled the video. The performance opened with expressive percussive sounds, which become more resonant through electronic processing and gradually formed a rhythmic pattern. It continued with a series of slurps, crunches and other forms of face percussion mixed with breath, voiced sounds and synthetic sounds. In addition to electronics for direct vocal processing, there were synthesizers as well, including an Access Virus:

Overall, the performance had the phrasings and overall structure of storytelling, but in a language whose words I cannot understand. It did come to a strong finish with growls and roars against a frantic thudding pulse.

The final performance featured Rubber (() Cement (pronounced “Rubber oh Cement”). The set was quite the spectacle, with a large costumed figure, a space creature of sorts, next to a towering old-school computer system made from cardboard. The visuals and sounds reminded me a bit of Caroliner Rainbow, but on a smaller scale, and on top of the audience instead of separated by a formal stage.

[Photo by Michael Zelner.]

Somewhere inside that lumbering lurching figure was a large custom string instrument. The plucking and striking of the strings formed the sonic base of the performance, which were both processed electronically and countered by other synthesizer sounds emanating from the “computer”. I suspected that the things would get quite loud, and indeed they did, with lots of loud shrieky pedal noises processing the strings and reprocessing themselves in complex ways. Of course the focal point remained the physical and visual aspects of the performance. In fact, that is a bit of an understatement, as part of the audience experience including being “attacked”. I got swiped at least once by one of the extending parts appendages, which are actually quite heavy – I was nearly knocked over. Things got a little crazier as the creature moved out into the audience. But it was all in good fun, and I don’t think anyone was hurt. Definitely an unusual experience for this series.

Overall, it was a great show attend, with different sites and sounds than usual. The audience was different as well, with the artists bringing their own followings. I hope to see more of them at other venues in the near future.

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