Wind Moon Concert

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

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

Tom Nunn and his musical inventions. Click to enlarge.

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

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

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


Mark Deutsch on bazantar. Click to enlarge.

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

Fun With Highways: Luggage Store Edition

The Road (w/ 26 cars), by Dustin Fosnotat the Luggage Store Gallery. It is part of an exhibition that has been on display during the recent performances I have attended there, and I could not pass up the opportunity to feature this “highway-inspired” work of art.

SoundSpeak, Luggage Store Gallery

Last Thursday’s performances at the Luggage Store Gallery were all about poetry and spoken word.

The first performance was a duo Polly Moller (vocals) and Moe! Staiano (percussion) interpreting a recent form of spoetry. Spoetry is spam that in its effort to evade filters rises to the level of high art. Our current set of songs in Reconnaissance Fly is based on spoetry, but the performance this evening featured a new and different form where words were grouped into disjoint sequences of two or three words, and in one case the words were themselves decomposed into individual sounds and reordered.

[Click on images to enlarge.]

The performance began with coarse drums and cymbals set against dramatic recitation of the first spoem. Although I wasn’t fully aware of the structure of the spoem at the time, one could definitely sense that the words were quite disjoint from one another. There were multiple languages, which allowed Polly the opportunity to play with different accents, pitches and timbres within the text. The drums at times were “prepared” with various objects on the heads. At one point, the drums got very soft, then gave way to scraping sounds on the cymbals set against longer drawn-out words, and then both the voice and percussion suddenly became very staccato and active.

The third piece focused more on Moe!’s percussive gadgets, including a back massager that was used to set a steady pulse for the piece, and set of old intercoms that were used to remotely set of loud squeaks from the edges of the room. This was the most rhythmic of the pieces, with a steady pulse that one could even sway to a bit. Moe! expertly threw and struck various objects in a way that kept the beat going, complete with accents.

In the final piece, the sounds of the words were decomposed into even smaller units that further blurred any sense of meaning. I did recall the phrases “Isis kitsch”, however. The main percussion instruments in this piece were a set of rubber balls attached to sticks that created a powerful sound when rubbed along the walls or on the heads of the drums.


The second set featured poet Robert Anbian with Rent Romus on saxophones and Bob Marsh on cello. This was more of a “traditional” poetry performance, with Anbian reciting long-form poetry against improvised music, and quite a contrast to Polly and Moe!’s more experimental set.

The first piece began with long cello harmonics that were matched by tones on the saxophone. The poem had memorable phrases such as “square root of suffering” and “posey for your supper.”

The second piece started with an animated run of fast saxophone notes and pizzicato on the cello. Then the poetry entered, with imagery and words related to fire and memorable phrases such as “The post war blues you are feeling is perfectly normal.” The music became noisier and sparser, then moved towards more of a jazz idiom (i.e., with the cello sounding a bit like a bass) then back to more noise and free improvisation. This was quite a long poem, and towards the end I think we in the audience began applauding before it was actually done. Anbian took this in stride and simply said “the audience has spoken.”

The last piece, My Country Loves Peace Remix began with cello and electronics (delays, etc.) set against a moaning saxophone. After a while the music moved to bowed cello and sax harmonics, then back to more electronically processed cello. The poem was about the perpetual state of war we seem to find ourselves in, despite leaders proclaiming their desire for piece. War was used broadly and included not only guns and bombs, but the taking of resources and cultural assets from others, sometimes by force, yet still proclaiming peace. “When will the war end?” A section of the music featured harmonics on the cello matching long tones on the sax with tremolo on both instruments. At one point, the pitches stablized on a major third before “falling apart” as a series of glissandi. The poem ended with the question repeated “When will the war end…Barack?”

Storm Moon Concert

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

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

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

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

Conduct Your Own Orchestra Night

Last Thursday, I participated in Outsound Presents Conduct Your Own Orchestra Night at the Luggage Store Gallery. During the course of the evening, several conductors took turns conducting an “orchestra” of improvising musicians for ten minutes. Each conductor took a very different approach, using a variety of gestures, instructions and symbols to guide the performers.


[Bob Marsh conducts the orchestra.]

As with other recent guided-improvisation pieces, I used a graphical score for my conducting. The performers were each given a set of 16 graphical symbols. During the course of the performance, I held up large cards each containing one of the symbols, directed either at individuals, groups or the ensemble as a whole.

You can see some of the symbols below:

[Click to enlarge.]

This is the second page of the 16 available symbols, generally these were the more complex. Viewers might notice that symbol 12 is a cat. Like other symbols, I expected to be interpreted relatively freely – but by coincidence percussionist Ann O’Rourke had a cat-shaped metal CD rack as an instrument, so it became a very obvious cue for her to play the “cat.”

Ann O’Rourke’s piece was based entirely on pairings of words, such as “fearful/choppy” and “fearful/flowing” or “hesitant/slow” and “confident/fast”. The orchestra was divided in half, with one side receiving one pairing and the other side receiving the other pairing.

Brandan Landis’ conducting was more physical/body-oriented. He did not use any visual cues (textual or graphical), but instead used dramatic body movements to guide the orchestra. Some of these were rather intense and the piece ended with his collapsing on the floor.

Mark Briggs used short rhythmic patterns and cues to individual performers to build up a complex rhythmic texture. I was given a very simple repeated pattern to perform, which allowed me to remain immersed in the overall rhythm of the piece.

Tom Bickley led the orchestra in a very sparse and beautiful piece with individual sounds from cued performance set against silence. It was the sparse texture that made this among my favorite pieces of the evening, musically speaking.

Bob Marsh used his own instructional cards and gestures to conduct the orchestra, and contributed his own vocal performance on top.

Other conductors included CJ Borosque and Matt Davignon, who used a combination of instructional cards, including one that instructed a performer to make a loud sound when Matt pointed a finger gun and shot him/her.

Preparing for Thursday’s performance: Luna’s video

Over the last few days, I have largely been absorbed by preparations for my next performance. This one includes a more ambitious element, a 10-minute video entitled 月神1 featuring clips of Luna as well as abstract elements reminiscent of experimental filmmakers such as Stanley Brakhage or Gerhard Richter. The video will serve as a backdrop for live electronic improvisation – it is mostly silent, though I did include some sound at various points so the audience could hear Luna’s voice.

Here are a few example frames from the video:



Some of the video clips of Luna were featured here on CatSynth in the past, including her chattering video, or playing with her blue fish toy. The abstract elements were done is a software package called Processing, a programming language for images, animation and interactions.

Musically, I will plan to focus on a mixture of the Evolver and the Octave CAT synthesizers, along with software on the iPhone and laptop. Indeed, this is the first time I will be using the CAT live, mostly because I am reluctant to move it too often.

Of course, this will only cover about one third of the full performance, so I will be drawing from my repertoire of electroacoustic improvisation to round out the remainder of the time. Although I reuse elements, there is always something new to discover in them.

For those in the Bay Area who may be interested in checking it out, the full information is below:

Full Moon Concert Series: Quickening Moon
Thursday, February 25, 8PM
Luggage Store Gallery, 1007 Market Street @ 6th Street, San Francisco.

The Full Moon Concert Series is an experimental music series offered by Outsound Presents, in partnership with the Luggage Store Gallery. Each concert explores the traditional lore of the Full Moon, and in January, the second annual “Quickening Moon” will feature new music springing to life. First up will be Amar Chaudhary in a solo electronica set (collaborating with his wonder-cat, Luna), followed by the world premiere of a new work for twelve improvisers by Polly Moller, entitled Genesis.

Pmocatat Ensemble and Chorus, and Weller-Borosque Duo

Last Thursday night, the Pmocatat Ensemble performed again at the Luggage Store Gallery. Pmocatat (pronounced “Moe Ka Tatt”, the “p” is silent) stands for “pre-recorded music on CDs and tapes and things”. The members of ensemble pre-record acoustic material (instruments, voice, environmental sounds, etc.) according to compositional instructions, and then during the performance, improvise with these pre-recorded sounds using standard playback controls: play, pause, fast-forward, rewind, and speed controls. Devices used for playback included CD players, cassette tape players, and iPods/iPhones. This performance featured Matt Davignon, Amar Chaudhary, Suki O’kane, Michael Zelner, Rent Romus and Edward Schocker. It was billed as the “Pmocatat Ensemble and Chorus” as many of the pieces featured vocal material.

Matt DavignonMichael Zelner's iPod TouchAmar ChaudharySuki O'kaneRent RomusEdward Schocker

[Photos by Michael Zelner.]

We opened with a sparse piece, with single-syllable words entering periodically to perform collaborative nonsense phrases. There was a lot of open space between the words, which was filled in with droning instruments later in the piece. This was followed by a free-improvisation with pre-recorded woodwinds, mallet percussion and bell sounds. The result was an expressive performance with rich textures and complex rhythms composed articulated notes from the different instruments.

graphical score for Pmocatat.  Click to enlarge.

graphical score for Pmocatat. Click to enlarge.

My composition contribution was a piece with a graphical score which called for vocal sounds, instrumental and vocal drones, and animal sounds. It for this piece that I recorded clips of Luna last week, and thus she made her “debut” in a new-music concert. Her meows were set against moderately long vocal sounds that arbitrarily “cut off”, followed by a series of very short sounds to represent the tiny scratches in the graphical element. Here, we heard Luna’s clicking sounds that she makes when hunting. For the longer sounds, her purrs were set against various drones. I think was received well, judging by the looks of delight and amusement from various members of audience.

The graphical piece was followed by an interpretation of Pauline Oliveros’ Form Unknown Silences. The sparse texture, with a variety of short sounds interrupting periods of silence, had both a playful and meditative quality. This was followed by a brand new piece featuring guitar sounds set against percussion. The percussion was really following the guitar sounds, with the pa

This being a holiday show, we of course had to conclude with a holiday offering. In this case, it was a rendition of the classic “O Christmas Tree”, with pre-recorded versions of the song sung very slowly, and played back even more slowly and asynchronously, with gaps, pauses and changes in playback speed overtime growing more complex until the artifacts overtook the original.


The Pmocatat Ensemble was preceded by a duo of Ellen Weller and CJ Borosque. The set opened with an atonal “call to prayer” of Weller on a shofar and Borosque on trumpet. The remainder of the set unfolded as an interplay with Weller’s wind instrument and Borosque’s noise synthesizers (and trumpet). Among her instruments was an experimental box with chaotic oscillators and filters – I acquired one of these a few weeks ago but she has gained significantly more proficiency than I have. There were moments with fast saxophone phrases against the synths, and others with Weller’s exceptionally noisy and agressive flute sounds against very finely articulated synth noise. Other moments included undulating unstable waves, a snake charmer flute, and a variety of acoustic and electronic squeaks. The were moments when the music became quite trancelike even as it remained loud and noisy.

Long Night’s Moon concert

This past Thursday I attended the latest installment of the Full Moon Concert series: the “Long Night’s Moon”, in anticipation of the winter solstice.

Both sets played off the theme of the perception of time, perhaps an allusion to the passage of time as one moves through the longest night of the year. However, time is represented and perceived quite differently in each.

The second set was a public performance of the 2009 60×60 compilation, featuring 60 one-minute pieces by 60 different composers in a variety of styles. The performance was very precisely timed, beginning at exactly 9PM with each success piece starting on the next minute until 10PM. A clock projected onto the wall showed the exact time, so one could watch the individual seconds tick while listening to the music. However, within this very precise presentation of time, the perception of time remained fluid. Some pieces seemed significantly longer than others, and the seconds appeared to pass more quickly or slowly. For example, one piece with a lounge/jazz feel seemed to pass more slowly, while several more experimental pieces based purely on timbral evolution seemed to go by much faster. I think it was the quick succession of phrases that made it seem longer, as if the piece was a more standard three-minute duration. Some others, such as #53 and #54 by Andrew Willingham and David Morneau, respectively, went by quite fast.

Indeed, with such short pieces, the transitions between them became significant elements. I particularly liked the transitions between pieces 12, 13 and 14, by Danny Clay, Alvin Curan and Christophe Petchanatz, respectively. Similarly, the transitions between #46 (John Maycraft) and #47 (Les Scott) was very fluid and seamless. Other notable pieces included the toy piano performance in #16 by Jane Wang (I instantly recognized the Jaymar toy piano( and the “meditation” in steel and metallic sounds in #27 by Diana Simpson. I of course instantly recognized the spoetry in Polly Moller’s Abdominal Cyclist Ultra (#36) from my work with Reconnaissance Fly. The frenetic beats in #56 (Arran Krister Kohnson), interleaving of speeches by Barack Obama and Martin Luther King, Jr. in #58 (Ben Boone) and the final “Daddy, what are you doing?” in #60 (Richard Hall) brought the set to an energetic close.

In the preceding set, John Hanes presented a very different perception of time. His piece for the Long Night’s Moon was “an attempt to celebrate the promise of light internet in the darkest night and the rhythm of the turning of the year.” Unlike the 60×60 performance, which made one hyper-aware of the passing of individual seconds, Hanes’ performance invited listeners to “suspend” their perception of time and meditate on the graduation changes in sounds. It began with bells and metallic sounds, which were eventually joined by strong (and synthetic) resonances. A few tones reminded me of prayer bowls. The long tones of the metallic and synthetic sounds formed gradually changing chords and harmonies that suggested a vocal or choral arrangement. Occasionally the rather complex harmonies would suddenly drop out, leaving a unison of different timbres on the same pitch. There were some complex minor harmonies in between the unions, and some points where the harmonies seem to draw to a traditional cadence. All along were ebbs and flowers and timbre and dynamics, with some strong crescendos towards the conclusion of the piece.

This is actually not the first time we have encountered John Hanes at a Full Moon Concert. He also appearned in Myles Boisen’s Past-Present-Future at the Blood Moon Concert in October.

Blood Moon Concert, Luggage Store Gallery

Last Thursday, in addition the gallery and art walk, I also attended the Blood Moon Concert at the Luggage Store Gallery. This was latest in Polly Moller’s moon concert series and focused on the “Blood Moon”, a traditional name for the closest full moon to the autumnal equinox. It is associated with the fall harvest, and also with the hunting of game and the slaughtering of livestock ahead of the winter season. The two halves of the concert couldn’t have been more different, an experimental electronic/noise texture performance followed by “avant-gard blues”, but they both worked intimately with the evening’s theme of the “blood moon.”

The concert opened with the duo of James Kaiser and Andy C. Way reimagining a piece that originally recorded on a blood moon several years ago. Both the original recorded version and this live performance featured “minimal electronics, voice, metals and much atmosphere”. The performance began with a noise swell, like a strong wave, embellished by ornamental sounds on a cymbal. Actually, the cymbal was part of a larger instrument, and mounted on top of a bicycle wheel. It was bowed to produce a variety of metallic resonances that blended with the electronics. Overall, the piece had a relatively constant texture. It was static, a dark tonescape, fitting for the theme. But there were also a variety of details that changed throughout. In addition to the bowed cymbal and bicycle wheel, there were breathing sounds, the use of voice to drive electronic effects, dark scratches and drones, noise glitches. Later on these were joined by loud bursts and “incidental pitches” from periodic noise. There was one sound that reminded me of the closing doors on a New York City subway train. The piece ended with a strong resonance and rumble, and then faded out.

The second half of the concert featured the trio Past-Present-Future, with Myles Boisen on guitar, “Hollerin’ John Hanes” on drums, and Lisa Mazzacappa on bass.


[Click to enlarge.]

They premiered a Blood Moon Suite written for this concert. It began with a “free-improvisation” section characterized by harmonic and rhythmic swells. In particular, I noticed Boisen’s combination of chromaticism and harmonics admist the ensemble’s clusters of rhythm followed by more free-form sounds. Over time, the piece became more “bluesy” in terms of the scales and chords. There were still very linear chromatic jazz chords, but with a framework rich blues idioms on the guitar and bass. One memorable section featured a straight slow blues rhythm with guitar and drums (with a heavy swing feel), that moved immediately into a serious staccato notes and then to a slow expressive end. The next movement began with a strong six-eight rhythm with low guitar and chromatic thirds. It was definitely more steady rhythmically and harmonically than the previous movement, with occasional hits and stops, and overall more traditional harmonies, and a cool bass solo by Mazzcappa. Things got more free-form later in the piece, and morphed into something slower and darker. The final section was more minimalist, with an interplay between slide guitar and bass that sounded quite “southern”, with lots of slides, bends, octaves/unison and blues-scale lines. It ended more dramatic, and noisy elements on the guitar and bass.

The Blood Moon Suite was followed by another piece, “Devil’s blues”. It featured a latin rhythm, with the bass and drums repeating a rather addictive pattern. The guitar was repetitive and subtle at first, with blue notes and tritones and inharmonic effects all within the rhythm.

One interesting coincidence for this concert was running into Jeff Anderle at the taqueria below the Luggage Store. It was only an hour or so earlier that I had seen him perform at Steven Wolf Fine Arts at First Thursday. Yes, it was quite an evening of art and music.