Outsound New Music Summit: Cheryl Leonard and Machine Shop

The opening concert of the 2015 Outsound New Music Summit open with a very elemental program based on music from wood, stone, earth and metal.

First up was Cheryl Leonard performing compositions for natural objects, including shells, stones, wood, and water. Each of the pieces was accompanied by a video created from other artists.

Cheryl Leonard
[Photo: PeterBKaars.com]

Water and extreme weather were major themes of her set. The first piece was based on field recordings of melting ice on lakes in Yosemite National Park. As an ominous sign for the chronic drought we are facing here in California and climate change worldwide, the ice was thawing an crackling without a snow cover in mid January. Nonetheless, the music Leonard created from this was beautiful, the thumps and crackles formed a surprisingly strong rhythm with changing meter. Another piece focused on a storm while in open waters of the Arctic ocean as seen through the porthole of a ship, with video by artist Genevieve Swift. This piece was more turbulent compared to the more mesmerizing nature of the melting ice.

Cheryl Leonard playing dried kelp

Leonard also employs quite a variety of musical techniques for her natural objects, not simply percussive techniques. In the photo above, we see her playing dried kelp as a wind instrument.

Next up was Machine Shop, a duo featuring Karen Stockpole on gongs and Drew Webster on electronics. The dominant element in this set was metal, but not simply metal as found objects, but forged into strong and beautiful instruments.

Karen Stackpole, Machine Shop
[Photo: PeterBKaars.com]

Gongs can of course be loud and chaotic, but the rich harmonics and interplay among them can be brought out for subtle musical phrasing with a master artist like Karen Stockpole. The sounds ranged from loud booming drones to individual nearly pure tones and beats among harmonics from different instruments. There were also more abrupt staccato notes that she played with a mobile gong while walking around the stage. The overall effect was hypnotic, but nonetheless very musical with phrasing and a subtle form of rhythm.

Karen Stackpole
[Photo: PeterBKaars.com]

It was often difficult to tell where the acoustic sounds of the gongs ended and where the electronic processing began, which is not a bad thing, as I think electro-acoustic ensembles should often blend these elements. In the last two pieces, however, Webster’s electronics were more apparent, and one could here the processing as well as his synthesizer contributions to the sound which complemented the amplified gongs.

Machine Shop

Overall, it was a strong start to this years summit. Both sets were very well received by the full house in attendance; and it was refreshing to see that the artists received support for their recordings for sale (at least one of the new releases is now in the CatSynth collection).

Most photographs for this article are from Peter B. Kaars, who was featured earlier in the week with an exhibit and reception. You can read our report from that event here.

No Fooling, We Mean It! – McLoughlin Gallery

“No Fooling, We Mean It!” at The McLoughlin Gallery is a show that is simultaneously playful and serious. The cavernous space of the gallery plays host to several large-scale works by sculptors David Middlebrook, Jeff Schomberg and Doug Thielscher. Each of the sculptors has a different focus, Schomberg on metal, Thielscher on stone, and Middlebrook on mixed materials. But all three present very serious well-constructed and polished piece (“no fooling”) with a sense of humor and fun (“fooling”).  Additionally, all three are local artists, working and residing in the extended Bay Area.

The overall presentation has a sparseness, with lots of empty space and exposure of the gallery’s bare concrete walls that make it easy to focus on a single piece at any given moment. Even the larger stone works are not crowded and blend with structure of the space. I was most immediately drawn to Schomberg’s metal work, and in particular his pair of geometric wall pieces, Hinged and Unhinged.

[Jeff Schomberg, Hinged (2009).  Found metal objects in steel frame.  Image courtesy of McLoughlin Gallery.]

[Jeff Schomberg, Uninged (2009).  Found metal objects in found frame assemblage.  Image courtesy of McLoughlin Gallery. Click to enlarge.]

The rectangular frames serve as a boundary between the space of the gallery and the empty space within the pieces. Inside, each object is given room to be seen separately, such as the large circle in Unhinged or the intricate thin metal lines in both pieces that remind of my street maps. Indeed, the combination of geometric elements and metal coincide with my own focus on urban landscape and infrastructure. (See the similar elements in yesterday’s Wordless Wednesday post.) The circular elements seem particularly prominent in contrast to the mostly straight-line shapes of the found-metal components. Still other objects manage to retain their original functional shape and industrial history from before they became art. His mixed-media piece Trumbull takes the industrial theme one step further. An old rusted fuse box has been combined with a video of a fireplace and reassembled into a new piece of machinery. It is futuristic, in that delightful dystopian sort of way, even as it looks back on earlier electrical technology.

[Jeff Schomberg, Trumbull (2011).  Fuse box with video.  Image courtesy of McLoughlin Gallery.  Click image to enlarge.]

These pieces, however, do stand apart within the overall exhibit. If there is one theme that cuts across all of the artists, it is “human-like forms that really aren’t human.” Among Schomberg’s metal sculptures are a series of small human-like figures with heads shaped like pipes or other pieces of hardware – probably the most humorous of his offerings. David Middlebrook’s assemblages have an organic look about them and some such as King of Things seem like they could get up and walk around. Think of Terry Gilliam’s cartoons or some of the creatures from the 1970s animated film Fantastic Planet.

[David Middlebrook, King of Things (2010).  Bronze, aluminum, Indian gibble, cast expoxy.  Image courtesy of McLoughlin Gallery.  Click image to enlarge.]

The bronze box that serves as the base for the large stone egg in Middlebrook’s Carbon was an interesting touch. Doug Thielsher’s stone sculptures are the most directly figurative, but even here the figures are quite distorted, as in the two marble heads of The Ninth Circle that melt into one another. Thielsher’s sculptures were most noticeable for their use of the gallery space. From a distance, they seem like well-placed classical sculpture in a traditional art museum – and indeed they all draw from biblical or mythological themes. Up close, one sees the more surreal and humorous nature. Again, the one that most resonated for me was the most geometric. In Cain #3, the detached hand is almost lost underneath the large white cube and the black dot.  Similarly, the hand seems to disappear into the large black cube of Cain #1.

[Doug Thielscher, Cain #3 (2006).  Carrara and Belgian black marble.  Image courtesy of McLoughlin Gallery. ]

The exhibit opened, appropriately, on April 1, and will remain on display though May 21. For more information about the exhibition and visiting, visit the gallery’s website.