Posts Tagged ‘oakland’

A Tale of Two Duos

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Today we look back at duo performances from the middle of September: an electro-acoustic spoetry performance with Polly Moller, and a punk-themed Pitta of the Mind performance at Bay Area Ladyfest. Musically, conceptually, and socially, these were contrasting experiences, but both very rewarding. Both duos combined voice with live electronics, and both involved my feminine persona . They also provided opportunities for different styles of playing and collaboration.

Ode to Steengo is a piece based on spoetry (spam poetry) derived from Harry Harrison’s “Stainless Steel Rat” series. Polly Moller and I performed it several times as an electro-acoustic duo in 2008 and 2009, and then later in our band Reconnaissance Fly. We reprised the piece for our duo performance at The Nunnery in San Francisco on September 15. It was a more expansive interpretation, with more instrumental breaks and live processing of voices. It was also different in that I used the analog modular for the electronic parts. The Make Noise Echophon was great for processing Polly’s vocals and wind instruments. And overall, I thought this was our best performance of this piece to date. The technology, timing and overall musicianship were strong, and we both had a good time while playing. You can enjoy it in its entirety via the video below:

Amar Chaudhary / Polly Moller Duo: Ode to Steengo, The Nunnery 9-15-2013 from CatSynth on Vimeo.

The performance by Pitta of the Mind at Bay Area Ladyfest in Oakland was something altogether different. Maw Shein Win and I interpreted several classic punk-rock songs as “art-damaged” music and spoken word performances. Musically, this involved a mixture of idiomatic and freeform improvisation on electric piano, mixed with some odd synth sounds. As with Steengo, the performance itself was a lot of fun, and in this case we made that a deliberate and overt part of the show. This was especially apparent in our final piece, an interpretation of The Ramones’ “Sheena is a Punk Rocker” where we invited the audience to sing along with us.

Pitta of the Mind at Bay Area Ladyfest: The Ramones “Sheena is a Punk Rocker” from CatSynth on Vimeo.

Both performances were well received by the audiences, which filled their respective venues, and of course I hope to do both again. Pitta of the Mind already has two more performances scheduled this year, and of course Polly and I perform together quite often. It is a good reminder to make time for duos as a specific performance format even while spending much time on solo work and on full-size bands.

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Wordless Wednesday: One Way

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While here, please check out my Fun with Highways article as well.

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Reconnaissance Fly in January, with Luke Westbrook, Grex and Greenlief/Dykstra/Perkis

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Today we look back at two Reconnaissance Fly performances in early January. The first was a return to Luna’s Cafe in Sacramento, and the second was at Revolution Cafe in West Oakland. By coincidence, we shared the bill on both nights with guitarist Luke Westbrook who was visiting from New York.

This was Reconnaissance Fly’s third gig at Luna’s – we like playing there and not just because it shares my cat’s name. But the stage was once again a bit cozy for a band of our size, even more so now that we have a fifth member, Chris Broderick on reeds (saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet). This was our first public performance with the new quintet lineup. So it was a bit of puzzle trying to get the bass, drums, keyboard and bass flute on the stage, and still find room for the people who play them. But somehow we managed.


[Photo by Tom Djll]

Our set went well – at least, I was pretty happy with it. Our opening graphical score improvisation piece Small Chinese Gong went off without a hitch. As Neat As Wax is becoming our most consistently well-played song, as it is not too difficult and it is quite lyrical and rhythmic. Electric Rock Like a Cat and Sanse Iz Crede Nza are our most difficult, but also the most energetic and got a great response from the small but enthusiastic audience when we hit the final notes.

After striking the stage, it was time to relax with beer and guacamole and other treats and enjoy the next sets. Luke Westbrook took the stage for a solo guitar performance.

He has a very intense stage presence and a virtuosic technique, but the music itself has a certain ease to it. It began with gentle arpeggios that had a consistency even as they were constantly changing. These evolved into more defined repeated phrases over time that were occasionally punctuated by the occasional chromatic tone or blues-like bend. Later on, the music become more distorted with noisier and more percussive elements. There was a passage of single repeated tones that provided an increasingly anxious vibe before settling down again.

Westbrook was followed by Philip Greenlief and Jorrit Dykstra on saxophones with Tim Perkis on electronics. On the things I look for in electro-acoustic combos is how well the electronic and acoustic parts blend. In the case of this trio, they blended quite seamlessly from the start with long tones of subtly different intonation. The music soon became more animated, with syncopated saxophone rhythms set against low gurgly electronic sounds.

There were many humorous moments with matching squeaks and bleats, and richly textured moments with multiphonics against electronic pads. Perhaps the most amazing moment of the entire set was a long virtuoso noise solo by Dykstra. It is hard to describe in text, but it was one of the most impressive saxophone performances I have heard in a while. The later sections of the performance featured more percussive saxophone sounds, key clicks and striking of the metal hardware set against contrasting electronics with vocal and wah-wah effects.


Revolution Cafe is located deep in West Oakland, not far from the rebuilt I-880 freeway, which makes for an interesting exterior environment. The interior is something altogether different, with every surface adorned with vintage and eclectic artifacts. There were street and highway signs, political posters (from old Oakland Mayoral elections to the most recent Jean Quan recall announcements), vintage keyboard instruments, strange dolls and even a shrine of sorts of Frank Zappa. I spent quite a bit of time just photographing the space before even considering the music.



[Click images to enlarge]

The show was actually the latest incarnation of Karl Evanglista’s Light A Fire series. I had performed in this series last year with solo electronics. This even opened with another solo guitar set by Luke Westbrook.

Westbook’s performance was actually quite different from the one he did two night’s earlier. While his technique was on display both nights, this one was more virtuosic and more diverse in terms of material and sound. This performance was mesmerizing. I had a sense of warmer colors as he played, though that may have been a kinesthetic combination of the cafe’s ambience and Westbrook’s harmonies.

Next up was Grex, the duo of Karl Evangelista on guitar and Rei Scampavia on keyboard, voice and flute. Their music covered quite a bit of range, some more song-like with voice, keyboard and guitar, some closer to free-jazz with fast-moving improvised lines. One memorable moment featured featured a mellow guitar solo – Evangelista is quite a versatile guitarist – that morphed into in a driving loop pattern with distortion that produced its own harmony.


[Click image to enlarge]

I believe at least some of the material was from Grex’s recently release CD. You can follow the link above to find out more info.

Finally, it was our turn to take the stage. I had toyed with the idea of using the Cafe’s B3 for An Empty Rectangle, but in the end decided it would have been a lot of effort, especially with a stage that seemed to be even smaller than Luna’s Cafe We had a lot of fun and played with a lot of energy that matched the intensity of Revolution Cafe’s decor. It didn’t feel as tight or accurate as we would want for a Reconnaissance Fly set, but it did have the humor that has become part of our band’s character.

Additionally, the visuals of the space and the presence of the old keyboard instruments did inspire me to consider a future solo performance or installation there. I don’t have much more to say about that yet given everything else that is going on this season, but something to consider for later…

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Reconnaissance Fly in Oakland and Sacramento next week

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The first performances of 2012 both feature Reconnaissance Fly with our new expanded lineup.  Chris Broderick joins myself, Polly Moller, Tim Walters, and Larry The O.  We will be back at Luna’s Cafe in Sacramento on Monday and then at in Oakland on Wednesday.  Details below:

Monday, January 9, 2012, 7:30PM
Luna’s Cafe, 1414 16th Street, Sacramento, CA

Reconnaissance Fly is back hoping to get stuck in the Luna’s Cafe guacamole once more. Phillip Greenlief & Jorrit Dykstra will play transcendent saxophones and Luke Westbrook will make guitar magic.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012, 9PM
Light A Fire Returns! Luke Westbrook/Grex/Reconnaissance Fly
Revolution Cafe,1610 7th St, Oakland, CA

The Light A Fire series returns! This will be the pilot show for a brand new curation–if we turn out, this series stands to provide a regular home for the local creative music scene. Come out and enjoy the weird and wonderful environs of Cafe Rev in Oakland (fully stocked with great food, coffee, a stage area, and copious seating…)

1. Luke Westbrook/Vijay Anderson Duo
Luke Westbrook (guitar), Vijay Anderson (drums)
westbrookmusic.net

2. Grex
Karl Evangelista (guitar, vox, etc.), Rei Scampavia (keys, vox, etc.)
www.grexsounds.com

3. Reconnaissance Fly
Chris Broderick, Amar Chaudhary, Polly Moller, Larry The O, and Tim Walters
www.myspace.com/reconnaissancefly

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Fun with Highways: The Bay Bridge Turns 75

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This past Saturday, November 12, marked the 75th anniversary of the opening of the San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge, known conventionally as “The Bay Bridge.” It is a regular part of life for many of us here, one of our main connections to the communities across the bay and a principal landmark during walks in my part of the city. It has been featured in many previous articles here on CatSynth.

The Bay Bridge is a workhorse, spanning over 4 miles and carrying an estimated 270,000 vehicles a day, making it second busiest in the U.S. after the George Washington Bridge in New York. But the western double-span is quite a beautiful structure, both as seen from the hills of San Francisco and from up close.


[Click to enlarge]

[Click to enlarge.]

Don’t let that last photograph fool you. Even though it may look like it was taken 75 years ago, it was actually taken yesterday using the iPhone Hipstamatic app during an early afternoon walk by the bridge.

It was quite an engineering feat when it was built, the longest bridge of its time and built in challenging geography of the bay.

[Image from Wikimedia Commons.]

This video (as seen on the official Bay Bridge info site) captures both the era and the engineering:

Much like the Brooklyn bridge when it was first built, the Bay Bridge towered over the surrounding architecture of the cities it connected. It is anchored in the middle to Yerba Buena island with tunnels connecting the two spans of the bridges. On the the San Francisco side, it is anchored to Rincon Hill, once an upscale neighborhood in the late 1800s that fell into rapid decline and largely destroyed in the 1906 quake. The eastern bridge was built resting on mud rather than bedrock. It was the most expensive bridge built to date.

The idea of a bridge crossing the bay has been around since the 1800s. Indeed, such a bridge was proposed by Emperor Norton in the 1870s (I think this even made it into Gino Robair’s opera I Norton). But unlike his other proclamations, this one seemed like a good idea. After that, there were many proposals, such as this one that in some ways resembles the bridge that was actually built.

The bridge proposed in this drawing connected to Telegraph Hill rather than Rincon Hill, and has suspension bridges on both sides of Yerba Buena island.  The spires also make it look like some of the older suspension bridges on the East River in New York.

When bridge first opened, it carried US Highways 40 and 50 as well as the trains from the Key System in the East Bay. The upper deck had longer ramps leading to Harrison and Bryant Streets at 5th, roughly the same as the rather long ramps at those streets today. On the Oakland side, the bridge had viaducts from Cypress Street (Highway 17) as well as San Pablo Avenue and the Eastshore Highway (US 40). The bridge now carries Interstate 80 across the bay. The railway is long gone. Gone also are the connections to the old Transbay Terminal and Embarcadero Freeway, both of which have been demolished. The area under the bridge on the San Francisco side, once a gritty industrial waterfront, is now a picturesque boulevard that is great for walking. Through all of the changes, the bridge itself has not changed very much at all…

[Bay Bridge approach, 1940s]

[Bay Bridge and Embarcadero, 1970s and 1980s. Photos from Wikimedia Commons.]

[Present day, Bay Bridge and southern Embarcadero. Photo by CatSynth]

…until now. The eastern truss span, which was badly damaged in the 1989 earthquake, is now being replaced with a new more graceful cable-stayed span. The construction has progressed to the point where the tower is in place and the cables are being hung. It is indeed a bit distracting when traveling the bridge. But I am looking forward to seeing it completed, probably around the 77th anniversary in 2013.

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Wordless Wednesday: Oakland Maze

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Fun with Highways: The Port of Oakland

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I found this photo on Facebook yesterday while following events at the General Strike in Oakland.

More people protesting a little later….the freeway is full on their way to the Port of Oakland during the #GeneralStrike. People can’t drive….10,000 people are marching.

In actuality, it is not a freeway. But it does appear to be the point in West Oakland where Adeline Street crosses over the train tracks and becomes Middle Harbor Road, which would be en route to the port where demonstrators successfully and peacefully shut down operations for the remainder of the night. That is quite an impressive feat.

I unfortunately was not able to join in the events in Oakland yesterday because of health reasons, but I am planning to be out again with a group in San Francisco on Saturday. In the meantime, here is a first-hand account from fellow Bay Area new musician Myles Boisen. He plays a mean blues guitar.

Shut Down! – Occupy Oakland 11/03/11 Vol. 7

Vol. 7 in a series by Myles Boisen

Port of Oakland SHUT DOWN
Wells Fargo SHUT DOWN
Bank of America SHUT DOWN
CitiBank SHUT DOWN
Comerica Bank SHUT DOWN
Chase Bank SHUT DOWN
Union Bank SHUT DOWN
Bank of the West SHUT DOWN
Nara Bank SHUT DOWN
T-Mobile SHUT DOWN
Burger King SHUT DOWN
Walgreen’s SHUT DOWN

Highlights of the Oakland general strike:

10 a.m. As I start reading news feeds I see Angela Davis is addressing the early morning crowd at 14th and Broadway. Unconfirmed rumors come and go that the Port of Oakland is already closed, with possible wildcat strike action and trucks unable to get through.

12 p.m. I arrive at Oscar Grant Plaza. On the way over radio coverage on KPFA-FM says that Wells Fargo bank is already shut down. People are streaming continuously toward downtown on foot and on bicycles. The crowd at 14th and Broadway is estimated at 5,000 or more. With friends I tour the area, photographing banks and corporate businesses that have shut their doors due to the strike. The crowd is made up of elders, working people, union representatives, teachers, religious leaders, and schoolchildren present with their parents.

By the BART station we meet Ethel, a senior citizen who is gathering signatures on a petition to end the death penalty in California. One member of our party – Phil, a well-read anarcho-syndicalist – has recently moved to Alameda County, and Ethel suggests that he can go to City Hall to get the requisite voter registration papers. Could City Hall possibly be open today? We go on a mission to find out.

After finding a side door that is open, we are ushered into an eerie calm of City Hall by a private security guard. There is practically no one inside. Entering the Office of the City Clerk, there is once again no one around, though there is a small hotel bell at the counter. After ringing the bell for a few minutes, this Kafkaesque scenario is resolved when a woman emerges and directs Phil to the proper documents. I ask her “How’s it going today?” She gives me “the look” and replies “ask me after 5.”

1:30 p.m. Our group wanders about, taking in dance performances, rappers, signage, the bustling kitchen, the music stage, and more. We run into two stilt walkers that I am acquainted with, as well as my friend Victor Lewis who is immediately recognized by someone as being the guy from the film The Color of Fear. Victor gets that a lot.

2:30 p.m. I return to my car to find a parking ticket – my first one of the year. Damn! A bite of lunch, and I fall in with a group of musicians associated with Mills College. From there it’s off to move my car and survey downtown on my own, again taking photos of shuttered banks. There are broken windows at the Chase Bank downtown, with reports of additional vandalism at the Whole Foods grocery by Lake Merritt.

5:00 p.m. I return to Oscar Grant Plaza to try and meet a friend when I notice the march to the port is moving out. People walk briskly, excitedly, and despite my best efforts I can’t catch up to the beginning of the procession stretching many blocks in front of and behind me. We wind through industrial West Oakland with minimal police presence.

6:00 p.m. The final approach to the Port of Oakland (the fifth-largest port in the US) is by way of an overpass that sweeps gracefully over once-bustling trainyards. The top of this overpass affords a stunning vista with the iconic cranes to the west, a maze of train tracks to the north, and Oakland’s office buildings to the east. Sunset yields a golden light with its own rich photo ops. Then darkness finds most of the crowd on the move again, back to Oscar Grant Plaza, BART, or homes and family. After a final visit to OGP I see broken windows and anarchist graffiti at the Wells Fargo Bank, then return home to write and work on photos. Arriving home I read that a frustrated driver ran into two marchers in downtown Oakland, sending both to the hospital and then being allowed to go home himself after filing a report with the OPD.

2:07 a.m. As I am finishing up this post I get a call from Cherie. Police have moved into downtown and tear gas is being used at 16th and Telegraph. My heart sinks into my stomach, and yet somehow I find the energy to drive back downtown to see what is going on. Many streets are blocked off by lines of police. At 16th and Telegraph there are three dumpsters turned over in the middle of the intersection, contents spilled and a burnt trash smell. I hear that the camp is surrounded, with no one getting in or out. Walking seven blocks around the perimeter of the police-occupied area I find this is not true.

14th street is open, and there is lots of graffiti with anarchy A’s that was not there this afternoon. Windows are broken, including the Tully’s coffeeshop at 14th and Broadway which overlooks Oscar Grant Plaza. A double line of police spans the broad intersection of 15th and Broadway. Asking around, I learn from an eyewitness that “anarchist kids” had set the dumpster fires using M-80s or road flares, and that a fire was also set around an abandoned building that had been occupied. One young man named Chris had been tear gassed earlier, and was concerned about his friend who had been missing since then. I gave him the NLG hotline number, wished him luck, and returned home to write.

5 a.m. Bedtime for citizen journalists.

The presence of violence and a destructive element in our midst is deeply troubling. And I am really saddened that such a powerful, peaceful and successful strike involving so many has been stained by the anger of a few. These actions present a new challenge for a movement which is committed to non-violence. Just yesterday I wrote this: When the police turn violent, the Occupation thrives. But if Occupy turns violent (or is perceived as being violent) that will be the one thing that will bring it down. The vandalism is not widespread – just broken glass and spray paint as far as I know now – and it should be cleaned up in a couple of days. But it will now be a long struggle for the movement to effectively distance itself from a violent minority, and somehow deal with similar incidents in the future.

The phrase on everyone’s lips after the strike is “what next?” Well, what do YOU want to happen next? Get down to the Oakland GA (7 p.m. every night in Oscar Grant Plaza) and make a proposal. I can’t be at the GA on Thursday, but I know there will be a lot to talk about.

On Thursday Nov. 3 5:30 P.M. (today!) a City Council special meeting will address the police actions of 10/25/11. Council chambers of Oakland city hall.

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Wordless Wednesday

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September Photography Show at The Parts Room, Oakland

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As I prepare for tonight’s opening at Art Explosion Open Studios in San Francisco, I look back at the opening just two weeks ago at The Parts Room in Oakland.

The Parts Room is located in Classic Cars West in Oakland, a venue that, as the name implies, primarily deals in classic cars. Many of these cars are themselves works of art.

In the above picture, we see two of the cars in display with large-scale artworks by GETBIZI. I thought his pieces would particularly well in conjunction with the cars, sharing the brought colors, clean lines, and including California-style landscape that is synonymous with car culture. I also found the pieces by Optimist, which featured a combination of industrial elements such as shipping contains with modern Asian signage and imagery, fit well with the environment and with my own work.

The overall show in the main gallery was titled “Mechanic Arts”, with many of the artist relating to the “mechanical” or “industrial” theme in different ways. Mark Schroeder’s sculptures combined new and old technologies with wood, metal and light generators were sprinkled throughout the main room, sometimes on top of old barrels. Similarly, Nicole Bommarito’s constructions with Polaroid emulsions combine various vintage technologies. John Paul Marcelo and MoE were also featured with painting and large installations, respectively. The work of these artists shared a weathered look of older industrial products and processes, which fit well with the space but were in sharp contrast to clean and streamlined quality of the cars, and of the large panels from GETBIZI.

The Parts Room itself is a long and narrow space, which made for great opportunities to display both the large pieces as well as some of my iPhone Hipstamatic prints.


[click images to enlarge]

We actually spent quite a bit of time meticulously lining everything up to make use of the space. In addition to just getting everything straight, I wanted to emphasize the lines, geometry and industrial elements on the pieces, as well as the prominence in one color in several of the pieces.



[click images to enlarge]

Overall, the response to the show was quite positive, and it was great to see so many people come through and show an interest, particularly on the Oakland Art Murmur night.

Overall, this was undoubtedly my best visual art show to date. It was well attended, and I received lots of positive feedback. It was great to have such support from Rebecca Kerlin to make this show happen, and to have the time and space to put in the effort to make it come out well. I also learned a lot about how to be precise in hanging and presenting work – something which I plan to bring forward with me in future shows.

It was sad to have to dismantle the show after only a couple of weeks, but I needed many of them for Open Studios. I did try and re-create the triptych of the red, blue and yellow pieces, although with less space. We will see how it goes.

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Wordless Wednesday: Installation views of upcoming show

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Installation views of my upcoming photography show at The Parts Room in Oakland this Friday.

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