Preparing for tonight’s performance

I will be performing tonight in Oakland at Rooz Cafe (1918 Park Blvd, Oakland, CA) at 7PM tonight. Details below:

A rescheduling of a an old date, remade in Rooz-y glory:

-Zeina Nasr
Emphatic, ethereal vocalisms

-Amar Chaudhary
(www.amarchaudhary.com/)
Complex, articulate solo work with an electronic aesthetic

-Karl Evangelista/Shaun Lowecki/Sean Peterson Trio
(www.karlevangelista.com)
(www.shaunlowecki.com)
-Animated, explosive inside/outside music

I have been busily preparing today with a small setup, similar to one I had planned for January 17:

Once again, I will have the monome controlling the MacBook, primarily for live sampling and looping today. I will be using the dotara, an Indian folk string instrument, as one of the live sample sources. I will also bring a bell and the prayer bowl as live sources. The iPad will be running Curtis, which gets more an more advanced with each upgrade and is becoming a true musical instrument. I will also be using TouchOSC to control Open Sound World, including a brand new implementation of my piece Charmer:Firmament for iPad, replacing the retired Wacom graphics tablet. This is a dry run for the big concert next Friday (March 4), so we’ll see out it goes.

I had been hoping a new contact mic would arrive today – I am considering that for March 4 as well – but of course FedEx showed up just while I was out at an important art-related meeting, so I missed it and they are the one courier that won’t leave things. So I will be using an ordinary mic once again for the live sampling/looping – maybe it’s for the best.

Update: Just as I finished posting this article, a package arrived.  Not the contact microphone, but it was an exciting new toy, the Wicks Looper.

You see previous CatSynth pics and videos with this and related devices via this link (the cat in most of these is also named Luna). I have been considering getting one these for a while, and the current run of performances provided the impetus.  Although I have not yet played it, I am seriously tempted to try it out for tonight’s set.  After all, what’s the worst that could happen?

Preparing for tonight’s performance

I am busily getting ready for my next solo performance tonight.

Light A Fire: Amar Chaudhary, Zeina Nasr, Evangelista/Lowecki/Stuart
Monday, January 17 · 7:00pm – 10:00pm
Mama Buzz Cafe
2318 Telegraph Avenue
Oakland, CA

Please join us for creative music in three acts (incidentally the third Monday of the month)–featuring:

-Zeina Nasr
Emphatic, ethereal vocalisms

-Amar Chaudhary
(www.ptank.com/amar_music/)
Complex, articulate solo work with an electronic aesthetic

-Karl Evangelista/Shaun Lowecki/Doug Stuart Trio
(www.karlevangelista.com)
(www.shaunlowecki.com)
-Animated, explosive inside/outside music

Hope to see you!
-Friendly Neighborhood Light A Fire Committee

I am once again using a relatively minimal setup (or as minimal as I can make it for a solo show).  There is the iPad (and the iPhone), the MacBook with a monome, and the Evolver.  I also have a couple of percussion instruments, and the dotara, an Indian string instrument.

For the iPad, I will be using the Curtis for iPad (shown in the photo below), along with the from Smule, the 古筝 (Guzheng) app, and the KORG iMS-20, among others.

Based on feedback from my last performance at the Omega Sound Fix, I am going to try and use fewer elements, particularly in the live sampling/looping section. I will start with the dotara, and layer the Magic Fiddle and guzheng model on top of it. I will be reusing some of the other elements that I have been having fun with, such as the Count Basie Big Band Remote from the Blue Note in Chicago controlled via the monome.

Luna wants to help out with preparations, too:

The 2010 Annual Transbay Skronkathon

As summer drew to a close, much of the Bay Area new music community gathered at 21 Grand for our annual ritual of live musical performance, socializing and tasty barbecued treats known as the Annual Transbay Skronkathon. The Skronkathon is also a benefit for the Transbay Creative Music Calendar, a free print publication that serves the creative music community here with event listings and articles (including several from this site).

I had been planning my own part in this ritual since, well, last year’s Skronkathon when Polly Moller discovered that my CatSynth review had been reposted in “spammogrified form” by another website. That became the basis for this years performance, which featured a reading of the spammogrified text and the inexplicable repeated phrase as a dominate. Another thing that was different this year was our “live tweeting team” of myself, Polly Moller and Tom Duff. It sort of happened spontaneously. It seems a bit difficult to search for the past #skonkathon posts via Twitter, but I have collected them all and will sprinkle a few throughout this article. (Look for the @ signs.)

[Live tweeting.  Photo by Suki O’kane. (Click to enlarge.)]

In fact, one of Tom’s live tweets described the duo of Ann O’Rourke and Carlos Jennings as “a disco remix of Berio’s Visage”. I am sorry I did not arrive earlier – it’s hard to pass up something with a description like that.

Rachel Wood-Rome. Photo by Michael Zelner.

I did arrive in time to see Rachel Wood-Rome’s performance for solo horn. Her melodic performance seemed like a snippet from a 19th or early 20th century concerto, minus the orchestra. However, in listening I started to fill in an orchestral part myself. She then presented a sing-along of a piece with lyrics by Max Gutmann. It included this refrain song with a minor melody in 5/8 time:

Our librarian is Miss Marion
she is scary an’ very old
pause and pity us
’cause she’s hideous
very hairy an’ likes to scold

Wood-Rome was followed by Respectable Citizen. Usually the duo of Bruce Bennet and Michael Zbyszynski, they were actually a trio on this occasion with the guest appearance of Jeff Ridenour on violone. For those not familiar with the violone, it is a large bowed stringed instrument with frets, closer to the viols used in Renaissance and baroque music than to the modern orchestral string family. The set started off softly with flute, picking on the violone, and stringy ethereal sounds.

[Respectable Citizen.  Photo by Michael Zelner.  (Click to enlarge.)]

The next piece featured more noise and distortion, with scratching sounds on the violone and a particularly interesting moment with the keyboard resonated together with squeaking sounds from the saxophone. There was also a section of “loungy free jazz” – which is certainly fun for me – mixed with some FM-like sounds.

as a dominate

Respectable Citizen was followed T.T.F.W.’z. If I had to describe their performance, it would be “punk skronking”, with loud, fast, driving rhythms and noisy squawks, squeaks and long strings of notes. And they had their own fan section doing 1990s-style jumping-up-and-down dancing. Given the loudness, I opted to enjoy their set from the alley, and even relive a bit of my youth by briefly demonstrating this form of dance to some of my musical colleagues.

The next set was one I was quite looking forward to: a duo of Matt Davignon with “a table full of junk” (as Tom Duff delicately described it) and Eric Glick Rieman on prepared electric piano. I am quite fond of electric piano (e.g., Fender Rhodes) and interested in prepared acoustic piano, but this was first time I had seen and heard the two concepts together.


[The prepared electric piano. (Click to enlarge.)]

The sounds of the Rieman’s instrument and Matt’s drum machines and effects ranged from high and tinny, to scratchy, glitchy, or sometimes more bell-like. The piano certainly made some unique sounds: boings. bell-like scratching and other effects that made the purely electronic sounds seem tame by comparison On occasion, the instrument’s piano-like quality would stand out, and one could hear the tines that are characteristic of electric pianos. At other times it was more aggressive and percussive. Rieman’s playing style brought out this quality, and I found myself watching the mechanics of the instrument as I was listening to the music. There was moment that seemed like film music, with long piano notes set against “squishy sounds” from Matt Davignon’s electronic effects. And then a sound that reminded me of marbles. There were anxious harmonies, and rhythms on top of rhythms in samples.

[Matt Davignon and Eric Glick Reiman.  Photo by Michael Zelner. (Click to enlarge.)]

Next up was blipvert (aka Will Northlich-Redmond). Standing behind a table with an Alesis Air and a Pioneer DJ controller, he launched into an intense and frenetic blast of music and choreography (@TomDuff He doesn’t *act* like a guy in cargo pants & a black teeshirt). The electronics were all controlled by his voice or other live sounds and gestures, so when he shouted or snapped or spun around or fell and the floor only to spring back up moments later, it would trigger a new sound or change in the sonic process. The hits and squeaks and thuds and sample loops and retro-1980s synthesizer sounds were perfectly timed to his over-the-top theatrics and choreography. It is clear that he spent a lot of time practicing and perfecting this. And it was definitely a fun performance to watch! Just when it seemed he was running out of energy and about to collapse from exhaustion, he got back up with a shout and launched into the next one. It is difficult to describe in words, but you can get a flavor from his videos from other performances. And the videos do not give the full sense of the energy.

[Blipvert.  Shared by @TomDuff on twitter.  (Click to see original post.)]

Blipvert was followed by Blowout Preventer (@TomDuff fresh from their gig at Deepwater Horizon), a clarinet quartet featuring Philip Greenlief, Dan Plonsey, Ceylan Yagmur and Michael Zelner. I am always intrigued by clarinet ensembles, having played the instrument in the past and written a piece for clarinet quartet. This performance began with whaling sounds that sounded like sirens, and then suddenly became quiet and harmonic and even contrapuntal. An intricate rhythm emerged in the sum of the four parts – even though each part seemed relatively simple, the interaction was complex. There was also a section with long growling tones, followed by more harmonic sounds; scraping of mouthpieces set against multiphonics; and a waltz that was interrupted.

Next up was Kattt and Ron, a duo of Kattt Atchley on Ron Heglin on vocals with electronics. Their set began with long electronic drones with beating patterns. Heglin began his vocal incantations in this backdrop, with his words soft and purposefully hard to discern. The drone, which was slowly but continually changing, had a generally minor harmony, but with inharmonic tones and continued beating patterns. The overall effect was very meditative. There were some odd facial expressions as the vocals became more noisy. By this time, both Atchley and Heglin were performing with voice, gradually becoming more harmonic and moving between unisons and perfect intervals. I was able to hear the voices both as a single unit and as individuals, the male and female contrast. The sounds gradually faded to a single beating tone at the end with a sprinkle of more percussive vocalizations.


[Kattt Atchley and Ron Heglin. Photo by Michael Zelner.]

As always happens at Skronkathon, I miss the set right before my own as I set up and prepare. In this, the set featured Bob Marsh on classical guitar, CJ Borosque on pedals an turntable, and Sandra Yolles on electronic percussion.

This is as good a time to mention the work of art that served as a backdrop for the performances, perhaps the most beautiful that I have seen at 21 Grand. The piece is by Dina Rubiolo and is titled 13th Ave. It features 8500 35mm slides arranged into the shape of a building facade and backlit. (@pollymoller Stage area has a striking backdrop: a proscenium arch made of backlit photographic slides.)

It was then time for our performance. I recited the entirety of the spammogrified text (you can see a copy here), while Polly performed the refrain “as a dominate” as it appeared within the text, complete with props and choreography. It was interesting to both read (and hear) how my text was affected by the various translators and other processes that may have been used. Certain phrases kept popping out, such as “plum sonorous” and “plum decorous” – I think “plum” was the retranslated equivalent of “rather” or “quite”, which I often use in my writing. Soft instruments or musical passes were re-worded as “sissified”, and several people seemed to enjoy the phrase “sissified trombone” – and some people also had fun hearing their own names of those of their friends and colleagues appear in the middle of the barely comprehensible narrative.

[Amar and Polly.  Photo by Michael Zelner.  (Click to enlarge.)]

In terms of technology and instrumental accompaniment, I kept things rather sparse. I opted to only use the iPad, running the Smule Magic Piano and the a granular synthesis app called Curtis. As source material, I used some pre-recorded passes of myself reciting the text.

(@TomDuff Decourous as a notwithstanding. #skronkathon(Amar and Polly.). As a dominate)

We were followed by RTD3, with Doug Carrol on cello, Tom Nunn on his invented instruments, Ron Heglin on trombone and voice. They are always a fun group to watch. (@catsynth Scraping sounds percussive cello trombone and vocal blah blah. Some particularly interesting moments included all three instruments making percussive scraping sounds, Carrol performing the cello like a guitar and also upside-down, and a moment whether the tone of bowed cello and the skatch box and the two blended together. There were some very soft moments, such as soft staccato trombone tones, and a low drone-like rumble from the ensemble. There was also a series of sounds that conjured up the image of a scampering mouse.

Next was a trio of Matt Ingalls on clarinet, Tom Scandura on percussion, and Thomas Dimuzio on Moog guitar. This was the first time I had heard a Moog guitar in a live performance setting. Knowing the musicians involved, I knew in advance this was going to be a loud set (@catsynth Scandura, Ingalls and Dimuzio trio will definitely not be sissified). The music started off with a dramatic film-like drone, with the clarinet coming though on top. The drums gradually got louder and started to match. From this point, there was mixture of fast runs and loud notes, some sections that sounded like 1960s free jazz and others that seemed to follow a more Middle Eastern scale. At some point, both the clarinet and the electronic guitar become more inharmonic and the drums got wilder and louder. Then suddenly a beat entered into the music, a bit of a slow rock shuffle or rock ballad overlaid with dark ambient guitar sounds. Matt Ingalls switched the violin at one point during the set. As the music started to feel more relaxed, it suddenly get loud again with FM-like sounds and acoustic drum, and then it got “super loud”. Even within the loudness, one could hear interesting details, such as a latin beat and a phrygian scale, and a really loud high-pitched squeak.

The contrast to the next set, a duo of Philip Greenlief and David Boyce, was rather dramatic. Although it was full of fast virtuosic runs, it was relatively quiet and spacious. There were moments where the seemed to go into unison, or where the rhythm seemed to stand still, before returning to the fast and complex runs. There were also a variety of interesting breathing sounds, mouthpiece effects, and other extended techniques. At one point, it sounded like a bird or a creature that was “laughing”.

[Greenlief and Boyce in front of Dina Rubiolo’s artowrk.  (Click to visit original post.)]

The combination of the relative calm of the set and the time of the evening made this one that truly took advantage of the backdrop provided by Rubiolo’s artwork. I featured this image of Greenlief and Boyce in front of it in a previous Wordless Wednesday.

They were followed by another duo, Gino Robair and John Shiurba under the name G / J. Robair was billed as playing “voltage made painful”, and incorporated a Blippo Box, as well as a drum machine, effects boxes and a device for pre-recorded samples into the mix. Shiurba played guitar with a variety of extended techniques, including using a superball to excite the strings. The were lots of fast cuts and cartoonish moments, with boinks and slaps and machine noises. The Blippo Box had a liquidy organic sound that contrasted with finger-picking on the guitar. At one point in the performance, Robair set in motion a rather funky rhythm loop that sounded for a bit, then came in and out and decayed into grains of sound (@catsynth I want Gino to keep that funky rhythm background going longer. As a dominate.). There were moments that were a bit more aggressive, with loud piercing sounds, but then others that were…well, “plum sonorous” and featured minor harmonies.

[G / J in front of the wall of beauty.  Photo shared on twitter by @TomDuff. (Click to visit original post.)]

Next up was Wormses, a trio of Jacob Felix Heule (percussion), Tony Dryer (bass) and Bobby Adams (electronics). The set started with a low rumble and hum, with the bass soon coming on top of scratchy electronic sounds and Heule playing a cymbal against a bass drum. The music became more anxious and busy over time, with some electronic insect-like sounds coming in above the other parts. Then all of a sudden things got very soft. A rhythm emerged in the background, but barely audible behind the bass and cymbal. As the set continued, a walking bass line came out of nowhere, then lots of swells and glissandi. Gradually, the music built back up to a rather loud level, a couple sounds that were like clipping and feedback, and ultimately ending with the sounding of the bass drum.

I think that was where I walked out to the alley for another break. There was lasagna!

The final set featured Ghost in the House, with Karen Stackpole (percussion), Tom Nunn (invented musical instruments), David Michalak (lap-steel guitar) and Andrew Voigt (who was sitting in for Kyle Bruckman on winds). I had heard them previously at the Wind Moon Concert back in April, and their sound is quite ethereal and airy, even for the percussion and lap-steel guitar. As with the previous performance, they began with a procession, of elemental instruments. The room was dark, except for the light from the 35mm slides in front. The performers then took their places for the remainder of the performance. The sounds were quite subtle at times, slightly minor, and sometimes like old film or radio soundtracks with eerie wind sounds mixed in. The metal instruments (primarily Stackpole’s gongs on Nunn’s instruments) served as a foundation, with the sounds of the wind instruments floating above. In addition to the long atonal sounds, there were moments with high squeaks and east-Asian harmonies and timbres. In the final piece, Stackpole played on an interesting metal-tube instrument and also used a vinyl record as percussion. Michalak’s lap-steel guitar featured prominently in this piece as well. The overall effect sounded electronic, even though the ensemble was purely acoustic instruments. The night concluded with the ensembles recessional from the room, still appropriately dark.

(@casynth #skonkathon concludes. Good night)

As a dominate

Wordless Wednesday: Mosaic with Saxophones

Amar and Polly duo at the Skronkathon

Tomorrow, Polly Moler and I will be performing a duo at the 10th Annual Skronkathon tomorrow.

This performance was somewhat inevitable, i.e., we “knew we HAD to do it”, once Polly found this “spamogrified” copy my review of last year’s Skronkathon. You can read the original here. The spamogrified version, which is probably translated from English to another language and then back to English, is quite amusing especially with its repeated use of the phrase “as a dominate”. Consider this section which incorporates portions of my original review describing Hanuman Zhang, Protea (Serena Toxicat) and David Leikam et al:

There were also some electronic circuit-bent toys, and a knick-knack piano (acoustic knick-knack piano being an contraption I am unqualifiedly fancying of). as a dominate As the toys came to the forefront, the beat began to accustom down and the structure more scarce. as a dominate Sporting a Hello Kitty tunic, Serena Toxicat gave an evocative display with vocals and dancing as a dominate.
From sonorous skronking and establish objects, we then had a plumb contrasting pursue from Protea, with Serena Toxicat and a “special caller thereminist” performing ambient electronic music. as a dominate The vocals and theremin both consisted of dream of tones that followed unwedded another without faithfully complementary. as a dominate Overall, there were two a penny harmonies, etherial textures, deliberate changes and a scintilla of stress. as a dominate
We then switched cater to in from ambient electronic to skronking (but it is unqualifiedly “skronking”?) with a free-improvisation pursue on z exasperate with David Leikam, Zachary Morris, Sheila Bosco and Craig Latta.

The performance will primarily feature my reciting the text in concert with Polly performing the “as a dominate”. In terms of instrumentation, I will keeping things rather simple, and rather light, focusing on a the monome controlling a Max/MSP patch on a laptop, and a granular-synthesis application called Curtis for the iPad:

The performance will primarily feature my reciting the text in concert with Polly performing the “as a dominate”. In terms of instrumentation, I will keeping things rather simple, and rather light, focusing on a the monome controlling a Max/MSP patch on a laptop, and a granular-synthesis application called Curtis for the iPad:

I hope to be further slicing and dicing the text. I will probably also have the trusty Kaos Pad, along with some acoustic instruments.

The full program for the Skronkathon is listed below. The festivities start at 1PM at 21 Grand (416 25th St) in Oakland, and we go on at 6:25 PM. In the meantime, there is lots of good music, food on the grills (bringing your own is strongly encouraged), and quite a roster of Bay Area “new music” folks.

1:00-1:25 Amigo (Tim Flynn, gtr/David J Moore/bass)
1:25-1:50 Ann O’Rourke (perc) and special guests
1:50-2:15 Ed Christensen (solo elec)
2:15-2:40 Key West (Brian Pedersen/Jason Ricci/Dave Dupuis/
Mark Blatnick/Sung Kim)
2:40-3:05 Michael Guarino (solo prepared gtr, perc)
3:05-3:30 Rachel Wood-Rome (solo horn, voc)
3:30-3:55 Respectable Citizen (Michael Zbyszynski/Bruce Bennett)
3:55-4:20 T.F.F.W.’z (yacob/misha/eden)
4:20-4:45 Matt Davignon (drum machine)/Eric Glick Rieman (prepared elec pno)
4:45-5:10 blipvert (Will Northlich-Redmond, solo elec)
5:10-5:35 Blowout Preventer (Phillip Greenlief/Dan Plonsey/
Ceylan Yagmur/Michael Zelner)
5:35-6:00 Katt & Ron (Kattt Atchley/Ron Heglin)
6:00-6:25 Iron Triangle (Bob Marsh/C. J. Borosque/Sandra Yolles)
6:25-6:50 Amar Chaudhary (elec) & Polly Moller (fl, voc)
6:50-7:15 RTD3 (Doug Carroll/Tom Nunn/Ron Heglin)
7:15-7:40 Tom Scandura (perc)/Matt Ingalls (cl)/Tom Dumuzio (midi gtr)
7:40-8:05 Phillip Greenlief (tenor sax)/David Boyce (tenor sax)
8:05-8:30 G/J (Gino Robair (voltage made painful)/John Shiurba (gtr))
8:30-8:55 Wormses (Jacob Felix Heule/Tony Dryer/Bobby Adams)
8:55-9:20 Ghost in the House (Karen Stackpole/David Michalak/
Tom Nunn/Andrew Voigt)

Admission is free, but we will be accepting donations to benefit the Transbay Creative Music Calendar, which features announcements and information about the local “creative music” community (and also often features reviews from CatSynth).

Fun with Highways: CA 77, Oakland

While shooting photos in an industrial section of East Oakland with a friend a few weeks ago, I came across a surprising section of highway that i had not noticed in the past.

[Click to enlarge.]

It turns out this is CA 77, a short freeway that stretches from International Boulevard, of the main streets in East Oakland, to I-880, and is one of the shortest in the state. It starts at a street intersection with International Boulevard (CA 185), passes underneath San Leandro St and the elevated BART tracks and connects onto I-880 via the ramps (which mark the highway’s end).

The overhead signs are actually hanging from a rail overpass, which I had walked along and was a rich source of photographic material, including a recent Wordless Wednesday photo with graffiti.

Although there is a direct connection from the end of CA 77 to I-880, the converse is not true. There is not even a mention of highway 77 at the closest exist (High Street). However, it looks like there is a lot of construction going on at the now rather old and dilapidated interchange, so there might be a direct and signed connection in the future.

Going east from the San Leandro Street and BART overpasses, the highway has a single intermediate exit to East 12th Street. It then tilts upwards to meet International Boulevard at a traffic light.

[click to enlarge]

International Boulevard (CA 185) used to be known as East 14th Street, and was a rather infamous (and dangerous) corridor in East Oakland. Changing the name 1996 did not really change the situation. But from what I understand, it had been getting better, at least until the recession.

According to the California Highways site, CA 77 is intended to continue further east to I-580, but it appears this is neither constructed nor signed on surface streets.  They also mention that the stretch of freeway had been signed as CA 185 until 2008, and in fact I do recall once or twice seeing a sign to that effect when taking BART sound from Oakland years ago.

Wordless Wednesday: Billboard Perpendicular

Wordless Wednesday: 6166 (East Oakland)

Oakland Underground Film Festival Summer Salon

Last Friday, I participated in the Expanded Strangelet Minus One ensemble at the Oakland Underground Film Festival’s Summer Salon.

The event took place in the cavernous space that used to be a Barnes and Noble in Jack London Square in Oakland. There was a large screening area as well as several installations arranged around the space. The most captivating installation was Tracey Snelling’s Bordertown. She created a series of models at different scales that one might see in a small town in rural California. The scales range from life size in the “Maria” ice cream cart to a miniature commercial strip with detailed buildings. The entire model fits on a large table, but when photographed up close, one loses the sense of scale and the town seems like it could be a life-size model. One could spend quite a bit of time examining all the details, the buildings, the objects inside of them, and signs on the sides.



[Tracey Snelling, installation views. Photos by CatSynth (click to enlarge)]

[Tracey Snelling, installation view.  Photo by Michael Zelner (click to enlarge).]

Several of the pieces incorporate video, such as the “El Diablo Inn” with videos playing in each of the rooms. The larger apartment building had movies playing in each of the windows, and videos of scenes from U.S.-Mexican border were projected onto a full-size screen behind the installation.

Although Snelling’s installation captures a small border town rather than a large urban area, some of the elements that she focuses on, such as industrial buildings and somewhat seedy spaces are similar to those that drive my current interests in urban photography. Urban photography was, however, the central focus of Idan Levin’s photography, which included scenes of colorful city buildings in Japan, industral lots and highway overpasses. As he states, “I prowl the streets at night, seeking a unique vantage point from which I can capture an alternate view of the world…”. He describes this view “prying, mysterious, lonely, and sometimes resembling a sci-fi post-apocalyptic cinematic scene.”

[Idan Levin, Tokyo Scape #1]

Only a few of his images were on display, but I encourage readers to visit his online portfolio.

Michelle Lewis-King’s installation featured projected video onto two cut-outs of female figures.


[Michelle Lewis-King, installation view. Photo by CatSynth (click to enlarge).]

The combination of the video and the empty space of each figure made it seem like both the adult woman on the left and the young girl on the right were present in the environment of the video.

The Expanded Strangelet is an electronic improvisation group founded by Lucio Menagon. He was not with us for this performance, hence the “minus one.” But we did have myself, Matt Davignon, Wayne Grimm, John Hanes, Suki O’Kane, Jonathan Segel, and Michael Zelner. I have played with them before at last year’s Oakland Underground Film Festival, and once again I had my minimal setup if iPhone and Korg Kaoss Pad.

[Expanded Strangelet Minus One.  Photos by Michael Zelner (click to enlarge).]

With Suko O’Kane conducting, we performed an improvised set of exactly 45 minutes, with various duos and solos, and sections with low drones and high staccato elements to provide some texture and an arc.

During the performance, we also projected videos onto the wall, and floor, and even onto people who walked by. We projected my video of Luna from the Quickening Moon Concert onto the floor, and at times it was appeared on the clothes of people nearby:



[Click images to enlarge.]

Our performance was preceded by a pair of bands from Bay Area Girls Rock Camp, including the band Poison Apple Pie. The local nonprofit program “aims to empower girls through music education, promoting an environment that fosters self-confidence, creativity and teamwork.”

There were numerous short firms and videos shown as well, including work by the Cinepimps and others.

[Cinepimps.  Photo by Michael Zelner (click to enlarge).]

Please visit the event site for a full rundown.

Garden of Memory 2010

This past Monday on the Summer Solstice I once again attended the annual Garden of Memory at the Chapel of the Chimes in Oakland. This year, I was going not just as an audience member and reviewer, but also to participate with the Cornelius Cardew Choir, and also ended up playing in an impromptu electronic improvisation.

Being practical, I first crossed the building to where the choir was located to check in and drop off a few things. On the way I encountered Randy Porter’s “one man orchestra” featuring prepared guitar, brass instruments and tubing. This was a fun performance to watch, and it did not escape me that there were a lot of kids watching him, too.

After dropping off my stuff, I wandered around the corner following some strong bass tones that echoed around the hallway. In one of the side chambers, Beth Custer was performing clarinet. She produced a variety of standard and extended-technique tones. I was wondering if she also was going to perform using the array of other wind instruments behind her. I continued to follow the resonant bass sounds and in a side room found Thomas Dimuzio performing dronelike sounds with guitar and effects. This section of his performance had long tones with heavy distortion and bass undertones that were the source of resonances in the main hallway. I sat to listen for a few minutes as his tone gradually moved away from distortion towards something more pure sounding. Nearby was an outdoor patio, where Orchestra Nostalgico was playing minor-key jazzy music that reminded me a bit of klezmer.


[Schocker, Ueno and Fong. (Click to enlarge)]

One of my favorite new performances this year was the trio of Ken Ueno, Adam Fong and Edward Schocker. Ueno’s expressive and virtuosic vocals, which focus on a variety of extended techniques, blended well with Schocker’s performance on glasses and Fong’s bass. For example, Ueno’s vocals used techniques like throat singing with strong resonances, which complement harmonics on the bass. The sounds were more delicate at times, but the performance an aggressive, harder sound overall which I found welcome. It is interesting to note that they were situated in the Chapel of Tenderness.

Maggie Payne had an installation in the same room as last year, once again making use of the fountain and other elements of the room. Next door was the Crank Ensemble, who were getting started with a new piece as I arrived. The instruments cover a wide range of sound-generation techniques and timbres, but they are all hand cranked. As such, they tend to produce regular rhythms of repeating notes and different rates. The piece began with some slow patterns of metallic and plucked sounds, but as more performers came in it got increasingly complex, with faster rhythms and more variety. One thing that is always readily apparent is how much physical effort it must take to operate some of those instruments, especially given the repetitive nature.

An equally rhythmic but very different performance was unfolding in the Chapel of Eternal Wisdom. Laura Inserra performed on an instrument called a hang, a large tuned metal pod set against a percussionist with three tablas (as opposed to the standard two). The duo quickly built up complex but meditative rhythms. Interestingly, there was another hang performance nearby (I am not sure which group this was, however).


[Laura Inserra. Hang and tabla performance. (Click to enlarge)]

In the columbarium, a heard a performance of Gino Robair’s opera I Norton. I had seen a large production of the piece at least year’s San Francisco Electronic Music Festival. This performance once again featured Tom Duff in the role of Norton I, “Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico.” Robair performed with a small custom electronic instrument alongside a Bleep Labs Thingamagoop (I do want to get one of these at some point), with small portable speakers and taking advantage of the acoustics of the stone room. This performance also featured dance elements, and the two dancers also provided theatrical supporting vocals.


[Scenes from Gino Robair’s I Norton. (Click images to enlarge.)]

Wandering back I heard Theresa Wong performing cello while singing a blues song. I have heard her perform cello both solo and in ensembles on many occasions, but had not heard her sing blues before. I then walked by another performance featuring cello. Albert Behar and the Movement combined cello with electronics to produce ambient music that sounded like a score for a film.

I passed by a trio with our friends Tom Djll, Karen Stackpole and Ron Heglin. The combination of brass (Djll and Heglin) with Stackpole’s trademark gongs seemed like it would be quite a contrast, but at this particular moment, the short tones on the gongs and the bursts from the trumpet and trombone seemed to match in overall contour if not in timbre.


[Cornelius Cardew Choir. (Click image to enlarge)]

It was then time for my first shift with the Cornelius Cardew Choir. We were performing a four-hour version of Pauline Oliveros’ The Heart Chant, in which performers enter and exit a circle, and while joined with others sing long tones on a steady pitch in between breaths. This turns out to require a lot of energy, singing a series of long tones for about ten minutes, especially for someone who does not do a lot of singing. I did my best, and also simultaneously listened to the sounds of the other voices and the overall harmonies. My favorite moment was when the harmony evolved organically into a steady perfect fifth. The overall quality, while very focused on the body and breadth, was meditative and calming. The piece is supposed to be one of healing, and I used the opportunity of this performance to send healing vibes to someone who needs them.

At sundown, around 8:30PM, we led the annual ringing of bells, as part of Brenda Hutchinson’s Daily Bell project, which started in 2008 but continues every year. At 8:32PM bells started ringing throughout the main hall, gradually getting louder as more people joined in; and then a minute later, it came to an end.

After sunset, I wandered down to the Sanctuary, a small dark room, where Sylvia Matheus and Thomas Miley were performing a large and richly textured electronic improvisation with a mixture of synthesized sounds and vocal samples. Gino Robair had joined in with the instrument he had used in I Norton, and at Matheus’ invitation I joined in as well, using several iPhone instruments such as the Bebot and Smule Ocarina. This spontaneous performance was a welcome coda to this long evening of music.