Posts Tagged ‘outsound music summit’

Outsound Music Summit: Lords of Outland, Lewis Jordan, Kyle Bruckman’s Wrack

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The 2013 2013 Outsound New Music Summit concluded last Saturday with an evening of energetic jazz composition and improvisation, including the world premier of two large-scale works.

The concert opened with a set by Rent Romus’ Lords of Outland. Romus was joined by guest artists L.A. Jenkins on guitar and Hasan Razzaq on saxophone, along with regulars CJ Borosque on trumpet and electronics, Philip Everett on drums and Ray Scheaffer on bass.

Lords of Outsound
[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

The Lords of Outland performed The Proceedings of Dr. Ke, a suite of original compositions inspired by the essays of experimental psychologist Dr. Charles Ponce on what he termed “Blade Runner Psychology.” The music was high-energy and frenetic, as I have come to expect from this group, but punctuated by unison hits and silences. There were also spaces for each of the ensemble members to come to the front, in particular Jenkis and Razzag, as well as Romus on double-saxophone. One piece in particular centered around CJ Borosque on electronic effects pedals, with an extensive the rest of the group joining in with sounds that matched the noise elements from the electronics.

Lords of Outland was followed Lewis Jordan’s Music at Large. On this occasion, the ensemble included India Cooke on violin, Karl Evangelista on guitar, John-Carlos Perea on electric bass, and Jimmy Biala on drums/percussion.

Lewis Jordan's Music at Large
[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

The piece, composed by Jordan, was anchored by text relating to his experiences as an only child. The music was a mixture of scored and improvised material, and ranged from more luscious harmonic sections to fast virtuosic runs by Evangelista, Jordan and India Cooke. It was punctuated by quieter moments where the narrative text (read by Jordan) came to the front. Although there was improvisation mixed in, the music maintained a somewhat melancholy sound throughout. One of the more memorable elements came near the end, with a series of repeated “false cadences” with very idiomatic chords. After each repeat it built up more and added more improvised elements, eventually leading to a completely different section of more atonal sounds, before returning back to the harmonic cadence one more time.

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[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

The final set featured Kyle Bruckmann’s Wrack and the world premier of Bruckmann’s …Awaits Silent Tristero’s Empire, a 2012 CMA New Jazz Works commission. This large-scale piece was inspired by the fiction of Thomas Pynchon, specifically three of his novels V., The Crying of Lot 49, and Gravity’s Rainbow. Bruckmann took cues from the many song and song-like elements in these novels, and his composition traverses just about every jazz idiom imaginable along with a variety of other song styles from the early and mid 20th century. Often these style quotes were quite humorous, especially when they took listeners by surprise.

Kyle Bruckmann's Wrack
[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

The music never stayed in one place for very long, but there were a couple of extended sections, including a fun one that featured trombonist Jeb Bishop displaying his talent in both traditional and extended techniques. Guest trumpeter Darren Johnston was featured in sections as well. Rounding out the ensemble were Jen Clare Paulson on viola, Jason Stein on bass clarinet, Anton Hatwich on string bass, and Tim Daisy on drums. The group made what was undoubtedly a very complex piece sound rhythmically and timbrally tight.

It was a musically impressive show, but also a very well-attended one with a packed house and possibly one of the highest attendance records for a Summit program. Now it time like to look forward to next year’s festival.

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Outsound Music Summit: Fuzzybunny, Transient, PMOCATAT Ensemble

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The Outsound Music Summit continued on Friday with a concert entitled “Emanations and Artifacts”. All three sets featured manipulation of found sounds (as well as found visuals) but to very different effect.

The program began with Transient, David Molina’s electro-acoustic, ambient, experimental project. He was joined for this performance by Anna Geyer who provided visuals from a large collection of 16-millimeter film loops, some found, some hand-painted. The projectors and film segments hanging were themselves works of art.

16mm film clips

The performance itself was a fully improvised collaboration of sound and visuals. But the music had a very well crafted and even narrative quality to it. It was anchored by a series of stories told by undocumented workers in the U.S. about their experiences. Over this, Molina layered elements based on a wide variety of live acoustic artifacts from small bells and shakers to cello and banjo. These sources were composed using Ableton Live! into loops, rhythms and drones to create a complex ever changing soundscape.

David Molina - Transient
[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

The entire 40-minute performance was captivating and full of interesting details, stretched metallic sounds, scraped strings turned into rhythms. Perhaps my favorite part was Molina’s first bowing the banjo and then strumming the instrument over the looped recording. This was combined with deeper electronic sounds and set against a set of film clips that featured cats (yes, there was some cat spotting on this evening).

Cats in Transient performance
Cats in Transient performance

The next performance featured the PMOCATAT Ensemble, Matt Davignon’s projected based on cassette players and other sources restricted to cassette-like fixed-media manipulation. I was part of this ensemble, and managed to find a cassette-player iPad app for the occasion.

iPad cassette app for PMOCATAT Ensemble

The ensemble performed four pieces by Davignon as well as two by guest composers Daniel Steffey and Benjamin Ethan Tinker. Davignon’s pieces had a playful quality to them, and integrated the participants’ regular instruments into the media and the concepts of each piece. Perhaps my favorite was the “Avant-Jazz Trio”, which was billed as neither a trio nor really jazz. However, the end result, which featured manipulated recordings of bass, piano, drums and horns did have a jazz-like quality to it, and an ensemble-like texture. The effect was helped by the performers listening to one another as the would in a true jazz-improvisation ensemble as well as Davignon’s conducting.

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[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

The pieces by Steffey and Tinker had very different tones. The source materials were more abstract, often deliberately noisy. The unfolding of Steffey’s piece reminded me of many of John Cage’s experimentations with media-based pieces, although in this case it was overlaid with recordings of speeches collected as a personal response to the George Zimmerman / Trayvon Martin case. Tinker’s piece used pre-composed cassettes that the performers manipulated based on a beautifully designed graphical score. The sounds were then passed through a looper and other effects and mixed into a single source.

The final set was the much anticipated reunion of Fuzzybunny, an electronic-improvisation trio consisting of Chris Brown, Scot Gresham-Lancaster and Tim Perkis. Their music is described as “All-out ‘carnallectual’ electronic improv, rocky-roaded with pop-music fragments and sonic gags define some kind of new style, difficult to describe.” And this was their first time playing together as group in a decade.

Fuzzybunny
[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

The performance started right way into their high-intensity onslaught of electronic sounds, pop-music clips, and loud hits. Perkis anchored the music with his steady laptop emanations while Chris Brown deftly moved through a variety of rhythms and familiar samples from popular music – I have a particular soft spot for the R&B clips – and Scot Gresham-Lancaster explored timbral possibilities of guitar and looping. The prevailing texture was loud and driving, but there were more subtle moments as well, with wobbly synthetic sounds, quieter percussive hits and scratchier recorders of older pop music. But then they would hit us with something surprising and louder. For a band that hasn’t played together in over ten years, they were very tight. And one could tell they were having fun (something that Brown mentioned during the pre-show Q&A as well). It was certainly a fun performance for those of us in the audience as well, and there was no question that we were going let them play a little longer, especially if it turns out to be another ten years before we can hear them together again.

Overall, it was another strong performance for this year’s summit, and one I was proud to be personally involved with as both a performer and curator.

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Outsound Music Summit: Vibration Hackers

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The second concert of this year’s Outsound Music Summit, entitled “Vibration Hackers”, featured electronic musical experimentations from Stanford’s CCRMA and beyond. It was a sharp contrast to the previous night in both tone and medium, but had quite a bit to offer.

The concert opened with #MAX, a collaboration by Caitlin Denny on visuals, Nicole Ginelli on audio, and Dmitri Svistula on software development. It was based on the ubiquitous concept of the hashtag as popularized by Twitter. Audience members typed in suggested terms on a terminal set up in the hall. The terms we then projected on the screen and used to search online for videos, audio and textual materials to inform the unfolding performance. Denny used found videos as part of her projection, while Ginelli interpreted results with processed vocals.

#MAX

The idea was intriguing. I would have liked to see more explicit connection between the source terms and audio/video output – perhaps it was a result of the projection onto the distorting curtain instead of a flat surface, but the connection wasn’t always clear. It would have also been fun to allow audience members to input terms from their mobile phones via Twitter. But I applaud the effort to experiment artistically with social networking infrastructure and look forward to seeing future versions of the piece.

Next was a set of fixed-media pieces by Fernando Lopez-Lezcano, collectively called Knock Knock…anybody there? Lopez-Lezcano is a master of composition that uses advanced sound spatialization as an integral element, and these pieces presented a “journey through a 3D soundscape”.

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[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

The result was a captivating immersive and otherworldly experience with moving sounds based on voices, sometimes quite intelligible, sometimes manipulated into abstract wiggling sounds that spun around the space. There was also a section of pop piano that was appropriately jarring in the context which gave way to a thicker enveloping sound and then fades to a series of whispers scattered in the far corners of the space. The team from CCRMA brought an advanced multichannel system to realize this and other pieces, and the technology plus the expert calibration made a big different in the experience. Even from the side of the hall, I was able to get much of the surround effect.

The next performance featured Ritwik Banerji and Joe Lasquo with “Improvising Agents”, artificial-intellgience software entities that listen to, interpret, and the produce their own music in response. Banerji and Lasquo each brought their own backgrounds to the development of their unique agents, with Banerji “attempting to decolonize musician-computer interaction based not he possibilities that a computer is already intelligent” and Lasquo applying his expertise in AI and natural language processing to musical improvisation. They were joined by Warren Stringer who provided a visual background to the performance.

Joe Lasquo and Ritwik Banerji
[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

As a humorous demonstration of their technology, the performance opened with a demo of two chatbots attempting to converse with one another, with rather absurd results. This served as the point of departure for the first piece, which combined manipulation of the chatbot audio with other sounds while Banerji and Lasquo provided counterpoint on saxophone and piano, respectively. The next two pieces, which used more abstract material, were stronger, with deep sounds set against the human performances and undulating geometric video elements. The final piece was even more organic, with subtle timbres and changes that came in waves, and more abstract video.

This was followed by Understatements (2009-2010), a fixed-media piece by Ilya Rostovtsev. The piece was based on acoustic instruments that Rostovtsev recorded and then manipulated electronically.

Ilya Rostovtsev
[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

It began with the familiar sound of pizzicato strings, that gave way to scrapes and then longer pad-like sounds. Other moments were more otherworldly, including extremely low tones that gradually increased in volume. The final section featured bell sounds that seemingly came out of nowhere but coalesced into something quite serene.

The final performance featured the CCRMA Ensemble, which included Roberto Morales-Manzanares on flute, voice and his “Escamol” interactive system, Chris Chafe on celletto, John Granzow on daxophone and Rob Hamilton on resonance guitar. Musical creations were a major part of this set. Chris Chafe’s celletto is essentially a cello striped down to its essential structure and augmented for electro-acoustic performance. The saxophone is based on a bowed wooden element where the sound is generated from friction. The Escamol system employed a variety of controllers, including at one point a Wii.

CCRMA Ensemble
[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

The set unfolded as a single long improvisation. It began with bell sounds, followed by other sustained tones mixed with percussive sounds and long guitar tones. The texture became more dense with guitar and shaker sounds circling the room. The celletto and daxophone joined in, adding scraping textures, and then bowing sounds against whistles. In addition to the effects, there were more idiomatic moments with bowed celletto and traditional flute techniques This was truly an experimental virtuosic performance, with strong phrasing, textural changes and a balance of musical surprises.

I was happy to see such a strong presence for experimental electronic technologies in this year’s Summit. And there was more electronics to come the following evening, with a very different feel.

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Outsound Music Summit: Opera Wolf, KREation, Wiener Kids

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The concerts of the 2013 Outsound Music Summit opened with an evening of acoustic ensembles that combined improvisation and composition, each to quite different effect.
The evening opened with a performance by Opera Wolf, a trio featuring Crystal Pascucci on cello, Joshua Marshall on saxophone, and Robert Lopez on drums. They performed four pieces: one composed by each member of the group, and a free improvisation.

Opera Wolf
[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

One structural quality that carried over all four pieces was the use of strongly punctuated phrasing. The initial opening sounds with harmonics and sparse arrhythmic hits was separate by a delineated silence before switching texture completely to growls and intricate cello runs, and then again into more melodious bowed phrases accompanied by the sounds of metal on a drum head. This punctuation continued into the second piece as well, which began quite noisily with scratching and unusual harmonics, but after a pause changed suddenly into jazzy runs followed by vocal effects and whistle tones. Other interesting sonic moments included Marshall cooing and purring with his saxophone against long bowed towns on the cello by Pascucci, and an extended run by all three members with scraping, tapping and clicking sounds.

Next up was KREation, an ensemble led by Kevin Robinson. KREation features a varying lineup, and this evening was somewhat different from the previous time I had encountered them. Along with Robinson, there was Christin Hablewitz, John Schwerbel and Tony Gennaro.

KREation
[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

Their performance was a single continuous flow of music, starting with a modal and quite serene recorder duet of Robinson and Hablewitz. This gave way to percussion and prepared piano, and then to more fast runs on sax and piano accompanied by loud key clicks on the bass clarinet. The more melodious feel gave way to darker and more tense textures, but then got quite jazzy and rhythmic, especially when John Schwerbel switched over to a Rhodes Stage 73 electric piano (yes, it is one of my favorite instruments).

Rhodes Stage 73

The textures and energy levels came in and out over the course of the performance like waves. There were some intricate counterpoints, including between recorder and saxophone, some pretty piano runs, and sections that moved between slower dramatic tones and bursts of fast motion.

The final performance of the evening featured Wiener Kids, a trio of Jordon Glenn, Aram Shelton and Cory Wright. Ostensibly, the group is a drummer with two masters of reed instruments, but on this occasion all three members also employed a wide selection of percussion.

Wiener Kids
[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

This was a bit different from the previous Wiener Kids performances I have heard, which usually took place at clubs along side avant-rock bands. A couple of the pieces did employ the same sparse but rhythmically complex and driving sound I recalled, but there was also more detail and variety. The performance started with a somewhat humorous ensemble sound, like an odd-meter march. But it soon morphed into a solid four-beat funky rhythm with Wright on baritone saxophone acting as the all-important bass. The group came back to this funk idiom throughout their performance, and I thought it was their strongest element. They also employed complex polyrhythms and extended techniques as well as long melodic runs – one piece in particular featured a virtuosic saxophone solo by Wright.

The set ended with back-to-back songs starting with a more jazz rhythmic sound combining sax and drums, then moving into a second piece that was more percussion oriented, with polyrhythms and a focus on metallic percussion that gave the music a gamelan-like quality. Then it was back to the driving funkier 4/4 sound up to the finish.

In all, it was a strong start to this year’s Summit concerts, with dynamic performances. And it is quite a contrast to what comes next.

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Outsound Music Summit: Touch the Gear Expo

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The 12th Annual Outsound Music Summit began this past Sunday, opening as always with the Touch the Gear Expo. Musicians and sound artists from the Bay Area and beyond were on hand with their musical devices and inventions for the public to observe and try out. I participated this year with two technological extremes: soft synths on an iPad, and a full two rows of Eurorack format analog modules.

iPad and Eurorack modular

Both offerings were quite popular, eliciting curiosity from visitors of all ages.

A99-01861
[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

There were quite a few analog synthesizers on hand, including a vintage Serge modular courtesy of Synthesizerman (aka Doug Linner).

Synthesizerman and Serge Modular
[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

One of the more intriguing analog synths I encountered was this creation by Andy Puls.

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The circular pattern represents a step sequencer controlling an internal sound generator. Conductive pegs can be moved around on the bars to change pitches and other parameters. There are also knobs as well. The overall geometry, control design and lights made this a visually appealing instrument.

Nick Wang also demonstrated some custom analog boxes with controllers, oscillators and a VCF.

Nick Wang synth demo

Fernando Lopez-Lezcano demonstrated his elaborate homemade analog synthesizer. I have had the privilege of hearing him play it in a formal performance.

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[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

Matt Davignon demonstrated his devices for working with fixed-media sources, a bit of a preview of what we can expect for Friday night’s PMOCOTAT performance.

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Acoustic creations, in particular sounds from natural sources, were a common theme this year as well. Cheryl Leonard demonstrated her expertly tuned instruments made from stones, bones, shells and wood gathered at the extremes of the earth. She also demonstrated her virtuosity with using these elements together, such as generating rhythms from a series of bones passed over the shells.

Cheryl Leonard
[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

David Samas was also on hand with his musical creations from natural sources found here in northern California.

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Missing from the picture above is his tuned aluminum rod, from which one can get quite a powerful sound with a well-rosined hand. I had the opportunity to try it out myself.

Bryan Day presented his instruments made from found objects, including the tape measures featured prominently in the image below. Other sources included springs and metal rods. His creations are quite ergonomic and easily to play, putting unusual sources into compact and intuitive arrangements.

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Horaflora combined acoustics and small electronics in a couple of lively offerings, including drum heads excited by magnets. I heard him play this in a program several months ago.

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Horaflora also demonstrated exciting natural acoustic elements atop a subwoofer connected to an iPhone synth. You can see and hear a bit of my attempting to demonstrate these elements together with him in the following video:


David Molina (aka “Transient”) also blended acoustic and electronic ideas. He had a variety of small instruments and sound sources on hand, which he used to generate source material for complex loops and textures controlled in real time via Albeton live.

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In his own words, this was only “about half of what he will be using in his performance on Friday.”

Tom Nunn, a prolific inventor whom I interviewed in 2012, was once again presenting his creations. This time it was an exceptionally colorful set of his Skatchboxes.

Tom Nunn skatchboxes
[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

There were others presenting as well, and unfortunately, I did not have time to see everyone and also attend to me own station. But I hope to see more of all the participants in more musical settings.

The Outsound Music Summit continues on Wednesday night with the first of the formal concerts, you can see a full schedule here. And of course, you can always follow along with @catsynth on Twitter if you can’t attend in person.

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CatSynth at the 12th Annual Outsound Music Summit, San Francisco

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Outsound_logo_2013

The annual Outsound Music Summit will be starting this weekend at the Community Music Center (544 Capp St) in San Francisco. And once again, we at CatSynth will be there. I will be participating the Touch the Gear Expo this Sunday (July 21, 7PM) with technologies ranging from iPad soft synths to the analog modular system. I am also curating the concert on Friday, July 26, featuring Transient, a project of David Molina, Matt Davignon’s PMOCATAT ensemble, and a reunion of Fuzzybunny, an electronic improvising trio featuring Tim Perkis, Chris Brown and Scot Gresham-Lancaster. It should be a great show.

The best way to experience the Summit is in person, so if you in the Bay Area, I encourage you to attend one or more of the programs. Ticket information can be found here. But for those who cannot attend, you can follow @catsynth on Twitter and Instagram for live updates, and here on the blog for more in-depth reviews of the shows.

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Outsound Music Summit: Fire and Energy

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The final concert of the 2012 Outsound Music Summit was Fire and Energy, a night of “improvised-jazz-inspired-music.” Labeling a new-music concert as jazz can often be treacherous, with some people all-too-quick to join arguments about what does and does not qualify as “jazz.” But in the case if this evening’s artists, who all had long established histories in the world of improvised free-jazz, there should be no argument.

The concert opened with a solo set by Jack Wright, a long-time veteran and leader of the Bay Area improvised music scene. His performance began on soprano saxophone with discrete notes and short phrases filled with overtone, microtones, percussive sounds. The were some moments that were quite subtle, with long notes that had deliberate microtonal variations or timbral variations on a single pitch- I found this to be quite expressive. There were other more melodic sections that made reminded me of old popular jazz recordings from the 1930s. Wright communicated a lot of emotion in his improvisations, with some parts sounding quite plaintive, almost a lamentation, while others were bright and happy. The first have of his set ended with some exceptionally high notes.


[Jack Wright. Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

Wright then switched to alto saxophone. There was something about this piece that just seemed “jazzier” – it’s difficult to pinpoint any one thing, but perhaps it is just the nature and expectations of the alto sax. This piece was also a bit louder and aggressive, with numerous scoops, bends, growls and noises. He employed extended effects with the bell to change the dynamics and timbre of the instrument (including at one point playing with the instrument pointed into his knee), and used key clicks, buzzing and voiced tones.

The next set featured Dave Bryant, first performing solo on acoustic piano and then in a trio with drummer Dax Compise and bassist Bryan Clark. Bryant is best known for his work as a member of Ornette Coleman’s Prime TIme group, and as an expert and teacher of Harmolodic Theory. His solo piano work was an impressive virtuosic display, with a barrage of fast moving chords up and down the keyboard that nonetheless were quite expressive. It felt like the music was constantly moving towards something, a bit frantically. Then all at once the energy was released as if in a sigh. He spent a fair amount of time in the often under-appreciated lower registers of the instrument, and kept the velocity of the performance going. The big loud low chords were followed by softer high chords in a moment that was reminiscent of late Romantic piano music. As he continued, he was joined on stage by Comprise and Clark, and in an instant the solo turned into an acoustic jazz trio.


[Dave Bryant Trio. Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

After a short section, Bryant switch to electric keyboard and the character of music changed considerably. It became softer and dreamier, with the bass setting the tone and pace. But there was still forward motion to the performance, and more of Bryant’s virtuosic high-speed chord work that at times seemed superhuman. The pace slowed down again, with a distinctly blues-like line and then pentatonic glissandi. After another reset, a new harmony and rhythm emerged with Bryant leading the group into heavy, almost final-sounding cadences. In between, there were bass and drum solos and more frenetic work, but the cadences remained as the framework. It all came to a sudden by definite stop.

The following set featured Vinny Golia with his sextet, including Gavin Templeton on alto sax, Daniel Rosenboom on trumpet, Alex Noice on guitar, Jon Armstrong on electric bass, and Andrew Lessman on drums. Of all the performances on this evening, this one most embodied the concert title “Fire and Energy.” There was an intensity to the full ensemble in both fast runs, hits, and the driving rhythm that underpinned the set-spanning piece. It began rather quietly, with Golia on pray bowls. Soon, the other members of the group entered with long drone sounds, along with soft symbols, trumpet noise and a chime harmony. Golia always has a collection of saxophones and other wind instruments at his disposal, and he switched to a smaller instrument that looked like a soprano sax but with a bent neck, which he played together with Rosenboom on trumpet. The music gradually became more animated and evolved in a unison rhythm and eventually into a rather funky groove. I can easily get absorbed into music like this.


[Vinny Golia Sextet. Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

The rhythm continued for a while, with various interruptions, including some solos – Rosenboom in particular tore it up during his trumpet solo. Then there was a sudden change in rhythm and texture, led by Templeton on alto sax. Rather then the unified driving rhythm, the ensemble played a complex intricate orchestration that still retained a rhythmic structure. There were more extended effects and sounds, such as squeaking and percussive effects, and Noice used a Kaoss Pad with his guitar. Golia switched to bass clarinet for a slower section of music that included a short four-part “chorale”. The ensemble quieted down and the prayer bowls returned, before everyone joined in for a final segment to close the set.

The final set of the evening and of the Summit as a whole was also the largest in terms of personnel. Tony Passarel’s Thin Air Orchestra is a project that brings together a large number of improvising musicians, and on this night the group swelled in number to include several musicians from the previous sets, including Vinny Golia and Dax Comprise, as well as regulars from Outsound. Festival director Rent Romus was able to temporarily remove his directors hat and play saxophones in the ensemble. Other players that evening included Ross Hammond, Randy McKean, Keith Kelly, John Vaughn, Cory Wright, Ken Kawamura, Tom Djll, CJ Borosque, Murray Campbell, Keith Cary, Mike Turgeon, Bill Noertker and Gerry Pineda.


[Tony Passarel's Thin Air Orchestra. Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

The first piece began with unison trumpets, soon joined by viola. The texture was very sparse, but they were soon joined by Hammond on guitar and the other instruments followed in a crescendo made of small bits of sound. There was a brief sax-and-flute duo, and playing inside the piano strings by Passarell. The next piece began with the rhythm section (piano, electric bass and drums) in a fast sparse motion, followed by a huge cloud of sound from the entire ensemble. The music became more rhythmic for a bit and then everyone hit one big chord.

For the next couple of pieces, vocalist Loren Benedict joined the group. After an intro with ponderous piano and then a funky rhythm, Benedict launched into an impressive stream of fast highly rhythmic scat singing. The other musicians joined in the rhythm with him. Rent Romus also had a particularly crazy double-sax solo in this piece.

One of the last pieces was softer and did not have as intense a rhythm. The guitar and viola were rather bluesy and were joined by Tom Djll with extended-technique trumpet noises. Hammond’s hard-driving guitar and minor chords combined with the others made this the ensemble’s “Miles Davis Moment” (with apologies to Raskin and Haryman from the Sonic Poetry Night). Benedict came back and joined the group for a big finale.

This was once again a long concert, but it went by rather fast given the energy and vitality of the music. It was a very strong final concert in what was a particular strong Outsound Music Summit this year.

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Outsound Music Summit: Thwack! Bome! Chime!

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Today we continue our reviews of the Outsound Music Summit with Thwack! Bome! Chime!, an evening of modern percussion performances. There was quite a bit of Thwack! and more than a couple of Chimes. But I am not quite sure about the Bome! part.

The concert opened with a solo set by David Douglas performing with acoustic percussion, MIDI controllers and a laptop running Max/MSP. His approach, visually, physically and musically, is to integrate the traditional drums, cymbals and acoustic noisemakers with the electronics in a single unit.


[David Douglas. Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

I had last seen Douglas perform at the Luggage Store Gallery before Reconnaissance Fly. I recalled that performance being richly textured, but his setup and musical performance on this night was more varied and sophisticated. He began with short taps on a drum with granular and pitch effects cascading out of the percussion sounds. These gradually evolved into more complex rhythms and drum rolls augmented with tonal pitches. The acoustic sources expanded from the drum to percussive hits with sticks and other implements, with more pitched elements and eventually faster more rhythmic playing. As the set unfolded, there more complex polyrhythms as well as very subtle quiet sections, and sounds that were further afield from traditional percussion, with long electrical drones. There was an abrupt shift the cymbals with gliding pitch shifts and long tones. He also used lights and a mobile device to control electronic elements. At one point during the set, the music became more like techno/electronica, with repeated rhythmic patterns and in-time delays and hits. His performance continued as a single, continuously changing improvisation for the duration of the set.

The next set featured Falkortet, a local percussion ensemble that composes pieces for itself in a variety of styles. Members of the ensemble include Lydia Martin, Ed Garcia, Timothy Black and Josh Mellinger.


[Falkortet. Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

The ensemble entered from the rear in the hall in a slow procession, with metal percussion and led by Martin on a conch shell. The scene and sound reminded me of a wedding or celebration band that one might find in South Asia or the Middle East. The performers took their seats at various points of the stage and the rhythm steadied into a syncopated pattern with a bit of a swing. It grew louder and more complex over time and then all at once soft.

The remainder of Falkortet’s set featured a series of short compositions in a variety of idioms and was quite a contrast to Douglas’ single abstract improvisation. There was a piece with three standard drum sets and a piano that included both loud drumming and a section that was jazz or tango-like. Another piece featured a marimba, a large hand drum and bells that reminded me of gamelan instruments, especially as the music unfolded first a single unison phrase that splinted into more complex polyrhythms and variations. After the piece, they explained that the bell instruments were in fact prototypes for an “American gamelan.”, and that many of their instruments were made from found objects or recycled materials.


[Falkortet. Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

A couple of other pieces that particularly caught my attention was a marimba quartet with soft chords and subtle changes at different rates. It was quite meditative. The last couple of pieces with vibraphone, marimba and drums had a more jazzy feel, with familiar minor chords, blues scales and even a bit of a funky vibe at times. It was a fun way to close the set.

The final set featured the premier of Seems Like An Eternity, a new composition by Benjamin Ethan Tinker for percussion and electronics. Tinker, who performed in the piece on Arp 2600 and an Echoplex, was joined by Lydia Martin and Tim Black from the Falkortet, as well as Shani Aviram on kalimba, and April-Jeanie Tang and Daniel Steffey from Touch-the-Gear night.



[Benjamin Ethan Tinker and ensemble members. Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

I was quite interested in hearing this piece after learning about it during the Composers’ Forum earlier in the week, and was glad to see that most of the audience stayed to support the performance as well even though it was already 11PM. It had a very elemental theme “evoking the desert night sky”. On a more technical level, it subverted the usual character of percussion by avoiding discrete sounds and instead using the instruments to generate drones. It unfolded with long tones with pitch variations, some of which reminded me of whale songs. A cymbal roll added both grown and higher-frequency content, while rubbing on timpani drums and rubber mallets on a wood surface added a thick middle-frequency drone. It was not purely drone, however, as bits of crackly sound came and went,. There were also empty spaces in the sound. I did find myself listening for the Arp within the soundscape, and identified some very noisy sounds and wobbly arpeggios from the instrument. At one point there was a very elemental loud metal shake evocative of a thunderstorm. Again, the overall drone was broken up by the sounds of small metal pitched percussion. The sound grew softer and lower in frequency, with the electronics moving into a subsonic realm where the waveform became a chain of discrete percussive sounds. After an electronic solo, the other instruments returned in, converging on a single tone. The sound became crunchier and more varied in timbre, with granular elements and then grew into a series of loud swells towards the end of the piece.

This was a long concert, and some ways a bit of endurance test. But it was rewarding to fully experience all three sets their entirety, as it is not that often one gets to hear an entire concert dedicated to percussion like this.

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Outsound Music Summit: The Composers’ Muse

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The Outsound Music Summit continued with The Composers Muse, a night of new compositions by three noted Bay Area composers. They were participants in the Composers’ Forum that I moderated earlier in the week, where they gave tantalizing descriptions of their work. On this evening, we finally got to hear what they were talking about.

The concert opened with the Skadi Quartet performing compositions by Christina Stanley, who also is the first violist for the quartet. Her compositions were based on large abstract oil paintings that were placed center stage, with members of ensemble arrayed to either side.


[Christina Stanley and Skadi Quartet. Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

As someone interested in visual art as well as music, I was quite intrigued by this piece, and how the composer wanted the performers to interpret the visual work. Stanley had very specific instructions for performers in each piece for how to perform the score. In the first piece, Put it On, performers were to move visually from the focal point just to the lower right of center and move outwards, with different shapes corresponding to very specific sounds and modes of playing. You can see a close-up of the score at Stanley’s website. Within this structure, the music began with short notes and then moved to longer bow strokes, jaggedly moving up and down in pitch. My visual and aural senses focused on the straight-line character of both the score and the music. At one point, the performers diverged into different textures, with staccato notes against longer lines and glissandi that then melted into a single harmony. There were also elements of noise and percussive scraping, harmonics, and quite a bit of empty space in the sound. The piece concluded with a large and more traditional flourish.

The second piece was a duo of Stanley and cellist Crystal Pascucci. The score for this piece was more sparse with curving lines, and these qualities were reflected in the music as well. It started with harmonics and other high, airy tones. Overall, it was more melodic, but with some pizzicato tones as well. Gradually, the cello became lower and filled out the harmony, which seemed almost folk-music-like at times. There other elements such as sliding harmonics, but overall it still fit with the visual imagery of the score.

The next set featured a solo piece written and performed by Matthew Goodheart for piano and metal percussion. Gongs and cymbals were placed at various spots around the hall, including in the balcony. A small transducer was attached to each of the instruments so that it could be excited by electronically generated sounds.


[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

The sounds used to excite the metal percussion were created by analyzing the partials and spectra of such instruments, a process that was part of his research involving “recursive physical object electro-acoustics” at the Center for New Music and Audio Technologies (CNMAT). The acoustic and spectral properties of these sounds also informed Goodheart’s live piano performance during the piece.


[Matthew Goodheart. Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

The music that resulted was unusual and exceptionally beautiful. It began with high ethereal harmonics coming from the cymbals and gong spreading across the hall, and then high notes from the piano to match. The piano and some of the harmonics featured in the metal percussion gave the music an air of anxiety even while it was calming. As the harmonics grew thicker, the timbre grew more metallic and at moments took on the quality of water pouring. The music became more active, deeper harmonics and a few tones that sounded like flutes and clarinets alongside the metallic resonances. Again, Goodheat’s piano matched the changes in timbre as he moved into lower registers. Some of the sounds from the cymbals became more disjointed, sounding like tops, and after a loud gong hit the texture of the music grew thicker and more inharmonic. Then all at once it stopped leaving a single resonance. It looked like Goodheart was playing inside the piano as well with various objects, though it was hard to tell from where I was sitting. There were various percussive sounds and something that reminded me of my cat scratching, and then piano became more harmonic and tonal again with rather plaintive chords. There were more high frequencies and electronic swells broadcast through the cymbals, and a finale with a single repeated note on the piano. Overall, the performance was one of the most memorable experiences of the summit.

The concert concluded with John Shiurba’s large-scale composition 9:9. The number 9 permeated the structure and concept of the piece. There were nine performers and nine movements; and the piece employed a nine-note scale and nine different styles of notation all derived in one way or another from newspapers – there was standard notation along with text and graphics, some of which were taken directly from newspaper clips. Shiurba described his use of newspaper elements as a “celebration and/or elegy for the old-fashioned print medium.”


[John Shiurba 9:9. Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

The movements were bounded by vocal interpretations of cryptograms from the New York times. The encrypted text was sung by Polly Moller, who had to work through challenging clusters of consonants. The decrypted solutions, which often featured corny or trite phrases, were sung by Hadley McCarroll in a more melodic style. Within this structure, each movement began with a solo by one of the nine performers, with a couple of other instruments gradually joining in, and finally the entire ensemble. Each of the solo sections had a very different character, representing both the performer and his or her instrument. Ava Mendoza’s strong articulation on acoustic guitar stood out, and Polly Moller’s solo on bass flute sounded quite familiar from Reconnaissance Fly pieces. The piano solo by Hadley McCarroll was quite aggressive, as was the bass clarinet solo by Matt Ingalls. There were interesting moments in the ensemble playing as well, such as a big minor chord and a section that more jazz or cabaret-like. Other sections were extremely quiet. The final movement featured a percussion solo by Gino Robair on a variety of instruments and implements, which mirrored the introduction to the piece. Other members of the ensemble included Philip Greenlief on clarinet, Monica Scott on cello, Scott Walton on bass, and Sarah Wilner on violin.

This was a very successful concert for the Outsound Music Summit, and not only musically. We had a full house at the Community Music Center, and I am pretty sure we set a record for paid attendance. There was certainly a lot of Outsound, curator Polly Moller, the composers and performers to be proud of.

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Outsound Music Summit: Sonic Poetry

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The concert series of the Outsound Music Summit began this Wednesday with Sonic Poetry, a night combining poetry and live improvised music. This was a first for the summit, with three leading Bay Area poets collaborating with local improvising musicians. Each of the sets featured a different style of poetry, which was reflected in the music and performances.

The first set featured Ronald Sauer, a leading figure in the North Beach poetry scene. His poetry was infused with social satire and provocative imagery, and his reading style had that driving tumbling-forward energy reminiscent of earlier poets of that scene. In this performance he was joined by percussionists Jacob Felix Huele and Jordan Glenn.


[Ronald Sauer, Jacob Felix Huele and Jordan Glenn. Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

The music began with deep ambient sounds and resonances as Heule rubbed a cymbal on a bass drum and Glenn struck metal bowls atop a set drum. Sauer then launched in a humorous poem whose lines poked fun at different poet stereotypes. The music moved into rich textures with mallets, stick hits, vocal sounds and buzzing – the latter occurred as the words alluded to mosquitoes. The next poem, a gentler piece about garnering, was accompanied by soft rattling sounds and resonant metallic rods. Tuned percussion and inharmonic timbres supported Sauer’s “romantic” poem that was featured rather intense sexual language and imagery – and which prompted the evening’s lead curator Robert Anbian to exclaim “Now Ron, don’t hold back!” One of final poems of the set featured the memorable line “The life of an artist is an elegant suicide.”

The next set was a duo featuring poet and performer rAmu Aki with musician Karl Evangelista on guitar and electronics. rAmu Aki’s poetry is deeply rooted in the landscape and culture of San Francisco’s Tenderloin (“TL”) neighborhood where he lives, and by his own declaration was inspired “by the voices inside his head.” He also wore an impressive blue feathered headdress.


[rAmu Aki. Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

Alongside Aki’s fast rhythmic words, Evangelista began with an anxious chromatic guitar line. Phrases like “City of Light” and “English Harassment” were followed by sounds with distortion and other effects, and looping to produce contrapuntal textures. The poetry was full of references to the Tenderloin, some of which like the street names, were familiar, others less so. There were light chords against angrier words, surf tone and more distorted guitar moaning. During a break, there was a rather pretty guitar solo on top of which followed a gentler and prettier poem. A jazzier and more rhythmic section of music accompanied the poem “Grove and Laguna Sunset.” Overall, the duo has a strong musical rapport, with rhythmically tight starts and stops to phrases, and pauses that allowed the music to come through clearly.

The final set featured poet Carla Haryman and musician John Raskin on saxophone and other instruments, joined by Gino Robair on percussion and prepared piano. Unlike the other collaborations in this concert, Haryman and Raskin have worked together for a while, and I was quite looking forward to hearing their performance.


[Carla Haryman. Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

The music began with the sound of bowed metal followed by soft staccato tones on the saxophone. Haryman’s words were also quite staccato and worked well with the sparse percussive texture of the music. Indeed, I was quite drawn to her more abstract poetry, and I found myself listening to individual words as if they were percussion instruments mixed in with the other parts of the music. There were more metal ringing sounds against a longer and more melodious saxophone line, and some electronic sounds that reminded me of old video games. Raskin also recited words at various times, either independently or in sync with Haryman. Gino Robair’s Blippo Box provided its usual liquidy percussive sounds that blended with the saxophone and words. One particular line that stuck with me, and stuck together as a full phrase, was “why is it that some afternoons turn into Miles Davis events?”


[Jon Raskin. Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

The next piece was from a larger work in which the text of a lecture by musicologist and critic Theodor Adorno was processed into a new poetic form and recited by Haryman while Robair performed on prepared piano. Raskin also participated in reciting the text, helping turn parts in a dialogue that included the lament that we “cling to the term new music” unlike visual art which doesn’t hold on to an equivalent overarching term (though one could argue that “modern art” is an equivalent). The overall effect was quite humorous, especially in an audience steeped in experiencing and talking about new music. The piece entitled “Orgasm” was more frenetic, with electronic noises and Raskin employing electronic and electromechanical devices inside a large brass-instrument mute. The final piece featured Raskin playing a squeeze box and Haryman reciting phrases that felt more narrative than the individual words of the earlier pieces, and visual imagery such as “waking hours shiver under glass.”

My experience with poetry is that it tends to be far denser than standard language. As such, it can be a challenge to listen to in sets that are 30 minutes long or more. The rhythmic musicality and phrasing employed by rAmu Aki and the sparse abstract texture of Carla Haryman’s poetry made them work particularly well in the longer setting of a musical performance.

The evening was well attended, with many unfamiliar faces who followed the work of the featured poets but may have been experiencing new-music concerts for the first time. Overall, it was a very strong and dynamic opening concert for the Summit.

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