Reconnaissance Fly and KREation, Luggage Store Gallery

Last week, Reconnaissance Fly returned the Luggage Store Gallery, with selections from our upcoming album Flower Futures, featuring songs based on spoetry (or spam poetry). We were joined on stage by the piñatas which I reported on at a previous show, including the manatee and the “pyramonster” that appears on the US one dollar bill.

We have played this music often enough now to feel confident, even routine, with what is still a challenging set. As always, we opened with Small Chinese Gong and wound our way through prog rock, jazz and more experimental styles to the closing catchy riffs of An Empty Rectangle.


[Photo by Tom Djll]

The acoustics of the Luggage Store Gallery once again presented a huge challenge for our performance, which requires tight rhythmic integration between players. But I thought we did a great set despite the challenge, including the syncopated unisons in sanse is crede nza and the abstract event-driven Oh! Goldfinch Cage.

We were followed on the program by KREation (Kevin Robinson Ensemble). It was interesting that their line-up for the evening was very similar to ours: two wind payers, keyboard, bass and drums. Neither group had a guitarist. But the music was quite different. Compared to Reconnaissance Fly’s structured set of composed songs, KREation’s performance was free-flowing, shifting between different levels of energy and texture in a continuous whole.


[Kreation]

They started off with the sounds of key clicks, scratches and other soft percussive sounds in a cloud of staccato noise, before shifting in a more tonal free-jazz sound. The rhythms, harmonies and textures shifted every few minutes, with a few instrument changes along the way, and different members of the band taking turns with abstract vocals.

It was a strong performance that kept my attention for the entire duration of the set, and I am glad we had the opportunity to share the bill with them.

Y2K12 Live Looping Festival in San Francisco

For the past few years, the annual Live Looping Festival, which primarily takes place in Santa Cruz, California, co-hosts an opening-night performance in San Francisco with Outsound Presents at the Luggage Store Gallery. This year was no exception, with visiting artists coming from afar and braving the large flying piñatas on display in the gallery that evening.

The show opened with a solo performance by Philipp Zurcher, who was attending the festival from Switzerland. His set opened with dark and subtle tones on guitar and effects, and very little overt looping. The music remained sparse for a while, but eventually started to build up into a thicker texture as the loops came to the forefront.


[Philipp Zurcher.]

While Zurcher’s performance was subtle and sparse, the next set by Krispen Hartung and Aaron Davis from Boise, Idaho went in the opposite direction. Davis played fast runs and driving chords and rhythms on keyboard while the pair layered electronics and loops in a loud and intense rhythmic texture that they sustained for the duration of the set. There were moments where things grew a bit software which allowed Davis’ keyboard performance to come to the forefront, but overall it was a full-on barrage of electronic beats and semi-rhythmic long tones that enveloped the space and the audience.


[Krispen Hartung and Aaron Davis]

The final set featured Italian ” sound-sculptor” Luca Formentini. At first glance, he appeared to be another looper-guitarist, but that label sells his highly virtuosic and narrative music short. His guitar sounded other-wordly, aided by the fact that his performance was largely without any light. The dark, tense and melancholy tones were augmented by electronics and more complex loops layered with a mixture of effects. There were sounds that mimicked natural elements, such as water, fire and even sound evocative of cats. Rather than simply building up layers of sound, he adeptly added and removed the layers to forward an abstract narrative – one had the sense of a movie with something beautiful but tragic was about to happen. Overall, it was an impressive performance.

Overall, it was a good show, with a small but appreciative audience. The festival moved back to Santa Cruz after this opening performance. I was not able to attend any of the subsequent events, but glad I saw these artists on this night in San Francisco.

Outsound Music Summit: Fire and Energy

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.

Outsound Music Summit: Thwack! Bome! Chime!

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.

Outsound Music Summit: The Composers’ Muse

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.

Outsound Music Summit: Sonic Poetry

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.

Outsound Music Summit: Touch the Gear and Composers’ Forum

The 2012 Outsound Music Summit began this Sunday with the annual Touch the Gear Expo. Visitors have a chance to see and try out the equipment used by musicians and sound artists. Although we had fewer presenters this year, we had a variety of instruments and devices, and a fairly sizable crowd of visitors.

In the above image, we see Matt Davignon presenting effects pedals driven using a Casio keyboard, and Joe Lasquo presenting laptop-based programs with Max/MSP.

One of the fun aspects of Touch the Gear is getting one’s hands on instruments that one only sees on stage. For me, one of those opportunities came when I got to play the Arp 2600 that Benjamin Ethan Tinker brought to the event. It was only a little over a week earlier that I heard him play it at the Luggage Store Gallery.

But it there is the discovery of new and never-before seen musical creations. The most unusual for me was this creation by Omer Gal:

The organic head-like element contained several mechanical and optical sensors that one could touch or put ones hands near to affect the sound. A second part of the installation included a mechanical “robot” that played a set of strings with a pickup. The performer can affect the operation of the robot and the sound through electronic controls.

Other unusual electro-acoustic instruments were presented by Walter Funk and Dan Ake. Walter Funk’s metallic instrument called Ulysses offered opportunities to explore different resonances and timbres through sheets of metal, rods and springs arrayed throughout its body. Dan Ake’s invention was a series of gridded metal inside a large wooden box, than one could excite with a variety of objects, such as bows, rods and a glove with long wooden fingertips.

I was presenting at this event as well. I always try to bring something a little different each year. This year, I decided to go with two ends of the technology spectrum: an iPad running Animoog and iMS-20, and a Eurorack modular system with a Metasonx R53, Make Noise Echophon, Malekko Heavy Industry Anti-Oscillator, and several others. Both technologies caught people’s attention, with some more excited about the analog modular system with its physical knobs and cables, and others gravitating towards the iPad.

Andrew Wayne presented a very tangible set of objects containing unpopped popcorn kernels in aluminum trays and other contains, augmented with contact microphones and electronic effects. He assembled his own contact mics to use with these acoustic sources.

Other participants included CJ Borosque with an Alesis Air, Laurie Amat with vocal and ambient sources into a Line 6, and a surface by April-Jeanie Tang with rubber-ball mallets. Through contact miss, the action of the rubber mallets and the surface and transmitted to effects processors for a deep, haunting sound. Tom Duff presented a series of software processes that could be randomly controlled from a MIDI controller. Despite the randomness, it was quite expressive after playing with it and dialing in on particular processes.  He also had a couple of critters from Bleep Labs.

Long-time participants Tom Nunn and David Michalak were back again with the most recent incarnations of the sketch box. You can read an interview with Tun Nunn and discussion of his musical inventions here on CatSynth.

And finally, Bob Marsh was back with his intriguing and “charismatic” metal creations.

I do tend to gravitate towards metallic sounds when looking for new material, something which seems to be common among those who are looking for invention and discovery in musical sound.


On Monday night, the summit continued with the Composers Symposium, a panel discussion featuring four of the composers in this year’s festival: John Shiurba, Christina Stanley, Benjamin Ethan Tinker, and Matthew Goodheart were on hand to discuss their work. And as a first this year, I acted as the moderator for the evening. It was a great experience, and I did not have to do very much besides seeding the discussion with a few questions. From those starting points, a lively discussion ensued among the composers as well as dialog with the audience. We talked about the role of notation in each of the composers’ music, such as Stanley’s use of paintings as her scores and Shiurba’s use of graphical elements derived from print newspapers (a major theme of his piece this year); and the dual role that these artists played as both composers and performers. One of the things that made this panel work was the variety of musical disciplines, styles and backgrounds among the participants, as well as the interest that the audience brought to the discussion with their numerous questions. Everyone had criticisms of the terms “new music” and “experimental music” that are often used as blanket designations for the music featured in the summit and indeed much of the music reviewed here on CatSynth, but that was to be expected. The two hours of the discussion went by rather quickly, and I’d like to think everyone on the panel and in the audience found the experience enjoyable and illuminating. I would definitely like to do more of these at events in the future.

Shani Aviram, Matt Ingalls, Benjamin Ethan Tinker. Luggage Store Gallery

Today we look at last Thursday’s Outsound show at the Luggage Store Gallery, which featured music by Shani Aviram, Benjamin Ethan Tinker, and Matt Ingalls.

As I have mentioned in previous articles, the acoustics at the Luggage Store Gallery can be quite challenging. One of the things that made this performance notable is that several of the performers made creative use of the acoustics, working with it rather than against it. This was true of the initial piece for solo snare drum by Shani Aviram, where the staccato notes of the drum reverberated around the room in a manner that was quite dynamic. There were some exceptionally loud moments, but I liked the overall texture. The set also featured compositions by Aviram for cello and electronics (performed by Devon Thrumston), and computer and Arp 2600 (performed by the composer and Benjamin Ethan Tinker, respectively).

The best use of the room acoustics was by Matt Ingalls, who performed a 30-minute continuous tour de force of energetic microtonal improvisation on clarinet. His movement affected the diffusion of the sound from the instrument and off the walls of the room, adding more microtonal and timbral variation. It is difficult to describe the experience fully, but it was a very impressive performance. I managed to capture a few seconds on my iPhone, which you can see below.

In the subsequent break between sets, I went up to see the analog electronics. In addition to the Arp 2600, there was also an analog Echoplex that appeared to be in relatively good condition.


[Click images to enlarge.]

In the final set, Ingalls joined Shani Aviram and Benjamin Ethan Tinker for a group improvisation. Aviram performed using a banjo with electronic pickup, which she bowed. The resulting long tones were used as input into the 2600 and Echoplex for a complex texture of sounds with long tones generated from the banjo and overlays with loops and echoes. Ingalls was once again on clarinet, which he matched timbrally to the electro-acoustic sounds. Once again, the acoustics of the room worked with the longer and slower tones of improvisation and the electronic echo effects.


[Click image to enlarge]

It was a good night of music overall, and one I almost missed due to having just returned from an intense out-of-town trip. I am glad I made the effort to be there.

The 11th Annual Outsound Music Summit starts next week

We are exactly one week away from the start of the 11th Annual Outsound Music Summit. It opens next Sunday is the perennial Touch The Gear Night and continues throughout the week with a series of concerts. Some of the novel themes in this year’s series includes a poetry and music night, and “Thwack, Bome, Chime”, a concert dedicated exclusively to modern percussion. You can see the full schedule here, along with ticket information. All events are taking place at the Community Music Center (544 Capp Street) in San Francisco.

As a community partner, CatSynth will be provided live updates at all events via our Twitter @catsynth, and provide more in-depth after-the-fact coverage here on the blog. I will also be personally participating in Touch the Gear next Sunday, where I will be showing both iPad apps and analog modular synths that have been part of my solo work this year.

Pas Musique and Thomas/Levin duo, Luggage Store Gallery

Readers may recall that when I was in New York last November, I performed at TheaterLab in an evening organized by Robert L Pepper of PAS, and that he also joined me for an improvised electro-acoustic piece. I had the chance to return the favor when he and Amber Brien came to San Francisco as a duo Pas Musique and I hosted them at our regular Outsound Thursday-night series at the Luggage Store Gallery.

Pas Musique arrived with quite an array of electronic and acoustic instruments and sound-making devices including analog synthesizers, a looper, a garrahand (a beautiful resonant metal drum from from Argentina), and an inflatable dinosaur.

With these tools, they crafted an incredible performance of captivating rhythmic patterns overlaid with rich timbres. Even elements such as feedback and the dinosaur were seamlessly incorporated into the overall musical structure and themselves became rhythmic. Many of the electronically processed sounds have a very natural quality to them, which fit nicely with the garrahand sounds. You can get a sense of these elements in the following video from the performance:

Pas Musique at the Luggage Store Gallery, May 24, 2012 (Part 1) from CatSynth on Vimeo.

Another thing that is also quite apparent in this video is that it was incredibly windy in San Francisco that day, especially along Market Street. On one hand, the wind fit well with some of the more chaotic sounds in Pas Musique’s performance, and at the same time the relative order within their music provided a calming contrast. Musically, there were quite a few transitions, including more purely electronic sections with distortion, delays and vocoders, grounding mechanical sounds, and bells. Some points were quite meditative, others dramatic. Throughout, I was particularly taken with the musicality and sense of harmony and rhythm. This excerpt once again features the garrahand, along with looped electronics and a small flute.

Pas Musique at the Luggage Store Gallery, May 24, 2012 (Part 2) from CatSynth on Vimeo.

Towards the end of the set, the music became more frenetic with more intense vocal work by Pepper and a percussive performance on a metal ladder by Brien. After being out of time from one another, the rhythms converged into a forceful, eerie loop. This eventually gave way to more electronic robot-like sounds. As a finale, the air was let out of the dinosaur with the sound picked up and processed by microphones. This was set against a swing rhythm, ultimately ending in a loud thud.

Pas Musique were preceded by Oluyemi Thomas and Ike Levin as a free-improvisation duo. With saxophone and clarinet and handful of percussion instruments, their source material and texture was far more sparse. They began with Thomas performing long resonant gong tones and pattenrs on shakers against Levin on saxophone. Thomas then switched to bass clarinet and thus began an extended wind improvisation with high raspy saxophone tones and intricately wobbling clarinet sounds. At moments, it got quite loud (including a humorous synchronicity with honking instruments and honking horns outside on Market Street) but ultimately gave way to softer repeated notes and then breath sounds.

After a section in which Thomas returned to percussion while dancing in very slow deliberate almost ritualistic patterns, the two switched instruments with Levin on bass clarinet and Thomas on saxophone. There were loud tones, key clicks, and a jazz-like riff that gave way to scat singing. Each musician performed a solo on his respective wind instrument and then combined again in a duet moved from percussive to melodic and jazz like, at first forceful then softly rhythmical. It was ultimately a very warm and intimate performance.

Overall, it was a great show that I was happy to have curated. This is something I have been doing occasionally for the Luggage Store new-music series but I hope to do more frequently in the future.