Sometimes we feature cats with instruments that are more analog than analog.
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.
With a little over a week to go before the Outsound Music Summit, we look back at our benefit dinner and performance.
The benefit took place at the Numi Tea Garden in Oakland, a beautiful space that blends into the industrial architecture of its surroundings. You can see this photo which I posted on a recent Wordless Wednesday. An interesting bit of trivia for music-tech geeks that I learned is that the space now occupied by Numi used to be home of Zeta Music Systems, the makers of the Zeta electronic violin.
The dinner, by chef Miles Ake was itself a piece of performance and conceptual art. It was based on the ingredients of a classic Gazpacho recipe, listed in mirroring order at the beginning and end of the menu. The description and the presentation of the food itself unfolded like a multi-movement musical composition. From Ake’s statement:
The root of the word Gazpacho is derived from a Mozarab word caspa, meaning “residue” or “fragments,” which refers to the small pieces of bread and vegetables in a Gazpacho soup. throughout the meal the gazpacho as an entity wil go through a series of fractured movements. This fracturing is not a means to disconnect, but rather as a process of extraction, distillation and isolation of distinct parts. The structure of the menu is an anagrammatical game or a rewinding (moving backwards in time to replay a track) while simultaneously moving forward without redundancy in form/texture/taste using to compositional terms (verse, refrain, notes, scale, etc….) to build a lexicon of culinary elements.
The dinner opened with an interpretation of the soup itself, which set the tone and direction:
The panzanella and ricotta/pepper dishes were perhaps my favorites palette-wise and reflect the colors from the base ingredients:
The “bloody margaret” with gin and olive gelée served in an old-fashioned glass and the raw fluke were the most unique. The desert was an experience as well, with “three textures of olive oil”, including a very creamy foam-like texture that I have never had before.
The music for the evening featured a performance by Vorticella, a quartet of Krys Bobrowski, Erin Espeland, Brenda Hutchinson and Karen Stackpole. Their improvised performances feature a wide variety of instruments, ranging from standard cello and horn, to Karen Stackpole’s array of gongs and blocks, to unique custom instruments like Bobrowski’s gliss glass:
[Click image to enlarge.]
Vorticella derive their name from the single-cell creatures. The bell-shape features prominently in the instruments, such as the gliss glass, horn, and other wind instruments. The themes of a single-cell organism functioning as a compact unit, but then breaking off new copies at any given time, permeate the direction and texture of the group’s improvised performances.
I have heard Vorticella before at the Garden of Memory events and the Flower Moon Concert in 2009. This was however an exceptional performance. Although the instrumentation is diverse and music improvised, it had a very coherent texture and direction and was well crafted. Like the single-cell organism, they seemed to function as one, with music that could have come from a master synthesizer soloist or from countless hours of careful sound design in a studio, but it was all unfolding organically in front of us. The wind and metal elements set the overall timbral environment in which the details unfold. Think of wind blowing through giant metal pipes, and then tapping on the side of the pipe or bowing it – these could be seen as basic ingredients, in a way similar to Ake’s use of the gazpacho ingredients to produce the entire meal. I found myself alternating between the rich overall timbre of the ensemble and focusing on individual details, whether Bobrowski’s visual presentation on the gliss glass, Stackpole’s constant shifting among different pieces of percussion, or Espeland’s playing the cello with two bows simultaneously. There was a good mix of long drone-like sounds and punctuated percussive elements – appropriate space was left for the latter.
So with the benefit dinner behind us, we are on to the actual summit, which begins next Sunday July 17 with the annual “Touch the Gear” night and continues with concerts the following week. You can find out more info, including tickets and passes to the concerts here. Those on Facebook are also encouraged to visit Outsound Presents’ page which features more photographs of the dinner and music.
Two Sundays ago, I attended a performance at Artist Television Access featuring electro-acoustic audio-visual improvisations with John Butcher, Bill Hsu and Gino Robair. Bill Hsu provided the visual elements of the performance using the visualization environment Processing. (I have been interested in Processing for a while, and used it in the abstract graphics in my video piece featuring Luna.) Gino Robair had an array of electronic devices, including a Blippo Box and an Alesis effects unit, and acoustic percussion for a variety of sounds. John Butcher provided the low-tech counterpoint on saxophone.
I arrived late to an already pitch-black room as the first piece was concluding. (I was late because I was looking for a parking spot, which in the Mission is usually an ordeal. and I rarely drive there, but I had to on this night because of other obligations.) The next piece began in darkness, with small colored dots and a very sparse musical texture. The sound primarily consisted of electronic drones and long saxophone tones. As the the dots began to expand, so did the music. It became more active and featured more percussive sounds from Robair. As the graphics grew more complex, with swells and streaks, the music veered from discrete sounds to outright skronking with long runs of fast notes from both performers.
The next piece featured graphics that reminded me a bit of finite-element simulations with large numbers of particles forming in and out of patters. At first the particles seemed to form glyphs or characters of a written language, but then dissolved into smoke. This was set against sparse music, featuring bowed metal. (It was too dark to see, but I am pretty sure this was Gino Robair’s signature cracked cymbal.) The graphics shifted gradually over time, sometimes it seemed more like water, sometimes more like sand. Towards the end, the music (both saxophones and percussion) moved towards rather piercing high tones.
After a brief intermission, the performance resumed with the now familiar sound of the Blippo Box. It is interesting how despite having chaotic processes, this instrument has a very distinctive set of timbres and contours that are quickly recognizable. I did find out after the performance that the Blippo Box was being used in conjunction with an Alesis effects unit, which added more dimensions to the sound without changing its inherent character. Butcher attempted to match the sound on his saxophone, coming into unisons on the steady-state pitches, but then moving in chaotic runs of fast notes are growling timbres during the more turbulent output from synthesizer. The graphics during this piece focused on two closed elements, one yellow and one purple. They were mostly round shapes that curved in on themselves, but they occasionally coalesced into representational objects, such as a complex cross shape with sub-bars on the end (a bit like an Eastern Orthodox crucifix), and vague outlines of human figures.
The next piece was a sharp contrast musically, with drum samples and live percussion set against percussive saxophone effects, such as key clicks and tonguing. The graphics featured a red star with a roiling plasma surface that expanded over time.
The graphics in the final piece connected most strongly with my own visual aesthetics. It featured patterns of vertical bars overlaid periodically with large dots. The patterns started out simple, focusing on just a few elements on colors, but got more complex and richly colored over time. The music set against these visuals again featured the Blippo Box and its constantly changing but distinctive sound palette. But rather than attempting to match it, Butcher’s saxophone provided a counterpoint. He wove together active lines and melodies that on occasion were distinctively jazz-like, and then moving back and forth between long runs and series of loud inharmonic tones.
The Omega Sound Fix gets underway tonight at the Alfa Art Gallery in New Brunswick, New Jersey. I am planning to be present tonight as well as tomorrow and as with other larger music and events I will be probably be live tweeting @catsynth.
I have been busily preparing for the performance (along with everything else one does for a long-distance trip). The basic setup features the iPhone, iPad, MacBook, monome, DSI Evolver and Korg Kaoss Pad.
[Click to enlarge.]
One thing I have noticed is that although the main musical items have shrunk in size, the entire rig remains large, primarily because of the ancillary elements such as cables, stands, etc., so it ends up still being quite cumbersome and heavy, especially when loading it into airline-friendly suitcases. I ran into similar challenges with previous performances in New York as well as the one in Shanghai last year.
Musically, I will be doing three pieces. I will reprise the music-plus-video piece featuring Luna that I did at the Quickening Moon concert in February, but using the iPad with Magic Fiddle and the iMS-20 to replace the Octave CAT (which I will not take on the road). I will also perform a couple of the other current standard solo pieces, such as the prayer bowl with Evolver plus Smule Ocarina, and the live-sampling piece featuring the monome and a variety of Indian and Chinese folk instruments. I have two new Indian instruments to use tomorrow:
The first is a dotara. Although the name implies two strings, this instrument actually has five. I have not played it before, so we will see what happens. The second is a new gophichand. My other gopichands are fine, but it’s nice to have a few (if only as spares, as they are quite delicate). I will be freely mixing them with Chinese percussion instruments as well as my iPad-based model of a Chinese guzheng that I first used at the Luggage Store Gallery in September. I like the idea of mixing elements from different traditions together into something new.
For those interested in attending for following, here is the full info on the Omega Sound Fix festval:
Sonic Architecture Unveiled by Electronic Composers and Human-Robot Band at Underground Music Venue
Electronic Music Festival resonates in New Brunswick art gallery
Over twenty innovative international and local musicians will perform at the bleeding edge of sound on Nov. 20 & 21 at Omega Sound Fix. Headlining performers have performed with the likes of John Cage, David Tudor, Steve Reich, Lydia Lunch, Faust, and Throbbing Gristle and are exploring new territory this fall.
Richard Lainhart is an award-winning composer, author, and filmmaker renowned for his individual work and collaborations with John Cage, David Tudor, and Steve Reich. His compositions have been performed worldwide with his earliest sonic forays predating Brian Eno’s ventures into ambience.
Philippe Petit of Marseilles, France is an innovative composer, who considers himself a “musical travel agent,” and assembles “sound-images” with turn tables and digital wizardry. He has performed across Europe and the Americas with Lydia Lunch, Faust, and Throbbing Gristle.
Octant, a one-man and multi-robot band, will plumb the depths of cybernetic accompaniment on Sunday, Nov. 21. Mathew Steinke serves as the band’s Gepetto and sole human member. “I would go out of my way to see an Octant show…” writes CMJ magazine.
Tickets are $6 for one day, $10 for a two-day pass. Doors open at 6 p.m. on Saturday and 4 p.m. on Sunday.
About Omega Sound Fix:
Local musicians, Mike Durek and Mark Weinberg, spawned the idea of an innovative and eclectic music festival during a mini-golf match last summer. Durek and Weinberg expressed frustration with the lack of a new music scene in New Brunswick and sought to fill the void with innovative sounds and talented performers. Click here for more info.
UPDATED List of Performers:
Day 1: Saturday 11.20.10 @ 6:30pm
Pots and Powercells
Day 2: Sunday 11.21.10 @ 4:30 pm
Amar Chaudhary (Catsynth)
This the cat-shaped CD rack that Ann O’Rourke used at Conduct Your Own Orchestra Night.
I am curious if any of the collectors of cat objects out there have seen this, or something similar to it?
I am busy preparing for the first of three upcoming performances this week. That primarily involves hastily assembling a collection of gear and cables:
For this show, I will be using the Evolver, the Korg Kaos Pad, looping and effects software the MacBook, and several of my Chinese and Indian instruments, including the prayer bowl at the center of the photo. A challenge for readers: how many cats do you see in the photo above?
Meanwhile, Luna sits nearby. She seems to be accustomed enough to the odd sounds from my musical instruments to remain relaxed and even take a nap.
Appropriately enough, Weekend Cat Blogging #232 is being hosted by our audio-gear-savvy friends LB and breadchick at The Sour Dough.
The Carnival of the Cats will be up this Sunday at Artsy Catsy.
And of course the Friday Ark is at the modulator.
Last Thursday, I found myself back at my old “stomping ground”, the Center for New Music and Audio Technologies (CNMAT) to hear an evening of improvised music.
Dieb13 (aka Dieter Kovacic) opened with a solo set for multiple turntables. It started with a single turntable producing noise/static sounds, and gradually incorporated electrical hums and synthesizer sounds, along with complex repeated rhythms. The rhythmic patterns were sometimes metric, sometimes more stuttering. With three turntables going at once, Kovacic’s performance seemed more “synthesizer” and less “DJ.”
Dieb31 was then joined by Tom Djll (trumpet and electronics), Philip Greenlief (saxophone), Gino Robair (percussion and electronics) and Kenn Ueno (extended vocal techniques). The set began with “scraping sounds”, Robair blowing a small horn against a drum and Greenlief scraping a mouthpiece cover along his tenor sax. Indeed, the acoustic instruments as noise sources dominated the first section of this extended improvisation, before the Blippo Box, the other electronic instruments and Dieb31’s turntables entered. It was interesting to hear how the sounds from the turntables an Ueno’s vocal techniques matched the acoustic instruments, and it was a challenge at times to tell which sounds were acoustic and which sounds were electronic.
Another notable confluence was Ueno’s throat singing set against low-frequency sounds from the turntable and the Blippo Box. There were also contrasting sections with percussive short notes on all the instruments (trumpet, electronics, sax, voice, turntable, percussion) in rapid succession. There was a very soft section with saxophone multiphonics (we have commented on Greenlief’s expertise with multiphonics in the past), vocal whispers, low-level electrical sounds, and a resonant tube; and very loud moments, screeching, high-pitched. One very rhythmic section featured Gino running fan against cymbals and Tom Dill running a similar fan against his trumpet. Greenlief joined in running keys against his sax. The piece ended with loud notes that came to a sudden stop.
This was followed by a much shorter “encore” improvisation, whose memorable moments were the variety of sounds from the turntable, which included an excerpt from a bebop recording and a toilet flushing.
“Imagine a man playing an orchestra as though it were a percussion instrument, and you might get some idea of the Moe!Kestra!”. Indeed the performance was in many ways a percussion piece even though the ensemble was almost entirely string instruments: violins, violas, electric guitars, and upright basses. All led by Moe! Staiano.
A Moe!kestra! often includes many familiar musicians. Frequent collaborators Bill Wolter and Clyde Niesen played guitar and upright bass, respectively. Suki O’kane (percussion) and Moe! were both participants in the July Flip Quartet performance. Marielle Jakobsen was part of the Blessing Moon concert that we reviewed here at CatSynth.
The piece being performed was “End of an Error”, inspired by the date January 20, 2009, a date that many of us were highly anticipating, both for its beginning and for the great national embarrassment that it (at least in a formal sense) ended.
The music started out with series of percussive notes on the basses. Soon the violin and viola sections joined in, not on their regular instruments, but instead playing “switches”, i.e., cut sticks that they shook vigorously. An “out of phase” rhythm emerged between the basses and switches, may two notes from the former followed by a splattering of air sounds from the other.
Eventually the other instruments, the guitars, the percussionists and the actual violins/violas entered with more of the percussive notes, and the music became louder and denser. At some point, with all the instruments playing, the texture changed dramatically to something more akin to a “rock orchestra” or a film soundtrack. The pitched material was tonal with lots of familiar chords, but what I call “tense tonality” that one hears in films, and behind it the rhythm of a conventional drum kit from the percussionists. I can’t pin point exactly when the texture and style changed, but it was a sharp contrast.
There were several such changes throughout the performance. Things grew to a crescendo, then “crashed”, with everyone playing long extended tones, forming an atonal drone. After a subsequent swell, there was another “film-like” element with string glissandi. Other moments of note included the tossing of an empty water cooler by Moe! over the heads of the violists. No one was hurt, and it landed a perfect hit in between the other instrumental rhythms.
There was a really thick drone of all seven guitarists playing slides out of sync. The guitarists also closed the performance with a series of repeating flange/chorus tones that gradually came to a stop.
The Moe!kestra performance actually did not begin until 9:30 (despite the announcements suggesting 8PM as the start). We were treated a Sun Ra tribute, featuring videos set to music from The Arkestra. The video included clips of Sun Ra and animations with pseudo-Hebrew lettering and odd vaguely extraterrestial elements, presumably from some of his films. But there were also many other unrelated elements including numerous anime scenes – there was one anime in which all the characters seemed to be playing keytars while doing battle with mechs; martial-arts comedies, a James Bond film (probably Diamonds Are Forever); and a transgendered singer walking down the street and then being transported to another dimension with a Sumo wrestler and bizarre Asian puppet characters. Four of us started playing iPhone Scrabble instead. It has a multi-player mode where one can pass the phone around in a circle and each player takes turns with their own tile set. Highly recommended as a way to pass the time.
A brief review in photos of my performance last Friday at The Shelter.
The Shelter is actually in a converted bomb shelter, and to get there one descends a long narrow staircase and enters this cave-like hallway:
Inside the main club space, it is mostly dark, save for a few small lights and these video screens broadcasting live from the DJ booth:
The above photo shows my setup via the video camera. We can take a closer look at on the DJ platform itself.
As described in the previous post, I combined traditional Chinese musical instruments with electronics, blending old and new. In the above image you can see (left to right) a prayer bowl, a small bell, a gong, and temple blocks (to the right of the laptop). Some of my Chinese friends and colleagues were blown away by the idea that one can combine the different elements to make a single type of music.
The performance itself went quite well, and just about everything worked as planned. If there was one thing that was unfortunate, it was that 10:30 is quite “early” in terms of Shanghai nightlife, so there were not that many people in attendance yet. But you always play for the people who are there, and it was a new experience for all of us.
The club did fill up later on during the DJ sets that followed, and I stuck around to hear most of them – it seems this is one of the main places in the city to hear more underground or unusual music, be it live electronics or DJs. That was an adventure in and of itself, but a story for another time.
I did also make an audio recording and a video of the performance, which I have not had a chance to review yet. Look for at least short excerpts of both in the future.