Projects 107: Lone Wolf Recital Corps and Works from “Travel Ban” Countries, MoMA

Our coverage from our recent visit to the Museum of Modern Art in New York continues with Projects 107: Lone Wolf Recital Corps. The Lone Wolf Recital Corp is a multidisciplinary performance collective founded in 1986 by artist and musician Terry Adkins (1953-2014) and has featured many musicians and visual artists over the years. The performances were as much visual art as performance, with Adkins’ sculptures and other objects.  Indeed, the main artist attractions were the many musical-instrument sculptures.

Lone Wolf Recital Corps

The horns above look like they could be played with enough strength and energy. By contrast, Adkins’ musical sculpture Nenuphar, which consists of two horns fused together seems impossible to play.

Terry Adkins. Nunafar
[Terry Adkins, Nenuphar (1998). Brass and Copper.]

When one is deep in the details of music making – and using electronic gadgets in the process – it is possible to forget the aesthetic beauty of musical instruments as objects and sources of inspiration themselves. Adkins’ sculptures and the work of the ensemble remind us that. The performances, which employ collective improvisation also centered around a diverse set of figures such as John Coltrane, abolitionist John Brown, explorer Matthew Henson, and singer Bessie Smith. Adkins billed the performances and dedications as “an ongoing quest to reinsert the legacies of unheralded immortal figures to their rightful place within the panorama of history.” (it should be noted that here at CatSynth, John Coltrane, in particular, is anything but unheralded.)

Unfortunately, we were not in town to attend either the opening performance or the second performance on September 26, which brought members of the ensemble together in live improvisation around the sculptural elements of the exhibition.


[Opening performance of Projects 107: Lone Wolf Recital Corps at The Museum of Modern Art, August 19, 2017. Photo: Scott Shaw.]

It looks like it was a great event, and while we are sad to have missed the performances, we are glad to have found the exhibition. It was one of the happy surprises that one expects when exploring MoMA.


Since February, MoMA has hung artworks galleries by artists from countries affected by the administration’s various travel bans – something which is poignant this week as the latest incarnation of in the ban covering seven countries (six majority-Muslim countries plus North Korea) has been announced. Below is one such work, a beautiful exterior perspective of a proposal for The Peak: Hong Kong by Zaha Hadid, who passed away last year.

Zaha Hadid. The Peak, Hong Kong
[Zaha Hadid. The Peak, Hong Kong (1991). Exterior perspective, synthetic polymer on paper mounted on canvas.]

The pieces are scattered among the rotating display of works from the permanent collection in the middle floors, which are otherwise organized in a near-religious temporal and historical progression from early modernism at the turn of the 20th Century to the post-war period. Hadid’s painting stood in high contrast to the early modern works surrounding it. Others, such as The Prophet by Parviz Tanavoli blended more subtly with their surroundings. The following statement was included with each artwork:

This work is by an artist from a nation whose citizens would be denied entry into the United States according to recent presidential executive orders. This is one of several such artworks from the Museum’s collection installed throughout the fifth-floor galleries to affirm the ideals of welcome and freedom as vital to this Museum, as they are to the United States.

We at CatSynth could not agree more, and strongly support MoMA’s action through art.

Jean-Michel Jarre at the Greek Theatre, Berkeley

This past Friday, we at CatSynth had the chance to see electronic-music pioneer Jean-Michel Jarre perform live at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley, California. It was part of his ambitious “Electronic World Tour”, which includes his first North American tour in…well, a long time.

jean-Michel Jarre on stage

Jarre is perhaps best known for his innovative albums in the 1970s and 1980s, blending electronics and idiomatic music without veering too much into the dreaded New Age world; and for putting on live concerts that are truly spectacles. He did not disappoint in that regard, with a massive sound and light setup that included three sheets of LEDs, banks of lasers, and a three-piece ensemble that would make any synth nerd very envious. The lights were mesmerizing and captivating at times.

LED light patterns

Jean-Michel Jarre in lights

Robots

When the lasers were operative, it was sometimes most interesting to turn away from the stage and look into the crowd; and towards the back of the theatre and the trees behind it, where undulating patters of warm-colored lights danced among the leaves that were barely visible in the night sky.

Lasers across the Greek Theatre

Jarre’s music has long included rhythmic elements (often shunned by contemporaries in the academic electronic-music world), which made him a major influence for techno, electronica, and EDM genres. But his current performance fully embraces the contemporary EDM aesthetic, with intense pulsing beats, as well as a performance style with stomping and pointing as one sees with younger electronic performers and many DJs. Perhaps even a little macho. However, not only does he do it better, it is on a much grander scale. Even assuming much of the sound and visuals are sequenced, the complexity to pull this off cannot be underestimated. And Jarre’s performance was quite physical, often jumping and sometimes coming out in front to perform on keytar.

Jarre on keytar, musicians on vocoder

It was nonetheless an ensemble performance, with his fellow musicians providing live electronic drums as well as vocoder-based harmonies.

The concert, which lasted about 90 minutes, included some of his classic works such as selections from Oxygene, but with the newer EDM sound as described above. He also presented newer pieces, including a collaboration with Edward Snowden that mixed Jarre’s music with clips of Snowden’s statements. The piece was very well received by the Berkeley audience.

One of my favorite moments and one of the most technically challenging – even Jarre himself joked that it may not work – was when he stepped forward to play a giant light harp consisting of towering green lasers.

Jean-Michel Jarre Light Harp

It went off flawlessly – or at least it looked and sounded that way from the audience perspective.

I am glad I was able to be there for this event, as it doesn’t happen often. Having seen this performance, it is leading to go back and review some of his classic recordings as well; and draw inspiration for my next electronic-music adventures.

Music by Lindsay Cooper, Mills College

Earlier this month, the Mills College music department dedicated an entire concert to the music of Lindsay Cooper. It was an extraordinary event, not only for bringing her work together in one setting, but for the cast of talented musicians who made up the ensemble.

Ensemble performing the music of Lindsay Cooper
[Ensemble performing the music of Lindsay Cooper]

Lindsay Cooper is perhaps best known for work with the experimental rock group Henry Cow, but her musical career spans a variety of other styles and disciplines before and after. And while her instrumental first love remained the bassoon, she also played many other wind instruments, and had a very distinctive haunting voice that could be heard on many of Henry Cow’s recordings. Her compositions, including her time with the band and her later projects including News from Babel up to her retirement while suffering from MS, are not often heard in concert calls. The concert on this evening was a step towards rectifying that.

Musically the concert was a high-speed tour through Cooper’s music. Many of the pieces were short an energetic. Some carried the energy and rhythm of experimental rock, with driving lines on keyboard, guitar and drums; others were quite abstract with longer sounds. There was an anxiety and restlessness that permeated the music, with a need to move forward, sometimes almost tumbling. It was also full of intricate details and contrapuntal lines, which were brought out especially in the horn parts. There were moments which had the grand style and fast-moving details of a classic film score, particularly reminiscent of a closing “The End” from a film for which the ending may not have felt quite so final.

Evelyn Davis, Kate McLoughlin, Fred Frith
[Evelyn Davis, Kate McLoughlin, Fred Frith]

The main ensemble featured two of Cooper’s longtime collaborators, Fred Frith (guitar, keyboard) and Zeena Parkins (harp). Rounding out the ensemble was a group of familiar faces in Steve Admans, Rachel Austin, Beth Custer, Evelyn Davis, Jordan Glenn, Jason Hoopes, Kasy Knudsen, Kate McLoughlin, Emily Packard, and Andy Strain; with Miles Boisen on sound. The performances felt easy and flawless (no doubt the result of countless rehearsals), and with a relatively light texture despite the ensemble’s size. The concert’s sole departure was a performance by the Rova Sax Quartet of Face in the Crowd, a piece they had commissioned from Cooper in 1996. Judging from her biography and the date, it may have been one of her last compositions.

Rova Saxophone Quartet
[Rova Saxophone Quartet]

In addition to the performers on stage, the audience too was a cast of familiar faces and influential musicians from the Bay Area music scene. It seems that Lindsay Cooper had quite an influence on artists her; and thus this was a concert not to be missed. I am glad that I was able to be there.

Kearny Street Workshop Auto(SOMA)tic Bus Tour

A few weeks ago, our friends at Kearny Street Workshop concluded their Auto(SOMA)tic program with a performance bus tour around the South of Market (SOMA) neighborhood of San Francisco. Regular reads of CatSynth will know that SOMA is our own neighborhood in this city – it is a place I have grown quite fond of, and I have watched the rapid changes here with a mixture of openness and apprehension. The tour featured performances at several locations around the neighborhood, all of which were geographically and visually familiar, but contained surprising and diverse cultural histories.

In terms of format and style, the event borrowed heavy from KSW’s SF Thomassons Performance Tour back in 2010 (which I also attended). This included having Philip Huang as our host, joined this time by Allan S. Manalo.

Philip Huang
[© Kearny Street Workshop/Mido Lee Productions]

Our first stop was at the intersection of Russ St and Minna St. This otherwise modest intersection in the middle of a larger block was a center of Filipino-American life in the neighborhood, and the street is closed off to form a community park. Here we saw a performance by MeND Dance Theater combining dance with song and spoken word.

20140531-IMG_101120140531-IMG_1015

There were moments of minimalist form, and others that channeled the thoughts and ambitions of young women who could have easily lived on this block. The performance certainly captured the attention of those of us on the tour.

10390174_10152580865171802_3930391998303851160_n
[© Kearny Street Workshop/Mido Lee Productions]

We then moved on to St. Joseph’s Church on Howard Street, a site that was also on the Thomassons tour in 2010 because it is a maintained but unused building that closed after the 1989 earthquake. This time it was setting for a performance featuring Cynthia Lin and Rachel Lastimosa.

10446590_10152580865621802_2040159005810802726_n
[© Kearny Street Workshop/Mido Lee Productions]

The musical performance featured arrangements of songs vaguely related to activities of the former church such as prayer. But the highlight of the set was a lively gospel tune with the refrain “Come on in” that started straight but quickly because a satirical play on the rising costs of living and working in the neighborhood, and the problem of displacement in the midst of the tech boom. ”If you can pay the rent, then come on in!”

10373983_10152580866586802_4460487805023091314_n
[© Kearny Street Workshop/Mido Lee Productions]

Next we stopped at a large vacant lot at the corner of Harrison St and 8th St, which was once the location of Gordon’s Sugar Works, a large sugar processing plant founded by George Gordon. A nearby alley (coincidentally adjacent to the Stud club on Harrison) bears his name. However, we were here to see a performance by Hālau o Keikiali’i, a performance and cultural group dedicated to preserving and nurturing traditional Hawai’ian culture, particularly hula kahiko (ancient dance).

10295679_10152580868201802_2576607388092688316_n
[© Kearny Street Workshop/Mido Lee Productions]

The performance was energetic but also had a very serious quality to it, with its invocations of gods and respect for the land. Indeed, part of the connection to the tour was a tribute to the land that has been industrialized and redeveloped many times. At the corner itself was a ‘Ōhi’a Lehua tree – I had seen that tree plenty of times and never realized that. The performance ended with an offering at the tree and an invitation to us to do the same on our own “land”.

We then headed east across the breath of SOMA, even passing quite close to CatSynth HQ, before coming to the Embarcadero and a bayside park at the site of the former Pier 36. Here, we were met by Anirvan Chatterjee and Barnali Ghosh of the Berkeley South Asian Radical History Walking Tour.

10251976_10152580870926802_1804015891510188893_n
[© Kearny Street Workshop/Mido Lee Productions]

The introduced us to the history of South Asian immigrants to San Francisco in the early 20th century, focusing in particular on one young man who came to study at UC Berkeley. He encountered racism and xenophobia, but also a community and the chance to encounter progressive ideas that he and others put to use organizing support for eventual Indian independence from the British Empire. Look for a report from the Berkeley South Asian Radical History Walking Tour here in the future once I finally have a chance to attend.

Our final stop was, at least in my own opinion, not in SOMA at all, but south across the Mission Creek in the partially developed Mission Bay neighborhood. Here, in a construction site on the edge of the new UCSF Mission Bay campus and housing developments, we were treated to a series of skits by Granny Cart Gangstas.

10347542_10152580873481802_2031038550231440320_n
[© Kearny Street Workshop/Mido Lee Productions]

This all-women-of-color troupe “pokes fun at pervasive media representations of women, pop culture, and consumerism in our daily lives.” One of the more amusing ones centered on a young woman convinced she was Ariel from the Little Mermaid.

20140531-IMG_1034
Overall, it was a fun afternoon, and provided some interesting ideas and information as I continue and wander the neighborhood where I live. Thanks to Kearney Street Workshop and co-presentedShaping San Francisco, and to our hosts Philip Huang and Alan S Manalo for a successful event.

Surplus 1980 and Fred Frith Trio, Brick and Mortar

A couple of weeks ago, Surplus 1980 joined the Fred Frith Trio at the Brick and Mortar in San Francisco from a night of energetic avant-rock and jazz. It was a show we have all been looking forward to for quite a while.

Surplus 1980 went on first, with a set that combined songs from our recent album Arterial Ends Here with older selections. In addition to Moe! Staiano and myself, the band includes Bill Wolter and Melne Murphy on guitar, Thomas Scandura on drums, and Steve Lew on bass.

Surplus 1980
[Photo by Michael Zelner.]

For this set, we expanded our Fred Frith cover “Cap the Knife” into a full medley featuring excerpts for some of his other songs. In a brief exchange back stage, it sounded like he appreciated the gesture, and even suggested that his group perform a “Moe! Staiano medley”, which would have been fun. But overall, it was our strongest performance as a band to date, with rhythms and phrasing much tighter as well as more sophisticated use of all parts.

After Surplus 1980 was done, Fred Frith took the stage with his trio that included Jordan Glenn on drums and Jason Hoopes on bass.

Fred Frith Trio
[Photo by Michael Zelner.]

It was quite a contrast, going from post-punk to avant-jazz. The trio played through longer pieces that moved between fast intricate sections and more familiar idioms with ease. The polyphonic sections were certainly impressive, but I do find when technically strong musicians play in unison or at least synchronous rhythms, it leaves a more memorable impression. Frith deftly filled up the otherwise sparse texture of the music, but not so much that one would get lost or overwhelmed.

Overall, it was a successful show, with a good turnout. Surplus 1980 is now looking forward to our next show in December, but I hope we get to play with the Fred Frith trio again.

CatSynth in New York

CatSynth NYC

It’s time once again for the annual pilgrimage to New York. In addition to family and friends, there will be much art-seeing and urban exploration, and two electronic-music performances. If you are in New York over the next two weeks, I invite you to come check them out.

Tuesday, November 26, 7:30
Ambient-Chaos presents Schyuler Tsuda, Amar Chaudhary (San Francisco), John Dunlop, RMA Trio

121 Ludlow St, Second Floor, New York

Robert L. Pepper (PAS) presents a night of Ambient-Chaos featuring Schyuler Tsuda, Amar Chaudhary (San Francisco), John Dunlop, RMA Trio. THE EVENT STARTS EARLY!. So please be there by 7:30 to settle in and enjoy the frequencies.

Saturday, November 30
Rachel Mason, The Use, and Amar Chaudhary at Harvestworks
Harvestworks, Broadway&Houston, New York

5.1 Surround surround performance at Harvestworks with Rachel Mason and The Use (Michael Durek), additional A/V element from Jay Van Dyke; and a set from Amar Chaudhary a.k.a. CatSynth.

I did want to include some analog modular elements in these performances, so I put together a miniature version of the rig featuring a cross section of modules, with an emphasis on live processing (Make Noise Echophon) and chaotic oscillation.

20131118-IMG_9347

The best way to keep up with CatSynth in New York is via Twitter @catsynth. But you can also follow us on Instagram. And of course we will continue with periodic blog posts.

A Tale of Two Duos

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

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

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

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

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

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

CCRMA Transitions

We close out the year with one final gig report: my performance at the CCRMA Transitions concert at Stanford University’s computer-music center. The two-night event took place in the courtyard of CCRMA’s building, with a large audience beneath the stars and between an immersive 24-channel speaker array.

I brought my piece Realignments that I had originally composed in 2011 for a 12-channel radial speaker and eight-channel hall system at CNMAT, part of my Regents Lecturer Concert there. This version, outdoors in front a large audience and clad in a provocative costume, was quite an experience, and you can see the full performance in this video:

The Transitions version of the piece was remixed to use the eight main channels of the speaker array at CCMRA. Once again, the iPad was used to move around clouds of additive-synthesis partials and trigger point sources, which were directed at different speakers of the array. The overall effect of the harmonies, sounds and immersive sound system was otherworldly. I chose this particular costume to reflect that, although I had also used it a couple of weeks earlier in my duo “Pitta of the Mind” with poet Maw Shein Win at this year’s Transbay Skronkathon. I am planning more performances with this character (but not the same costume) in the coming year.

Surplus 1980, Satya Sena and Electric Chair Repair Company, Bottom of the Hill

Today we look back at the December 5 show featuring Surplus 1980 with Satya Sena and Electric Chair Repair Company at Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco. It was a “post punk” affair, a night of loud, intense, and creative rock music. It was also my first time playing on stage with Surplus 1980.


[Photo by Polly Moller.]

I am somewhere there in the “back line” along with Thomas Scandura on drums and Steve Lew on bass. With guitarists Melne Murphy, Moe! Staiano and Bill Wolter in front. We were loud and aggressive with a lot of percussive pounding on otherwise tonal instruments, but there was also just the right amount of complexity with metric changes and chromatic riffs. Things were also deliberately out of tune, which when combined with ring modulation and other effects made it challenging to follow in a traditional melodic sort of way. But that would not have been the point. And the audience got that, enjoying moving along with our noisy percussive lines. It was also fun to play the vintage toy piano for our improvised piece and our finale Ed Saad (though I wish the contact mic had not fallen off halfway through it).

The evening opened with a performance by Electric Chair Repair Company, a self-described “post-punk noise trio.”

They lived up to their description with their instrumental performance, a bit more of the traditional sound that one would expect with loud driving chords and drums and switching between fast and slow tempos. During the set. they also joined forces with guests from “The Girlfriend Experience”, who were quite entertaining.

Electric Chair Repair Company was followed by Satya Sena, a duo of Jason Hoopes on bass and Peijman Kouretchian on drums. They also had a huge column of amplifiers.

Satya Sena was impressive to say the least. Their music was full of complex and intricate rhythms and they had a full dense sound that one wouldn’t necessarily expect from just bass and drums. I found myself watching Kouretchian’s frenetic drum playing through much of the set. It was almost impossible to capture a moment where he wasn’t in motion like this:

Hoopes of course was technically strong as well, and was interesting to see him performing in a different context like this.

Overall it was a fun night of good music. Our audience (on a Wednesday night in San Francisco) was not particularly large but was certainly appreciative, and I look forward to more performances with Surplus 1980 next year.

Reconnaissance Fly in Berkeley, June 20

Tomorrow night, Reconnaissance Fly will take a break from the studio for a live performance in Berkeley.  We will be sharing the bill with our friends Vegan Butcher.

The Berkeley Arts Festival Wednesday/Sunday night series continues with the charmingly incoherent art-pop of Reconnaissance Fly and the gritty psychedelic honey-drips of Vegan Butcher.

The Berkeley Arts Festival space is located at 2133 University Avenue, Berkeley, CA USA.

BAND BIOS:

Reconnaissance Fly is a band of composers who have reclaimed the best spam poetry (“spoetry”) for humanity, deploying jazz, progressive rock, funk, samba, free improvisation, a small Chinese gong, and an arsenal of wind instruments against the dastardly internet robots.

The five members of Reconnaissance Fly are Chris Broderick playing clarinet, bass clarinet and C-melody saxophone; Amar Chaudhary with keyboard and electronics, Polly Moller with flute, bass flute and voice; Larry the O on the drums, and Tim Walters on bass guitar and electronics. When not playing live around the Bay Area they are recording their debut album Flower Futures, awakening their inner Peter Frampton, and denouncing pineapple pizza.

http://reconnaissancefly.bandcamp.com/

Vegan Butcher plays music of John Shiurba. Only music written in January is allowed. The nine note January scale is used exclusively. The lyrics were written accidentally before John was completely awake. In addition to John on guitar, Suki O’Kane plays drums, Wil Hendricks plays bass, and Val Esway occasionally sings.

Suggested ticket donation is $10 at the door.

 

I have to admit, I like our music being described as “charmingly incoherent art-pop.”  I hope we continue to use that.