More Upcoming Shows: Instagon at the Luggage Store Gallery, and Mini-Woodstockhausen at Camp Happy

No sooner had concluded my recent performance with Reconnaissance Fly at Luna’s Cafe in Sacramento than I find myself with two more shows before next Monday.

Tomorrow, I will be performing with Instagon at the Luggage Store Gallery in San Francisco. Instagon is an interesting group whose membership changes for every performance. In addition to founder and core member Lob Instagon, I will be joined by Mark Wilson (Conure), Lena Strayhorn, Martin from Vernian Process, and Alan Herrick (Nux Vomica). I think this description from the group’s bio sums things up well:

INSTAGON is a term coined to describe the SPONTANEOUS FACTOR, the essence of Chaos Theory… everything that happens in this universe changes instantaneously upon its creation… nothing stays the same… everything changes, and is gone in an instant… hence INSTAGON.

And then on Sunday afternoon (1PM-4PM), it’s off to Boulder Creek in the Santa Cruz mountains for a miniature revival of the Woodstockhausen. Woodstockhausen was the “tiny festival of esoteric music” that took place every year in the Santa Cruz mountains and then at the University of California Santa Cruz until its last year in 2003. We did plan a revival in 2007, which ended up getting rained out. This time we are having a more modest performance as part of the annual Camp Happy Boulder Creek, which will be going all weekend before and after the couple of hours where we take over with our “weird music.”

Reconnaissance Fly At Luna’s Cafe, Sacramento. Monday, August 9

Our next Reconnaissance Fly show will this Monday at Luna’s Cafe in Sacramento, CA.

We will be sharing the bill with the Garage Jazz Architects. The show is part of the weekly Nebraska Monday’s jazz series hosted by Ross Hammond. Our spong cycle Flower Futures should be an interesting contrast.

Sacramento may be a bit of a distance for a Monday night show, but there is no way I could turn up playing at a place called “Luna’s Cafe”!

Outsound Music Summit: MultiVox

Today we at CatSynth conclude our series from the recent Outsound Music Summit with my own report from the MultiVox program that featured Reconnaissance Fly, the Cornelius Cardew Choir, and Amy X Neuburg. We did feature a guest review by Joe McMahon last week, which covers the same show from an outside perspective. My own perspective is anything but outside, given that I was in two of the three groups performing at night.

This was a professional show, with formal load-ins, sound checks, and staging. Reconnaissance Fly features a full rhythm section, so we had a lot of equipment to set up:

[click image to enlarge]

On the left is Tim Walters’ bass and Macbook running SuperCollider. In the middle is Moe! Staiano’s drum set, and on the right is my own keyboard+electronics setup featuring the Nord Stage, the trusty Korg Kaoss Pad, and the little stuffed cat for good luck. Here is another perspective with more detail:

[click image to enlarge]

The Evolver was actually for the Cardew Choir, but I set up everything at once. One can also see Moe!’s toys and other support percussion instruments.

Onto the show itself. Here is the full band on stage, with myself, Polly Moller (flute/vocals), Tim Walters (bass), Moe! Staiano as our special guest “concussionist”.

[Photo by Michael Zelner.  Click image to enlarge.]

We performed a full nine-piece set from Flower Futures, our “spong cycle” featuring music set to spam poetry. The set now has an eclectic mix of styles, from experimental avant-garde to prog rock, along with latin and jazz influences. We as always with Small Chinese Gong and ended with An Empty Rectangle – we always like playing that last one, but it’s even better with Moe!’s drums! I particularly enjoyed playing the medley of Electric Rock Like a Cat and Sanse is Credenza – the end of the first piece, with free-improvisation on flute set against B-diminished chords, elides into an early 1970s jazz fusion jam on the same chord (think “Chameleon” from Herbie Hancock’s Head Hunters album). This is a relatively high-energy and somewhat challenging piece, and while it was fun to play, it also felt good to then return to the relative calmness of Oh Goldfinch Cage, which featured samples of “human calls” for training birds to speak, with phrases like “Hello, how are you?” and “pretty bird”, processed with ring modulation and turntable effects.

[Photo by Bill Wolter.  Click image to enlarge.]

Overall, it was a great performance with a lot of energy. It’s easy to lose sight of that in the midst of playing, where one focuses on mistakes and challenges – personally, I forgot to check that patches for the Nord were all queued up at the start of the performance, and the heat from the lighting and large crowd added unexpected challenges. But it was received well by the audience (a full house), and it seemed like they were asking us for an encore!

The Cornelius Cardew Choir was a stark contrast to Reconnaissance Fly in terms of form and energy. Our first piece, Joe Zitt’s “That Alphabet Thing” was a cappella with a freeform structure. Basically, it unfolds by each singer intoning the sounds of the letters of the alphabet, starting with A and gradually working his or her way to Z. Everyone moves at a separate pace but mindful of others not to get too far ahead or behind, and there were a lot of fun moments of interplay among different choir members, such as back-and-forth with “Hi!” for H-I or “why?” for Y.

[Photo by Michael Zelner.  Click image to enlarge.]

We wear white lab coats.

This was followed by “El Morro” by choir director and co-founder Tom Bickley. The piece was inspired by a trip to the El Morro monument in New Mexico and featured the text from inscriptions on a rock spanning carved messages from two centuries of Spanish, Mexican and American passers by, soldiers as well as other travelers. Each of us had a set of inscriptions to recite on a single pitch per inscription, set against an electronic background of rocks, birds of prey and highly processed vocal incantations. This was a rather complex piece conceptually, though not difficult to perform. Because we were so involved in the performance and the conceptual nature, it is hard to know how it was received in the audience.

The set concluded with a performance of Polly Moller’s Genesis. We had seen a previous performance of Genesis at the Quickening Moon Concert. The previous performance was entirely instrumental. This time, the parts of the spatial and higher dimensions were voice. I performed part of “universal time”, using the sequencer on the Evolver as the time-keeper and performed various modulations of the tempo and timbre. Polly played the role of the “new universe” with a flute solo featuring multiphonics and other techniques. Tom Bickley conducted the piece by walking around the stage and carrying chimes.

[Photo by Michael Zelner.  Click image to enlarge.]

This was a very meditative performance, with the chimes, the flute multiphonics, the ever changing electronic rhythm and timbre, and the vocalists singing their respective dimension numbers in different languages.

The final set of the evening featured Amy X Neuburg. As always, her “avant cabaret” set was very polished and spoke well to both her technical expertise with her instruments and her versatility as a performer. She employs several styles of singing, often in a single piece, moving from classical to cabaret/jazz to experimental vocalizations. Her synchronization with looping electronics is very tight, seemlessly adding and subtracting samples and recordings within the rhythms and phrasings of the song.

[click image to enlarge]

There were pieces familiar from past performances, such as “Life Stepped In” where she deftly mixes looping technology and theatrical vocals. She also did a few improvisational pieces, the first of which featured the Blippo Box. This is an instrument with chaotic oscillators that never quite sounds the same twice, but she always manages to control it quite well – in this performance she made it sound like a voice, to which she responded with her own voice. She also performed an improvisation with a Skatch Box which she made at the “build your own Skatch Box” presentation earlier in the week (and which I unfortunately missed). It’s hard to make a skatch box sound like a voice, but she could make her voice sound like the growls and scrapes that it produced.

[Photo by Michael Zelner.  Click image to enlarge.]

She ended her set with a tribute to Kim Flint, who was very active in the looping and electronic-music communities, and the founder of Loopers Delight, and who passed away after a tragic accident in Berkeley in June. He was someone I knew as well from both music and social events. Amy’s tribute was a performance of the first piece she ever created using the Echoplex, which he co-invented.

Mission Arts and Performance Project, June 2010

A couple of weeks ago, I attended the Mission Arts and Performance Project (MAPP), a bi-monthy neighborhood event in the Mission District of San Francisco that transforms homes, garages, cafes and other local businesses into makeshift galleries and performance spaces. I have attended several MAPP events in the past, and this was the largest I had seen in a long time – and while it is great to see the event thriving, it meant that in my limited time I was only able to see a few things.

This time there was a good balance of visual art in addition to performances. I did stop at Wonderland Gallery on 24th street. Several artists were featured, with several pieces that had an urban and/or graphic feel. Gianluca Franzese’s monochrome acrylics of a building in Chinatown the Mission police station caught my attention (in the photo below), as did some abstract geometric drawings by Paul Hayes (I did not get a decent photo, but do check out his flickr site).

[Gianluca Franzese. (Click image to enlarge)]

It was an rather warm evening (as I mentioned in my last article, we have had a few exceptionally warm weekends), perfect for walking around the neighborhood to take things in. At a garage along Folsom Street dubbed “Blue House”, I encountered the jazz trio Calliope. Visually and sonically, they appeared to step out of the 1940s into an blue illuminated garage in 2010:

Calliope

Calliope was followed by Susan Joy Rippberger performing her performance piece Slip Dance. Rippberger has done several visual works and installations focusing on slips as a very symbolic garment from another era. In this piece, she puts on slips from a large pile one at a time, and at the end reverse the process by removing them one by one.

[Susan Joy Rippberger. Slip Dance.]

While watching, I was thinking of the jazz performance right beforehand and thinking how it would be interesting to have vintage music in the background, perhaps from a small radio, as part of the piece.

I briefly stopped at nearby “La Case de los Sentidos” which featured a series of performances along with visual art pieces under the title “Immigration or Displacement? A World without Borders.” I also stopped a couple of times the Red Poppy Art House and was happy to see them participating more fully in this MAPP after their absence at previous events.

Quickening Moon Concert

Sometimes things linger undone for a quite a while. And that is the case with reviewing the Quickening Moon Concert, which I am finally getting around to doing as the next Full Moon concert is about to happen. Basically, the process goes like this. I wait a few weeks to look at the video of my own performance with a fresh perspective. I review the videos. Then post them online. Then a few more weeks pass as life intervenes. So here were are, finally getting to it many “moons” later. Memories of course fade over time, but even going by my own recollections, there is much to recall fondly. Bottom line is that it was a really good performance, in fact I would consider it one of my best solo electronic sets to date. This was in no small part to the advance preparation, but also to the audience, which filled to the Luggage Store Gallery to standing-room only capacity!

This was also one of the larger setups, featuring the Octave CAT vintage analog synthesizer, E-MU Proteus 2000, DSI Evolver, Korg Kaoss Pad, a Mac laptop running Open Sound World and Max/MSP, and the Monome controller, along with an array of my folk instruments from China and India. Even the iPhone made an appearance as an instrument.


[Click images to enlarge.]

Of course, the highlight of the set was the premier of 月伸1, featuring improvised electronic music set against a video of Luna. Musically, I focused on the Octave CAT (seemed appropriate) with the other electronic instruments in a supporting role. You can see a full video of the performance of this piece below:

The music was improvised live, with some prepared guidelines. In this way, it was reminiscent of the live music performances from old silent films. I kept the music relatively sparse and maintained the focus on the visual elements, which moved back and forth between clips of Luna and abstract visual elements (you can read more about the video production here). The audience clearly responded to the video of Luna and the music, and their laughter at very points reminded just how funny a piece this was. It was easy to lose sight of that in the hours of very detailed and very technical preparation, and one of the delights of playing in front of a live audience. I also heard from people that could tell they were able to sense the affection for Luna that came through in the video, though the long shots and the breaks in the otherwise silent video where her voice came through.

The balance of the set leading up to 月伸1 featured various combinations of electronic and acoustic instruments. The monome was my main controller in several of the other pieces, including the opener that focused and live sample loops and patterns from the folk instruments.

I played the instruments live, and then replayed the samples in various patterns on the monome to create complex timbral and rhythmic patterns. I also used the monome in a later piece to control some very simple but musically interesting sound synthesis, as can be seen in this video.

The lights on the monome are visually compelling, but also provide a link for the audience between the actions (which are really just button pressing) and the music.

Several of the pieces including strong rhythmic elements, which helped propel the set forward – I even saw at least one person “grooving out” to one piece.

I replayed several of the pieces (but not the video) in another performance a few days later at the Meridian Gallery. I certainly hope I will have an opportunity to the video again as well.


My performance was followed by the premier of Polly Moller’s Genesis. Genesis is “a musical experiment in which the M-theory of the 11-dimensional universe combines with the inward and outward spiral of the Western magical tradition.” The 11 member ensemble represent the 11 dimensions (which include Universal Time, the three spatial dimensions, and seven others) who combine to bring the “New Universe” into being, as portrayed by Matt Davignon on drum machines.


[Photo by Tom Djll.]

Polly Moller conducted the piece, not from the traditional podium in front of the ensemble, but rather by walking in an inward and outward spiral among the performers. As she walks by, wind chimes in hand, different performers enter or exit. As the New Universe comes into being, Matt Davignon’s electronic performance emerges, culminating in an extended solo as the 11 performers representing the “parent dimensions” fade out.

Quite fortuitously, someone turned my video camera to face the ensemble, so I was able to capture some video of the performance. In the clips below, one can see the conducting by walking in a spiral, as well as parts of the New Universe solo.

Report from the In The Flow Festival

As I prepare for my next performance with Reconnaissance Fly tonight (details here), it seems like a good time to look back at last week’s In The Flow Festival in Sacramento.

My roadie friend and I arrived in Sacramento around 12:30 to the rather calm and rather pleasant jazz-guitar sounds of the Nahum Zdybel Trio. As we wandered off for a quick bite to eat, I was thinking how much of a contrast our own set would be. When I returned to set up, the ensemble on the other stage lead by Henry Robinette was harder and more driving – with much stronger drum, bass and rhythm guitar – but still straight ahead jazz.

[Reconnaissance Fly: (Tim Walters, Polly Moller, Amar Chaudhary).  Photo by Jen Hung.  Click to enlarge.]

So then it was time for us to perform. Our set begins with my graphical improvisation piece Small Chinese Gong, a complete 180 degree turn from the previous sets, though it does feature a short section of tongue-in-cheek early 1970s lounge jazz amongst the free improvisation and noise. We also did both of our rock-inspired pieces One Should Never and An Empty Rectangle (written by Tim Walters); a more refined version of The Animal Trade in Canada with both a bluesy “Ca-na-da” rock-out and an Afro-beat jam; and an abridged performance of our epic Ode to Steengo. All the pieces feature spoetry, i.e., spam messages that rise to the aesthetic level of poetry.

Our set was followed by Fig, the duo of Nels Cline and Yuka Honda. Their set started relatively calmly and quietly, but by the time I finished packing and had a chance to wander over to the other stage, things began to get a bit louder.

[Fig (Nels Cline and Yuka Honda). Click images to enlarge.]

Nels Cline alternately set driving heavily processed guitar rhythms and long virtuosic lines against Honda’s beats, which featured highly synthetic percussion sounds. Often, she was playing a Tenori-on, as featured in the second photo. Overall, the set moved back and forth between beat-based sections and “skronking” (i.e., arhythmic and often noisy performance with fast runs of ntoes), ending with an extended guitar-and-drum-machine jam with a more techno feel.

The next set (back in previous room) was Ambi, a duo of Stuart Liebig and Andrew Pask. As the name suggested, the music had an “ambient” quality to it in that the sounds created an environment for the listeners more than individual lines and riffs to focus on. The set opened with lots of one-off percussion samples with pauses of varying length, some notes being very isolated and others coming in small clusters. On top of the percussion hits were layered long “space-like” sounds, liquidy bass notes and saxophone. Gradually, beats emerged from the ambient mix, but the patterns were regularly broken by other off-tempo sounds. I did notice they were using a Monome, a complement to Honda’s Tenori-on from the previous set. After a while, the beats become stronger and more stable, but were again interrupted by the sound of a thunderstorm that gave way to analog-sounded filtered arpeggios. Towards the end, the set, which unfolded as one long piece, evolved into a jam between bass (Leibig) and saxophone (Pask).  It concluded with a driving funky bass riff, which stopped suddenly in mid-motion, an ending I found quite effective.

After this set, we took a break from the festival to explore a bit of Sacramento, including the immediate neighborhood and some of the downtown. This excursion inspired last weekend’s Fun With Highways: Sacramento Edition article.

We arrived back at Beatnik Studios in time to L Stinkbug, featuring GE Stinson, Nels Cline (again), Scott Amendola and Steuart Liebig (again). There was certainly a lot of “double-dipping” in the lineup of the festival, but that seems appropriate for an event focused on improvisation, and the performances among the different combinations of musicians can be quite different. L Stinkbug was, if nothing else, loud. Certainly, these are all very technically adept musicians, and the combination of driving beats and skronking should be relatively loud, but perhaps a little less so in this particular space. We moved back and forth between the main stage and the adjacent room to avoid the full affects of the volume.

If there was one overall regret from my abbreviated experience at the festival, it is that it was an abbreviated experience. I missed a few sets that I would have liked to see, including Vinny Golia, whom I had heard at last year’s Outsound Music Summit, and the Thin Air Orchestra, featuring many familiar wind players.

Liveblogging of In the Flow Festival for WFMU

Our performance yesterday at the In the Flow Festival in Sacramento has come and gone. There lots of other interesting music during the day as well, ranging from very straight jazz to screeching noise that could only safely be heard from an adjacent room.

You can experience the festival vicariously via our friend Tom Djll’s live blogging for WFMU. Do check out his post, especially as gig reviews on CatSynth are anything but live.

Weekend Cat Blogging: Getting ready for today’s performance

We present a rather short Weekend Cat Blogging, as I get ready to head to Sacramento for my performance with Reconnaissance Fly at the In The Flow Festival. As you can see, we’re all packed and ready to go:

Luna was fascinated by the case for the Nord keyboard, as opposed to the keyboard itself in which she has shown no interest whatsoever.


By coincidence, this edition of Weekend Cat Blogging is being hosted by our friends LB and breadchick at The Sour Dough. We know they will appreciate that we are once again featuring audio gear this weekend!

The Carnival of the Cats will be up this Sunday at When Cats Attack!.

And the Friday Ark is at the modulator.

Reconnaissance Fly at In The Flow Festival, May 15, Sacramento

Our next Reconnaissance Fly gig will be here on May 15.

We will be performance in the festival on Saturday, May 15, at 1PM at Beatnik Studios, 2421 17th Street @ Broadway, in Sacramento. Too bad we’re not at Luna’s Cafe.

This is the debut of our new quartet lineup, featuring myself, Polly Moller, Tim Walters on bass and electronics, and Noah Phillips on guitar.  We have been perfecting our “Flower Futures” cycle featuring spoetry (poetry based on spam messages) and taking advantage of the sonic and musical options of our expanded lineup.

So if you are in the Greater Sacramento Metropolitan Area (?) on the 15th, do come check it out.

Double Vision: Hysteresis

A couple of weekends ago, I attended the premier of Hysteresis, a performance described as “70 minutes of non-stop, innovative dance, sound, lights, and costumes informed by a residency at the Museumsquartier in Vienna, Austria.” It was a production of Double Vision, a group known for performances combining dance, music and technology, and took place at Dance Mission Theater here in San Francisco.


[Photo courtesy of Double Vision. Click to see larger version.]

Hysteresis explored the theme of “being alien or observing that which is alien to oneself.” However, for me the performance did not feel alien at all. Indeed, each of the artists’ approach to alien-ness via dance, music, choreography and lighting ended up creating something that felt familiar for me and comforting in its sparseness. The choreography had a feel of individuals going about their business in a city environment, sometimes moving about in wildly different directions, sometimes very static. The lighting had a very geometric and architectural feel. The dancers’ costumes also had an architectural or industrial quality and consisted of simple tunics stitched together from geometric gray and black swatches of cloth and black leggings.

The music held together these elements with industrial and percussive sounds punctuated by references to popular music idioms, as one might hear passing buildings and cars in between traffic and construction. It started with short percussive notes, mostly struck metal and block. At first the sounds were very sparse but later on they formed into complex polyrhythms, sometimes with more standard percussion instruments like kick drums and snare drums mixed in. The sparse texture was interrupted by other sections of music, such as short samples from big-band music, classical (or classically inspired) string music, and passages that sounded like show tunes or brass bands. It was not clear these were found musical objects or composed from sratch. Towards the climax of there piece, there were more sounds that one might consider more “electronic”, such as noise, synthesizer sweeps and sub-bass tones. However, even as the idioms and timbres changed and the music became quite dense, the sparse rhythmic texture from the beginning of the piece kept going, like machinery of a city that never stops. Or almost never stops – there were a few moments where it cut out entirely, and the silence was quite startling.


[Photo courtesy of Double Vision. Click to see larger version.]

The often sparse texture of the music allowed one to focus more on not only the movements of the dancers, but also the sounds they made in terms of the movement of their bodies and breathing. After one particularly loud section everything fell silent, the dancers moved off stage, and one rectangular patch of light kept flickering. This light seemed to be of particular significance (it was the only one that cast a rectangular shape) and appeared occasionally throughout the piece.

The final section began with what sounded like machine or car sounds and moved towards what sounded like an elegant party with piano music, and the faded to silence. It was a strange ending after the very industrial sound throughout the rest of the piece, but it provided an interesting contrast.

Choreography for the piece was by Pauline Jennings, music by Sean Clute, lighting design by Ben Coolik, and costume design by Andrea Campbell.