Pitta of the Mind at Lost Church, San Francisco

Today we look back at Pitta of the Mind’s set at Word Performances, which took place at the Lost Church in San Francisco. It was, in our opinion, one of our best performances. You can see and hear for yourself in this video.


[Video by Todd Siegel]

It was a short performance, but very tight, mixing the poems with piano, theremin and acoustic elements. I like using the percussion instruments along with the electronics, as it adds to the timbre and theatrics. We will definitely do more of that.

The evening featured readings and dance in addition to music. Our host Cybele Zufolo read some of her writings while dancing flamenco with Damien Alvarez.

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Colleen McKee read another of Cybele Zufolo’s pieces about her adventures as a show girl in Japan, in addition to some of her own writing. She even featured some singing in the set.

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Daniel Berkman performed a solo set on kora a visually and sonically beautiful instrument.

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Every set featured performative elements. For her reading, Zarina Zabrisky appeared as a super villain.

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Overall it was a fun night, and we had an overflowing crowd. Many thanks to Cybele Zufolo and Todd Siegel for hosting us and all their work putting these shows together, and to the Lost Church for providing such a unique space in San Francisco.

Wayne Horvitz: Some Places are Forever Afternoon.  Roulette (Brooklyn)

While in New York, I seek out new music and sometimes new venues as well. This past week I visited Roulette in Brooklyn to see an ensemble piece by composer and keyboardist Wayne Horvitz.

Wayne Horvitz and ensemble at Roulette

The evening featured Some Places are Forever Afternoon a single suite of twelve pieces by Horvitz based on eleven poems by Northwest poet Richard Hugo. Each musical piece was preceded by a reading of one of Hugo’s poems. The words dealt with a variety of settings, from the natural landscape to quasi-religious stories of journeys and temples (it immediately brought to mind Mormonism, though we can find no official connection there) to bars and taverns. The subject matter appeared to follow largely that progression of concepts, though it was a mixture and also interspersed with abstract text. Musically, there was a continuity among all the pieces, blending contemporary composition and jazz idioms, with occasional phrases that evoked the words in the preceding poem. Most of the music was quite rhythmic anchored by Horvitz on piano, Kenny Wollesen on drums, and Ted Luntzel on bass.. There was quite a timbral spread with Sara Shchoenbeck featured prominently on bassoon and Riley Mulherkar on trumpet lending more of the jazz sound. Familiar faces Marika Hughes on cello and Nels Cline held together the middle.

Overall, it was a good show and well performed, and left me with a bit of curiosity. I look forward to hearing more at Roulette on future visits to New York.

APAture 2015 Visual Arts Showcase

Kearny Street Workshop’s APAture 2015: Future Tense is underway. This year’s festival invited 65 emerging artists to “imagine what’s possible for the future, with particular interest in how social change might be exhibited in their work.” As in past years, the opening night featured the visual arts showcase with performances and food.

APAture 2015 opening

Here we see part of the wall-sized piece by featured artist Kimberley Acebo Arteche. Traditional clothing patterns are reimagined on a larger-life-scale with pixelated digital prints on cloth. The work brings together traditional practices and a bit of personal nostalgia with a modern ubiquitous technology for images.

Another large piece that makes use of technologies and mixed media was Grace Kim’s room-sized installation Breathing Wall IV, which combined LED lights, sound, tape and other media into a visually captivating immersive space of colors, light and lines. You can experience a bit of it in this short video, though it truly must be seen in person.

Grace Kim. Breathing Wall IV. Mixed media and electronics. #APAture #apature2015

A video posted by CatSynth / Amanda C (@catsynth) on

We at CatSynth are always on the lookout for cats in art exhibitions, and we weren’t disappointed. Alan Khum’s art frequently features cats – I had just seen many of his feline works at a completely separate show for First Thursday the night before – and here he combines house cats together with one of their larger wild cousins.

Alan Khum

I particularly like the expressiveness of the cats.

Another playful piece was Austin Boe’s mirrored pieces exploring queer identity. This one featured a mirrored surface and the French phrase je vous aimas (I like you).

Austin Boe

We can see Grace Kim’s piece in the background, along with a video piece by Tianxing Wan called Invisible Man, juxtaposing a ghostly figure simultaneously in San Francisco’s bustling Union Square and in a Chinese village.

Another challenging work was Nicholas Oh’s ceramic piece. A sideways glance suggests a simple ceramic tea set with traditional materials and configuration, but on closer inspection one realizes that the figures on the set represent the Japanese Americans held at internment camps during World War II. Indeed, Oh uses his medium of ceramics to lay bare images of racism.

Nicholas Oh

Jeremy Villaluz’s photograph series Midnights was, by contrast, quite comforting, despite the dark and moody nature of the images. Here we see the dark but nonetheless alive corners of urban life.

Jeremy Villaluz

There is a starkness to these images and lots of space, but also a familiarity with these edges of the urban landscape, and perhaps a bit of sadness (on my part) that such places are fading.

In additional to the visual art, there were presentations and performances. Kimberley Arteche had a chance to speak briefly about her work and her participation in this year’s festival standing in front of her piece.

Kimberley Arteche

Caroline Calderon presented poetry and music around issues of community, identity, and social justice.

Caroline Calderon

Her spoken-word and musical tributes to her complex relationship with the city of San Francisco rang pretty true for me as well, as I continue to feel in love with this city while simultaneous feeling a bit more alienated at times.

Joseph Nontanovan presented poetry and food and words about food, in particular about his Lao heritage and the characteristic ingredients of Lao cuisine. He treated us to words as well as the aromas and a chance to sample a traditional dish made from fermented sausage, vegetables, rice, and of course cilantro. It was delicious.

Joseph Nontanovan's culinary offering

It often seems that food, words and images intersect at Kearny Street Workshop events, a combination which is welcome and also reflects to increasing shift of programs back to the organizations roots in combining arts with identity and community activism. I look forward to more of this year’s APAture festival over the coming weeks. You can see a full schedule of events at the official website.

Pitta of the Mind, Obando/Pumpelly/Wallace Trio

As Pitta of the Mind prepares for our upcoming show next week, we look back at our last show in February at Outsound’s periodic Soundspeak series featuring experimental music and poetry groups.

For our set we performed several new pieces on the theme of film, with several poems evoking treatments and plots for possible (or impossible) films. The music featured a mixture of piano, Moog Theremini, modular synth and DSI Prophet 12, which made for quite an impressive setup.

Theremini, analog modular, Prophet 12, Nord Stage keyboard

As with most Pitta of the Mind shows, we had a color/pattern theme. On this evening the theme was white.

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Maw Shein Win and Amanda Chaudhary Amanda Chaudhary
[Photos by Annabelle Port. Click to enlarge.]

The performance overall went quite well. You can here some audio excerpts below.

We were proceeded that evening by a trio featuring Nick Obando with Rob Pumpelly and Eli Wallace. The group performed several extended-length jazz pieces layered with Obando’s hip-hop-infused poetry.

Nick Obando with Rob Pumpelly and Eli Wallace

I have to admit I do not recall much of the words/poetry, but the instrumental performance was quite memorable. I am a fan of Eli Wallace’s keyboard performance style, and Pumpelly and Obando brought their own strong technical skills to the mix. I particularly liked one piece that featured a funk rhythm with complex solos and patterns on top. The rhythm cut out in a few spots for freeform improvisation that was just long enough before returning to the funk pattern.

Overall, it was a good show, though a quiet night – possibly a combination of other performances happening that evening and the fact that the Luggage Store Gallery is at a temporary location while the main building is being renovated. But we certainly look forward to performing again, and hearing more music in the meantime.

Outsound New Music Summit: PoetryFreqs

The concert series of the Pitta of the Mind, my duo with Maw Shein Win got things going with a set of poetry and electronic music on the themes of abstract art and cinematic distance. Our color theme for the evening was red and black.

Pitta of the Mind at Outsound Music Summit
[Photo by Annabelle Port.]

It was our longest set to date, but also our best so far, with a variety of sounds to match the words and tight transitions between poems. It was also the most complex technically, with the Prophet 12, analog modular, Moog Theremini, iPad, and Nord Stage EX all running at once.

Amanda Chaudhary
[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

Maw Shein Win
[Photo by Annabelle Port.]

We performed confidently and playfully and we got a great audience response. And the color theme went well with the blue set and lighting courtesy Travin McKain.

We were followed by first-ever performance by Ruth Weiss, one of the original Beat poets, with master analog synthesizer artist Doug Lynner as well as Hal Davis on log.

Doug Lynner, Ruth Weiss, Hal Davis
[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

Log may seem like an odd instrumentation, but Davis made it work well with Ruth Weiss’ recitations, and Lynner managed to create sounds on the Mystery Serge modular that sometimes mimicked the percussive resonance of the log and at other times complimented it with more lush tones. He was also able to hit loud or noisy moments in between the words. Ruth Weiss was sharp and witty in her readings, moving from her work in the 1950s and 1960s to more recent compositions. Although the trio had only met once before, they seemed very comfortable performing together and it made for a fun and exciting set. This was something that will likely never be repeated, so we were privileged to have witnessed it.

The final set brought together Zachary James Watkins on electronics and Marshall Trammell on percussion with poet and voice artist Amber McZeal.

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[Photos: PeterBKaars.com.]

The music began slowly, with calm but textured percussion and electronic sounds combined with McZeal on didgeridoo. The drone built up to more intense textures, with noise and thick electronics, Trammell’s intense drumming, and McZeal’s voice, which was at times beautiful and melodic singing, and other times dramatic and confident speech. The text for this set was very sparse compared to the previous sets, more like a third instrument than poetry set to music.

Overall, this was a great start to the Summit concerts with three strong performances (I admit I am biased about the first one). We had a great turnout as well, filling all the seats in the concert hall at the Community Music Center. It set a high bar for the next nights.

Pitta of the Mind, Doug Harvey, Other Cinema at ATA

In the midst of this rather crazy time in May with multiple band performances, rehearsals, art fairs and other happens, we look back at the simpler time that was April. In particular, my performance as “Pitta of the Mind” with Maw Shein Win at Artists Television Access in San Francisco. The performance was part of a launch event for Doug Harvey’s new anthology “patacritical Interrogation Techniques Anthology Volume 3”, hosted by Other Cinema.

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Other Cinema events are always a fun mix of the campy, the strange, the beautiful, and sometimes challenging material. The selection during this evening included the hilarious but incomprehensible “Turkish Star Wars” and an interest abstract french piece, shown below:

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Throughout the evening, Doug Harvey also read selections from his new anthology. It was such an eclectic mix of elements ranging from criticism to found text, and I look forward to reading it myself.

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Our Pitta of the Mind performance featured readings from Harvey’s collection of spam poetry. It was a different sort of text from our usual, but a lot of fun and provided more opportunities from abstract musical response. You can see and hear our performance in this video:

ATA Pitta of the Mind from CatSynth on Vimeo.

I also had the opportunity to accompany Harvey’s Moldy Slides, a piece based on a collection of 35mm slides in various states of decay. The images and concept were quite beautiful, and I enjoyed the opportunity to improvise to it on iPad synths. Unfortunately, I do not have a recording of that performance.

Harvey wrote a very complimentary review of our performance on his blog. Here is an excerpt:

The highlight of the San Francisco launch event for ‘patacritical Interrogation Techniques Anthology Volume 3 at ATA/Other Cinema (Craig Baldwin’s 28-year-old underground microcinema) was undoubtedly Pitta of the Mind (Maw Win & Amar Chaudhary) translating found email spam poetry from the turn of the Millennium into swinging intergalactic electro-transmissions. I made a video, so hopefully that will find its way online soon, but in the emantime, here’s a couple of action shots, and a sampling of the spoems:

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Any dahlia can brainwash short order cook of, but it takes a real lover to for lover.Any trombone can approach fundraiser toward, but it takes a real guardian angel to traffic light of cleavage.piroshki remain sprightly.

lower adult drum electrophoresis

– Essie Russell

Follow the link to read more and see some photos.

A big thank you to Craig Baldwin of Other Cinema and to Doug Harvey for giving us the opportunity to participate in this event. I look forward to doing more with Other Cinema in the future.

Pitta of the Mind, Red Thread, and Pet the Tiger at Turquoise Yantra Grotto

Today we look at back at the show “Noisy with a Chance of TEXT” that took place at the Turquoise Yantra Grotto in San Francisco earlier this month. The program of experimental music with textual elements intended to “break the ultimate taboo in noise: meaning” and featured performances by Pitta of the Mind (my duo with Maw Shein Win), Red Thread (CJ Borosque and Laurie Amat), and Pet the Tiger (David Samas and Peter Bonos). A secondary theme of the night was cats – with abundant animal print in the setting and attire of the participants.

The concert opened with an introductory set by Pet the Tiger, combining David Samas’ vocals and custom musical instruments with instrumental performance by Peter Bonos.

David Samas and Peter Bonos

Their performance combined a wide variety of sounds into a short period of time, with experimental voice, instrumentation and electronics. It set the tone for the evening of sometimes complex music but also warm and inviting at the same time.

Next up was Red Thread, a duo of CJ Borosque and Laurie Amat.

CJ Borosque and Laurie Amat

The set started (and ended) with extended-technique trumpet and voice, but in between it was a very sparse and captivating presentation of CJ Borosque’s poetry. Throughout, there was a counterpoint between the straight recitation of the text and Laurie Amat’s virtuosic vocal techniques.

Then it was time for Pitta of the Mind to take the stage.

Pitta of the Mind

We took the animal-print theme quite seriously with our costumes, and Maw Shein Win read a selection of animal-themed poems while I performed music on a variety of iPad synthesizer apps. You can see our full performance in this video:

Pitta of the Mind at the Turquoise Yanta Grotto, April 5, 2013 from CatSynth on Vimeo.

I particularly liked how well timed and structured the performance turned out, including the “cat piano” interludes. It was also great to see how much the audience got into the theme, meowing back at us. Afterwards, I was joined on stage by David Samas in an impromptu duo where he combined his extended vocal techniques with my improvisation on an analog modular synthesizer. It’s amazing how much Samas was able to “sound like a synth” with his voice. Again, you can see the full performance in the video below:

Amar Chaudhary and David Samas at Turquoise Yantra Grotto, April 5, 2013 from CatSynth on Vimeo.

Overall, this was one of the most fun experimental-music shows I have participated in for a while. Not only was it strong musically, but we had a large and appreciative audience that packed the intimate space of the Turquoise Yantra Grotto. I certainly hope for more shows like this in the near future.

Matt Davignon/Hugh Behm-Steinberg duo and Bill Walker, Luggage Store Gallery

Today we review the February 8 concert at the Luggage Store Gallery, featuring poetry, music and virtuosic guitar. The evening opened with the music-and-poetry duo of Matt Davignon and Hugh Behm-Steinberg.


[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

I had seen them perform together before, and it was interesting to see how the collaboration has evolved since then. The structure has become more abstract, moving from a poetry reading accompanied by live electronics to an electronic-music duo using Behm-Steinberg’s words and voice as the sound source. Snippets of poetry were transformed through the many pedals, wires and other bits of electronics into percussive loops, slowly undulating sustained sounds, and other elements.

There still were places where the words and phrases remained intelligible amidst the electronic sounds, particularly at the beginnings of pieces. I thought it was good to have this in order to stay connected to the idea that there was poetry involved and that it wasn’t just an electronic improvisation duo. Having just performed there the week before in a poetry-and-music duo, it is quite tempting to compare our respective performances. Pitta of the Mind took a more traditional approach to the use of words, preserving the structure of the poetry and practice of reading alongside a variety of electronic sounds and stage performance, while the Davignon/Behm-Steinberg duo took a more abstract approach blending words and music into a single soundscape.

The next set featured a solo performance by Bill Walker on guitars and electronics. He brought a variety of electric and lap-steel guitars and array of electronics for looping and other effects.


[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

His guitar-playing was itself virtuosic, easily moving between different styles and playing and textures ranging from long drones to fast-moving percussive sounds. His use of looping allowed him to build up more complex layers with different textures. The lap-steel guitar sections, which included a visually interesting custom-built instrument, were haunting without resorting to some of the instrument’s cliches. It was an impressive display of both instrument technique and coordination of electronics, and was quite a beautiful performance overall.

During his performance, Walker played compositions in tribute to his father, as well as to Kim Flint, who was very active in the looping and electronic-music communities, and the founder of Loopers Delight. There were also moments of humor in his set, such as a piece based on samples of Mr. T.

Overall, this was another strong performance in the Thursday-night series at the Luggage Store Gallery, and I was glad I braved a downpour to go see it.

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.