Ambient-Chaos, Ode To Steengo (Amanda Chaudhary / Polly Moller), Spectrum, New York

This past week Polly Moller and I brought our duo Ode to Steengo to Spectrum in New York, part of a rich night of experimental acoustic and electronic music in the Ambient-Chaos series.

The evening began with an acoustic brass duo featuring Torben Snekkestad on trumpet with David Whitwell on trombone.

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The two engaged in a very musical exploration of the extended timbres of these instruments. Indeed, I was quite captivated by the sounds of Whitwell’s drones and multiphonics, which sounded more like my Minimoog than a concert brass instrument. His use of a single-reed mouthpiece within the trombone’s mouthpiece was likely part of how he achieved these sounds. The pair also included sections with percussive pops and very quiet tones.

The duo was followed by the Jazzfakers, featuring Robbert Pepper on violin and electronics, David Tamura on saxophone and electronics, Raphael Zwyer on bass and Steve Orbach on drums.

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Before they start playing, they look like they could be a conventional jazz quartet, but once they start one realizes they are anything but that. Their energetic performance flowed between free improvisation, electronic noise, and more familiar rhythmic and harmonic hooks. What started as a thick noise drone quickly moved to frenetic fast-moving notes from all four performers, and then hit textures in between. They are also a lot of fun to watch.

And then it was time for us to take the stage. 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 have since reprised the piece as a duo a few times. We jokingly called this version “Steengo takes Manhattan.”

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[Photo by BC]

This performance was quite sparse, both in comparison to previous instances and to the Jazzfakers’ set that preceded us. But we were able to get quite a few interesting textures, some liquidy sounds from the analog modular controlled by the Moog Theremini, Polly’s flute and chanter, and a bit of live processing with a rather temperamental analog filter. As always, we try to bring a bit of wit and irreverence to our experimental music. You can here our full performance on this video.

Amanda Polly duo at Spetrum, 11-24-2014 from CatSynth on Vimeo.

Overall, it went well. We had a great time performing and we received a warm response from our New York audience.

We were followed by alphamale, a solo electronic-and-viola project.

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Her set started off as a thick drone of electronics. After a time, she began to incorporate the viola as well. Overall the texture remained one of long tones and ambient sounds. It was once again a contrast to our set and the others that preceded us, and quite pretty to listen to. At times it had a dark sound – it is hard to discern if the melancholy was truly in the sound or part of a built-in set of expectations around the viola. Nonetheless, it was nice to see someone using this instrument in a solo electronic setting.

The final set of the evening featured Rawmean, another solo set, this time with guitar and electronics.

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Very quickly, it was clear that this was more of a beat-and-grove set, with thick layers of guitar. The guitar work was interesting in that he was doing quick staccato motions but producing thick droning chord pads via the connected effects. The grooves and rhythmic patterns were fun, veering between straight 4/4 rhythms and the occasional odd times. Overall, the texture did remain quite constant, with a steady stream of beats that periodically changed. As I sometimes have suggested in these reviews, some sets that contain otherwise engaging material are better when shorter, and I think this was one of those instances.

Five sets in an evening is a lot, but overall we kept things moving. We had a good turnout for the first three sets, with a bit tapering off for the last two. But it was a diverse and rewarding evening of new music, and we were grateful to be a part of it. Thanks to my friends Robert Pepper (PAS) and Mike Durek (The Use) for putting this show together, and as always to Glenn Cornett of Spectrum for providing this venue for new and visiting avant-garde musicians.

Friendly Galaxies: Celebrating Sun Ra at 100

This year marks the centennial of the birth of Sun Ra, an artist whom we at CatSynth quite admire. There have been many tributes this year, and Reconnaissance Fly was fortunate to have played in one of them this past Wednesday.

“Friendly Galaxies”-Celebrating Sun Ra at 100 was “a celebration of the cosmic musical force of Sun Ra and his legacy….bands,beer,the sounds of joy!!! universal convergence” at the Center for New Music here in San Francisco. It featured three groups who combined his music and poetry with their own artistry. We even had Saturn cookies!

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And Reconnaissance Fly was up first! We definitely got into the theme of the evening, with otherworldly and science-fiction themes. And our set included two of Sun Ra’s pieces from the album Lanquidity: the title track and Where Pathways Meet.

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We also included selections from our own music that matched the sound and vibe including Itzirktna and Undeciphered. You can hear our performance of Undeciphered in this video.

Overall, this was one of our better-performed shows, and we received a great response from the audience.

We were followed by Electropoetic Coffee, a music-and-poetry duo featuring Ross Hammond and NSAA.

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As usual, Hammond’s guitar work was virtuosic and filled with lush and complex moments. I am pretty sure the poetry and spoken featured some of Sun Ra’s own writings, a topic that was part of the groups introduction. It was interesting to hear the combination of words and music. At times they came together strongly, at others seemed to drift a bit in different direction. Overall, I did like the performance and how it fit into the evening. But I do think would have been stronger if it was shorter – I don’t think the 45 minute duration served them well and it would have been better to keep it compact and energetic.

The final set was a special group for the evening, the UBU RA BIG BAND. It featured Joe Lasquo on piano and electronics, with Jon Raskin, Steve Adams, Lisa Mezzacappa, John Hanes, Myles Boisen, Aaron Bennett, Dan Plonsey, and David Slusser, along with a vocal team that included Katt Atchley.

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This was truly a treat to hear. These are of course all top-notch musicians who can hit the appropriate sounds and rhythms for jazz as well as dive into free-improvisation. Their arrangements of Sun Ra’s compositions were tight and energetic, and just fun to listen to. And this band really grooved, in that funk/jazz/fusion way that I adore. One of my favorites was the final piece, UFO, a straight-ahead disco tune from 1979. I wanted that one to keep going.

Overall, this was a fun show and a joyous celebration, and something I think we were all proud to be a part of. We had a full house, all of which seemed to be very much in the moment as well. Certainly a memorable night and a fitting tribute. A special thanks to Jan Michaels for organizing this event and to the Center for New Music for hosting us!

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Reconnaissance Fly with Hay Fever and The Sibleys at The Palms

Today we look at the first of Reconnaissance Fly’s recent shows in the high desert of southern California near Joshua Tree. This show took place at The Palms in Wonder Valley, California. Wonder Valley is an odd place east of the town of Twentynine Palms. Wonder Valley is a community of sorts, but not really a town in its own right (indeed, I’m still trying to figure out what exactly Wonder Valley is). But the Palms is a destination for locals and others and often features live music.

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The evening opened with The Sibleys, which featured Laura Sibley on guitar/vocals and James Sibley on drums. They also happen to be the owners and operators of The Palms.

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Their original songs could be described as energetic rock-and-roll, with fun lyrics – I think many of us went away remembering “Black Kawasaki, I feel lucky…” And Laura Sibleys strumming and solos pushed the music forward. They were definitely a favorite among the local crowd, some of whom could be seen dancing.

Next up was Hay Fever, featuring Emily Hay on flute and vocals with Wayne Peet on various keyboards, and Steuart Liebig on bass and effects.

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Hay Fever is an improvising group, with a continuous ever-changing stream of music that spans the entire set. There were many moments that would fit into a “space music” show, with drones and arpeggios, but also more intense sections with vocals and playing, and very sparse moments leading back into a thick fog of sound. Liebig’s bass playing added some particularly interesting textures to the rest of the group’s sound.

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Then it was time for us, Reconnaissance Fly, to take the stage.

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We did a set that featured several of our tracks from the album, as well as some of the newer songs. Particularly when we got to the funkier tunes like Itzirktna or the harder rock sounds heads and ears from the bar turned in our direction. It may not have been our tightest performance, but we had a lot of fun and presented with energy.

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Overall, it was quite an experience to play at The Palms, perhaps a bit surreal given the desert surroundings and activity around us. We certainly hope to come back again some time.

Reconnaissance Fly at DUENDE, Oakland (March 26)

Today we look back at Reconnaissance Fly’s recent performance at DUENDE on Oakland. DUENDE is a venue and tapas restaurant/bar that has been quite supportive of the new music community (I have been remiss in writing reviews for some of the other shows I have seen there), and also has delicious food and wine.

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The patatas bravas are simple but delicious. The Tempranillo was quite nice as well.

The performance itself was fun. We had a good audience, mostly filled with familiar faces but that is always welcome. And we premiered a couple of new pieces, Spirograph by Polly Moller and Undeciphered by Tim Walters, which featured text in the undeciphered Linear A script (go look it up). Here are some views from the show.

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Amanda Chaudhary
[Photos by MSW.]

Yes, I deliberately matched the color of the Nord.

Rounding out the band as always were Rich Lesnik on reeds and Larry the O on drums.

We are now busy working in more detail on those pieces and at least one more new one for our next show at the Makeout Room in San Francisco in early May.

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Base 4 and the Bay Area Improvising Tag Team Ensemble

Despite being extremely tired from a major event as well as a rehearsal this past weekend, I did manage to catch a performance of jazz and improvisational antics at Berkeley Arts this Sunday evening. The evening opened with Base 4, a jazz trio featuring Bruce Friedman on trumpet, Derek Bomback on guitar, and Alan Cook on drums and percussion.

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They performed very abstract versions of standards, including Afro Blue and Solar, two favorites of mine. There was also free improvisation and some lesser-known compositions. It was a technically strong performance, a full of creative details.

Then we switched rooms for a completely different experience with the “Bay Area Improvising Tag Team Ensemble.” Not really an ensemble, this cast of characters assembled by Moe! Staiano performed free improvisation “refereed” by Gino Robair. Basically, performers were given signals of when to start and stop, and could within that context tag one another to play together and switch instruments. There were, however, penalties that could be levied against performers. A penalty meant holding a can of motor oil and not playing until it lapsed or another penalty was committed.

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As with sporting events, one could find disagreement with the referee. In this case, I strongly disagreed with Gino’s giving Polly Moller a penalty for using a wah-wah pedal. We at CatSynth approve of wah-wah pedals.

Here are some other scenes from the evening’s performance. We begin with Matt Davignon on turntable and Moe! Staiano on drums.

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Bandmates Polly Moller (Reconnaissance Fly) and Melne Murphy (Surplus 1980).

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Mark Clifford and Kyle Bruckmann. Mark does not usually play bass.

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Brian Tester and Yacob Roli Glowniss.

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Rounding out the ensemble for the evening were Dominique LeoneJacob Felix HeuleJason Hoopes, and others who I have missed.

Overall it was a lot of fun to watch, especially when things got more rhythmical or when a penalty was eminent. The performers who I talked to seem to have a lot of fun as well.

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Reconnaissance Fly CD Release and Plurality of Worlds

Well, our CD release show for Reconnaissance Fly has come and gone, and it was quite a successful evening. We were joined in celebrating the release of our album Flower Futures by Emily Hay, half of a new project with Polly Moller called Plurality of Worlds.

Our preparation for the day started quite early, with stage setup, sound checks, and professional lighting design by our friend Travin McKain. But we got it all done, cleaned ourselves up and made ourselves presentable for the evening.

Reconnaissance Fly
[Photo by Michael Dawson.]

As you can see, we are a rather eclectic bunch, which is very much in line with the music we play.

First up was Plurality of Worlds, which brought together Polly Moller and Emily Hay for the first time as a duo of avant-garde flutes and vocals. Each brought both a standard concert flute and one of the bigger models, bass flute for Moller and alto flute for Hay. Their vocals played off one another in amusing ways, with absurdist babblings (Hay) responding to recitations from written texts (Moller). It was clear they were having a lot of fun performing, and we all enjoyed watching them.

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[Photo by Michael Dawson.]

They were joined by Reconnaissance Fly bassist Tim Walters on Supercollider, providing all variety of effects processing that filled the spaces both temporally and timbrally in the sparse texture of the duo.

Then it was time for us to take take the stage, with band members Amanda Chaudhary (keyboard), Rich Lesnick (reeds) and Larry-the-O (drums) joining in. As with our album and many of our live performances, things began with the ritualistic first note of Small Chinese Gong.

Small Chinese Gong

We then went into a full set that mixed selections from the album such as One Should Never and the combined Electric Rock Like a Cat / sanse is crede nza, with newer pieces such as Spiders and Snakes and How Now is Soon (actually, and older piece, but relatively new to Reconnaissance Fly). The set was quite lively and energetic, and also filled with humorous moments, and the audience responded well to those.

Reconnaissance Fly at Berkeley Arts
[Photo by Michael Dawson.]

The above picture does not include Larry, so here he is.

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[Photo by Michael Dawson.]

Overall, it was a good night, with great stage lighting, a packed house at Berkeley Arts, and even a few CDs sold. If you are interested in checking the album out, you can do so via Edgetone Records. And if you want to see us live, we have a few more shows coming up, including at The Luggage Store Gallery (1007 Market Street in San Francisco) tonight (Thursday, Feubrary 13)!

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Reconnaissance Fly Album Release!

Well, it’s taken quite a while, but it’s finally here. Reconnaissance Fly’s debut album will be coming out a week from today on January 17, and is available for pre-order now!

To celebrate, we will be having our album-release show on Saturday, February 1 at Berkeley Arts.

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If you’re in the Bay Area, come join us for this event. But wherever you are, please give our album a listen…and then buy it.

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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.

Reconnaissance Fly and KREation, Luggage Store Gallery

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

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


[Photo by Tom Djll]

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

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


[Kreation]

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

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

Reconnaissance Fly at the Starry Plough in August

Here is a video from our Reconnaissance Fly show at the Starry Plough in Berkeley this past August. (It was the same show the generated this Weekend Cat Blogging post.) It features one of our more challenging but also fun pieces, the medley of “Electric Rock Like a Cat” and “sanse is crede nza”, with music by Polly Moller and Amar Chaudhary, respectively.

It was our best performance of this set to date, and a lot of energy from both the band and the audience. So much so that we nearly had a disaster on our hands when our drummer Larry-the-O knocked over his hi-hat dangerously close to bassist Tim Walters’ foot. Fortunately, no one was hurt and a good time was had by all.