Reconnaissance Fly, Equators and David Douglas, Luggage Store Gallery

Today we look back at Reconnaissance Fly’s performance last week at the Luggage Store Gallery in San Francisco. We were the third act in a concert that also featured Equators and David Douglas.

We performed selections from our “spong cycle” Flower Futures, with each band member contributing pieces based on “spoetry”, or poetry from spam messages. The Luggage Store is quite acoustically active, which can make our highly-rhythmic and punctuated music challenging. But we did the best we can with the environment, and in fact a couple of our songs, the tango-like As Neat As Wax and funk-latin-combo sanse es crede nza, were the best we had played them to date. You can hear a recording of As Neat As Wax below:

Another challenge arose from the fact that I can had forgotten the small Chinese gong that is featured at the beginning of Small Chinese Gong. Fortunately, I was able to substitute a “small iPhone gong”, and the rest of the song unfolded smoothly after that somewhat amusing start.

Once again, we performed as a quartet, with myself on keyboard and electronics, Polly Moller on flute and vocals, Tim Walters on bass and electronics, and Larry the O on drums. When we next perform, we will be five – Chris Broderick will be joining us on saxophone and clarinets.

The show opened with a set by Equators, the experimental music project of Trevor Hacker, with Cody Hennesy. They performed with guitars and effects, and an instrument that resembled an “electric hurdy gurdy.” Things started off quietly enough, with ambient guitar chords centered around a suspended major harmony. After a short time there was a sudden switch to rather loud noisy material, and the remainder of the first piece moved back and forth between these ambient and noisy elements. One particular moment featured descending noise and a loud “analog burst” followed by a softer, pentatonic pattern. The next piece followed a similar pattern, starting with odd major-mode harmonies and eerie effects, with slide guitar and looping as the major elements – gradually, the sound moved towards more noise-based elements.

Equators was followed by David Douglas performing a solo set with drums and laptop-based processing using Max/MSP. He had a standard drum set as well as numerous additional percussion instruments and a small electronic drum pad. These were used as source material for a variety of signal and event processing elements on the laptop. There result was richly textured both rhythmically and timbrally. It started off with metallic sounds processed with stretching and harmonic effects, followed by drums with pitch and delay effects. A slow repeating rhythm emerged that served as the foundation for subsequent elements with bass drum, cymbals, and other percussion. I thought the effects Douglas chose with the bells were particularly effective. Some of the rhythms were more free form, which small runs and loud hits combining with delays to form fast rhythmic passages, and longer metric patterns were combined with delays and loops to form complex counterpoint rhythms. Throughout, Douglas demonstrated a strong skill in playing the acoustic and electronic elements off one another.

It was interesting to contrast our more idiomatic set with the two more “experimental” sets that preceded us, but I thought the overall program was effective. Experimental audiences shouldn’t be afraid of a tango or a funk rhythm after noise improvisation, and I like the energy and emotional balance as a listener. Overall, it was a good show, and look forward to our next outing.

Reconnaissance Fly and FPR Trio at Luna’s Cafe, Sacramento

Today we look back Reconnaissance Fly’s performance at the Nebraska Mondays series at Luna’s Cafe in Sacramento. We had played this series last year as well and had a positive experience, and looked forward to performing again this past June. And of course, I cannot turn down an opportunity to play someplace called “Luna’s Cafe.”

It was a hot day in Sacramento. Though I have to admit, I was actually feeling relatively comfortable in the evening warmth, and took the opportunity to walk around, take photos and experience the atmosphere. Inside the cafe, things were once again a bit on the cozy side.

But we somehow managed to get a keyboard, drum set, bass and concert and bass flutes onto the stage along with the four humans that were supposed to play these instruments. Interestingly, in this photo it seems a lot more spacious than it actually was.

[Photo by George R. Thompson.]

It is always interesting to perform for a relatively intimate audience in a setting such as this, especially with a program as varied as our Flower Futures spong cycle. People seemed receptive to both the more purely experimental pieces and the more idiomatic jazz shuffles, sambas and rock ballads. It was also our first show featuring our drummer Larry The O – I thought he brought a new vitality to our most rhythmic pieces in particular, such as An Empty Rectangle and sense iz crede nza. In balance, it was a successful performance.

We shared the bill with the FPR Trio, consisting of Phillip Greenlief, Frank Gratkowski, and Jon Raskin on saxophones, and after a hasty teardown of our equipment we settled by the bar for refreshing beverages, tasty snacks and the opportunity to hear this accomplished ensemble. They performed several pieces based on graphical scores (which I got to take a look at after the performance). The first pieces featured complex polyrhythms with occasional bursts, blurts and squeaks. Every so often as things built up, they would resolve softly, either to an anxious harmony or even to something tonal. There were moments of very defined counterpoint embellished with virtuosic flourishes.

However, the most impressive and memorable part of the set was when all three saxophones came together in a trio of multiphonics. It is a tribute to their skills that they were able to produce complex harmonic series, periods of unison, and intricate beating effects. The timbres moved in and out of stability, and at times seemed like the metallic resonance of a digital subtractive synthesizer. They went on for quite a while in this way, and I and many of the other members of the audience remained captivated throughout.

Thanks to Ross Hammond for continuing to support us through this series, and to Art Luna for hosting us at the cafe.

Outsound Music Summit: The Art of Composition

The Outsound Music Summit continued last Friday with “The Art of Composition”, performances of new works by Krystyna Bobrowski, Gino Robair, Andrew Raffo Dewar and Kanoko Nishi. I had heard these four composers discuss their work at the panel session a few days earlier. Now it was time to hear their music.

There was an impressive array of equipment on the stage. Much of it was for Krys Bobrowski’s two pieces.

Balloons have definitely been a big theme of this year’s summit. (Tom Djll featured a balloon in the previous night’s concert, and Tom Nunn featured them in his instrument the following night) In this case, the balloon was used as a resonator in Bobrowski’s Lift, Loft and Lull. Gino Robair struck the “gong”, the large metal rectangle, and brought the balloon close to it. The combination of the balloon’s acoustics and the connected microphone produced a unique resonance effect (and a clever use of acoustic and electronic effects). Against this, Bobrowski played a wildly curved orange horn-like instrument made from kelp that brought to mind a shofar.

The second movement brought the duo together on a single instrument, a large metallic xylophone-like instrument where long tubes were resting on…balloons(!). At first, they played the instrument in a standard way, producing percussive melodies with mallets. But over time, they began to explore different sounds of the instrument, such as rubbing the tubes, and also producing a sound that suggested a motorized device. They also placed different preparations on the instrument to invoke different effects and articulations.

You can see an excerpt of the performance in this video:

Bobrowski and Robair also performed a piece featuring the composer’s glass glass instrument in a duet with wine glasses. I had last heard Bobrowski play gliss glass at the benefit dinner. It was interesting to hear the instrument contrasted with the wine glasses.

[Bobrowski and Robair. Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

Robair played them traditionally, rubbing the rims to produce strong resonances, but also used tapping and splashing in the water as percussion. The gliss glass vessels, by contrast, can be drained and filled while they are played, resulting in pitch-bend effects that were put to strong use in the piece. There was lots of complex phrasing as well as eerie harmonies and unexpected sound effects. At times, the harmonies were more anxious and expectant, while at other moments they approached romantic tonality.

[Andrew Raffo Dewar’s Interactions Quartet. Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

Andrew Raffo Dewar’s Interactions Quartet presented Dewar’s new piece Strata, which was inspired by a series of paintings by Argentine artist Eduardo Serón. You can see examples of Serón’s work in this video. His abstract paintings – which I, too, found musically inspiring – feature simple shapes and colors in tight compositions. These simple but powerful visual elements were reflected the clean acoustic notes and sounds of the music. It started out very sparsely, with individual disconnected notes on each instrument. Individual notes became short phrases, and eventually slightly longer lines that intertwined in an undulating counterpoint. The music was quite meditative, with the modal quality and contrapuntal texture, but also had a strong emotional undercurrent. One interesting moment featured the saxophone (Dewar), oboe (Kyle Bruckman) and marimba (Gino Robair) converging into a single pitch range and timbre. Eventually, the complex rhythms coalesced into a single triple meter with a strong driving rhythm anchored by John Shiurba’s percussive guitar and metric beating of ankle bells by Robair. Above the metric foundation one could hear playful descending lines. After staying together rhythmically for a while, the different lines and instruments went their own ways, with various shakers, harmonics on guitar and english horn, and an impressive passage of multiphonics by Dewar on soprano sax – all still remaining within a strong sense of counterpoint.

Kanoko Nishi presented her original graphic scores as interpreted Tony Dryer on contrabass and Italian guitarist and visual artist IOIOI. It would have been interesting to see Nishi’s graphical scores, but the darkened room and minimal setting left ample opportunity for imagination. We did get a taste of what we were in for as Tony Dryer was setting up and soundchecking his equipment, and we were treated to several ear splitting bursts of loud feedback. The performance itself, however, began quite subtly with Dryer bowing very quietly on the bass. Every so often, there would be a louder scraping sound on the bass before returning to minimal levels. Then, all at once, there was a loud hit followed by a long LOUD sustain and feedback. These deliberate and had a great tone, but it was still very loud. When it finally cut out, it was like shutting off a very loud engine – there was even the rumbling slowing to a series of clicks. This was followed by a loop of low-frequency bass notes at a modest volume, which settled into a bit of a groove with noisier sounds layered on top. Eventually, higher electrical noises and squeaks overtook the sounds of the bass. Dryer concluded by playing the stand of the bass (now resting horizontally) with what appeared to be an instrument string.

[IOIOI. Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

The performance then transitioned seemlessly to IOIOI, who was also set up in front of the stage with minimal lighting. She began with long sustained notes in a tonality that sounded Middle Eastern, both in terms of the scale and the use of microtones and pitch bends. Things quickly grew louder, with high screeching tones and loud sustained tones that obscured the otherwise beautiful detailed guitar technique. As things quieted down a bit, I was able to focus more on the fine details, such as bends metallic resonances. IOIOI employed preparations in her guitar at times, such as chopsticks, that gave the instrument a more raspy, percussive sound. She also used bowing that yielded a vigorous passage of scratching tones. Overall, a virtuosic display.

[Ensemble Aguacalientes.  Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

Gino Robair returned for his third appearance of the evening, this time to present his Ensemble Aguacalientes, featuring Polly Moller on flutes and ocarinas, John Shiurba on guitar, Loren Mach on marimba, Jim Kassis on percussion and Scott Walton on bass. Aguacalientes is “a musical suite based on scenes captured by Jose Guadalupe Posada in his politically charged engravings of late19th -and early 20th-century life in Mexico”, many of which feature skulls and skeletons, or calaveras. In keeping with this source, the instrumentation of the ensemble reflects Mexican folk and popular music, including the ocarinas and percussion. The piece began with a very sparse texture, where short melodic lines on the flute headjoint were punctuated by percussion hits. Soon an array of other percussion, including a guiro, and the guitar and bass joined in, with numerous rhythmic lines set oddly against one another. The ocarina lines were longer and more traditionally melodic, but with the instrument’s distinctive sound. There were interesting timbral moments, such as a sinister interplay between harmonics on the bass and guitar, and a more gentle combination of string-bass and bass-flute harmonics. I did find myself listening to the polyrhythms that emerged at various points during the piece, and for the more idiomatic moments that channeled the Mexican subject matter.

Overall, it was a strong concert, and seemed well received by the large audience. I was also left thinking about the often boisterous debate in the Bay Area new-music community between composition and improvisation. Having heard the improvisation-centric and composition-centric nights of the summit back-to-back, I am struck by how much similarity there was – one could have interleaved pieces from both nights into a single concert and ended up with a result that was musically consistent.

Outsound Music Summit: Touch the Gear and Non-idiomatic composition

The Outsound Music Summit began this Sunday with the annual Touch the Gear Expo. Visitors have a chance to see and try out the equipment used by musicians and sound artists. We had a a diverse group of participants this year, and this short video gives a good overview of some of the sound and visuals that one would have encountered:

We had a decently sized turnout for the event, and the evening went by quickly. While not at my own station, I did my best to see others work, but did not get to everyone. For those who followed my live tweets from the event, the remainder of article might seem redundant, but I do provide more detail.

I brought a small rig that reflects my recent solo work, with an iPad as both a synthesizer and controller for software on the laptop, a monome, the Wicks Looper and a Korg Mini-Kaoss Pad.

The iPad was primarily running TouchOSC, controlling a version of my piece Charmer:Firmament running in Open Sound World on the laptop, as well as a few popular instruments like the Smule Magic Fiddle and Bebot. The monome was controlling sample loops, and the Wicks Looper was feeding into the Kaoss Pad.

Next me, Matt Davignon presented a turntable and effects pedals that was quite popular with visitors. There is still something compelling about a tactile and intuitive interface such as a turntable that compels people to want to play it. In contrast, the monome in particularly seemed to intimidate people.

There were many non-electronic offerings as well, including the quartz cantabile by Todd Larew. Who needs electronics when you have fire as your primarily technology!

Bob Marsh wandered the hall in a suit covered in plastic water bottles, some containing mechanical sound generating elements, and was quite a presence throughout the evening.

He also brought several other articles of sonic clothing for people to try on and play.

Tim Thompson brought his space palette, a large wall-sized controller in which one controls sound and visuals by moving in the various spaces in the panel.

I had seen him perform with the space palette before, but this my first opportunity to try it out myself.

Another original instrument, the Ernestophone, featured one main string and several sympathetic strings, and a very rich sonic palette of overtones.

Phogmasheen presented an instrument made from pick heads and cake pans.

One strikes the metal elements with mallets or sticks, and then pickups process the output electronically.

This is not the first time I have seen a classic 1950’s HP oscillator at Touch the Gear, but it’s the first time I have seen one paired with a Peerless transistor radio, for a very retro noise experience.

Noise rigs are a common theme, particularly chains of effects pedals and mixers that operate solely on the noise inherent in electronic circuits but then amplify and shape it through non-linear processes of the effects change into rich and chaotic sound palettes. One example is this colorful rig from CJ Borosque. I was able to get subtle an expressive control of the sound by focusing on only a couple of knobs.

Other participants included Tom Nunn presenting one of his sonic inventions, Rick Walker demonstrating high virtuosic use of live-looping hardware and Laurie Amat getting rather humorous results from the sound of the crowd in the hall processed through a classic green Line6 delay pedal.


The panel discussion on Monday night, entitled “Elements of non-idiomatic compositional strategies” was quite a contrast to Touch the Gear Night. Four composers, Kanoko Nishi, Andrew Raffo Dewar, Krystyna Bobrowski, and Gino Robair engaged in a discussion moderated by Polly Moller about their music, influences and views on composition in front of an intimate audience with plentiful wine, cheese and dark chocolate.

One of the interesting questions was whether each of the composers began their ideas with sound, or a focus on sound. Not surprisingly, the answer was no – although sound was the medium of creativity, the source ideas can come from anywhere. In speaking about his piece for the Friday concert at the summit, he described how the work was influenced very directly by paintings by the Argentine artist Eduardo Serón. Gino Robair similar painted a very visual and conceptual influence for his suite based on the engravings of Jose Guadalupe Posada of late19th -and early 20th-century life in Mexico, and the skeletons and skulls in particular. Kanoko Nishi referred “music completely devoid of symbols”; and Krystyna Bobrowski described her work with her created instruments as a “sonic bloom of resonance”, perhaps my favorite phrase of the evening.

Other topics discussed included composing for instruments or sounds versus composing for particular musicians, i.e., “instead of preparing the piano, prepare the pianist” (as I pianist, I am not sure how I feel about being prepared), and questions about the rewards of composing experimental music – because it was accepted by panelists and audience alike that their are neither financial nor sexual riches to be gained by this pursuit. Perhaps the response that rang most true to me was that composing music is an obsessive-compulsive activity that some of us just have to do whether we like it or not.

For those who not familiar with the terms, think of idiomatic music as music that falls into recognizable patterns and genres that one can readily identify, so non-idiomatic music is music that attempts to defy such categorization. However, I often find the dichotomy not particularly useful. I sympathize with the composers’ desire to two work that transcends past categorization, and I often strive to do the same thing – but we can’t help but be influenced by the music and sounds around us, and shouldn’t necessarily fear the appearance of these influences in music that we call “new”. It was also interesting how much all four panelists distanced themselves from mathematics, even while acknowledging the deep and longstanding interconnection with music.

All for composers will have work on the Friday night concert at the Outsound Music Summit. Click here for more details.

Regents Lecturer Concert, CNMAT (March 2011)

Today we look back on my solo concert at the Center for New Music Technologies (CNMAT) at U.C. Berkeley back in early March. It was part of my U.C. Regents Lecturer appointment this year, which also included technical talks and guest lectures for classes.

This is one of the more elaborate concerts I have done. Not only did I have an entire program to fill on my own, but I specifically wanted to showcase various technologies related to my past research at CNMAT and some of their current work, such as advanced multi-channel speaker systems. I spent a fair amount of time onsite earlier in the week to do some programming, and arrived early on the day of the show to get things set up. Here is the iPad with CNMAT’s dodecahedron speaker – each face of the dodecahedron is a separate speaker driven by its own audio channel.


[click image for larger view.]

Here is the Wicks Looper (which I had recently acquired) along with the dotara, an Indian string instrument often used in folk music.


[click image for larger view.]

I organized the concert such that the first half was more focused on showcasing music technologies, and the second half on more theatrical live performance. This does not imply that there wasn’t strong musicality in the first half or a lack of technological sophistication in the second, but rather which theme was central to the particular pieces.

After a very generous introduction by David Wessel, I launched into one of my standard improvisational pieces. Each one is different, but I do incorporate a set of elements that get reused. This one began with the Count Basie “Big Band Remote” recording and made use of various looping and resampling techniques with the Indian and Chinese instruments (controlled by monome), the Dave Smith Instruments Evolver, and various iPad apps.

Electroacoustic Improvisation – Regents Lecturer Concert (CNMAT) from CatSynth on Vimeo.

The concert included the premier of a new piece that was specifically composed for CNMAT’s impressive loudspeaker resources, the dodecahedron as well as the 8-channel surround system. In the main surround speakers, I created complex “clouds” of partials in an additive synthesizer that could be panned between different speakers for a rich immersive sound. I had short percussive sounds emitted from various speakers on the dodecahedron. I though the effect was quite strong, with the point sounds very localized and spatially separated from the more ambient sounds. In the video, it is hard to get the full effect, but here it is nonetheless:

Realignments – Regents Lecturer Concert, CNMAT from CatSynth on Vimeo.

The piece was implemented in Open Sound World – the new version that primarily uses Python scripts (or any OSC-enabled scripting language) instead of the old graphical user interface. I used TouchOSC on the iPad for real-time control.

I then moved from rather complex experimental technology to a simple and very self-contained instrument, the Wicks Looper, in this improvised piece. It had a very different sound from the software-based pieces in this part of the concert, and I liked the contrast.

The first half of the concert also featured two pieces from my CD Aquatic: Neptune Prelude to Xi and Charmer:Firmament. The original live versions of these pieces used a Wacom graphics tablet controlling OSW patches. I reimplemented them to use TouchOSC on the iPad.

The second half of the concert opened with a duo of myself and Polly Moller on concert and bass flutes. We used one of my graphical score sets – here we went on order from one to the next and interpreted each symbol.

The cat one was particular fun, as Polly emulated the sound of a cat purring. It was a great piece, but unfortunately I do not have a video of this one to share. So we will have to perform it again sometime.

I performed the piece 月伸1 featuring the video of Luna. Each of the previous performances, at the Quickening Moon concert and Omega Sound Fix last year, used different electronic instruments. This time I performed the musical accompaniment exclusively on acoustic grand piano. In some ways, I think it is the strongest of the three performances, with more emotion and musicality. The humor came through as well, though a bit more subtle than in the original Quickening Moon performance.

月伸1 – Video of Luna with Acoustic Grand Piano Improvisation from CatSynth on Vimeo.

The one unfortunate part of the evening came in the final piece. I had originally done Spin Cycle / Control Freak at a series of exchange concerts between CNMAT and CCRMA at Stanford in 2000. I redid the programming for this performance to use the latest version of OSW and TouchOSC on the iPad as the control surface. However, at this point in the evening I could not get the iPad and the MacBook to lock onto a single network together. The iPad could not find the MacBook’s private wireless network, even after multiple reboots of both devices. In my mind, this is actually the biggest problem with using an iPad as a control surface – it requires wireless networking, which seems to be very shaky at times on Apple hardware. It would be nice if they allowed one to use a wired connection via the USB cable. I suppose I should be grateful that this problem did not occur until the final piece, but was still a bit of an embarrassment and gives me pause about using iPad/TouchOSC until I know how to make it more reliable.

On balance, it was a great evening of music even with the misfire at the end. I was quite happy with the audience turnout and the warm reception and feedback afterwards. It was a chance to look back on solo work from the past ten years, and look forward to new musical and technological adventures in the future.

ReCardiacsFly and Tim Smith Benefit at Cafe Du Nord

With the launch of our ReCardiacsFly YouTube channel, it seems like a good time to look back at our ReCardiacsFly performance at Cafe Du Nord, part of a benefit concert for Tim Smith, leader and founder of the UK band Cardiacs that took place in May.

In this video, you can see Polly channeling Tim Smith, along with Chris Broderick and Marc Laspina getting into their respective rolls:


[Videography by Josh Wolfer.]

The keyboard and marimba parts didn’t come out so strongly in the videos, but you can hear a bit of my attempt to get the original sounds in “Hello Mister Sparrow.”:


[Videography by Josh Wolfer.]

We did receive a great audience reception, undoubtedly some from Cardiacs fans who were familiar with the songs and performance style but perhaps from people hearing for the first time as well and taken in by the intensity of the performance.

We did get a little worried early in the evening as attendance was sparse. But by the time we got on stage and looked out, there was a full and enthusiastic house – when you see and feel something like that, it always makes it easier to get through a set, even something as complex and intense as Cardiacs covers.

Over all, it was a great experience, and we hope to perform again sometime soon!

ReCardiacsFly consisted of members of Rennaissance Fly (myself, Polly Moller, and Tim Walters) together with Moe! Staiano, Chris Broderick, Marc Laspina and Suki O’Kane. Although we were the unofficially dubbed “tribute band” for the evening for our accurate musical renditions and costumes and makeup, all the bands performed Cardiacs covers, each in their own way.

Amy X Neuburg opened the evening with arrangements infused with her trademark “avant cabaret” style. In a humorous gesture, she invited the audience to “sing along” to Tim Smith’s often difficult-to-follow lyrics.

Before Weiner Kids came on stage, there was an arrangement that I described on twitter as a “cool riff with four on the floor bass drum and household metal items. Very danceable by #Cardiacs standards.” Even in the midst of a prog-and-punk-rock night, I am still drawn to my particular musical roots.

Weiner Kids (with Jordan Glenn, Cory Wright, Aram Shelton) performed an arrangement for percussion and saxophones that made the often odd rhythms and meters of Cardiacs music very transparent. This is both the fun part and the biggest challenge of playing this music.

Grex, a duo of Karl Evangelista on guitar and Rei Scampavia on keyboard, performed purely instrumental arrangements. The interpretations were much freer, and in particular gave Karl the opportunity to apply his virtuosic guitar style to the music.

Inner Ear Brigade (featuring frequent collaborator Bill Wolter with Chris Lauf, Stevo Wright, Ivor Holloway, Melody Ferris, and David Shaff) also performed their own meticulous arrangements with their own personal stamp – their music tends is often itself an intense and energetic blend of jazz, experimental and art-rock influences. It was sometimes hard to tell where the Cardiacs’ influence ended and Inner Ear Brigade’s own style began, which I think made this performance all the more successful.


[Inner Ear Brigade.]

The concert concluded with Dominque Leone and his ensemble for the evening performing an “epic” arrangement of a Cardiacs song, building up towards a final climax that seemed almost religious in nature, with a full chorus of voices and loud frenetic keyboard and guitar (from Leone and Ava Mendoza) – this is one song that you can tell is the final song of the evening even before it ends!

So what is next? We are certainly hoping to do more performances as ReCardiacsFly, and welcome suggestions for Bay Area venues and programs that would be appropriate. And we would like to send “Healing wishes from everyone to Tim Smith and love and respect to all past, present, and future members and fans of Cardiacs.”

Reconnaissance Fly at Luna’s Cafe, Sacramento, June 20

Monday, June 20, is our next Reconnaissance Fly show. We will be returning to Luna’s Cafe in Sacramento for the Nebraska Mondays series.

Of course, we have to take every opportunity to bring new music to any and all venues that include “Luna” in their names.

This is our first performance in which our new drummer Larry The O will be joining myself, Polly Moller and Tim Walters. We will be playing our “spong cycle” Flower Futures, featuring pieces in a variety of styles based on spoetry (spam poetry).

Those in the Sacramento area are encouraged to come out and see us (and I know at least a few of you who read this do live and work there). For those not in the area, I will be live tweeting @catsynth with hashtag #rfly.

Cordelia, Theatre of Yugen

Cordelia is a Noh adaptation of Shakespeare’s King Lear presented by Theatre of Yugen at NOHspace. The play is a combination of old and new. It draws its structure and performance elements from the tradition of Noh and its source text from Shakespeare, both centuries old. But the actual text by Erik Ehn, music by Suki O’Kane and production directed by Jubilith Moore are wholly contemporary. They draw heavily from the traditional sources, but are in no way limited by them. Enh’s text is a rearrangement of lines from the original Shakespeare but focused on the point of view of Cordelia (King Lear’s youngest daughter) minimized to fit within the constraints of Noh. Polly Moller performs on standard concert and bass flutes and a bagpipe chanter, but expertly invokes the attacks, pitch bends and timbral shifts of traditional Japanese music. Sheila Berotti plays the tradition role of the chorus, but as a single voice with a shruti box (a drone instrument usually found in Indian classical music). The main element of the set, a bridge that folds into to descending segments, seems very contemporary and industrial – but it is in fact an adaptation of the traditional hashigakari from Noh theater.

In the first act, Cordelia (played by Moore) appears as a member of a royal court and recounts her refusal to flatter her father, the king, with words, which leads to her being disowned and exiled. In the second act, she returns in the form of a warrior, reflecting her return to England at the end of the play in an attempt to save her father that ultimately ends tragically. In the interlude, we meet the Fool (played by Lluis Valls), who both recites lines from the original play and provides a synopsis of the story. He serves as a comic counterpoint, and as a practical guide for those either unfamiliar with the original King Lear or new to structure of Noh theater. (One particularly fun moment was when he relates the marriages of Cordelia’s sisters, he pauses with a slight look and sound of disgust for the rather creepy Duke of Cornwall.)


[Click to enlarge.]

Overall the elements of the performance, the music, the set design, the text, the movement all have a very minimalist quality. There is a lot of empty space in the slow and deliberate movements of Moore as Cordelia and chanting of the text. Similarly, the music is very sparse. The flute lines are composed from small sets of notes that explore timbre, dynamics and abrupt rhythmic changes. The silence between the flute, text and motion is occasionally punctuated by loud hits on the snare drum (performed by Anna Wray). The space left me ample opportunity to escape from the narrative of the play and instead focus on specific details, such as qualities of the flute performance, the text on wall of the set, the occasional harmonic swells of the shruti box, or details of the lighting.

The main exception to the overall minimalism was the costume design by Risa Dye. Cordelia’s two costumes are both quite elaborate. They combine the multiple layers often found in Noh costumes with rather ornate and highly textured elements reminiscent of Elizabethan England (at least as seen in paintings from the time). The costume of the Fool was something else again, a hooded suit covered entirely in text (taken from another play by Ehn). It helped to emphasize the character of the Fool as a “word artist”, and also contribute to his more frenetic character in contrast to the rest of the performance.

The words were also present on the wall of the set (designed by Joshua McDermott). The wall was inspired by memorial walls, in particular from the genocides in Rwanda and the Balkans in the 1990s. Phases from Ehn’s plays were used in place of names. In addition to its direct meaning, the wall evoked for me a sense of urban space with graffiti, which is central in my own visual work.

It is interesting to reflect on how easily the minimalist and non-linear elements of Noh seem to translate into a contemporary work of art, and also provide opportunity for reflection and meditation. At the same time, the structure provides enough space for contemporary visual and musical elements to poke through. As such, it provides some ideas and inspiration for future work.

Cordelia continues with additional performances at Theatre of Yugen tonight (May 5) through Saturday May 7.

[All photos in this article courtesy of Theatre of Yugen.]

ReCardiacsFly at Cafe Du Nord

I have been busily preparing for the next show, coming up this weekend:

Members of Rennaissance Fly (myself, Polly Moller, and Tim Walters) are teaming up with Moe! Staiano, Chris Broderick, Marc Laspina and Suki O’Kane as “ReCardiacs Fly”, a tribute cover of the UK band Cardiacs.

It is been a bit of a challenge to learn our four pieces, approximately note for note and also capture the energy of the originals.

One fun bit to re-create was the synthesizer line from “Hello Mr. Sparrow.” We found this video on YouTube, featuring a Mellotron and Sequential Circuits Pro One:

Well, I don’t have either of those devices, but I can approximate the Pro One with the Dave Smith Evolver (it is essentially the successor to the Sequential Circuits instruments):

The most challenging song we are doing is R.E.S., you can get an idea of what we are up against in this Cardiacs’ video:

It has been great to hear things coming together in our rehearsals, and it should be a good show next weekend. Polly photos from our most recent rehearsal.

Official info below:

Sunday, May 8. 6PM-10:30PM
Cafe Du Nord
2170 Market Street

San Francisco, CA
$10 donation at the door

This is a benefit for Tim Smith, leader and founder of the UK band Cardiacs. From Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cardiacs):

Cardiacs are an English alternative rock/psychedelic pop band formed in 1977 and led by Smith. Noted for their complex, varied and intense compositional style and for their eccentric, theatrical stage shows, they have been hailed as an influence by bands as diverse as Blur, Faith No More and Radiohead.

In 2008, Smith suffered a stroke, and has not been able to perform or finish the new Cardiacs record. From the official website (http://www.cardiacs.com/):

Since the accident Tim Smith’s body has become his enemy. He is in a great deal of pain and is experiencing difficulty with the finer points of control with regard to his extremities so obviously perfected prior to the unhappy event, but Tim Smith, his family and those so called friends, (with whom he keeps counsel), all assert that his mind, however, has been sharpened by the episode. THE ALPHABET BUSINESS CONCERN can confirm that no part of YOUR favourite pop star’s intellect or personality has been found to be absent WHATSOEVER.

Last year, a tribute CD Leader of the Starry Skies was released (http://www.thegenepool.co.uk/items/597.htm), with all proceeds going directly to Smith. Our plan is for the May 8 concert to have all funds go to Tim. Our friend Kavus Torabi is the lead guitarist in Cardiacs, and he is our contact for making sure the funds reach Smith.

Performing will be Dominique Leone, Wiener Kids, Inner Ear Brigade, Grex, Amy X Neuburg, ReCardiac Fly, performing the music of Cardiacs/Tim Smith.

Preparing for March 4 Concert, Part 2

On Tuesday, I went to the Center for New Music and Audio Technologies (CNMAT) in order to continue preparing for the Regent’s Lecture concert on March 4.  I brought most of the setup with me, at least the electronic gear:

Several pieces are going to feature the iPad (yes, the old pre-March 2 version) running TouchOSC controlling Open Sound World on the Macbook.  I worked on several new control configurations after trying out some of the sound elements I will be working with.  Of course, I have the monome as well, mostly to control sample-looping sections of various pieces.

One of the main reasons for spending time on site is to work directly with the sound system, which features an 8-channel surround speaker configuration.  Below are five of the eight speakers.


One of the new pieces is designed specifically for this space – and to also utilize a 12-channel dodecahedron speaker developed at CNMAT.  I will also be adapting older pieces and performance elements for the space, including a multichannel version of  Charmer:Firmament.  In addition to the multichannel, I made changes to the iPad control based on the experience from last Saturday’s performance at Rooz Cafe in Oakland.  It now is far more expressive and closer to the original.

I also broke out the newly acquired Wicks Looper on the sound system.  It sounded great!

The performance information (yet again) is below.


Friday, March 4, 8PM
Center For New Music and Audio Technologies (CNMAT)
1750 Arch St., Berkeley, CA

CNMAT and the UC Berkeley Regents’ Lecturer program present and evening of music by Amar Chaudhary.

The concert will feature a variety of new and existing pieces based on Amar’s deep experience and dual identity in technology and the arts. He draws upon diverse sources as jazz standards, Indian music, film scores and his past research work, notably the Open Sound World environment for real-time music applications. The program includes performances with instruments on laptop, iPhone and iPad, acoustic grand piano, do-it-yourself analog electronics and Indian and Chinese folk instruments. He will also premier a new piece that utilizes CNMAT’s unique sound spatialization resources.

The concert will include a guest appearance by my friend and frequent collaborator Polly Moller. We will be doing a duo with Polly on flutes and myself on Smule Ocarina and other wind-inspired software instruments – I call it “Real Flutes Versus Fake Flutes.”

The Regents’ Lecturer series features several research and technical talks in addition to this concert. Visit http://www.cnmat.berkeley.edu for more information.