SFEMF: Aqulaqutaqu, Doug Lynner, Olivia Black

Today we look back at the final concert of the 2015 San Francisco Electronic Music Festival. The program featured artists – some familiar, some new – exploring different aspects of electronic music, both aurally and visually.

The evening opened with AQULAQUTAQU, a “fractal alien operetta” by Kevin Blechdom (aka Kristin Grace Erickson) in collaboration with Madison Heying, Matthew Galvin and David Kant.

AQULAQUTAQU
[Photo: peterbkaars.com]

The operetta, complete with visuals, costumes, and dance, follows the story of two scientists on the planet AQULAQUTAQU, whose discoveries run afoul of the theocratic rulers of the planet (at a level Earth’s contemporary theocrats could only dream of) and end up feeling the planet for Earth. During the story, one of the scientists presents the story of Ladle Rat Rotten Hut, a corruption of Little Red Riding Hood complete with images of vague homophones to the words of the story, and a larger-than-life wolf costume. The journey to Earth sets a very different tone from the sections on the homeworld, and the finale in which the arrivals on Earth have a dance party (with the wolf joining in) was fun and reminded me of 1960’s tropes where everyone comes out and dances in the middle or end of a show.

The next set was a solo performance by Doug Lynner on his original Serge modular synthesizer along with a Cyndustries Zeroscillator.

Doug Lynner

We have frequently chronicled Doug Lynner and his virtuosic performances here on CatSynth, and they are always impressive, sometimes quite subtle and intricate before breaking out into louder noisier sections. This one was a bit different, focusing more on beats and harmonies that approached traditional Western music, perhaps even a bit towards electronica. Of course it was all done with the same instrumentation as his more abstract performances – the Serge modulars tend to have simple functions like slopes that are combined into more complex signals, so it likely takes a bit to assemble something as rhythmic and harmonic as this performance was.

The final set featured a piece by Olivia Block titled Aberration of Light. Originally composed for a live cinema piece, it was presented here as a four-channel realization in a darkened hall. The one minimalist visual element was a single cone of light striking fog (emitted from a machine offstage).

Olivia Block
[Photo: peterbkaars.com]

The piece and the visual was meditative. One could focus on just the sounds and the interaction with the room, which forms another instrument of the piece, but I did find myself focused on the light cone as I am often drawn to minimalist visual elements. It also gave the performance a more mysterious quality than would have been present if the room was entirely dark.

Overall it was a solid show and thought Block’s piece was a great ending to the festival. Because of many circumstances beyond the scope of this article, this final show of SFEMF was the only one I was able to attend the year. I am glad I was able to make it, and looking forward to next year’s festival.

Outsound New Music Summit: Electro-Plate

The third night of the Outsound New Music Summit featured three sets that spanned a wide range of electronic music history, from analog modular synthesizers to digital laptops and an eclectic mix of technologies in between.

First up was a “power trio” on Serge Modular synthesizers featuring LX Rudis, Doug Lynner and Dmitri SFC.

Serge synthesizer trio
[Photo PeterBKaars.com.]

I have heard all three perform of Serge synthesizers before, but never together in this way. The result combined their very different performance styles, with intricate and meticulous musical details from Doug Lynner and driving beats from Dmitri SFC. There were also a variety of drones, noise hits and other sonic elements throughout the performance, which consisted of a single 40-minute improvisation.

Next up Instagon with edition 684 of Lob’s long-running project. This all-electronic mixer set featured Andrew Wayne, Tim White, Thomas Dimuzio, Marc Schneider, Mark Pino and Jack Hertz.

Instagon
[Photo PeterBKaars.com.]

As with most Instagon mixer sets, each of the performed improvised freely in his instruments, with Lob conducting and sculpting the performance in real time on a mixer. The result is at times chaotic and cacophonic, but appropriately so and mixed with sparser moments where the details of a particular playing were brought out. One of the unifying elements was recorded text that appeared at various times before being obscured beneath the noise.

The final set was a digital laptop trio featuring Thea Farhadian, Aaron Oppenheim and Tim Perkis. This was an ensemble formed specifically for this concert.

Thea Farhadian, Tim Perkis, Aaron Oppenheim
[Photo PeterBKaars.com.]

For a while it was rather common to see musicians performing solo or in ensembles exclusively with laptops and digital-processing software. It seems to be less common at the moment with the resurgence of hardware synthesizers, and it is becoming more common to see electronic musicians including analog synthesizers like the classic Serge modulars from the first set. This transition is something I have myself participated in as a performing electronic musician. But the trio on this night reminded me of some of the unique sounds that digital systems can create, with access to samples, jumps, and signal processing that takes advantage of artifacts and computation, such as FM and granular synthesis. There was also more subtlety in the music for this set, with some very quiet moments. Unlike the previous sets, this one was broken up into a few distinct compositions.

Overall, it was interesting to hear the different strains of disciplines within electronic music juxtaposed as they were on this evening. Perhaps an interesting follow up would be to pair a modular synth performer with a digital laptop performer in a future concert.

Analog Ladies at Robotspeak

Today we look back at the recent Analog Ladies edition of the Church of the Superserge that took place in late June at Robotspeak in San Francisco.

The Analog Ladies show featured solo performances by five women on analog synthesizers (along with some additional items). It was a diverse cross-section of musical and performance styles, with each artist being different focus to her set. First up was series regular Elise Gargalikis performing on a Serge Modular synthesizer with along with vocal samples and loops.

Elise Gargalikis

Gargalikis, who often performs as part of the duo, Slope114, has a mellifluous voice that rises above some of the noise sounds from the modular synth, while blending as a high note in longer drones.

Next up was Miss Moist, an Oakland-based electronic musician who describes her music as “electro candy pop // tropical kitsch”. She combined analog electronics with a Korg Electribe and Mini-Kaoss Pad.

Miss Moist
[Photo by Tom Djll.]

The result was a blend of rhythms and sweet tones that did indeed match the description, but also moments of harsh glitching and moderate noise hits before returning back to the main patterns.

The next set featured Jill Fraser performing on her vintage Serge modular synthesizer.

Jill Fraser

Jill Fraser’s set featured fully formed compositions ranging over different parts of her career all the way to very recent. Some were very abstract, but with intricately detailed sound design on the Serge. I’ve always been impressed with the woodwind-like sounds that some musicians have been able to get from this instrument. There were also some melodic and rhythmic pieces as well, reflective of her career in film and TV.

Next up was Mint Park, who performed with an analog modular synthesizer made composed primarily of TipTop Audio modules along with a laptop running Ableton Live!

Mint Park

Her performance was intense. A strong set of beats with punctuated breaks was feed through the modular with hard grating noise that worked well in context. She kept up the energy for the entire duration of the set.

Then it was time to take the stage as the final act of show.

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[Photo by Dmitri SFC]

For this set, I brought the full analog modular system, including some recent acquisitions such as the Hexinverter.net Mutant-Hijats – I opened the set with the Hihats controlled by the Make Noise Rene and the Moog Theremini. The Theremini, used exclusively as a CV controller for the modular synth, was the centerpiece of the set as it enabled full embodied performance. I also brought along the Garrahand drum, which works well fed into the Make Noise Echophon.

Amanda Chaudhary synthesizer setup

You can here my full performance in this video.

Amanda Chaudhary at Analog Ladies, Robotspeak, San Francisco from CatSynth on Vimeo.

I always try to make sure there is a variety of textures and energy-levels and weave together a narrative structure even within improvisation. Overall, I was very pleased with this set and the response from the large crowd.

ac platforms
[Photo by Tom Djll.]

Indeed, all the artists were well received by the overflowing crowd at Robotspeak – it’s not a large place, but it was filled with synth enthusiasts and those who enjoy more adventurous music. This was the first Analog Ladies edition of the Church of the Super Serge, but I certainly hope it won’t be the last.

analog ladies robot patch cords
[Photo courtesy of Robotspeak.]

Analog Ladies at Robotspeak, Saturday 3PM

Analog Ladies

We have covered several of the Church of the Superserge shows at Robotspeak over the past year or so. And now I will be performing in one as part of a special Analog Ladies edition. It will be an afternoon of analog synthesizer madness featuring several of instrument’s most talented women: Jill Fraser, Mint Park, Amanda Chaudhary, Miss Moist, and 7H1NG2. It’s a casual BYOB event, so if you’re in San Francisco (or anywhere on the Bay Area transit grid) and free tomorrow afternoon, please drop by Robotspeak (589 1/2 Haight Street in SF) to hear us.

I will performing on my analog modular plus Moog Theremini, and probably wearing something with a feline theme. Here is a photo of the modular as I start to set up the initial patch for tomorrow’s set.

Analog modular synth preparation for Analog Ladies show

Things will be a little less chaotic visually by show time tomorrow. Sonically, there might be some chaos, but that is completely intentional 🙂

Church of the Superserge: March 2015

Yesterday, I attended the Church of the Superserge at Robotspeak here in San Francisco. It is a monthly gathering for electronic music and synth geekery hosted by the same folks who produced the big Serge Modular 40-year Reunion Concert.

There is always an impressive array of gear on hand. Here we see Robotspeak’s Steve Taormina warming things up before the show with a tower of modules. Also note the Prophet 2, Moog pedals and more in front.

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This is a casual, BYOB affair, so I stopped at a bodega across the street to grab a beverage. I encountered this rather stoic cat sitting next to the door.

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The music began with an ambient set by Clarke Robinson. There was an ever changing cloud of sound, sometimes quite tonal. There was also a bit of textural detail added by that small box in front of his modular.

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Next up was Elise Gargalikis, performing on a very compact suitcase rig featuring Serge modules and a looper. Her performance was more abstract and detailed than the previous, and featured her captivating voice as an integral sound source for the electronics.

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JD Northrup rouded out the afternoon with a decided techno set featuring strong patterns and arpeggios atop a four-on-the-floor beat. The rhythm remained fairly constant throughout the set (which was longer than the others), but the timbres from his setup featuring Make Noise modules along with a few others was continuously changing.

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A few of us were compelled to dance in place at points; and eventually Robotspeak’s own disco lighting came up.

All in all, it was a fun afternoon. I look forward to more of these events in the coming months.

Serge Modular 40 Year Reunion Concert

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Today we look back a unique event that took place a few weeks ago. To commemorate the 40th anniversary of the modular synthesizer system created by Serge Tcherepnin, fans, inventors, early adopters and virtuosi of these instruments got together at The Lab in San Francisco for an evening of music, gear spotting, and fellowship.

I arrived just in time to see Slope114, the duo of Elise Gargalikis and Dmitri SFC. Elise’s voice beautifully floated over the beats coming from the massive modular. There were quite a few groovy patterns and refrains in the mix.

Slope 114

I should also point out that they were key in organizing the event (and in helping introduce me to this community), so extra kudos for them.

Next up was LX Rudis, another frequent performer of Serge modulars. His was a much noisier, abstract performance compared to Slope114, but with lots of interesting sounds.

One of the earliest users of the Serge synthesizer was Will Jackson, who brought it on an anti-whaling voyage with Greenpeace in the 1970s. He related the story of the trip, including their encounter with a Soviet whaling ship, and shared with us some of the music he composed for and with the whales.

Next up was the virtuoso himself Doug Lynner. He did not disappoint, with a complex solo performance with subtle elements and precisely tuned patches.

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The music is defies simple description, it is slow, evolving, beautiful, ethereal. it is best to just listen to his sit in this video:

Jill Fraser was on hand to perform with her large Serge synthesizer setup along with some more contemporary electronics. Well known for her work in film and commercial music, her performance came across as more abstract in this instance.

The final act of the evening featured a trio, bringing together Paul Young with Gino Robair on drums and Richard Marriott on trombone.

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I jokingly referred to them as the “Serge house band” for the evening, but they killed it with an energetic jazzy set, especially one disco-infused jam of which I was particularly fond.

I regret not being able to list every act in this report, there were quite a few and they all brought something different to the event. And there was quite a large audience in attendance, overflowing the seats. We certainly except to hear more from many of these artists soon.