Henry Kaiser Quartet Plays Steve Lacy at Piedmont Pianos

On an extraordinarily hot Saturday evening in Oakland, we and several others kept cool both physically and musically at Piedmont Pianos. The occasion was a concert of music by Steve Lacy, as interpreted by an ensemble organized by guitarist Henry Kaiser with saxophonist Bruce Ackley.

Steve Lacy is a visionary but often under appreciated musician in avant-garde jazz. He was a prolific composer especially in the 1970s with his sextet and is an influence on many of the musicians were regularly see and perform with. (You can see Jason Berry’s tribute comic to Steve Lacy in an earlier post.) Bruce Ackley and Henry Kaiser have long been interpreters of Lacy’s music. Ackley and other founding members of Rova shared a deep interest in Lacy, and connected with him in both Berkeley and Paris, ultimately recording their own album of his work in 1983. They teamed up with Kaiser for performances of Lacy’s Saxophone Special in the early 2000s and ultimately recorded the piece together with Kyle Bruckman. More recently, Kaiser and Ackley have put together a group to perform the music from The Wire, which included Tania Chen on piano, Danielle DeGruttola on cello, Andrea Centazzo on percussion, and Michael Manring on bass. The performance on this evening featured a subset of this group featuring Ackley, Kaiser, Chen, and DeGruttola.

Henry Kaiser Quartet

The concert featured many pieces from The Wire as well as a few others, and demonstrated the breadth of Steve Lacy’s composition from the brightly melodic “Hemline” (dedicated to Janis Joplin) to the extremely percussive and avant-garde “The Owl” (dedicated to Anton Webern), which featured Tania Chen and Kaiser blending the extended acoustic techniques of their respective instruments.

Henry Kaiser, Tania Chen, Robert Ackley

Even at its most percussive and noisy, Lacy’s music is quite melodic and structured. Indeed, many of the pieces were intended as songs, specifically songs for the voice of Irene Aebi. The melodies often revolved around simple repeating motifs, as in “Bound” (dedicated to Irene Aebi). On some pieces, including “Deadline”, DeGruttola and Kaiser acted as a string-based rhythm section, providing a foundation for the soprano-sax to interpret the melody and the piano to fill the space in between. Other moments provided lush harmonies, with Kaiser playing long pitch-bent chords on guitar and Chen playing frenetic harmonic fragments on piano. The energy can be intense at times, but then slower and haunting as in “Clouds”. Although structured, there is a lot of room for improvisation in the music, and the ensemble had great on stage chemistry for listening and playing off of one another, leaving empty space, and allowing Lacy’s original ideas to come out even as the performers added their own. The performance also included the title track from The Wire, “Twain”, “Ecstasy” and more.

This was my first visit to Piedmont Pianos. It is a large, friendly, and inviting space, dedicated entirely to the piano. Many were rather impressive, both in terms of their quality as instruments as well as their sticker prices, including the gorgeous Fazioli grand that Tania Chen played for the concert. However, I found myself most captivated by this remake of a 1930s Bluthne PH Piano, which is a work of visual as well as sonic art.  It is based on a design by noted Danish architect and inventor Poul Henningsen.

1931 PH Piano

We look forward to seeing more shows at Piedmont Pianos now that we have discovered it, and of course upcoming shows for all the musicians involved in this evening. Nor is this our last word on the music of Steve Lacy.

Amanda Chaudhary / Tania Chen, SMOMID, Teerapat Parnmongkol at Brick Theater, Brooklyn

I recently reported on my performance with Tania Chen at Spectrum in New York. However, this was not the first of our New York collaborations. A few days earlier we debuted our set at The Brick Theater in Brooklyn.

First up that evening was our friend Nick Dimopoulos as SMOMID, which is also the name of his invented musical instrument.

The SMOMID is a “Strong Modeling Midi Device” that allowed him to control multiple synthesizers and sequencers. His performance was highly dynamic and uses a lot of familiar performance idioms from the guitar, but in the service of a very different musical style that included fast electronic drum runs and other rhythmic patterns. Overall it was an intense and visual performance.

Then it was time for us to take the stage! We started quietly and a bit tentatively with Tania on melodica and myself on keyboard and synthesizer. As with the Spectrum gig, the principle instruments for me were a Nord Electro and a DSI Prophet 12 (for some reason the Moog Mother-32 wasn’t working that night). After a bit of the sound became thicker and more animated. And then we moved to the central part of our performance: two pop-style songs, the first of which was called “Cheezy Love Song.”

The second was a decidedly more melancholy song called “I Still Love You”, with a darker tone provided by the P12 beneath Tania’s singing. From here we segued directly into another experimental electro-acoustic improvisation that showcased the variety of sounds and objects at our disposal.

Our final piece was a cover of the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back”, which was of course a lot of fun and allowed me to exercise my pop and jazz keyboard skills. Overall, it was a good first performance, but we did learn a lot of things that we used to make Spectrum a few days later a great performance.

One feature of performing at The Brick is that it is a theater. Indeed, there was a play being staged that week, and all the sets had to accommodate the stage set. But it did make for a fun and unusual setting for the music, and in particular we took advantage of some of it within our performance.

The final set featured Teerapat Parnmongkol performing live ambient electronics along with live electronic video.

The music was reminiscent of electronic dance music in a club setting, but it did go off in other directions with noise hits, breaks in the rhythm and more. In the darkened space, however, one’s attention was squarely drawn to the video.

Overall it was a great show and we here happy to share the bill with these other artists. I would also like to extend a thank you to The Brick Theater and to Craig Flanagin for hosting us and making sure things ran smoothly. Hopefully I will be performing in Brooklyn again soon.

Amanda Chaudhary and Tania Chen at Spectrum, New York

Today we look back at my performance with Tania Chen at Spectrum in New York, a little over a week ago.


[Photo by BC]

Our duo is built around a mixture of experimental improvisation with electronic instruments and other elements, and songs with lyrics, melodies and chords, often segueing seamlessly from one to the other. Spectrum has a wonderful Steinway grand piano, which allowed to Tania to exercise her piano skills while I focused on chords and rhythm with a Nord Electro keyboard and DSI Prophet 12 and Moog Mother-32 synthesizers. At times the sound was dark and droning, others very sparse, and many times quite humorous – after all, we did sing a “Cheezy Love Song.” The songs themselves were quite structured, but there as well as the improvisations in between we were able to play off one another to create patterns and textures.



[Photos by BC]

I particularly like the sections combining the acoustic piano with the Prophet 12, and our dueling Casio keyboards. And yes, we had a lot of fun. You can see our full performance in this video below.

Overall we had a great time performing and it was quite well received by the audience. It wasn’t actually our first show together in New York. That was at the Brick Theater in Brooklyn and will be discussed in a separate article.


Our performance was in the middle of the bill. The evening began with a set by Hey Exit, a solo project by Brooklyn-based Brandan Landis.

Using guitar, electronics and video, Landis created a dark soundscape, sometimes noisy and drawing from his backgrounds in punk and noise, but at other times quite haunting and ethereal. The room was particularly dark, with light only from the video screen and a nearby candle.

Hey Exit was followed by a solo set by Jeff Surak featuring sundry electronic and acoustic sound sources.

Much of the set featured long drones with rich timbres, but also details such as beating patterns and occasional breaks in the sound. The timbres could be tense at moments, but overall tt was a very meditative performance; and a perfect sonic segue into our very different set.

We were immediately followed by Jarvis Jun Earnshaw performing with guitar, voice and electronics.

His sound at times was reminiscent of cafe folk singers, but his voice was anxious and abstract. The entire performance mostly followed the pattern of combining these elements with high-feedback delay and other effects.

The final set Jenn Grossman, another Brooklyn-based musician and sound artist.


[Photo by BC]

Her electronic set featured vocal experimentation with electronics, including rhythmic and ambient elements. Although also making use of drones, it was very different from Jeff Surak’s sound, more harmonic and thicker, more like a dreamy movie scene versus a tense dark space. There were percussive hits and noisy bits as well, which gave the music a defined texture.

It was overall a great experience being back at Spectrum and performing along with all the other acts. And we had a sizable and appreciative audience, despite the space being a little hot that evening. Thanks as always to Robert Pepper (Alrealon Musique) and Glenn Cornet for hosting us, and hopefully I will play there again soon.

Amanda Chaudhary and Tania Chen at Spectrum, NY

Tania Chen and I take our duo to the Ambient Chaos series tonight at Spetctrum in New York. We had a great show on Tuesday at The Brick Theater, and looking forward to another one tonight. If you are in New York and would like to join us, the full details are below:


Ambient-Chaos is back with it’s May edition.

Spectrum
121 Ludlow St, Fl Second, New York
$10-20 dollar floating donation.

Acts: Load in is at 6:30pm, 30 minute sets.
7:30 pm sharp start time!

Live video by Jim Tuite!
https://vimeo.com/tumeitejas

Acts in the order below.

1) Hey Exit

“Beginning as a free improvisation project in 2009, Hey Exit was restarted in 2015 with a focus on modern pop and electroacoustic composition. Led by Brooklyn’s Brendan Landis, Hey Exit draws on his background in punk, harsh noise, and traditional Japanese music.”
www.heyexit.com

2) Jeff Surak

J. Surak
Improvised electro-acoustic musique concrète.
“We always enjoy his restrained yet unwavering approach, fearlessly exploring dark zones of implied violence and subdued terror.” ~ The Sound Projector
http://violet.zeromoon.com/

3) Amanda Chaudhary and Tania Chen

Tania Chen is a pianist, experimental musician, free improviser and sound artist, working with pianos, keyboards, found objects, toys and vintage and lo-fi electronics.
www.taniachen.com

Amanda Chaudhary is a composer and performer specializing in contemporary and electronic music; an artist; and a developer of advanced software for creativity. She performs regularly around the Bay Area and beyond, both solo and with various bands and ensembles. Her solo work involves experimenting with innovative sounds via analog synthesis and custom software with computers and mobile devices for new modes of expressive musical performance. She often incorporates folk and toy instruments from around the world, along with jazz, dance music and other idiomatic styles into her visually captivating performances.
http://www.amandachaudhary.com/

4) Jarvis Jun Earnshaw

Born in London 1982, Jarvis Earnshaw spent most of his childhood in Japan, and graduated Bunka Gakuin Art School and is a graduate of the Pratt Institute. His musical career as well as his Art career has been recognized worldwide, having solo exhibitions, residencies and performances throughout Europe, Japan, India to New York and LA. His work is often described as a cinematic experience, utilizing guitar, sitar and audio cassette tapes provoking memories of past and beyond, warm and rich as does the noise from a record needle touching an LP; at times violently explosive yet soothing and irresistible. Currently based in Brooklyn, New York, he has been engaged in numerous projects throughout the Art and Music scenes including performances and collaborations with: Walter Steding, Kenny Scharf, Amazing Amy the contortionist, Rumi Missabu of the Cockettes amongst many others, and currently also plays bass in the punk band Question. His photos have been featured in Asahi Camera Magazine, has had a solo exhibition at the New York Public Library Thompkin Sq. branch and will be performing at the Bruno Walter Auditorium/Lincoln Center on April 21st 2016 in celebration for the inauguration of the “Rumi Missabu Papers” to the NYPL.
jarvisearnshaw.com
http://toqsyold.blogspot.com/

5) Jenn Grossman

Jenn is a sound and experiential media artist based in Brooklyn. Her interests lie in modes of heightening emotional, social and sensory awareness through ambient soundscapes, multichannel composition, vocal experimentation, public sound intervention, and collaborations with dancers and filmmakers. She has installed and performed at venues such as Harvestworks, the MoMA PS1 Printshop, the New York Transit Museum, Reverse Gallery, Open Source Gallery, Club 157, for the Deep Listening Conference’s Cistern Dream Session, Brown’s OPENSIGNAL Festival, the Gallatin Arts Festival, amongst in everyday spaces such as the park archways and tunnels, garbage cans, street vents and stairwells.

http://jenngrossman.wix.com/sound
soundcloud.com/jenn8grossman

Upcoming in Brooklyn: Amanda Chaudhary & Tania Chen / Smomid / Teerapat Parnmongkol

I am in New York this week for a pair of shows together with Tania Chen. We will have some brand new songs and sounds to share. Also performing that evening with be Smomid (Nick Demopoulos) with his unique music instruments; and Teerapat Parnmongkol with a solo electronic performance. For those in New York City or who can make their way to Brooklyn tomorrow night, the details are below:

The Brick Theater
579 Metropolitan Ave, Brooklyn, New York 11211

8:00 PM Smomid
8:45 PM Amanda Chaudhary & Tania Chen
9:30 PM Teerapat Parnmongkol

Door: $10 Suggested donation

————————————–

TANIA CHEN is a pianist, experimental musician, free improviser and sound artist, working with pianos, keyboards, found objects, toys and vintage and lo-fi electronics.
www.taniachen.com

AMANDA CHAUDHARY is a composer and performer specializing in contemporary and electronic music; an artist; and a developer of advanced software for creativity. She performs regularly around the Bay Area and beyond, both solo and with various bands and ensembles. Her solo work involves experimenting with innovative sounds via analog synthesis and custom software with computers and mobile devices for new modes of expressive musical performance. She often incorporates folk and toy instruments from around the world, along with jazz, dance music and other idiomatic styles into her visually captivating performances.
http://www.amandachaudhary.com/

*

The SMOMID is a unique interface/musical instrument created by Nick Demopoulos. SMOMID is an acronym for “String Modeling Midi Device.” SMOMID hardware resembles a touch-sensitive guitar or bass. Its software allows the performer to control numerous aspects of a performance, including the playing of melodies and harmonies, the direction and pattern of a melody, controlling beats and bass lines, triggering samples, manipulating audio files, and more. All aspects of a performance can be controlled from the grid on the fret board and the buttons on the instrument body. In addition to emitting sound, SMOMID also emits light that is rhythmically in sync with the music the instrument is then creating.
http://www.nickdemopoulos.com/

*
TEERAPAT PAMMONGKOL was born in 1988 in Sakon Nakorn, Thailand. He lived there until 7 years old then he moved to Udonthani, Thailand with his parent. In 2006 – 2010 he studied music in Bangkok City, Thailand. After music school he moved to New York City, USA in 2011. He sometime release music album under alias such as Lemur Onkyokei, LO and his own name.
https://teerapat.bandcamp.com/releases

Optical Sounds: Dementia (Frith, Custer, Stanley)

Optical Sounds is a monthly series at the Center For New Music in San Francisco, curated by Tania Chen with Benjamin Ethan Tinker featuring live improvisation to soundless films. We had the opportunity to attend the most recent installment, which featured a trio of Fred Frith, Beth Custer and Christina Stanley interpreting the 1955 dialogue-less film “Dementia” by John Parker.

DementiaWe at CatSynth often enjoy unusual films, but “Dementia” is weird even among weird films, though the Variety description “May be the strangest film ever offered for theatrical release” seems a bit hyperbolic. The film follows the inner thoughts and actions of a woman as she wanders through dark corners of Los Angeles with even darker characters, while recalling violent events of her childhood. The film is part psychological thriller, part film noir, and part surrealist experiment, constantly jumping between the tropes of all three.

The original soundtrack featured music by George Antheil and a section with Shorty Rogers and his band who also appeared in the film. For this performance however, the original soundtrack was absent with Frith, Custer and Stanley providing the music. The constantly-changing nature of the film was reflected in the music, with eerie vocals by Beth Custer, percussive hits by Custer and Fred Frith, and a mixture of processed violin and analog synthesizer by Stanley. Overall, the music was energetic, with moments of chaos, but also some mellower pads by Stanley on synth. They did blend some film-score tropes into the performance, such as eerie sounds for the internal memories and thoughts of the main character, tense bits of sound for the dark streets of the city, and jazzy cabaret style riffs for the night-club scenes – the latter were definitely my favorite parts of the music.

The dialog-less nature of the film does facilitate such an improvised score, but the oddness of its structure must have made it challenging. But the trio pulled it off. I am glad to have been able to attend the performance and look forward to more in this series.

Outsound New Music Summit: Vision Music 

The final night of the Outsound New Music Summit featured three sets combining music with visuals. The room was dark, with all illumination coming from the visuals on the screen and the sonic elements abstractly arrayed around them.

The evening opened with Mika Pontecorvo’s project Bridge of Crows performing an improvised set to a segment Pontecorvo’s film The Bedouin Poet of Mars: The Last Poet.

Mika Pontecorvo
[Photo: PeterBKaars.com]

The film’s story is a bleak tale of a poet who is the last survivor of a once-thriving civilization on Mars, searching for a home for himself and the last surviving plant. He sees the results of several self-destructive civilizations on his journey. Despite the dark subject matter, the visuals themselves were lively and abstract at times, with lots of interesting visual and image processing.

Bedouin Poets of Mars : The Last Poet

The music moved in and out of a variety of textures and dynamic levels, though the focus remained on the visuals throughout. Joining the regular ensemble was Bob Marsh, wearing one of his trademark suits and performing on a string instrument made from a tree.

Bob Marsh
[Photo: PeterBKaars.com]

One disadvantage of the darkened environment was that I did not get to see much of Marsh or his instrument, which I would have liked to. Rounding out the ensemble were Kersti Abrams on winds, Elijah Pontecorvo on electric bass, Greg Baker on electronics, hydrophone and clarinet, Mark Pino on percussion, and Mariko Miyakawa on vocals.

Next up was Tender Buttons, a trio featuring Tania Chen on small instruments, with Gino Robair and Tom Djil on analog modular synthesizers. The trio performed sounds against live interactive video by Bill Thibault.

Tender Buttons
[Photo: PeterBKaars.com]

The set was anchored by Chen’s piano, which ranged from intricate and complex to loud and aggressive, augmented by small toy instruments. The piano interlaced with Thibault’s abstract visuals, which started out simply but grew more complex over the course of the set. Throughout, the visuals displayed words from Gertrude Stein’s poem Tender Buttons, but were increasingly mixed with the more complex elements.

Tender Buttons
[Photo: PeterBKaars.com]

Robair and Djll provided a variety of adept sounds from modular synthesizers and circuit-bent electronics to complement the piano and video.

The final set featured live interactive video by Bill Hsu with James Fei on reeds and Gino Robair returning on percussion.

James Fei with Bill Hsu visuals
[Photo: PeterBKaars.com]

I am quite from the minimalist quality in Bill Hsu’s visuals. The began with very simple geometric elements, but soon hope added a bit of controlled chaos that led to very organic elements on the screen.

Bill Hsu visuals

Befitting the visuals, the music in this set was more sparse, with moments of quiet and loud solo bursts from Robair and Fei. Robair percussion worked best with the early geometric elements, and Fei’s complex runs on saxophone worked well with the more organic visuals.

I enjoy sets that integrate visuals and music into a single unit. It can sometimes be a challenge to take everything in, much less write about it afterwards. But I hope this gives a little insight into the evening. It was a good closing concert for this years Summit, and was appreciated by those who came only that night as well as the loyal audience members who were there most or all days. This concludes the 2015 Outsound New Music Summit, and I look forward to its return next year.