SFEMF Night 3: Arcane Device, Thea Farhadian, Alessandro Bosetti

Today we look at the third night of the San Francisco Electronic Music Festival (SFEMF), which took place on September 10 at the Brava Theater in San Francisco.

The evening opened with a set by Alessandro Bosetti, who performs with spoken-word vocals and electronics.

Alessandro Bosetti
[Photo by Pamela Z]

His texts are not traditionally lyrical, indeed they can be awkward or even absurd at times, or parts of imperfect translations. But he challenges himself and the audience to find the musicality within them. Most of what the audience hears are that result from the live electronic processing. The language remains audible, but it is transformed in a complex mixture of inharmonicity, noise and other types of musical sound. The performance was intense – and must have been physically exhausting for Bosetti, who is known for his work on radio.

While Bosetti’s set was intense and frenetic, Thea Farhadian’s performance was something altogether different. She performed a set featuring violin and live electronics.

Thea Farhadian
[Photo by Pamela Z]

Without straying into too-conventional territory, Farhadian’s sounds were lyrical and haunting. The harmonic qualities of violin were of course featured, but also the percussive sounds, which when combined with the electronic processing created rhythm and motion to the piece. Although there was no visual element other than the performer herself, the music had a visual quality, with long curving lines like brush strokes with thick paint punctuated by dots.

The final performance featured Arcane Device (aka David Lee Myers) on modular synthesizer with live generated visuals.

Arcane Device

He is known his creation of music from feedback and other noise sources, and so we were expecting a noise-centered performance. And we weren’t disappointed. But it was really the visuals that made this experience unique. The output of the synthesizer was fed into a special two-dimensional oscilloscope that was projected behind the performer. At first it was small, squished round elements as the sound started simply, but quickly grew complex creating chaotic textures that matched the sound. This was indeed a fun set to both watch and hear.

Overall it was a good night for this year’s SFEMF. And it was well attended. Other obligations kept we away from nights 2 and 4 this year, but I am looking forward to the festival’s return next year.

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.

December 1 Electronic Music at the Luggage Store Gallery, San Francisco

The December 1 show at the Luggage Store Gallery in San Francisco marked my official curatorial debut for the long-running Outsound Presents’ series. The show featured three solo performances with electronics, all very different in terms of musical style and technologies. But while all featured and celebrated different facets of electronic-music technology, there were strong connections to the acoustic and natural environment.

The evening opened with a set by Headboggle (aka Derek Gedalecia) with an array of analog electronics, including a Blippo Box. The sounds and possibilities of analog electronics were paired sounds of nature as recorded in the Yosemite Valley. The music began with a rhythmic pattern of high-pitched sounds against longer machine noises and clear presentation of the nature recordings. Gradually, the two sonic strains collided and mixed together.

As with previous Headboggle performances (such as the set at the 2010 Outsound Music Summit), this one was full of energy and stage theater, with head banging, dropping of the stage furniture, and even a moment where he tossed shakers down the Luggage Store Gallery’s stairwell. The music also became more dramatic and percussive, with more glitches, percussive hits and bursts of noise, but all set against the continuing presence of the nature sounds. The harsher electronic sounds gave way to a more rarefied tone over time, with longer periods of harmonic oscillator sounds fading into a quieter single tone. After another percussive period that included lifting and dropping the table holding the care, the environmental sounds took center stage. Between the stereo speakers and the acoustics of the gallery, the leaves and other sounds were strongly spatialized and felt present.

Thea Farhadian followed with a set for violin and computer running Max/MSP. In some sections of her performance, the violin was more of a traditional chamber-music instrument, with its familiar timbres augmented by electronic samples and processing. In others, it was more of a controller, with pizzicato notes triggering long runs of notes from the computer or other purely electronic events. The set started out with solo violin, with the electronics emerging slowly like the orchestra in a concerto. The music continued to unfold as interplay between the violin and electronics. As the texture changed to more pizzicato notes with electronic responses of backward tones, the music grew more anxious, channeling the anxious moments of countless films. I also was reminded of works by Penderecki and Xenakis. A large barrage of electronic pizzicato sounds started to take on a drone-like quality with its density. In both the melodic and percussive sections, the music was harmonically a very strong, a brought in electronic orchestration that suggestion the presence of a cello or bass off stage. Other effects included fast glissandi and electronic pitch changes such as one might achieve by changing the speed of a tape.

Farhadian’s performance was divided into a series of short movements, and some had very different character. In one, short pizzicato notes on the violin acted as triggered for long runs of electronic notes and processing, with various speed, pitch and timbral changes applied. In another, a very lyrical string melody was set against fluttering sounds and dramatic low tones. In yet another, she used “prepared violin”, with bits of foil and other items placed against the strings for percussive effects. The electronic accompaniment was equally scratchy and inharmonic. And in one of the final sections, repeated rhythmic phrases and echoes perfectly aligned.

The final set featured Later Days (aka Wayne Jackson) with a variety of circuit-bent instruments, acoustic and electronic noisemakers, and a laptop running his custom Cambrian Suite audio softsynth with both hand-designed and algorithmically evolved patches. If Farhadian’s performance was all about software-based manipulation and Headboggle was focused on analog hardware, Later Days combined both.

The space was quickly filled with an ocean of electronic sounds, glitches, bleeps, rumbles, short loops and echoes. At one point, everything became extremely quiet, with a few lo-fi distortion sounds and high squeaky analog sounds. The new sampling and looping capabilities of the software were showcased with repeated loops of circuit-bent sounds, a solo on a photo-sensitive oscillator, a car horn and recordings from a microphone dangled out the window onto busy Market Street. The loops built up to a frenzy and the slowed down to almost nothing. The sounds picked up again in pitch and energy, with feedback loops providing an edgy and unpredictable quality. A metallic rhythm emerged, and the faded a single feedback loop. A flurry of “little loud bits” formed an odd harmony of their own. After a series of machine-like noises and a more elemental wind-like sound, the music slowed down once again and came to a watery end.

Over all it was a great concert with a rich variety of music. Indeed, the three artists fit together sequentially even better than I had anticipated. And fortunately, the logistics and technical requirements (e.g., soundchecking) were not that challenging, so I was able to enjoy the show along with the audience.