Outsound Music Summit: Thwack! Bome! Chime!

Today we continue our reviews of the Outsound Music Summit with Thwack! Bome! Chime!, an evening of modern percussion performances. There was quite a bit of Thwack! and more than a couple of Chimes. But I am not quite sure about the Bome! part.

The concert opened with a solo set by David Douglas performing with acoustic percussion, MIDI controllers and a laptop running Max/MSP. His approach, visually, physically and musically, is to integrate the traditional drums, cymbals and acoustic noisemakers with the electronics in a single unit.

[David Douglas. Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

I had last seen Douglas perform at the Luggage Store Gallery before Reconnaissance Fly. I recalled that performance being richly textured, but his setup and musical performance on this night was more varied and sophisticated. He began with short taps on a drum with granular and pitch effects cascading out of the percussion sounds. These gradually evolved into more complex rhythms and drum rolls augmented with tonal pitches. The acoustic sources expanded from the drum to percussive hits with sticks and other implements, with more pitched elements and eventually faster more rhythmic playing. As the set unfolded, there more complex polyrhythms as well as very subtle quiet sections, and sounds that were further afield from traditional percussion, with long electrical drones. There was an abrupt shift the cymbals with gliding pitch shifts and long tones. He also used lights and a mobile device to control electronic elements. At one point during the set, the music became more like techno/electronica, with repeated rhythmic patterns and in-time delays and hits. His performance continued as a single, continuously changing improvisation for the duration of the set.

The next set featured Falkortet, a local percussion ensemble that composes pieces for itself in a variety of styles. Members of the ensemble include Lydia Martin, Ed Garcia, Timothy Black and Josh Mellinger.

[Falkortet. Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

The ensemble entered from the rear in the hall in a slow procession, with metal percussion and led by Martin on a conch shell. The scene and sound reminded me of a wedding or celebration band that one might find in South Asia or the Middle East. The performers took their seats at various points of the stage and the rhythm steadied into a syncopated pattern with a bit of a swing. It grew louder and more complex over time and then all at once soft.

The remainder of Falkortet’s set featured a series of short compositions in a variety of idioms and was quite a contrast to Douglas’ single abstract improvisation. There was a piece with three standard drum sets and a piano that included both loud drumming and a section that was jazz or tango-like. Another piece featured a marimba, a large hand drum and bells that reminded me of gamelan instruments, especially as the music unfolded first a single unison phrase that splinted into more complex polyrhythms and variations. After the piece, they explained that the bell instruments were in fact prototypes for an “American gamelan.”, and that many of their instruments were made from found objects or recycled materials.

[Falkortet. Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

A couple of other pieces that particularly caught my attention was a marimba quartet with soft chords and subtle changes at different rates. It was quite meditative. The last couple of pieces with vibraphone, marimba and drums had a more jazzy feel, with familiar minor chords, blues scales and even a bit of a funky vibe at times. It was a fun way to close the set.

The final set featured the premier of Seems Like An Eternity, a new composition by Benjamin Ethan Tinker for percussion and electronics. Tinker, who performed in the piece on Arp 2600 and an Echoplex, was joined by Lydia Martin and Tim Black from the Falkortet, as well as Shani Aviram on kalimba, and April-Jeanie Tang and Daniel Steffey from Touch-the-Gear night.

[Benjamin Ethan Tinker and ensemble members. Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

I was quite interested in hearing this piece after learning about it during the Composers’ Forum earlier in the week, and was glad to see that most of the audience stayed to support the performance as well even though it was already 11PM. It had a very elemental theme “evoking the desert night sky”. On a more technical level, it subverted the usual character of percussion by avoiding discrete sounds and instead using the instruments to generate drones. It unfolded with long tones with pitch variations, some of which reminded me of whale songs. A cymbal roll added both grown and higher-frequency content, while rubbing on timpani drums and rubber mallets on a wood surface added a thick middle-frequency drone. It was not purely drone, however, as bits of crackly sound came and went,. There were also empty spaces in the sound. I did find myself listening for the Arp within the soundscape, and identified some very noisy sounds and wobbly arpeggios from the instrument. At one point there was a very elemental loud metal shake evocative of a thunderstorm. Again, the overall drone was broken up by the sounds of small metal pitched percussion. The sound grew softer and lower in frequency, with the electronics moving into a subsonic realm where the waveform became a chain of discrete percussive sounds. After an electronic solo, the other instruments returned in, converging on a single tone. The sound became crunchier and more varied in timbre, with granular elements and then grew into a series of loud swells towards the end of the piece.

This was a long concert, and some ways a bit of endurance test. But it was rewarding to fully experience all three sets their entirety, as it is not that often one gets to hear an entire concert dedicated to percussion like this.

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.