Idris Ackamoor Quartet, Amanda Chaudhary, IMA, Voicehandler. Second Act SF

Today we look back at a memorable show I played in a couple of weeks ago at Second Act here in San Francisco. Four acts each brought a different style of performance, instrumentation and experimentation to the stage.

First up was IMA, an electro-acoustic duo featuring Nava Dunkelman and Jeanie-Aprille Tang.

Nava Dunkelman and Jeanie-Aprille Tang

Their sound blends the noisier edges of percussion with a range of electronic sources, including loops, samples, and percussive hits that complement the acoustic sources. It was a loud and intense affair, but with quiet sections. Dunkelman also used her voice during the performance as another instrument.

Then it was time to take the stage. This was another set featuring Moog Theremini and analog modular synthesizer. The color theme for this performance was blue.

Amanda Chaudhary with Moog Theremini
[Photo by Tom Djll]

As with many of these electronic improvisation sets, it starts off very structured and then moves in different directions based on the audience, room, instrument behavior and inspiration. You can see the full performance in this video.

Amanda Chaudhary at Second Act from CatSynth on Vimeo.

Overall I was quite pleased with the performance and the audience reaction.

Next up was Voicehandler, a duo of Danishta Rivero and Jacob Felix Heule.

Voicehandler

Their sound was a bit more subtle than the previous acts. It featured Rivero on extended vocal techniques with a water-based electro-acoustic instrument of her own invention, the Hydrophonium; and Heule on extended percussion techniques that were often subtle and precise before veering into more energetic territory.

The final act was a quartet led by Idris Ackamoor featuring Mark Heshima Williams on bass, Bob Marshall in drums, and David Molina on guitar and laptop with Ableton Live!

Idris Ackamoor Quartet

Several of the musicians and musical pieces were familiar from Ackamoor’s renowned “afro-futurist” group The Pyramids. Indeed, the performance followed a similar structure with both a rhythmic entry and recessional. The rhythm section of Williams and Marshall was solid and perfect for some of the funkier grooves; and Ackamoor managed to move effortlessly between roles as horn-player and solo tap-dancing. It was interesting to hear David Molina and his guitar+electronic work, which I have heard before as a solo project, blended into this context.

Idris Ackamoor

All together it was a good show from all four groups, a diverse range of music. The large audience seem drawn to all the acts even if they initially came following one. And it’s great to see spaces like Second Act continuing to host shows like this in San Francisco. I hope to play there again sometime soon.

Outsound Music Summit: Fuzzybunny, Transient, PMOCATAT Ensemble

The Outsound Music Summit continued on Friday with a concert entitled “Emanations and Artifacts”. All three sets featured manipulation of found sounds (as well as found visuals) but to very different effect.

The program began with Transient, David Molina’s electro-acoustic, ambient, experimental project. He was joined for this performance by Anna Geyer who provided visuals from a large collection of 16-millimeter film loops, some found, some hand-painted. The projectors and film segments hanging were themselves works of art.

16mm film clips

The performance itself was a fully improvised collaboration of sound and visuals. But the music had a very well crafted and even narrative quality to it. It was anchored by a series of stories told by undocumented workers in the U.S. about their experiences. Over this, Molina layered elements based on a wide variety of live acoustic artifacts from small bells and shakers to cello and banjo. These sources were composed using Ableton Live! into loops, rhythms and drones to create a complex ever changing soundscape.

David Molina - Transient
[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

The entire 40-minute performance was captivating and full of interesting details, stretched metallic sounds, scraped strings turned into rhythms. Perhaps my favorite part was Molina’s first bowing the banjo and then strumming the instrument over the looped recording. This was combined with deeper electronic sounds and set against a set of film clips that featured cats (yes, there was some cat spotting on this evening).

Cats in Transient performance
Cats in Transient performance

The next performance featured the PMOCATAT Ensemble, Matt Davignon’s projected based on cassette players and other sources restricted to cassette-like fixed-media manipulation. I was part of this ensemble, and managed to find a cassette-player iPad app for the occasion.

iPad cassette app for PMOCATAT Ensemble

The ensemble performed four pieces by Davignon as well as two by guest composers Daniel Steffey and Benjamin Ethan Tinker. Davignon’s pieces had a playful quality to them, and integrated the participants’ regular instruments into the media and the concepts of each piece. Perhaps my favorite was the “Avant-Jazz Trio”, which was billed as neither a trio nor really jazz. However, the end result, which featured manipulated recordings of bass, piano, drums and horns did have a jazz-like quality to it, and an ensemble-like texture. The effect was helped by the performers listening to one another as the would in a true jazz-improvisation ensemble as well as Davignon’s conducting.

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[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

The pieces by Steffey and Tinker had very different tones. The source materials were more abstract, often deliberately noisy. The unfolding of Steffey’s piece reminded me of many of John Cage’s experimentations with media-based pieces, although in this case it was overlaid with recordings of speeches collected as a personal response to the George Zimmerman / Trayvon Martin case. Tinker’s piece used pre-composed cassettes that the performers manipulated based on a beautifully designed graphical score. The sounds were then passed through a looper and other effects and mixed into a single source.

The final set was the much anticipated reunion of Fuzzybunny, an electronic-improvisation trio consisting of Chris Brown, Scot Gresham-Lancaster and Tim Perkis. Their music is described as “All-out ‘carnallectual’ electronic improv, rocky-roaded with pop-music fragments and sonic gags define some kind of new style, difficult to describe.” And this was their first time playing together as group in a decade.

Fuzzybunny
[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

The performance started right way into their high-intensity onslaught of electronic sounds, pop-music clips, and loud hits. Perkis anchored the music with his steady laptop emanations while Chris Brown deftly moved through a variety of rhythms and familiar samples from popular music – I have a particular soft spot for the R&B clips – and Scot Gresham-Lancaster explored timbral possibilities of guitar and looping. The prevailing texture was loud and driving, but there were more subtle moments as well, with wobbly synthetic sounds, quieter percussive hits and scratchier recorders of older pop music. But then they would hit us with something surprising and louder. For a band that hasn’t played together in over ten years, they were very tight. And one could tell they were having fun (something that Brown mentioned during the pre-show Q&A as well). It was certainly a fun performance for those of us in the audience as well, and there was no question that we were going let them play a little longer, especially if it turns out to be another ten years before we can hear them together again.

Overall, it was another strong performance for this year’s summit, and one I was proud to be personally involved with as both a performer and curator.

Outsound Music Summit: Touch the Gear Expo

The 12th Annual Outsound Music Summit began this past Sunday, opening as always with the Touch the Gear Expo. Musicians and sound artists from the Bay Area and beyond were on hand with their musical devices and inventions for the public to observe and try out. I participated this year with two technological extremes: soft synths on an iPad, and a full two rows of Eurorack format analog modules.

iPad and Eurorack modular

Both offerings were quite popular, eliciting curiosity from visitors of all ages.

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[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

There were quite a few analog synthesizers on hand, including a vintage Serge modular courtesy of Synthesizerman (aka Doug Linner).

Synthesizerman and Serge Modular
[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

One of the more intriguing analog synths I encountered was this creation by Andy Puls.

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The circular pattern represents a step sequencer controlling an internal sound generator. Conductive pegs can be moved around on the bars to change pitches and other parameters. There are also knobs as well. The overall geometry, control design and lights made this a visually appealing instrument.

Nick Wang also demonstrated some custom analog boxes with controllers, oscillators and a VCF.

Nick Wang synth demo

Fernando Lopez-Lezcano demonstrated his elaborate homemade analog synthesizer. I have had the privilege of hearing him play it in a formal performance.

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[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

Matt Davignon demonstrated his devices for working with fixed-media sources, a bit of a preview of what we can expect for Friday night’s PMOCOTAT performance.

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Acoustic creations, in particular sounds from natural sources, were a common theme this year as well. Cheryl Leonard demonstrated her expertly tuned instruments made from stones, bones, shells and wood gathered at the extremes of the earth. She also demonstrated her virtuosity with using these elements together, such as generating rhythms from a series of bones passed over the shells.

Cheryl Leonard
[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

David Samas was also on hand with his musical creations from natural sources found here in northern California.

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Missing from the picture above is his tuned aluminum rod, from which one can get quite a powerful sound with a well-rosined hand. I had the opportunity to try it out myself.

Bryan Day presented his instruments made from found objects, including the tape measures featured prominently in the image below. Other sources included springs and metal rods. His creations are quite ergonomic and easily to play, putting unusual sources into compact and intuitive arrangements.

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Horaflora combined acoustics and small electronics in a couple of lively offerings, including drum heads excited by magnets. I heard him play this in a program several months ago.

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Horaflora also demonstrated exciting natural acoustic elements atop a subwoofer connected to an iPhone synth. You can see and hear a bit of my attempting to demonstrate these elements together with him in the following video:


David Molina (aka “Transient”) also blended acoustic and electronic ideas. He had a variety of small instruments and sound sources on hand, which he used to generate source material for complex loops and textures controlled in real time via Albeton live.

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In his own words, this was only “about half of what he will be using in his performance on Friday.”

Tom Nunn, a prolific inventor whom I interviewed in 2012, was once again presenting his creations. This time it was an exceptionally colorful set of his Skatchboxes.

Tom Nunn skatchboxes
[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

There were others presenting as well, and unfortunately, I did not have time to see everyone and also attend to me own station. But I hope to see more of all the participants in more musical settings.

The Outsound Music Summit continues on Wednesday night with the first of the formal concerts, you can see a full schedule here. And of course, you can always follow along with @catsynth on Twitter if you can’t attend in person.

CatSynth at the 12th Annual Outsound Music Summit, San Francisco

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The annual Outsound Music Summit will be starting this weekend at the Community Music Center (544 Capp St) in San Francisco. And once again, we at CatSynth will be there. I will be participating the Touch the Gear Expo this Sunday (July 21, 7PM) with technologies ranging from iPad soft synths to the analog modular system. I am also curating the concert on Friday, July 26, featuring Transient, a project of David Molina, Matt Davignon’s PMOCATAT ensemble, and a reunion of Fuzzybunny, an electronic improvising trio featuring Tim Perkis, Chris Brown and Scot Gresham-Lancaster. It should be a great show.

The best way to experience the Summit is in person, so if you in the Bay Area, I encourage you to attend one or more of the programs. Ticket information can be found here. But for those who cannot attend, you can follow @catsynth on Twitter and Instagram for live updates, and here on the blog for more in-depth reviews of the shows.