Report from the Outsound Music Summit Benefit Dinner and Concert

With a little over a week to go before the Outsound Music Summit, we look back at our benefit dinner and performance.

The benefit took place at the Numi Tea Garden in Oakland, a beautiful space that blends into the industrial architecture of its surroundings. You can see this photo which I posted on a recent Wordless Wednesday. An interesting bit of trivia for music-tech geeks that I learned is that the space now occupied by Numi used to be home of Zeta Music Systems, the makers of the Zeta electronic violin.

The dinner, by chef Miles Ake was itself a piece of performance and conceptual art. It was based on the ingredients of a classic Gazpacho recipe, listed in mirroring order at the beginning and end of the menu. The description and the presentation of the food itself unfolded like a multi-movement musical composition. From Ake’s statement:

The root of the word Gazpacho is derived from a Mozarab word caspa, meaning “residue” or “fragments,” which refers to the small pieces of bread and vegetables in a Gazpacho soup. throughout the meal the gazpacho as an entity wil go through a series of fractured movements. This fracturing is not a means to disconnect, but rather as a process of extraction, distillation and isolation of distinct parts. The structure of the menu is an anagrammatical game or a rewinding (moving backwards in time to replay a track) while simultaneously moving forward without redundancy in form/texture/taste using to compositional terms (verse, refrain, notes, scale, etc….) to build a lexicon of culinary elements.

The dinner opened with an interpretation of the soup itself, which set the tone and direction:

The panzanella and ricotta/pepper dishes were perhaps my favorites palette-wise and reflect the colors from the base ingredients:

The “bloody margaret” with gin and olive gelée served in an old-fashioned glass and the raw fluke were the most unique. The desert was an experience as well, with “three textures of olive oil”, including a very creamy foam-like texture that I have never had before.

The music for the evening featured a performance by Vorticella, a quartet of Krys Bobrowski, Erin Espeland, Brenda Hutchinson and Karen Stackpole. Their improvised performances feature a wide variety of instruments, ranging from standard cello and horn, to Karen Stackpole’s array of gongs and blocks, to unique custom instruments like Bobrowski’s gliss glass:

[Click image to enlarge.]

Vorticella derive their name from the single-cell creatures. The bell-shape features prominently in the instruments, such as the gliss glass, horn, and other wind instruments. The themes of a single-cell organism functioning as a compact unit, but then breaking off new copies at any given time, permeate the direction and texture of the group’s improvised performances.

I have heard Vorticella before at the Garden of Memory events and the Flower Moon Concert in 2009. This was however an exceptional performance. Although the instrumentation is diverse and music improvised, it had a very coherent texture and direction and was well crafted. Like the single-cell organism, they seemed to function as one, with music that could have come from a master synthesizer soloist or from countless hours of careful sound design in a studio, but it was all unfolding organically in front of us. The wind and metal elements set the overall timbral environment in which the details unfold. Think of wind blowing through giant metal pipes, and then tapping on the side of the pipe or bowing it – these could be seen as basic ingredients, in a way similar to Ake’s use of the gazpacho ingredients to produce the entire meal. I found myself alternating between the rich overall timbre of the ensemble and focusing on individual details, whether Bobrowski’s visual presentation on the gliss glass, Stackpole’s constant shifting among different pieces of percussion, or Espeland’s playing the cello with two bows simultaneously. There was a good mix of long drone-like sounds and punctuated percussive elements – appropriate space was left for the latter.

So with the benefit dinner behind us, we are on to the actual summit, which begins next Sunday July 17 with the annual “Touch the Gear” night and continues with concerts the following week. You can find out more info, including tickets and passes to the concerts here. Those on Facebook are also encouraged to visit Outsound Presents’ page which features more photographs of the dinner and music.

Wordless Wednesday: Red Pipes, Numi Tea Garden