Mensa Cat Monday: John Paul Sartre

John Paul Sartre

By J.B. of Vacuum Tree Head.

San Francisco Tape Music Festival

As promised, here is my post on the San Francisco Tape Music Festival. I had an opportunity to attend last Saturday’s program.

First, a word about “tape music.” Of course, it does not actually have to be on tape. Indeed it is now most often rendered as digital media: DVD or audio files. The San Francisco Tape Music Collective (which runs the festival) defines it as “audioArt diffused through a surround-sound speaker environment.” Essentially the “audio art” is music or other sound rendered onto media, and the performance is the live performance of that media in a hall through a speaker system. The way the media is mixed into the speakers and the live space creates a unique performance. And the fact that the material is recorded on media allows composers to create sounds that could never be performed live, even with modern computers – although the gap between what can be done live and what can only be rendered is narrowing over time. In the early days of electronic music, tape was in fact the only way to realize sounds, and thus the only way to perform the music. Modern tape music carries on that tradition.

The idea of going to concert hall and listening to a recording may seem odd, but like any other performance, it is about matching the content and presentation. There are really good tape-music performances, and really bad ones, and I have been to both. The Saturday performance at the festival was definitely a good one. It included classics of electronic music, such as John R Pierce’s Stochatta, one of early experiments in computer music at Bell Laboratories; and Lubiano Berio’s Thema (Ommagio a Joyce). Both pieces were premiered over 50 years ago. John R Pierce may be familiar to longtime readers of CatSynth as one of the co-discovers of the Bohlen Pierce scale.

Most of the other pieces on the program were far more recent, with the most recent being the premier of Cupido’s Suitcase by Cliff Caruthers. A series of three pieces in the first half, Winter Light (for Ingmar Bergman) by George Cremaschi, Pre-fader: Highly reverberant states by Goran Vejvoda and Chart Tempo & World Retrograde by Jon Liedecker/Wobbly explore three different aesthetics within recorded sound art: simple (but very powerful) sound synthesis with two oscillators, complex collages of sounds, and remixing of popular-music elements, respectively.

One piece that also got attention when the program was first announced was a piece by The Fireman, which is actually a due of Paul McCartney and Martin Glover aka Youth. As a piece on the program, I don’t know that is as memorable as the others I have discribed.

The program closed with a rather “hard” piece buzzz by Geraud Bec, which I leave to the reader’s imagination. Works by Maggi Payne, Zhiye Li and Kent Jolly rounded out the program.

Overall, a very even performance, there was no point at which I didn’t want to be there listening. I also think that this series is fairly accessible for those who are not familiar with contemporary or experimental music, nothing is too harsh or too provocative – then again, I don’t know if I am the best judge of that.