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Santa Clara’s Laptop Orchestra, Version 2.0

SCLork at work, 2013

SCLork at work, 2013

A year ago, Bruno Ruviaro was kind enough to let me sit in on one session of his laptop orchestra course at Santa Clara University. It was fun watching the students hone and rehearse the pieces for their upcoming end-of-quarter performance.

Ruviaro taught the class again, during this past spring session — and again, SCLork (the Santa Clara Laptop Orchestra) will perform an end-of-year concert. It’s Wednesday, June 4 at 7:30 p.m. in Santa Clara’s Music Recital Hall. (It’s in the Music and Dance building, corner of Lafayette and Franklin.) This year, Santa Clara’s performing arts group has even listed the program and the players for your perusal.

As I wrote last year, the course consists of weekly rehearsals in anticipation of the concert. Classes are held on the very stage where the students will perform. They’re given identical laptops on Day One (ensuring consistency of tools), and from there, Ruviaro helps shape the performance while guiding the class through the backroads of performance-software packages such as SuperCollider. He and the students build the concert program, consisting of their own pieces and some Santa Clara faculty contributions. In fact, Professor Alex Christie’s “What Happened in Salt Lake City,” which was part of the rehearsal I saw, appears on this year’s bill as well.

I’d intented to ask Ruviaro for permission to watch Day One of the class this time around, just to get a flavor for what it’s like. I’d seen the culmination of the process, with the students working as a team, comfortable improvising around a framework, well versed in the vocabulary of their instruments. I’d like to contrast that with the beginning. The difference might actually be slim. The students aren’t blind amateurs; many are musicians, so they’ve got ensemble experience, and I got the impression that a few had already run a few laps around the noise-improv track.

There’s a SLOrk at Stanford University as well, but it’s nice to see a project like this down in the South Bay. The course certainly seems to be a success — this time, admission is not free, and the concert is getting a regular evening slot rather than the late afternoon. SCU takes SCLork seriously, as they should; there’s some cool stuff happening here.

June 1, 2014 at 11:34 pm Leave a comment

On the Air: Friday, May 30

Even if you’re familiar with this blog, it’s understandable if you have no idea I ever did a college radio show. I haven’t been on the air in something like 17 months.

The plan is to end that streak on Friday, when I’ll be subbing for the “No Cover, No Minimum” jazz show normally put on by DJ Fo. That’ll be May 30 from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. Pacific.

In deference to Fo’s audience, I’ll probably shift into more mainstream stuff for the final 30 minutes or more, and I’ll shy away from extreme noise. But do expect some good local jazz (especially things mentioned in these pages) and at least a small taste of free improvisation.

You can listen in at kzsulive.stanford.edu … or, if you’re in the Bay Area, at 90.1FM.

May 27, 2014 at 9:42 pm Leave a comment

Kyle Bruckmann Brings Pynchon to Outsound

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From Kyle Bruckmann’s web site; click to go there.

The 2013 Outsound New Music Summit will conclude with a roughly hour-long piece by Kyle Bruckmann’s Wrack, on Sat., July 27.

“…Awaits Silent Tristero’s Empire” is a concert-length “free jazz phantasmagoria” inspired by the early novels of Thomas Pynchon, scored for a septet of oboe, bass clarinet, trumpet, trombone, viola, bass and percussion. The title comes from the group W.A.S.T.E. in The Crying of Lot 49, and the piece incorporates some of them made-up songs in Pynchon’s texts.

I think of Wrack as an out-jazz group with chamber-music leanings, and while they’ve played a variety of styles, “Awaits” is different due to its size, if nothing else. Considering the work it entails, it’s nice to see the piece getting three performances next weekend — full schedule at the bottom of this post.

For a deep dive into the Pynchon aspect and the compositional process, read this interview with Bruckmann by Chamber Music America, which funded the project.

There’s also a half-hour video interview produced as part of the “In the Field” series filmed for the festival.

Finally, I had a few basic questions that had been itching at me, and Bruckmann was kind enough to take a few minutes to email some responses…


Q: What made you decide to write a long piece in the first place?

Bruckmann: I wanted to challenge myself to attempt a longer form. To date, Wrack compositions have always been self-contained entities — 5- to 10-ish minute forms (I suspect a holdover from “rock band” mindframe) that could extend as far as 15 minutes or so when the improvisations really took off. But my experience stretching things out to a half hour with On Procedural Grounds inspired me to see if I could go further and keep it coherent and cohesive.

That intention evolved in tandem with the Pynchon concept, and that material really seemed to demand a sprawling, kaleidoscopic sort of treatment — something that could ideally feel as intricate and exhausting as the novels themselves. In the end, the composition has wound up being quite a collage, and as such maybe is only just barely more of a “long form” than a carefully sequenced album — I’m also struck by how much it was informed by my history as a college radio DJ!

Q: When writing a large piece, is there pressure to make the themes/ideas “bigger?” I’ve always wondered about that.

Bruckmann: Interesting question — probably, but I think at least in this instance there’s a chicken/egg problem. Pynchon’s novels – like so much “encyclopedic” postmodernism — definitely have a way of containing the universe, or at least tangentially hinting at its presence within the bloody mess. But so does a Mahler symphony, for that matter. And while I tremendously respect restraint and concision in art, I think I’ve always tended to resonate more naturally with audaciousness — extremity, proliferation, OCPD, and the delicious stew of megalomania and self-loathing that both those two gentlemen, for instance, appear to have.

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Photo by Peter Gannushkin

I don’t know that the music I’ve written can be said to have much profundity – or even “thematic” content at all, for that matter — but I was repeatedly surprised at how much (somewhat embarrassingly 19th-century) autobiographical psychoanalysis seemed to keep bubbling up. I suspect that was all internal, and a listener wouldn’t necessarily know or care.

And that’s just fine with me, as long as it at least comes across as having some heart — I do not intend for this to be an arch and snarky joke.

Q: Wrack is a pretty unusual combination of instruments (oboe, viola, trombone) … when you started the group, were you going out of your way to pick less common instruments?

Bruckmann: Absolutely. I was choosing specific people in the Chicago scene as much as instruments, but there was definitely resonance for me with picking black sheep of both the orchestra and jazz combos. In Wrack’s first phase, I was also particularly interested in a dark, woody timbre, with all the contrapuntal possibilities inherent to having two winds and two strings with staggered and overlapping ranges. When Jeb Bishop had to step out, a bass clarinet worked perfectly in the trombone’s place, while making some balance issues even easier. Now I get them BOTH, plus Darren Johnston! The trumpet definitely suggests “jazziness” more emphatically, but that’s fairly crucial for this piece. And the pairs of woodwind, strings, and brass make the options practically orchestral.


Upcoming performances of “Awaits”:

27 Jul 2013 Wrack | premiere of …Awaits Silent Tristero’s Empire, made possible by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation through Chamber Music America‘s New Jazz Works program | Outsound New Music Summit | Community Music Center, 544 Capp St SF | 8:00

28 Jul 2013 Wrack | …Awaits Silent Tristero’s Empire, made possible by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation through Chamber Music America‘s New Jazz Works program | AD HOC #8, presented by SASSAS and the City of West Hollywood | WEHO Library, 625 N San Vicente Blvd, West Hollywood | 8:00

29 Jul 2013 Wrack | …Awaits Silent Tristero’s Empire, made possible by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation through Chamber Music America‘s New Jazz Works program | Nebraska Mondays Creative Music & Jazz Series | Luna’s Cafe, 1414 16th St, Sacramento | 7:30

July 21, 2013 at 8:46 am 1 comment

SF Offside: Two Nights to Go

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Source: SF Offside’s Twitter feed.
Click to see the Tweet & photo

The SF Offside festival is underway.

Night 1 is completed; tonight (Friday) the festival shifts to the Duende loft. Saturday’s show will be at the Community Music Center in San Francisco’s Mission District.

The highlight of the first night was apparently the Wiener Kids Family Band, in which Jordan Glenn’s trio was expanded to a glorious little mob. The Awaken Cafe, hosting the event, posted a blip on Vine that tells the story quite well.

Now, I have to admit I find animated GIFs rather annoying, so I won’t embed it here. But here’s where you can have a look:

https://vine.co/v/bVZFw1ZZu7l

SF Offside has been blogging little bios and interviews with the festival artists — for example, here’s one with the Howard Wiley Trio, which is playing at Duende tonight.  I love this idea, as it lets the audience get acquainted with the music they’ll be facing.

You can view the entire lineup here.

May 24, 2013 at 2:20 pm Leave a comment

Snapshots: Day of Noise

Here’s a glimpse of what’s been going on at KZSU this Sunday. I made do with the iPhone and the UStream feed, as I forgot  to bring my real camera. Captions and possibly more photos to follow.

The “what” that’s going on is the KZSU Day of Noise! Official explanation is on the Day of Noise page, and I blogged my own preview yesterday. If you’re seeing this on Sunday, April 14, 2013, go ahead and check out the aforementioned UStream video feed.

UPDATE: You can also check out some more professional photos at the KZSU Facebook photo stream (Facebook subjugation — er, subscription — not required). Note that I’m linking to the stream, so if you’re reading this significantly after April 2013, it might show a whole other set of photos.

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Setting up The Machinery of Doom

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Doom, the KZSU DJ who organized the earliest Days of Noise, in the 1990s. It was still a 24- hour affair, but Doom would fill the morning’s wee hours with The Machinery of Doom, an attic’s worth of wooden and metal noisemaking devices from friendly chimes to large, doom-clanging springs.

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Clarke Robinson (far) & Jim Whittemore (near), doing their analog noisemaking. Whittemore is a punk rocker, circa 1976, who said he hasn’t performed a music show in 30 years. Before and after the set, he regaled us with stories of his old band, The Scientific Americans, and stunts such as getting snuck onto the bill of a high-society Mother’s Day concert headlined by The Association. Whittemore’s band had a great time, which wasn’t good news for the mothers.

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This year’s Day of Noise T-shirt, in the process of being signed by all the artists.

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Sun Hammer, from Portland, Ore., played an hour of gorgeous, shimmery sounds in the presence of the zebra pinata.

April 14, 2013 at 9:35 am Leave a comment

Aerial Clarinet

François HouleAerials (Drip Audio, 2006)

houle-aerialsClarinetist François Houle will be down from Vancouver on Thursday, March 14, to perform “Aerials” at the Center for New Music (San Francisco). The solo improvised performance should be a nice chance to hear the clarinet fill the room and explore the acoustics of the Center. It’ll be followed by a duet where Zachary Watkins processes and feeds back the sound, turning Houle’s clarinet into an ensemble.

“Aerials” is not a set of specific songs, but an improvisational project Houle developed during a five-week residency in Italy, after nurturing the idea for years.

Houle explains more in this All About Jazz article from 2006. Aerials is a foil to Double Entendre, the album where Houle performs new-classical works solo with the aid of overdubs. (I gave it a mention in 2011.) For Aerials, his inspiration was John Carter, and his goal was to “make a strong musical statement.”

That, he did. Aerials could have been an exploration of every-sound-possible, but Houle edited his explorations to give the album a pervasive mood. It’s celebrates the room’s reverb but also its stillness; it’s an inviting sound that doesn’t let the air drag, even in the most reflective pieces.

“Liege” has the sound of a Native American flute, yet it wiggles and wanders, as if the clarinet were taking a drink. The last melody in this sample is the motif with which Houle started the piece; he returns to it, turning “Liege” into a kind of improvised song.

“Tuilerie” gets into a varied wandering, reminiscent of Evan Parker’s long sax solos of circular breathing. It’s rich in detail, with Houle jumping all over the clarinet’s range.

On the more sad and melodic side, “Pour Sidney” flows like a film noir ballad.

Read more about Aerials — the album and the process behind it — at Misterioso.

March 13, 2013 at 12:05 am Leave a comment

Mainstream Love for The Residents

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Two residents with Bimbo’s owner Graziano Cerchiai. Photo by Bimbo’s, lifted from
NBC Bay Area.

NBC Bay Area — the Channel 11 nightly news, basically — gave The Residents some love on Valentine’s Day.

I doubt there was an accompanying TV spot, but the NBC Bay Area web site ran a story that day about The Residents’ “40th Anniversary” tour, noting that no particular milestone of theirs appears to have happened exactly 40 years ago.

Cleverly, that gave writer Nicole Powers a chance to trace the band’s early history, getting more Residenty goodness onto the web site of — I can’t stress this enough — a TV nightly news operation.

Of course, why not give The Residents some ink? Their story is compelling even to the non-converted: A mysterious quartet that doesn’t reveal their identities yet has carved out a 40-plus-year career that’s included an impressive number of live performances. They deserve the publicity.

Find the story at NBC Bay Area, and catch the band’s Wonder of Weird tour at Bimbo’s 365 Club in San Francisco on Feb. 24.

February 16, 2013 at 8:16 pm Leave a comment

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