Opera As an Immersive Experience: Invisible Cities

The Pulitzer Prize winners were announced yesterday, but it’s one of the runners-up that I’m most excited about.

It’s Christopher Cerrone‘s opera, Invisible Cities:

I’ll give away the punch line before you watch the video: The opera is performed in a public place, with cast and audience wandering about together, all connected on wireless headphones to hear the concert. Discovering where the action is, or stumbling onto the plainclothes players, is part of the whole experience.

The premiere run, in the fall of 2013, got some rave reviews and sold out every show, according to the rider. Yes, there’s a rider [21-page PDF] — they’re hoping to take this opera on the road.

Still from the <i>Invisible Cities</i> promo video.Those performances spanned two weeks at Los Angeles’ Union Station. It’s a large, elegant place — not the size of Grand Central, which would hopelessly swallow the performance, but still large enough to provide physical distance and separation. The opera was spread out, compelling the audience to wander and explore.

Part of the trick is that the opera performs during the evening, while the station is operating. My guess is that a ticket buys you the headphones, but if you’ve legitimately got a train to catch, or you just want to gawk, you get the show’s visual aspect for free.

While I’d love to see Invisible Cities in the Bay Area, I can’t think of a good location, offhand. A transit station is ideal due to the natural bustle that would surround the opera and hide some of the “offstage” performers. But Caltrain’s San Francisco station is open-air (no mystery) and too small. The San Jose station actually seems bigger (it’s an Amtrak stop, too) but still not big enough, and it doesn’t have a layout that would provide a good, dynamic experience.

There’s always BART. Annnd…. I think that discussion ends right there.

So, if you live somewhere else, keep an eye out. Invisible Cities might come to your town, and you won’t even know it until the dancers spring up from that row of seats and Ashley Faatoalia‘s whispered tenor starts gently pressing at your ear.

April 15, 2014 at 9:07 pm Leave a comment

Comeuppance: Still Baiting and Switching

Lisa Mezzacappa’s Bait & SwitchComeuppance (Not Two, 2013)

Lisa Mezzacappa -- Comeuppance. Click to go to Not Two Records.There’s no Captain Beefheart cover tune on Comeuppance, the second album from the Bait & Switch quartet, but the influence lives on. John Finkbeiner colors the session with crackly guitar freakouts, and Aaron Bennett’s sax breaks orbit with slashing, free improvisations.

Bait & Switch is about Mezzacappa’s compositions delivered with serious attitude. Since the release of the debut CD What Is Known, they’ve had a few years to let that formula steep, playing their swingy themes, hard-driven free jazz, and spaces of free improvisation at gigs that have included the Monterey Jazz Festival.

“Le Crabe” opens with a characteristically scribbly theme that opens up into a free-blowing sax solo, Finkbeiner’s guitar chopping and chugging behind him. “Cruciferous” features a hard, scrambling guitar reminscent of Beefheart (whom they covered on What Is Known). Later in that song, Finkbeiner repeats a wacko glissando while Aaron Bennett solos on sax — the glissando becoming, in essence, the “composed” part of the song.

Each of those tracks is a mini-suite that includes a slower or more sublime phase, a chance to hear the band’s different personalities. “Old” plays that way too, contrasting a tart swing wrung from the jazz tradition with small interludes of spare and playful improvising.

“X Marks the Question” starts out like it’s going to be a slow, thoughtful piece — and it is, including a pleasant sax/bass interlude, until Finkbeiner’s guitar solo, egged on by Vijay Anderson’s insistent drumming, draws the band into a fiery blur. “Las Hormigas Rojas” plays around with a straightforward march beat, hinting at Mexican folk music while Bennett and Finkbeiner play scrambled mutterings, like kids in class talking behind the teacher’s back. And “Luna” is a slower track with an uneasy, foreboding air throughout. Finkbeiner plays a sublime guitar solo there, after some buzzy, high-energy sax from Bennett.

April 13, 2014 at 2:50 pm Leave a comment

Catching Up: Adam Rudolph, Reconnaissance Fly, Dawn of Midi, Battlehooch

The past year has been really busy for me, in non-musical terms, and I’ve never caught up on a few of the things I’ve done since the fall. Most of them found their way onto these pages, but a few slipped past. Here’s the speed diary.

Chihuly Glass. The colors. So many colors.

We went to Seattle and saw the Space Needle and the neighboring Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit. This has nothing to do with music; it just made for easy, colorful photography — which is generally not a strength of this blog.

Adam Rudolph's Go: Organic orchestra

I enjoyed a trip to NYC in October, where I stopped by Roulette to see Adam Rudolph’s Go : Organic Orchestra. Lively horns, lots of percussion, and odd time signatures everywhere. Loads of fun.

Reconnaissance Fly at Berkeley Arts

I saw Reconnaissance Fly at Berkeley Arts back in February, as advertised. They played a great set that included singer/flautist Polly Moller taking up the guitar for a few songs. The band sounded great, and Larry the O, the drummer, was a revelation — a real dynamo.

Dawn of Midi, in San Francisco

Dawn of Midi came to San Francisco performing Dysnomia, their through-composed piece for piano, bass, and drums. It’s full of polyrhythmic grooves and electronica-sounding minimalism. They drew a pretty heavy crowd to The Chapel, so word’s gotten out. Apparently, they’re coming back on June 15.

Battlehooch at Cafe Stritch

Battlehooch came down to San Jose to perform at Cafe Stritch, a downtown spot that’s hosting jazz on the weekends and rock acts midweek. It was a blast, as you’d expect. They were on their way to Idaho for a festival, and they mentioned that they’ve got shows in Oakland every Friday in April.

April 6, 2014 at 2:50 pm Leave a comment

A Band Called Jupiter Holiday (a.k.a., When Marketing Actually Works)

Jupiter Holiday T-shirt, still in good conditionA few years back, I made a couple of trips down to Terrapin Station, a now defunct bar in Boise, Idaho, that featured jam bands (the bar’s core influence is pretty obvious). It was one of the friendliest bars I’ve ever been in — folks who’d strike up a conversation out of the blue, happy bartenders, just a great vibe. The one strike against it was the pervasive smell of cigarette smoke — not just a little of it, but a thick, spongy layer that had soaked into the walls. I think Idaho has passed non-smoking laws, but they came too late for this place.

Smoke aside, I had a good time at Terrapin. I land in Boise a couple of times a year to visit family, and it’s nice to experience what the city has to offer.

I enjoyed most of the music I saw there, but I remember only one of the bands: Jupiter Holiday –  because I bought their T-shirt.

Here’s what I recall: I liked the band, and the shirts (plain white with a plain blue-and-red logo on one side) were just $5. And I was in the market for more non-black, non-”fancy” T-shirts to get me between laundry days in the summer. Sold!

I still wear the shirt. For a few years now, I’ve seen it every couple of weeks in my drawer or coming out of the drier. Sometimes I’ll pause for a moment and wonder what happened to that band.

Jupiter Holiday's album - I'll scan a bigger image when I get home from BoiseWell, earlier this winter, I was walking through The Record Exchange, an honest-to-god CD store in downtown Boise, and there on a rack … was a CD by the band Jupiter Holiday, released earlier in 2013.

I knew who they were and I knew I’d enjoyed one of their shows back when. All because of that T-shirt.

So yeah, I bought the CD. It’s called Deep, Delicious, Secret Surprise, and it’s quite good. A mix of poppy prog rock (prog chords, mostly 4/4 tempos) and some jam-band atmosphere. It’s bright, upbeat, nonobvious rock. You might like it if you’d be into a happier Porcupine Tree with some country twang, or an less heavy Rush that focused mainly on the melodies, or a sober and clear-headed Grateful Dead.

So there you go: Marketing really can work sometimes.

As for the band, their web site (which was up in January) appears to be gone. I hope they stick around and keep making music, though. I could always use another T-shirt.

March 12, 2014 at 12:01 am Leave a comment

Catharsis and the Drums

Mike PrideDrummer’s Corpse (AUM Fidelity, 2013)

Source: AUM Fidelity; click to go there. “My ‘Ascension,’” drummer Mike Pride calls the track “Drummer’s Corpse.” It’s a 33-minute catharsis, a sustained blast of energy delivered by seven top-notch drummers.

Anchoring the whole thing, in a sense, is a wall of electric-guitar sound by Chris Welcome, a succession of fiercely chiming chords that stubbornly guide the music forward. “Drummer’s Corpse” starts with a few minutes of cymbal and gong splashes, a statement of entry — and then the guitar blasts into the frame, and we’re off to the races.

Little vocal shrieks and cries emit from the seven-drummer tumult, like people being swept away by a violent current. Where “Ascension” divided into episodes defined by soloists, “Drummer’s Corpse” uses the guitar chords — but really, they’re just curves in the rushing river of noise. It’s quite a ride.

You can sample “Drummer’s Corpse” in this trippy video:

In addition to Pride, the drummers involved are Oran Canfield, Russell Greenberg,
John McClellan, Bobby Previte, Ches Smith, and Tyshawn Sorey, with Marissa Perel and Fritz Welch contributing vocals and percussion. Yes, it’s a corps of drummers, and the title might be a play-on-words, but I’m thinking of the piece more as a serious statement.

The album is rounded out by a track that’s completely different. “Some Will Die Animals” is an avant-garde elegy for drummer Gen Mikano, who took his own life in 2012. Two lengthy instrumental trio passages, slow and tense, are each followed by two segments of “recitations,” which is where the real madness comes in.

Four overlapping voices reading the same text passage from different starting points, creating a surreal journey of short paths that keep tracking back on to themselves. The texts are odd, meant to represent a news broadcast that includes “global sex-terrorism, suicide, and scientific descriptions of imaginary future-animals,” as Pride describes it in the CD’s promo materials.

I don’t know the details of Mikano’s passing, so I don’t know if the piece is meant to evoke the feeling of voices in your head, beating relentlessly on the same notes — but that’s the sensation, especially with headphones. It’s not scary (and in fact, the text is a bit silly), just very interesting (or grating, if you’re not in the mood).

March 9, 2014 at 12:00 pm Leave a comment

KZSU Day of Noise 2014

I was able to help only for the very beginning and tail end of KZSU’s Day of Noise this year, but it was still a lot of fun.

As usual, a small group of hero DJs made the Day of Noise possible, including Abra (who emceed all 24 hours) and Smurph, who I believe was on hand for most of the sound engineering.

I even manned a sound board this time. The group was Big City Orchestra, a quartet that used styrofoam as its main sound source. They bowed it, poked sticks into it (tuning them beforehand, because they started their set with a droney piece) and ran the sound through all kinds of effects. By the end, it was a wall of noise. It was pretty cool.

Pictures follow. I caught a few minutes of Karl Evangelista and Tom Djll’s band, Revenant, but didn’t get a chance to say hi; their set ended as I was helping set up the audio for BCO.

Here’s the photographic evidence.

Smurph, our head sound engineer, setting up what's normally a meeting room. We use two studios for Day of Noise, so that one band can set up while another is playing.

Smurph, our head sound engineer, setting up what’s normally a meeting room. We use two studios for Day of Noise, so that one band can set up while another is playing.

Brian B. James opened the 24-hour Day of Noise. The potted trees, collected from around the station, were set up in the studio for the sake of the webcast, which we ran on UStream throughout the day/night.

Brian B. James opened the 24-hour Day of Noise. The potted trees, collected from around the station, were set up in the studio for the sake of the webcast, which we ran on UStream throughout the day/night.

The Day of Noise tradition: the autographed T-shirt.

The Day of Noise tradition: the autographed T-shirt.

Revenant (three-fourths of it, anyway): Karl Evangelista, Michael Coleman, Tom Djll

Revenant (three-fourths of it, anyway): Karl Evangelista, Michael Coleman, Tom Djll

Revenant percussionist Nava Dunkelman, captured through the hazy Studio A window.

Revenant percussionist Nava Dunkelman, captured through the hazy Studio A window.

Big City Orchestra setting up. Cheryl Leonard is on the left, and Nina Lynn Hollenberg is third from left ... didn't write down the men's names, unfortunately.

Big City Orchestra setting up. Cheryl Leonard is on the left, and Nina Lynn Hollenberg is third from left … didn’t write down the men’s names, unfortunately.

Cheryl E. Leonard.

Cheryl E. Leonard.

Sticks stuck into the boxes were tuned to specific notes (yes, tuned -- it wasn't easy) and bowed to produce groany tones.

Sticks stuck into the boxes were tuned to specific notes (yes, tuned — it wasn’t easy) and bowed to produce groany tones.

BCO played three pre-planned movements that culminated in stabbing and sawing the styrofoam. It was a heavily noisy finale.

BCO played three pre-planned movements that culminated in stabbing and sawing the styrofoam. It was an appropriately noisy finale.

Syrofoam bits clung to the performers' hands and got everywhere. Probably should have seen that coming.

Syrofoam bits clung to the performers’ hands and got everywhere. Probably should have seen that coming.

Less than 30 minutes after BCO's set, thanks to the wonders of modern technology and a lot of elbow grease.

The stuido less than 30 minutes after BCO’s set, thanks to the wonders of modern technology and a lot of elbow grease.

3 Leafs closed out the Day of Noise 2014.

3 Leafs closed out the Day of Noise 2014.

March 8, 2014 at 12:04 pm Leave a comment

Grex: Typhoon Relief Concert (and New CD)

MonsterMusicReleasesmallGrex is playing a CD-release concert tonight (Feb. 15) that doubles as a typhoon relief concert.

It’s a Berkeley Arts (2133 University Ave, Berkeley). There’s no cover, and all proceeds, including album sales, will go to the Philippines for Typhoon Haiyan relief. It’s a nice chance to experience some new music and donate to a good cause.

The bill includes:

  • Grex, the free jazz/chamber rock trio of Karl Evangelista (guitar), Rei Scampavia (piano), and Robert Lopez (drums)
  • Michael Coleman’s Enjoyer, a quartet (or more) led by keyboardist Coleman
  • Jordan Glenn Chamber Ensemble, debuting a new long-form piece composed by Glenn

The new Grex album, titled Monster Music, features the new trio format (the band has been Evangelista and Scampavia, joined sporadically by friends) and should be available on Bandcamp soon.

February 15, 2014 at 4:00 pm Leave a comment

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