Not that I attended Days 1 or 2, but: On a spur-of-the-moment decision, I managed to catch the final night of this weekend’s sfSound microfestival. Con: A rainy drive to San Francisco. Pro: Easy, easy parking in the Mission District on a Sunday night. And great music, of course: Some nice improvising, a mind-enriching earful of Elliott Carter, and a couple of very intriguing composed pieces.
Each night of the microfestival was focused on guest musicians passing through town, which is how Lê Quan Ninh and Michel Doneda were available for that KZSU live performance on Friday. Tonight was the trio of Domenico Sciajno (electronics), Gene Coleman (bass clarinet), and Marina Peterson (cello).
I’m going to talk about the program out-of-sequence, thusly: Those three ended the first half of the program with two improvisations, Sciajno providing a backdrop of sine waves and subtle metallic sounds that sometimes percolated enough to become the lead instrument. I liked that; the electronics didn’t stick out and stab forward like they can in these settings.
Peterson stuck a patch of paper (or light plastic?) on her cello strings to produce some interesting tones. Coleman’s bass clarinet had some of its best moments with strong flurries of staccato pops and blips.
I liked the second of their improvisations best, and that was even before the trio hit one sublime moment, a simultaneous dead STOP, behind which was a lone, subtle, high-pitched sine tone from Sciajno that lived on afterwards. As that tone lingered, Peterson and Coleman began exploring quiet harmonics.
Sciajno and Coleman got an extra treat with this performance by having their compositions played by sfSound members. Coleman’s “Black in White” opened the program, a trio for cello, clarinet, and koto. The koto is presented with “sound models” rather than strict notation, meaning the player’s interpretations will help craft the exact sound of the piece. Tightly scripted passages are interspersed among slower, improvisatory segments; Coleman says the piece derives from astronomy: “The explosions are like stars or nebulae, surrounded by vast amounts of space.”
Sciajno’s “Korzo” for octet was a graphic score, implying heavy amounts of improvisation on all sides. Moods ranged from very quiet to brash and raspy, and maybe it was just me, but it seemed Matt Ingalls‘ clarinet and Coleman’s bass clarinet, on the far left and far right sides, propelled much of the action. Two cellos and Coleman, all seated to the right, also combined for a nice droning segment that might have been in the score, or might have just welled up organically.
Elliott Carter’s 20-minute “Triple Duo” opened the second half with a different sound. For all its avant-gardeness, Carter’s music still has elements of “regular” classical music, especially in the strings: lots of vibrato, long unison notes that quickly rise in volume for dramatic effect, etc. Each of the three duos (piano/percussion, clarinet/flute, and violin/cello) seemed to get a quick monologue early on, but deeper into the piece, the interplay gets more complex and cross-pollinated. The whole thing builds to a thrilling, shrill unison note, followed by a couple of phrases as epilogue before ending abruptly. The sfSound folks really hit that note; the effect was fantastic (more so than the recording of “Triple Duo” that I happen to be listening to right now). Kudos to the players and conductor Mary Chun for that.
The program closed with sfSound and the three guest performers combining on a group improvisation, with saxophonist John Ingle taking the lead.