Archive for July, 2011

Quick Update: Past, Present, Future

Busy lately.  Here’s my news of the immediate past, present & future:

I saw Carla Kihlstedt’s “Necessary Monsters” last night. Captivating stuff, very much meant to be seen as a theatrical production (although if they do get it released on CD, that’ll be good to hear too).  Disappointing to see about a 70 percent full theater rather than a full house — Yerba Buena just isn’t that big a place — but the crowd response at the end was enthusiastic. More later, hopefully.

Today, I’m heading up to San Francisco for Out Fest. It’s a five-concert series that’s running Sunday afternoons, July 31 through Aug. 28, at Bird & Beckett Books. Click that link for details.

Upcoming: Karl Evangelista is curating a new series at the Subterranean Art House in Berkeley. The venue has kept an open ear to improv/experimental music all along, but it’s nice to see a regular series emerge there. Debut is Aug. 3, with The Lost Trio, Jacob Zimmerman Quintet, and the Lisa Mezzacappa/Noah Phillips Duo.

July 31, 2011 at 3:57 pm Leave a comment

Outsound Live Report

The Outsound New Music Summit concludes tonight — Saturday, July 23, 2011 — at the Community Music Center, 544 Capp St., San Francisco.

I really did make it to last night’s Outsound installment, “The Art of the Composer.”  As mentioned, “composition” here didn’t involve just notes on paper, but different strategies for infusing improvisation and artists’ choices into the music. The compositions were structures to be decorated, or parameters for molding an improvisation.

Gino Robair, who would be on stage for three of the four acts, opened in duo with Krystyna Bobrowski, playing duets on Bobrowski’s new-music instruments. (See also Polly Moller at Trinity Chapel.) The first piece started with Robair on balloon gongs — you see that vertical black rectangle next to the yellow balloon? It’s a metal gong. Robair would strike the gong, then hold the balloon up to it. A contact mic on the balloon produced a resonant, ringing sound — a clever use of electronics.

The next movement had the two of them on a metallic xylophone, playing together in coordinated snippets of melodic chiming at first, then gradually exploring other sounds — rubbing the xylophone tubes (they seemed to be tubes) with mallets, for example. A very “musical” feeling segment.

The second piece had Bobrowski and Robair playing glass instruments filled with water. Robair played wine glasses but went beyond rubbing the rims, creatively tapping and splashing. Bobrowski played those IV-looking bottles, which are played like wine glasses but can shift up and down on their stands to produce different tones.

Andrew Raffo Dewar’s Interactions Quartet was next, debuting “Strata.” The quartet has played and recorded before, but it was “grittier,” noisier stuff, as oboist Kyle Bruckmann puts it. Their piece on the sampler CD (DID I MENTION YOU GET A SAMPLER CD when you come to the shows? You do!) has a drifting quality augmented by the buzzing of electronics.

By contrast, “Strata” was full of clean, acoustic chamber-music lines and apparently provided room for solos as well. It started sparsely, with each instrument providing small snippets that interconnected through an invisible sense of rhythm. Later came some melodic passages, including one where John Shiurba tapped a steady rhythm with ankle bells and with his acoustic guitar, setting up a backdrop for some nice ensemble playing. Late in the piece, oboe and sax played a unison fanfare and then dove into what appeared to be improvised variations. Raffo capped it all with a dynamic conclusion.

The Kanoki Nishi graphical score was nowhere in sight, but whatever it was, it got translated into a dark, loud, amplifier-heavy display. Tony Dryer and Italian artist IOIOI performed on the floor in front of the stage, with the lights turned way down, which added to the effect.

We got a taste of what was to come when Dryer was setting up. He was correcting for some kind of sound problem, and occasionally, the work created a huge blast of feedback or the big loud crunching sound that you get when you plug or unplug an audio lead. Audience members got tense, ready to cover their ears at a moment’s notice.

And there was a good tension to the piece. Dryer went first, starting with whispery, chaotic bowing of his amplified acoustic bass, producing barely audible scratches. Then he created one loud BLAST — striking the strings with his palm, maybe? — and left that on sustain for a long while. This was obviously the moment he’d done the careful sound-check for, and it paid off: one loud amplifier scream. I keep earplugs in my jacket pocket just for moments like this. From there, Dryer worked the electronics dials, filtering the sounds down to a manageable electronics trickle, then a full stop.

IOIOI then took to the spotlight with an electric guitar. She started with the guitar on her lap, a metal bowl on the strings. She wobbled and rolled the bowl for a liquidy set of sounds. Then, she got into some more conventional extended playing — a metal bar through the strings on the fingerboard, for example. By tapping the bar, she produced a melodic ringing — rather nice, actually. Finally, she took a bow to the strings, creating nervous, scratchy sounds but doing so with a strong sense of purpose and control; this wasn’t just flailing for noise’s sake. I really liked that segment.

Gino Robair‘s quartet, Ensemble Agaucalientes, rounded things out. (For a guy who was on stage 75% of the time, Robair sure didn’t get into many of these pictures.)

The group was patterned after Mexican folk and popular music, with flutes, acoustic bass, marimba, and a host of Latin percussion. The sound was neither folky nor pop, instead lingering in the non-idiomatic, abstract area that’s more characteristic of Outsound. Players were given bits of melody to perform, and these fragments were apparently mutable at the players’ whims. So, occasional folky melodies would arise, mostly from Polly Moller’s flutes, but only in fleeting instants.

Robair conducted the group, giving players assignments to jump to particular parts of the score, to drop out, to play in certain ways. Every playing of this score, then, is intended to be vastly different, a very “In C” unpredictability that’s a hallmark of improv work and a focus of some Robair projects, such as his I, Norton opera.

Ensemble Aguacalientes, in this sitting, at least, played in sparse individual parts but with a sense of continual, ongoing momentum. Something was always going on, in other words, but the four instruments didn’t overwhelm each other and intentionally didn’t saturate the space — a respectful quite was an important element of the color here.

Overall, quite a successful evening, played to a crowd that felt like 50 or 60, possibly even more. So, I’d encourage you to take a few hours tonight to check out tonight’s show, which focuses on crazy invented instruments. The coffee’s good and the T-shirts are bright and colorful (the purples seemed to be selling out the most quickly).

Previous Outsound 2011 posts:

July 23, 2011 at 1:39 pm 3 comments

Outsound 2011, #4: Thingamajigs

The Outsound New Music Summit takes place July 17-23, 2011, at the Community Music Center, 544 Capp St., San Francisco.

Let me say this first: I wanna see the percussion ball in action.

I mean, come on! It’s a soccer-ball-shaped wooden object with vacuum-cleaner hoses connecting opposite faces. If you don’t already know, unconnected vacuum hoses make the coolest sound, a plastic, reverberating thonk if you slap the palm of your hand across the opening just right.

The other cool thing about the percussion ball? It’s made to tumble, bringing back fond d20 memories from geekier days. (How geeky? Enough that I love (and understand) this T-shirt.)

The percussion ball is just one of the wonderfully strange musical instruments being showcased in Sonic Foundry Too!” target=”blank” (Sat., July 23), the last of the four concerts in this year’s Outsound New Music Summit. The whole show is about invented instruments. It’s like a prelude to the Music for People and Thingamajigs Festival that’s coming in September.

Who can you see? Terry Berlier, creator of the percussion ball, won’t be there, but David Michalak will be on hand to play the instrument, part of his duo with instrument inventor Bart Hopkin.

There’s also skatchbox inventor Tom Nunn, who plays with Michalak in T.D. Skatchit. I described skatchbox here and here; it’s a percussive instrument built on the surface of a closed, thick cardboard box, and it makes quite a racket. Skatchboxes have been a fixture of the Outsound Summit for some time, and a workshop about building them was a featured event last year.

Nunn’s set isn’t just skatchbox redux, though. He, Michalak and Steven Baker will be playing lukie tubes, resonace plates, bridgerod mothic, berimbau, bells, and springs, according to the program. No, I don’t know what all of them are — they key point is that they’re made-up instruments and will hopefully produce sound combinations that you’ve never experienced.

Bob Marsh will perform in something called Sonic Suit #1 (which looks like it’s acoustic; see photo at left), in a duo with Brenda Hutchinson playing the Long Tube. And there are a couple of other musical pairings on the schedule — 10 instrument builders/players in all. It’s going to be a visual feast as well as a musical one, so you’ll want to bring a camera.

Like every concert in the series, “Sonic Foundry Too” will include a pre-show Q&A with the musicians at 7:15 p.m. — great opportunity to ask things like “why” and “what the-” and “you get sounds out of that?” — followed by the show at 8:15 p.m.

Previous Outsound 2011 posts:

UPDATE:  I’m told that the percussion ball is big — about twice the diameter I was thinking! It sounds like a grown man can lift the thing but can’t reach his arms all the way around it. Cool.

July 22, 2011 at 7:38 am 1 comment

Outsound 2011, #3: The Art of Composition

The Outsound New Music Summit takes place July 17-23, 2011, at the Community Music Center, 544 Capp St., San Francisco.

The Art of Composition (Fri. July 22) is preceded by a Monday evening panel session titled, “Elements of Non-Idiomatic Composition Strategies.”  Academic as the title sounds, it gives you a clue into what to expect from these compositions.  “Non-idiomatic” is the phrase often used for the abstract, seemingly formless improvising pioneered by the likes of Derek Bailey. (I think the phrase is often attributed to him. It’s a quite British phrasing, in any event.)

So, the compositions to expect here go beyond traditional notes and rests, into things like graphical scores — pictures that are left for the performers to interpret.

Click the link above for the full program. It’s got a wide variety of compositional experimentation.  Gino Robair will conduct a series of variable compositions for his Ensemble Aguacalientes, and he’ll also perform a sound-based piece composed by Krystyna Bobrowski. The latter accommodates Robair’s penchant for exploring the sounds of random items; his instruments, as listed on the program, include glass, water, balloons, and kelp.

Andrew Raffo Dewar is presenting a new composition for a quartet that includes Robair, and Tony Dryer (bass) and IOIOI (electric guitar, from Italy) will perform works by Kanoko Nishi.

I feel like I’m giving this concert the shortest writeup of the four, but really, it’s the one that I’m anticipating the most. Something about the process of composition fascinates me. I should have studied more classical music in my youth, I guess.

This program promises to offer a look at the extension of the compositional concept, trusting the musicians with a relatively unconventional level of freedom. And I think the Monday evening talk (that’s tonight, July 18, 7:00-9:00 p.m.) as well as Thursday’s pre-concert Q&A (7:15 p.m.) will be particularly enlightening.

Previous Outsound 2011 posts:

July 18, 2011 at 10:27 am Leave a comment

Outsound 2011, #2: The Freedom of Sound

The Outsound New Music Summit takes place July 17-23, 2011, at the Community Music Center, 544 Capp St., San Francisco.

The Freedom of Sound” (Thur. July 21) could also be called “Group Night.” The focus here is on established groups, combinations that have each played together for years and set the rules for the kind of improvising they want to do.

I’ve discussed Grosse Abfahrt before (see here); it’s Tom Djll’s group-improvisation group with a persistent core of five players and a different invited guest in each permutation. Ideally, that guest is someone who’s never played with any of the members before, but they appear to be making an exception, because the added guest is local oboist Kyle Bruckmann. Nothing wrong with that; Kyle is a good player who’ll easily fit in with the sound-based extended playing that Grosse Abfahrt tends to prefer. Every instantiation of the band has a slightly different aesthetic, by design, so who knows — this could consist of long, very quiet, studied improvisations, or it could be a galloping blowout. Or both.

Here’s an excerpt from an April 2009 unreleased session that Tom Djll gave me.  It’s a 10-person instance of G.A. You can hear their louder side and get a taste for the quieter aesthetic that I think is a hallmark of the band.

And here’s a sampling of the band’s quieter aesthetic, from later in that same improvisation. They savor the silence here, so you might want to use headphones — but resist the temptation to turn up the volume.

Positive Knowledge is a Bay Area jazz treasure that often feels like a secret too well guarded. Oluyemi Thomas is a burly, muscular presence on bass clarinet, saxophone, and related instruments, channeling the free end of the jazz tradition that draws strength from late-era Coltrane. Ijeoma Thomas adds sharp poetry and rattly percussion, adding the feel of a spiritual ritual.

Here’s a 1998 sampling of their work, from the album At the Center of the Threshold, with Michael Wimberly on drums and Wilber Morris on bass. The piece is called “Of Living Waters.”

I’ve always mentally pigeonholed Tri-Cornered Tent Show as “avant-rock.” They’re a spaced-out descendent of psychedelic blues, or a jam-band trio with dark impulses: electronics, fuzzy distorted vocals, and H.P. Lovecraft references. Bubbling electric bass and outer-space drumming lead the sound, with what I guess is autoharp and electronics sometimes filling the spot of a power trio’s electric guitar.

I have to confess, I’ve never really gotten into their music, which tends to hover in one place too long for my ears and sometimes goes a heavy on the reverb. (As with ketchup, I perfer reverb in small doses.)  Still, I can appreciate that the band tries to challenge themselves in open-ended improvising that tickles the King Crimson synapses.

Their latest, Alien Trailways, includes vocals and presumably improvised lyrics from Teri Pope, a San Diego singer. This creates some bluesy lines out of the bass/drums jam on the track, “3rd Eye Must Die.” More often, she adds a moaning, keening presence that adds to the overall sense of dark insanity, with words and sounds that progress slowly across the jam. Dina Emerson will be the vocalist joining Tri-Cornered Tent Show for Thursday’s performance, which should make for a great combination. She’s well versed in improvised performance and has a tremendous range of styles and sounds at her disposal. (I’d written about her “bees” project in April.)

Here’s an excerpt of “Twist the Sky,” a noisier track from Alien Trailways.

Previous Outsound 2011 posts:

July 17, 2011 at 1:19 pm Leave a comment

Outsound 2011, #1: Face Music

The Outsound New Music Summit takes place July 17-23, 2011, at the Community Music Center, 544 Capp St., San Francisco.

The first concert in this year’s Outsound New Music Summit is “Face Music“(Weds., July 20), devoted to vocals. The program describes the larynx as the world’s oldest musical instrument, but the sounds you’ll hear in these four solo sets will be steeped in 20th- and 21st-century technology.

I remember seeing bran(…)pos, a.k.a. Jake Rodriguez, in the late ’90s, back when he was The Bran (Another Plight of Medics) POS. Hence, the ellipsis. He was kneeling on the floor, screaming into a mic and sending the distorted sound through electronics to produce an enormous, blunted roar. I have to admit, I chuckled a bit inside when I thought about him practicing this stuff at home as a teenager. I don’t know if he ever did, but I found myself imagining his parents’ reaction.

His electronics work has become more textured and varied, and his hair has become more gone. Here’s a sampling of what to expect. It’s hard to tell what the volume level is, but I’m guessing it’s quite high.

Aurora Josephson has been a big part of the Bay Area scene for several years, although she’s been less active lately. It’s good to see her back on a bill.  She uses a wide range of extended vocal styles from the operatic to the cartoonish. You can hear her playing around with lyrics, singing them straight and in all sorts of tweaked-out ways, on Healing Force, the Albert Ayler tribute that includes Henry Kaiser and Weasel Walter. I’ve also seen her in a more straight, spacious format, as the vocalist with two saxophonists in a performance of Steve Lacy’s “Tips,” and she’s been the female lead (all babbling and insane) in Gino Robair’s I, Norton. (See here.)

Whatever she does for this performance, it’ll likely be done with drama and style. Find out more — and see the good work she did photo-blogging the local scene for a few years — at aurorarising.com.

I’m not as familiar with Joseph Rosenzweig, but he’s been involved in some interesting sound-based projects, including an installation called “Books on Tape” where a prerecorded vocal loop moves a pencil on a page. His Web site is the amusingly named rosenklang.com.

Theresa Wong, another familiar name on the local scene, rounds things out. This performance will focus on vocal improvisation, but Wong seems to be best known as a cellist who combines vocals with her playing. I have to admit, I’ve had only one chance to hear her, and that was in an improvising duo with Erick Glick Rieman (below). She’s worked with Carla Kihlstedt on the Necessary Monsters project, and Kihlstedt has worked with her, on Wong’s upcoming album on Tzadik.  She’s at theresawong.org.

July 15, 2011 at 10:56 pm Leave a comment

Outsound New Music Summit: July 17-23

The Outsound New Music Summit begins next weekend — Sunday, July 17 — and I thought I’d preview this annual event with a series of posts rather than one ineffective blast.

The Summit starts, as always with Touch the Gear, on Sunday, July 17. It’s a free interactive exhibit where you get to talk with musicians and see how some of these electronic noises get made. There are exotic instruments (some of them acoustic!), computer programs, and lots and lots of pedals.

That’s followed on Monday, July 18, with a free panel discussion that we’ll discuss later. (It relates to concert #3.)

What I’m going to do is concentrate on the four concerts that follow, one post per concert. As in previous years, the concerts run in themes. This time, it’s vocals, improvisation, composition, and newly invented instruments.

The whole summit takes place at the San Francisco Community Music Center, 544 Capp St. (near Mission & 20th). The concerts open with a 7:15 p.m. Q&A with artists and composers, followed by music at 8:15 p.m. Admission $12.

July 10, 2011 at 11:41 am Leave a comment

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