Posts filed under ‘Bay Area music’
All day on Saturday, Feb. 4, from midnight to midnight (or 12:01 a.m. to 11:59 p.m., if you want a little less ambiguity), radio station KZSU-FM at Stanford University will present Day of Noise, 24 hours of live, on-air performances of improvisation, electronics, way-out jazz, and just plain noise.
It’s a ritual that’s been kept alive by Abra (who goes by Dr. Information when on-air) for the past several years. She’ll be hosting all 24 hours, as she has for other recent Days of Noise.
We at KZSU take Day of Noise seriously. There’s a green room in another part of the building, isolated from the bustle, where musicians can chill before and after their sets. We provide food. We run two separate performance spaces, so that one can set up while the other is in use — this makes for seamless transitions between acts. And musicians and volunteers get cool T-shirts.
The level of interest from musicians has been off the charts. In past years, we struggled to fill 24 hours; now we struggle to pack everyone in. Most artists will perform in 30-minute shifts, with the exception of a few 1:00 a.m. and 2:00 a.m. types who’ll get a full hour. (So will Karl Evangelista, at 8:00 p.m., according to the schedule I’ve seen.)
If any of this sounds familiar, it might be because I’ve blogged Day of Noise since 2012, including some photos. Check it all out here.
And if you want a sample of the noise to come, KZSU has posted all 24 hours of audio from last year’s Day of Noise. Enjoy.
On the docket at Studio Grand in Oakland last Monday night: a yet-unrecorded saxophone quartet and the latest installment of a graphical-scores project. And it happened between storms, so I didn’t even have to get that wet to see it.
Social Stutter was the saxophone quartet, playing the compositions of Beth Schenck. I’m accustomed to the quartet format of one-of-each-type-of-saxophone, but Schenck doubled up on altos (herself and Kasey Knudsen). They often joined forces on lead themes — pleasant melodic lines poking at one another in counterpoint. It was a compelling effect of overlapping, similar sounds.
Phillip Greenlief held down the tenor sax and Cory Wright the baritone — although Wright occasionally switched to tenor, doubling up on that overlap effect. In Schenck’s own words: “Some of the pieces are composed for two altos and two tenors, which leads itself to denser harmonic territory and a uniquely homogenous sound.”
During a break, Schenck had a good quip related to that sound: “You know those couples who look like each other, people that date other people who look like themselves? Playing in a saxophone quartet is like that.”
The first three pieces focused mostly on hopping rhythms and cross-cut melodies, less so on the thick jazz chords that a quartet of saxophones can bring out. That made the fourth and final piece extra dramatic, with the sudden appearance of big, sweeping low chords (baritone sax came in handy here).
Good stuff that certainly had a sound and color all its own.
Phillip Greenlief’s Barbedwire was next, in the format of two vibraphones accompanying Greenlief on reeds. Barbedwire is a set of 37 graphical scores that Greenlief created in 2015, and he’s been performing the pieces with varying combinations of instruments. Each page is written for a trio, with each musician’s trajectory represented by a free-drawn line pocked with semi-regular scribbles that represent barbs.
The improvisations are timed, with each barb representing one minute and the “shape”of the line between barbs serving as the player’s instructions. Some of the scores have a linear look or suggest a minimalist approach (tiny crooked lines), while others are outright nuts, with lines twisting and intersecting. In the end, the pieces are improvised, but there’s a planned trajectory of sorts, and the combination of the score, the timekeeping, and the act of listening all factor into the performer’s decisions.
I would imagine that for some graphical scores, it’s fun for the performer to dive in cold. Barbedwire is not such a piece. I asked Tim DeCillis about that after the set, and he said that he went into these pieces with at least an inkling of a strategy.
The trio played three pieces, each combining one or two of the Barbedwire sheets with pre-assigned solo improvisation segments. Greenlief, on saxophone, used a lot of extended techniques, devoting his solo to air-through-horn sounds and a long, ragged siren blare.
As for the vibes, they filled the air — sometimes literally, with those dissonant vibrations piling up enough to rattle your skull. Mark Clifford, standing to our right, spent a lot of time creating gorgeous strings of tones. DeCillis, on the left, did a lot of work with bowing, particularly during the solo that opened the final piece, filled with lingering, shimmering tones.
The Festival will present four other full sets of music across three evenings, including an 11:00 p.m. set on Saturday. But Sunday, Jan. 8, will be a retrospective of Oliveros’ tape-music works.
The Tape Music Festival presents what we nowadays call electronic music — experimental and computerized stuff, but pre-recorded rather than performed live. Back in the 1950s, this stuff would be presented by playing reel-to-reel tapes, hence the festival’s name.
What sets the SF festival apart is that the music is played in the dark and the sound setup surrounds the audience with speakers. So it’s better than sitting at home tracking down these pieces on YouTube — and it would also be a nice shared experience as a way to commemorate Oliveros’ life and career.
Here’s the program for Sunday night:
- Time Perspectives (1961)
- Bye Bye Butterfly (1965)
- Rock Symphony (excerpted) (1965)
- Big Mother Is Watching You (1966)
- Alien Bog (1967)
- Lion’s Tale (excerpted) (1989)
- Sayonara Sirenade 20/21 (2000)
There will be another Oliveros celebration on Friday, Jan. 27, this time at the Uptown Nightclub (1928 Telegraph Ave., Oakland). That could be interesting, because it will pit Oliveros’ quiet aesthetic against a bar atmosphere. The Uptown has hosted creative music for years, so they must have an inkling what they’re getting into. It’s a pleasant surprise to see them give a Friday night to this kind of music.
Sound Etiquette — Sound Etiquette (Orenda, 2016)
Oakland-based trio Sound Etiquette starts with the ingredients of fusion and soul — electric piano, sax, and drums, and an open spirit. What they create, though, are improvised pieces across an impressive spectrum of moods ranging from jazzy to jamming to abstract.
The music might appeal to the jam-band crowd, but it feels closer to the realm of hardscrabble free jazz. Each of the pieces on Sound Etiquette’s debut album sticks to one core idea. They set the rules as they go, sticking with them until the song has played itself out.
All the tracks clock in at less then 9 minutes, and most have some grounding in a traditional mindframe of jazz or rock. “Entrance,” for example, does groove, flashing the swagger of jazz electronica. It’s a friendly piece that shows off the band’s charisma.
“A Clearing” builds from conventional jazz patterns: a smoky, bluesy saxophone entrance leading into a coolly swinging piece. And “First Steps” moves like a drunken would-be jam, with Nick Obando creating a mad babble on saxophone backed by Eli Wallace’s stuttering keys — but along the way, you’ll also encounter moments of soulful jazz chording and straightforward rhythm.
Not every piece has to groove. “The Tides” is a sinister simmer, crawling slowly with pulsing electric piano and abrasive, nearly subliminal tones on sax, propelled by whisper-fast drumming.
“Escape Velocity,” on the other end of the abstract spectrum, might be my favorite track: an all-out blowout, with Wallace and drummer Aaron Levin raining fire. Obando’s saxophone is bright and scribbly, building up to some passionate skronking to wake the dead.
It wasn’t until days after the fact that I learned Pauline Oliveros had passed. So, I spent part of the past week absorbing random samples of her work.
Oliveros will be remembered as a pioneer of electronic music, a director of the San Francisco Tape Music Center (now succeeded by the New SFTMC and sfSound’s annual tape music festival), an improviser who crafted the philosophy of Deep Listening, and a female composer and crusader against sexism in classical and new music.
I started my Oliveros walkabout by listening to “Bye Bye Butterfly,” her seminal 1965 electronics work, for the first time. Its source material includes a recording of Madama Butterfly, the opera, spun on a turntable and run through “oscillators and a tape delay,” as Smith describes it.
For a dose of Oliveros’ accordion playing, Roulette TV has a 20-minute performance followed by a brief interview. The music is a droney sheen, drawing you in to hear the buzzing harmonies.
Here’s something out of the ordinary: Circa 1993, Oliveros scored a dance-performance piece called “Ghostdance.” Created by Paula Josa-Jones, it’s meant to be performed in an area such as a park, so that the location becomes part of the piece. Oliveros’ score is as ethereal as you’d expect. There’s a lot more info on Josa-Jones’ website.
I also picked up The Roots of the Moment, the 1988 Hatology album, rereleased in 2006, that situates Oliveros’ accordian in the “interactive electronic environment” created by Peter Ward. He adds electronic touches, turning the accordion’s sound into endless shimmering planes of music. At first, I assumed Ward’s contributions were pre-recorded — tape music to guide Oliveros — but it blends together so nicely, I wonder if he was recording and playing back samples, like Robert Fripp does with Frippertronics.
For a deeper “deep listening” experience, I devoted some time to the album that’s actually titled Deep Listening (New Albion, 1989). Oliveros, trombonist Stuart Dempster, and vocalist Panaiotis, along with engineerAlbert Swanson and a didjeridu that one of them played, recorded it in an army cistern 186 feet in diameter, letting the reverberations layer over one another. Gentle waves of sound overlap and dissolve; it’s a different kind of “ambient” music.
Fred Frith Trio performs Dec. 3 at St. Cyprian’s Church (2097 Turk Street, San Francisco) on Dec. 3 at 8:00 p.m.
Fred Frith Trio — Another Day in Fucking Paradise (Intakt, 2016)
With a title like that, you’re not expecting a bucket of sunshine. And indeed, the Fred Frith Trio’s debut album delivers a long-form improvisation that’s often dark and ghostly, with Frith playing plenty of sinister, echoey tones against the deep, nimble bass of Jason Hoopes and the often aggressive drumming of Jordan Glenn.
There’s a happy subtext to all of this. Hoopes and Glenn were students of Frith’s at Mills College. They’re part of a collective of prog/pop/folk-minded musicians Frith had mentored, work that resulted in bands like Jack o’ the Clock, which includes Hoopes and Glenn, and Frith’s own Cosa Brava.
The Fred Frith Trio debuted last year with a show at Slim’s in San Francisco, followed by a tour in Europe. I’m calling Another Day in Fucking Paradise a long-form improvisation, which would match the strategy the band used at the Slim’s show, it appears to really be a set of studio improvisations stitched into one long piece with 13 track divisions. There might be some overdubs involved as well; Frith is keen on the idea of touching up an improvisation for the sake of a recording.
The album generally follows a fast-slow-fast trajectory — meaning, the tracks in the middle cover slower, subtler territory. That’s where some of the trio’s darkest and most intersting music gets made. The 11-minute “Yard With Lunatics” starts with Hoopes and Glenn spewing shards of nighttime glass but quickly levels into a spacious plateau, full of ghostly guitar and bass statements left to linger in the air, backed with swampy electronic squiggles and blips.
Of course, the faster segments are fun, too. Early in the album, “Dance of Delusion” and “La Tempesta” feature lots of Hoopes’ throttling electric bass sound and some rapid-fire clatter by Glenn. Frith is all over the place, as you’d expect — but even when Frith is in a “lead” role, it often feels like he’s tending to the overall tapestry rather than taking center stage.
The last third of the album has Hoopes turning to acoustic bass, strolling melodically through the clutter and cobwebby guitar effects of “Straw Man,” and eventually bowing on “Schelechtes Gewissen,” an incongruously organic sound against Frith’s tight staticky guitar fuzz and Glenn’s aggressive drums.
“Phantoms of Progress” has a jam feel, with droplets of psychedelic guitar echoing against Hoopes’ hopping, jazzy bass melody — it’s a very nice choice for the penultimate track. “The Ride Home” closes it out with a shuffling rhythm and some peaceful electric-bass melody. Frith hovers in the background, spinning near-rhythms and near-melodies to keep things just a little unsettling.
For five years, Berkeley Arts Festival has hosted a variety of music shows, including a creative-music series curated by Phillip Greenlief. It’s also an art gallery that’s hosted various exhibits and events.
An oasis like this rarely lasts, especially when it’s in an economically desirable spot like downtown Berkeley, one block from the U.C. campus. Berkeley Arts is pulling up stakes in a few days. I’m assuming it’s the usual story of the building being sold. In fact, the hardware store next door has already vacated.
For his final show at the space, Greenlief convened a couple dozen musicians last night to perform one big, sublime, conducted improvisation called “Index.”
“Index” was based on a graphical score, with Greenlief cueing musicians in and out, creating episodes that crested and then shrank back down. After the show, he talked about the “reverence” that permated the piece — no one broke loose and really went nuts. There was a conscious effort to keep within the boundaries of the piece, maybe in deference to the community feel of the concert. This being the final Berkeley Arts show, dozens of people turned out.
For an additional emotional note, this band was considered a convening of OrcheSperry, the improvising orchestra created in honor of bassist Matthew Sperry, whose life was cut short in a traffic accident more than a decade ago.
Each phase of “Index” began with Greenlief picking one or two players to rebuild the sound from silence or near-silence. Most of the entrances were subdued, letting the blanketing air linger around the music. Gradually, Greenlief added more players until an active jam developed. He’d let that ride for a while, then drop out most or all of the musicians at once, flashing a sign with the Ø symbol to queue them to wrap up their statements.
Electronics figured heavily into the piece. Not just laptops, but good old fashioned analog as well — check out Thomas DiMuzio‘s cabling in the photo up top. Even Tom Bickley, who plays recorder, put a mic on his instrument, turning it into a growling nightmare wolfhound. (This was really cool.) The four electronics players each had their solo moments, but their main contribution was to color the periods when the energy began to surge, filling the gaps with crunches and swirls. It was a nice effect of busy-ness that helped spur the music forward.
One thing to understand about Berkeley Arts: It’s divided into two long, thin galleries, which meant the large band and relatively large audience were both arranged in long rows. I sat to one side of the band and didn’t get to see who was on the other end, in the percussion section.
That created some pleasant surprises. I hadn’t realized there was a vibraphone in the house, or that someone would be playing the piano, but boom, there they were. There was a long percussion solo that sounded like sand being poured onto a drum. I didn’t find out who that was, but Suki O’Kane, who’d brought an enormous bass drum, seems like a good suspect.
The point is, some sounds seemed to come out of nowhere. Even people in the band were saying they had that experience.
One thing that made Index work was that Greenlief, as far as I could tell, never felt obligated to get the entire band playing at once, not even for a “grand finale” moment. That kept the sounds focused, with few cases of players drowning one another out. What we essentially heard was a rotating ensemble, ranging from 1 to maybe 10 people at a time. And when violinist Gabby Fluke-Mogul and cellist Crystal Pascucci hit the right moment during a duet — with Fluke-Mogel playing a few loud strums on the violin, as if it were a guitar — it was time, and the piece ended.
In all, it was a nice finale for Berkeley Arts. But it was also a chance for all of us, including members of the band, to thank Phillip for curating this series. It’s hard work, but it helps the community so much. Thanks, Phillip.