SF Tape Music + sfSound

The San Francisco Tape Music Festival runs January 10-12 at the Victoria Theater (2961 16th Street, San Francisco).

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Source: Hello I’m Nik on Unsplash

For Bay Area creative music, the first big happening of the calendar year tends to be the San Francisco Tape Music Festival. “Tape music” refers to an early type of electronic music that wasn’t performed live, but was instead committed to reel-to-reel tape. The pieces today are digital recordings, played to the Tape Music Festival audience across 24 speakers in near-total darkness (minus any legally mandated EXIT signs). It’s an audio adventure.

Sunday’s program (7:00 p.m.) features pieces that combine pre-recorded parts with live musicians (presumably not in total darkness). One example would be “Clarinet Threads,” a 1985 composition by Denis Smalley (below). It’s a format that’s fairly common, but I think it’s a first for the Tape Music Festival.

Smalley’s piece is on the Sunday program, along with new or recent pieces by sfSound members Matt Ingalls and Kyle Bruckmann and the world premiere of local composer Ken Ueno’s “Ghosts of Ancient Hurricanes.” There will also be two 1964 pieces by Mario Davidovsky, who died in August and whose composing advanced the musician + electronics format.

Here’s the complete Sunday program, taken from the sfSound site:

Sunday January 12, 2020 (7:00pm)
a special 3-set concert of works for instruments and fixed media featuring sfSoundGroup

KEN UENO – Ghosts of Ancient Hurricanes (2020)
– interval –
DENIS SMALLEY – Clarinet Threads (1985)
MARIO DAVIDOVSKY – Synchronisms #2 (1964)
MATT INGALLS & SFSOUND – Blue Sedan (2020)
– interval –
JONTY HARRISON – Force Fields (2006)
MARIO DAVIDOVSKY – Synchronisms #3 (1964)
KYLE BRUCKMANN – Clutterfields (2019)

A few other program items that stand out at first glance:

  • Very classic pieces by Pierre Schaeffer (1948!) and and Toru Takemitsu (1956) (Friday 8:30 p.m., Saturday 9:30 p.m.)
  • A 1992 piece by Pauline Oliveros, who was feted at the 2017 festival (Friday)
  • A 2011 piece by Ken Nordine, who died in February (Saturday, 7:00 p.m.)
  • A piece by bran(…)pos, a personal favorite and a Day of Noise veteran (Friday).

The complete four-show program is here.

Steve Dalachinsky Tribute and a History Lesson

Downtown Music Gallery, in Manhattan, hosted a concert in honor of poet Steve Dalachinsky, shortly after he died in September. The event was lovingly filmed by Robert O’Haire.

While the music and poetry are good, the most valuable parts for me were the brief talks by DMG proprietor Bruce Lee Gallanter about Steve and the original Knitting Factory, the nexus for the “downtown” avant-jazz scene of the ’80s and ’90s. Skip ahead to the 26:30 mark for Gallanter’s story of one of the greatest solos ever taken.

I came to the scene only at the tail end of that era, and while I knew Dalachinsky’s name, I didn’t fully appreciate his place in the canon. Drawn into the music as a teenager after hearing Cecil Taylor, Dalachinsky was more than a fan; he chronicled the scene through his stream-of-consciousness poetry and also served as a friend, critic, and collaborator. I can see why he’s missed.

KZSU’s Day of Noise: Saturday, February 9, 2019

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It’s here again: The KZSU Day of Noise, 24 hours of live noise/improv performances, broadcast across the free airwaves, streamed over the Interwebs, and stored for posterity on YouTube.

From midnight to midnight (Pacific time) on Saturday, February 9, 2019, musicians will be performing live at the KZSU studio, playing laptop electronics, analog electronics, acoustic instruments, electric guitars, and whatever other noisemakers they decide to bring. Artists will perform for 30 or 60 minutes apiece. See the full lineup here.

In the Bay Area, tune in to KZSU on the good old-fashioned radio at 90.1 FM. Elsewhere in the world, stream the show live at kzsulive.stanford.edu. We’ll probably have a live video feed running as well (in the past, it’s been on YouTube).

The last few Days of Noise have been archived on the KZSU site in both audio and video forms, so you have plenty of material to get acclimated for the big event.

We have loads of fun putting this on every year, and I’m so grateful to the KZSU staffers who make it happen. Abra masterminds the whole thing — many thanks to her for keeping the idea alive — while Smurph does the bulk of the audio engineering and Jin documents the event in video and photos. Other DJs like me chip in where they can, moving gear, delivering food, giving directions over the phone. And the musicians have loads of fun. Please do tune in, any way you can.

I’ve posted Day of Noise photos a few times before. Have a look:

2017
2013
2012

RIP Alvin Fielder

I came to know drummer Alvin Fielder’s name through his improvised-jazz work with pianist Joel Futterman and saxophonist Ike Levin, as several of those CDs crossed KZSU’s transom in the early 2000s. Later, Bay Area bassist Damon Smith moved to Texas along with his Balance Point Acoustics record label, released a series of recordings involving Fielder. 

Here they are in a robust duo improvisation:

And while I’m there, here’s a look at Fielder’s quiet side, backing up Smith on the Johnny Dyani composition “Roots” and taking a long solo at the end:

But of course Fielder, who died this month at 83, had an accomplished career long before I “met” him. He was a co-founder of the AACM and appeared on one of its first albums, Roscoe Mitchell’s Sound in 1966. He stayed in his native South rather than doing the free-jazz thing of traveling Europe but remained active, recording with saxophonist Kidd Jordan for more than 30 years. This 2013 release on NoBusiness Records features the two of them in concert with bassist Peter Kowald:

He also had a long association with trumpeter Dennis González and his sons Aaron and Stephen González. They played on A Measure of Vision (Clean Feed, 2007), technically Fielder’s only recording as a leader — although it’s no stretch to call him the co-leader of the many improvises sessions he recorded. Most of the album puts Fielder in a trio with with Chris Parker (piano) and Dennis González (trumpet). “Max-Well” is a bright Fielder composition quoting “A Love Supreme” and, with its free use of snare accents, probably nodding toward Max Roach as well (Fielder cited Roach as a key early influence), while “The Cecil Tayler – Sunny Murray Dancing Lesson” is a beautiful dirge with flowering piano and, in place of a bass, Fielder’s toms. (Spotify login required to hear entire tracks — apologies for that.)

Writer Clifford Allen is a longtime champion of Fielder’s and published a lengthy interview with him on the All About Jazz site in 2007. Allen apparently introduced Fielder to Damon Smith. It’s through Allen’s blog, “Ni Kantu,” that I found this: a fiery 1976 TV appearance by the Improvisational Arts Quintet, a band that included Jordan and Fielder. Their recorded output is limited to one obscure LP (1983) and one side of a Rounder Records compilation (1988), so it’s nice to have this document available.

To end on a cathartic note, here’s a live take on “Max-Well” with Kidd Jordon on sax and London Branch (of the original Improvisational Arts Quintet) as one of two bassists. It’s from a 2009 tribute to Fielder in his hometown of Jackson, Mississippi.

Death of a Piano

Screen Shot 2018-08-08 at 8.57.47 AMMoe! Staiano is reviving “Piece No. 1: Death of a Piano,” a piece that really does culminate in the destruction of a piano, via sledgehammer. He’ll be talking about it on the radio Thursday night, Aug. 9, in a interview on KFJC sometime between 7:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. Pacific time, during Max Level’s show.

As the name implies, “Death of a Piano” was Moe!’s first long-form composition for a large ensemble. I can’t remember if he was calling the group Moekestra at the time, but that’s the name that eventually stuck. Incarnations of the piece that I’ve seen have featured lots of electric guitars, along with a smorgasbord of other instruments — horns, strings, drums. The upcoming performance sounds like it could be different, as it features The San Francisco Third Eye Orchestra Long Tone Choir using pitched percussion.

The performance will be on Saturday, Aug. 18, at 8:00 p.m. at First Church of the Buzzard (2601 Adeline St., Oakland).

The piano above looks small, but other performances have included grand pianos or upright pianos. It all depends on what kind of decrepit, disposable piano is available.

Regardless of size, these pianos are pretty darned resilient and take longer than you’d expect to dismantle. The soundboard, in particular, doesn’t always come apart. And surprisingly, the orchestra can overwhelm the sound of the sledgehammer. But there’s always some fun destruction to be had. I still have a light piece of wood that I keep at my desk — a piano-key hammer from a past performance.

The first time I saw Moe! perform, he took a sledgehammer to a TV set, sending powdered glass all over the stage to end his show. Afterward, he thanked the audience and noted, “I always clean up after myself” — which he did, diligently tidying up the stage. Likewise, Moe! wears safety goggles while attacking a piano. It’s a responsible kind of destruction. I like that.

Cecil Taylor

On April 6, I was in Brooklyn, walking the streets of Park Slope. Didn’t realize Cecil Taylor had died the previous day, quite close to there.

The New York Times ran a fitting and substantial obituary. Nate Chinen wrote one for NPR, making note of Taylor’s 2016 collaboration with dancer Min Tanaka. And I was intrigued to learn that Taylor made at least two appearances on Marian McPartland’s NPR show, “Piano Jazz.” Their rapport is downright charming.

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Cecil Taylor, 2008. Source: Wikimedia.

Taylor is a flag bearer for avant-garde jazz, of course, but his sound was built on the jazz tradition. My wife, after a few years of hearing the clicks and scrapes of free improv on my stereo, once walked in relieved to hear Cecil Taylor — something that, to her ears, resembled “normal” music. I had to break it to her that this was considered difficult avant-garde stuff, but the point is that she could hear the jazz in it.

We writers lazily compare any “outside” piano to Cecil Taylor, but Taylor’s style and language are unique and easily recognizable. At one point in that “Piano Jazz” installment, Taylor describes creating his own scales early on, because he didn’t want to practice the traditional ones. McPartland has him play one of those scales as an example, and it sounds like Cecil. He goes on to play some chord clusters as well.

Then there’s the precision. Listeners notice it more when Taylor slaps the keyboard with a forearm, but for me, his ten-fingered passages avalanches are where the real magic happens, where he starts rumbling away but never loses that Swiss-watch precision. That’s Cecil Taylor speaking his language to you. I’ve got Air Above Mountains on the turntable now, a solo album so richly steeped in that language, and I’m feeling so grateful that I got to see Taylor perform twice.

KZSU Day of Noise: This Saturday, Feb. 10

dayofnoise2018

The Day of Noise us upon us! Or, it will be, in a few days! Click the image above to go straight to kzsu.stanford.edu/dayofnoise/2018 to see the musicians who will be playing live, on-air, from midnight to midnight Pacific time on Saturday, Feb. 10.

Tune in at 90.1 FM if you’re in the Bay Area, or online at http://kzsu.stanford.edu.

Don’t sleep on the Day of Noise archives, either. The past two years’ installments include audio recordings of the entire event. Check it out.