Animals & Giraffes, Text & Music

Animals & GiraffesJuly (Edgetone, 2017)

animals-july.jpgAnimals & Giraffes is a project combining the poetry of Claudia La Rocco with sound-based improvisations by Bay Area musicians. It’s music for thinking, with La Rocco’s deadpan delivery as a central point, orbited by the stillness of the music.

That’s music in an abstract, sound-based vein most of the time. There are some tones, such as Evelyn Davis’ prepared piano on “Night Harbor,” but most tracks are closer to the slaps, scrapes, and clacking of John Shiurba’s guitar on “Grammar.”

The project is the brainchild of saxophonist Phillip Greenlief, who was looking for an avenue for mixing text and music. He appears two tracks, and he was at the remixing board for a few others, but his real contribution is the shaping of the overall project, recruiting Bay Area musicians to contribute — different players and different sounds for just about every track.

 
Tim Perkis was a inspired choice. His electronics create the perfect punctuation around two shorts: “A Partial Philosophy of the World” and “Instruction Manual.”

He also appears on “The Ferry Is Turning Course Now, Away From the Sun,” pitting small scribbles against Karen Stackpole’s muted bells and gongs. At the song’s peak, the music builds patiently against La Rocco’s traffic jam of run-on sentences and tiny bits of repetition.

 
Public Access” is an interesting departure. It appears to be a straight conversation between David Boyce and La Rocco, couched as a two-way interview. The backing of Boyce’s saxophone and electronics starts at an innocuous level but intensifies as Greenlief, at the mixing board, warps it into more sinister shape by the end of the 7-minute piece.

The poetry itself is inscrutable to me, a patchwork of mostly immediate images: settings and actions taking place now or in recent memory. But it doesn’t follow a linear flow, feeling more like stream-of-consciousness. Jennifer Krasinski summarized it well for Bomb magazine:

“One of the many things I love about her writing is how it records the particular flicker of her synapses, swerving between subjects, veering in many directions in order to find the sharpest views, no matter if fractured or fleeting.”

For me, Animals & Giraffes works better as an experience than as a document. The lingering atmosphere could be captivating in a live performance, as in the video above. The text’s shifting landscape takes a kind of concentration that I’m having trouble latching onto in CD form — but I do enjoy the variety of musicians on the disc, and the “Public Access” experiment works well.

KZSU Day of Noise 2016, Happening Now

2016“Now,” meaning Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, Pacific time.

Every year, KZSU puts on 24 hours of mostly improvised, mostly noisy music — electronics, ambient, jazzy, sound-wall-ey, you name it. It’s a glorious tradition led by DJ Abra (aka Dr. Information).

From 3:00 a.m. to 4:00 a.m., you’ll hear The Voice of Doom — a barrage of exotic instruments from the collection of Doom the KZSU DJ who started the Day of Noise tradition years ago.

From 6:30 a.m. to 7:00 a.m., bran(…)pos will be on. I know him for harsh, vocal-driven noise, but who knows — he could perform anything.

Improv-rock group Lost Planet performs from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m.

From 1:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m., you’ll hear a couple of groups from the Bay Area improv scene, combining classical and jazz ideas with good old noise. Jacob Felix Heule, Aurora Josephson, and John McCowen perform first, followed by Tania Chen, Matt Ingalls, and Ken Ueno.

Day of Noise favorite Henry Plotnick, a teen prodigy who weaves hypnotic layers of keyboard minimalism, performs from 4:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Computer-music pioneer Tim Perkis seizes the airwaves from 5:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.

Rent Romus and Collette McCaslin of longstanding jazz outfit Lords of Outland play as part of a trio from 6:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. They’re both very noisy people when they want to be; don’t expect “jazz.”

… And there’s a lot more that I’m probably missing as I skim the schedule. The whole thing is listed here, and you can listen online at kzsulive.stanford.edu.

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.

Ivy Room Mondays

Lisa Mezzacappa, John Finkbeiner - Ivy Room, May 2009I wasn’t at Kingman’s Ivy Room tonight, but I was a few weeks ago, and what better excuse to write a blog.

The Ivy Room is a mid-sized bar, plush and casual and friendly, located in Albany just blocks north of Berkeley, or so it felt to me as I drove up. The place is being kind enough to let the improv crowd take over on Monday nights, either for a few short sets or an all out Improv Hootenanny Night that has its own MySpace page.

It’s a fun atmosphere. There’s no cover, and the Ivy Room is airy and clean — the kind of place where you’re welcome to sit on the carpeted floor in front of the music area, and you don’t worry if anything’s been spilled there. (Caveat: Monday night crowds aren’t usually the spilling type.)

Some photos from my May 25 excursion. Yes, the date on my camera was wrong.

Up top, you’ve got Lisa Mezzacappa‘s Bait and Switch, the successor to Before and After. It’s free jazz, with compositions derived from the best segments of group improvisations. The result is like Ornette Coleman taken a step further into abstract territory and noise rock at the same time, with a mood that jumps like ’60s free jazz. That’s Mezzacappa on bass and John Finkbeiner on guitar.

Aaron Bennett, John Finkbeiner, Ivy Room, May 2009At left is a second picture of the band, with Aaron Bennett (sax) at left. In this one, Vijay Anderson (drums) and Mezzacappa are obscured, making it look like the two white guys are all that matters. Hey, it was dark. All I do is point the camera and hope.

Jacob Felix Heule, Aurora Josephson, Damon Smith / Ivy Room, May 2009The trio of Jacob Felix Heule (drums), Aurora Josephson (vocal), and Damon Smith (bass) did one long improvisation, a dark and keening piece with Josephson’s voice spiking in anguish. Nice stuff.

Ivy Room, May 2009I don’t recall the details of the quartet at left. I’m pretty sure that’s Tony Dryer on bass at the far left, and two of the four members were from Norway (the guitarist and other bassist?). They, too, played a single long piece, concentrating on smaller, quieter spaces; the guitarist, in particular, buckled and thrashed to the music but was producing small crackles and crinkles, a kind of studied intensity.

It’s always nice to see a bar or restaurant take a chance on experimental music. A good cluster of these series has sprung up, maybe because venues are more willing to take chances in the face of recessionary crowds. The Make-Out Room (San Francisco, Mission District) has been hosting creative jazz on the first Monday of each month, and The Uptown (Oakland, downtown) is letting Weasel Walter curate an avant-garde program on third Tuesdays. The next of those will be tomorrow, and I’m hoping to be there, sleep cycle permitting.