Day of Noise 2019 Video

KZSU’s Day of Noise — 24 hours of live on-air performances in the studios of Stanford’s college radio station — came and went last month, but you can see and hear the whole thing. Jin, who’s videoed and photographed the event for the past several years, went all-out this time, with two cameras per studio and lighting filters to boot. The full 24 hours were streamed live in two 12-hour segments (YouTube sets a 12-hour limit on streams) that are available now.

Bonus: That’s my voice at the start or Part 2. I was asked to stall for time, to make sure no music got lost as we made the transition between video streams.

Smurph, who handled sound engineering for all 24 hours, made an audio recording of each act separately, and you can find those files on KZSU’s Day of Noise web page.

Usufruct, a Harvest of Sound

UsufructWindfall (VF Industrial, 2018)

Usufruct performs at the Luggage Store Gallery (1007 Market St., San Francisco) on Thursday, January 10.

From the joyous prog rock of Reconnaissance Fly, Polly Moller and Tim Walters have staked new turf in the realm of pensive electronics and austere set pieces.

Windfall paints a spare landscape where silence is a primary color. Moller’s voice and flute are foundational sound sources, both organically and in digitally twisted forms, and Walter adds electronics like small, bright creatures darting across a shadowy geometric plane.

“Usufruct” is a real word, referring to “the right of the people to harvest the fruits of common property.” In that spirit, the band harvests found texts, read by Moller. “Only a Test” borrows from what might be a military handbook, with Moller and Walters barking out disconnected proclamations and lists of words. “Donzerly” cuts up the lyrics to the Star Spangled Banner, backed by swirling, buzzing electronics that sound aggressive but feel solitary.

When the flute is unadulterated, Moller draws forth a sense of color and stillness, augmented by trilling or tilted embouchure. On “Upside Down Wedding,” Walters plays back the melodic lines  to create an intertwining vine climbing through the ether.

Here’s Usufruct performing at the 2018 Outsound New Music Festival:

Sonata for Laptop and Piano

Tim Perkis & Scott WaltonApplied Cryptography (pfMentum, 2016)

PFMCD106These tracks, many of them miniatures, pair Tim Perkis’ mastery of laptop electronics music with Scott Walton’s piano. It’s chamber music, as serious and deep as anything you’d find in classical section.

At times, Perkis’ command of the laptop rivals that of an acoustic instrument — such as a brief moment of sustain on “Oblique Compact,” so similar to a violin or saxophone holding a high note for dramatic effect. Composer Lisa Mezzacappa once noted that she not only includes Perkis in her bands but also hands him sheet music, and touches like this demonstrate why.


Much of the “classical” feel can be attributed to Walton. Even though he uses prepared piano at times, much of his playing has the feel of modern chamber music. “Naked Egg” is delicate and patient, as fragile as its title. At the other end of the scale, “Partial Ordering” uses lower-register hammering for a sense of drama, and Perkis responds with curt and relatively stiff sounds.

“Normal Form” takes that darker mood a step further, descending into heavy string-scraping on the piano and a buzzy undertone from the electronics. Here’s a segment that gets into some heavy keyboard work.


“Blind Signature” (all of these titles look like they do come from cryptography) offers a bit of crashing abandon and shrieking sounds, but it still leaves enough blank space to feel like a serious venture. It even has a mini-cadenza for some bleating, buzzy electronics. The album ends with “Zero-Knowledge Proof,” a miniature that’s peppered with the small, tightly clean sounds that Perkis does so well.

Tuneful Tones of Drum Machines

Matt Davignon — Living Things (Edgetone, 2010)

Performing live on Friday, Feb. 5 at Studio 1510 … 1510 8th St., Oakland
… Along with Reconnaissance Fly; more about them here.

Matt Davignon makes strange, elastic sounds out of a drum machine.  It’s an interesting transformation — instead of dry clicks and snaps, you get long, gloopy tunes, a more liquidy and organic sound than I’d associate with the phrase “drum machine.”

I’d never even seen a drum machine before getting a hands-on demonstration from Davignon.  It was at the first “Touch the Gear” exhibition (held as part of the annual event now called the Outsound New Music Summit), the idea being that you could talk to artists about the computers, pedals, and blinky-light machines that make all these abstract sounds.

(Very highly recommended event, btw; I’m really hoping to bring my kids if they do it again.)

And YOU can get a hands-on demo, virtually, thanks to YouTube. Davignon has set up a video series called “Rigs!” that’s well worth checking out. Here’s his Drum Machine demo, part 1.

The gist: He starts with drum machines, including some that produce tuned beats, runs them through reverb, looping, sampling, and other effects, and comes out with odd new sounds.  It’s a process that allows for lots of spontaneous adapting, as you might imagine; Davignon even talks about adjusting pitches on the fly to match the keys of other instruments.

The results are interesting little soundscapes, as shown on his earlier albums Bwoo and SoftWetFish. But on the new Living Things, the idea takes a new turn.

It’s not pop at all, but Davignon builds some of these pieces around overt melody and rhythm that you’d associate with pop.

Take the six-minute “Mold.”  It follows a stompy little beat with a rattly sound that’s got a trace of melody to it — something The Residents would be proud to play.  Then he gets into some soloing — a murky, swampy path of synthlike tunes that keeps up the mysterious mood that’s developed.

“Markhor” is more of a wanderer, presenting a melody of slow, sliding tones. “Saguaro” builds a steady, slowish riff, then undocks for a solo of spacey, floating tones.

There’s plenty of abstract territory covered here, too. “Blind Cave Tetra” is a series of rattly, echoing sounds like — well, like a cave, at least a radio-theater version of one.

Should I admit I’m an old D&D geek?  Davignon’s creations have always made me thing of gelatinous cubes and similarly blobby, formless creatures.  (Or — wait — jellyfish. Next time, I’m gonna be less geeky and just say “jellyfish.”) That trend doesn’t stop with Living Things, but the heavier concentration on melody adds a relaxing touch and gives the music a stamp that’s different from the previous albums.