Sounds from The Bran

Hopefully, when you click the video below, it will have more than “1” views.

It’s bran(…)pos, testing out a (relatively) newly acquired synthesizer.

I happened to be on Twitter right after he linked to the video, so I checked it out. I knew bran back when he was “The Bran (Another Plight of Medics) POS,” creating noise pieces from distorted samples of his screaming voice. Cool stuff.

Anyway, I happened to be the first person to view the video. Not that that matters now, but hey, I got to feel special for a few minutes. And I liked the video — with the self-run camera work, it’s like a little mini-tour of the synthesizer. Hopefully, it’ll keep you noisily entertained for a few minutes.

As for bran(…)pos’ voice work, you can check out soundcrack.net, and you can see him perform in the August 31 installment of Pamela Z’s ROOM series. That show will focus on vocal artists.

Help Moe Put Another Beautiful Noise on Disc

Moe Staiano is up on Kickstarter again, this time hoping to commit a very special performance to vinyl.

For years, he’s been building large improv/orchestral pieces for Moekestra, a varying but always large and loud ensemble. The group began more than a decade ago with the epic “Death of a Piano,” and the concept reached a pinnacle in 2010 with “End of an Error,” a piece performed in Wels, Austria, at the Music Unlimited Festival.

For a while, it looked like that might be the final Moekestra appearance, and it certainly would have been a fitting finale. (Moekestra did reconvene this year.)

Finale or not, the fact that the band got an invitation all the way from Austria made this performance a special occasion.

The Kickstarter funding would go towards a vinyl release of those recordings. So, check out the proposal, and help produce a cool musical souvenir if you’re so inclined.

(For details on Staiano’s most recent Kickstarter-funded vinyl, check out Surplus 1980.)

Day of Noise Is Done (aka Photos)

Figured I should do a blog post with that title, just to confirm that the Day of Noise did in fact complete.

Photos of mine can be seen on Flickr. A few samples are below; they all link to the Flickr versions. (More detail about the Day of Noise is in the previous posting.)

More pics can be had at the Flickr streams of KZSU DJs Fo and Decca.

Frank Rothkamm

Frank Rothkamm plays K5, a new work for computer electronics.

Bill Orcutt

Bill Orcutt chills out before his solo guitar set.

Thomas DiMuzio

The many pedals of Thomas DiMuzio.

David Leikam and the Day of Noise T-Shirt

David Leikam signs the Day of Noise T-Shirt.

John Ingle, Matt Ingalls, Matt Davignon, and Abode (Caroline Pugh and Paul Stapeleton)

The green room — and yes, we had one. From left: John Ingle, Matt Ingalls, Matt Davignon, and Abode (Caroline Pugh and Paul Stapeleton).

Day of Noise Has Not Yet Ended

UPDATE: I’ve now got a set of photos posted to Flickr. Other KZSUers will be posting photos there and elsewhere, I’m sure, and plenty are on Twitter (like this one). I’ll add photos to the blog somehow — either this entry or another one — in the coming days as the Day Job permits.

I’m in the Green Room for KZSU’s Day of Noise. Yes, there is a thing; we’re borrowing the Stanford Drama Department’s green room, just upstairs from the station.

Abode, the duo of Caroline Pugh and Paul Stapleton, are about to start their set; I’m watching the Ustream feed and seeing them setting up. Megabats, from Seattle, just got done performing; this is one of the few breaks during the day when we’re spinning CD music between acts. We’re managing to fill more than 90 percent of the 24 hours with live performance.

I haven’t been at the station all 24 hours, although some have (some with no sleep at all, it seems). Here’s some of what I’ve caught so far (and photos will be coming later):

* Brian B. James and crew started the day with a performance piece (as noted last night), the “score” of which was available on fliers at the station. It culminated in the performers literally preparing a meal — making sushi, specifically, with contact mics on every feasible tool and implement.

* One part I actually didn’t see: Voice of Doom playing his Machinery of Doom, at about 4:00 a.m. Doom was a KZSU DJ in the ’90s, the one who organized the first several Days of Noise, back when. Great to have him involved in this one.

* David Leikam and Joe Straub attacked a bass and a guitar with bows and random objects for a partly-toneful barrage of sounds.

* Leikam later brought his z_bug free-psych band into the studio for a good heavy set that culminated with a strong actual rhythm (oh no!) on drums. It was a well timed, soaring coda to the whole set, actually.

* Bill Orcutt, of Harry Pussy, attacked a four-stringed acoustic guitar with precision and abandon. A peg on one of the strings has been malfunctioning, so it became three-stringed guitar after a while.

* I was not able to hear much of Jessica Rylan‘s set, as I was attending to other duties around the station, but I’ll note that she has a pink mixing board.

* Frank Rothkamm played the world debut of his newest song set, titled K5, to be released later on his Flux record label. We had a fun interview as well, where he talked about his love for older technologies: vinyl records, analog synths. He’s got one of the very first (if not the first) Hewlett-Packard oscillators in his possession, it seems. And on his way out of the station, he was intent on visiting the Computer History Museum, which seemed fitting.

* Matt Ingalls and John Ingle played a terrific duo set that I heard in the car, with woodwinds playing off one another, sometimes in scribbly quick sounds, sometimes savoring the dissonant beats arising from simultaneous long tones. They got joined by Matt Davignon and Abode for a terrific second set. Paul Stapleton brought an array of insruments, including percussion; Caroline Pugh does a lot of inventive vocalizing, sometimes enhanced with props (an electric toothbrush, e.g.), sometimes in odd texts (a recitation of a recent dream). She has a lot of personality in her vocalizing; it’s not too over-the-top serious.

* Megabats turned in a couple of good electronic improvisations, the last one being heavy on tone and melody. (Again: oh no! But seriously, we don’t mind a touch of those qualities during Day of Noise.) Right now, they’re in the Green Room with a stack of CDs they brought, and DJ Adam (who led the coordination of the whole Day) and others are geeking out with them over bands and CDs. It’s pretty cool, and it’s the kind of vibe that college radio should be all about: sharing common joys and new discoveries.

Photos later, as I noted. I’ll tack some onto this post and/or put them into a separate post, and I might add annotations and links (and proofreading) to this post as well. The bands White Pee, The Lickets, and Vulcanus 68 — KZSU favorites all, especially among noise-minded students — are yet to perform tonight, and Thea Farhadian is due to be up right now. It’s been a tremendously successful Day of Noise. Big props to the staffers, especially the students, who did most of the organizing, and of course a big thank you to all the artists for coming down to perform.

Brace for Impact: KZSU Day of Noise

The Day of Noise comes to KZSU on Sunday, Feb. 12.

It’s 24 hours of noise music, experimental music, and free improv, with live performances taking up most of every hour. We will be pausing for musician introductions, interviews, etc. — but the idea will be to pack as much live performance into the time as possible. We’ve even set up an ersatz second studio for some of the performances, so we don’t have to wait for setup time.

The whole program is available at the link above. Three things to note:

First — The opening act, Brian B. James, is apparently promising to do something visually spectacular. They’re not telling me what it is. But it’s so compelling that there’s talk of putting up a screen in White Plaza on the Stanford campus just to expose passers-by to it. (Yes, this would be after midnight on a Saturday night, essentially — apparently there’s quite a bit of foot traffic at that time.)

If all goes well, you’ll be able to watch the video stream from the comfort of wherever-your-broadband-is, by watching the Ustream feed. (I don’t think that feed will have audio, though; you’ll have to get that from the usual on-air feed: kzsulive.stanford.edu.)

Second — “NegativWobblyland,” originally listed as “Wobbly Black Hair People” is the combination of Peter Conheim (of Negativland) and Wobbly. They did a few live shows together in Europe in November. Expect greatness, or at least madness. They’re due on at 2:00 p.m.

Third — It looks like I’ll be interviewing Frank Rothkamm for about 20 minutes, preparatory to his performance, which (I’m told) is designed to last 33 minutes and 33 seconds. This’ll start at noon on Sunday. Rothkamm’s work includes electronics and modern-classical piano; I’ve mentioned his Spongebob Variations before.

SF Tape Music Festival: Night 1

It’s not a 2001 homage. This is the front-stage speaker I stared at between pieces.

The title here might imply I’ll be at Nights 2 and 3, on Saturday and Sunday. I won’t. And Saturday’s concert (Jan. 21, a.k.a. tonight) will include a backwards playing of “Revolution 9” — a “song” I know well enough that it would be really, really cool to hear backwards. Insert sad face.

But I did catch Night 1 of the San Francisco Tape Music Festival, and it was pretty darned cool.

I keep emphasizing the number of audio speakers that they place around the audience at this event, but there’s a more important fact that occurred to me last night: These are really, really good speakers. I’m not an audiophile, but — they seem really good. Crisp sounds and percussive sounds are so clear, you feel like you could reach out and grab them.

As for Friday’s program itself, here are a few arbitrary highlights. (Note that every night’s program is completely different.)

Maggi Payne‘s “Glassy Metals” was a pleasure to hear on a bigger stage than my small headphones. More immersive, with precision added to the more crystalline sounds. (See “A Taste of Tape Music.”)

This is where all the magic happens.

Two John Cage pieces sounded appropriately chaotic and cut-up. Both consisted of instructions for building a sound collage using sources that are arbitrary but that come from set categories. “Williams Mix” called for six types of sounds (city sounds, country sounds, etc.). That one was fun — sounds blipped at you from all directions — but “Imaginary Landscape No. 5” was a more grand descent into madness. The San Francisco Tape Music folks put that one together themselves, using fragments of Cage’s own performances and lectures . It was a crazy mix of monologue and tiny music snippets, taking advantage of all 16 speakers around the house — and, adhering to the randomness required by the piece, it ended mid-sentence.

Jacob Felix Heule, not taken during the concert. It’s from heule.us.

Bay Area drummer Jacob Felix Heule‘s “Counterpoint” was created by overdubbing one electronics improvisation and three percussion improvs, each performed without listening to the previous takes but with conscious attention to the memory of those takes. Heule did edit the final result a bit, so the disparate pieces did fit together nicely. Each improv included lots of long silences, so you weren’t bombarded, and some of the starts and stops were aligned very nicely, a product of the editing, I’m assuming.

Thom Blum‘s “Couplings” was full of sour, grumpy sounds that I found interesting. These are supposedly paired with something more mellifluous, but I couldn’t find that element. Maybe I was distracted by the rain on the roof (which was usually drowned out but caught my ears during this piece), or maybe I was looking for the wrong thing.

Source: Karamanlis’ Bandcamp page.

“Στέρφος” (“Sterfos”), by Orestis Karamanlis, ended the program. Inspired by the sounds of his home in the Greek isles, the piece opened and closed with splashing water — delicious sounds, altered in places to sound almost like a verbal language. (Or, maybe listening to splashing for that long alters your perception of the sound, like saying a word repeatedly until it sounds funny?) There were also snippets of synthesized symphonic chords, folk music (or am I imagining that after the fact?), marketplace crowds, people talking in Greek… and loud sounds like firecrackers or gunfire. Not sure if that was also tied to life in Greece or if it was just electronics gadgetry added — the piece, composed in 2009, did use lots of modern computer-generated sounds as well. The 21-minute span, longest on the bill, was episodic; it did feel like Karamanlis was telling a story, in an abstract narrative-less sense. This piece won a 2010 Giga Hertz Award for Electronic Music.

You can hear stereo versions of the whole thing on Karamanlis’ web site (linked above) or on Bandcamp.

So, weather be damned, you should set aside time for the festival Saturday or Sunday. The new ODC Theater is cozy and sleek, and the ginger snaps at the mini-cafe are yummy.

One tip: Sit in the center. Meaning, not to the left or right, but as close to the middle as possible. The stereo balance will be much better. As for whether you should sit to the front or the back — I dunno. In many pieces, most of the sound seems to come from the front, making it a pleasant surprise when sounds blip out from the back speakers. It might be a real treat to actually sit back there. I want to try that next time.

Skatchbox Redux

T.D. SkatchitSkatch Migration (Edgetone, 2010)

As on T.D. Skatchit & Co., an earlier album, Skatch Migration combines two skatchbox with a variety of guests, trying out different sound combinations.

It’s still sometimes incongruous, as on the first album. But skatchboxes — homemade instruments played by scraping combs, sticks, or files against various textured surfaces — make for fun headphone listening, and some of the instrumental pairings are quite innovative. If you enjoy the curled, quirky sounds of abstract electronics/noise, you’ll find a lot to like. Sounds range from determined and fast-paced scratching to slower, calmer sounds — one resembling a marble being rolled around a wooden box, for instance.

But this territory got covered pretty well with the first album. The skatchbox has such a distinctive sound, and the lack of any sustain give its varied noises an overall dryness that doesn’t ever let up. While it’s got the infinite possibilities of any instrument, I have to admit I found myself wondering whether another whole album of skatching was really called for.

I did like the album. In its defense, it reflects a good number of strategies for mixing other instruments with the skatchbox.

Some of the acoustic “musical” instruments, for example, take the foreground, at least for my ears. The skatchbox chatter became a crisp alien backdrop, supporting the lead improviser. That’s especially the case with Scott Looney’s sad piano piece, or Bruce Ackley’s not-so-traditional saxophone melody.

Other players worked at fitting in. On “Flammable Skatch,” Kyle Bruckmann, who’s good at making the oboe sound non-oboe-like, plays airy screeches that almost could have come from skatchboxes. One of Doug Carroll’s cello tracks goes for a slashing, reverb-laden sound that reflects the kinetic skatchbox mentality.

As on the first album, we get to hear that abstract electronics can be a natural skatchbox partner, through contributions by Gino Robair and especially Tim Perkis. And while the first album had Karen Stackpole’s gongs, this one has Jacob Felix Heule scraping a cymbal for a similarly deep, doomy ringing — a really interesting setting for the skatchboxes.

Vocalists appear on five of the 15 tracks. Bob Marsh’s deep voice makes a nice cartoony babble on “What Did It?”, a fun track. But Aurora Josephson — the only guest duplicated between the two albums — steals the show, first with “Tip of My Tongue,” which is full of wordplay written by Michalak, and with “Indecision Revision,” a collection of “Mm-hm” and “Huh-uh” sounds.

Tom Nunn and Dave Michalak do seem to have added to the skatchbox vocabulary. I’m out of town as I write this, without T.D. Skatchit & Co. handy for direct comparison, but Nunn and Michalak seem to be working with amplified skatchboxes more frequently on this album and they may have added some new elements that produce nearly vocal sounds, similar to the puppy-dog sounds I’d heard from a bowed instrument called the daxophone. (Each skatchbox is uniquely hand-made, so each instrument can be vastly different.)

Previous skatchbox posts:

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.

Ava Mendoza Swings

Ava MendozaShadow Stories (Resipiscent, 2010)

Performing solo guitar: Sunday June 27, 10:30 a.m., live on KUSF 90.3; Monday, June 28, at Luna’s Cafe (Sacramento); and Tuesday, June 29, at Amnesia (San Francisco) as part of a guitar-compilation release party by the Tomkins Square label.  And non-solo-guitar dates listed here.

Bay Area music fans who know guitarist Ava Mendoza from the punk attack of Mute Socialite, from her noisy guitar experiments on compilations like Women Take Back the Noise, from her noisy work with Weasel Walter — is going to be surprised to hear a straight-up reading of “The Tennessee Waltz” and “I’m So Glad” opening this album. I was.

So, the jazz references in interviews and bios turn out to be for real, and not too distant from what Mendoza’s still into. “The Tennessee Waltz” gets into some unconventional ad-libbing but sticks to its country/blues mood, with a bright and rough-edged guitar sound that evokes a stage in a dusty bar graced with long afternoon shadows.

And you know what? That’s how the whole first half of the album goes!

Yes, this dark gray package that I was taking for a noisefest turns out to be a celebration of roots guitar in a western-swing style.

But only at first, because if you’re on the Resipiscent label, home to guys like this, the noise is sure to come. “The Furious Harpy” lists into some relaxing, distorted ambiance — backwards notes, guitar tones sampled into bouncing-pebble tapping — that gradually turns dark and steely, with stomping guitar from a very non-jazz place. It’s a 12-minute turning point.

That sets us up for two more unsettling tracks. “Penumbra: The Age of Almost Li” returns to a regular musical structure, but now it’s dark, slow, and slightly twisted, like evil biker music. “In My Dreams” puts fragments of guitar melody into an echoey, plinky environment, a dream that’s not a nightmare but still not quite right.

Then, abruptly, the album switches back to friendly jazz for its closing tracks. “Goodnight Irene” gets a particularly nice, expansive treatment.

Getting back to the subject of Mendoza’s jazz/swing playing — it’s terrific. “Shadowtrapping” is upbeat, combining some old-timey tricks with newer improvising ideas that break the mold but not the mood. With a second overdubbed guitar laying down the rhythm, Mendoza shows off some playfully fancy lead lines. “Kiss of Fire” has a darker mood, like an ancestor of rockabilly, but the same snappy jazz rhythm and great creative soloing. They’re tracks you can really sink your teeth into.

Mendoza gets to show multiple sides of her personality on this album. It’s a release to be proud of.

Pat Metheny’s Dark Side

Consider this a sequel to the Lou Reed post.  I mention Pat Metheny and The Sign of Four there, and it got me thinking back to that album, and to another one …

There’s an interloper’s factor when “commercial” musicians step into the improv world.  Free improv, despite what a lot of people think, isn’t thoughtless flailing. Try playing along with an Evan Parker or Derek Bailey CD; it’s not as easy as you’d think.

So, on the one hand, you have the sentiment of, “How dare they think they can just step right into this world!”  On the other hand, free improv today sounds pretty darned similar to the free improv circa 1969, when Derek Bailey and The Company were first working it out. Maybe some new voices couldn’t hurt.

Metheny’s music has gained popularity for being pretty and airy and cinematic — that’s the word the critics love, and it’s apt.  But Metheny has always insisted that his music isn’t meant to be played softly or quietly. It’s not just mood music. And jazz in general, he says, ought to be loud.

To that end, The Sign of Four, a 3-CD set recorded in 1997, opens with disquiet: a 62-minute marquee piece called “A Study in Scarlet.”  It was performed live at the Knitting Factory, and it marked Metheny and Bailey’s first meeting, each bringing along a drummer as well (Paul Wertico and Gregg Bendian).  They didn’t know much about one another beyond reputation, but it seems understood that they were going to do something improvised and not-nice.  And so it was: Metheny soon cranks it to 11 and never looks back.

Some people complain that this froze the entire piece, limiting the choices of Bailey and the drummers, and obliterating any chance to hear Bailey’s sublime, scribbly language. True. But again: Different isn’t bad.  What came out was more than acceptable, IMHO.  It’s interesting hearing Derek Bailey really shred, heavy distortion and all, and the drummers occasionally back off to create the illusion of calm. A second live disk of shorter pieces, and a studio disc, include moments of exploring other territory (i.e. quieter stuff), where silence gets to play its role.

Does Sign of Four work? I’d say yes, absolutely. But it’s not for everybody, and I can see why even a fan of abstract music might snub it.  What’s of interest here is that Metheney tried something outside his usual bounds — and, to an extent, so did Bailey.

In 1994, Metheny had gone on a solo excursion into similar territory. Zero Tolerance for Silence came out with zero fanfare on Geffen, his then-current label. In a Rolling Stone interview, Metheny described it as an exercise in “filling space” rather than creating space — the latter being his usual M.O. in those cinematic, open-sky pieces he’s famous for.

As I’ve mentioned before, you can often judge a CD by its cover. That harsh, stark, almost evil fluorescent light.  Yes, this won’t be another “Phase Dance.”

For my money, the 18-minute “Part One” is “Zero Tolerance for Silence.”  Meaning, that’s the piece I think Metheny really set out to do.  The track consists of four overdubbed electric guitars, intentionally out of tune by the sound of it, manically hammering away at blurry white-noise chords. Metheny takes occasional breaks for solos, where all four guitars, now sounding even more out of tune, plunge into criss-crossing, grunting, atonal lines of single notes before returning to the blur.

My guess is that Metheny recorded one guitar track with no schematic, just a general plan of what he wanted to do.  Each subsequent track was recorded while listening to the first one and following its cues, so that the solos and the chordal blurs would be in sync.

It’s harsh and grating — and oddly relaxing, due to the long stretches of near white noise. I’ve literally fallen asleep listening to it.  And you know what? I honestly like “Part One.”

Parts Two through Five, though, feel like B-sides. Metheny seems to be using the same approach — four overdubs in sequence — but doesn’t have another grand idea to back up the execution. He draws some sour-toned, off-key melodies that you could say are experimental, or microtonal, or bold … but really, they’re just annoying.

I’m glad Metheny had the interest to give this type of music a whirl, and that he got the support to put the results out on disc.  The differences in Zero Tolerance and Sign of Four show how enriching it is for a musician to be pushed by others in a group, and the latter shows that Metheny does have an aptitude for this stuff. He could enrich his mad improv skillz if he wanted to concentrate on this music, I’m sure — but of course, that’s not his thing, and that’s fine.