SFCMP Performs Peter Evans and Igor Stravinsky

We continue to catch up on the many concerts we have enjoyed this year. Today we look at an intriguing performance by the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players featuring Peter Evans’s Lover’s War and Igor Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat.

What made this concert unique was the way Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat (The Soldier’s Tale) was interpolated between movements of Evan’s piece. One movement of Evans, followed by a movement of Stravinsky, back and forth, throughout the performance. The two pieces are quite different in time, style, and context. L’Histoire du Soldat is a well-known work set to a cautionary tale of ambition and hubris mixing in concert-music elements with folk styles, jazz, and klezmer. It’s a fun, sometimes bombastic piece, and even it’s darker points featuring the devil are somehow fun. Peter Evans’ contemporary piece also puts together disparate styles, but in a more abstract manner that mixes idiomatic “classical” elements with electro-acoustic improvisation, Asian classical, jazz, and more. The piece makes heavy use of improvisation, but is still quite structured around the various styles and the fragments from James Baldwin’s essay “The Creative Process.”


[Composer Peter Evans (right) with guest India Cooke (left) and ensemble-member Kyle Bruckmann (center)]

While the Stravinsky is dark and pessimistic even while it is fun, Evans’ work combined with Baldwin’s words is more optimistic. And about a century separates the two compositions. Nonetheless, they work surprising well interleaved this way. Both pieces have a very fragmented nature, and the contrasting moods help rather than hinder. In Evans’ program notes, he described his work as contrasting rather than responding to Stravinsky, and we think this is an apt description of how the concert unfolded. But it did feel like it melded in a way into something new; and the musicians, both SFCMP regulars and guest performs had a lot to do with that.


[Kyle Bruckmann with guest performers India Cooke and Nava Dunkelman]

Overall, it was a fine evening of music at the Herbst Theatre in San Francisco. And we enjoyed talking with performers and others at the reception afterwards. We at CatSynth look forward to continued experiments from SFCMP.

Base 4 and the Bay Area Improvising Tag Team Ensemble

Despite being extremely tired from a major event as well as a rehearsal this past weekend, I did manage to catch a performance of jazz and improvisational antics at Berkeley Arts this Sunday evening. The evening opened with Base 4, a jazz trio featuring Bruce Friedman on trumpet, Derek Bomback on guitar, and Alan Cook on drums and percussion.

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They performed very abstract versions of standards, including Afro Blue and Solar, two favorites of mine. There was also free improvisation and some lesser-known compositions. It was a technically strong performance, a full of creative details.

Then we switched rooms for a completely different experience with the “Bay Area Improvising Tag Team Ensemble.” Not really an ensemble, this cast of characters assembled by Moe! Staiano performed free improvisation “refereed” by Gino Robair. Basically, performers were given signals of when to start and stop, and could within that context tag one another to play together and switch instruments. There were, however, penalties that could be levied against performers. A penalty meant holding a can of motor oil and not playing until it lapsed or another penalty was committed.

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As with sporting events, one could find disagreement with the referee. In this case, I strongly disagreed with Gino’s giving Polly Moller a penalty for using a wah-wah pedal. We at CatSynth approve of wah-wah pedals.

Here are some other scenes from the evening’s performance. We begin with Matt Davignon on turntable and Moe! Staiano on drums.

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Bandmates Polly Moller (Reconnaissance Fly) and Melne Murphy (Surplus 1980).

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Mark Clifford and Kyle Bruckmann. Mark does not usually play bass.

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Brian Tester and Yacob Roli Glowniss.

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Rounding out the ensemble for the evening were Dominique LeoneJacob Felix HeuleJason Hoopes, and others who I have missed.

Overall it was a lot of fun to watch, especially when things got more rhythmical or when a penalty was eminent. The performers who I talked to seem to have a lot of fun as well.

Outsound Music Summit: Lords of Outland, Lewis Jordan, Kyle Bruckman’s Wrack

The 2013 2013 Outsound New Music Summit concluded last Saturday with an evening of energetic jazz composition and improvisation, including the world premier of two large-scale works.

The concert opened with a set by Rent Romus’ Lords of Outland. Romus was joined by guest artists L.A. Jenkins on guitar and Hasan Razzaq on saxophone, along with regulars CJ Borosque on trumpet and electronics, Philip Everett on drums and Ray Scheaffer on bass.

Lords of Outsound
[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

The Lords of Outland performed The Proceedings of Dr. Ke, a suite of original compositions inspired by the essays of experimental psychologist Dr. Charles Ponce on what he termed “Blade Runner Psychology.” The music was high-energy and frenetic, as I have come to expect from this group, but punctuated by unison hits and silences. There were also spaces for each of the ensemble members to come to the front, in particular Jenkis and Razzag, as well as Romus on double-saxophone. One piece in particular centered around CJ Borosque on electronic effects pedals, with an extensive the rest of the group joining in with sounds that matched the noise elements from the electronics.

Lords of Outland was followed Lewis Jordan’s Music at Large. On this occasion, the ensemble included India Cooke on violin, Karl Evangelista on guitar, John-Carlos Perea on electric bass, and Jimmy Biala on drums/percussion.

Lewis Jordan's Music at Large
[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

The piece, composed by Jordan, was anchored by text relating to his experiences as an only child. The music was a mixture of scored and improvised material, and ranged from more luscious harmonic sections to fast virtuosic runs by Evangelista, Jordan and India Cooke. It was punctuated by quieter moments where the narrative text (read by Jordan) came to the front. Although there was improvisation mixed in, the music maintained a somewhat melancholy sound throughout. One of the more memorable elements came near the end, with a series of repeated “false cadences” with very idiomatic chords. After each repeat it built up more and added more improvised elements, eventually leading to a completely different section of more atonal sounds, before returning back to the harmonic cadence one more time.

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[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

The final set featured Kyle Bruckmann’s Wrack and the world premier of Bruckmann’s …Awaits Silent Tristero’s Empire, a 2012 CMA New Jazz Works commission. This large-scale piece was inspired by the fiction of Thomas Pynchon, specifically three of his novels V., The Crying of Lot 49, and Gravity’s Rainbow. Bruckmann took cues from the many song and song-like elements in these novels, and his composition traverses just about every jazz idiom imaginable along with a variety of other song styles from the early and mid 20th century. Often these style quotes were quite humorous, especially when they took listeners by surprise.

Kyle Bruckmann's Wrack
[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

The music never stayed in one place for very long, but there were a couple of extended sections, including a fun one that featured trombonist Jeb Bishop displaying his talent in both traditional and extended techniques. Guest trumpeter Darren Johnston was featured in sections as well. Rounding out the ensemble were Jen Clare Paulson on viola, Jason Stein on bass clarinet, Anton Hatwich on string bass, and Tim Daisy on drums. The group made what was undoubtedly a very complex piece sound rhythmically and timbrally tight.

It was a musically impressive show, but also a very well-attended one with a packed house and possibly one of the highest attendance records for a Summit program. Now it time like to look forward to next year’s festival.

Surplus 1980 10″/CD release. Please support us!

I am excited to be part of not one but two upcoming recording releases. In addition to Reconnaissance Fly, I will be appearing on the next release of Moe! Staiano’s Surplus 1980 project. This is also my first recording that will be released on vinyl :).

Surplus 1980 is a post-punk band of a rotating line up of some fine musicians, many extending from great bands to be heard on this project including members from the Ex, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, and Faun Fables, among others, including Mute Socialite…Musicians, besides Moe! Staiano (drums, percussion, guitar, bass, piano, vocals), on this release will include guitarist Bill Wolter and Melne Murphy, Bassists Alee Karim and Vicky Grossi (also doubling on violin), percussionist Jordan Glenn, keyboardist Amar Chaudhary, alto clarinetist Aaron Novik, and on oboe, Kyle Bruckmann. Possible vocal guest from G.W. Sok, formerly of the Ex (and currently with the French band Cannibales & Vahinés).

You can find out more at our Kickstarter page, and please consider supporting us so we can make this release happen!

You can find out more at our Kickstarter page, and please consider supporting us so we can make this release happen!

San Francisco Electronic Music Festival (SFEMF): Celebrating John Cage

Today we review the opening concert of the Thirteenth Annual San Francisco Electronic Music Festival (SFEMF). The concert was a tribute to John Cage on his centennial (one of many) and took place at SFMOMA. It specifically featured four of his conceptual pieces with chance processes or novel instrumentation.

The main included a performance of Cage’s Score Without Parts on SFMOMA’s rooftop terrace, conducted by Gino Robair with texts by Tom Djll. The performance was in conjunction with the opening of the museum’s intriguing minimalist design exhibition Field Conditions. There were even hors d’oeuvres served on tiles from one of the pieces in the exhibit. Unfortunately, because of another commitment I only arrived at the tail end of the performance, so I did not hear enough to reasonably review it.


[sfSoundGroup. Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

The main concert opened with members of sfSoundGroup performing Cartridge Music. This is the same piece that concluded the Music of Changes: Variation VIII concert a few weeks earlier, and featured the same personnel: Matthew Goodheart, Kyle Bruckmann, Matt Ingalls, and Tom Dambly. However, I felt that this was a stronger performance. Some of this may have been the staging and the sound support, but it also seemed that the cues for various elements were crisper and tighter, and the selection of sounds to use with the contact mics (i.e,, “catridges”) was more focused and suited to the structure of the piece. As in all music, practice and review from earlier performances helps.

This was followed by a performance of Cage’s most famous work, 4’33”. Normally, the piece is for a single pianist, but this particular performance featured a laptop ensemble. After all, it is a festival of electronic music.


[4’33” performed with laptops. Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

The performers (mostly members of SFEMF’s steering committee) sat in silence, as required by the score of the piece, with a few motions here and there. The audience mostly listened respectfully as well, I only noticed a few deliberate comments at soft volume. Thus, it was a successfully executed performance of the piece. I hope none of the laptops crashed.

The score for Fontana Mix, which is itself a work of art with curving lines and randomly distributed points, is actually a tool for generating other pieces. Aria is one such piece that Cage himself generated. For this performance, Fontana Mix with electronic sounds and Aria for voice were layered on top of one another, with Daniel Steffey and Christina Stanley performing the layers on electronics and voice, respectively.


[Daniel Steffey and Christina Stanley. Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

My least favorite performance of a Cage composition was a boring and long version of Fontana Mix, so I had a little bit of trepidation. But this realization by Steffey and Stanley was vibrant and dynamic. Stanley’s vocals moved between numerous styles of singing (e.g., classical, popular, cabaret) and languages, punctuated by percussive strikes on found objects. Steffey’s foundation of electronic timbres was strong as well, with a lot of variation that left room for the vocals. Using these elements, they were able to realize genuine musical phrases and structure with a sense of narrative from the abstract scores.

The final performance of the evening was a realization of Variations II by Guillermo Galindo that featured a mariachi band. A mariachi band performing John Cage is certainly unusual, but in truth no different from any other interpretation of his scores with open instrumentation. For this performance, a four-piece group Mariachi Nueva Generación with traditional costumes and instrumentation, including violin, trumpet, the distinctive large guitarrón mexicano, and guitar.


[Mariachi Nueva GeneraciónPhoto: PeterBKaars.com.a]

Like Fontana Mix, Variations II is based on graphical elements that are combined to form instances of the composition. Specifically in this case, the interpreter combines lines and dots that represent musical elements that can then be notated for the performers. The result in this instance was a very sparse texture. The musicians would often play a single or pair of disjoint notes surrounded by periods of silence. There were only a few moments where multiple members of the ensemble played at the same time. The texture is a familiar one from realizations of Cage’s indeterminate pieces, but the overall experience with the band was a novel one.

The musical performance was preceded by a video with documentation and commentary produced by Jen Cohen. The video had some fun moments, with befuddled Mills professors reacting to the idea of a mariachi band performing Cage, and allusions to the graphical elements of the Variations II score. It didn’t feel like it was necessary to the experience of the performance. Nonetheless, Galindo considered it an “inseparable part of the piece and one doesn’t exist without the other.”

Overall, it was a strong opening concert for the festival, and it was quite well attended.