Outsound New Music Summit: Electro-Plate

The third night of the Outsound New Music Summit featured three sets that spanned a wide range of electronic music history, from analog modular synthesizers to digital laptops and an eclectic mix of technologies in between.

First up was a “power trio” on Serge Modular synthesizers featuring LX Rudis, Doug Lynner and Dmitri SFC.

Serge synthesizer trio
[Photo PeterBKaars.com.]

I have heard all three perform of Serge synthesizers before, but never together in this way. The result combined their very different performance styles, with intricate and meticulous musical details from Doug Lynner and driving beats from Dmitri SFC. There were also a variety of drones, noise hits and other sonic elements throughout the performance, which consisted of a single 40-minute improvisation.

Next up Instagon with edition 684 of Lob’s long-running project. This all-electronic mixer set featured Andrew Wayne, Tim White, Thomas Dimuzio, Marc Schneider, Mark Pino and Jack Hertz.

Instagon
[Photo PeterBKaars.com.]

As with most Instagon mixer sets, each of the performed improvised freely in his instruments, with Lob conducting and sculpting the performance in real time on a mixer. The result is at times chaotic and cacophonic, but appropriately so and mixed with sparser moments where the details of a particular playing were brought out. One of the unifying elements was recorded text that appeared at various times before being obscured beneath the noise.

The final set was a digital laptop trio featuring Thea Farhadian, Aaron Oppenheim and Tim Perkis. This was an ensemble formed specifically for this concert.

Thea Farhadian, Tim Perkis, Aaron Oppenheim
[Photo PeterBKaars.com.]

For a while it was rather common to see musicians performing solo or in ensembles exclusively with laptops and digital-processing software. It seems to be less common at the moment with the resurgence of hardware synthesizers, and it is becoming more common to see electronic musicians including analog synthesizers like the classic Serge modulars from the first set. This transition is something I have myself participated in as a performing electronic musician. But the trio on this night reminded me of some of the unique sounds that digital systems can create, with access to samples, jumps, and signal processing that takes advantage of artifacts and computation, such as FM and granular synthesis. There was also more subtlety in the music for this set, with some very quiet moments. Unlike the previous sets, this one was broken up into a few distinct compositions.

Overall, it was interesting to hear the different strains of disciplines within electronic music juxtaposed as they were on this evening. Perhaps an interesting follow up would be to pair a modular synth performer with a digital laptop performer in a future concert.

Instagon 543 and Richard Bonnet, Luggage Store Gallery

Last Thursday I participated in Instagon 543 at the Luggage Store Gallery in San Francisco. Instagon is an improvising ensemble where the personnel change every time, i.e., no two performances contain the same group of people. In addition to myself and Lob, the group’s founder, this version included Lena Strayhorn, Mark Wilson (aka “Conure”), Alan Herrick, Martin of Vernian Process, and Blancahillary (aka Hillary Fielding).

I had brought instruments from opposite ends of the size spectrum: the Nord Stage and the iPhone 4, on which I played the Smule Ocarina and Leaf Trombone apps, as well as Bebot and Nlog which I have used in previous performances. Lena Strayhorn had acoustic instruments (to be played into a microphone) including a flute and a large one-of-a-kind kalimba-like instrument. Mark Wilson had a large array of electronic sound sources and effects, Alan Herrick performed via laptop, Martin and Blancahillary played guiltar; and Lob played bass and the main mixing board.

[Photo by Yvette Lucas, via Lob]

Basically, everyone was improvising independently, with Lob controlling levels via the mixing board. As he brought performers in and out of the mix, everyone was (presumably) listening and adapting their performances, which turn may or may not be presented in the mix. Thus there was a complex feedback loop with the live mixing and the instrumental improvisations.

Musically, the overall the theme was “drones and creepy.” As such there were lots of long, drawn-out tones from everyone, with periods of noise and static, heavy distortion or large tone masses. I used the electric piano on the Nord to contribute to the “creepy” theme, with augmented chords and effects that resembled a 1970s horror-film soundtrack. It was in fact hard to sometimes hear who was performing what, although Lena Strayhorn’s acoustic instruments were quite distinctive, and Blancahillary’s guitar playing was more staccato. I found that the Ocarina iPhone app was picking up and responding to the ambient sound from the speakers, so I spent a fair amount of time with it, bring the iPhone closer to the speaker to manipulate the sound. Its output was of course then fed back into the overall mix.

[Photos by Yvette Lucas, via Lob.  Click images to enlarge.]

An additional level of “chaos” was Blancahillary’s “performance” with aluminum foil. She unrolled a large sheet, first using it as an acoustic sound source by shaking and crumpling it. She then tore off pieces which were lobbed at audience members and at other musicians, and finally she fashioned a large piece into a mask (covering her nose and mouth) that matched her silver pants.

As one might expect from a complex non-linear feedback system, there was quite a bit of chaos, relatively controlled chaos. There were many moments there in fact quite loud, and the overall texture was quite dense. But there was still a lot of variation and an overall structure to the set.

At the very end, Lob introduced each of the musicians and provided an opportunity for everyone to play a momentary solo so that the audience could hear his or her contribution to the overall performance.


We were preceded on the program by a solo performance by aris-based guitarist Richard Bonnet.

[Click image to enlarge.]

The first pieces in his set were based on more conventional musical techniques, but very well done. He opened with a series of percussive and harmonic tones that moved between more dissonant (seconds, tritones) and consonant harmonies. He used some delays that produced rhythmic patterns that gradually disintegrated. From these pieces, he built up a big cloud of sound that narrowed to a lone almost pure high tone. The second piece was more virtuosic in terms of finger work. It felt “bluesy” in terms of slide technique and vibrato, but the harmonies were very different from any standard blues. The third piece was more of a minor ballad with lots of melodic material and implied harmonies. It resolved into something that sounded more latin but then suddenly became more abstract with back-and-forth between fingerwork and chords.

In the remainder of the set, Bonnet brought in more experimental techniques. The next piece was darker, with lots of low tones and real-time manipulation of the tuning pegs, and use of an e-Bow for long drones. The overall tone with more “electric” between the use of the e-Bow and distortion. The melodic lines were more abstract and interspersed with sustained lines, timbral effects and harmonies. Some of the sounds seemed more synthesizer-like, but his conventional guitar technique continued at the same time. The piece ended with darker and grainier sounds, a long high note coming out of a dark cloud, and then fading out.

[Click image to enlarge.]

The final piece explored “prepared guitar”, in which various objects are placed in and around the strings to alter the sound and behavior of the instruments. Some of the objects included a bottle, a metal slinky that produced very scratchy sounds, and a chopstick under the strings. This was combined with delays and other electronic effects. The overall sound was eerie and haunting with sliding notes, like an old suspense film, with percussive and scratching sounds that not surprisingly reminded me of a prepared piano. From the delay lines and loop emerged that became a background jazz riff, but some buzzing and other complex sounds. This was probably the most fun piece of the set, and a good conclusion.

Reconnaissance Fly at Luna’s Cafe, Sacramento

This is the “official CatSynth report” from our Reconnaissance Fly show at Luna’s Cafe in Sacramento last Monday.

Luna’s Cafe is in downtown Sacramento, within a couple of blocks of the large park that surrounds our State Capitol.

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I had stopped in during then In the Flow Festival back in may, so everything was quite familiar.

Inside, the stage was…well…a bit cozy.

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We managed to fit ourselves on in an odd arrangement of angles and overlapping. Polly was in this small triangle of space bounded by the stage front, the keyboard and the drum set.

[click image to enlarge]

The painting behind the stage is David and the Giant Under the Blue Moon, by Bill Carr. All of Carr’s paintings on the wall had a moon theme, which was rather apropos of the venue (although “Luna’s” actually refers to the name of the proprietor of the cafe and not directly to the moon or to any cats we may know).

I felt like we did not play as well as we did at the Outsound Music Summit, but it was still a fun experience, and we got a warm reception from the audience (including the other musicians)

We were followed by the Garage Jazz Architects, with Lob Instagon on bass, Chad E Williams on guitar and Mark Halverson on drums.

[click image to enlarge]

They played a mix of covers and originals. After an original piece called “Butter”, they moved into a series of including an interesting version of the Simpson’s theme with alternate harmonies, and several other classic TV shows. One of the originals was a surf-style piece entitled Surf Orangevale. From what I am told, Orangevale is a completely landlocked area east of of Sacramento. Lob also recited a poem that he composed on August 9, 1995 after hearing of the death of Jerry Garcia – a poem he only reads on August 9 – with musical accompaniment by the rest of the band.

Lob also leads the group Instagon, which has a different lineup every time it performs. After the show he invited me to join in the next Instagon performance, which just happened to be at the regular Outsound Thursday night series at the Luggage Store Gallery in San Francisco. That took place last Thursday, so look for an upcoming report soon.

Thanks to Ross Hammond for inviting us to play, and Art Luna for hosting us at the cafe

More Upcoming Shows: Instagon at the Luggage Store Gallery, and Mini-Woodstockhausen at Camp Happy

No sooner had concluded my recent performance with Reconnaissance Fly at Luna’s Cafe in Sacramento than I find myself with two more shows before next Monday.

Tomorrow, I will be performing with Instagon at the Luggage Store Gallery in San Francisco. Instagon is an interesting group whose membership changes for every performance. In addition to founder and core member Lob Instagon, I will be joined by Mark Wilson (Conure), Lena Strayhorn, Martin from Vernian Process, and Alan Herrick (Nux Vomica). I think this description from the group’s bio sums things up well:

INSTAGON is a term coined to describe the SPONTANEOUS FACTOR, the essence of Chaos Theory… everything that happens in this universe changes instantaneously upon its creation… nothing stays the same… everything changes, and is gone in an instant… hence INSTAGON.

And then on Sunday afternoon (1PM-4PM), it’s off to Boulder Creek in the Santa Cruz mountains for a miniature revival of the Woodstockhausen. Woodstockhausen was the “tiny festival of esoteric music” that took place every year in the Santa Cruz mountains and then at the University of California Santa Cruz until its last year in 2003. We did plan a revival in 2007, which ended up getting rained out. This time we are having a more modest performance as part of the annual Camp Happy Boulder Creek, which will be going all weekend before and after the couple of hours where we take over with our “weird music.”

And then on Sunday afternoon (1PM-4PM), it’s off to Boulder Creek in the Santa Cruz mountains for a miniature revival of the Woodstockhausen. Woodstockhausen was the “tiny festival of esoteric music” that took place every year in the Santa Cruz mountains and then at the University of California Santa Cruz until its last year in 2003. We did plan a revival in 2007, which ended up getting rained out. This time we are having a more modest performance as part of the annual Camp Happy Boulder Creek, which will be going all weekend before and after the couple of hours where we take over with our “weird music.”