Ambient-Chaos, Ode To Steengo (Amanda Chaudhary / Polly Moller), Spectrum, New York

This past week Polly Moller and I brought our duo Ode to Steengo to Spectrum in New York, part of a rich night of experimental acoustic and electronic music in the Ambient-Chaos series.

The evening began with an acoustic brass duo featuring Torben Snekkestad on trumpet with David Whitwell on trombone.

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The two engaged in a very musical exploration of the extended timbres of these instruments. Indeed, I was quite captivated by the sounds of Whitwell’s drones and multiphonics, which sounded more like my Minimoog than a concert brass instrument. His use of a single-reed mouthpiece within the trombone’s mouthpiece was likely part of how he achieved these sounds. The pair also included sections with percussive pops and very quiet tones.

The duo was followed by the Jazzfakers, featuring Robbert Pepper on violin and electronics, David Tamura on saxophone and electronics, Raphael Zwyer on bass and Steve Orbach on drums.

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Before they start playing, they look like they could be a conventional jazz quartet, but once they start one realizes they are anything but that. Their energetic performance flowed between free improvisation, electronic noise, and more familiar rhythmic and harmonic hooks. What started as a thick noise drone quickly moved to frenetic fast-moving notes from all four performers, and then hit textures in between. They are also a lot of fun to watch.

And then it was time for us to take the stage. Ode to Steengo is a piece based on spoetry (spam poetry) derived from Harry Harrison’s “Stainless Steel Rat” series. Polly Moller and I performed it several times as an electro-acoustic duo in 2008 and 2009, and then later in our band Reconnaissance Fly. We have since reprised the piece as a duo a few times. We jokingly called this version “Steengo takes Manhattan.”

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[Photo by BC]

This performance was quite sparse, both in comparison to previous instances and to the Jazzfakers’ set that preceded us. But we were able to get quite a few interesting textures, some liquidy sounds from the analog modular controlled by the Moog Theremini, Polly’s flute and chanter, and a bit of live processing with a rather temperamental analog filter. As always, we try to bring a bit of wit and irreverence to our experimental music. You can here our full performance on this video.

Amanda Polly duo at Spetrum, 11-24-2014 from CatSynth on Vimeo.

Overall, it went well. We had a great time performing and we received a warm response from our New York audience.

We were followed by alphamale, a solo electronic-and-viola project.

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Her set started off as a thick drone of electronics. After a time, she began to incorporate the viola as well. Overall the texture remained one of long tones and ambient sounds. It was once again a contrast to our set and the others that preceded us, and quite pretty to listen to. At times it had a dark sound – it is hard to discern if the melancholy was truly in the sound or part of a built-in set of expectations around the viola. Nonetheless, it was nice to see someone using this instrument in a solo electronic setting.

The final set of the evening featured Rawmean, another solo set, this time with guitar and electronics.

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Very quickly, it was clear that this was more of a beat-and-grove set, with thick layers of guitar. The guitar work was interesting in that he was doing quick staccato motions but producing thick droning chord pads via the connected effects. The grooves and rhythmic patterns were fun, veering between straight 4/4 rhythms and the occasional odd times. Overall, the texture did remain quite constant, with a steady stream of beats that periodically changed. As I sometimes have suggested in these reviews, some sets that contain otherwise engaging material are better when shorter, and I think this was one of those instances.

Five sets in an evening is a lot, but overall we kept things moving. We had a good turnout for the first three sets, with a bit tapering off for the last two. But it was a diverse and rewarding evening of new music, and we were grateful to be a part of it. Thanks to my friends Robert Pepper (PAS) and Mike Durek (The Use) for putting this show together, and as always to Glenn Cornett of Spectrum for providing this venue for new and visiting avant-garde musicians.

A Tale of Two Duos

Today we look back at duo performances from the middle of September: an electro-acoustic spoetry performance with Polly Moller, and a punk-themed Pitta of the Mind performance at Bay Area Ladyfest. Musically, conceptually, and socially, these were contrasting experiences, but both very rewarding. Both duos combined voice with live electronics, and both involved my feminine persona . They also provided opportunities for different styles of playing and collaboration.

Ode to Steengo is a piece based on spoetry (spam poetry) derived from Harry Harrison’s “Stainless Steel Rat” series. Polly Moller and I performed it several times as an electro-acoustic duo in 2008 and 2009, and then later in our band Reconnaissance Fly. We reprised the piece for our duo performance at The Nunnery in San Francisco on September 15. It was a more expansive interpretation, with more instrumental breaks and live processing of voices. It was also different in that I used the analog modular for the electronic parts. The Make Noise Echophon was great for processing Polly’s vocals and wind instruments. And overall, I thought this was our best performance of this piece to date. The technology, timing and overall musicianship were strong, and we both had a good time while playing. You can enjoy it in its entirety via the video below:

Amar Chaudhary / Polly Moller Duo: Ode to Steengo, The Nunnery 9-15-2013 from CatSynth on Vimeo.

The performance by Pitta of the Mind at Bay Area Ladyfest in Oakland was something altogether different. Maw Shein Win and I interpreted several classic punk-rock songs as “art-damaged” music and spoken word performances. Musically, this involved a mixture of idiomatic and freeform improvisation on electric piano, mixed with some odd synth sounds. As with Steengo, the performance itself was a lot of fun, and in this case we made that a deliberate and overt part of the show. This was especially apparent in our final piece, an interpretation of The Ramones’ “Sheena is a Punk Rocker” where we invited the audience to sing along with us.

Pitta of the Mind at Bay Area Ladyfest: The Ramones “Sheena is a Punk Rocker” from CatSynth on Vimeo.

Both performances were well received by the audiences, which filled their respective venues, and of course I hope to do both again. Pitta of the Mind already has two more performances scheduled this year, and of course Polly and I perform together quite often. It is a good reminder to make time for duos as a specific performance format even while spending much time on solo work and on full-size bands.

Pitta of the Mind, Doug Harvey, Other Cinema at ATA

In the midst of this rather crazy time in May with multiple band performances, rehearsals, art fairs and other happens, we look back at the simpler time that was April. In particular, my performance as “Pitta of the Mind” with Maw Shein Win at Artists Television Access in San Francisco. The performance was part of a launch event for Doug Harvey’s new anthology “patacritical Interrogation Techniques Anthology Volume 3”, hosted by Other Cinema.

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Other Cinema events are always a fun mix of the campy, the strange, the beautiful, and sometimes challenging material. The selection during this evening included the hilarious but incomprehensible “Turkish Star Wars” and an interest abstract french piece, shown below:

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Throughout the evening, Doug Harvey also read selections from his new anthology. It was such an eclectic mix of elements ranging from criticism to found text, and I look forward to reading it myself.

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Our Pitta of the Mind performance featured readings from Harvey’s collection of spam poetry. It was a different sort of text from our usual, but a lot of fun and provided more opportunities from abstract musical response. You can see and hear our performance in this video:

ATA Pitta of the Mind from CatSynth on Vimeo.

I also had the opportunity to accompany Harvey’s Moldy Slides, a piece based on a collection of 35mm slides in various states of decay. The images and concept were quite beautiful, and I enjoyed the opportunity to improvise to it on iPad synths. Unfortunately, I do not have a recording of that performance.

Harvey wrote a very complimentary review of our performance on his blog. Here is an excerpt:

The highlight of the San Francisco launch event for ‘patacritical Interrogation Techniques Anthology Volume 3 at ATA/Other Cinema (Craig Baldwin’s 28-year-old underground microcinema) was undoubtedly Pitta of the Mind (Maw Win & Amar Chaudhary) translating found email spam poetry from the turn of the Millennium into swinging intergalactic electro-transmissions. I made a video, so hopefully that will find its way online soon, but in the emantime, here’s a couple of action shots, and a sampling of the spoems:

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Any dahlia can brainwash short order cook of, but it takes a real lover to for lover.Any trombone can approach fundraiser toward, but it takes a real guardian angel to traffic light of cleavage.piroshki remain sprightly.

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– Essie Russell

Follow the link to read more and see some photos.

A big thank you to Craig Baldwin of Other Cinema and to Doug Harvey for giving us the opportunity to participate in this event. I look forward to doing more with Other Cinema in the future.

Amar and Polly duo at the Skronkathon

Tomorrow, Polly Moler and I will be performing a duo at the 10th Annual Skronkathon tomorrow.

This performance was somewhat inevitable, i.e., we “knew we HAD to do it”, once Polly found this “spamogrified” copy my review of last year’s Skronkathon. You can read the original here. The spamogrified version, which is probably translated from English to another language and then back to English, is quite amusing especially with its repeated use of the phrase “as a dominate”. Consider this section which incorporates portions of my original review describing Hanuman Zhang, Protea (Serena Toxicat) and David Leikam et al:

There were also some electronic circuit-bent toys, and a knick-knack piano (acoustic knick-knack piano being an contraption I am unqualifiedly fancying of). as a dominate As the toys came to the forefront, the beat began to accustom down and the structure more scarce. as a dominate Sporting a Hello Kitty tunic, Serena Toxicat gave an evocative display with vocals and dancing as a dominate.
From sonorous skronking and establish objects, we then had a plumb contrasting pursue from Protea, with Serena Toxicat and a “special caller thereminist” performing ambient electronic music. as a dominate The vocals and theremin both consisted of dream of tones that followed unwedded another without faithfully complementary. as a dominate Overall, there were two a penny harmonies, etherial textures, deliberate changes and a scintilla of stress. as a dominate
We then switched cater to in from ambient electronic to skronking (but it is unqualifiedly “skronking”?) with a free-improvisation pursue on z exasperate with David Leikam, Zachary Morris, Sheila Bosco and Craig Latta.

The performance will primarily feature my reciting the text in concert with Polly performing the “as a dominate”. In terms of instrumentation, I will keeping things rather simple, and rather light, focusing on a the monome controlling a Max/MSP patch on a laptop, and a granular-synthesis application called Curtis for the iPad:

The performance will primarily feature my reciting the text in concert with Polly performing the “as a dominate”. In terms of instrumentation, I will keeping things rather simple, and rather light, focusing on a the monome controlling a Max/MSP patch on a laptop, and a granular-synthesis application called Curtis for the iPad:

I hope to be further slicing and dicing the text. I will probably also have the trusty Kaos Pad, along with some acoustic instruments.

The full program for the Skronkathon is listed below. The festivities start at 1PM at 21 Grand (416 25th St) in Oakland, and we go on at 6:25 PM. In the meantime, there is lots of good music, food on the grills (bringing your own is strongly encouraged), and quite a roster of Bay Area “new music” folks.

1:00-1:25 Amigo (Tim Flynn, gtr/David J Moore/bass)
1:25-1:50 Ann O’Rourke (perc) and special guests
1:50-2:15 Ed Christensen (solo elec)
2:15-2:40 Key West (Brian Pedersen/Jason Ricci/Dave Dupuis/
Mark Blatnick/Sung Kim)
2:40-3:05 Michael Guarino (solo prepared gtr, perc)
3:05-3:30 Rachel Wood-Rome (solo horn, voc)
3:30-3:55 Respectable Citizen (Michael Zbyszynski/Bruce Bennett)
3:55-4:20 T.F.F.W.’z (yacob/misha/eden)
4:20-4:45 Matt Davignon (drum machine)/Eric Glick Rieman (prepared elec pno)
4:45-5:10 blipvert (Will Northlich-Redmond, solo elec)
5:10-5:35 Blowout Preventer (Phillip Greenlief/Dan Plonsey/
Ceylan Yagmur/Michael Zelner)
5:35-6:00 Katt & Ron (Kattt Atchley/Ron Heglin)
6:00-6:25 Iron Triangle (Bob Marsh/C. J. Borosque/Sandra Yolles)
6:25-6:50 Amar Chaudhary (elec) & Polly Moller (fl, voc)
6:50-7:15 RTD3 (Doug Carroll/Tom Nunn/Ron Heglin)
7:15-7:40 Tom Scandura (perc)/Matt Ingalls (cl)/Tom Dumuzio (midi gtr)
7:40-8:05 Phillip Greenlief (tenor sax)/David Boyce (tenor sax)
8:05-8:30 G/J (Gino Robair (voltage made painful)/John Shiurba (gtr))
8:30-8:55 Wormses (Jacob Felix Heule/Tony Dryer/Bobby Adams)
8:55-9:20 Ghost in the House (Karen Stackpole/David Michalak/
Tom Nunn/Andrew Voigt)

Admission is free, but we will be accepting donations to benefit the Transbay Creative Music Calendar, which features announcements and information about the local “creative music” community (and also often features reviews from CatSynth).

SoundSpeak, Luggage Store Gallery

Last Thursday’s performances at the Luggage Store Gallery were all about poetry and spoken word.

The first performance was a duo Polly Moller (vocals) and Moe! Staiano (percussion) interpreting a recent form of spoetry. Spoetry is spam that in its effort to evade filters rises to the level of high art. Our current set of songs in Reconnaissance Fly is based on spoetry, but the performance this evening featured a new and different form where words were grouped into disjoint sequences of two or three words, and in one case the words were themselves decomposed into individual sounds and reordered.

[Click on images to enlarge.]

The performance began with coarse drums and cymbals set against dramatic recitation of the first spoem. Although I wasn’t fully aware of the structure of the spoem at the time, one could definitely sense that the words were quite disjoint from one another. There were multiple languages, which allowed Polly the opportunity to play with different accents, pitches and timbres within the text. The drums at times were “prepared” with various objects on the heads. At one point, the drums got very soft, then gave way to scraping sounds on the cymbals set against longer drawn-out words, and then both the voice and percussion suddenly became very staccato and active.

The third piece focused more on Moe!’s percussive gadgets, including a back massager that was used to set a steady pulse for the piece, and set of old intercoms that were used to remotely set of loud squeaks from the edges of the room. This was the most rhythmic of the pieces, with a steady pulse that one could even sway to a bit. Moe! expertly threw and struck various objects in a way that kept the beat going, complete with accents.

In the final piece, the sounds of the words were decomposed into even smaller units that further blurred any sense of meaning. I did recall the phrases “Isis kitsch”, however. The main percussion instruments in this piece were a set of rubber balls attached to sticks that created a powerful sound when rubbed along the walls or on the heads of the drums.


The second set featured poet Robert Anbian with Rent Romus on saxophones and Bob Marsh on cello. This was more of a “traditional” poetry performance, with Anbian reciting long-form poetry against improvised music, and quite a contrast to Polly and Moe!’s more experimental set.

The first piece began with long cello harmonics that were matched by tones on the saxophone. The poem had memorable phrases such as “square root of suffering” and “posey for your supper.”

The second piece started with an animated run of fast saxophone notes and pizzicato on the cello. Then the poetry entered, with imagery and words related to fire and memorable phrases such as “The post war blues you are feeling is perfectly normal.” The music became noisier and sparser, then moved towards more of a jazz idiom (i.e., with the cello sounding a bit like a bass) then back to more noise and free improvisation. This was quite a long poem, and towards the end I think we in the audience began applauding before it was actually done. Anbian took this in stride and simply said “the audience has spoken.”

The last piece, My Country Loves Peace Remix began with cello and electronics (delays, etc.) set against a moaning saxophone. After a while the music moved to bowed cello and sax harmonics, then back to more electronically processed cello. The poem was about the perpetual state of war we seem to find ourselves in, despite leaders proclaiming their desire for piece. War was used broadly and included not only guns and bombs, but the taking of resources and cultural assets from others, sometimes by force, yet still proclaiming peace. “When will the war end?” A section of the music featured harmonics on the cello matching long tones on the sax with tremolo on both instruments. At one point, the pitches stablized on a major third before “falling apart” as a series of glissandi. The poem ended with the question repeated “When will the war end…Barack?”

Reconnaissance Fly at Studio 1510, Oakland

A few photos and thoughts from last Friday’s Reconnaissance Fly performance at Studio 1510 in Oakland.

I knew that Studio 1510 had a great acoustic piano, which I wanted to take advantage of particularly for our piece Emir Scamp Budge which features an extended jazz piano solo. But it turns that they also now have an actual Rhodes Stage Piano Mark II. I could pass up the opportunity to appropriate it for our set. Here is the Rhodes with the E-MU Proteus 2000 and Korg Kaos pad conveniently perched on top:

Together with the acoustic piano and MIDI keyboard for a rather massive keyboard setup:

Click the above picture to enlarge it and spot the cat!

Here we are getting ready to play the first note of our opening piece “Small Chinese Gong”.


[Photo by Tom Djll.]

The set went well from that point. I have not yet heard the recording, but I thought the first piece, as well as “One Should Never” (which was about as tight as I have heard us play it), “Ode to Steengo” – with the interplay of the text, the Kaos Pad, odd drum beats and Tim’s live electronic processing – and “Emir Scamp Budge” went particularly well.

Matt Davignon opened for us with a solo set featuring a live performance on drum machine and effects processors.

This was nominally a performance marking the release of his new CD Living Things, although none of the pieces in the performance were actually from the CD. But that was OK. I particularly remember the last piece in the set for a variety of reasons, including but limited to the subtle effects in the music.

Thanks to Scott Looney and Studio 1510 for hosting us!

2009 Annual Transbay Skronkathon

It is mid-summer, and so once again the annual Transbay Skronkathon and BBQ comes around, with a full day of experimental and weird music at 21 Grand in Oakland. There are always a few from outside the Bay Area, or who are appearing in this setting for the first time, but overall it is a who’s who of local experimental and avant-guard musicians and familiar faces. We spend the whole day performing and listening to music, and dining on a variety of grilled food items in the neighboring alley.

I arrived at 4PM, which was already three hours into the event. I was just in time to catch most of Respectable Citizen, a duo of Bruce Bennett and Michael Zbyszynski performing live improvisation with keyboard/electronics and saxophone, respectively. The set started with ethereal noisy computer sounds in the background, with the noises increasingly insistent and louder over time, culminating in a defined whistle sound and a wave that became something akin to electrical noise. The electronics were complemented by the saxophone improvisation; there was a moment where the sax and electronics together formed a sound like an emergency siren. Then things became quiet again with the noise growing into an ever louder rumble.

Next was electric-guitar looping performance by George Ludwig. It was very similar to the looping guitar performances I hear annually at the Live Looping Festival in Santa Cruz, with drones and long tones; mostly harmonic, though there was some good clean distortion effects as well.

I made sure to be in for the next group, T.D. Skatchit, featuring Tom Nunn and David Michalak on custom instruments called skatch boxes. I had just seen Nunn and his custom instruments at the “Tuesdays at Toms” performance. This performance featured similar instruments, made primarily of cardboard and performed with combs and other implements. The result is a series of scratches, streches, scrapes, squeaks and other noises, all very musical. With two performances and multiple instruments, harmonies start to form. Even when not looking directly at the performers (which is quite interesting to do), the performance had a very “visual” quality. The overall texture reminded me of the sounds of the woods at night. I could hear scampering mechanical creatures. Although the structure of the music was very static, the performance was very expressive.

The next set was a trio of Jacob Felix Heule (drums), Tony Dryer (double bass) and
Jay Korber (tenor sax). This set qualified as actual “skronking”, with very rapid notes (especially on the drums) and the belting of inharmonic and variable pitch tones on the sax. Lots of details to listen to. But above all, skronking tends to be very loud, so I did end up listening to second part of the set from the alley, where I also had a chance to socialize and check out the barbecue.

However, the loudest set of all was yet to come, and it wasn’t even officially on the program. Someone in a ski mask with a table-saw on an old turntable record player claimed to be the next set Sndrft eeoo, though it turned out he wasn’t. Nonetheless, we were treated to ear-threateningly loud high-pitched noises that sent everyone out into the alley to join those of us already there for conversation and sausages (the official food of choice at the Skronkathon). Outside, the sound was somewhat bearable, and vaguely interesting. Sndrft eeoo and Mike Jacobs did get to play an abbreviated set once the impostor left the stage (much to our collective relief).

Hanuman Zhang described his set as found objects, toy piano, circuit-bent toys
noise, mayhem, and roaring silence. He was introduced by Tom Duff as playing “a big pile of junk” – but a nonetheless musical pile of junk. He started with stones and bass drum, making rhythms. He then moved to to bins and metal objects, all the while maintaining a basic rhythm. He bashed in a large plastic bottle really good. There were also some electronic circuit-bent toys, and a toy piano (acoustic toy piano being an instrument I am quite fond of). As the toys came to the forefront, the rhythm began to break down and the texture more sparse.

From loud skronking and found objects, we then had a very contrasting set from Protea, with Serena Toxicat and thereminist Joey D’Kaye performing ambient electronic music. Sporting a Hello Kitty tunic, Serena Toxicat gave an evocative performance with vocals and dancing . The vocals and theremin both consisted of long tones that followed one another without exactly matching. Overall, there were minor harmonies, etherial textures, gradual changes and a bit of tension.

We then switched back from ambient electronic to skronking (but it is really “skronking”?) with a free-improvisation set by z bug with David Leikam, Zachary Morris, Sheila Bosco and Craig Latta. Once again, lots of fast loud notes, with the bass acting as a third drum set (there were two drum sets in this group), and some performance with a Moog synth. Although the set was very loud at times, there was really a good range with sudden drops in volume where one could here bells and chimes sounding. However, I could not at all hear the vocals. I did like the sudden switch during the performance to a steady disco beat.

Tom Nunn and David Michalak returned as part of RTD3. Overall, the performance was similar to their set the previous tuesday, with Nunn and Michalak performing free improvisation together Ron Heglin on trombone and Doug Carrol on electric cello. However, Nunn’s instrument in this set was quite different. It was a much larger board that he played vertically. It looked a bit like a modernist painting with some elements that seemed derivative of Kandinsky, but it had a very clearly marked eye and geometric shapes. The texture of music was more sparsem and there was a good moment with soft trombone. it sounded like “a radio from the past.” There was a section that sounded vaguely ethnic (in the way that a contemporary western audience might label some music as “ethnic”) and then hit a watery pattern on Nunn’s instrument.

John Hanes and Steve Adams performed “dueling laptops” (and an iPhone). Moments in the music reminded me a bit of one of my favorite Stockhausen recordings, but there were also drums and beats, timbrally rich drones and bowed tones and loops. It reminded me a bit of the “Off-ICMC” concerts (often the more interesting performances) I would hear when I used to attend the computer-music conferences.

I did not get to hear as much of PG13 in detail as I would have liked because I was busy setting up for our upcoming set. The trio consisted of Phillip Greenlief on saxophone, John Shiurba on guitar and Thomas Scandura on drums. It seemed during the introduction that there was some question as to whether they should be described as “1970s rock” or not, but musically they did have a strong driving 4/4 beat with heavy drums and loud guitar. Greenlief also played very rhythmic accented lines on the saxophone that fit with the guitar and drums. So with my only partial listening, it did have a lot of “rock-like” elements, which were welcome, and a good lead in to our own set.

This was our first time performing re-named as Reconnaissance Fly and as a trio rather than a quartet, with myself, Polly Moller (flute, voice, heatsink) and Bill Wolter (guitar, custom electro-mechanical “boat”). We are currently looking for a bassist/composer to round things out.

The set consisted of four pieces based on “spoetry” or poetry found in spam emails – most email spam (or blog-comment spam) is completely worthless text, but occasionally there are very poetic passages that can be used for creative work. I did two pieces setting spoetry to graphical scores in which the performers improvised based on interpretations of graphical elements, and Polly and Bill each did more idiomatic pieces. All the practicing and rehearsing paid off, and the set was quite tight and full of energy, with fun and theatrics – and I’m glad I brought the full keyboard for playing more traditional jazz piano at various spots alongside the more esoteric electronic sounds from the Kaos pad. Probably the most memorable moments were repeated riffs on “Ca-a-na-da-a”, and the rolling jazz bass and guitar in “Emir Scamp Budge”. And it seemed like we had a pretty decent audience.

We were followed by the all-acoustic sfSound group. As an acoustic group with winds, strings and percussion, they have a really rich palatte of textures and timbres. One can hear small percussive phrases emerge from a series of long tones. The winds (Kyle Bruckmann,
Matt Ingalls, Christopher Jones, and John Ingle) sometimes match the percussion (Kjell Nordeson) , sometimes the strings (Alexa Beattie, Monica Scott). The performance was very subtle with lots of dynamic range and empty spots, and quite a contrast to our set with its loud electronic improvisations and theatrics.

sfSound was immediately followed by another powerful accoustic set, featuring Karen Stackpole with her impressive array of gongs, Jen Baker and Ron Heglin on trombones, and Tom Djll on trumpet. An unusual instrumentation, “Brass and Bronze” (as introduced by Tom Duff). The set began with the gongs followed by really soft long notes on the three brass instruments. The gongs resonated as Stackpole moved along their perimeters, producing beautiful long stretched out tones. They formed inharmonic chords anchored by drones on the brass. The texture became less sparse over time with bowing of gong and faster swells on trombone and notes on trumpet. This eventually turned to loud hits and gong strikes, and more expresive phrases.

The final set of the Skronkathon featured Gino Robair and Amy X Neuburg on dueling Blippo Boxes. The Blippo Box is a custom analog synthesizer by Rob Hordijk that features chaotic oscillators and a wide range of non-linear modulation options – I wouldn’t mind having one of these myself. The Blippo Boxes produce constantly modulating sounds that are difficult to control in advance, the performer must react to whatever is produced using his or her best musically instincts. As the boxes can occasionally go unstable, being able to react quickly is key. Fortunately, we have two master musicians whose listening and improvisational instincts can be called upon to handle such situations. The result was a very expressive mixture of machine noise and rumbles, gargles, clicks and chirps – the chaotic sound actually becomes familiar after listening for a few minutes (though in fairness I should say years of listening to such music). And there were many moments where the oscillations of the two boxes seemed surprisingly on sync, with the waveforms and modulations slowing down to the level of musically distinct notes.

And once the Blippo Boxes went silent, this marathon event came to a quiet end.

and plays a molecular synthesizer

“Tuesday at Tom’s” is a series of performances in a private home in Berkeley. This past Tuesday I had the opportunity to perform along with other small groups whose performances all took advantage of this informal and intimate setting.

Polly Moller and I performed the “Ode to Steengo.” The piece was originally inspired by spam texts that were forward to the Bay Area New Music list that seemed to describe the adventures of a musician named Steengo – “he is a percussionist and plays a molecular synthesizer.” The texts include a mixture of dialog about a band performing together, and sci-fi and surreal images.


[Photograph by Jennifer Chu. Click to enlarge.]

The performance included live electronic processing of spoken word as well as flute, bells and heatsinks. In addition to looping and effects, I also used a Korg Kaos pad, which has become one of my most reliable live-performance tools, to represent the “molecular synthesizer” as well as other interpretations of phrases in the text.


[Photographs by Jennifer Chu. Click to enlarge.]

The performance was well received , and I did get to hear part of it in videos. The balance and interplay between the synthesizer notes, spoken word, and instruments was very tight – once again practicing does pay off.

We were preceded on the program by New York-based guitarist and sound artist Terrence McManus.


[click to enlarge]

Although his performance centered around the guitar, the instrument served as part of a system for generating abstract sounds with electrical and electronic effects. Musically, the sound ranged from quite noisy to very harmonic and serene, often with gradual shifts. There were sections where McManus did pick up the guitar and play it like a traditional guitar, with delays and other effects; he also at one point used a cell phone in conjunction with the guitar.

Following us was the duo of Johannes Bergmark and Tippi. Bergmark’s homemade instruments are always intriguing, a mixture of found objects, sculpted creations of wood and metal, and contact mic:


[click to enlarge]

By contrast, Tippi’s contribution focused on electronics, including circuit-bent instruments and hardware synthesizers (such as the Nord Micromodular):

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Musically, the combination was an intense mixture of sound objects and textures, with lots of strikes and crackles, rich metalic sounds, static and synthesizer noise, and toy sounds. I mostly focused on Bergmark’s performance and his motions with the various toys and appliances and metal constructions.

The final set was the trio RTD3, consisting of Ron Heglin, Tom Nunn and Doug Carrol performing free improvisation.


[click to enlarge]

I found myself focusing quite a a bit on Nunn’s custom electronic instruments, two of which looked like boxes with interesting controls on top, and the third was a series of live metal rods that could be struck or bowed; and Carrol’s rather unusual and theatrical positioning of his cello in some sections. Although there was an electronic component, the music itself sounded “acoustic”, as it was dominated by cello, and Heglin’s trombone (and occasional vocal) performance.