The December 1 show at the Luggage Store Gallery in San Francisco marked my official curatorial debut for the long-running Outsound Presents’ series. The show featured three solo performances with electronics, all very different in terms of musical style and technologies. But while all featured and celebrated different facets of electronic-music technology, there were strong connections to the acoustic and natural environment.
The evening opened with a set by Headboggle (aka Derek Gedalecia) with an array of analog electronics, including a Blippo Box. The sounds and possibilities of analog electronics were paired sounds of nature as recorded in the Yosemite Valley. The music began with a rhythmic pattern of high-pitched sounds against longer machine noises and clear presentation of the nature recordings. Gradually, the two sonic strains collided and mixed together.
As with previous Headboggle performances (such as the set at the 2010 Outsound Music Summit), this one was full of energy and stage theater, with head banging, dropping of the stage furniture, and even a moment where he tossed shakers down the Luggage Store Gallery’s stairwell. The music also became more dramatic and percussive, with more glitches, percussive hits and bursts of noise, but all set against the continuing presence of the nature sounds. The harsher electronic sounds gave way to a more rarefied tone over time, with longer periods of harmonic oscillator sounds fading into a quieter single tone. After another percussive period that included lifting and dropping the table holding the care, the environmental sounds took center stage. Between the stereo speakers and the acoustics of the gallery, the leaves and other sounds were strongly spatialized and felt present.
Thea Farhadian followed with a set for violin and computer running Max/MSP. In some sections of her performance, the violin was more of a traditional chamber-music instrument, with its familiar timbres augmented by electronic samples and processing. In others, it was more of a controller, with pizzicato notes triggering long runs of notes from the computer or other purely electronic events. The set started out with solo violin, with the electronics emerging slowly like the orchestra in a concerto. The music continued to unfold as interplay between the violin and electronics. As the texture changed to more pizzicato notes with electronic responses of backward tones, the music grew more anxious, channeling the anxious moments of countless films. I also was reminded of works by Penderecki and Xenakis. A large barrage of electronic pizzicato sounds started to take on a drone-like quality with its density. In both the melodic and percussive sections, the music was harmonically a very strong, a brought in electronic orchestration that suggestion the presence of a cello or bass off stage. Other effects included fast glissandi and electronic pitch changes such as one might achieve by changing the speed of a tape.
Farhadian’s performance was divided into a series of short movements, and some had very different character. In one, short pizzicato notes on the violin acted as triggered for long runs of electronic notes and processing, with various speed, pitch and timbral changes applied. In another, a very lyrical string melody was set against fluttering sounds and dramatic low tones. In yet another, she used “prepared violin”, with bits of foil and other items placed against the strings for percussive effects. The electronic accompaniment was equally scratchy and inharmonic. And in one of the final sections, repeated rhythmic phrases and echoes perfectly aligned.
The final set featured Later Days (aka Wayne Jackson) with a variety of circuit-bent instruments, acoustic and electronic noisemakers, and a laptop running his custom Cambrian Suite audio softsynth with both hand-designed and algorithmically evolved patches. If Farhadian’s performance was all about software-based manipulation and Headboggle was focused on analog hardware, Later Days combined both.
The space was quickly filled with an ocean of electronic sounds, glitches, bleeps, rumbles, short loops and echoes. At one point, everything became extremely quiet, with a few lo-fi distortion sounds and high squeaky analog sounds. The new sampling and looping capabilities of the software were showcased with repeated loops of circuit-bent sounds, a solo on a photo-sensitive oscillator, a car horn and recordings from a microphone dangled out the window onto busy Market Street. The loops built up to a frenzy and the slowed down to almost nothing. The sounds picked up again in pitch and energy, with feedback loops providing an edgy and unpredictable quality. A metallic rhythm emerged, and the faded a single feedback loop. A flurry of “little loud bits” formed an odd harmony of their own. After a series of machine-like noises and a more elemental wind-like sound, the music slowed down once again and came to a watery end.
Over all it was a great concert with a rich variety of music. Indeed, the three artists fit together sequentially even better than I had anticipated. And fortunately, the logistics and technical requirements (e.g., soundchecking) were not that challenging, so I was able to enjoy the show along with the audience.