Outsound Music Summit: Blurred Lines

Last night was the first full concert of the Outsound Music Summit. “Blurred Lines” focused on the combination of music and visual media, i.e. film and video.  The pieces were more of a collaboration between film and music rather than one serving the other per se, although in each case the music making and film/video making were done independently .

The first half of the concert featured films by Martha Colburn with live piano improvisation by “local Bay Area pianist impresario” Thollem McDonas. Colburn’s films employ stop animation with original artwork and found images, as well as found footage. The overall look reminded me of Terry Gilliam’s animations (e.g., from Monty Python), though the material was generally much darker. Several of the films dealt with death and violence, particularly in U.S. history and current events. Destiny Manifesto in particular juxtaposed images of western settlers in conflict with Native Americans alongside contemporary looking soldiers and scenes that could have been from the Middle East or Central Asia. Images of people being killed and dismembered abound in these films. Other films, such as Meet Me in Witchita with its images inspired by the Wizard of Oz, but here again things turned dark with Osama Bin Laden’s head superimposed on the Wicked Witch and then being killed and collapsing in a mess of bloody body parts. There were lighter images in some of the films, such as figures that seemed influenced by South Asian shadow puppets and even abstract graphic squares reminiscent of a disco dance floor.

[click image to enlarge]

McDonas’ piano veered between more classical or film-score inspired music and more percussive prepared piano. The music did not follow each film structurally per se (i.e., in the manner of a film score), but did evolve over time and present a particular character in each film. Initially, it started off lighter with fast runs and anxious chords, later on being more percussive and employing prepared piano or plucked strings. As the set progressed, the piano music became dense and darker, with large clusters of fast patterns and arpeggios in lower registers, every so often punctuated by more percussive and plucked elements. Overall the music had an aggressive feel which both showed of McDonas’ piano skills and fit with the violent nature of the films.

The second half of the program featured the 2009 60×60 international compilation. This is a set of 60 one-minute compositions that were selected and ordered into a continuous hour-long performance. For this program, each piece was set to a one-minute video) by Patrick Liddel. I had actually heard the 2009 60×60 compilation before (without the videos) at the Long Night’s Moon Concert last December, and recognized several of the pieces from that performance. Many of the videos were abstract graphics, such as the pixelated images that accompanied the opening pieces by Halsey Burgund and Matthew Dotson, or the abstract kaleidoscopic images set to Polly Moller’s “Abdominal Cyclist Ultra”. Others had more representational images. #16 by Jane Wang featured toy piano and was set to footage of a toy piano being played.

[click image to enlarge]

Some were less directly representational and more evocative of the music, such as the scenes from 1950s television commercials set to Gregory Yasinitsky’s jazz piece. Although it was far more abstract, I would put the constantly moving gray rectangles against Patrica Walsh’s electronica dance music in the same category.

Among my favorite of the combined video+music pieces were Brian Lindgren’s music set to a slowly moving film of a woman in a black dress in front of a brick wall; and Enrico Francioni’s sounds featuring strong resonance and feedback that were set to a beautiful film of forward motion in a dark industrial hallway. Also of note were Jay Batzner’s music (which reminded me of Xenakis) set to geometric views of industrial girders, perhaps power lines; and the intricate grid (along with spiders) set to Anton Killin’s metallic sounds.

Overall, with 60 sets of constantly changing visuals and music, and my attempt to take at least few notes on each, the experience became one of sensory overload. Looking back on the notes, it is interesting in looking at my previous review of the 2009 60×60 mix how different pieces stood out more in the mix without the visuals while others seemed more prominent in the music+visuals mix.

Long Night’s Moon concert

This past Thursday I attended the latest installment of the Full Moon Concert series: the “Long Night’s Moon”, in anticipation of the winter solstice.

Both sets played off the theme of the perception of time, perhaps an allusion to the passage of time as one moves through the longest night of the year. However, time is represented and perceived quite differently in each.

The second set was a public performance of the 2009 60×60 compilation, featuring 60 one-minute pieces by 60 different composers in a variety of styles. The performance was very precisely timed, beginning at exactly 9PM with each success piece starting on the next minute until 10PM. A clock projected onto the wall showed the exact time, so one could watch the individual seconds tick while listening to the music. However, within this very precise presentation of time, the perception of time remained fluid. Some pieces seemed significantly longer than others, and the seconds appeared to pass more quickly or slowly. For example, one piece with a lounge/jazz feel seemed to pass more slowly, while several more experimental pieces based purely on timbral evolution seemed to go by much faster. I think it was the quick succession of phrases that made it seem longer, as if the piece was a more standard three-minute duration. Some others, such as #53 and #54 by Andrew Willingham and David Morneau, respectively, went by quite fast.

Indeed, with such short pieces, the transitions between them became significant elements. I particularly liked the transitions between pieces 12, 13 and 14, by Danny Clay, Alvin Curan and Christophe Petchanatz, respectively. Similarly, the transitions between #46 (John Maycraft) and #47 (Les Scott) was very fluid and seamless. Other notable pieces included the toy piano performance in #16 by Jane Wang (I instantly recognized the Jaymar toy piano( and the “meditation” in steel and metallic sounds in #27 by Diana Simpson. I of course instantly recognized the spoetry in Polly Moller’s Abdominal Cyclist Ultra (#36) from my work with Reconnaissance Fly. The frenetic beats in #56 (Arran Krister Kohnson), interleaving of speeches by Barack Obama and Martin Luther King, Jr. in #58 (Ben Boone) and the final “Daddy, what are you doing?” in #60 (Richard Hall) brought the set to an energetic close.

In the preceding set, John Hanes presented a very different perception of time. His piece for the Long Night’s Moon was “an attempt to celebrate the promise of light internet in the darkest night and the rhythm of the turning of the year.” Unlike the 60×60 performance, which made one hyper-aware of the passing of individual seconds, Hanes’ performance invited listeners to “suspend” their perception of time and meditate on the graduation changes in sounds. It began with bells and metallic sounds, which were eventually joined by strong (and synthetic) resonances. A few tones reminded me of prayer bowls. The long tones of the metallic and synthetic sounds formed gradually changing chords and harmonies that suggested a vocal or choral arrangement. Occasionally the rather complex harmonies would suddenly drop out, leaving a unison of different timbres on the same pitch. There were some complex minor harmonies in between the unions, and some points where the harmonies seem to draw to a traditional cadence. All along were ebbs and flowers and timbre and dynamics, with some strong crescendos towards the conclusion of the piece.

This is actually not the first time we have encountered John Hanes at a Full Moon Concert. He also appearned in Myles Boisen’s Past-Present-Future at the Blood Moon Concert in October.