San Francisco Electronic Music Festival (SFEMF), Part 2

Last week, I presented the opening night show of the San Francisco Electronic Music Festival at SFMOMA. Today we look back at the September 10 installment of SFEMF, which took place at the Brava Theater.

It was a busy Saturday evening of art and music, but after a trip through three neighborhoods on our illustrious public transportation system and chatting with several friends on the way in, I was still able to get a perfect seat in the center of the theater for the full immersive experience. As I often do these days, I was live-tweeting between sets with hashtag #SFEMF to share with a wider community both in the theater and beyond.

The concert opened with a tribute to Max Mathews presented by Marielle Jakobsons. Mathews is considered to be the “father of computer music” and his career spanned over five decades and continued up until the last days before he passed away earlier this year. The tribute brought together the technologies that Mathews pioneered and his love of classical music. It began with a recording of his 1971 piece Improvisations for Olympiad, set against images of Mathews’ long career and time with family and friends. In the piece, one can hear how far computer-music technology had advanced since the 1950s, in large part do to his own work (though it still hard to fathom that the piece was done using punch cards). The photos demonstrated how much he was loved by the community around him – many featured familiar faces from CCRMA at Stanford, where he had most recently worked.

[Diane Douglass and Marielle Jakobsons. Photo:]

Jakobsons then presented a personal tribute in the form of a new piece, Theme and Variations on Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 4 For Violin and Phaser Filters. Jakobsons had worked with Mathews on his Phaser Filters, a technology for live performance based on tuned resonances. With Diane Douglass on computer, Jakobsons performed on violin, with the familiar classical sounds blending seamlessly with the rich sounds from the filter technology.

Next up was Area C, a project of Erik J. Carlson. Carlson’s performance featured live looping of electric guitar and a variety of analog and digital effects, which were output via two guitar amps.

[Area C. Photo:]

Although the piece unfolded as a series of loops of small melodic and rhythmic figures on the guitar that were processed and re-looped, the overall texture of the music gave the impression of an ever evolving drone, not unlike something we might do at the Droneshift but with less strict rules and more opportunity for bits of texture to emerge.

After an intermission, the concert resumed with 0th, a “collective of four female artists, Jacqueline Gordon, Amanda Warner, Canner Mefe, and Caryl Kientz” presenting a live-performance piece Deep Blue Space: Factories and Forests. The performers were scattered at the edges of the stage, with a large lit hemisphere in the center, and an array of base drums in front. Behind them, a large video was projected. Additional unnamed performers beyond the quartet contributed to the dance elements. Costuming was also an important part of the piece, with interesting outfits and one performer sporting a pyramid-shaped hat.

[Setting up for 0th. Big bubble in the middle stage. And bass drums in front. #sfemf ]

Their performance was based on a fictional story that followed the exploits of the chess-playing supercomputer Deep Blue on a satellite that leaves Earth orbit and heads to the asteroid belt. The performance unfolded with a series of very punctuated sounds set against very deliberate motions with frequent pauses. The overall effect was mechanized and robotic, enhanced by the industrial imagery in the video. This was of course appropriate given the theme of machines in the underlying story.

[0th. Photo:]

Towards the end of the piece, several of the performers moved into place at the front of the stage, each behind one of the base drums and they began to strike the pedals in unison, a loud stream of slow rhythmic thumps against the electronic sounds spread in the background.

The final performance featured a collaboration by Yoshi Wada and Tashi Wada on a piece entitled Frequency Responses: 2011. The piece explored the interactions of the timbres of a variety of instruments and devices that can sustain long tones, such as a bagpipe, sirens, and old analog oscillators. It begin with jarring sound of an alarm bell but quickly settled into a steady state with an ever changing combination of sounds and instruments. Yoshi Wada, a veteran of Fluxus, frequently played the bagpipe during the piece. Tashi Wada remained behind the main table focused on a variety of electronic elements.

[Yoshi Wada and Tashi Wada. Photo:]

The equipment and overall texture of the piece evoked the early experiments in electronic music, and brought the concert full circle from its starting point with the tribute to Max Mathews. Although the interaction of the timbres could sometimes be rather intense, the focus on this element and listening for beating patterns on other details was quite meditative.

I think my live tweet “An exploration of very long tones ends in a major harmony #sfemf” is a fitting end for this review. Overall another strong concert.