Reconnaissance Fly and Noertker’s Moxie at SIMM series

Last Sunday (November 1), Reconnaissance Fly performed at the Outsound SIMM Series.

This performance was as a trio, with Polly Moller (Scorpio, and flute and voice), Amar Chaudhary (Pisces, and electronics), and Bill Wolter (Saggitarius, and guitar).

Photograph by Jennifer Chu. Click to enlarge.

We performed four pieces from our “spong” cycle Flower Futures. What is a “spong cycle”? It is a series of pieces based on spoetry, “the deliciously powerful results of robot efforts to evade your spam filter” (as well as the enormous spam queue here at CatSynth). Most spam is banal or poorly written, but occasionally one stumbles upon a particularly beautiful piece of text. We performed four pieces from the eventual full cycle. The two I wrote entitled “Small Chinese Gong” and “Seemed to be Divided in Twain” are improvisational pieces based on graphical scores. You can see an example symbol to right. The interpretation of the graphics can be musical gestures “inspired” by shapes, or a more literal interpretation such as tracing them out on a Korg Kaos Pad – for this performance Bill and I had dueling Kaos Pads in some sections, which produced dense textures or “forests” of pointed sounds that reflected the underlying text.

Photograph by Jennifer Chu.

Photograph by Jennifer Chu.

Bill Wolter’s “Spam-a-lot” is a combination of improvisational and traditionally written material. The highlight of the piece is the section in the middle concerning “the animal trade in Canada”, ending with a bluesy rock pattern set to “Ca-na-da-a!”, and is probably one of our favorite moments in every performance or rehearsal.

Polly Moller’s “Emir Scamp Budge” is a more idiomatic piece, scored for a standard quartet of keyboard, bass, guitar and voice with a bit of a jazz feel. The text is set to a rolling melody set against a walking bass line and an odd chord progression. It is quite a contrast to the graphical score pieces, and a great excuse to dust off the jazz chops.

It was a pretty solid performance, with all the practice and rehearsal time having paid off. Sadly, this was in all likelihood the last performance that Bill Wolter will be playing with us.

We were followed by Noertker’s Moxie, featuring Bill Noertker on contrabass, Annelise Zamula on tenor sax and flute, Jim Peterson on alto sax and flute, Jenny Maybee on piano, and Dave Mihaly on drumset and percussion. They were marking the release of their new CD druidh lacunae.

The piece, Kamilopárdali, started off very free-form, with lots of detached notes and percussive sounds, including a cloud of metallic-percussion sounds, and Maybee directly playing the strings inside the piano. Gradually, the music became more focused rhythmically and melodically, and then began to alternate between sections of standard modern jazz with rhythms and chromatic lines, and more free-form sections like the beginning. At one point the rhythm disappeared entirely with only sparse hits on the piano strings, drums and bodies of the bass and saxophones. After this, a section with a stronger and tighter jazz melody and rhythm emerged; I believe this was the segue into the piece Athenian Birds.

This was followed by Virage, which Noertker described as having been composed in Hungary and Slovakia in 1995. However, the impression I had of the piece was more East Asian, with lots of pentatonic scales and harmonies set against a latin rhythm. Indeed, one flute melody performed by Zamula sounded exceptionally Chinese, not only because of the scale but also the ornamentation of the notes – there is a particular sound in Chinese music with grace notes or bends on accented notes.

One other piece that particularly caught my interest was Desert Canto. It was described by Noertker as a “beautiful piece”, inspired by photos from Nevada Test Site (site of former atomic-bomb tests) that were “beautiful but also disturbing.” The piece was indeed beautiful, very atonal – but a traditional melodic atonality as opposed to percussive or non-pitched – and had a soft, more dreamlike quality, with frequent cymbal and drum rolls and freer rhythmic structure. You can hear a clip of Desert Canto on the Noertker’s Moxie website.