We learned yesterday of the passing of another of our musical heroes, Cecil Taylor.
This segment of solo piano demonstrates how his playing is incredibly complex but remains thoroughly musical. The fast runs contain a unique contrapuntal language. And more importantly, there is phrasing, contour, and emotion that unifies the performance. Taylor had an uncanny ability to combine European classical tradition, jazz, and other African American influences into a unique musical language that he dubbed “black methodology”. This quote from poet and critic A. B. Spellman, included in the official New York Times obituary, sums it up well.
“There is only one musician who has, by general agreement even among those who have disliked his music, been able to incorporate all that he wants to take from classical and modern Western composition into his own distinctly individual kind of blues without in the least compromising those blues, and that is Cecil Taylor, a kind of Bartok in reverse.”
It is hard for me not to compare Taylor with another contemporary of his, Ornette Coleman, who passed away in 2015. Coleman is one of my favorites – Taylor takes the level of complexity to another level. Both remain huge influences. We leave you with this recording of “Calling It the 9th”.
Today we look back at the recent performance by Pet the Tiger invented instrument collective in Golden Gate Park. It was part of a series hosted by Dan Gottwald featuring invented-instrument performances in the tunnel near the Conservatory of Flowers. You can see and hear excerpts from the concert this CatSynth TV video.
The centerpiece of the performance was the harmonic-series gamelan, a set of instruments that employ tuning based exclusively on the harmonic series. This leads to just-intonation relationships among pitches, but not necessarily those of conventional Western twelve-tone music. The results are haunting and exquisite. This is especially true of the 5-octave metallophone demonstrated by David Samas in the video, and played by Samas and others in the concert.
There was also a large kalimba-like instrument performed primarily by Samas and Derek Drudge, and a large instrument created and played by Bart Hopkin.
In addition to the metallophones, there were various wind instruments. Peter Whitehead played an instrument that resembled a longitudinal bass flute, and whirling tubes, all of which also conformed to the harmonic series.
There was also a stringed instrument performed by Ian Saxton.
Harmonic series relationships are well known to be very pleasant to the ear, and there was an overall pleasing tone to the music, amplified by the acoustic properties of the tunnel, the lighting and the fellowship of performers and audience. In addition to the long meditative pieces, there were sections combining music with anxious dystopian poetry, and even a rendition of George Harrison’s “Within You Without You” from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Overall, it was a lovely and poignant evening, with the light show from the Conservatory of Flowers in the distance and a warm friendly atmosphere in the tunnel that mitigated the approaching chill of the night in Golden Gate Park. The series is over for the season, but we do expect to hear more of Pet the Tiger and these inventor-musicians in the near future.
The time between NAMM and this past weekend’s performances has been quite busy for music, not only performing but also attending a variety of concerts. Today we look back at a concert featuring the work of Steve Reich by Ensemble Signal at Hertz Hall in Berkeley, California.
[Ensemble Signal performs music by Steve Reich on Sunday, January 29, 2017 in Hertz Hall. Photo by EMPAC Rensselaer, courtesy of Cal Performances.]
We also had the opportunity to hear a full concert of Steve Reich’s music last year by the SF Symphony – the composer has been receiving a great deal of attention since his 80th birthday. Two of the pieces from that concert were on this program as well, including Clapping Music and Double Sextet.
Clapping Music opened the evening, with the composer himself joining Ensemble Signal conductor Brad Lubman. Similar to last year, I consider it quite a treat to here Steve Reich performing this piece. Double Sextet closed the concert. It is a large and complex work, with the two quartets performing similar but non-identical parts that come in and out of phase rhythmically and harmonically.
Vibraphones feature prominently in Reich’s music and in this concert in particular, including the second piece Quartet for two pianos and two vibraphones. Interestingly, the use of two pianos featured prominently this concert as well. The piece has many of the characteristic elements of interlocking harmonies and repeating patterns, but there were more sudden changes and gaps in this piece (composed in 2013) than in some of his earlier works, where the changes only occurred gradually.
However, the two pieces immediately before and after the intermission were what made this concert unique. First, there was the U.S. premiere of Runner a piece for large ensemble co-commissioned by Cal Performances (who hosted the concert). It featured winds, percussion, piano and strings in a series of rhythmic patterns over five movements, played without pauses. It forms a rhythmic palindrome of sorts, with even sixteenths followed by irregularly accented eighths, and then a standard bell pattern from Ghana before returning backwards to the eighth-note patterns and finally the even sixteenths. It’s a long and complex piece, and was undoubtedly an endurance test for the musicians, but Reich’s music in the hands of the right performers can sound effortless.
Radio Rewrite had perhaps the most interesting backstory of any piece in the concert. It was composed by Reich in 2013 after hearing Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead (who had made backing tracks for Reich’s Electric Counterpoint). The piece, also in five moments, draws upon two Radiohead songs “Everything it its Right Place” and “Jigsaw Falling Into Place.” It’s not a set of variations or quotations in the traditional sense, although bits of the original songs to make their way into the melodic and harmonic material. And the instrumentation is quite unlike a standard rock band, save for the inclusion of electric bass. Musically, this was probably the most distant from the idioms of Clapping Music, but a powerful contrast to the other pieces on the program. It was lush, intense, and once again quite an endurance test at 17 minutes.
Overall, this was a great concert in a gem of a concert hall, and it’s always great to see composers like Steve Reich on hand. We will continue to follow his music and hope to see new works.
One week of musical adventures in San Francisco has taken us a bit longer than one week to share on these pages. But today we look at the final show from that week, featuring Faust at The Chapel.
So how exactly does one describe a band like Faust? As it says in the show description from The Chapel, ” Neither the habitus nor the music of this Hamburg group is easy to grasp.” The usual label of “krautrock” isn’t particularly descriptive, though it does orient them within the world of hard rock and experimental music coming out of Germany in the early 1970s. Many of the experimental elements around European and North American rock in that era can be found in their early albums like Faust IV. These elements were in abundance during the performance, with simple but meandering patterns mixed with a multitude of avant-garde elements. And it was all anchored by steady hands of original members Werner “Zappi” Diermaier and Jean-Hervé Péron.
There is a basic underlying hard-rock jam underpinning the music, which is then mixed with words, a variety of electronic sounds, and elements that were unique to the San Francisco show, including antiphonal vocals from the Cardew Choir and Lutra Lutra. (We have written about the Cardew Choir numerous times before on this site). The highlight of the collaborations was a final procession to the center of the crowd with large brass instruments dancing above the heads of the audience.
This was a contrast to the beginning of the set that featured soft vocals and percussion against a film playing in the background.
Another unusual feature of the set was the use of a graphical score, projected so that it could be seen by the audience as well as the musicians. Diermaier even turned his drum set around to face the projected score.
This photo also illustrates one other unique element to Faust’s performance: a “knitting lady” sat at the front of the stage calmly and silently knitting throughout the set.
I also spied friend and fellow Bay Area synthesizer player Benjamin Ethan Tinker sitting in with the band, which was a fun surprise.
The show was sold out to a very appreciative audience and they were well received by longtime fans and newcomers alike. It was definitely a unique and unusual experience, but still one that felt very musical. I would not describe it at all as an evening of “noise” (not that there is anything wrong with that). They lived up to their billing as legendary purveyors of experimental avant-garde rock.
Faust was preceded by two opening acts: a solo performance by Bill Orcutt on guitar. It was a softer, but quirky take on blues guitar. Orcutt was followed by Heron Oblivion. While coming out of the milieu of “cosmic guitar music”, they did have a darker, and sometimes frantic sound. They moved back and forth between more frenetic drum and guitar, and that soft plaintive sound in alternative pop. Overall, both acts fit with the theme of the evening, adding a bit of weirdness grounded in various conventions.
We lost another of our musical heroes today. Orientate Coleman was deeply influential in the development and blossoming of jazz in the era-after bebop, where the music went in different, surprising and (for some) controversial directions. From the seemingly mathematic transformations of bop idioms in songs like Zig Zag to the driving funk of Jump Street from Of Human Feelings (a personal favorite of mine), his music and professional example were inspiring.
In addition to his composition and playing, he was an accomplished band leader, bringing together disparate performers to play complex music that remained rhythmically tight. There was the Ornette Coleman Quartet that cemented his reputation as an experimenter, and later his band Prime Time, which took on electronic elements and fusion idioms while retaining oblique rhythms and counterpoints.
I also find myself identifying the descriptions of him as soft-spoken and taking a deeply intellectual (perhaps bafflingly so) approach to describing music. Many jazz greats are sons and daughters of the South, and Ornate Coleman was no exception – but it is interesting to see him and others transcend that heritage to something of a different time and place, or perhaps no particular place at all. We should follow his example and keep jazz an alive, evolving, and often challenging music.
Today we look at last week’s performance at “Tom’s Place” in Berkeley featuring vocal and piano music of John Cage. Cage is of course one of my musical heroes, and his works for prepared piano are among my favorites.
The concert opened with two of his early pieces for prepared piano performed by Janis Mercer. Waiting (1952) consisted of a long period of silence followed by a short repeated phrase, followed by more silence. It could be seen as a stepping stone of sorts between Cage’s prepared-piano music and 4’33”, which was also written in 1952. Mercer also performed Bacchanale (1940), Cage’s first piece for prepared piano. It opened with dramatic repeated tones that evolved into shorter and then longer repeated phrases. The harmonies were anxious and fit with the timbre of the prepared strings. Prepared piano is sometimes called “piano gamelan”, and the name seemed appropriate for this movement, with its polyrhythms and complex minor harmonies. The following movement was much more percussive, with something that suggested bass and hi-hat.
The concert continued with John Smalley performing Experiences No 2 for solo voice. This was the first of two pieces on the program that Cage wrote for Merce Cunningham dances. This one used a text by e.e. cummings. Musically, it had a static and yearning quality, with phrases having an “incomplete” feeling melodically.
This was followed by an untitled vocal interlude from Four Walls informally titled “Sweet Love”. It is a playful piece, both in terms of its music and text (which was written by Cunningham). The performance by Laurie Amat clearly brought out this quality.
The concert resumed after a short intermission with In a Landscape featuring Mercer again on piano. Not only was the piano of the “unprepared” variety, the piece was actually quite tonal, with a dreamlike quality and something approaching a folk melody If I was presented the piece and asked to guess the composer, I would be more likely to say Debussy than Cage.
The final piece of the evening was Litany for the Whale, song by John Smalley and Laurie Amat. The piece consists of slow vocalization of the letters of the word “whale” in call-and-response form over an extended period of time. The length of the piece (over twenty minutes) and slow motion make it quite challenging for both the performers and the audience. For the performers it was quite an endurance test and for those of us in the audience the challenge was to keep focused on it. What worked best was to go into a meditative state and focus on some details of sound while letting others simply pass.
The show was quite well attended with a full and appreciative house. Overall, I was glad I made the trip to Berkeley on a Wednesday evening to hear it.
At the beginning of month, I attended a retrospective concert of music by the composer Sylvano Bussotti, performed by members of sfSoundGroup at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). Bussotti is an Italian avant-garde composer whose body of work transcends into visual media and film as well. His music itself is very visual, and his graphical scores are works of art that combine standard music notation with graphical symbols, spatial positioning on the page and text instructions that inform the musicians on how to interpret and perform the piece. They are also known for being difficult to play, but sfSoundGroup is up to the challenge.
The performance took place in the museum’s expansive atrium, which was bathed in red light, with the musicians in the center and the audience orbiting around them. The space was bounded by two pianos, mysteriously set apart.
In the few minutes before the concert began, I was able to check out a couple of the scores up close.
[Score for “Phrase a trois” by Sylvano Bussotti.]
This score is for the piece Phrase a trois for string trio (violin, viola and cello). I also was able to view the score for Geographie Francaise alongside the percussion setup:
[Score for “Geographie Francaise”, by Sylvano Bussotti, with percussion instruments. (Click image to enlarge.)]
Unlike many graphical scores, which often allow for wide interpretation of visual elements and improvisation, these seemed more designed to describe precise instructions to the performer.
Bussotti himself performed in two of the pieces. For Geographie Francaise, he played piano and incanted stark vocal lines in French, alongside featured soloist Laura Bohn and percussionist Kjell Nordeson. I quite liked this piece for its starkness, conceptual simplicity (i.e., centering around the title itself) and the disparate texture of the instrumentation: voice, piano and percussion. One does not really hear traditional rhythms or melodies, even of the early-twentieth century “atonal” sense, but rather directly on the various sound, musical and narrative concepts, more like an abstract theater piece.
[Laura Bohn and Kjell Nordeson performing “Geographie Francaise” by Sylvano Bussotti. (Click images to enlarge.)]
Bussotti also performed in In Memoriam Cathy Berberian. Here, his voice was more central to the piece, and he spoke in Italian in more expressive tones. This is not surprising, given the subject of the piece was Cathy Berberian, his longtime “friend and muse”.
[Sylvano Bussotti performance with members of sfSoundGroup. Photo by Michael Zelner. (Click image to see original.)]
Different personel from sfSoundGroup were featured in different pieces, ranging from the full nine-member cohort in Autotono to a solo performance by Matt Ingalls on clarinet in one of Bussotti’s more recent pieces, Variazione Berio composed in honor of Luciano Berio who died in 2007. In the performance, Ingalls takes advantage of the portability of his instrument to move freely about the space. In doing so, he was able to employ spatial effects on the timbre of the clarinet within the music, which was filled with lots of empty space punctuated with occasional loud tones.
[Matt Ingalls performs “Variazione Berio” by Sylvano Bussotti. Photo by Michael Zelner. (Click image to see original.)]
The sparseness of the music and performer’s motion did in fact remind me a bit of Berio’s Sequenzas, and also made me think of the parallels between the theatricality of Berio’s music as compared to Bussotti’s. They were contemporaries in Italian avant-garde music – and as another link, Cathy Berberian was Berio’s wife in the 1950s and early 1960s.
The concert concluded with a performance of Tableaux vivants avant La Passion selon Sade (1964) for two prepared pianos. This was probably my favorite of the evening (along with Geographie Francaise). The pianos that were separated up to now were joined together in the center of the space. The two pianists (Christopher Jones and Ann Yi) playing cooperatively on a single piano, operating both the keyboard and elements within the instrument’s body. Their bodies often crossed paths and intertwined as they attempted to perform their respective parts – the motion seemed both chaotic and intimate at the same time. As the piece progressed, they spread out to both pianos – and in the final movement, they close their scores and attempt to play from memory. Throughout, the music was filled with intense, and sometimes violent energy especially when playing the interior of the piano. I contrast this to they very calm and contemplative nature of John Cage’s better known prepared-piano pieces. It fun to watch, and provided for a dramatic finish to the concert.
The concert was preceded by a screening of Bussotti’s 1967 silent Rara that included live piano accompaniment by Bussotti himself. The music, which was based on live interpretation of a graphical score in which he moved about at will, did not strictly follow the events and actions on the screen, but rather provided more of a backdrop and a counterpoint to images that would have otherwise been rather jarring to watch to watch in silence. [However, the music as performed did have a narrative structure of it’s own, moving between very abstract discrete tones and more idiomatic and even tonal sections.] The film itself consisted mostly of “film portraits” of figures from the Italian avant-garde – mostly images of men (though Cathy Berberian is also featured) in a variety of sexual and emotionally uncomfortable poses, including countless shots of tear-streaked male faces. As such, the film did not really hold my attention, although I did like the abstract imagery and close-ups of the musical score, as well as the play on the letters of the title R-A-R-A itself, that were used alongside the more homoerotic portraits. And certainly it was was interesting to see the composer and filmmaker respond musically to his own work after so many years.
This past Sunday I attended resonant world: an afternoon of music by John Cage for the exibit The Visionary Art of Morris Graves at the Meridian Gallery here in San Francisco.
Morris Graves was an influential artist in the 20th century, based primarily in the Pacific Northwest. The exhibition features about 50 works spread over several decades of his career and two floors of the gallery. Many of his works, which were mostly on paper, had a very simple quality, but often with some recognizable object or concept at its core. I was particularly drawn to a few of his works, including Minnow, Irish Animal, Waning Moon and Roadside Plants and Machine Age Noise. Graves’ work is often described as having Asian and mystical influences, which were apparent in Minnow and many others, but in works like Irish Animal a noticed a humorous quality, something approaching graphic art.
John Cage became a longtime friend and admirer of Graves after the two met in 1935. He described Graves’ work as “Invitations”, or invitationals to attend to the ordinary details that are “ordinarily ignored”. Although the pieces in the program were not directly a response to Graves’ art, they do fit the spare nature of some of his works, and the focus on simple details, as well as the space of the gallery in which those works were presented.
[Raskin, Greenlief and Adams. Photo by Michael Zelner. Click to enlarge.]
The first piece, Atlas Eclipticalis featured the saxophone trio of Philip Greenlief, Jon Raskin and Steve Adams. The title refers to the path of the Sun through the constellations of the zodiac, which Cage used as a source for the score of the piece, using tracing paper to determine the placement of dots and then adding a five-line music staff. The trio’s performance was derived entirely from this score. The result was a very sparse musical texture, with large areas of silence punctuated by individual isolated notes from each of the saxophones. There were also moments where the performers played together, forming interesting beating patterns as the simultaneous tones interacted with the room as well as perfect octaves and minor chords that were a bit startling (but quite effective) within the context of the whole piece.
Atlas Eclipaticalis was followed by a performance of Three for “three players having a variety of recorders.” Conveniently, we happened to have three players who each had a variety of recorders, the Three Trapped Tigers (David Barnett and Tom Bickley with special guest Judy Linsenberg). The recorders ranged in size from the familiar C soprano recorders and alto and tenor sizes seen in renaissance ensembles, to very “modernist” F contra-bass recorders composed of wooden rectangular sections with black buttons and levers – I am guessing these were Paetzold recorders.
[Three Trapped Tigers (Bickley, Lindsenberg, Barnett). Click image to enlarge.]
The piece unfolded as a series of chords – the timing of individual notes was left up to the performers – with frequent pauses and changes of instruments. The large number of recorders and frequent changes suggested a solo pipe organ performance as much as a wind ensemble.
[David Cowen reading. Photo by Michael Zelner. Click to enlarge.]
Throughout the afternoon, simultaneous to an in between the musical performances, there was a reading of Series RE: Morris Graves, a “long poem derived by John Cage from his own recollections, conversations with Graves and friends” and other sources as described in the program notes. The poem was read by Dave Cowen. I did follow the recommendation to explore the space during the musical performances, including viewing the artwork with the music resonating down the stairs from the floor above, and pausing at partitioned area where the reading occurred. (Note: in the above photo featuring Cowen’s reading, one can also see Graves’ Roadside Plants and Machine Age Noise.)
[Fischer and Binkley enjoying tea and snacks. Click to enlarge.]
The final performance featured selections from Cage’s Song Books (Solos for Voice 3-92) interpreted by members of the Cornelius Cardew Choir. The songs derive from a variety of written sources, with some using graphical-score notation (a current favorite technique of mine) or text-based instructions. From these scores, performs are free to interpret and improvise their actual performances. Some of the songs were purely vocal and melodic, others were more theatrical, while others combined electronics with other elements. Among the moments that stood out were Tom Bickley and Brad Fischer enjoying tea, Sarah Rose Stiles pouring a cognac into a glass with contact microphones, projection of slides “relevant to Thoreau” behind a theatrical performance, a graphical score directing the pressing of keys on an amplified manual typewriter (performed by Eric Theise), and the use of the text from that typewriter in another song. There was also a large orange stuffed fish on a table.
In the area of music, one of the most influential composers and writers was Luigi Russolo, who wrote the Art of Noises, and developerd the intonarumori or noise makers. The work of Russolo and others in futurist music paved the way for experimental and technologically-focused music from George Antheil to the electronic experimental and noise music of today that we at CatSynth perform and celebrate. Indeed, RoseLee Goldberg in her introductory remarks to the program refers to the music of the futurists as the “original DNA of noise music.”
The intonarumori were hand-cranked instruments designed to produce “noises”. Their sounds included whirrs and buzzes, clangs, scrapes, and also sirens and mechanically plucked strings.
For this performance, Luciano Chessa, a “foremost Russolo scholar” oversaw the recreation of 16 intonarumori, which were used to perform both pieces by the original futurist composers, and contemporary pieces for these instruments.
The recreated intonarumori looked much like the old pictures, with simple wooden boxes and large cones for sound projection. You can see and hear some of the futurist noise makers in this video from Chessa and composer/performer Mike Patton:
After the concert I a chance to see the intonarumori up close and even try a couple of them out. This medium-sized instrument produced repeated plucked-string sounds.
This one was purely mechanical, though another that I tried which produced automobile noises appeared to have an electric motor.
The concert itself featured Luciano Chessa as conductor for most of the pieces, and members of the Magik*Magik Orchestra under the direction of Minna Choi.
It opened with Paolo Buzzi’s 1916 piece Pioggia nel pineto antidannunziana. This was a rather theatrical piece, with dramatic conducting by Chessa and various words in Italian shouted through a megaphone. The noise intoners here were used to literally reflect the urban noises of the time such as sirens and the whirring of machinery.
In the the more contemporary pieces, the noise intoners were used in other contexts rather than as simulation and expression of the modern noisy environment, but as instruments that could be played subtly and expressively. Such was the case with Theresa Wong’s Meet me at the Future Garden. Hits and clangs and mechanically plucked strings were set against Wong’s percussive vocals and Dohee Lee’s more dramatic low voice with loud vowel intonations. From Wong’s program notes: “2 a.m. sharp, in a primordial cooperation of pulsating forest, I will sing you a song tactitle tick tocking of residual harmonies, caution manifest launching the dominance of mutual respoect and hypersensitivitiy this message sent from my iphone [sp].”
let us return to the old masters, a collaborative composition by members of sfSoundGroup, took its inspiration directly from a quote of Francesco Balilla Pratella ‘s Manifesto of Futurist Musicians to “destroy the produce for ‘well-made’ music”. The piece itself was composed during the rehearsals for the concert. The sfSoundGroup members have excelled at extended technique and performance of complex compositions with their traditional instruments, and brought that skill to the intonarumori.
The first half of the concert ended with one of the most disinctive pieces of the evening, Donno Casina by Carla Kihlstedt and Matthias Bossi. The performance featured two the larger “bass” intonarumori, along with Kihlstedt on vocals and violin, Bossi on accordian, and Moe! Staiano playing a large drum and collection of colorful metal objects. The distinctly futurist sound of the intonarumori was blended with Kihlstedt’s more contemporary extended vocal and violin techniques, and Moe!’s intense and theatrical percussion performance.
In addition to having the best title of any piece in the concert, James Fei’sNew Acoustical Pleasures (A Furious Meow) was the most subtle. It was made of “quiet noises” with lots of empty space between sounds and relatively little movement, and reminded me of some of John Cage’s more static pieces. The short, soft tones from the intonarumori were quite a contrast to the loud blaring representations of modern life of the original futurist pieces.
While listening to John Butcher’spenny wands and the native string, I came up with the word “scrapier” to describe the piece. And I am pretty sure that is not a real word. Nonetheless, the piece was “scrapier” than the others. The performance, which featured Gino Robair, included lots of scrapes and grinding sounds building up to a crescendo and then coming to an abrupt stop. After a brief silence, the scrapes and grinding sounds resumed. This pattern repeated a couple of times, with variations in each repeitition.
After Fei’s and Butcher’s pieces, the full ensemble returned for Mike Patton’s<< KOSTNICE >>. All sixteen intonarumori were played together to produce a thick “orchestral” sound along with drums.
Luciano Chessa’s L’acoustic ivresse (Les buits de la Paix) also featured the full ensemble plus bass vocalist Richard Mix. There were similar thick clusters as in << KOSTNICE >>, but this time framing Mix’s vocals. There were moments when the vocals and ensemble played off on another, with Mix’s strong bass voice and traditional singing style simultaneously blending and contrasting with intonarumori. This performance received one of the longer and more spirited rounds of applause of the concert.
Elliott Sharp’sThen Go, which featured Dohee Lee, received a similar reaction. This was another full-ensemble piece, where the noise tones were very well synchronized to Lee’s dramatic singing. She also tapped (or stomped) her feet in time with percussive sounds from the ensemble in a strong rhythmic pattern. Through the rhythm, piece seemed to connect both the futurist sounds (as archetypically modern sounds) with something much more traditional, even primal.
The concert concluded with a realization of a fragment from Luigi Russolo’s 1913 Risveglio di una città. Like the other original futurist work in the program, this piece directly referenced “sounds of the modern world” like cars and sirens. This very short fragment of a piece abruptly ended with Chessa dropping his baton.
Last Thursday, in addition the gallery and art walk, I also attended the Blood Moon Concert at the Luggage Store Gallery. This was latest in Polly Moller’s moon concert series and focused on the “Blood Moon”, a traditional name for the closest full moon to the autumnal equinox. It is associated with the fall harvest, and also with the hunting of game and the slaughtering of livestock ahead of the winter season. The two halves of the concert couldn’t have been more different, an experimental electronic/noise texture performance followed by “avant-gard blues”, but they both worked intimately with the evening’s theme of the “blood moon.”
The concert opened with the duo of James Kaiser and Andy C. Way reimagining a piece that originally recorded on a blood moon several years ago. Both the original recorded version and this live performance featured “minimal electronics, voice, metals and much atmosphere”. The performance began with a noise swell, like a strong wave, embellished by ornamental sounds on a cymbal. Actually, the cymbal was part of a larger instrument, and mounted on top of a bicycle wheel. It was bowed to produce a variety of metallic resonances that blended with the electronics. Overall, the piece had a relatively constant texture. It was static, a dark tonescape, fitting for the theme. But there were also a variety of details that changed throughout. In addition to the bowed cymbal and bicycle wheel, there were breathing sounds, the use of voice to drive electronic effects, dark scratches and drones, noise glitches. Later on these were joined by loud bursts and “incidental pitches” from periodic noise. There was one sound that reminded me of the closing doors on a New York City subway train. The piece ended with a strong resonance and rumble, and then faded out.
The second half of the concert featured the trio Past-Present-Future, with Myles Boisen on guitar, “Hollerin’ John Hanes” on drums, and Lisa Mazzacappa on bass.
[Click to enlarge.]
They premiered a Blood Moon Suite written for this concert. It began with a “free-improvisation” section characterized by harmonic and rhythmic swells. In particular, I noticed Boisen’s combination of chromaticism and harmonics admist the ensemble’s clusters of rhythm followed by more free-form sounds. Over time, the piece became more “bluesy” in terms of the scales and chords. There were still very linear chromatic jazz chords, but with a framework rich blues idioms on the guitar and bass. One memorable section featured a straight slow blues rhythm with guitar and drums (with a heavy swing feel), that moved immediately into a serious staccato notes and then to a slow expressive end. The next movement began with a strong six-eight rhythm with low guitar and chromatic thirds. It was definitely more steady rhythmically and harmonically than the previous movement, with occasional hits and stops, and overall more traditional harmonies, and a cool bass solo by Mazzcappa. Things got more free-form later in the piece, and morphed into something slower and darker. The final section was more minimalist, with an interplay between slide guitar and bass that sounded quite “southern”, with lots of slides, bends, octaves/unison and blues-scale lines. It ended more dramatic, and noisy elements on the guitar and bass.
The Blood Moon Suite was followed by another piece, “Devil’s blues”. It featured a latin rhythm, with the bass and drums repeating a rather addictive pattern. The guitar was repetitive and subtle at first, with blue notes and tritones and inharmonic effects all within the rhythm.
One interesting coincidence for this concert was running into Jeff Anderle at the taqueria below the Luggage Store. It was only an hour or so earlier that I had seen him perform at Steven Wolf Fine Arts at First Thursday. Yes, it was quite an evening of art and music.