First Thursday San Francisco

A number of downtown galleries in San Francisco stay open late on the first Thursday of the month, an event I have known about for a while (and even attended occasionally before moving to the city). Here are a few of notable items from the most recent “First Thursday”:

Now that I have large walls, I am actually looking for large abstract pieces, like the works of Ricardo Mazal at Elins Eagles-Smith Gallery. Several of these would have worked quite well. Unfortunately, these “monumental paintings” come with “monumental prices.” I’m not one to put down all high-priced art automatically, but I do sometimes find the pricing of art to be a bit of a mystery.

Sometimes abstract is “too abstract,” even for unapologetic modernists. Such were the large monochromatic and gradient works of Ruth Pastine. These could actually work quite well, on large bare white walls, but they would get lost in an environment with other activity and texture. Such stark paintings need space to themselves.

More down-to-earth are the offerings of the Hang Gallery, from which I have acquired some artworks in the past. This months show at the Annex, called “Give and Take”, was one of the better ones I have seen in the while. It featured more traditionally abstract paintings (Hang often seems to feature contemporary mixed-media works in the Annex), such as the work of Phillip Hua. Although not as large as some of the others featured in this article, I could definitely see one of Hua’s paintings hanging in CatSynth HQ. His work is an interesting mixture of abstraction and “industrial grit”, with moments that seem recognizable.

One “recognizable” image was Back Up by Carolyn Meyer, also at Hang. I’m pretty sure this is yet another view of the I-80 freeway through my neighborhood, as I have describes in previous articles such as the recent March “walking tour” and our highway underpass photographs. But what does it mean to see a similar scene so “painted”? It’s something entirely different from the photos, or real life.

And of course, we could not go without mentioning this delightful feline-themed work Spell by Ulrike Palmbach at the Stephen Wirtz Gallery:

It always comes back to cats here at CatSynth, doesn’t it?

This article was included in the April 9 Carnival of Cities.

Weekend music events

This article features a few highlights from a a very musical extended weekend – something we at CatSynth would like to see become “routine.”

We start out Thursday at the Luggage Store Gallery, where OutSound hosts a regular Thursday night series. This is the series and venue that I played with Polly Moller and Company in February, and where I will be doing a solo set in May. On this particular night, there were two rather contrasting sets that featured “guitar and electronics.”

The first set was a duo by San Diego-based Nathan Hubbard and Noah Phillips. This is one of several groups I have seen generating sound from purely from electrical noise in the devices. Essentially, this involves taking the low-volume noise present in most electronic lines and processing and amplifying it to generate sounds. The result is a mixture of standard electrical noise and hums, heavy distortion, chirps and whistles, and staccato textures. The best moments were when the noise was at low volume, subtle, and you had to specifically listen for it behind the guitar.

The second set was from Berlin-based Schriftfisch and billed as “experimental ambient noise with Julian Percy & Farahnaz Hatam.”

It is amazing how different the computer-based electronic sounds from Farahnaz Hatam were from the electrical sounds in previous set. Guitar techniques included bowing and other electrical and mechanical devices, as well as standard “rock electronic guitar”. There were many times were the guitar and laptop-electronics blended such that one could not tell who was generating which sound. At other times, it was easy to tell the guitar, even with processing, from the sounds of the laptop, which had the “computer-music” sound, liquidy, percussive and granular.


A very different night of music occurred Sunday at the Switchboard Music Festival. For one, it was in a small concert hall, rather than a gallery. And it was largely focused on “contemporary classical” music and various crossover styles rather than the more experimental music offered by the Luggage Store series.

I got to the festival around 5PM or so. Unfortunately, this meant that I missed Slydini, which includes fellow “Polly Moller & Company” member Bill Wolter and other musicians that I know. Sorry about that. I did arrive to hear one of the more “contemporary classical” sets featuring a small-ensemble composition by Jonathan Russel that was reminiscent of minimalism (i.e., John Adams, Philip Glass, etc.) and folk influences, but with a backbeat (including a few disco moments). Such pieces are a reminder that “contemporary” music is different from “modern.” Contemporary music tends to be less focused on pushing the boundaries (in sometimes harsh directions) and more into embracing (multiple) traditions. I am an unapologetic modernist, but I still enjoy hearing “contemporary” music sometimes.

This was followed by one of the more intriguing pieces of the evening, Parangal by Robin Estrada. It featured a collection of wooden instruments that were simultaneously “primitive” and “modern”, buzzers, tubes, whistles and plates.

Towards the end of the piece, the musicians handed out small stones to the audience, which of course we all instinctively knew meant that we were supposed to play. The musicians gradually fell silent as the audience’s stone rhythm emerged. Of course, someone dropped his/her stones, and others had to follow, and this became part of the performance.

The next set was a chamber-ensemble piece by Aaron Novik. I probably wasn’t the only who noticed that people were clapping between movements, which is generally a big “no no” in concert performances. But Aaron encouraged the audience to continue doing so, indeed he was quite a character with jokes in between movements. The piece did move between long tones (such as the opening with tuba and bass clarinet) and more percussive sections, and was one of several works during the evening to have a rather strong Klezmer influence.

Amy X Neuberg performed next, and her set included several pieces I recognized from the previous times I have heard her perform – I have even shared a program with her a couple of times (notably the 2003 Woodstockhausen festival). There was “My God” (is Hiding in a Foxhole), and “Life Stepped In”, among others. One thing I am always impressed by is how tight her performances are, very clean and punctuated and “professional”, given the technology she employs. The highlight of her set was the “special secret surprise appearance” (or something to that effect) by the Del Sol String Quartet. It was a great combination.

Perhaps this is a good moment to point out how hard it is to photograph performing musicians, especially if you don’t have a tripod and feel obliged not to use a flash.

The Del Sol String Quartet performed a full set, with clarinetist Jeff Anderle (one of the organizers of the festival), playing Osvaldo Gilijov’s “Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind.” This piece was very strongly influenced by Klezmer and Eastern European folk music that permeated late 19th and early 20th century classical music. Indeed, it contributed to a sense I had that this was turning into the “Klezmer Festival”, which so many pieces featuring clarinet. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

The next set brought “featuring clarinet” to another level, with a bass-clarinet quartet of Cornelius Boots, Jeff Anderle, Aaron Novik and Jonathan Russel:

I was very interested in the bass-clarinet quartet format, and would actually like to write a piece this or an equivalent ensemble. The instruments have a great range of tone, from traditional clarinet sound, to robust bass fifths and octaves, to harmonics and distortion reminiscent of electric guitar. The latter was very strongly on display in their cover of a tune by the Pixies. Indeed, the whole set had a very humorous feel, including a piece that moved from a more modern intro do a section that sounded like “50s rock” and got a laugh from the audience.

The final set was Gamelan X. Not exactly a traditional gamelan, but rather a mixture of gamelan instruments, electronics, drums and saxophone:

And their music had a strong jazz/funk feel, mixing gamelan percussion and the easy-to-recognize sounds of a Nord Lead (well, easy to recognize for someone who has a website about electronic music). Here we see the reyong players “getting down” with some serious choreography:

So in the end there was more variety in the festival that just “contemporary classical.”


I could have actually made it a clean sweep this weekend with music events – I did have more personal events going on Friday and Saturday. However, even those were musical, but that is a topic for another time…

This post was included in the April 2 edition of the Carnival of Cities at Perceptive Travel Blog.

Carnival of the Cities, March 12 Edition

Something new for us at CatSynth: we are hosting the March 12, 2008 edition of Carnival of Cities. We have been participating recently with our posts on art and photographs from our new neighborhood, so we are happy to be hosting this week.

We start off in our home city, San Francisco, where CalebL presents Use your Useless Knowledge posted at City on a Dime.

Kara Williams presents The Arts in New Orleans – Part I posted at Traveling Mamas, saying, “Beth Blair, DesertMama, wrote this post after she visited New Orleans last week!” I recall enjoying some of the artistic opportunities in New Orleans when I visited in 2006 (a little over a year after Katrina), but I did not see the Ogden museum. Sounds like the atrium is itself worth a visit.

Mary Jo Manzanares presents This Seattle Bar Will Suit You to a Tea posted at The Seattle Traveler, saying, “A hot “cuppa” and free wi-fi, what more could you want?” She makes a good point.

Amanda Milne presents a travelog from Orlando, pretty much everything except for a certain resort with a mouse. Posted at Value For Your Life.

In honor of Tavern Day,Jul presents a little post about drinking in Munich posted at Europe String. “There?s drinking in Munich??

Marsha Takeda-Morrison presents American Idol: Welcome to Hollywood, Dawg! posted at Kango Blog, saying, “You know the part where Randy shouts out, ?Welcome to Hollywood, dawg?? Well they actually do come to Hollywood, believe it or not. So if you’re thinking of coming to L.A. to scope out a live taping, read this first…”

One of the great things about hosting a carnival is finding articles like this next one. Heatheronhertravels presents Graffiti tourism in Bristol posted at Heather on her travels, saying, “Take a look at the street-art explosion that’s happening in the Stokes Croft area of Bristol, UK. Every builder’s hoarding has become an opportunity for artistic expression and the residents and shop-keepers are getting in on the act. You can see the piece by famous Bristol born street artist Banksy too.” Do check it out. The artworks, both on the street and in the galleries, are at least as good as some of what I have seen recently in New York and San Francisco. I would love to check this out, if I ever found myself in Bristol.

Karen Bryan presents Free Berlin walking tours posted at Europe A La Carte Blog. Like Karen, I generally prefer to go at my own pace around a city. And that is what I did when visiting Berlin. However, a guide at specific locations like the Holocaust Memorial (illustrated in the post) would have been good.

Thursday Thirteen meets Carnival of the Cities, as
Amy @ The Q Family presents 13 Things to do in or around Atlanta posted at The Q Family Adventure. Looks like a decent list to keep in mind, especially if you find yourself in Atlanta and get tired of family or your business conference (and admit it, we all do).

Jon Rochetti presents The New Newseum Opens April 11th posted at The DC Traveler ? Washington DC travel & tourism information, saying, “The new 250,000-square-foot, seven-level museum dedicated to news and the press, covers five centuries of news, news history and reporting with up-to-the-second technology and hands-on exhibits.”

Another great find in this weeks carnival. I am a Frank Lloyd Wright fan, but I don’t think I have ever seen one of homes photographed in the snow before.
Machione presents A Good Day To Shoot Frank Lloyd Wright In Canton posted at The Lives and Times… of Anthony McCune, saying, “There aren’t many towns the size of Canton with three Frank Lloyd Wright designed homes.” Of course, Canton, like much of Ohio, has received record snowfall this March. The dark and spare linear forms of Wright’s architecture are a great contrast to the bare trees and snow.

Well, that concludes this edition. If you would like to participate in the the next edition, submit your blog article
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