Moldover, Celeste Lear and Nonagon at Control Freq

Last Wednesday I attended Control Freq at the Hotel Utah here in San Francisco. Of course, that is a fantastic name for a show, being a play on words for electronic music controllers, audio signal processing, and the tendency of many of us to be in fact “control freaks.” The overall theme among the three groups who performed was use of Ableton Live! with various controllers.

The evening opened with Celeste Lear (guitar, vocals, electronics) and her band, including Adam Willis (drums) and Ian Montgomery (bass).

Lear has quite a pedigree in music and audio, and her music and band is quite technologically sophisticated (I did see the iPhone as a controller on the bassist’s strap). Nonetheless, they manage to combine technology with popular music idioms. I heard various funk, house, and reggae influences in her music – I had a soft spot for the final song which sounded like a classic house/disco track in a minor key. Though most of the music was very rhythmic, there were some free-form moments as well with guitar effects, etc. For much of the set, they were joined by trumpeter John Gibbons.

Celeste Lear was followed by Nonagon [along with guests]. The group had an impressive array of gear, arranged as multiple stations with laptops and controllers, including offerings from Akai and Albeton+Novation and of course a Monome. There were also two glowing globes in between the performers that emitted an ever changing color of light. Musically, the set began with complex ambient sounds, quite different of the Celeste Lear Band. Gradually, beats and recognizable chords emerged, with the beats eventually becoming quite strong and pronounced. Over the course of the set, they seamlessly moved through various beat-based soundscapes, with various resonances, vocal pads, pianos and other sounds filling in.

Moldover concluded the evening with a very impressive, high-paced and virtuosic performance with his Mojo controller, guitar and voice. We had last seem Moldover at LoveTech.

His performance on the controller was strong and rhythmically tight and fun to watch. He played the various buttons and sliders as if he was playing guitar or drums. Even though the Mojo was being used to bring in out various loops, recordings and processed sounds, the end result were new rhythms, chords and even melodies. This can be best seen in a video clip rather than in words: