San Francisco Electronic Music Festival (SFEMF): September 9 Concert

The final concert of the 2012 San Francisco Electronic Music Festival (SFEMF) took place on Saturday, September 9 at the Brava Theater. If there a common thread among the different performances on this evening, it was the use (and celebration) of analog electronics.

The concert opened with a solo piece by Chuck Johnson called Passivity and Void. The performance featured analog electronics with steel guitar as a sound source, and explored the tension between retaining and relinquishing control over timbre and musical processes. This is particularly true of feedback and random voltages that Johnson used. The result was beautiful low-frequency drones with complex textures layered on top.

[Chuck Johnson. Photo:]

I also found myself focused on his suitcase-based analog setup, similar at least in appearance to what I have been using of late.

The next set featured James Fei using a large speaker, in particular an Altec 604, as a musical instrument in its own right.

[James Fei and Altec 604. Photo:]

The large speaker, which is a model that has existed since the 1940s, is visually impressive. And the dramatic movements of its driver in response to the low and mixed frequency analog sound sources was a central aspect of the performance. Through his mixture of subtle long tones and more pointed elements, Fei seemed to imbue the speaker with a personality, expressing itself with motion and sound. It was fun to watch. As a purely sonic experience, the elements were simple, though not as minimalist as the piece’s title Sine of Merit would suggest.

The final set of the concert and of the festival featured a collaboration of Peter Conheim of Negativeland and Jon Leidecker (aka Wobbly) appropriately called Negativewobblyland. They were joined for this performance by Don Joyce.

[Negativewobblyland. Photo:]

Their performance, titled Booper Variations No. 18 and featured sounds and techniques based on Boopers, which were “analog feedback instruments created entirely from salvaged radio and amplifier parts.” Although the modern reinterpretation used samples and delays as forms of feedback, the music was based on the principles of the original Boopers. The result of sampling and feedback was a complex and varied array of electronic sounds and felt like a swiftly moving history of electronic music in a single set. The energy of the trio carried the music forward for the entire duration.

Overall, this year’s SFEMF included several strong nights of music, and each of the nights was quite well attended. Additionally, there was a concurrent gallery exhibition, which I will review in the final installment of the series.