Outsound New Music Summit: Jill Burton Trio, Obstreperous Doves, Emergency String (X)tet

The 2014 Outsound New Music Summit concluded with a night of improvising ensembles, including a couple of very memorable performances.

The evening being with the Obstreperous Doves, a project by Bill Noertker that brought together Nava Dunkelman, Christina Stanley, Karl Evangelista, and Dave Mihaly in an exploration of assertive and complex improvisation.

[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

[Photos by Michael Zelner]

Besides giving us a chance to use the word “obstreperous” – and it is indeed a fine word – the ensemble allowed the talents of all five artists to blend while still letting them each have a voice. Christina Stanley provided noisy and harmonic violin sounds as well as her voice, including a strange but amusing story layered on top of pieces. Nava Dunkelman offered up a wealth of percussive sounds that also sang at times. Karl Evangelista was in usual form with his intense and intricate guitar playing. The group lived up to its name with lots of noisy percussive sections, but also moments of more harmonic jazz phrases, and quiet instances as well.

The Obstreperous Doves were followed by the Bob Marsh’s ensemble the Emergency String (X)tet. They premiered a Terrascore by Marsh composed for his 70th birthday.

[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

A terrascore is “a musical geobiographic representation of an individual.” In this case it focused on locations significant to Marsh’s artistic life: his home town of Detroit, Chicago, Berkeley and San Francisco. The ensemble improvised with Marsh conducting from a score based on geographical information from these places, along with field recordings that he made. I’m pretty sure I recognized the one that represented the area around the Luggage Store Gallery in San Francisco. The other members of the ensemble included Mia Bella D’Augelli, Jeff Hobbs,
Christina Stanley (pulling double-duty on this night), David Michalak, Doug Carroll, and Kanoko Nishi-Smith.

The final performance was a trio that brought together vocalist Jill Burton with Tim Perkis on electronics and Doug Carroll (also pulling double-duty) on cello. This was a first-time collaboration by the three of them. The result very captivating performance. It started with a very mysterious and haunting solo by Jill Burton, who then demonstrated the range of her extended vocal techniques blending with Perkis’ liquidy electronic sounds and Carroll’s scratchy percussive cello. It was also a theatrical performance, with expressive gestures and movement by Burton coupled with Carroll’s cello antics, sometimes turning the instrument backwards or upside down. But all along with a sonically beautiful and varied experience, that contained the right amount of silence amidst the energy of the sounds.

[Photo by Michael Zelnzer]

[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

It was a very strong finale to this year’s summit, and it was interesting to compare and contrast the book ends of the Jill Burton trio with Pitta of the Mind from the opening. It was probably among the best years overall since I started attending this event in 2008; and I look forward to what comes next year.

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.