Today we look back at last week’s show at Canessa Gallery in San Francisco, featuring Elliott Sharp, Tania Chen + Wobbly, and Euphotic. This show was the subject of CatSynth TV Episode 8, and you can see and hear a bit of each set.
We were quite pleased to see Elliott Sharp. We saw him back in the 1990s, but it’s been a while since he made it to the Bay Area.
He has a unique and idiosyncratic sound, with fast runs, harmonics, and extended techniques, along with electronics. The electronics, which appeared to include some looping, sampling, and delay, did not overpower his guitar playing, and the individual gestures, from frenetic fingerpicking to expressive scratches, came through strongly. Although his style is unusual, it is still quite melodic and harmonic, something that comes out particularly in a solo-performance setting.
The evening opened with Euphotic, a trio project featuring Tom Djll (electronics, trumpet), Cheryl Leonard (instruments from natural found objects) and Bryan Day (invented instruments).
The sound was subtle and detailed, with a lot of short sounds clustering like schools of fish. Djll’s electronics bridged the space between Cheryl Leonard’s organic sounds and Bryan Day’s more chiseled electro-acoustic creations. There was also a quality in Day’s performance that foreshadowed Elliott Sharp’s sound and style later in the evening.
Euphotic was followed by a duo featuring Tania Chen on electronics, voice and found objects, with Wobbly (aka Jon Leidecker) on electronics. He had an array of iPads linked together.
The performance centered around “Feasibility Study”, an episode of the television show Outer Limits, slowed down beyond recognition. Chen’s vocals and found-object performance featured material and ideas from the episode, including chomping on biscuits and pop rocks to represent the rock-like aliens in the video. She also performed a melodic section on an iPad, which complemented Leidecker’s complex electronic processing. His sounds were slower and more undulating, providing an eerie setting for the overall performance.
We had a great time at this show, as did the rest of the audience that filled Canessa Gallery to capacity. We look forward to more interesting music from these artists and from this venue. And thanks to Bryan Day for continuing to host this series.
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.