Readers may recall that when I was in New York last November, I performed at TheaterLab in an evening organized by Robert L Pepper of PAS, and that he also joined me for an improvised electro-acoustic piece. I had the chance to return the favor when he and Amber Brien came to San Francisco as a duo Pas Musique and I hosted them at our regular Outsound Thursday-night series at the Luggage Store Gallery.
Pas Musique arrived with quite an array of electronic and acoustic instruments and sound-making devices including analog synthesizers, a looper, a garrahand (a beautiful resonant metal drum from from Argentina), and an inflatable dinosaur.
With these tools, they crafted an incredible performance of captivating rhythmic patterns overlaid with rich timbres. Even elements such as feedback and the dinosaur were seamlessly incorporated into the overall musical structure and themselves became rhythmic. Many of the electronically processed sounds have a very natural quality to them, which fit nicely with the garrahand sounds. You can get a sense of these elements in the following video from the performance:
Another thing that is also quite apparent in this video is that it was incredibly windy in San Francisco that day, especially along Market Street. On one hand, the wind fit well with some of the more chaotic sounds in Pas Musique’s performance, and at the same time the relative order within their music provided a calming contrast. Musically, there were quite a few transitions, including more purely electronic sections with distortion, delays and vocoders, grounding mechanical sounds, and bells. Some points were quite meditative, others dramatic. Throughout, I was particularly taken with the musicality and sense of harmony and rhythm. This excerpt once again features the garrahand, along with looped electronics and a small flute.
Towards the end of the set, the music became more frenetic with more intense vocal work by Pepper and a percussive performance on a metal ladder by Brien. After being out of time from one another, the rhythms converged into a forceful, eerie loop. This eventually gave way to more electronic robot-like sounds. As a finale, the air was let out of the dinosaur with the sound picked up and processed by microphones. This was set against a swing rhythm, ultimately ending in a loud thud.
Pas Musique were preceded by Oluyemi Thomas and Ike Levin as a free-improvisation duo. With saxophone and clarinet and handful of percussion instruments, their source material and texture was far more sparse. They began with Thomas performing long resonant gong tones and pattenrs on shakers against Levin on saxophone. Thomas then switched to bass clarinet and thus began an extended wind improvisation with high raspy saxophone tones and intricately wobbling clarinet sounds. At moments, it got quite loud (including a humorous synchronicity with honking instruments and honking horns outside on Market Street) but ultimately gave way to softer repeated notes and then breath sounds.
After a section in which Thomas returned to percussion while dancing in very slow deliberate almost ritualistic patterns, the two switched instruments with Levin on bass clarinet and Thomas on saxophone. There were loud tones, key clicks, and a jazz-like riff that gave way to scat singing. Each musician performed a solo on his respective wind instrument and then combined again in a duet moved from percussive to melodic and jazz like, at first forceful then softly rhythmical. It was ultimately a very warm and intimate performance.
Overall, it was a great show that I was happy to have curated. This is something I have been doing occasionally for the Luggage Store new-music series but I hope to do more frequently in the future.