San Francisco Electronic Music Festival (SFEMF), Part 2

Last week, I presented the opening night show of the San Francisco Electronic Music Festival at SFMOMA. Today we look back at the September 10 installment of SFEMF, which took place at the Brava Theater.

It was a busy Saturday evening of art and music, but after a trip through three neighborhoods on our illustrious public transportation system and chatting with several friends on the way in, I was still able to get a perfect seat in the center of the theater for the full immersive experience. As I often do these days, I was live-tweeting between sets with hashtag #SFEMF to share with a wider community both in the theater and beyond.

The concert opened with a tribute to Max Mathews presented by Marielle Jakobsons. Mathews is considered to be the “father of computer music” and his career spanned over five decades and continued up until the last days before he passed away earlier this year. The tribute brought together the technologies that Mathews pioneered and his love of classical music. It began with a recording of his 1971 piece Improvisations for Olympiad, set against images of Mathews’ long career and time with family and friends. In the piece, one can hear how far computer-music technology had advanced since the 1950s, in large part do to his own work (though it still hard to fathom that the piece was done using punch cards). The photos demonstrated how much he was loved by the community around him – many featured familiar faces from CCRMA at Stanford, where he had most recently worked.

[Diane Douglass and Marielle Jakobsons. Photo:]

Jakobsons then presented a personal tribute in the form of a new piece, Theme and Variations on Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 4 For Violin and Phaser Filters. Jakobsons had worked with Mathews on his Phaser Filters, a technology for live performance based on tuned resonances. With Diane Douglass on computer, Jakobsons performed on violin, with the familiar classical sounds blending seamlessly with the rich sounds from the filter technology.

Next up was Area C, a project of Erik J. Carlson. Carlson’s performance featured live looping of electric guitar and a variety of analog and digital effects, which were output via two guitar amps.

[Area C. Photo:]

Although the piece unfolded as a series of loops of small melodic and rhythmic figures on the guitar that were processed and re-looped, the overall texture of the music gave the impression of an ever evolving drone, not unlike something we might do at the Droneshift but with less strict rules and more opportunity for bits of texture to emerge.

After an intermission, the concert resumed with 0th, a “collective of four female artists, Jacqueline Gordon, Amanda Warner, Canner Mefe, and Caryl Kientz” presenting a live-performance piece Deep Blue Space: Factories and Forests. The performers were scattered at the edges of the stage, with a large lit hemisphere in the center, and an array of base drums in front. Behind them, a large video was projected. Additional unnamed performers beyond the quartet contributed to the dance elements. Costuming was also an important part of the piece, with interesting outfits and one performer sporting a pyramid-shaped hat.

[Setting up for 0th. Big bubble in the middle stage. And bass drums in front. #sfemf ]

Their performance was based on a fictional story that followed the exploits of the chess-playing supercomputer Deep Blue on a satellite that leaves Earth orbit and heads to the asteroid belt. The performance unfolded with a series of very punctuated sounds set against very deliberate motions with frequent pauses. The overall effect was mechanized and robotic, enhanced by the industrial imagery in the video. This was of course appropriate given the theme of machines in the underlying story.

[0th. Photo:]

Towards the end of the piece, several of the performers moved into place at the front of the stage, each behind one of the base drums and they began to strike the pedals in unison, a loud stream of slow rhythmic thumps against the electronic sounds spread in the background.

The final performance featured a collaboration by Yoshi Wada and Tashi Wada on a piece entitled Frequency Responses: 2011. The piece explored the interactions of the timbres of a variety of instruments and devices that can sustain long tones, such as a bagpipe, sirens, and old analog oscillators. It begin with jarring sound of an alarm bell but quickly settled into a steady state with an ever changing combination of sounds and instruments. Yoshi Wada, a veteran of Fluxus, frequently played the bagpipe during the piece. Tashi Wada remained behind the main table focused on a variety of electronic elements.

[Yoshi Wada and Tashi Wada. Photo:]

The equipment and overall texture of the piece evoked the early experiments in electronic music, and brought the concert full circle from its starting point with the tribute to Max Mathews. Although the interaction of the timbres could sometimes be rather intense, the focus on this element and listening for beating patterns on other details was quite meditative.

I think my live tweet “An exploration of very long tones ends in a major harmony #sfemf” is a fitting end for this review. Overall another strong concert.

2009 APAture Festival: Opening and Gallery Exhibition

The two-week APAture festival began last Wednesday with a kick-off event at Goforaloop Gallery. The APAture (Asian Pacific American) festival showcases the work of Asian American artists and is produced by the Kearny Street Workshop, who also co-produced the Present Tense Biennial exhibit, and runs from September 16 through September 26. This article focuses on the visual-art exhibition at the gallery. (You can read about the festival’s music night in a separate article.)

There was no single theme or thread that connected all the works, except for the connection to Asian-Pacific American culture either through authorship or influence. However, it was possible to piece together trends such as identity (or various forms of Asian identity) and the relationship of art and technology.

[Heroes, Martyrs, Legends by Taraneh Hemami. Click image to enlarge.]

Heroes, martyrs, legends by featured artist Taraneh Hemami presented images of students and activists who were executed before, during and after the 1979 Iranian Revolution. The images were created in beads from photos on Internet sites. The beads give these portraits a very grainy quality, which mirrors the pixels found in low-resolution online images. This piece is simultaneously a document of historical people and events, a tribute to activism, and a representation of a technological phenomenon with traditional materials.

Jacqueline Gordon’s Black Matters was interesting as a set abstract objects with a sonic element. The piece consisted of two large black surfaces composed of fabric, and whose shapes were inspired by mandalas. From Gordon’s website, I learned that the speakers are “inked through amplifiers to sine wave oscillators and play a composition of binaural tones.” It was, however, difficult to hear the sounds during the opening reception, with the noises from conversations, the karaoke booth, and such. Fortunately, when I revisited the gallery I was able to get the full experience. There were multiple sine wave oscillators which produced chords that gradually changed over time. Pitches and amplitudes shifted, faded in and out, and when the frequencies got close enough one could hear the beating effects. The oscillators were generally quite stable, but did exhibit minor variations which I found quite interesting.

[Black Matters by Jacqueline Gordon. Click image to enlarge.]

Nearby was Natives and invaders! a large mix-media piece placed directly on the walls of the gallery by artists Natalia Nakazawa and Stephanie Mansolf:

[Natives and invaders! by Natalia Nakazawa
and Stephanie Mansolf. Click image to enlarge.

Raised elements of wood, string and other materials pop out from the painted wall in a variety of both geometric and natural shapes. This was one of the more abstract works in the show, and one that I would consider “modernist.” I particular liked its placement next to Black Matters, as the shapes and textures seemed to fit together.

Another work that fused art and technology was a pair of graceful and delicate constructions by Joanne Hashitani made of wires, sticks, LEDs and other natural and artificial materials. They occupied very little space, both in terms of their overall extent and the thinness of the elements, but they nonetheless caught my attention and were among of favorite pieces in the show.

[Untitled by Joanne Hashitani. Click image to enlarge.]

The abstract shapes, which were very linear, but not particularly “angular” seem very natural and ethereal, but at the same time the LEDs and wires make it very modern and technological. They could blend subtly into the wall, which is perhaps the direction that modern technology is taking. From Hashitani’s artist’s statement:

The effects of light alternately make pieces appear and disappear, while moments later they might create a web of shadows. Air currents cause pieces to sway back and forth. Together with the ambiguity of the space and the shifts in scale, I hope this allows the work to reveal itself slowly.

Warren Jee takes a less subtle look at technology with Bug Robot, a life-size humanoid robot with a very “boxy” 1960s/1970s appearance. In the middle of its torso is another, smaller, humanoid robot. This was not an infinite regress, just two levels of “robot inside robot”.

[Bug Robot by Warren Jee. Click image to enlarge.]

Jee’s biography for the exhibition discusses how popular culture recognizes robots as or lacking emotion and other ‘human’ qualities”. Yet in this robots one recognizes all the basic signs of humanity that one recognizes in representations of humans in primitive art. I personally have a soft spot for robots, and the imagined future with humanoid robots that never happened.

The combination of technology and Asian identity was explored in Hui-Ying Tsai’s video and mixed-media installation Who R U. Two video screens, decorated with flowers a large stuffed rabbit, depicted the artist presenting her body in various, poses, motions and frames of reference, with a particular focus on hair (her own and a wig with exaggerated straight black hair). From her statement: “Through repetitive self-deconstruction and re-construction in this video, the contradiction of fitting myself in the stereotype beauty, and at the same time, resisting become the fetishistic object creates a dialogue between my objectized self and my self-awareness.”

Charlene Tan’s Eat Me, I’m Asian was a very playful and very literal take on Asian identity. Like her Cornucopia from the Present Tense Biennial, it featured photocopied replicas of commercial food packaging, this time arranged as a shelf in a grocery store, perhaps from the aisle that carries Asian or other “ethnic foods.” Among the items were various Happy Panda products, and a box of soup base with a cartoon fish (yes, I like cartoon fish).

Sandra Ono’s conceptual works combined seemingly natural and surreal elements. She presents a surface that is at once completely artificial made of fabricated cells, but seems so much like wine grapes or other natural (and edible) objects that one wants to reach out and touch it. Indeed, it seemed to be one of the more popular pieces in the show, with groups gathering around it. Ono’s other work Leak could easily be missed if one did not look down at the solidified puddle of black tar that seemed to be seeping out from under one of the walls.

The Kearny Street Workshop blog has a behind the scenes article that includes additional background and some images of the artists installing their works.

A few additional pieces that caught my attention: Raymond Wong presented a pair of photo-realistic paintings entitled 40:22 based on still images captured motion pictures. Lordy Rodriguez presents a fictionalized map of Wyoming with territories out of place and marked by varying types of ownership (part of his States of America series). Thalia When’s meticulously created You can’t have my soul but everything else is free features an array of hand-drawn faces and stories for each.

The opening night of course featured drinks and music. While the main musical attraction for many attendees was the karaoke booth, I was more drawn to the occasional tracks of long-forgotten 1970s Asian pop being played by DJ Victor Chu. I wish I could find some of these albums myself.

The APAture festival continues this coming Wednesday (September 23). Visit the official website for program details.