Y2K12 Live Looping Festival in San Francisco

For the past few years, the annual Live Looping Festival, which primarily takes place in Santa Cruz, California, co-hosts an opening-night performance in San Francisco with Outsound Presents at the Luggage Store Gallery. This year was no exception, with visiting artists coming from afar and braving the large flying piƱatas on display in the gallery that evening.

The show opened with a solo performance by Philipp Zurcher, who was attending the festival from Switzerland. His set opened with dark and subtle tones on guitar and effects, and very little overt looping. The music remained sparse for a while, but eventually started to build up into a thicker texture as the loops came to the forefront.

[Philipp Zurcher.]

While Zurcher’s performance was subtle and sparse, the next set by Krispen Hartung and Aaron Davis from Boise, Idaho went in the opposite direction. Davis played fast runs and driving chords and rhythms on keyboard while the pair layered electronics and loops in a loud and intense rhythmic texture that they sustained for the duration of the set. There were moments where things grew a bit software which allowed Davis’ keyboard performance to come to the forefront, but overall it was a full-on barrage of electronic beats and semi-rhythmic long tones that enveloped the space and the audience.

[Krispen Hartung and Aaron Davis]

The final set featured Italian ” sound-sculptor” Luca Formentini. At first glance, he appeared to be another looper-guitarist, but that label sells his highly virtuosic and narrative music short. His guitar sounded other-wordly, aided by the fact that his performance was largely without any light. The dark, tense and melancholy tones were augmented by electronics and more complex loops layered with a mixture of effects. There were sounds that mimicked natural elements, such as water, fire and even sound evocative of cats. Rather than simply building up layers of sound, he adeptly added and removed the layers to forward an abstract narrative – one had the sense of a movie with something beautiful but tragic was about to happen. Overall, it was an impressive performance.

Overall, it was a good show, with a small but appreciative audience. The festival moved back to Santa Cruz after this opening performance. I was not able to attend any of the subsequent events, but glad I saw these artists on this night in San Francisco.

The Experimental Side of the Y2K-X Live Looping Festival

I have participated in the main Live Looping Festival in Santa Cruz in past years, but this is actually the first time I have attended the satellite event co-produced with Outsound at the Luggage Store Gallery. The performance, and the rest of the festival, took place in mid October.

The evening opened with a solo set by Chris Rainier on guitar. He began with some interesting and rather harsh sounds that through the looping processing grew into minor harmonies. On top of these loops, he layered more percussive, piano-like sounds and then a low bowed tone. The texture gradually got thicker, as often happens in looped music. The next layers of sound featured slide guitar effects reminiscent of old 1960s psychedelic recordings or old sci-fi sound tracks, and a harsh ebow sound that ultimately resolved to a consonance. Overall, Rainier’s performance had a quality reminiscent of a film or an old radio program – but without an overarching plot structure so one could easily get lost in the music (which is a good thing). He was also quite technically adept, switching quickly among several effects as well as guitar techniques.

[Chris Rainer. Photo: PeterBKaars.com]

The next set featured Krispen Hartung on guitar with Rent Romus on saxophone. The performance at first focused entirely on the pairing of the instruments acoustically (I sometimes count electric guitar as an “acoustic instrument”). Indeed the presence of the looping was very subtle at first. Romus’ saxophone runs matched and complemented Hartung’s atonal harmonies on the guitar. Then at times, the music switched into a more tonal and relaxed state reminiscent of older “cool jazz” performances. Here, the sampled loops become more apparent, as the jazz-like sounds were played back out of their original meter and sounding as if off in the distance. The music become quite intricate, with lots of percussive and staccato notes, and moving back and forth between extremely active and extremely sparse moments. The was a splattering of electronic sounds, but still mostly the original instruments, moving into more anxious dissonant harmonies before resolving back into more tonal jazz.

[Rent Romus and Krispen Hartung. Photo: PeterBKaars.com]

In addition to his own musical pursuits, Hartung runs the Boise Experimental Music Festival, which I should attend next time it comes around!

The final set featured Andreas Willers on guitar with guest collaborator Phillip Greenlief on saxophone. It interesting how all three sets featured guitar, and two of three featured guitar-and-saxophone duos (and for more symmetry, in each case it was an out-of-town guitarist paired with a local saxophonist). The set began with shaking and spinning strings, and a whistling sound. Greenlief entered by scraping a mouthpiece cover on the side of the side of his saxophone, and then blowing into the instrument itself without a mouthpiece. The sounds from the guitar were very soft, set against percussive wind sounds on the sax. The loops were quite short, and I did not notice them at first and then only as ambient sounds from the speakers. Gradually, the music become more intense, with lots of extended technique sounds on both instruments. Willers moved from playing the strings with objects to more standard but percussive guitar techniques, with a squeaking saxophone mouthpiece set against perfect forths. The next section had a very rhythmic, almost Flemenco, quality to it, followed by moments of unison between the two instruments where they seemed to stay together even through microtones.

[Andreas Willers and Phillip Greenlief. Photo: PeterBKaars.com]

The second piece began with Willers’ excellent virtuosic guitar playing against Greenlief’s performance whistle tones on the saxophone. This gave way to heavily distorted guitar set against microtonal saxophone notes. Through the looping process, subtle warbling tones were built up into a much larger and richer texture. Then, in the midst of a rather quiet section, Greenlief startled me (and several other audience members) with a rather loud POP! Indeed, the remainder of the piece was quite playful, with key effects and other techniques, and distortion guitar, all processed and represented via looping.