Today we look back at a busy Thursday back in November. In the early evening, after spending the afternoon with the folks at Smule busking around San Francisco with the newly released Magic Fiddle, I met up with members of the Cornelius Cardew Choir at the Powell BART station to perform several pieces for voice, motion and interaction with the environment.
We performed two pieces by Bob Marsh and Tom Bickley, respectively, in the sunken plaza next to the station. Both pieces were very meditative, even as one moved about the plaza, and the relatively soft and sparse nature allowed one to also listen to sounds of the city as the evening commute tapered off. A few onlookers stopped to see what we were doing and listen in, but mostly we were on our own. We then began a piece by Rachel Wood-Rome that combined live voice with prerecorded material. However, as we were bat to start, a rather enthusiastic individual came over and asked to sing with us and forthwith began his rendition of “The Love I Lost”, a minor disco hit by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. As if on cue, at the end of his song a young man on a skateboard wiped out at the base of the staircase. I wish I had captured this moment on film. We then continued with our performance, in which four participants listened to pre-recorded material on iPods and headphones and then sang their parts for the others to follow.
Later on, several of us made our way to the Luggage Store Gallery for Outsound’s Soundspeak Series, a “series presenting pairings of sound and voice artists.”
The first set featured Hugh Behm-Steinberg with Matt Davignon. Rather than just a recitation of poetry with music, the performance featured both live voice and pre-recorded readings that we played back in combination with live electronic sounds. The first piece, “Sea Monster”, featured electronic sounds by Davignon that sounded very aquatic, like wind and waves. Behm-Steinberg’s pre-recorded spoken lines were separated with large spaces in which to hear the other material. Various loud metallic sounds emerged as the words become more fragmented. Eventually, the words seemed to disintegrate completely and were obscured by harsh resonances from the electronics. Overall, however, the piece maintained an undulating motion. A couple of lines from the text that stuck with me were “to be a girl in her 50s shoes” and “Don’t pay attention to modern literature.”
[Hugh Behm-Steinberg and Matt Davignon.]
The next piece began with metallic sounds that were almost FM-like in timbre, and the texture of the music was more choppy with individual events. The words started out more fragmented as well, and were rendered with a variety of voice qualities. Not only differences in tone, but differences in spatial perception as sometimes the voice seemed more distant. The electronic sounds became more liquidy sounds came in against percussive sounds, and gradually became more “gargly”. The voice began to shift pitches, up and down, against bits of liquidy bells. More glitch noises emerged, and words spread further out to the point of a single word per timbral event. I remember something about “fish bodies”.
The final piece, “Teeth”, was more of a monologue and quite humorous. It began with the line “Suppose you see a tooth” set against very percussive music reminiscent of tablas and other South Asian drums, played more in clusters than continuous rhythmic patterns. The imagery of the text was quite vivid, describing “infinite amounts of teeth” as the drums became more electronic. The text moved on to other topics, but then came back to teeth. As the piece continued on, more layers of electronic percussion emerged, however, the rhythm remained focused on clusters.
The second set featured Rent Romus on saxophone and electronics with CJ Borosque reciting poems from her new blog The Cloud Journals. One piece, “Love is a needle in the ass” was quite memorable both for some of the lines in the poem such as “white is the color of death and evil” and “the drum circle was fun, though” and its combination with Romus’ lively saxophone improvisation and live cassette-player performance.
The next piece “American Hunger”…or “Staving off Hunger (an American Diatribe)” dealt with issues around both hunger and consumption and how one can be both consuming massive amounts of food and other resources while still being “hungry” in some way. The line “where’s my beer” in the middle of the diatribe particularly stuck out for me, perhaps how it was set against the music. Sonically, the music featured warbling tones and chirping, glitches and loops, and effects from a Line 6 variable delay.
The piece “roads and wishes” featured the particularly memorable line “season to season, jam session to jam session” which resonated with me as a musician and as someone who has been quite busy with a great many things in these past few seasons. The poem was set against a variety of string tones: pedaled strings, bending blue tones, and others, and then gave way to more flute tones. The final piece “what if the world ended” featured more saxophone performance and string tones. And while these were not the final lines of the poem, they did once again connect to music and to being at the performance: Music is your muse, I am your butterfly, And your dragonfly, And your sword.