Flip Quartet performance at Book Zoo, July 17

Last Friday, I performed at Book Zoo in Oakland. To start off the evening, I did a solo set, which was followed by a performance of Polly Moller’s The Flip Quartet.

Book Zoo itself was an interesting space, with high ceilings and bookshelves. For a space of this size, we had a decent turn-out as well.

This was the first time in quite a while that I did not use any software components as part of a solo set. The performance centered around the Line6 DL4 for looping and various delay effects. I made extensive use of the analog-delay simulation for echoes and feedback, with various wood blocks, gongs and the ektar as source material.


[Photograph by Jennifer Chu. Click to enlarge]

Of course, the Kaos Pad, DSI Evolver and E-MU Proteus 2000 were also used as electronic sound sources. I also included several beat-based elements, both from hand-drumming and from the sequences are the Evolver and the Proteus 2K, which were matched both rhythmically and arhythmically against the delay lines. Overall, it was not the tightest solo set I have done, but it worked and seemed to be well received by the audience, and stylistically it was a good lead-in to the Flip Quartet.

I had seen a recent performance of the Flip Quartet, and this performance followed the same structure and format, but with different performers. In addition to myself, there was Moe! Staiano, Suki O’Kane and Travis Johns.


[Photographs by Jennifer Chu.]

Basically, the Flip Quartet is a composition for four improvisers who move between four stations representing the cardinal directions (north, east, south, west) and the four medieval elements: earth, air, fire, water. Each station had a variety of instruments and sound-making objects to represent elements. Each performer has a three minute timer. The timers are synchronized, and when the three minutes are up, everyone moves to the next station. We rotate around all four stations twice.

The “fire” table, which included metal and electronic items, was the most populated, with the water table (liquids, strings) having the fewest items. However, Moe! did bring an interesting old string instrument. It was wooden, had four strings and piano-like keys for striking the strings. It was not an auto-harp, it was definitely something else – and it was the main instrument I played during my trips to the water station.

Another interesting addition was the box of worms that Travis Johns contributed to the earth station – the earth station mostly features drums and wooden objects. The worms, were in a box with dirt and vegetable manner, and the box was equipped with a contact microphone that could pick up audible signals from the worms that could then be interpreted musically by the performer.

Musically, this was very different from the previous interpretation of the Flip Quartet, a combination of the musicians involved, the objects available, and the setting. There were some cool moments, where two or more performers together make a musical phrase or pattern emerge from within the overall improvisation – that is something I am always looking for.

Pmocatat Ensemble and Ivy Room Experimental/Improv Hootenany

OK, so I have been delinquent in reviewing some of own recent shows. I was hoping to find photos, but so far I have not found any. It does happen once in a while even in this hyper-photographic society. In fairness, I have taken photos at many shows I attend, but then find out they were not good enough to post. So, we will just go ahead and use our visual imagination.


Two weeks ago, on the day I returned from China, I participated in Pmocatat Ensemble. From the official announcement:

The Pmocatat Ensemble records the sounds of their instruments onto various forms of consumer-ready media. (Pmocatat stands for “prerecorded music on cds and tapes and things”.) Then, they improvise using only the recorded media. Several different pieces will explore both the different arrangements of recorded instruments and the sound modulation possibilities of the different recording media.

In my case, my pre-recorded media was digital audio played on an iPhone. I used recordings of my Indian and Chinese folk instruments, and I “played” by using the start, stop, forward, rewind, and scrubbing operations.

Other members included Matt Davignon, James Goode, John Hanes, Suki O’Kane, Sarah Stiles, Rent Romus, C. P. Wilsea and Michael Zelner.

Matt Davignon, who organized the ensemble, had composed some pieces which provided much needed structure and avoid a “mush” of pre-recorded sound. Some portions were solos or duos, with various other members of the ensemble coming in and out according to cues. This allowed for quite a variety of texture and musicianship. I definitely hope the Pmocatat Ensemble continues to the perform.


The following Monday, March 16, I curated a set at the Ivy Room Experimental/Improv Hootenany with Polly Moller and Michael Zbyszynski. I know Polly and Michael from completely different contexts, so it was interesting to hear how that would work together. Michael played baritone sax and Polly performed new words as well as flute and finger cymbals. I played my newly acquired Chinese instruments, the looping Open Sound World patch I often use, and a Korg Kaos Pad.

Musically, it was one of those sets that just worked. I was able to sample and loop Polly’s extended flute techniques into binary and syncopated rhythms, over which the trio could improvise. Periodically, I changed the loops, sometimes purposely to something arhythmic to provide breathing space. Michael’s baritone sax filled out the lower register against the flute and percussion.

We got some good reviews from our friends in the Bay Area New Music community. The following comments are from Suki O’Kane (with whom I played in the Pmocatat ensemble):

Amar had been dovetailing, in true hoot fashion, into Slusser using a small
digitally-controlled, u know, like analog digit as in finger, that totally
appeared to me to be the big red shiny candy button of the outer space ren.
The important part is that he was artful and listening, and then artful
some more. Polly Moller on vocals and flute, text and tones, which had a
brittle energy and a persistent comet trail of danger.

The “big red shiny candy button of the outer space ren” was undoubtedly the Korg mini-Kaos Pad.

And from David Slusser, whom I “had been dovetailing”:

Amar’s curation seemed like a well orchestrated composition; Polly’s contribution on voice and flutes adding much to that.

Not bad for a birthday show :).