Ambient-Chaos, Ode To Steengo (Amanda Chaudhary / Polly Moller), Spectrum, New York

This past week Polly Moller and I brought our duo Ode to Steengo to Spectrum in New York, part of a rich night of experimental acoustic and electronic music in the Ambient-Chaos series.

The evening began with an acoustic brass duo featuring Torben Snekkestad on trumpet with David Whitwell on trombone.

20141124-IMG_2936

The two engaged in a very musical exploration of the extended timbres of these instruments. Indeed, I was quite captivated by the sounds of Whitwell’s drones and multiphonics, which sounded more like my Minimoog than a concert brass instrument. His use of a single-reed mouthpiece within the trombone’s mouthpiece was likely part of how he achieved these sounds. The pair also included sections with percussive pops and very quiet tones.

The duo was followed by the Jazzfakers, featuring Robbert Pepper on violin and electronics, David Tamura on saxophone and electronics, Raphael Zwyer on bass and Steve Orbach on drums.

20141124-IMG_2942

Before they start playing, they look like they could be a conventional jazz quartet, but once they start one realizes they are anything but that. Their energetic performance flowed between free improvisation, electronic noise, and more familiar rhythmic and harmonic hooks. What started as a thick noise drone quickly moved to frenetic fast-moving notes from all four performers, and then hit textures in between. They are also a lot of fun to watch.

And then it was time for us to take the stage. Ode to Steengo is a piece based on spoetry (spam poetry) derived from Harry Harrison’s “Stainless Steel Rat” series. Polly Moller and I performed it several times as an electro-acoustic duo in 2008 and 2009, and then later in our band Reconnaissance Fly. We have since reprised the piece as a duo a few times. We jokingly called this version “Steengo takes Manhattan.”

10392445_10204789108581638_9154337595228654938_n
[Photo by BC]

This performance was quite sparse, both in comparison to previous instances and to the Jazzfakers’ set that preceded us. But we were able to get quite a few interesting textures, some liquidy sounds from the analog modular controlled by the Moog Theremini, Polly’s flute and chanter, and a bit of live processing with a rather temperamental analog filter. As always, we try to bring a bit of wit and irreverence to our experimental music. You can here our full performance on this video.

Amanda Polly duo at Spetrum, 11-24-2014 from CatSynth on Vimeo.

Overall, it went well. We had a great time performing and we received a warm response from our New York audience.

We were followed by alphamale, a solo electronic-and-viola project.

20141124-IMG_2949

Her set started off as a thick drone of electronics. After a time, she began to incorporate the viola as well. Overall the texture remained one of long tones and ambient sounds. It was once again a contrast to our set and the others that preceded us, and quite pretty to listen to. At times it had a dark sound – it is hard to discern if the melancholy was truly in the sound or part of a built-in set of expectations around the viola. Nonetheless, it was nice to see someone using this instrument in a solo electronic setting.

The final set of the evening featured Rawmean, another solo set, this time with guitar and electronics.

20141124-IMG_2953

Very quickly, it was clear that this was more of a beat-and-grove set, with thick layers of guitar. The guitar work was interesting in that he was doing quick staccato motions but producing thick droning chord pads via the connected effects. The grooves and rhythmic patterns were fun, veering between straight 4/4 rhythms and the occasional odd times. Overall, the texture did remain quite constant, with a steady stream of beats that periodically changed. As I sometimes have suggested in these reviews, some sets that contain otherwise engaging material are better when shorter, and I think this was one of those instances.

Five sets in an evening is a lot, but overall we kept things moving. We had a good turnout for the first three sets, with a bit tapering off for the last two. But it was a diverse and rewarding evening of new music, and we were grateful to be a part of it. Thanks to my friends Robert Pepper (PAS) and Mike Durek (The Use) for putting this show together, and as always to Glenn Cornett of Spectrum for providing this venue for new and visiting avant-garde musicians.

Wordless Wednesday: Luna, Moog Theremini, and Minimoog

20141116-IMG_2831

Outsound New Music Summit: PoetryFreqs

The concert series of the Pitta of the Mind, my duo with Maw Shein Win got things going with a set of poetry and electronic music on the themes of abstract art and cinematic distance. Our color theme for the evening was red and black.

Pitta of the Mind at Outsound Music Summit
[Photo by Annabelle Port.]

It was our longest set to date, but also our best so far, with a variety of sounds to match the words and tight transitions between poems. It was also the most complex technically, with the Prophet 12, analog modular, Moog Theremini, iPad, and Nord Stage EX all running at once.

Amanda Chaudhary
[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

Maw Shein Win
[Photo by Annabelle Port.]

We performed confidently and playfully and we got a great audience response. And the color theme went well with the blue set and lighting courtesy Travin McKain.

We were followed by first-ever performance by Ruth Weiss, one of the original Beat poets, with master analog synthesizer artist Doug Lynner as well as Hal Davis on log.

Doug Lynner, Ruth Weiss, Hal Davis
[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

Log may seem like an odd instrumentation, but Davis made it work well with Ruth Weiss’ recitations, and Lynner managed to create sounds on the Mystery Serge modular that sometimes mimicked the percussive resonance of the log and at other times complimented it with more lush tones. He was also able to hit loud or noisy moments in between the words. Ruth Weiss was sharp and witty in her readings, moving from her work in the 1950s and 1960s to more recent compositions. Although the trio had only met once before, they seemed very comfortable performing together and it made for a fun and exciting set. This was something that will likely never be repeated, so we were privileged to have witnessed it.

The final set brought together Zachary James Watkins on electronics and Marshall Trammell on percussion with poet and voice artist Amber McZeal.

A99-08899
Gx7-1170638Gx7-1170601
[Photos: PeterBKaars.com.]

The music began slowly, with calm but textured percussion and electronic sounds combined with McZeal on didgeridoo. The drone built up to more intense textures, with noise and thick electronics, Trammell’s intense drumming, and McZeal’s voice, which was at times beautiful and melodic singing, and other times dramatic and confident speech. The text for this set was very sparse compared to the previous sets, more like a third instrument than poetry set to music.

Overall, this was a great start to the Summit concerts with three strong performances (I admit I am biased about the first one). We had a great turnout as well, filling all the seats in the concert hall at the Community Music Center. It set a high bar for the next nights.

NAMM 2014: Moog Theremini

The most notable new offering this year from Moog Music, Inc. was the Theremini, a very accessible incarnation of the classic theremin.

20140125-IMG_9971

The design of the instrument evokes classic science fiction of the 1950s and 1960s (in which the theremin was a mainstay), and it features modern enhancements including a variety of tones and effects, support to stabilize pitch, and CV and MIDI for external control. And it’s MSRP is $299.

I decided to try my hand at this fun and photogenic instrument.

20140125-IMG_9982

You can see a bit of my attempt to perform one-handed in this video.

I can see this being a great tool for live performance, both standalone and as a controller for analog synths. I look forward to learning more about it.

CatSynth video: Kitty Plays a Theremin

From Eric Lewis on YouTube. Submitted by Paul Hayworth via our Facebook page. Watch the video all the way to the end!

We have a couple of photo theremins here at CatSynth HQ, maybe I can convince Luna to try playing one?

The Use and Mountain Vs. Building, Luggage Store Gallery

The Outsound new-music programs at the Luggage Store Gallery often try to pair groups that complement one another geographically and musically. This was the case in late March with a program featuring The Use and Mountain Vs. Building.

The performance opened with Mountain Vs Building, a group featuring Sheila Bosco on drums and keyboard, Michael Lowe-Grandi on guitar, Brian Lucas on bass, and Mark Pino on drums. Given the instrumental lineup, there were two drum sets going at the same time during many parts of the set, including at the start.

Mountain Vs Building

With so much opportunity for rhythmic foundation, it wasn’t surprising that their music included strong and sometimes funky riffs overlaid with guitar and keyboard effects. The two drum sets worked well without being overwhelming. There were more freeform pieces as well that focused and timbral and noise effects via synths and effects boxes; and the final piece featuring vocals was fun. Overall, it was a strong set technically and musically. The visual effect of the lighting was a nice touch as well.

The Use

The second set featured The Use, the latest solo project by Michael Durek who was visiting from the New York area as part of a west-coast tour. I have seen many of his performances before with PAS Musique and the SK Orchestra, but his new project takes things to another level musically and technically. The electronic elements, a combination of Ableton Live and theremin, were more idiomatic, combining dark melodies, harmonies and rhythms. And it was as much a visual performance, with dance movements in time to the music. You can get a good sense of the overall performance in this video.

Outsound Presents: The Use (Michael Durek) at the Luggage Store Gallery from CatSynth; on Vimeo.

As a bonus, I had the opportunity to perform a duet with The Use to close out the evening. You can see our impromptu jam in this video:

The Use with Amar Chaudhary at Luggage Store Gallery from Michael Durek on Vimeo.

I am glad that The Use had the opportunity to perform at our Thursday-night Outsound music series. Indeed both bands performed well that evening to an appreciative audience. And I am happy to see more experimental music groups confidently incorporating popular idioms into their music.

Experi-MENTAL night at TheaterLab, New York

Today we look back at the second of my November performances in New York. This one took place at Theater Lab in Manhattan in one of the venue’s stark white studios that served as both performance venue and blank canvas. There were several now-familar faces from east coast shows, as well as new artists that I heard for the first time.

The show opened with an acoustic performance by PAS, featuring Robert L. Pepper, Amber Brien, Michael Durek and John “Vomit” Worthley with guest Carlo Altomare (one of the founders of TheaterLab) on piano. The acoustic instruments included a wide variety of percussion, strings and winds, as well as DIY combinations of objects (buckets, balloons, etc.) to produce other sounds. In this way, they played acoustic instruments as if they were synthesizers.


[PAS. (Click images to enlarge.)]

The performance moved between gradually evolving by strongly rhythmic material and more freeform noise textures, all expressive and performed with a wide dynamic range. At various times, the performers moved around the space, among the audience and up into the loft, which added a theatrical element as well as spatialization. You can see and hear for yourself in this video:

PAS live with Carlo Altomare at Experi-MENTAL Night at Theaterlab. November 26th, 2011 from PAS Music on Vimeo.

The particular combination of instruments and idiomatic playing gave portions of the performance an Asian feel (particularly at the beginning of the video), but even there the piano provides an avant-gard counterpoint and the overall texture moves to something more reminiscent of Henry Cowell before moving into a more experimental dramatic mode featuring Altomare soloing on piano and Pepper repeatedly chanting “Piano Man!” I like how they were able to move so easily between the different timbres and textures and rhythms without stopping, except of course for the silences that occurred in response to the instruction “Silence!” In all, a great set that set a confident tone for the entire evening.

Next was a duo featuring Richard Lainhart on a Buchla synthesizer and Lucio Menegon on strings and effects. They performed a live improvised set to a film by Scratch Film junkies.

The film was beautiful and mesmerizing, though I did find myself also watching the Buchla to see and hear what was happening. In general, the synth performance was subtle and blended well with the string sounds to produce an overall ambient texture, with occasional metallic and inharmonic swells. The eerie and slowly moving sound fit the abstract video, with frequently changing clips overlaid with digital effects that simulated paint and chemical treatment. At times, the harmonies and timbres seemed to approach an acoustic orchestra and choir, as one might hear in a science fiction film, while others seemed to channel the sounds of bowed metal and glass.

PAS presents Experi-MENTAL Night with a duo by Richard Lainhart and Lucio Menegon at Theaterlab from PAS Music on Vimeo.

This was followed by a trio featuring Jay Pluck on piano, Julia Violet on vocals, and Michael Durek returning, this time on theremin.


[Jay Pluck, Julia Violet, and Michael Durek. Photos by Michael Zelner. (Click to enlarge.)]

This was the most traditional and idiomatic of any set during the show. The songs were songs, quite lyrical and featuring traditional harmonies and melodic lines for voice and theremin. The introduction featured a theremin solo – Durek is quite good at getting standard pitching and phrasings from the instrument – set against gently rolling arpeggios of romantic chords on the piano. As Violet’s vocals enter, the music takes on a light cabaret feel, but the theremin backed with Mini-Kaoss Pad effects, continues to give it a somewhat otherworldly quality. The second song, which featured more major harmonies, had a bit of a 1960s rock quality to it, as if it was it was a song from a popular album rescored for piano and voice. Here the theremin had a bit of a darker tone.

After that it was time to take the stage. It was basically the same setup as a few nights earlier at the AvantElectroExpectroExtravaganza in Brooklyn, but with a few musical differences. I opened with a newly programmed piece that featured timbres based on the Bohlen 833 scale in which I could call up individual pitches and harmonics via the monome and iPad working together. The end result was a somewhat an ambient piece that was relaxed but with anxious undertones.

[Click to enlarge, if you must.]

I did reprise my Wicks Looper and Korg Monotron improvisation that had worked well at the previous performance, as well as another another piece featuring additive synthesis in which iPad-controlled tone clouds are set against short percussive tones. At the end of the set, I was joined by Robert L. Pepper from PAS for a duo improvisation featuring acoustic instruments and electronics. We started with a steady pattern on the dotara and large drum, gradually bringing in some electronic sounds controlled by the monome and other acoustic instruments and effects. Overall, we meshed very well musically despite this being our first time ever playing together! I particularly liked the moment where we were both playing string instruments, as it felt particular aligned and expressive. This gave way to a finale with dotara and drums that approached traditional folk music and a well-defined final note. You can hear the full solo and duo in this video:

Amar at TheaterLab, New York. from CatSynth on Vimeo.

The final set featured Richard Lainhart’s film The History of the Future with a live soundtrack performed by the “Orchestra of the Future”, an ad hoc ensemble featuring many of us who had performed in the previous four sets. The film featured clips and images from old educational and demonstration films featuring depictions of possible feature technologies. It’s a snapshot of “what the future used to be” in previous eras.

[Orchestra of the Future.]

The improvised soundtrack, which featured a variety of acoustic and electronic instruments, was rich in texture and dynamism and dramatic moments. Everyone did a good job of watching what was happening on the screen and listening to each other. There were moments where it seemed like the relative volumes of instruments were off, but that was a minor issue. It was a great way to end the evening (and a bit of a relief to be in the large ensemble after performing solo).

We had a decently sized audience for the show and a very positive response both during the event itself and in talking to people at the small reception afterwards. It was interesting that although this event was in New York, there were Bay Area connections both among the performers and the audience. This year has been a good one for bi-coastal collaboration and I look forward to more of it next year.

[Additional photos available at Michael Zelner’s flickr set. Additional videos available on vimeo by PAS Music and CatSynth.]

CatSynth video: Michael Hearst – Ode to Odd Instruments

A video with “odd instruments” and a cat, by Michael Hearst (via matrixsynth).

Including (in order of appearance): Knockman “Chachak,” daxophone, Hohner claviola, bass melodica, stylophone, otamatone, Moog theremin, Elasticbrand Audioware rattle, porter’s bell. Also featuring Maddie the cat.

www.michaelhearst.com”

CatSynth video: Cats and Mini Theremin 2

From widtara on YouTube:

“Adjusted to lower pitch than the first one.”

There are three cats in the video, but readers are forewarned that the sound can be a little challenging to take for the full length of time.

The “first one” actually appeared here back in 2009.

Here is another classic cat-playing-theremin video. Indeed, a reader on twitter reminded me about this video and thus led to the theme of today’s post.

CatSynth video: goodmorning theremin 3 with my cats

From fatern on YouTube, via matrixsynth:

“goodmorning theremin 3
play in japan.
saijyo wataru & fatern’s song.
song call[shirouma]”

This what a theremin can sound like when one plays it well. And the bending tones fit quite well into more traditional Asian music – it reminiscent of a bowed string instrument.

Another sample:

“morning theremin play in my house at Osaka.
I Love JC77&moog sounds!!!
http://www.myspace.com/watafei.
written by SAIJYO WATARU”