The 22nd Annual Seattle Improvised Music Festival, put on by Seattle Improvised Music and hosted at Gallery1412, is split over two weekends this year. While this may make it difficult for those who’d travel to it, I think it is a smart move to ensure good attendance for all of the acts. For this first weekend the gallery was pretty occupied, not overflowing but maybe half to two-thirds full. So a pretty good crowd for a group of musicians that I do not think was on everyone’s radar. The first night was on my birthday so it was a nice present from the fine folks at SIM.

Seattle Improvised Music Festival Day 1
February 9th, 2007
Gallery1412, Seattle WA

Bonnie Jones, Andy Hayleck, Jason E. Anderson, Jaime Potter

I had seen Bonnie perform with Joe Foster as English, and as a trio with Joe and Sachiko M in NYC last October as part of the ErstQuake 3 festival, but this was my first time see the other members of this ad hoc quartet. Bonnie played her open circuit delay pedals and contact mics, Andy Hayleck, also from Philly played laptop, local boys Jason and Jaime played sample and analog electronics respectively.  As was to become the trend for the weekend they played two improvisations both in the 15-20 minute range. The first of these opened with a thin tone that increased in density becoming subsonic and more felt then heard. This was abruptly cut off as Bonnie’s circuits erupt with their characteristic glitchy sizzle. The piece continued in this way with layers of sound that would be dropped out leaving small gaps now and again. Over time the layers overlapped more and more and became more of a thick wash of sound. Some nice environmental sounds from Hyleck and some not as nice synth like samples from Anderson. The piece concludes with this all enveloping subsonic wash into which Bonnie taps a small metal bowl bell like, over and over as the layers of sound fade away leaving a last bell like note ringing in the air.

After a bit of looking around the group decides to continue and begin a second improv that managed to skirt the drones of the first piece while utilizing the same materials. Tones would come in and out, pops and clicks from Bonnie’s circuitry and quick samples from Jason and Andy. Nice spaces between these events with chance overlapping and intersections between the sounds. Toward the end a low rumble, not of the same density of the previous piece, acts as a simple wash on a blank canvas into wich Bonnie drops increasingly frequent squiggles of sound from her circuits and Andy plays some field recordings. A sound of an airplane during this bit and people outside are impossible to determine as actual event or provided by the performers.

Kyle Bruckmann, Jesse Canterbury, Chris Stover
After a reasonable short break as the groups break down and setup, Gust Burns introduces us to the next trio which is oboe, clarinets and trombone respectively. They played three improves in what is a pretty familiar style to those who have seen a lot of acoustic improv over the last few years. Well executed but they seemed to use an obsolete vernacular. The first piece was in the “insect music” vein, with short bursts of scrabbling sound, extended techniques and the like. Not real interesting to me and I wasn’t too happy about future sets with any of these three. The second piece was more in the “orchestra tuning up” vein with long tones coming from each musician and overlapping as they were able to keep it up. By the end it had become a bit more pointillistic ala the previous piece. The final piece though redeemed this trio somewhat. It began with just the trombone with a coffee cup gang pressed into service as a mute. Real steampunk kind of sounds from this, hiss interspersed by mechanical clicking of the cup and releases of steam. After a bit Jesse play two clarinets at once, or really the two halves of a clarinet simultaneously creating an immediate beating effect. After laying out for a good piece Kyle then plays just the reeds of his oboe added in this keening tones, long at first and then increasingly as if he is scrabbling in rubble for his sounds. Then some space at last, silence breaking up these layers of sound. Jesse comes back into this on his own for a bit with a very high sustained tone almost in sine wave territory. Kyle jumps back in, mainly playing just the body of his oboe and the keys adding a nice physical contrast to the higher tones. Chris taps and evokes rattling sounds from his ‘bone now and again adding a third contrasting element to the proceedings. Overlapping long tones from the trio concludes this piece. This piece was quite nice and showed that a trio of horn players can still create interesting sounds in this post-everything age. A pity it too so much dross to get there.

Andy Hayleck, Jonathan Sielaff, Kyle Bruckmann

The final trio added Jonathan on clarinet, bass drum and saw to Andy, now on Dowel, Cymbal and Saw, and and Kyle manning a box of pedals and synth components along with his oboe. Again two pieces, the first starting things off with Andy bowing a relatively loud tone on his cymbal to which Kyle adds a gentle synthetic chirping from his electronics. Jon layers on low ominous tones eked from his bass drum via his clarinet. Things settle down soon after and now Andy is much gentler with the dowels and Kyle coxing a quiet buzz from his synth. After laying out a bit Jon again applies clarinet to bass and its characteristic rumble undercuts the other sounds. Kyle now changes his electronics to a deep bass tone and then adds in some processed oboe to this tones. Andy picks up his saw and seeing this Jon shortly does the same. The long eerie tones of bowed saw overlapping and beating against each other produce a startling contrast to Kyle’s processed oboe. He then begins to generate a long high tone that along with the keening of the saws is spectacular and from here they end it. Beautiful and rich, with lots to pay attention to.

The second improvisation begins with Jon and Andy on the saws, but Andy mostly scraping, tapping and bowing the handle of his saw. Kyle sticks with the oboe, unprocessed at first with short and spare tones. This is very nice, high tones from bowed saw, the screechy sound of bowed wood and breathy squeals now and again from the oboe. Not droney, not insect music, it is a tapestry of sounds of various durations, timbre and dynamics. Jon switches to clarinet after a bit with no mouthpiece using it as a vehicle to move air in a breathy, textured rumble. Andy persits with bowing the handle of the saw, producing a variety of skittery and screechy sounds. Kyle moves to his electronics throwing in a stuttering wash of static from either a radio or a white noise generator run through various effects. Now as Kyle works  this into more of a sustained wash he Jon picks up his clarinet off the drum and blowing through it points it at the ceiling in a dramatic pose and then emits this quiet breath through the reed-less tube. From here things wind down as Kyle lets his electronic rumble go and concludes things with some sparse oboe squeals.

This was a really great piece and this trio was great in general. A nice way to end the first night, which began strong, had a slight misstep in the middle and the concluding with some fantastic music. With three more days to go, I can’t be more pleased at the level of the music so far.