SIMF 2008 Second Half

The 23rd Annual Seattle Improvised Music Festival
February 15th-17th 2008
at The Chapel Performance Space and Gallery1412 in Seattle WA

I got home from the last night of the second half of SIMF and seven hours later left for a business trip in Austin.  As I was actually sent there to work and the travel was pretty exhausting I wasn’t able to get to blogging this second half of the SIMF until now. Plus I left my notes at home. So with such a passage of time I am going to forgo the more in-depth writeup of the previous three days and just present a rough overview of each set from the final three nights here.

One aspect of the festival didn’t really reveal itself to me until the second to last day of the fest: the first half was string oriented and the second half was horn oriented.  Perhaps dictated somewhat by the vagaries of the traveling musicians this was clearly a reinforced choice and an interesting one. I have to admit that for me horn players have a much higher threshold to cross, the range of sounds that have typified these instruments hold little interest for me in an improvised context. True, the guitar is pretty much a walking, talking cliché machine but a lack of creativity on the guitar tends to evoke boredom in me, with a horn it tends to make me cringe. That being said some of the most creative current music is being done by wind instruments and as always it is the sound that interests me not the source.

SIMF day 4: February 15th 2008

Chris DeLaurenti / Liz Albee
Wade Matthews / Liz Allbee / Greg Sinibaldi
Stéphane Rives

I’d seen Liz play trumpet at No West last year and I thought in general her performance was mixed. Too much reliance on the easy route of volume and overly theatrical for my taste. Christ DeLaurenti, whose Favorite Intermissions from last year was a favorite was more of a wild card; just what would he do in an improvised music context?  Well he had a mixer with a bunch of things plugged into it but he almost exclusively played a pocket trumpet (or cornet) along with Liz’s trumpet. Chris stayed pretty tasteful throughout on the trumpet working with long low hisses, sputters and rattles. Liz though did not and while she would use sound oriented techniques they were just another thing to work through as she moved on through Donald Duck sounds, flatulence, ironic melodic segments and so on.  Ironic detachment and a lack of genuineness is what I really felt in her work and that’s not really what I’m there to experience.

The second set completely moved away from any sort of restraint with Wade adding in the most clichéd quick cut DSP sounds and absolutely trite field recordings. Add to this Liz, in pretty much the same mode as the previous set, but with all restraints gone. Greg is pretty much a free jazz guy and makes no bones about it. So IMO that’s fine, I may not be so into that but its his thing and he’s good at it. However this set was soul crushing with what seemed just like a cacophony of egos.

The night had been grim so far but it was totally redeemed by this last set. Stéphane put a chair right in front of the audience and sat down with his soprano saxophone. With the bell pressed firmly against his leg he proceeded to produce and intense continuous sound.  This pure tone, modulated by his circular breathing, taps on the keys, slight movements and his very endurance was entrancing.  He stopped only to change reeds once and then another time when he decided to change techniques. He wrung incredible sounds out of this sax and in displayed incredible control and stamina. Really a great set and I went home and ordered his solo CD the next day.

SIMF day 5: February 16th 2008

Gust Burns / Stéphane Rives
Liz Albee / Jonathan Sielaff / Tyler Wilcox
Wade Matthews / Stéphane Rives

This night opened with its strongest set and which was one I’d been waiting fore. Gust was working his doweled piano as usual and Stéphane mixed up his long tones of the last night with blasts, gasps and messed with tones. Some incredible parts where Stéphane’s tones merged with the rougher tones of Gusts doweled piano or when the rustling leaves sound from Gust would provide a base for the guttural gasps where Stéphane would slap his keys while forcing air through his trumpet. Not too long a performance, but one where every sound counted and the movements between sound formed a structure that captured my attention.

Trumpet, Clarinet and Soprano Sax was what this trio was made up of. This was the point where I figured out the horn orientation of this half of the festival. It seems to be an obvious programming choice but I never am a big fan of the like instruments pairing. This was well utilized in this half of the fest; duo trumpets from yesterday and now the wind trio. Things are more interesting in my mind when contrasting sounds are paired, but like I said it is so often done, I must be in a minority. Anyway this set was definitely not to my taste. Liz played pretty much the same stuff as before which I’ve already expressed my distaste for. Tyler was much more tonal and worked with longer tones and more traditional extended techniques then Stéphane on the same instrument. A pretty good player, but two soprano saxes seemed a bit much for the weekend I think. Jonathan’s playing I have seen a number of times and he is a creative, sensitive player whom, I always enjoy seeing play. In this conflict of horns he was more aggressive then I’ve seen him before, though in the only redeemable part of this set he played long continuous low drones on a bass clarinet.

I was very curious about this final set as Wade and Stéphane are an established duo and seem to be touring the states.  Wade only had one laptop for this set and the other one appeared to be the one with the field recordings. In general his Reaktor playing was much more tasteful, restrained and complementary to Stéphane’s playing.  This set was quite nice, with the digital warbles, tones, ticks and statics blending interestingly with Stéphane’s long tones, gasps, rattled winds and sharp blasts. You could tell they’d played together, they brought in sounds they knew the other could play off of and the worked together to construct a piece of music that was engaging, rich and complex.  Definitely one of the better sets of this half if not as appealing to me as Stéphane’s solo and his duo with Gust.

SIMF day 6: February 17th 2008

Greg Campbell / Lesli Dalaba / Wade Matthews
Liz Albee
Wade Matthews / Tyler Wilcox / Stéphane Rives / Chris DeLaurenti

This evening began with basically a free jazz trio. Greg had a full drumkit and while he began with a subtle playing of gongs a full on jazz freakout was in the offering. Lesli, who is a stalwart in new music circles, laid out for some time before ripping it up in various ways once she joined in. Wade was back on the dual laptop setup was pretty much like he been in yesterdays trio: aggressive DSP quick cuts and that same collection of trite field recordings.  For what this was this seemed okay, just not my kind of thing. One of the reasons for this is the reliance in free jazz (actually I’d say this was more EFI) of these quiet sections almost exclusively to emphasize the chaotic freakouts.  This gives all pieces like this the same feel and a boringly predictable structure.

For her solo Liz mixed it up by beginning with Lesli and herself on non-trumpet, wind based noisemakers,  Lesli on some sort of long twisted tube and Liz on conch shell. They walked up the side of the audience with their skronks, bleats and gasps. Lesli sat down and Liz moved into her usual theatrical trumpet playing, working with her blasts of air, ironic melodic fragments and humming through the horn. After a bit of this she then switched to laughably bad electronics. A collection of pedals, a CD player and what looked like some of those low-run pseudo-DIY devices was her tools for some of the most trite looping, cheesy noise and damaged CD faux circuit-bent sounding stuff. Amateurish and rather dreadful, but thankfully short.

The festival ended with duo soprano saxes, Wade’s laptoppery and Chris no playing what looked like a homemade turntable plus various other gee-gaws. This had some real interesting textures to it though I’m not sure I’d say it ever really gelled.  Chris put in some serious rumbling noise and Stéphane and Tyler would emit blasts and skronks to compete as Wade mixed in his usual combination of sound. It had a nice factory like effect at times, and never fell into a rut.  The duo sopranos wasn’t very necessary and it seemed like Tyler was often following what Stéphane was doing.  They played two pieces the second one quite short but I think more successful. It was very textural and for once Wade’s sample of traffic on a highway really fit in well. The saxes just provided sheets of air along with the traffic sounds and Chris put in this very mechanical sound from hand cranking a record on his homemade turntable. This piece was quite nice and a good way to end the fest.

This second part I didn’t find to be as strong as the first half, but still there was four solid sets in the nine and that really is a decent percentage. Others I’m sure found a lot more in the other sets as well and lord knows I don’t expect these festivals to cater directly to my tastes. Considering how much of the first half I enjoyed I’d say I got more then I deserved. For all of my photos check out my SIMF 2008 set on Flickr and for all of my SIMF reports click here.


SIMF 2008 day 3

The 23rd Annual Seattle Improvised Music Festival

Sunday, February 10th 2008
Capital Hill neighborhood of Seattle WA

For the third day of SIMF, the last day of the first half, the venue changed to Gallery1412. This venue is much smaller and more intimate and has been the home of so much great music in Seattle. It’d been a full weekend of shows, and related events and I have to admit I was pretty tired for this final night.  But I was definitely interested in the lineup for this night and to hear them in these closer quarters. The musicians, with the exception of JP were all set up in front of the stage, greatly reducing the amount audience space. This didn’t turn out to be much of a problem as there wasn’t a massive crowd but always an odd choice I think. If people don’t want to use the stage maybe they should just remove it?

Gust Burns at the piano.

SIMF Day 3

Gregory Reynolds / Jeffrey Allport duo

I’ve really been enjoying Allports playing this weekend and I thought this was a really inspired pairing. We’d so far only seen Reynolds solo but his sounds and style were definitely simpatico with Allports playing. Reynolds began with a loud pop and Allport headed straight to dual bowl bowing. Gregory continued on with pop, sputters and other pointillistic sounds that really contrasted well with the continuous tones Jeffery was generating. After a bit of this Reynolds put an empty Pabst Blue Ribbon can into the bell of the sax and began circular breathing for long, rattly tones. Allport responded by increasing the strength of his bowing for more volume and eventually switching to the mallets on the drumhead. The combination of the low moaning tones, and the rattly metallic sounds worked quite well generating a rich patina of layered sounds. This was the loudest part of the set and from here it moved to being quite soft.

Reynolds had a small bowl next to him and it had small objects inside of it. He’d pick these objects up and drop them back into the bowl, rattle them around in it and other subtle activities. After the show he told me that at one point he became taken with a small leaf he’d acquired earlier in the day and would keep picking it up and making sounds with it. At one point, he said, he realized that there was no way that anyone could hear these small sounds that were so soft that even he could barely discern them.  As Allport began to pick up the volume Reyolds switched back to the sax and head tilted back he generated this sputtery almost staticy like sound. Allport responded to this by bowing a small brass bowl that he’d push a piece of tinfoil next to for this sublet ragged buzz. This was a real interesting conflation of rattles, buzzes and static that had an alien even electronic feel to it. They stopped playing and held their posture for a concluding silence and then they were done. A great set with a excellent pairing of sounds.

Jason Kahn / Gregory Reynolds / Jean-Paul Jenkins trio

This was the first of two sets with Jason Kahn and as JP was again amplified this was the most electric set of the festival so far.  It could just be the artists selected for this festival but there does seem to be a bit of an increase in acoustic musicians in this area of improv.  Anyway these three all were using the setups that they had previously and they mostly worked in the territory that they had previously. The wild card would be Kahn, a chance to see what he meant when he said he played differently in collaboration then solo.

The set began with Jason tapping his small cymbal which was lying upon his drum, in a rather rhythmic pattern and bringing up a low tone on the analog synth.  JP attached what looked like a little metal disc to his guitar, perhaps attached to his capo and began eBowing the strings. He worked the guitar with the eBow for a while, using it above the capo and below for different varieties of rattly buzzing tones. Gregory was primarily adding these hisses of air from the sax with lots of gaps and spaces. After a bit of this he picked up the small metal bowl of objects and placing it on the bell of his sax began his circular breathing. This created an interesting sound as the air slipped past the bowl causing it to rattle around on the sax, shaking the objects inside. It was almost like Taku Unami’s little speakers with rocks, but he wasn’t using objects that’d create such such sounds, plus there was the sax/bowl interface as well. Jason switched it up from his more percussive oriented playing to a long period of mainly working the synth.  He had a soft sine wave playing previously and he brought this up and began modulating it. He did some re-patching and got this nice slightly lower jittery sound that contrasted nicely with Gregory’s bowl/sax and the metallic eBowing from JP. As JP moved to bowing the guitar on its neck Jason brought up his drums feedback and began manipulating it with his cymbal.  Gregory abandoned the bowl and began the breathy/spit type sounds that gave the impression of a radio with nearly drained batterys in  turned to a dead station. At the conclusion of the set Jason did a bit of direct drum manipulation and JP switched to playing open circuits on a pedal of some sort.  Jason turned down his feedback volume and the set ended.

This one had a nice contrast of the electronics and acoustics. The acoustic instruments were really in abstract territory but were entirely different then what the electronics were doing.  While Kahn sounded a lot like what I’d heard him doing on recordings the sounds that JP and Gregory were using never led into layers of drones or buried washes of sound. The textures were prickly, varied and constantly engaging.

Gust Burns / Jason Kahn duo

Gust Burns is the primary organizer behind the SIMF and one of my favorite local musicians.  He plays piano and most of the times I’ve seen him it has been via a narrow range of extended techniques, primarily the use of dowels that he fits between the strings and rubs for a variety of interesting sounds. I love how focused he is on this seemingly limited technique and how much he ekes out of it.  I think that musicians who impose a lot of restrictions on themselves can truly mine the depths of their instrument to amazing effect.  The duo of him and Jason Kahn, especially after the last set, was definitely something I was anticipating.

The set began with Gust placing a dowel in the strings toward the upper register of the piano and rubbing it with a downward motion. This created a dry, scraping sound that reverberated through the piano.  Jason added to this by tapping the drum and working the amplification and feedback a bit. Gust added a dowel toward the midrange of the piano and rubbed it in an upward motion which seems to generate a much cleaner tone which of course was also higher pitched. Gust placed  a second, much longer, dowel near this one and after working them both for a bit switched exclusively to it. The longer length allowed for a more continuous sound and again it was a bit higher pitched. Around this point, after mainly working with percussive sounds and a bit of  gentle modulated feedback Jason lost the feedback loop.  He valiantly tried to bring it back, turning up the mic volume on his mixer and waving his hand in front of the mic but he’d only get a higher pitched mic feedback not the rich stew his system typically generated. He switched to the synth and patched and re-patched ’til he got a static wash of white noise from it.  Then with some sound established he returned to fiddling with the feedback rig.  This proved to be pretty interesting, high pitched feedback coming in and being quickly faded out, odd collisions of sound and so on.  More sparse then any of his player so far even with the static wash and it felt a lot more risky without this constant, easily manipulatable feedback.

While Jason was struggling with his setup, Gust added a dowel into the bass and was able to generate these great low moaning tones. This was in perfect accord with the swelled high squeals Jason was creating and the light persistent sound of the white noise gave it a lo-fi over the radio kind of a feel. Finally Jason got his feedback going again and abandoning the white noise moved to tweaking this feedback with his cymbal.. The set had entered its final phase and Gust turned to all upper register higher pitched dowel rubbing.  Pushing downward on one of these dowels he was getting this keening sound that was absolutely captivating, like a wail caught from far off tearing from the wind into an uneasy silence  Jason during this was rubbing a cymbal laid upon the drum which had its own sound and  messed with the feedback as well. After one of these wails from Gust, there was an abrupt cut off of Jason’s sound and he ended it. A great, great ending to a really interesting and dramatic set. Sure maybe a lot of the tension and interesting developments were from a technical issue but for me that level of indeterminacy, at the performance level, often generates the most interesting results.

Thus concluded the final night of the first half of this years SIMF. Again it was an amazing night of music and in reflection I think it was my favorite of the three. A hard call to make as they have all been so solid, but the combinations of electronic and acoustic sounds, plus the combinations themselves were all just stellar this night. And there is still three more nights to go the next weekend – truly an embarrassment of riches.

SIMF 2008 day 2

The 23rd Annual Seattle Improvised Music Festival Day 2

Saturday, February 9th 2008
Chapel Performance Space
Wallingford neighborhood of Seattle WA

The second day of the Seattle Improvised Music Festival was a busy one for me. The Washington State caucus was early that afternoon (conflicting with Gregory Reynolds workshop alas) and I caucused for Obama whom I’m happy to note swept the state. This day also happened to be my birthday and I was meeting friends for an early dinner before the shows. I also managed to get them to come to the shows, which was great – always like to introduce people to new music.  We went out to Araya’s Vegetarian Place a vegan Thai restaurant in the University District. Really tasty food, especially worth noting among the things we had was the fresh rolls, a spicy mango salad and best of all an avocado curry. Recommended. Anyway after dinner it was off to the Chapel for another night of music.

SIMF Day 2

Jeffrey Allport / Tetuzi Akiyama duo

TetuziI was the first to arrive at the Chapel and I secured us seats in the second row so I was a bit closer this night then last.  The Chapel is a really resonant space so you can hear quite well almost anywhere in the room but its nice to have a less obstructed view if you want to watch how the sounds are made.  First up this night was the duo of Jeffery Allport and Tetuzi Akiyama.  I’d seen this pair along with Gust Burns a couple of years ago and they of course put out the fantastic duo record Live at the Western Front on Simple Geometry.  That show and album were Tetuzi playing electric guitar and on this tour he was all acoustic. All of this added up to place this amongst my most anticipated of the fest.

The range of sounds that these two used didn’t vary much from the night before. The placement of these sounds of course was what was unique and created an engaging, kind of dreamy world. Akiyama started off using his slide perhaps in response to Allport bowing the side of his floor tom for nice meshed slippery sound. Akiyama soon moved to the Relator style plucked notes and broken chords. Allport picked things up a bit by simultaneously bowing two upturned bowls on top of his drums coarsening these tones by putting crumpled up tinfoil inside. The set reached a peak of volume when Allport moved to the rubber tipped mallets rubbed vigorously across the drum heads. The arcing moaning sound this generated was matched with violent pull-offs from Akiyama adding a contrasting plucked slapping sound. After this things were brought down a bit, Allport gently running forks and dowels over the surfaces until they reached dead silence.  Akiyama sat head bowed and it seem nearly a natural ending. A quick fractured chord brought things back after this pause and shortly Allport was back in this time dual bowing the metal trusses on the floor tom. These sounds fading away brought the set to a genuine conclusion.

Really a nice set, much less dramatic and varied then when Akiyama is on electric but it fit great in the space and was filled with great overlapping sounds that seemed to hang in the space.

Tetuzi Akiyama / Mark Collins / Jean-Paul Jenkins trio

JPI’d first seen JP play at No West last year and his playing was among my favorites of that festival.  He plays electric and acoustic guitars with various preparations, objects, effects along with some simple electronic devices. Like Tetuzi he was sticking with acoustic guitar for this festival though he amplified it and used electronics along with his panoply of objects.  Mark Collins though was a complete unknown, even to the other musicians. He turned out to be a Seattle area double bass player who played unamplified primarily with the bow or hands. Occasionally he’d use a couple of objects to coax a variety of sounds from his instrument. So pretty much an acoustic string trio for this set.

The musicians for this set seemed to pick an area of sound crafting and then work it thoroughly wringing all the detail, possibilities and variety they could from it. The attention and time spent with each technique gave this set the feel of having three distinct movements. The initial one was the most abstract as if the musicians were feeling out each other and finding a way to communicate. Short, sharp, quiet bowing on the bass from Collins, sparse notes and chords from Akiyama and JP generated a hum and then maybe some feedback as he brought his system up.  At one point during this tentative first movement a radio grab or sample of Aretha Franklin’s R  E  S P E C T came through and was immediately cut off.  Shortly thereafter JP picked up a very long dowel and placing it upon the body of his acoustic guitar began rubbing the dowel create a nice continuous moaning tone. After this was really worked with things transitioned into an acoustic string trio section. Mostly plucking from the three musicians, with sharp snaps and open chords from Akiyama, gentle tapping around the bridge from JP and before he too switched to a low plucking Mark rubbed a ridged dowel against the edge of the bass. After this was explored for a bit JP began slapping tuning forks and then placing them on the guitars body and strings. At this point Akiyama began eking out these near melodies and after a bit of this JP joined in. This increased in sparseness until the set ended.

A real beautiful set, generally very quiet, deliberate and well paced. The all acoustic instrumentation with just the barest wiff of electricity from JP really gelled and provided a riveting experience.

Jason Kahn

KahnJason Kahn, whose installation I had seen just a few days before is an ex-pat American who has lived in Zürich for a number of years now. He runs the Cut label and is a stalwart of the Swiss improvising scene.  There has been a certain degree of homogeneity in that scene that has led to a number of self-similar releases that have rather failed to retain my interest. But I’d never heard Kahn solo and after his talk on working with spaces I was curious as to what he’d do. He had a setup of a mic’d floor tom, a small Doepfer modular synth, and a radio.  He was able to create feedback with the mic and the drum and he manipulated and modulated this with the synth, mainly creating fairly static pure tones that would interact and interfere with the feedback.

I knew this was going to be the loudest set of the night as Jason had mentioned in his talk at the installation that his solo sets trend that way. He said his interest in solo performance was to work with the resonance of spaces and to really bring this out a higher level of volume was required. It never got painfully loud in my opinion, but especially after the delicate nature of the first two sets it was certainly a dramatic contrast. He began by turning on and fading up his radio to create a wash of white noise. This was left to run throughout the duration as a static landscape. He then brought up the mic over the drum till he had a wall of feedback that he could affect and manipulate by interfering in the space between the mic and the drum. He primarily did this by bring a cymbal into that space and moving it around to alter the low wails of feedback. The synth also played its part, he mainly was using purer tones that would interact and change the feedback. He’d do real time patching of this small modular synth and these would change from lower pure tones, to at one point an intriguing fragmented broken tone almost like circuit bent electronics. Primarily he manipulated the cymbal, changed the synth settings and adjusted the feedback volumes but he also tapped on the cymbal, both in the air and laying on the drum and did other more percussive tapping on the drum.

For the most part this was a large wash of layered sounds and while it had a structure imposed from working different aspects it had no dramatic shifts or much variation of the sounds. It was interesting and it sounded good in the space, but I found aspects of it a bit tedious. The initial part where he just worked with the feedback, white noise and the cymbal went on far past my interest. The middle section where he primarily worked with the synth I found a lot more engaging as there was more obvious sounds that added variety and contrast to the ever present static and feedback. The end of the set he used more percussive elements though it again was primarily working with the ever present wash of sound.  This was an interesting set and as I mentioned above a rather nice contrast to the gentle music prior. I think it could have developed in a bit more interesting way with perhaps a bit more variety in sounds.  It rates as one of those things that I’m definitely glad to have experienced but probably once was enough.

So a great second day of the festival and a nice birthday present for me 🙂  I enjoyed all the sets in varying degrees and the flow of the evening was really quite nice. Definitely looking forward to the rest of the festival. For all of the pictures I’ve taken from SIMF check out my Flickr Set.

SIMF 2008 day 1

The 23rd Annual Seattle Improvised Music Festival
Friday, February 8th 2008
Chapel Performance Space
Wallingford neighborhood of Seattle WA

The Seattle Improvised Music Festival is now in its 23rd year and continues its tradition of presenting excellent and creative music. I’ve gone on and off to the festival since about the year 2000 and have regularly attended it the last three years. It has really been presenting music right up my alley for the last couple years under the directorship of Gust Burns. The festival this year continued in that vein and has expanded to an even more ambitious then usual six days. Presented over two weekends the first half was this weekend and featured a stellar lineup of local and visiting musicians.  The first two nights were at the gorgeous Chapel Performance Space and the third night was at Gallery1412.

I was at work of course on Friday and it was the ever popular dash home, cram some food and brave the traffic to get to the Chapel before 8pm. Luckily it all worked out and I was there a good ten-fifteen minutes early.  I chatted with a couple of the guys there I knew and then a bit after eight the lights went out and the show began.

Gregory Reynolds solo

Gregory Reynolds is an expat Seattle-ite who now makes his home in New York City. He makes it back out here now and again and I’ve seen him at a number of shows, including last years No West festival.  The sax has kind of been making a comeback into modern improvised circles. For the longest time the most recent developments in improv had seemed to leave the sax behind with only John Butcher really adapting to its more quiet, spacious, introspective nature. But in the last two-three years there has been an increasing number of saxophonists who have moved into this territory. Reynolds has carved out a space in this landscape that owes little to Butcher and is if anything more amendable to collaboration.  Tonight though he opened the festival solo and put on a really nice sound oriented show. There is often a tendency, especially in solo horn performances that use extended techniques, to run though a catalog of techniques. For some reason it is hard to craft a performance that has the feeling of a real piece. Reynolds here did display several techniques from his toolkit but did an admirable job of creating a space and flow that had direction and a form of structure.

He began with these tongued bursts of air and let this develop for quite some time. The physical variations in this added a subtle depth and the extended use of the technique set this up and the first movement in the performance. This was fairly typical, he’d work with several techniques but really explore them and let them vary and thus did not exhaust his bag of tricks but even more importantly it creates this sense of structure. The next part utilized a tin can in the bell of the horn and circular breathing for a nice low rattling effect. He let this go till and the minute changes in his breathing patterns would add little shimmies, breakup oscillations and generally keep things interesting. After this he removed the can, sounded one of those pops from the beginning of the show almost as a transition and then moved on to blowing across the mouthpiece of the sax for a very quiet, breathy sound. This built up until he was playing the sax again, perpendicular to the audience, leaned back with the sax parallel to the ceiling so he could allow a pure stream of air though it. He varied this continuous, windy sound enough so that it never fell into just a drone but was a series of long delicate tones. He ended the piece by picking up a little electronic devices about the size of a keyring that produced a rhythmicy static buzz. He then got up, walked through the audience to the back of the room up the side and then returned to his seat.  He intimated at first he play another, but changed his mind and that was it. A really nice solo set that shows Reynolds abilities at wringing interesting in an interesting way on his instrument. Looking forward to his duo and trio sets on Sunday for sure.

Jozef van Wissem / Jean-Paul Jenkins / Jeffrey Allport trio

Jozef van Wissem plays the lute, which is pretty uncommon in improvised music circles. I happen to quite like early music and thus am rather a fan of the instrument and was looking forward to how he’d put it to use in this context.  He sat middle of the stage with just himself, a chair, the lute and a footrest. Plus a book of sheet music at his feet. To the left of him was JP, whom I’d also first seen at No West this year playing acoustic guitar with effects and various objects. On stage right was Jeffery Allport my favorite PNW percussionist playing a floor tom, a snare and a variety of cymbals, metal bowls and various objects.

Jeffery more or less kicked things off by bowing the metal trusses of the floor tom with such a continuous pure sound I thought it was an electronic sound from JP. JP did begin to add a subtle amplifier hum kind of sound to the tones and Jozef assessing this picked up a slide and began plucking a note and then running the slide on that string. Allport brought the levels up a bit by bowing both of the metals bowls that were placed on top of his drums which had a much rougher feel from their movements and the collisions of the similar tones. JP began eBow his guitar add another layer to the tones and Jozef switch to playing various spaced out broken chords.  In general this is kind of how it went, JP and Jeffery seemed in a great report and it was like Jozef was just kind of fiddling about, mainly playing broken chords, plucked strings and a bit with the slide. The most brilliant part of this first piece was when Jeffery ran two rubber mallets  over each of his drums creating this deep moaning tone almost like some strange machine wearing down. To this JP still eBowing his strings was muting and manipulating these strings with a bow generating this staccato buzzing sound. In this midst of this Jozef seemed almost like his was practicing, working out some figures. It was as if some guy was practicing lute in the corner of some strange factory.  The piece ended with a long silence before they decided they weren’t playing anymore.

They played  a second, short piece which was mainly quiet muffled plucked notes from JP and more of the same lute work from Jozef. Jeffery during this one did mostly bowed bowls but also some rubbing of the surface of the drum with dowels. Not quite as interesting as the first piece it still had a nice tentative feel to it and some interesting textures made up of the dueling strings and abstract percussion.  Overall this trio didn’t entirely work I think, but in a way that was interesting as it was like a fantastic duo of JP and Jeffery with random lute music thrown in.

Tetuzi Akiyama / Jozef van Wissem duo

The evening concluding with the longstanding duo of Tetuzi and Jozef. Actually they each played solo and then they did a duo.  Tetuzi played for about fifteen minutes solo and it was solidly in Relator territory. Really quite nice even though he’d been playing that way all night. He moved from spare with a decent amount of space to an almost melodic segment toward the end. Probably my favorite bit from Tetuzi this evening. For his solo Jozef seemed to be playing from his book of sheet music, but it was odd at first almost like he was working out a piece he hadn’t played before. He’d play a chord, pause look at the music and then do another one. The next piece he played was a very familiar sounding tune, definitely something from the traditional lute repertoire. This was really solid, clearly one he’d played a lot.  He did one more piece that could have been improvised as it seemed more like his playing from earlier that evening – plucked notes, broken chords more spacious. All in all he played less then fifteen minutes, closer to ten I’d say.

The final bit of music for the evening was the duo of Akiyama and van Wissem. They’d played a lot before and have recorded a couple of albums together. The performance pretty much sounded just like the two of them had been all night. Tetuzi playing spare Relator-esque notes, muffled plucked and the occasional chord, van Wissem sticking with is broken chords and a bit of the slide.  There was one section in the middle of this where they broke into a traditional lute tune with Tetuzi doubling the melody. I’d heard this one before for sure but I can’t quite place it. This was my favorite bit of the duo as it was very sure but interesting sounding as the lute wasn’t really in tune. So they melodically gelled but the variance in pitches creating a level of variance that was interesting. For the rest of the set it was kind of back to the earlier style with perhaps another composed section that had Tetuzi in more of an accompanying role. Overall the music was nice – pleasant sounding but nothing super engaging.  A mellow way to end a fine evening of music.

Jason Kahn’s Wires

Jason Kahn’s Wires
at Jack Straw New Media Gallery

Yesterday I went into Seattle to the Jack Straw New Media Gallery to see Jason Kahn’s Wires installation. I was able to spend a bit of time with it before attending a talk that Jason gave about his sound works. The installation is in a fairly small room with a high ceiling and a pair of narrow windows facing the street outside. The installation itself was four wires on each end of the room, each with a small piezo speaker at the end and running through a tin coffee can. Through the wires was run 2400hz sine tone, that would vibrate the wires which sound was amplified by the cans. The wires, due to different tensions, would oscillate at different rates producing slightly different sounds and they also would seem to reach a peak oscillation and then back away from it. The sound was a rather rough buzz, none of the purity of a pure sine tone. As you moved through the room you’d get pretty different sounds, most likely due to reflections on the walls. Near one of the corners I got the best effect of this to the degree that by just barely shifting my head I’d get completely altered sounds. I went into the space several times, once with a couple other people to see if that impacted the sound (not noticeably) and spent a number of minutes there each time. The more time I was there the more rich the overtones and variety of the sound seemed to be. Pretty interesting experience all around.

One side of the Wires installation.

After about fifteen minutes I headed to a room in the gallery that had been set up for a talk. Jason focused on his installation work in this talk and it was mostly driven by questions from the audience. He also showed us some images from his website of other installations he did and described how each of these worked. His concept behind all of his Sound Works (as he called them) was to explore the notion of space. He likened the sound to a sculpture which exists as a thing in itself but also impacts the space into which it has been placed. Most of his sound works involve very simple sounds (usually pure tones, white noise, simple electronic sounds) place around a space so that as you move through the space the quality of the sound changes. So it gives you this sensation of movement through the space revealing aspects of the space through sound. I found all of this pretty interesting and one could see why this type of installation, that uses sound as its primary component is not exactly music. There was a big discussion over at i hate music about so called “sound art” which was generally accused of trying to elevate its status above music as a priori art. While I for one am incredibly open about what music is it does seem that things like Kahn’s installations are pretty different. Primarily in that the structural and “performance” elements are inherently different. Sound Work I think is a better name, it doesn’t make any sort of claims, but just describes it as a piece composed of sound.

Another of other interesting things that Jason brought up was that he found documentation of these works to be pointless. This I think further underscores the separation from music, which while there are also issues with recordings, they are completely different then in this case.  All of his sound works would be pretty much meaningless as a recording you really could capture the feel of the space in them at all. Another point of interest in this work for Kahn was how people perceive sound itself. He explained that the reactions to his pieces are often wildly divergent, sometime people can’t hear anything at all while other people are so affected by the sound that the can’t stand them. And of course some people find it  perfectly fine and then apply their own determination of quality to them. For this reason his ideal locations are public spaces where the artifice and expectations of going to a gallery to “see” some art is removed. He cited the famous Max Neuhaus piece in Times Square as an ideal example of this and described a piece of his own that was four pure tones playing in display boxes in a pedestrian underpass.

I found this talk quite informative and was quite interested to see the range of these projects that Kahn has worked on. I’ve been fairly ambivalent toward his improvisation music and I have to say that I think his installation work is more interesting. Wires itself actually seemed like one of his less interesting installations, but I appreciate his concerns and the different ways he approaches exploring them. I’ll probably go see Wires again at a time where I can spend more time with it. He said that the longer you spend with it the more you hear and just in the time that I did spend with it I found that to be the case. So I am curious as to what else it would reveal.

AMM – London 20 January 1970

“Documents such as tape recordings of improvisation are essentially empty, as they preserve chiefly the form that something took and give at best an indistinct hint as to the feeling and cannot convey any sense of time and place.”
– Cornelius Cardew (1)

The third of these early AMM boots puts us in the very earliest month of 1970. The group had coalesced into the quartet of Keith Rowe, Cornelius Cardew, Lou Gare and Edwin Prévost.  There is possibly a fifth member (probably Christopher Hobbs ed. Jan 30, 2009), as there is piano played throughout during which at times you can hear two bowed instruments (Rowe and Cardew presumably) but who knows who is playing what? It could be Cardew on piano the whole time, with Rowe on cello and someone else bowing objects or a guitar.  Without outside input it is pretty much impossibly to say but this quote from Cardew sheds some light on this situation:

“In 1966, I and another member of the group invested the proceeds of a recording in a second amplifier system to balance the volume of sound produced by the electric guitar. At that period we were playing every week in the music room of the London School of Economics -a very small room barely able to accomodate [sic] our equipment. With the new equipment we began to explore the range of small sounds made available by using contact microphones on all kinds of materials -glass, metal, wood, etc. -and a variety of gadgets from drumsticks to battery-operated cocktail mixers. At the same time the percussionist was expanding in the direction of pitched instruments such as xylophone and concertina, and the saxophonist began to double on violin and flute as well as a stringed instrument of his own design. In addition, two cellos were wired to the new equipment and the guitarist was developing a predilection for coffee tins and cans of all kinds.”
– Cornelius Cardew (1)

So it is quite possible, likely even, that this is Cardew on piano, Rowe on cello, or bowed guitar and Gare on violin (or his homemade string instrument). There is very little obvious sax here so this scenario is likely. This recording, moreso than any of the other early AMM I’ve heard has a chamber feel to it. It is rough, dark and brooding but with the primary instrumentation being cello, piano and percussion it really has this new music feel. It doesn’t stick with this feel throughout, one bit toward the middle has this jazzy duet between piano and percussion, but it always comes back to this brooding chamber feel.

“AMM music is supposed to admit all sounds but the members of AMM have marked preferences. An open-ness to the totality of sounds implies a tendency away from traditional musical structures towards informality. Governing this tendency -reining it in- are various thoroughly traditional musical structures such as saxophone, piano, violin, guitar, etc., in each of which reposes a portion of the history of music. Further echoes of the history of music enter through the medium of the transistor radio (the use of which as a musical instrument was pioneered by John Cage). However, it is not the exclusive privilege of music to have a history -sound has history too. Industry and modern technology have added machine sounds and electronic sounds to the primeval sounds of thunderstorm, volcanic eruption, avalanche and tidal wave.”
– Cornelius Cardew (1)

This gets at the heart of what I was trying to say in the last post; that AMM was constantly adding to their list the things that they should get away from. In each of these recordings they seem to move away from anything recognizable in each one. At the same time, the found object whether from tape, radio or fragments of recognizable melody or sound that in themselves do not stray toward informality. So while AMM in and of themselves “have marked preferences” they still admit all sounds in this fashion.

AMM – London 20 January 1970

“Improvisation is a language spontaneously developed amongst the players and between players and listeners.”
– Cornelius Cardew (1)

Again we begin in progress but instead of the usual burst of energy this one is much more brooding, and quiet. Slow, melancholy cello lines, very Tilbury-ish piano tinkles, interspersed with big low chords, wooden sounding percussion as of sticks between rolled in ones hands. The occasional melodic figure on the cello jumps in, perhaps there are two cellists? Drum rolls on a low drum, then washes of static and more metallic percussion. Amidst the inward facing strings and piano these drum beats increase, building the volume and density, but only in short bursts.  Ah that other bowed instrument seems to be revealing itself as bowed guitar, Rowe presumably, while the melodic figures are possibly the cello of Cardew or the violin of Gare. These brief flurry of activity calms down a bit to just faint cello and piano, but then some very melodic percussion comes in. Some loud, low electronic tones burst into this space, answered by chimes and cymbals, as scrabbly guitar work comes in. The cello fades. Piano pounding out some seriously deep chords. And a weirdly muted melodic figure either from the guitar or from real short, sharp bow-work on the cello. Echoed by percussion. Odd how this strain keeps running through this one, it must have been a theme, or constraint of some sort.  Crazy percussion now, the volume up, mostly on the drums. This again drops out and piano rolls, static washes, creepy bowed cello and only the occasional pound of a drum or cymbal roll.

“You choose the sound you hear. But listening for effects is only first steps in AMM listening. After a while you stop skimming, start tracking, and go where it takes you.”
– Cornelius Cardew (1)

Back to the brooding melancholy, we have a very distant sounding guitar tones, slow bowed cello, clusters of piano notes and what sounds like fingers rubbed across a drumhead. Into this comes a radio announcement, rather distant and garbled, greeted by some cymbal chimes. An absolutely stunning moment after this, where things just hover in a gentle buzz of bowed strings, spare piano chords a warbling guitar tone. Beautiful and yet drilling right to the marrow. These AMM boots really show the range of the group at this time. The Crypt and even AMMMusic make the 60s stuff seem much more chaotic and noisy but the moments of beauty were everywhere. And yet they could take it somewhere else completely. About 8 minutes before the track ends, it goes from the spare section, to solo bowed cello and then applause. Pretty good amount of applause, must have been a decent crowd. Someone says “Thank You” so they did seem to end. Then there is typical post show talking for a second. Then the tape clearly changes, almost sounds like David Tudors Rainforest now. Heavy static, faint dripping sounds and a twittering almost like birds. Sounds like children playing in the deep background. An odd little sonic fragment tagged on to this show.

As always this recording starts with them in progress so one does not know how much was lost at the beginning. It is the shortest of these early bootlegs at only about thirty minutes before the applause and then the odd little coda. It is as I alluded to in the introduction to this recording somewhat removed from other period AMM, though not shockingly so. Moments in the other recordings are akin to this and thus one could look at this as a thirty minute exploration of a (mostly) confined space.  It does hearken toward the later quartet AMM with Rohan de Saram in its more chamber like feeling, though of course it has the rough edges that the trio AMM had mostly smoothed away.

“Informal ‘sound’ has a power over our emotional responses that formal ‘music’ does not, in that it acts subliminally rather than on a cultural level. This is a possible definition of the area in which AMM is experimental. We are searching for sounds and for the responses that attach to them, rather than thinking them up, preparing them and producing them. The search is conducted in the medium of sound and the musician himself is at the heart of the experiment. ”
– Cornelius Cardew(1)


1) Cornelius Cardew, Towards an Ethic of Improvisation Cornelius Cardew(1936-1981): A Reader, Copula 2006
2) Notes on AMM: Entering and Leaving History Stuart Broomer, CODA Magazine no. 290. 2000
3) Edwin Prévost, No Sound is Innocent, Copula, 1995
4) The AMM page at the European Free Improvisation Home
5) Keith Rowe interview by Dan Warburton at Paris Transatlantic