Seattle Improvised Music Festival day 2

February 14th
Chapel Performance Space, Seattle WA  USA

  1. Greg Kelley solo
    Christine Sehnaoui / Liz Tonne duo
  2. Kelvin Pittman solo
    Wally Shoup / Greg Kelley / Andrew Drury trio
  3. Doug Theriault solo
    large ensemble

The second day of the SIMF again brought me to the Chapel at 7pm.  In contrast to the previous night I managed to get into the city early enough to visit one of my favorite Pho restaurants and enjoy a nice bowl of noodles prior to the event. At the chapel I remedied my lack of CD acquisitions and picked up that DVD that I mentioned earlier, plus a hand labeled (minutes before!) CD-R of Andrew Drury, Andrea Neumann and Wade Matthews.   Completing my transaction I went in and found a seat again a few rows back. The audience seemed a bit smaller then the night before, perhaps due to Valentine’s Day. Not too long after I found my seat the lights were dimmed and the show began.

The opening act was Greg Kelley solo which was one of the most anticipated sets of the festival for yours truly. Greg didn’t disappoint, crafty a finely structured series of small events that organically flowed from one to the other. Time and space was given to all of the sounds, which while generally low volume varied enough in dynamics to keep things interesting. While Kelley did explore a number of techniques and sounds, it was the natural way that he moved between them, sometimes returning to an earlier, sometimes with a pause but always flowing.  This organic approach i think is what separates this from the catalog of techniques that we’ve witnessed in the earlier solos. It is not that the sound is continuous, on the contrary this approach fully allows and accepts pauses and near silence, but it is that the events aren’t discrete, separate from each other. Of the six solos that I witnessed in this festival, it was this difference that marked the successful, from the less interesting sets.

Christine Sehnaoui / Liz Tonne duo
Christine Sehnaoui / Liz Tonne duo

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After Gregs solo was the first of the nights three groups, the duo of Liz Tonne and Christine Sehnaoui. Not surprisingly I wasn’t that into this set. Even trying to look at it objectively I didn’t find all the much interaction between the two performers.  Christine ran through several of her techniques and Liz through several of hers and while they overlapped fine didn’t really seem to go much beyond that. There were a few moments where Liz was emulating the rhythmic patterns that Christine’s techniques were generating which were probably the most interesting.

After a short break Kelvin Pittman made his way to the stage for his solo which I was incredibly curious about after how nearly silent he was the night before.  Not surprisingly he began incredibly soft with just the faintest, pops and clicks audible in between long pauses. There was also a slightly theatrical element to his performance, for instance at one point he stopped playing and wiped his mouth and the continued to do so in an obviously exaggerated fashion. At another point he deliberately drank his cup of water at us.  While mostly working with these small, quiet events he did mix things up a bit at one point with a longer, louder (though not loud) sustained tone. At another with some more dramatic pops. After maybe 15-20 minutes with a humorous sort of shrugging gesture he indicated it was over.  A really enjoyable solo.

Wally Shoup / Greg Kelley / Andrew Drury trio

Following Kelvin was the nights next group, the trio of Wally Shoup, Greg Kelley and Andrew Drur. Shoup is a northwest stalwart and long time SIMF supporter who has brought his brand of fire music to countless concerts over many decades.  While this type of high energy, high ego performance is not really the kind of music I like to sit around and listen to, live on rare occasions it can be a nice palette cleanser.  And I was curious to see Kelley in this context. It started of a bit tentatively, for maybe a minute and thrity seconds and then Shoup was blasting away whilst Drury attacked his drums with a panoply of objects. And Kelley rose to the challenge with blasts of rattly noise.  In free jazz the structure is always roller coaster with the softer bits serving merely to highlight the excesses of the louder bits and this followed that to a tee. There was definitely nice sounds in this softer bits; Kelley used his mutes and metal to good effect and Drury worked though some of his softer events at this point. One amusing point featured Shoup and Kelley harmonizing on a tonal center that was only a few changes away from fitting in on Sketches of Spain!  Overall a bit of high energy fun if nothing to write home about.

The final solo of the night was Doug Theriault with his guitar and electronics. Doug mainly seems to use the guitar as a controller and sound source for use with the Nord G2 Modular.  He has a custom looking Midi Interface with interacts with the guitar and contains a good dozen knobs to interface with the his patch.  While an intriguing setup and one that produce a wide range of interesting sounds, as a solo I didn’t think it worked very well. He primarily seemed to press a button on his interface then touch his guitar to trigger a sound, then seeming displeased with the results repeat this procedure. He worked with pretty basic elements at first, white noise, simple feedback, pure tones, but not seeming to get those to work how he wanted eventually layered in a thicker deeper drone. This he let run for a while as he layered various elements on it, some of them coming from a device he’d hold over the guitar pickups somewhat sounding like Keith Rowe’s blue tooth interference. He used a few other objects to manipulate the guitar but it was almost exclusively electronically prepared not prepared with objects.  He ended abruptly and announced he’d just stay one stage as the large group joined him. This solo had its moments and from a pure sound perspective a lot of intriguing events, but alas there was just no there there.

As per usual the night concluded with a Large Group made up of all of the nights performers. This night wasn’t as successful as the previous nights in my opinion, it seemed less deliberate, straying more toward excess. It began with a burst of solo glossolalia from Liz and from this auspicious start moved through a roller-coaster of density and volume. While it had moments that gelled well, as various players laid out,  it seemed a bit more dominated by higher energy moments.  Though it never quite reaching the most egregious excesses that large groups so often achieve it certainly didn’t reach many sublime moments either.