Seattle Improvised Music Festival day 3

February 15th
Chapel Performance Space, Seattle WA USA

  1. Wilson Shook / Andrew Drury duo
  2. Greg Kelley / Christine Sehnaoui / Gust Burns / Doug Theriault quartet
  3. Large group
The final day of the first have of SIMF 09, included a roundtable with the musicians along with waffles!  Turned out that I was the only person to show up beyond musicians and staff but we had a good time discussing the music scenes in the different cities we were all from. Afterwards I went to the Seattle Asian Art Museum as it was in the neighborhood and I hadn’t gone in a long time. They had an interesting exhibit on the court paintings of Jodhpur but the most striking piece I saw there was a photo (seen to the left) taken by the Chinese street artist Zhang Dali. The Museum closed at five pm and I spent an hour or so ’til dark wandering around Volunteer park (in which SAAM is set) and then I went to Teapot Vegetarian House, one of my favorite restaurants in Capitol Hill. Having managed to kill the time from the round table to the starting of the show I then returned to the gallery which had a nice crowd already there. I took a seat near the back, but later moved to the second row to sit with a friend. I’d arrived a bit after 7 so it start pretty much right as I was switching seats.

The opening set was originally planned to be the duo of Kelvin Pittman and Andrew Drury, but Kelvin had to return to Portland early so his spot was ably taken by Wlson Shook. Drury was in his more restless mode, moving from item to item, more aggressive and louder. Shook I think tried to work with and played a bit differently then he had on previous days. A bit more tonal, working more with extended tones and also a bit louder and more active. There were several really nice moments where everything hooked up well but in the main I felt that Drury wasn’t really trying to play with Shook he seemed to be doing his thing and letting him play along with him. This worked best during one long segment that Shook was working long, slightly buzzy tone while Drury switched from item after item dropping a variety of percussive events into the bedwork. A set that had it’s moments but never gelled into a whole I thought.

Gust Burns, Christine Sehnaoui, Doug Theriault Quartet
Gust Burns, Greg Kelley, Christine Sehnaoui, Doug Theriault Quartet

Gust Burns was using his home made piano guts instrument for this show, amplified via contact mics. Dowling on this instrument, has a somewhat different tone then on the piano as it lacks the resonance and the overtones from the wide degree of sympathetic resonance.  With amplification it’s character is different, more hollow and dryer coming across as a bit more electronic. This, along with Theriault’s straight up electronics and the alien horn work of Sehnaoui and Kelley created a fanastic combination of sounds. It began with a soft hissing sound from Kelley and at first there were few sounds, each playing placing one into the space and then pausing. This created a somewhat tentative seeming atmosphere, but it didn’t seem to be so much a feeling each other out as a desire to preserve its fragile nature.  This set was by far the best from Theriault, his levels seemed more in line with the whole group and his louder interjections were well placed to push the group and to contrast nicely with the proceedings.  The character of the set was highly varied, but its development was organic. I did not follow any predictable loud-soft arc, but it did increase in density at various points and there were several moments where one or more members would use volume to effect. One of these louder moments was from Sehnaoui who expelled bursts of air into her horn creating a blasting sound for a moment that should repeated a number of times at breath timed intervals.  The set was texture rich, with long bass drones from Theriault, layered on Burns’ dry rustling dowel work. Burns also used a wad of tinfoil on his strings in concert with the dowels to create a more electo-mechanical sound. The set had a number of movements, broken up by well placed gaps but had constant forward movement. It was a good length, probably over thirty minutes and constantly engaging. My favorite set of this half of the festival.

The final set of this half of the festival was the traditional large group, that included Mark Collins on bass.  While not as scatter-shot as the previous nights it didn’t quite come together as well as the first nights either.  It began well, a swirling miasma of tiny events, spaces and interesting collisions of sounds.  Drury then kicked it up a notch, brutally assaulting his drumhead with the edge of a cymbal. It never seem to recover from this point and included a festival low point of all the musicians playing at once generating the stereotypical large group muddiness that had heretofore been avoided.  There was one complete and sudden stop early on that was quite impressive as it seemed completely uncoordinated.  There was also several points where it seemed to have concluded only to be brought back from the dead from a musician who didn’t want to stop. Overall not a very compelling set of music, but there were moments here and there especially the first ten minutes or so.