SIMF 2014 day 3

SIMF 2014 day 3 - Andrea Neumann and Bonnie Jones

Andrea Neumann & Bonnie Jones preparing to play

Last night was the final night of  the 29th edition of the Seattle Improvised Music Festival at the Chapel Performance Space in the Wallingford neighborhood of Seattle WA. I headed to Wallingford earlier than I did yesterday as recent Vancouver transplant Joda Clémant had come down to see the Bonnie Jones/Andrea Neumann duo again (and planned to followed them Dead-Head style to Portland). Snow had been threatening all day and it was a cold, bleak trip featuring missed busses and other low comedy.  I met up with Joda at the Chapel and as we walked the couple of blocks to 45th where the restaurants and such are a very light snow began to fall. After vegetarian Thai and beers in Wallingford we returned to the venue and it had clearly snowed throughout dinner and we were trudging through a half inch or so with no sign of the snow ceasing. We made it to seats at the front left about two minutes before the first set.

SIMF 2014 Day 3 (02.08.14)

SIMF 2014 day 3 - Andrea Neumann and Bonnie Jones

Andrea Neumann & Bonnie Jones beginning their set
Bonnie Jones/Andrea Neumann
The duo of Bonnie Jones and Andrea Neumann was what I (and Joda for that matter) were there to see. Happily they’d placed them in the lead off position which means they would a) have an actual soundcheck and b) I’d be able to take off at any point afterwards as I knew the snow was going to mess things up. As I noted yesterday I’ve seen Andrea and Bonnie in various combinations but had only heard their duo from their CD green just as I could see on Erstwhile Records. They were setup on a single table Bonnie with her collection of electronics and various objects at the end of the table stage left. Behind the table on the stage right end Andrea was setup with her autoharp, mixer, preparations and other electronics and objects.  There was short introductions and then they came out to play.

SIMF 2014 day 3 - Andrea Neumann and Bonnie Jones

Andrea Neumann & Bonnie Jones

The set began with Bonnie picking up pedals and connecting them together while Andrea sorted through her preparations and began to work the autoharp. What followed was a engaging approximately thirty minute continuous improvisation. It was quite a diverse set that flowed though a variety of techniques and approaches to the duo’s instruments revealing a wide array of interpenetrating sounds.   Andrea early on used eBow on the strings of the zither creating a very pure tone, agited the strings with little metal mallets creating a wash of sounds which she then muted with a rubber object (looked like a sandpaper holder but could be ink printing related),  brought out a fan which she hovered over the strings exciting the pickups, a return to the eBow toward the end and even some plucked out notes. Bonnie as noted began with putting her kit together in a deliberate, sound generating fashion eventually moving on to manipulating her open circuits. In front of their table was red plastic keg cup which turned out to have a speaker in it, which Bonnie picked up and manipulated during the set. At one point she picked up her little singing bowls and bells and dropped them on the floor, picking them up and dropping them again. She also did further percussive work with the cable ends that she uses on the exposed circuits of her pedals.   Later in the set she moved the cup out into the audience and returned to more aggressive static outbursts from the pedals now emerging from the speakers behind the duo and the cup out among the seats. Two times during the set she played vocal samples, the first of what sounded like a teenage girl recounting something like a dream or from a diary or perhaps a report to an authority figure; flat, unaffected and tense. The second was much more heavily processed and it was a choir, or chanting but with enough reverb and echo and maybe multracked that it was more of a wash. This more solemn sample was playing at the end which was a sort of deconstruction with Bonnie vigorously moving things about and Andrea creating a more wall of sound with feedback and such.  A strong ending with the contrast between this seemingly less focused playing and this created sound with it’s pointing toward the profound.
A really excellent set all around and I’m really glad I braved the weather to see it.  In many ways these two work with sounds that have become quite standard material in this particular tiny corner of the improv world.  Many of the techniques and processes used could be heavily associated with various musicians and isolated moments would be difficult to ascribe to a particular individual. But it just goes to show that what this music is about is not actually the material, it is the intentionality behind these sounds, the choices that are made, both beforehand and in the moment. There is an understanding of structure, that even if little of that is worked out beforehand, but that intuitively knows that you can move between events in a certain way, relaying upon a compatible partner to do the same and that it is the interpenetration of this disparate events, that are assembled in the heads of the audience that really creates the music.
SIMF 2014 day 3 - Gust Burns, Jacob Zimmerman and Joe Morris

Gust Burns, Jacob Zimmerman and Joe Morris

Joe Morris/Jacob Zimmerman/Gust Burns
It had continued to snow and I’d planned to just head out after the duo but based on the previous night I knew there would be another set without much of a break and then a short intermission before the third. So I figured I’d just check out the second group and head out at the break. Less disruptive and I could make farewells on my way out.  So this set was guitar/alto sax/piano (respectively) and was much more free improv of the the older school. Based on Joe’s performance the day before this wasn’t a surprise and while Gust often works in more experimental areas I’ve seen him several times in these more traditional free improv type ensembles. Jacob  Zimmerman was new to me but apparently he is a local boy having come from Seattle Garfield High which is famous for it’s jazz programs.  I really don’t have the vocabulary to talk about this kind of music – it really has never been my thing and while I’ve seen a number of examples I don’t really have much to say about it.  It went on way to long – five individual pieces adding up to nearly an hour of performance. Which is quite unheard of at these shows – last night for instance all three sets was about an hour and half. The most interesting playing was from Gust I thought who generally does a kind Cecil Taylor-ish type playing in these settings.  But quite often tonight he would play super quietly which at least the first time he did it brought the playing of his compatriots way down, becoming much softer and less aggressive.  But overall with the length and such I found this set tiring and so headed home afterwards missing the third set of Matt Ingalls, Greg Campbell and Paul Kikuchi.

There was a pretty good spread of snow out there now, perhaps as much as two inches. I talked a bit with Joda at the entrance to the Chapel and it turned out that the venue that Bonnie and Andrea were going to play in Portland had suffered from burst pipes and the show was canceled. They were looking to line up a house show or something, but from what I’ve seen PDX seems pretty shutdown. Eventually I made my farewells and walked to the bus. The bus kept being delayed (I could see this on the fantastic One Bus Away app) so I kept walking between stops. Eventually I was at a stop in the U-District where I had a couple of options to catch busses up Capitol Hill and I just waited it out. Eventually got on one that made it about 2/3rds of the way up the hill and then encountered a virtual bus graveyard – a steep section that had buses parked all along it and toward the top a jackknifed bus completely blocking the road. Ended up walking home from there on the icy roads. Lot’s of walking in the cold and snow but I think it was all worth it.

SIMF 2014 day 3 - Walking Home

Walking home
Photos from SIMF day 3: SIMF 2014 day 3
Check out all of my photos from SIMF 2014: SIMF 2014



SIMF 2014 day 2

SIMF 2014 day 2 -

Last weekend was the 29th edition of the Seattle Improvised Music Festival held as it has been for years now at the Chapel Performance Space in the Wallingford Neighborhood of Seattle WA. This year among others they invited Bonnie Jones and Andrea Neumann whose work I’ve enjoyed for quite some time. Bonnie of course plays in the excellent duo English with Joe Foster and Andrea has been a stalwart of the Berlin scene performing on numerous great albums. They’ve been playing as this duo for some time now and of course put out the excellent green just as I could see on Erstwhile Records. So even though it’s been so cold and it constantly threatens to snow I made out Wallingford to see them perform. They played days two and three of the festival, their duo on the third day and in combinations with Seattle based improvisors on the second.

SIMF 2014 Day 2 (02.07.14)

SIMF 2014 day 2 - Joe Morris closeup


Joe Morris solo
Joe was playing a hollow body electric guitar run through a simple amp with minimal (or no) effects. He played three short improvisations, generally favoring a pretty continuous stream of sound with a mix of melodic and more abstract elements. The first was sort of harmonic Fahey-ish bits interspersed with Bailey-esque angular bits. The second piece, which I found the most interesting, was based around continuously strumming a few strings which generated a really un-guitar-like metallic high pitched effect. This he moderated by chording high on the neck and the interactions of this created some odd tones and lingering overtones. The last piece seemed to be the longest and it again explored more melodic territory.  It seemed pretty wandering and not much of it really stuck in my mind except the ending which was with a harmonic that seemed to surprise Joe a bit and which he immediately recognized as a sign to end. A nice ending to a set that was very well done for what it was, though what it was isn’t necessarily my thing.

SIMF 2014 day 2 - Andrea Neumann, Gust Burns

Andrea Neumann/Gust Burns
Andrea on autoharp, electronics, Gust on seemingly on turntable. I have to admit I was expecting a duo of Gust on piano and Andrea on her custom piano guts.  But perhaps that would have been to obvious?  This turned out to be pretty interesting and riskier I think. The sounds were rather cut up with piano samples from Gust (perhaps a record of himself?), a chopped up and frequently cut-off speaker, perhaps a recorded lecture, (couldn’t tell if who was doing this, Gust I suspect) with Andrea initially tapping on the heavily amplified strings which generated a compellingly rich ponging sound.   She later worked feedback in various forms, plucked out a little melody on the strings toward the end placed a contact mic on her throat and mixed in some sub-voclizations. At various times throughout the piece there were silences but I have to say these came across as rather forced. The noise floor from Andrea’s setup is pretty high and when you go from that to silence you either let that hum play out or fade it down. She did the later and that I think is what came across as pushing the sounds around. I tend to think it’s best to let it ride but I know there are those who feel that gives a floor upon which the improvisor can rest. Always choices.


SIMF 2014 day 2 - Day 2, set II:  Naomi Siegel, Bonnie Jones, Jonathan Way

Bonnie Jones/Jonathan Way/Naomi Siegel
This trio featured Bonnie Jones playing her usual open circuits but she also has added a small laptop, contact mic’s and percussion elements to her setup. Jonathan Way, of Seattle Phonographers Union fame (and whom I played with in EyeMusic) seemed to be processing field recordings. He stuff was soft and subtle, often sounding as washes or wind and faint environments. Naomi Siegel, whom I don’t recall having seen before, played trombone with and without mutes and recordings via her smart phone.  The ensemble did two fairly short pieces. The first featured Bonnie  on open circuits most of the time, though she also did some contact mic work. There was this rather tribal-ish percussive bit at one point that could have been Bonnie playing from her laptop though it certainly could have been a field recording from Jonathan.  Jonathan primarily seemed to work with  processed field recordings, winds and washes and pretty subtle ambient stuff. There was some overlap between his and Bonnies’s sounds at times which nicely layered and merged together and I didn’t expend much energy separating them. Naomi primarily worked with extended techniques on her trombone mostly in the static-y, sputtery realm but she also would drop in these melodic phrases almost like a jazz quotation. At least once she held her smart phone up to her mic and played some recorded sounds of what sounded like crowds, or conversation of some sort.  In the main I found she didn’t quite fit with the electronic duo, though sometimes the more abstract and subtle trombone bits mixed in nicely.


Their second piece began with Bonnie playing percussive stuff with two cable ends, banging on the frame of her chair and the table and eventually hitting little bells and metal bowls on her table. Jonathan layered in some wind sounding washes and via her smartphone Naomi dropped in distant vocal samples. This piece was more episodic with silences and near silences between it’s several “movements”. After the initial percussive intro, Bonnie moved open circuits and Naomi returned to the trombone.  Later she did more percussive work, tapping around the body of the ‘bone. The piece concluded with a wash of sound that gradually increased in volume and intensity with radio from Bonnie and sputtery trombone from Naomi.  Jonathan increased the volume of his wash of sound until they all dropped out and he quickly faded his sound out a moment later.  This piece varied a bit in structure and elements from the first, which did have a bit of testing each out to it.  While still a bit mixed I definitely enjoyed this one and it was a good ending to this night.



Photos from SIMF day 2: SIMF 2014 day 2
Check out all of my photos from SIMF 2014: SIMF 2014

Substrata 1.3.3

View from the Chapel Window


This weekend was the third iteration of the yearly Substrata Festival of which I attended the final night. The festival has always been held at the Chapel Performance Space in conjunction with Wayward Music and being on their mailing list I’ve been aware of it from it’s conception but this was my first time attending.  Every year there has been one or two acts I’d have been interested in seeing, but being a festival that would of course mean sitting through the rest, some of which were distinctly not to my taste.  These festivals are put on by the ambient musician Rafael Anton Irisarri and have proven to be popular enough that they sell out fairly quickly which considering the space is certain to lead to a hot crowded experience.  This years festival, which has been expanded to three days, was no exception except that the third day wasn’t sold out when last I got a mailing from Wayward Music and Kim Cascone was closing the festival. I haven’t really kept up with Cascone’s work, but back in the early days of my interest in various experimental forms he had a number of releases I was pretty into.  I also have been aware that his recent work is more along the lines of acoustic experiments utilizing beating patterns and acoustical phenomenon which is certainly something I find fascinating if not a primary interest of mine.  Since I could secure a ticket online and the other performers on this night, neither of whom I’d heard of, sounded at least interesting I went for it.

Of course the other thing worth mentioning is that this festival is basically ambient music and while I’m not adverse to the form, there really are few outstanding examples of it. The festival is driven by Irisarri’s tastes and has grown to include post-minimalsim as well as an eclectic mix of electronica and hybrid compositions. The materials provided by the festival read rather like an ‘artists statement’ (with all the connotations that implies):

Our goal is to create an immersive weekend experience that engages the audience in a dialog with the artists that goes beyond the constrains of traditional performer/listener interactions. Each showcase is curated to distinctly portrait different takes of the potency of minimalism, varying between weighty combinations of tonalities used to sculpt out atmospheric ambiance, or powerful dynamic structures made up of the subtlest filigree of sonic building materials. By creating compositional spaces dealing with a sense of mass, along with openness of structure, the perspective of scale and the listener’s place in relation is shifted to allow for greater a sense of place beyond the environ of the performance in the interplay of the moment and physics of the larger world. In all, Substrata is an event that fosters appreciation for our natural surroundings and creates meaningful interaction between artists/participants while exploring a new locality.

As the name substrata implies, it is about subtle aesthetics that go beneath the surface and into deeper aural territories.

Saturday July 20th was as nice an evening as can only be found in the Pacific NW. A beautiful sunny day with temps in the uppers 70s (F) by the time I arrived at the Chapel the sun was beginning to dip behind the Olympic Mountains.  There was a lot of people here and the wait for the doors to open in the lobby was a hot and sweaty, though happily short, experience. Once we were all inside the Chapel itself wasn’t completely packed and it wasn’t oppressive it at all, especially with the cooling air blowing in from all the open windows. I got a seat a few rows back by a pillar that created a gap that allowed for an easy escape if that proved necessary and was relatively centered. I would have liked to have sat by the windows as I think that would have added greatly to the experience but felt that for the Cascone piece I’d want to be inside the surround sound setup. They had very defined times for each act and apart from starting a bit late maintained that schedule fairly closely.

1) Christina Vantzou

Christina Vantzou is a an American multimedia artist/composer who is now based in Brussels. She introduced the string trio and harpist who would be playing the numerous mostly short (unidentified) pieces on this evenings program and then returnign to her laptop kicked things off with a loud, overbearing synth pad. The pieces were almost all constructed of her playing multitrack recordings on her MackBook while the string trio and harpist played along. The tracks she trigged mostly consisted of rather loud pads and washes plus the occasional sustained vocals worked into multitrack choirs. The musicians were pretty good and several of the pieces where they were more dominate I thought were the more engaging. Their playing was usually fairly long sustained, usually unaffected tones. Even the harpist bowed her instrument in the first piece though after that she played mostly rather staccato notes.  Vantzou also “conducted” these pieces, sort of “dancing” around doing rather Butch Morris-esque conducting.

Along with this there was also rather cliched video such as a slowed down candle flame and slow pans of a girl in a church and so on. This it appears was done by an unrelated “video artist” and accompanied most of the performance in the festival.

Kelly Wyse at the harpsichord

2) Michal Jacaszek

Michal Jacaszek  is a Polish “electro-acoustic composer” who for this show at least appeared to be laptop DJ-ing along with a harpsichord (Kelly Weyse) and clarinets (“Crystal” Beth Fleenor). Rather Saule like in his DJ-ing though with perhaps not quite as good of choices.  He used lots of acoustic instrument samples and was perhaps processing and sampling the two live instruments but it did seem that barring improvisation from the instrumentalists (which did not seem to be the case) he could have just played their contributions along with multitude of other elements he was utilizing.  Often fairly loud and dense each peice always had a point (or two) were everything dropped out to a bare minimum and then rebuilt in a different direction.  Overall fine with some nice moments, typically involving the harpsichord and bass clarinet interacting with the more worn way, fractured less beat-driven samples.

The video that was played along with Jacaszek included lots of slowed down water images and some forests shots but also some bad cg effects and cartoony figures with Afteraffects fliters applied to them.

3) Kim Cascone

In the booklet that accompanied the festical was a good four pages of bio and rumination from Kim Cascone. In it he goes through his history with meditation and developing “heightened awareness” especially w/r/t listening.  It even includes a series of exercises for you the listener to go through.  I have to say that while I’m sympathetic to his goals here I can’t help but wonder if it is perhaps not better to just let the listener find one’s own way there?  It didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the performance, though this, along with his introduction of the piece as “aural meditation”, did add a ponderousness to it that I do not think is inherent to the sounds.  Cascone sat in the very middle of the surround sound speaker setup which also included a huge sub-woofer right in the middle of the room. Equipped with just a laptop and mixer he played for about 30 minutes in the dark with no video playing. We were instructed to sit with our eyes closed and focus on our breath which I did. He also told us that since this wasn’t really music there was no need to applaud at the end.  The sounds were all beating tones at first pretty intense and then of varying intensities as the sounds shifted.  Typically he’d pick a pattern, which all resolved itself in your head into hyper-rythmic oscillations, sometimes with higher pitched stuff seeming to swirl about at an upper level, other times just a single repeated sound. This he’d let play out for a decent amount of time, at least five minutes I’d say – this would be about six different sounds over the thirty minutes which seems about right. There was definitely those interesting physical sensations of vibrating in the ear that you get with these acoustic experiments.  I agree with his assessment that it’s not really music per se  – that is he was more or less just presenting one acoustical phenomenon after another – but it was fascinating and completely engaging. It just being thirty minutes was also a wise choice; too much might get tedious and this seemed just the right amount to keep one interested and engaged the whole time.  Good stuff and while not a very effective aid to meditation IMO (the highly rhythmic nature tends to force you into a pattern that is contrary to natural breathing, which rather undermines the “focus on breath” aspect)  it was a good focusing experience. It probably would have been aurally interesting to have been able to walk around during the performance but I certainly respected his setting of the events parameters.



April Music

Micheal Johnsen's setup at the Chapel

(edit: 05.03.10: replaced the album cover art with better images that Michael sent me:  thanks Michael!)

This year I only went to two days of the 2010 Seattle Improvised Music Festival, but one of those days was completely revelatory. The night featured Michael Johnsen from Pennsylvania, whom was described only as playing “electronic devices of his construction”. In my musical exploration subverted, invented, re-purposed, etc electronics has been of high interest to me and considering that there seems to be a certain reticence toward electronics from the SIMF programmers this piqued my interest. Web searching didn’t reveal much: an album of duo material (2) where he seemed to not play much of these self-made electronics and this intriguing blurb from John Berndt’s Odd Instruments page:

Michael Johnsen lives in Pittsburgh and thinks near or beyond the edge of the routine organization of cognition – a true outsider. His work with original electronics, acoustic instruments, unusual film methods, language, and other media, reveals a brilliant mind that confronts phenomena with relatively little of the inherited worldview but with a tremendous amount of poetry. The entrance to Michael’s work is a withdrawal from “meaning” and a focus on aspects of perception and communication that are usually excluded – the rich universe of thoughts we habitually ignore but which are ultimately as palpable as anything else.

But it was this blurb from the label of his aforementioned duo album that made me sit up and take notice:

The first CD by one of the great minds of North American Experimental music, recorded live at High Zero 2003. Michael Johnson is both heir to the crown of David Tudor (for his incredible investigagtions into live performance of non-linear analog brains of his own creation) and also one of the most distinctive and brilliant improvisors on saw, reed, and other varied gambits.

Name checking Tudor will always garner my interest, though rarely is it justified. But a couple of YouTube Videos showcasing his solo electronics proved the comparisons were not without merit.

Watch this short clip of Johnsen performing at Chicago’s Lampo to see what I mean:

Fully intrigued now I made my way to Seattle’s Chapel Performance space on Februrary 19th 2010. When I walked into the hall, Johnsen was still on stage tweaking and adjusting his epic collection of homemade boxes and their corresponding rats nest of connections. He was running a radio broadcast through the setup and it was being heavily gated, creating this chopped up effect, turning the staid broadcast into a completely captivating bit of experimentation. The show had four sets, three with Johnsen, the first of which he performed with local improvisers on the musical saw. While a quite interesting saw performance (it featured little of the beautiful long wavering tones usually associated with the saw) I was dying to see his collection of bespoke electronics in action. I shortly got my chance as the second set was a solo electronics performance.

This sort of abstract electronics performance is hard to describe and especially if one wants to avoid merely creating a catalog of sounds and events.  Suffice it to say this performance, which was about twenty-five minutes in length, was very much in the vein of Tudor’s solo electronics work such as Toneburst, Phonemes, Untitled.  In fact I’d say that Johnsen’s language wasn’t too much evolved from in Tudors but the performance was all his. To me this has been a missing piece in Tudor’s legacy: if he was creating new instruments, new performance practices and a new form of composition then there has to be others utilizing these tools and practices. There has of course been the Composers Inside Electronics and a few others like Matt Rogalsky who I’d put in this vein but Johnsen is the first I’ve seen who really seemed to try to pick up where Tudor left off. Making his own instruments is certainly a vital aspect; I think a lot of Live Electronics types have tended toward exploring other aspects and not explored this area (as an aside this I think is becoming an increasing vital area as there are a lot more handmade, boutique and original electronics being made and used at this point). Anyway this performance was fantastic: chaotic, disruptive, highly varied, loud at times, spacious at others, it was incredible music and probably the most amazing thing I’ve seen as part of  SIMF.

Micheal Johnsen's setup at the Chapel Performance Space

The final set of the night Johnsen played with a couple more local improvisers of which he played the first half on electronics and the second half on saw. This was interesting to see how he’d use his wild and unpredictable setup with other musicians and in fact it worked quite well. He clearly highly restricted what it was doing, in effect utilizing a subset of the whole. He focused on working with radios letting the devices process the thin sounds of static. Every so often he’d let much louder disruptions through, which I thought was great as it kept things varied and broke through what could have been a rather staid performance. When he switched to saw, it was interesting as before, but a lot of energy was lost and I felt a bit superfluous after the first half. Still nice to see the electronics in collaboration.

Afterwards I got a chance to talk to Michael a bit and this was also quite interesting. We mostly talked about Tudor and his legacy and at one point I commentated that it seems like there has been somewhat of an increase in interest in Tudor and exploring some of his ideas and techniques of late. To this he replied (and I’m paraphrasing here) that while Tudor was alive there really wasn’t a lot of space for others to explore this territory and his passing has in effect open this up. This I think makes sense, but also I think the aforementioned interest in diy, hand made, boutique, original electronics had led people back to the source. He was selling three 3″ cd-rs of his solo material, the only source for his solo work as far as I know. I of course picked up all three of these. Each of these 3″ documented a live performance, two from 2009 and one from 2009. They each had a handmade cover, simply two pieces of very fragile paper with a an image on one and text on the other. All three of these utilize a similar suite of sounds and thus have the character of their creator, but as each setup is unique each performance has its own character and sound.

Michael Johnsen 27 July 2007The earliest release from July 27th 2007 was an excerpt from a 45 minute recording and is titled: Live electronic sound made by the tuning & spatial manipulation of two closely spaced portable AM radios having loopstick antennae, the resulting signal undergoing mild output processing, primarily filtering & gating. This piece, whose title describes the process so exacting, seems like it was close to that performance I describe above where he played with the other improvisers. Using two radios, held close together to cause interference, he could adjust the waves of static by moving them and minutely adjusting their tuning. His collection of devices would be left to run on their own, patched in this case to gate and filter the sounds.  Sort of like what I saw when I walked in during soundcheck, with the heavily chopped up radio, but in this case without any recognizable speech. It begins with these popping in squeaks, bursts of static, that odd sound made by tuning off a channel, and the occasional almost recognizable bit of radio. Of course readers of this blog will think of Keith Rowe and his brilliant use of the radio but let me tell you this is a completely unique approach to this device. I love Keith’s radio work and its hard to find others using it in a way that distinguishes itself from his technique and Johnsen’s use is definitely one of them. Even the occasional bits that would qualify as “grabs” feel so different, so random that it only reminds you how different and wonderful this is.

Michael Johnsen 19 Sep 2007The second release, Live Electronic sound recorded 19 Sep 2007 is more typical to the performance I saw, with a stream of little sounds, analog squeaks and bleats, but also lots of space in this one. The beginning of the piece is a cornucopia, of little sounds given plenty of room to breathe, many of them very quiet. The dynamic range of his electronics is impressive as it goes from this barely audible bubbling sounds to ear splitting blasts of over driven electronics. I love the use of space in this piece and the variety, to me this shows an individual response to Tudor’s performance practice as the pacing is clearly all Johnsen’s own. This piece has a real deliberate, exploratory, introverted nature to it as he works these mostly soft textures, manipulating them into different aspects of themselves.

Michael Johnsen 19 Feb 2009The most recent disc was recorded a year (to the day!) of the show I saw,  Live Electronic sound recorded 19 Feb 2009. It begins with a percussive sound, still electronics but sounding like the manipulation of heavy object capture by contact mics. Along with this is this occasional squawk and fizz of electronics, reminding you that this is live electronics. One bit of this recording is super sparse, with sounds almost like those generated by rubbing balloons. Something amongst these soft squeaks and groans was pretty amusing, generating some soft but audible chuckles from the audience. Reminding us again of the limitations of recordings of live music. This recording felt the most like the solo set I saw on this night: a wilder, with incredible dynamic range featuring extreme loud bits and barely audible sections, but also a bit more tentative, more exploratory. There is a lot of space in this music, a feature that I like a lot, letting the sounds be themselves, fully recognized and allowed to stand on their own, but with plenty of variety and texture that can be missed if it is all space. This one probably had my favorite collection of sounds, often fizzing away, chopped up, and incredibly well paced and structured.

One theme that runs through much of our conversation is the idea of pure investigation, a strong curiosity for sounds and events. The appreciation of art does not need to be regulated to gallery walls, but could occur at any point, in any situation. This is an apt description of the sounds emitting from Michael’s large stash of homemade/handmade electronic boxes, filters, etc. Each set is unique. Each venue provides a different set of acoustics to play off, a different number of bodies for the sound to travel through, a number of street sounds ready for response. For those of you who have seen Michael perform, there surely exists a quest for something unheard, a quest that is not without humor, but is surely without pretension.(4)

Upon acquiring these discs I did some more googling around and found this semi-review of the first two discs here as well as information on acquiring them directly from Johnsen. It seems that Metamkine stocks them (though probably more of a sure bet to contact Johnsen directly) and Vital Weekly did a so called “review” of these (though it hardly sounds like they were listened to much, but I suppose thats par for the course for that product). Needless to say I think these are well worth tracking down and anyone who reads this blog will certainly want to hear them. Michael’s email address can be found at that aforementioned review or contact me and I’ll hook you up with it as I’m not comfortable posting it. In closing let me just extend a hearty thanks to the SIMF for bring Michael to Seattle and introducing me to a new, vital voice working right in the area I’m most interested in these days.

This video reminds me the most of his Seattle show, with a bit more chaos and noise:

1) John Berndt’s Odd Instruments
2)  Adam Strohm Patience Tryouts review at FakeJazz
3) Micheal Johnsen Patience Tryouts from Recorded
4) Thoughts generated from an interview with Pittsburgh’s Michael Johnsen, David Bernab, Pittsburgh New Music Net

Eye Music Concert

My Prepared Wire Strung Harp. Click for more sizes
My Prepared Wire Strung Harp

We had a pretty good crowd at the Eye Music show on Thursday, something certainly not to be counted in a mid-week show late in the “holiday season”.  The performances were overall quite nice I thought, my favorites of those I was involved in was Cornelius Cardew’s Tiger’s Mind, which I’ve wanted to play for a long time.  This piece is a textual piece, a poetic little scenario with six characters each played by one of the musicians. Like the script in a play Cardew’s score  includes character notes for each character with motivations, interactions with the other characters and interesting little asides. The interpretation instructions for the piece suggest you begin with a fixed sextet and do a line by line almost literal interpretation of the piece. As you become more familiar with the piece you can work more with the characters nature as outline in the character notes and eventually you stop directly assigning the characters and the players do so themselves. Thus there could be multiple players assigned to each character but as long as they treat the other players as the other characters it all works out.  This piece is basically Cardew’s exploration of improvisation, almost a step by step process from set parts to working with the other players directly.  A great piece that I for one would like to play a lot more.

The Tiger’s Mind

The tiger fights the mind that loves the circle that traps the tiger. The circle is perfect and outside time. The wind blows dust in tigers’ eyes. Amy reflects, relaxes with her mind, which puts out buds (emulates the tree). Amy jumps through the circle and comforts the tiger. The tiger sleeps in the tree. High wind. Amy climbs the tree, which groans in the wind and succumbs. The tiger burns.

The tiger burns and sniffs the wind for news. He storms at the circle; if inside to get out, if outside to get in. Amy sleeps while the tiger hunts. She dreams of the wind, which then comes and wakes her. The tree trips Amy in the dark and in her fall she recognizes her mind. The mind, rocked by the wind tittering in the leaves of the tree, and strangled by the circle, goes on the nod. The circle is trying to teach its secrets to the tree. The tree laughs at the mind and at the tiger fighting it.

We played just the Nightpiece (Cardew specifies that the two parts are to be played on different days) and our performance of the piece was delicate, sensitive and I thought really beautiful. Not to say that it was reductionist in any way, the score certainly calls for more aggressive playing at times: The Tiger burns; He Storms at the circle; The Tree Trips Amy in the darkThe Mind, rocked by by the Wind…and strangled by the circle; the tiger fighting it. The sleeping Amy, the padding of the hunting tiger, the wind tittering and so on, certainly sets a dreamy and floating stage out of which these points of action arise.

My Table of Manipulators. Click for more sizes
My Table of Manipulators

The bulk of the second set was a performance from the entire ensemble of Earle Brown’s December 1952, one of the pieces from his Folio. I love this piece and have played it with the Seattle Improv Meeting as well as with Eye Music. This was the first time I’ve performed it live though and this was my other favorite performance of the evening.  The score (which you can sort of make out on the cover of the program up there), implies spaciousness, sounds coming as discrete events twinkling out of a sea of silence. The loose “instructions” that Brown includes with the piece are almost entirely about space, approaches for navigating through the events. With sounds completely open and the diverse setups of the ensemble which was in a circle around the audience it really was a sea of sounds that came out of the resonant space of the Chapel. The score indicates that at least in one interpretation the thicker line indicate dynamics, so it wasn’t just a uniform wash of tiny sounds. No there were passages of loud and dense events that due to the nature of the score and the fact that you can play it at any orientation, not to mention the differing pace of each performer, meant they could come at any time throughout the performance of the piece. Overlapping events, loud or quiet would occasionally reach a level of actual density, but more often then not they would provide that joyous collision of sound that combined exceed the glory of the original sounds.  We played this piece for a half an hour, which really is a good duration for the piece, allowing for a nice separation of the sounds but again thanks to the size of the ensemble and the differences in the performers there were never extended periods of absolute silence. Enough I think to allow the very positive addition of the other sounds audible from the performance space but not to a degree that that becomes the piece.

All in a all a good evening of music and one I was proud to participate in. The other pieces were great as well and everything was done well. The audience was very respectful and seemed to be enjoying themselves. Thanks to all for a good evening.

Eye Music 2009 gig

EyeMusic 2009 concert poster. Click for more sizes
EyeMusic 2009 concert poster

The second general Eye Music concert coming up in a couple of weeks once again at the Chapel Performance Space in Seattle WA . The concert takes place Thursday December 17th 2009 and will feature performances of graphic and textual scores by Mieko Shiomi, William Hellerman, Cornelius Cardew, Boguslaw Schaffer, Greg Bright, Malcolm Goldstein and Earle Brown. Poster and text by Eric Lanzillotta.

Full program details:

December 17th 2009
Chapel Performance Space at the Good Shepherd Center
4649 Sunnyside Ave. N (corner of 50th, in Wallingford)

Performing the following graphical and textual pieces:

  • Mieko Shiomi Boundary Music (a Fluxus piece from the 1960’s)
  • William Hellerman Circle Music 1 (a graphic quartet presented in two versions)
  • Cornelius Cardew Sextet: The Tiger’s Mind (a poetic textual score that Cardew wrote initially for AMM)
  • Boguslaw Schaffer Free Form I ( a Polish exploration of symbols, lines, letters, & words)
  • Greg Bright Labyrinth II ( Scratch piece; an aural game of concentration)
  • Earle Brown December 1952 (From Folio; one of the most well known graphic scores from this contemporary of John Cage, Morton Feldman and Christian Wolff
  • Malcolm Goldstein Yoshi’s Morning Song (A Graphic representation of children’s song)

as performed by:

Eric Lanzillotta, Dean Moore, David Stanford, Jonathan Way, Esther Sugai, Amy Denio, Stuart Dempster, Robert j Kirkpatrick, Carl Lierman, Susie Kozawa, Mike Shannon and Dave Knott (more details and bios on the Eye Music site).

Summer Bounty: Five days of Improvised Music in Seattle

Over the next five days there are four concerts and two panel discussions well worth seeing. The first four days were setup by Seattle Improvised Music, so much thanks to them for continuing to bring great musicians to Seattle.  The fifth day is a west coast tour from NYC based Delicate Sen, who will be playing a number of other shows.  Additionally lot of these musicians are also playing Portland (probably already have I’m afraid) and some will also be doing (or have done) Vancouver, so if you are in the PNW but outside of Seattle check around. Anyway I’m going to try to make most of these shows, but will definitely not be able to make it to tomorrows panel discussion (2pm Friday afternoon – I wonder who is expected to make it?). If anyone reading here does make it to that panel let me know how it goes.

Update 08.21.09
So I went to the first of these shows last night (the only non-performer in the audience – c’mon Seattle!) and it turns out that these shows are also including local improvisers. I don’t think the lineup will be the same for all nights but last night it included Gust Burns, Wilson Shook and Mara Sedlins. I think Gust and Wilson at least will be playing tonight and tomorrow possibly with other locals.

August 20th

Bonnie Jones, Vic Rawlings, Bryan Eubanks, Chris Cogburn
with locals Gust Burns, Wilson Shook and Mara Sedlins
Chapel Performance Space, Seattle WA USA

August 21st
Panel Discussion: Improvised music today – perspectives on artist run infrastructure
with Bonnie Jones, Vic Rawlings, Bryan Eubanks, Chris Cogburn
Gallery 1412, Seattle WA USA

Bonnie Jones, Vic Rawlings, Bryan Eubanks, Chris Cogburn
Chapel Performance Space, Seattle WA USA

August 22nd
Bonnie Jones, Vic Rawlings, Bryan Eubanks, Chris Cogburn
Gallery 1412, Seattle WA USA

August 23rd
Panel Discussion: Improvised music today – improvisation in community
with Bonnie Jones, Vic Rawlings, Bryan Eubanks, Chris Cogburn
Gallery 1412, Seattle WA USA

August 24th
Delicate Sen (Billy Gomberg, Anne Guthrie, Richard Kamerman)
with locals Mark Collins, Mara Sedlins, Tyler Wilcox and Wilson Shook
Gallery 1412
, Seattle WA USA

Deep Listening Band plays the Chapel

Deep Listening Band takes their bows
David Gamper, Pauline Oliveros, Stuart Dempster

Saturday night after my long day with the Trimpin film and related activities I drove clear across town from the Lawrimore Project to the Chapel Perfomance Space to see the Deep Listening Band. I’ve long been a fan of the DLB, especially their earlier releases and I couldn’t pass up this rare chance to see them perform in Seattle.  They performed twice this evening at 7 and 8:30 and I had fortuitously signed up for the later show.  With all the activities I engaged in on that day I barely had a chance to grab a sandwich and make it to the show by 8:15.  The entrance to the Good Shephard Center was packed with the departing crowd from the 7 show and the arriving crowd for the next set.  It was though only a couple of minutes before we were ushered to the stairs and able to enter the chapel.  I secured a chair in the fourth row and went to check out the merch table which was being run by local record store Dissonant Plane.  There was a wide selection of Merch from throughout the DLBs history: their first album recorded in the Cistern Chapel to their latest double LP, Then & Now Now & Then.  I resisted the lure of the merch but talked a bit to Dissonant Plane co-owner Eric Lanzilotta who had recently returned from Indonesia. Before to long I returned to my seat and the show began.

Steve Peters, founder of the Non-Sequitur organization who puts on most of the great shows I’ve seen at the Chapel, came out to introduce the band and pointed out that both Non-Sequitur and the Deep Listening Band were celebrating their twenty-fifth anniversary.  After  few more words he introduced Pauline Oliveros, David Gamper and local treasure Stuart Dempster and the  Deep Listening Band took the stage.  After a quick introductory bow they took their places to general applause in the packed chapel.  Each member was sat in front of a laptop with various interface equipment as well as their acoustic instrument. Gamper on stage left with the Chapels grand piano, Oliveros in the middle with her accordion and Dempster on the right with his trombone and didgeridoo.

Along with their acoustic instruments they also were playing iPhones and and their computers through Oliveros Expanded Instrument System (EIS).  This system is basically a computer controlled system of delays and reverbs that route their sounds through a multi-channel sound reproduction system.  It basically replicates through technological means the deep delays of spaces such as the Cistern Chapel that the DLBs music so favors.  The piece they were playing tonight, DroniPhonia, with iPhones, Spatialization and Multiple Instruments (2009) also utilized the computer system for a random spatialization and where the sounds they generated would end up being amplified was constantly shifting.  The piece seemed to be partly the technology used but then a simple structural element:

DroniPhonia has polytonal drones continually morphing timbres, volumes and fundamentals moving in space.  Musicians listen to the drones and developed gradually overlapping improvised sounds and phrases – first solo and then between two then three players at a time in a slowly growing density and texture.” (from the program notes)

The piece developed as described but went through three basic sonic phases. It began with electronically generated tones from iPhones and perhaps the computers (my view of Dempster was somewhat obscured but the iPhones were clear in Gamper’s hands) that build up into a foundational wash. This built up in density but wasn’t overly loud in any way, it was a rich, multi-layered drone with changes in timbre and feel most likely from the randomly shifting spatialization.  After some time Dempster picked up his ‘bone and added in  beautiful long low tones that merged perfectly with the electronics while at the same time adding a warmth and organic feel.  After a bit of time Gamper switched to a small wooden flute and Oliveros picked up her accordion.  The drone now had three acoustic elements: the long tone hushed tones of the trombone, a high thin piping from the wooden flute and the steady pump organ sound of the accordion.  The electronic wash seemed to slowly die away and the drone became primarily acoustic, though manipulated by the EIS with reverb, delays and the random shifting of position. One of the most effective parts in combination with the EIS was when Dempster and Gamper were playing shorter tones with conch shells and you could hear these sounds coming from all around the room at various times. During this part Oliveros tapped on her accordion with her fingers and over the dying elements of the computer wash the performance took on a percussive aspect. This heralded the next phase of the performance which was made up of short elements: keyed phrases on the accordion, short tones from the trombone, gentle chords on the piano.  These shorter events coelesced back into extended tones and longer sounds and eventually returned to a pure acoustic drone where even the EIS seemed to be in minimal use.  From here it all faded away and then stopped and we all sat for three or four minutes in silence until they signaled the end.

Drone, like noise and certain other experimental musics suffers from the fact that it is rather easy to do adequately.  But merely adequate drone (and noise and so on) doesn’t satisfy, it lacks depth and resonance.   Expert construction of a drone taps into some deep primal part of the brain and entrances one completely.  As is so often the case it is a deep structure that is there beneath what may seem on the surface as stasis.  The music tonight was always shifting, always evolving and was never obvious. It did what the DLB does so well but moment to moment it was never exactly as you’d predict.  In the fading daylight of this beautiful day, with the windows of the chapel open allow the sounds of distant traffic, people at work and play, birds and wind the Deep Listening Band tapped into that true cosmic drone and put on a truly rewarding performance.

Check out all of my pictures from this event here.

Olivia Block in the Chapel

Olivia Block in the Chapel
Olivia Block in the Chapel

On Friday May 15th Olivia Block put on a performance of her music both solo tape music and several chamber music pieces.  In all honesty I’ve never really been all that taken with Block’s music, it comes across to me as overly, for lack of a better word, simplistic.  That is to say that it is not made up of simple elements, in the main I can get behind that, but that that it is so directly representation. Her last solo album Heave To I think is a prime example of this.  That album was about the sea but it was simply made up of sounds that sure are of the sea, things that people could easily associate with the sea but never captured the essence of the sea, that primal and mysterious connection we have with the sea.  It’s like using a black cloaked figure with a scythe in your film to represent death- direct, obvious lacking subtly.  That being said there aspects I’ve enjoyed in her music and it can work well as background music.  Seeing her live in Seattle is not a frequent occurrence (this could be the first time for all I know) and in this instance she was debuting some chamber music so I felt it was worth checking out.

As usual a Friday evening show meant a dash from work and what with being busy there and some bad traffic it was even more stressful then normal.  But I made it there about fifteen minutes before show time so once again it all worked out.  There were three piece played, the first solo the second just the chamber group and the final piece (after a short break) was Block with chamber group.

1) Untitled solo piece (~15 min)

The first piece was Olivia solo and she began by setting up some sounds from cassette decks and possible other sound sources. These sounds were loops of crackly sounds, hollow metallic sounds and various washes and creaks. After a bit of this she moves to the piano and adds various sounds mainly from manipulating the strings directly with other objects. Metal on metal, a mallet on the strings, a small piece of sheet metal dropped onto the strings.  Sometimes these sounds were sampled and immediately looped creating a much more denser wash of sounds at this point.  The climax of the piece was this generated density upon which she layered on a tape of a group chanting to which was added massive drums.  This was definitely the loudest portion of the piece (though not overwhelming in any way) and quite dense to the point that only certain sounds rose above the undifferentiated mass. The piece more or less concluded after this peak by her taking this apart so that only the original sounds remained.

To me this piece came across as an exercise in exploring an technical idea, there were some neat sounds but there was wasn’t anything there.  As I’ve found with a lot of Blocks work it the sounds could have been given more space as well.

Righthand half of the Chamber group
Righthand half of the Chamber group

2) Stupid Afternoon (~15 min)
The next piece, whose title comes from a Wallace Stevens poem (Hibiscus on the Sleeping Shores unless he used that line often), was for a chamber ensemble in which Ms. Block did not take part. In this instance it was performed by Tiffany Lin, piano; Paul Taub, flute;  Jesse Canterbury, clarinet; Lori Goldston, cello; Tari Nelson-Zagar, violin; Sarah Bass, viola; and Julia Tai, conductor.  Lots of sounds, short phases coming and going, having a feel almost of busier mid century classical music with structure more akin to minimalisms use of short phases. Perhaps it is like minimalism without the direct repetition.  The gestures from the musicians were in the main traditional with little obvious extended techniques used.  A rising phases, a short series of chords, a single short blown note and so on.  Toward the middle of the piece there were a couple softer moments with longer tones that worked much better but all too soon the gabbiness was back.

Block introduced this piece saying that while she has always composed it is only recently that she’s been working on paper writing this kind of compositions. Listening to this piece I found this very easy to believe, it had a lot of features that you’d encounter among student composers, a lack of restraint realized in that most of the players played most of the time as if she didn’t want to leave anyone out. Ultimately I wasn’t very taken with the piece at all.

Violin, Viola and Piano
Violin, Viola and Piano

3) Untitled chamber piece (~25 min)
This piece was not introduced nor is there any writeup about it on the Wayward Music blog posting. The chamber musicians were playing from a score and there also was a box placed on a music stand in the front of the stage that all of the musicians could see. The ensemble was the same as before except there was no conductor (except for perhaps the box!) and Olivia was at (well mostly inside) the piano instead of Tiffany Lin. The piece was for tape, and chamber ensemble and was a traditional tape piece in that it was started and just ran its course throughout.  The piece began with Block inside the piano manipulating the strings in a quite sparse manner on her own. After some time the strings came in all three of them bouncing their bows on strings shortly followed by the winds just blowing air through their instruments. The tape slowly came up around this point with a crackly wash that built up a bit into the hollow sound of of wood knocking against wood in water.  The piece constantly built and at one Block played outside the piano a number of descending tones. Not really a scale per se, more as if one just randomly played a note lower down the keyboard then the one previously played.  This was pretty disengaging.  Eventually the tape became built up to a roar and Block was pounding the keys and the others were not playing.  This was really dense with huge pounded chords atop the wash of the tape and the density only increased as the entire ensemble came in playing continuously sustained tones. This one on for four or five minutes (max) and eventually petered out leaving just the tape playing for a short time and then it was done.

According to the Wayward Music page for this show this piece is “a loosely scored/partially improvised piece for prepared piano and electronic sounds which uses the complexity of overtones and rich timbres from low amplified piano tones. The physicality of performance is emphasized through the repetition of gestures for extreme durations.”  The partially scored aspect was clear in that the tapes were created beforehand and that the actions on the piano were by their nature somewhat indeterminate and during the peak of intensity their certainly was lot of physicality that definitely could have been from repeated activity, it was a little hard to tell from the audience but she was either repeatedly working the keys or inside the piano. I found the scoring for this piece to be more to my liking then the previous – more diversity of sound that had a fresher feel with less emphasis placed on everyone playing all the time.  Yet Blocks playing and the tape once again overwhelmed the proceedings with their continuous sounds.  While I’d certainly never argue that there is only one way to do this kind of music, that silence and space is a prerequisite I think that in the case of the pieces performed they would have been a lot stronger had this been the case.  There were moments in all of the pieces played tonight, the first third of this one in particular that were fantastic but none of them were consistent throughout.  All told as much problems as I’ve had with Blocks tape pieces I think that they are definitely a lot stronger then her chamber work.

For more of my pictures from this evening, click here.

[update 05.19.09]
So I got an email from Olivia with some factual corrections which I have applied to the text above.

Morton Subotnick in Seattle

April 30th 2009
Morton Subotnick
Chapel Performance Space, Seattle  WA

Its been one of those weeks – I’m in a busy phase at work, there’s a backlog of chores piling up around the house and to top things off my glasses broke on Tuesday.  My old backup pair was now quite old (from 1998 it turned out) and my last prescription was over two years out of date. So along with all the other stuff that needed doing I sorted out the insurance, got my eyes checked and then desperate for a pair of glasses that wouldn’t causes headaches went to one of those “glasses in an hour” places and got a new pair.  All of these latter activities happened on the day of this show and what with trying to get some work done and bad traffic I made it to the show about 5 minutes after the advertised start time.  Luckily they hadn’t begun yet and I found a seat way to the right in the back.  Glancing around the room I noticed the four speaker setup and knew I’d regret this position, so I moved up to an empty seat on the aisle of the center section. It still turned out to be somewhat dominated by one speaker, but definitely a lot better then my previous seat.

As I became increasingly interested in electronic music I of course checked out Morton Subotnick.  The college I went to happened to have several Buchla Synthesizers and they were the first of that kind I was ever able to play with.  Subotnick is as associated with the Buchla as Carlos is with the Moog, so this was my first reason to seek out Silver Apples of the Moon.  His mastery of the Buchla was clear, but honestly I wasn’t particularly taken with his compositions.  He does I think deserve his pioneer status as a real new music composer for pure electronics in that he avoided the two most common traps you found in electronic musics of the era: reinterpreting popular classics on new instruments and the gee whiz factor.  The first of these of course would be what made Wendy Carlos famous (though to her credit she went on to do a lot more, particularly excellent work in the soundtrack area) but it has a long history. Arguably the first electronic instrument the Theramin was heavily promoted as fitting in with the orchestra and its greatest practitioner Clara Rockmore devoted her immense skill to basically trying to replace the principle violin parts in classic pieces.  Far more common though was the “gee whiz wouldja listen to this” factor where electronic instruments would crank out wacky sounds and there was little or no effort placed on composition.  This too has a long history from the absolute beginnings of electronic music: so many of the musique concrete and tape music pieces are absolutely without compositional merit and are simply novelties.  

Subotnick composed real music for electronics it just happens that I’m rarely 100% behind his compositions.  They almost all have strong segments but then there is always some form of excess that spoils them a bit for me.  It wasn’t until the excellent Avant Garde Project that I finally heard Subnotnik’s “Ghost Electronics” and a number of pieces that I really loved especially on The Double life of Amphibians (though one track is not so hot, maybe the one with the soprano?). A later AGP volume feature more “Ghost Electronics” which while not as strong as The Double life of Amphibians is still worth the download. Ghost Electronics for those not familiar was a term that Subnotki coined for applying electronic processing to acoustically sourced sounds.  He had a system of parameters that he’d manipulate and the electronic score for the (conventionally notated) instrumental pieces would consist of the application of these parameters. More information on the Ghost Electronics process can be found in the technical section of Subotnick’s website.

I wasn’t sure at all though what sort of music Subotnick had been doing since the 70s and figuring this was a rare chance to see him perform his works I did all the necessary rushing around to get to the show. A few minutes after I got my seat the director for the Washington Composers Forum Transport series, who had brought him out, introduced the show. They hadn’t printed very comprehensive program notes so Subotnick came out and introduced the pieces.  It turns out that he still is working with ghost electronics though in a much more sophisticated way thanks to modern digital electronics. The program would consist of two of these later ghost electronics pieces and his last pure electronics piece composed in 1978.

1) The Other Piano (2007)
Subotnick described this as a “four dimensional painting of the piano piece” which was traditionally notated piano piece.  The piece was dedicated to Morton Feldman and is titled from an amusing episodes that the two Morties had experienced.  Apparently shortly after Subnotnik had gotten married Feldman was congratulated on his recent marriage, to which he replied, “thanks, but that was the other Morty”.  So this piece is “The Other Piano” which is presumably the electronic image that Subotnick painted of the acoustic piano piece.  Interesting he also described his processing of the piece as improvisatory making me thing he is no longer scoring at least all of the aspects of the processing.

The piece open with just the piano, playing faster and louder then one would expect for a piece dedicated to Morton Feldman.   Then the electronics switched on with that audible thunk you hear when you turn on an amplifier when a source is already on.  At this point the piano settled down and while it clearly wasn’t aping Feldman it definitely was more in his territory.  It was more sweetly tonal then Feldman and notes didn’t linger nearly as long so it didn’t have that effortless floating effect of his piano pieces. But it used a lot of space, short little runs, single notes and soft chords.  Clearly the space was there to give the electronics room to play out and often I felt this was actually to its detriment.  The electronics was quite often delayed afterimages of the piano’s lingering tones and some of this I felt was rather stereotyped and even a bit cheesy. For example on fairly lengthy segment consisted of a single note or chord that would be echoed three times (at least audibly) with a certain amount of processing one each echo. The processing was of a spectral nature, taking the tone and smearing it out across its partials creating a wash of harmonics that had a fuzzy gentle dissonance to them.  Much more effective to my ears were sections where the processing overlapped with the piano playing which gave the piano an alien sound as if it was playing glass strings or was actually made of electricity.  

In general I quite liked the piano piece and probably about a third of the electronics and for a long piece (20-30 minutes I’d say) I was pretty engaged most of the time.  The aforementionedd echo-y bits and later section the came across as almost new-agey string washes from the electronics were the only parts where my interest waned. You read more about this piece and actually watch a few video clips at The Other Piano page at Subotnick’s site.

2) A Sky of Cloudless Silver (1978)
This piece was Subotnick’s final electronic piece after which he focused primarily on combining electronics with acoustics.  Apparently from 1961-1978 he worked only with electronics which, especially in the early days, involved a lot of technical work and he was instrumental in the development of some of the early instruments and techniques.  He said it wasn’t until this piece that he was able to really work without limitations and after he did this piece he was able to move on.

Subotnick was seated a large-ish mixing console in roughly the center of the audience and for the other pieces the other musicians were up front on stage.  Subotnick remained in the back with his laptop playing this piece which definitely used the four channel system.  This piece was not super removed from his other electronic compositions of the  Silver Apples of the Moon era and while it didn’t seem to be a big break with any of those techniques it could be read as a summing up of that era of his music. In general I found this as I have all of his early electronics – interesting, occasionally fascinating, but the composition didn’t do to much for me. At first I thought it was going to be the best of his pure electronics yet as it began with a much more deliberate introduction that even included several gaps in it.  But as his pieces always seem to do, it evolved into a firestorm of activity which while still made up of pretty interesting sounds (and avoiding a lot of the traditionally cheesy sounds you’d hear such as arpeggios, ring modulation abuse, campy filter sweeps and the like).  The final movement was highly rhythmic and was clearly using African polyrhythms with this hollow almost drum like sound. This was actually pretty different and neat for electronics if not exactly my kind of thing.  In the final analysis this piece probably was the best pure electronics Subotnick I’ve heard but still wasn’t a piece I could totally get behind.

After the piece he came to the front to receive applause and told us that he is going to embark on a world tour next year where he’d perform this piece and all of Silver Apples on the original Buchla!  He’s said he’d try to book a Seattle date for that tour, which drew a cheer. I know I’d go.

3) Then and Now and Forever (2008)
This piece was not dedicated to a specific person but was loosely dedicated to a series of people who had died recently.  It was scored for Piano, Clarinet and Violin again with electronics.

This was probably my favorite piece of the evening though it did seem to display a little lack of restraint in the middle section.  The beginning was quite sparse with just the piano picking out notes in the beginning as the electronics, violin and clarinet seamlessly fused into an otherworldly texture. In a way it reminded me a bit of Lucier’s works for oscillator and ‘cello though not quite as piecing as those pieces. But it had that effect where it seemed like the electronics and acoustic instruments were working in a narrow range and twisting around each other’s tones to creating beating effects at times and at other times it seemed like there were impossible overtones from these instruments.  The piano would poke through this with spikier little interjections, usually little runs and chords.  This was broken for the more energetic section but it wasn’t a deal breaker. Mainly the piano and electronics were a little loud, losing the other instruments and the electronics was more in synth wash territory for a bit.

Overall a nice piece if not 100% to my liking.  It’s one of those slippery pieces were a lot of the events and details slip from memory though it was constantly varied. The parts that evoked the Lucier piece but with piano was definitely the most memorable.  Overall this was quite an interesting evening of music and it was good to see the Chapel so packed with people to see this kind of music.  I wasn’t sure what to expect and while I wasn’t blown away by anything I enjoyed myself quite a bit and would see Subotnick again.