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


Jason Kahn with local improvisors at Gallery1412

Gallery 1412 before Jason Kahn and Gust Burns duo set
Gallery 1412 before Jason Kahn and Gust Burns duo set

Wednesday April 8th
Jason Kahn , Gust Burns, Christopher DeLaurenti, Mara Sedlins and Wilson Shook
Gallery 1412, Seattle  WA

Jason Kahn, an American expat living in Zurich Switzerland was in Seattle this week for a couple of shows.  On Wednesday he played in Gallery1412 in duo with Gust Burns and in a quartet with Gust Burns, Mara Sedlins and Wilson Shook. In between Christopher DeLaurenti did a solo set of electro-acoustic music utilizing a homemade cardboard turntable.  The following night Jason Kahn and Gust Burns did a duo set at Dissonant Plane which alas I was not able to attend.  Mid-week shows are always tough to make but happily I was able to leave work at nearly a normal time last Wednesday and make it into the city in time for this show. In fact I even had enough time to walk down to Madison Market at pick up a cup of green tea before the show.  When I had first reached the gallery there was only one audient there and setup was still in place. On returning from the store it had filled up and in fact the music started only five or ten minutes upon my return.

I’d seen Jason Kahn perform a few  times before as part of 2008’s SIMF, one of the highlights which was his duo with Gust Burns. So I was eagerly anticipating seeing this reunion but also the quartet with Sedlins and Shook whose music I have really been enjoying for the last couple of years.  A turntable set from Christopher DeLaurenti in between these sets I felt would nicely break things up and I was also curious how his cardboard turntable would transform the otherwise banal Bolero.  I’m happy to say that despite being pretty beat down from what was already a stressful week that this turned out to be probably the single most successful night of improvisation I’ve seen this year.

The first set, the duo of Jason Kahn and Gust Burns, had Burns playing his home made electro-acoustic piano guts instrument. On the previous occasion that I’d seen this duo he was using the Chapels grand piano to great effect so this was inherently going to be a bit different.  Kahn was playing the same setup I’d seen before: miced bass drum and analog synthesizer. Over the course of 20 maybe 25 minutes he used these tools in a similar manner as I had seen him do previously generating  prickly static, washes of sound from rubbing the drums head and sides, tapped and rubbed cymbals on the drumhead and feedback manipulated by using cymbals in-between the mic and drums surface . Burns at first added long extended tones from doweling his instrument, these much more extended then I’m used to seeing him do. He moved them around a bit sometimes not on strings created rough prickly sounds from interaction with the wood at other times he’d mute the  strings with other dowells and then evoke much more dry and guttural tones from the strings. The most interesting technique that used this evening, that I hadn’t seen before was running  pure tones (from an iPod – a trick I’ve done myself!) through contact mics which he both let play as overlapping tones and generated metallic buzzes and zings by exciting the strings with then. This section got pretty loud and dense and Kahn worked washes of feedback during this building up a thick, rich and prickly wash. They brought things down and continued on with swarms of sound in varying densities until after slowly bringing it down for a bit they simultaneously ceased.  A really great set with lots of challenging and engaging sounds with an evolving structure that never felt totally familiar.

Almost directly following the duo set Chris DeLaurenti got up and moved to a set of three chairs in the center of the Gallery floor. He had a mixer on one, taking the output of a tie clip mic that was on a wedge of cardboard taped onto an old laptop.  The wedge of cardboard had (for this piece) a cactus needle on the bottom which was used to read the records.  The first piece he played was Ravel’s Bolero from old 78s which took up four album sides. He’d manually spin the records via an offset hole in the center part of the record utilizing a bic pen. The tune was nor at all recognizable on side 1 during the part where it is low volume and density. As the  piece picked up a rhythmic section here or a fragment of melody there would occasionally reveal itself buried under static, pops and variable speed basic warps.  Overall this was by far the best version I’ve heard of this  piece, which in general I’m not a fan of. He followed this up with Stravinsky’s’ Piano-rag which was clearly more up tempo and created an almost buzzing, warble as he spun through the record.  A fun, and challenging break between the two sets of improvised music.

While I’d expected the Burns/Kahn set to be great this set was the one I was the most curious about.  I’ve seen Burns, Shook and Sedlins in quite a few combination’s over the last few years and adding in Kahn (or say replacing Collins in the Gust Burns Quartet with Kahn) seemed like it’d work well.  In fact as much as I love the GBQ I occasionally feel that they all work in a similar sound world which when they really align their sounds seems a bit less rich then it should.  Adding in someone who works with percussion and electronics could be just the contrast that’d kick a really solid group into even great things. So it was with a sinking feeling that they  started off with all of them playing dry whispery sounds all about in the same sonic range.  This went on for a couple of minutes: Burns created dry rustling sounds from his dowels, Sedlins slow affectless bowing generating low scraps, Shook a thin background whisper from breaking through his sax and Kahn just rubbing the side of his base drum basically creating about the same sounds.  This went on for a couple of minutes and then most of them broke away from these sounds and everything opened up: Sedlins doing more Lachenmann-esque scrunchy sounds, plucked strings, tapping the back of the bow against the strings and body of her viola and later in the set actual tonal bowing, sometimes with a warble slow vibrato.  Kahn switched his focus more toward his synth generating an array of sounds from synthy bleeps and bloops but also pure tones, crackly electronic sounds and static washes. This was a good choice as they really played against the dominant aesthetic even as they others mixed it up.  Additionally he used the harder sounds of his percussion, the cymbals, microphone feedback and the like further contrasting with the others. Shook continued with the breathy sounds at first but then mixed it up with rattly, static and spittly sounds at one point leaning back and emitting soft buzzing sounds that complemented and contrasted excellently with the group sound. Burns doweled a lot, again utilizing much longer tones then he often does, but additionally had a  short section of the pure tone stuff in the middle which gelled well with Kahns low rumbles at the time.  The piece was never silent but densities constantly shifted and while there were many moments when they all played there were many times when several of them would lay out. The ending was really pretty amazing with the density getting lower and lower over a decently long interval and then first Shook and the then Sedlins dropped out shortly followed by Kahn and Burns in a nicely synced conclusion.

This was a great evening of music, varied, intense, engaging and filled with many interesting sounds and collisions of sounds. It was a restless music, often built from sustained parts and avoiding many of the clichés of this music.  It was often soft enough that sounds from outside would interact in complementary ways but it never fell into total silence (which itself is perhaps becoming a cliché in contemporary improvisation. Perhaps more on that later).  I’ve come to quite enjoy Jason Kahn live even if I only really like a couple of his recordings. There is a rumor he was doing some recording while he was up here, I would be very interested to hear recordings of any of the combinations that performed tonight.

SIMF 2009 Preview part 1

Seattle Improvised Music Festival 2009

[Ed: Updated Feb. 13th  now that the final schedules seem to be in place]

This weekend is the first of two weekends for this years SIMF. Once again there is a lot of music packed into the two weekends, even more then normal as this year some sets feature multiple performances.  I’ve covered the festival at length the last few years and once again I do intend to attend the bulk of it.

As usual the festival brings in a number of national and international improvisers and showcases them within their own contexts (solo or their own projects) as well as in various combinations with regional improvisers.  The two halves of the festival feature different groups of guests and locals with some overlap with the locals. The second half seems to still be up in the air; previously there was a number of shows listed with Micheal Thieke, Kai Fagaschinski and Lê Quan Ninh that are now all TBA.  [ed: not TBA at all, see comments for hints to why].

Anyway with the second week still up in the air, lets just focus on the first half of the festival:

February 13th

7pm: Chapel Performance Space

  1. Greg Kelley / Doug Theriault / Kelvin Pittman trio
    Christine Sehnaoui solo
  2. Greg Kelley / Gust Burns / Mara Sedlins / Mark Collins / Wilson Shook quintet
    Andrew Drury solo
  3. Liz Tonne solo
    large ensemble

February 14th

12pm: Gallery 1412

Workshops with festival Improvisers TBD

7pm: Chapel Performance Space

  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

February 15th

12pm: Gallery 1412

Panel Discussion with festival Improvisers TBD

7pm: Gallery 1412

  1. Kelvin Pittman / Andrew Drury duo
  2. Christine Sehnaoui / Greg Kelley / Doug Theriault / Gust Burns quartet
  3. Large Ensemble

The first half features Greg Kelley, a fantastic trumpeter from the east coast in various combinations with regional players. Kelley, one half of nmperign, plays trumpet in about the most extended manner possible, working in small, spare sounds, sometimes augmented with simple preparations and the occasional electronic effects.  The first performance he is involved with is highly intriguing: a trio with Kelvin Pittman and Doug Theriault.  Pittman is a great sax player from Portland OR, who  is a versatile player that I’ve seen in numerous contexts but have enjoyed the most his abstract work that doesn’t at all remind me of Butcher, or Rives or Wright.  Theriault, I haven’t seen in a long time and am quite curious what he is up to now. A curious mix of guitar and “live electronic music systems” which IIRC are semi-autonomous  software programs he interacts with via his guitar. In this set along with this trio, will be Andrew Drury, a NYC based percussionist, performing solo. I’ve heard Drury in a couple of combo’s, but am not really up on his sound so I’m looking forward to get a chance to become familiar with his work.

The second set features Kelley with the Gust Burns Quartet, whom I’ve seen before and quite enjoy. Kelley’s minimal, sound oriented playing should meld perfectly with this quartet and is definitely a set I’m looking forward to. Performing solo this set, is MA based vocalist Liz Tonne.  I have not enjoyed the work of hers that I have heard in the past, either solo or in combination, but I know she has her fans. You can download a track from her (and also Kelley) from the excellent Music Overheard comp to a preview..

The final set is Christine Sehnaoui solo, apparently a France based Saxophonist whom I’m completely unaware of (always exciting!) and the ubiquitous “large group”, which presumably is all of the nights musicians performing in one large group. Somewhat of a cliche for these types of festivals, but one that SIMF has not indulged in for the last few years. But it is back in force, with each night ending with this. New this year is the solo along with a group for each set. This is interesting I think, especially as these solos tend to be pretty short.  It guarantees a full evening of music and the festival is starting early (7pm) each night to accommodate this.

The next two nights involve various combinations of the players introduced on this first night. Greg Kelley solo is sure to be a highlight and I’m curious about Pittman and Theriault’s solos as well. I’m not sure how the Kelley/Drury/Wally Shoup trio will work out: Wally Shoup is more of the fire music class of the free jazz school and I’m not sure how Kelley will fit in with that.  I’m looking forward to the the Sehnaoui/Kelley/Theriault/Burns quartet curious how Sehnaoui’s “personal language of electronic music on an acoustic instrument” will work out with Kelley’s minimalisms, Theriaults electronics and Gusts dry tones.

It is looking to be another strong year for the SIMF and I’m definitely looking forward to a number of sets and am curious about several more. If you can only make one day, I’d make the Friday that day, but there are great looking sets every day. Additionally there are workshops and roundtables, though no details about those have been released yet.

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.

Two trios with Keith Rowe at Gallery1412

I just got back from the second night of Keith Rowe in Seattle. Once again, I got there about a half an hour early to find Chris and a friend of his outside. Again we get seats in the front row and talk to Keith for a good bit before the show. Another really great conversation with Keith, this time talking quite a bit about treatise. He had brought with him a notated version of page 54 that he had mentioned the day before. This was generated from a performance that he had done in Houston a few years previous. In this he has thoroughly notated what he is going to play and how for each segment of the score. He even has it pretty well laid out the time scale upon which he is going to play it. I asked him how rigorously he sticks to that time scale and he said pretty well, sometimes faster and rarely any longer the the time which was about 12 minutes. This conversation was immensely valuable to me as Cardew always seemed to hedge on using the score for directed improv and playing it as a score. He seemed to talk it up as an structured improv, but always came back to playing it as a score which means that your reactions are your own but they should be consistent. I brought up this issue of consistency and Keith pointed out how if you take the score as a whole that consistency becomes very hard. At about this point the organizers suggested the show should start so we ended the discussion here.

Keith Rowe/Gregory Reynolds/Leif Sundstrom
The night was two trios with Keith as the common element. He was setup with table of gear on the platform and in front and to the right of the stage was the piano (though not to be played in this set). In front of the stage on the floor was Sundstrom’s Gear: a floor tom and some electronics including one of those cheap record players with integrated radio. On stage to the left of Keith’s table was Reynolds sax and a small collection of objects including a number of beer cans.

In this set Keith more or less was pretty far in the background with low washes and rumbles of sound. Leif had a contact mic on his floor tom and he tended to worked in the amplified texture territory. He scraped things across the head of the drum, pressed on it, rubbed things against its surface and side. He also used the record player in various ways (though never with records) including rubbing it, putting a bowl under the needle and in one nice point he used the build in radio. Gregory began with breathy fluttering sounds on the sax and he often worked with longer tones in the “saxophone feedback” realm. Butcher like but generally more sedate. There were a number of segments where longer sustained tones from him gelled really well with tones from Keith or Leif. However he made the common young improviser error of not laying out enough and of not sticking with a technique long enough. A like a lot of his playing and at times it worked well but overall was a bit unsatisfying. Leif’s playing was generally great and I thought worked well with Keith. I had grabbed the GOD cd before the show and I am definitely looking forward to spinning it.

Keith Rowe/Gust Burns/Jeffrey Allport
Leif’s floor tom and electronics was replaced with Allport’s floor tom and assorted percussion gear. Gust Burns placed a large number of small stick like objects in his piano and this trio was pretty much ready to go. A fairly long silence at the beginning and then Keith put in a bit of static. Jeffrey began with scrapping the surface of his tom as Gust began to stick his small dowels in between strings of the piano. After he had put in a couple he began to rub them basically in the same technique as Sean Meehan’s dowel on cymbal technique. Even with the piano amplifying this, this was very subtle and short lived sounds. Keith never built up his “typical” droning sound, always working the volume pedal and working with shorter tones in a wider variety of sounds. Jeffery worked through a wide array of techniques, but they all were so quiet and so subtle that it didn’t feel at all like a run through of techniques. They worked as a continuation of the same space of sounds. This set was very sparse, delicate and sensitive. Gust played entirely inside the piano mostly with the dowel technique, but at one point rubbing the strings and at another plucking the strings with the dowels. This later technique had a nice prepared piano sound. Jeffrey worked the “Meehan” technique with the the dowels directly on the floor tom head which created a groaning rustling sound. He also did a number of actions with small cymbals on the drum surface from blowing into one, to gentle striking another one whilst rubbing the surface. Throughout this Keith mixed in washes, buzzes, file strings, spronging sounds and short radio clips. Twice during the set the brought it down to near silence – just amplifier hum, but each time Keith brought it back and Gust and Jeffery would both delicately return to dropping sounds into the space. Both of these musicians was comfortable and willing with laying out, not playing a sound unless they were sure that it was the right thing to do. Eventually Gust and Jeffrey stopped, Gust’s head still in the piano. Keith took a good bit of time slowly shutting things down. There was a long, long pause before the audience decided it was over. I really liked this set, it was very different from all of the Keith sets I’ve seen lately and it was fully engaging and musically rich.

Afterward we talked to Keith just a bit more, mainly thanking him and eventually taking our leave. In the last 10 days we have seen 7 Keith sets and a varied bunch of sets they have been. All entertaining and all with interesting and engaging musical elements. Additionally the long talks with Keith have been great from the very informative Treatise information to geeking over stereo equipment. Its been a hell of a September, one I’ll remember for a long time.

Keith Rowe Solo at Gallery1412

So I just returned from the solo Keith gig listed above. I arrived about 30 minutes early to find Chris (Letchhausen) just arriving as well. We went in and Keith was just finishing setting up. Recognizing us from the ‘Quake he came over and we chatted for a good 20-30 minutes until he went on. This was really great we talked about ErstQuake, classical music, art and Treatise. This was a really informative discussion for me and I was happy to finally talk a bit about Treatise. He related that every time he performs it, it is a personal tribute to Cardew.

He opened the set with an introduction about first his guitar setup and then about what he was going to play. It was the “room” piece that he has been performing of late, that is made up of elements of depression and anxiety. He said that to some degree this was a reflection of the times we live in, that he can’t help but to channel the environment. Along with this he also was going to play from Treatise (p.54).

I have to say, that I’ve seen a lot of fantastic music over the last week, but that this set moved me the most. It was powerful and you really could feel the depression and the anxiety that had talked about. It opened with a very droney, layered effect that had a melancholy feel to it, after some time he cut into this with a sharp attack using the Bluetooth feedback that he looped on itself and increased in volume. During this set Keith was mostly hunched down over his instrument and seemed deep, deep into it. After 20 minutes or so he pulled Treatise toward him and lowered the sound to gentle hum and began to play it. He attached a spring and alligator clips to the guitar and played both discrete chunks and more continuous bits, looking back toward the score every now and again. He brought up the radio for a good long chunk toward the middle of this segment and it played this syrupy lullaby. I found this rather moving in a way, thinking about Cardew. Anyway it was a real treat for me to see some of Treatise performed live and I found it very engaging and emotionally rich as well.

Afterward a scrum of people came up and talked to Keith. Interestingly they mostly wanted to talk about his setup. Keith was very open and would talk about any aspect of it. One thing of interest was he did say that he was using Reaktor on the PowerBook and that he is using a patch that Phil Durrant made that references Steve Reich. After these people had left Chris and I talked to Keith a bit more again about classical music and art specifically cubism. These talks with Keith before and after the show were really rewarding and informative. It is so refreshing to get to talk about this music with someone who has thought so deeply about it and to whom the intellectual underpinnings are so vital.

Marcus Schmickler & Thomas Lehn Live at Gallery1412

I caught this duo at Gallery1412 tonight. The show was quite similar to their duo set documented on the Amplify 2002 Box
set. It started off pretty mellow, with bleats and blasts from Lehn and
denser digital segments of sound from Schmickler. These increase in
frequency and density and eventually headed toward a dense wall of
noise, with Lehn’s analog squiggles, outbursts and staticy washes mixed
in. This was pretty much the pattern over the next 40 minutes or so.
They’d go from loud washes of sounds, to lower volume sparser stuff.
There were several points where one could feel the bass cut through
ones body. The loud segments did seem louder each time culminating in a
Lehn freakout of epic proportions. The piece ended with Lehn solo,
fading out with the skronks, squiggles and bleats as it began.

There was an enthusiastic response from the 30-35 strong crowd and
they conferred briefly and then did a second piece. This one stayed
almost exclusively in mellower territory, with Schmickler producing a
dense drone that Lehn played on top of. The volume stayed lowed with
only one short segment where Lehn turned it up a bit. This all in all
was the more interesting piece to me, shorter, less predictable more
intricate. Once again Shimckler faded himself out and the set ended
with Lehn dropping in slowly fading bursts of static.