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

Taku Sugimoto at SIMF

This year the Seattle Improvised Music Festival brought in Taku Sugimoto from Japan. Regular readers of this blog will know that I’ve been a long time follower of Sugimoto’s work though certainly have not followed him everywhere he’s gone. Regardless of the end product, the journey has always been fascinating and it’s always been worthwhile to keep up with his current activities.  I’ve managed to see nearly all of the musicians in the small modern improv scene that has dominated my interests over the last decade but Taku Sugimoto has always managed to slip out of my grasp. So I was particularly pleased that SIMF brought him by this year.

Empty Bass

Taku Sugimoto wasn’t the only non-Pacific Northwester that SIMF brought in this year, and they did do sixteen sets over four days all told.  I’ve really moved into a space where I try to not over consume music, both in buying of physical objects but also in how much I hear. I’ve come to find it a lot more valuable to let music that I find really compelling to sink in, to not immediately overwhelm it with another piece. So I only saw nine of those sixteen sets and even that was too much in my mind.  Each night that I went I’d come home and put up a short report onto Google+ of the Sugimoto set from that night. I’m going to collect those here, perhaps slightly expanded and with a couple more photos. I should not that the lighting was low and overall my photos were fairly bad.

Mark Collins, Mara Sedlins, Taku Sugimoto, John Teske

Thursday February 9th, apart from being my birthday, was also the second night of SIMF 2012 and the first of three nights with sets featuring Taku Sugimoto.  On this night we had a world premier Taku Sugimoto composition: Two Contrabasses, Viola and Guitar. The performers were  Mark Collins and John Teske handling the contrabasses, Mara Sedlins playing the viola and Taku Sugimoto handling the guitar. I really enjoyed the piece, it was mostly long bowed tones from the strings and Sugimoto cycling through eBow, muted plucked strings, chords and then open plucked single notes. Dynamics were low throughout and stayed in a single register giving it a kind of Feldman-ish feel. The string players almost always seemed to bow in one direction which I assume was for a particular timing or sound. The slow, soft bowing the the occasionally dry percussive elements of Sugimoto’s playing also made me think of Jacob Ullman’s A Catalog of Sounds. Good piece, afterwards I had to leave without seeing the next two sets as I wanted to let this one settle through me.

Taku Sugimoto and John Teske

Friday February 10th featured a solo performance by Taku Sugimoto. This was of course going to be interesting as Sugimoto solo has gone anywhere from him continuously playing scales, to playing only a handful of notes over the duration.  Tonight though he stuck with his recent practice of sticking to composition and  performed Michael Pisaro’s Melody, Silence. This was a nice piece like most of Pisaro’s compositions. It was made up of single plucked tones that were sometimes allowed to fully decay, other times strung into simple near melodies. These different modes of operation cycled and between then they were interspersed with short segments on the eBow. There wasn’t a ton of silence, the longest sections when he’d pick up the eBow. In that regard it reminded me more of how John Cage would use silences in the number pieces which were mainly short (though still longer than you’d normally find in a “classical” piece) and seem more about allowing each sound to be allowed to breathe. Taku’s touch on the guitar is really quite good, he’d gently pluck the strings giving a rich, full tone that was really compelling in and of itself.  The hollow body guitar he uses has a particularly nice sound for what he does. The piece wasn’t too long, I’d say maybe twenty minutes and it definitely kept me captivated throughout.

Taku Sugimoto performs Michael Pisaro’s Melody, Silence

Saturday February 12th was the final night of the festival and the only night that Taku Sugimoto engaged in improvisation playing in a quartet with Gust Burns, Jeph Jerman and Tyler Wilcox. As they were setting up Taku put stools on either side of the rear stage with (at least on my side) a wine bottle on it. He poured out a glass of this wine into a styrofoam cup. On stage Jeph scatted about his collection of items: a small zither, some mallets, a radio, small speakers, rocks and twigs. Gust opened the lid of the grand piano but had none of his usual dowels (perhaps he is post-dowel now). Tyler simply had a chair and his sopranino sax. Wilson Shook came on stage to announce the group and that the lights would be turned off.

Jeph Jerman, Gust Burns and Tyler Wilcox

The group played in the near darkness with only the exit signs and the light through the chapel stained glass windows coming in. Playing in the darkness seems to always lead to even more hushed music than normal and it was very low dynamics throughout. Jeph rattled things and tapped on the floor, Tyler emitted very quiet mostly short tones and Gust held back for quite a while. Taku wandered around and shined lights on things. At first seemingly just on the crowd but then on a mic stand with his hat on it. Later he had a shoe on the mic stand. Jeph placed an eBow on his zither and let it run for some time, first high, then low then high again. Tyler would match this for brief intervals creating sections of beating tones that was quite nice. Gust began playing single notes, fairly high and usually damped fairly quickly. Taku walked to my side of the stage and place a blinking green light that was shaped like a glow stick into the bottle of wine. At this point a regular beeping sound began, but if this was something of Taku’s or one of Jeph’s little toys I don’t know. It beeped for a while as Taku was behind the rear stage curtain playing with a white light.

Wine bottle, stool

Taku also had a red light in his belt and eventually he made his way to the opposite side of the stage and set it up (presumably also in a bottle). So on either side of the stage a red and green light was blinking away. Jeph finally removed the ebow and seem to focus more on rustling sounds and wobbling rocks. Gust was still just playing the occasional single note, now more mid-range. Tyler was doing a bit more hissing sounds at this point. Taku shined his light on the back of the heads of the audience a bit but then made his way to the back where he returned to the show on the mic stand. He placed his flashlight in another mic stand and proceeded to manipulate the shoe for a bit, slow lowering it and then rotating it. This was cast as a huge shadow on the screen that is behind the stage curtain. This was the climax so to speak and after he cut that light I think he only projected lights once more for a short time. The musicians were slowly winding down as well, though of course it had never gotten more intense then the eBowed zither. At the end they just sat in the dark for a bit making no sounds. Eventually Tyler said thanks and it was done.

Great performance, I really enjoyed it. While the theatrical stuff was really engaging what I think made it completely compelling was that there was great music throughout.

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.

Compositions for Large Ensemble

Friday November 21st  2008
Gust Burns, LARGE ensemble
Good Shepherd Center, Seattle WA

A week or two back I made it to the Chapel performance space on a blustery Friday evening to catch what was advertised as a fifteen person ensemble playing a piece by Gust Burns.  They did three iterations of the piece in three different formations of the ensemble. The first featured two bass players, a violist, Gust playing inside the Chapels piano and three violins.  The second take was two violins, the viola, one bass player and soprano saxophone without Gust. There was a set break at this point and then a final performance with the entire ensemble, which was all of those named above plus clarinet, tenor sax and Gust on his box of piano guts whilst another player took over the Chapels baby grand. That does only add up to eleven or twelve players (I might have skipped a violin player), so either I’m forgetting some or there wasn’t quite the fifteen anticipated (or both I suppose). How ever many it was, it was a quite large group.

The piece they performed, duration, disjunction, relation was composed by Gust and he’s been working on it and performing various iterations of it for the last couple of years.  I’ve seen this piece performed a couple of times before (as a quartet just a couple of weeks prior) this being the largest group performance to date. The piece pretty much sounds similar to how I’ve described it before: longish discrete events, well spaced out, usually of a very consistent dynamic (soft to medium with some slips here and there), affectless performances, mostly dry sounds and with what seemed like highly deliberate silences. There clearly are several mechanisms involving interaction with other players, as one player would often start on their own to then have others join in. Other times overlapping sounds seemed much more indeterminate, though, as I had noticed with the quartet, the players often seemed to cut off sounds quicker then normal in order to join in a silence.  Otherwise the sounds seemed to go for a longish, though natural, duration – breath length, a few bow strokes etc.

Taking into consideration the title of the piece (which I had been unaware of ’til this show), this all pretty much makes sense: duration – probably relating to the length of the sounds, but also possibly to the fact that the piece seems to end when the players agree to it, disjunction – the players seem to be able to make sounds at will, perhaps even having a certain amount they are required to play and relation – the clear interactions I’d seen between players.  Perhaps there were players that you were assigned to, or could choose, that when they played you’d respond. Perhaps it was gesture or sound based. All speculation on my part but that was how it seemed to me as an observer.  This simple rule set, plus a few that must exist regarding tone, dynamics, and something for those forced silences, would pretty much create a structured improvisation system that would generate the performances I witnessed.  Personally this is the kind of systems and performances that I find particularly fascinating; the use of a small set of rules to structure a performance into a consistent yet endlessly varied realm. I have in fact of late been dabbling with what I refer to as Internal Scores, which are just that, systems that you internalize that guide performance.  They could be pretty specific if one wanted, but to be memorized and yet still able to generate wide diversity they tend toward being general guidelines and rules  My interest in this sort of thing could of course have prejudiced how I analyzed this piece.

Anyway what was interesting to me in this performance and what dragged me out to see it at a time I wasn’t particularly motivated to attend live music was the large group aspect.  I’d quite enjoyed the quartet version of the piece and was curious as to how that’d translate to a larger context.  There is always the tendency for large groups to fall into displays of excess, losing all subtlety and becoming an undifferentiated mass of sound.  In fact if all fifteen (or whatever) had played at the same density of the quartet this would have been the case.  While the quartet was definitely far sparser, they did play more in general then most members of the large group. So fifteen people playing at that rate wouldn’t have had the same feel at all, though with the controlled dynamics it would not have been aggressive or any such thing.  The two subsets of the group that played were in the range of the quartet, being only a bit larger especially the second group which was only a quintet. The full group also was in the same range, though there was a dramatic increase in the overlapping sounds which led to a greater density. 

In general it was all very sedate, spacious with a nice timeless quality.  However there was a couple of what I would call bad actors in the ensemble.  These bad actors were defined by imposing too much ego into the proceedings.  With everyone playing at a similar dynamic, all one has to do is play a bit louder and it becomes closer to a solo.  Additionally there was overtly gestural playing using overly dramatic vibrato and other such techniques that in this context was overly showy.  Nothing was to the level of ruining the performances but these bad actors definitely brought things down as opposed to transcending.  In this kind of music ego always ends up as a reductive force leading toward things being less then the sum of their parts.

Anyway this was an interesting and quite enjoyable evening with just a few minor quibbles as noted above. I’ve enjoyed seeing this pieces development and I really have been pleased to see this type of composition performed here.

Gust Burns Quartet at Gallery 1412

November 8th
Chaostic Magic / Gust Burns Quartet
Gallery1412, Seattle WA

Chaostic Magic is Corey Brewer on guitar and Eric Ostrowski on amplified violin.  They each had a little amp and shared a big PA horn that was placed behind a small screen upon which a set of slides were played. The slides were fairly abstract material usually looking like two images from ancient books somewhat overlaid. The music was very loud, aggressive, feedback drenched noise.  I wasn’t so into it but there were a couple of nice moments. You can make serious noise with an amplified violin, but it isn’t really so different from what you’d get from a guitar if you bowed it. It didn’t go on too long maybe 15-20 minutes. The slideshow ended and so did the show.

I’d come to see the Gust Burns Quartet who have played a couple of gigs recently. I was familiar with all of the musicians and have seen them with Gust in a larger ensemble a couple of months back.  The quartet is Gust Burns working his dowels inside a baby grand piano, Mara Sedlins working with extended techniques on the viola, Mark Collins wringing fairly uncharacteristic sounds out of the double bass and Wilson Shook sounding more like circuit bent electronics then the alto saxophone he utilized.  The sounds were all very discrete with usually only a subset of the quartet playing at any given moment.  The string players mainly worked with dry scrapes though Mark would use other tools on his bass to eke out some more varied sounds.  Length of tones usually tended toward a couple of bow strokes in duration.  Wilson worked with crackles and pops which coming from his sax with various preparations was really great.  There were a number of gaps in the performance sometimes arising naturally but other times feeling a bit forced.  In general it was a slow, meditative deliberate performance that I quite enjoyed.

It was particularly interesting to me that this all acoustic quartet was working in eai territory. There is a trend among some of the musicians in the Seattle area to do this, eliminating electronics but working with those textures. At times it sounded like say Lachenmann scoring for a chamber group in the style of TV Pow.  As I mentioned above they did use silence but I usually got a feeling that this was because it was a goal. As if they were directed to do so now and again.  For instance everyone would drop out and one person would be playing and it’d seem like that player would rush to stop in order to have a silence they “should” have.  Obviously speculation but that was how it felt to me.  The other criticism I would add is that with the dowels and two string players there was a lot of overlap of sound, especially considering the techniques used.  A bit more varied palette would I think be really rewarding, something like a percussionist would fit in really well. Even better in my mind would be a very tasteful electronicist, though that could go against this trend that I’m sensing.

Anyway caveats aside I really enjoyed this performance and like seeing more and more of this kind of stuff in Seattle.

Gust Burns at Gallery1412

Gust Burns performing solo at Gallery1412

June 7th 2008
Gust Burns
Gallery1412 Seattle WA

I’ve seen Gust Burns in a number of ensembles over the last few years but last night was the first time I’ve seen him play solo.  He was again playing his constructed ‘inside piano’ that I first saw him use at few weeks back in trio with Jeffery Allport and Nate Wooley. At that show he was not amplified but tonight he was running through the Galleries PA.  He had two contact mics on the soundboard and an overhead mic all fed into a little mixer. I was definitely excited to hear this development as I have myself worked a lot with contact mics over the last few years and particularly like their use on acoustic instruments. My interest in using them is to reveal the little sounds I could make with my prepared harp and I assumed that Gust would be doing similar things.

The show started around 8:15 and Gust played for around 20 minutes in a continuous improvisation.  The sounds that he generated were as I have described before: high keening tones from the upward stroked dowels and dry scraping sounds from the downward stroked dowels along with various overtones and resonances from the instrument as a whole. T the use of amplification brought these sounds to the fore but as I suspected, reveal so much more. The sound of the hands themselves on the dowels making little squeaks and rustles, tension on the strings making tiny pings and soft gonging sounds, more dramatic metallic ringing sounds and hollow thuds as the dowels were slid along the strings to various positions. This plus the reverbation of using a room mic, some overdriving of the contact mics and the occaisonal whine of feedback.

The structure of the piece was created through switching between the dowels. He’d stop the sounds he was making, let the dowel rest on the surface and switch to another one. This provided a natural gap between the more continuous sounds that he’d generate in each of these sections. It gave the piece a feel of having movements and the varied tones he’d use for each of these enforced that feeling.  He began with mid-range dry scrapping tone that rang out with room reverb and the sounds of his hands. The middle bit used the purer tones with a shorter dowel in the upper strings with layer of overtones and incidental squeaks. The end had a much lower section at first and then by sliding the dowel in the strings concluded with a more mid range segment to bring it full circle.  A short improv but one I really enjoyed and got a lot out of.

Nate Wooley at Gallery 1412

Nate Wooley's Large Group Composition
Nate Wooley’s Composition for Large Improvising Ensemble.

This week NYC based trumpeter Nate Wooley played a series of shows in the Pacific NW, including two nights at Gallery1412.  I missed the all brass show on Thursday but managed to get to the Saturday show which featured a trumpet/percussion/”piano” trio and a large group performing one of Nate’s compositions.

I’d slept poorly the night before and upon finding my automobile reluctant to turn over I near abandoned the enterprise.  But I walked around a little bit and gave it another go and the car decided to play along.  It’d been a warm, sunny May day which is not necessarily the best circumstance for Gallery shows, especially if they are crowded.  I arrived a few minutes before showtime to find the muscians arriving and just setting up. I walked around Capitol Hill a bit contemplating coffee but deciding that it was perhaps not for the best I returned to the gallery to grab a seat. I read the titular chapter of Morton Feldman’s Give My Regards to Eighth Street before the show began.

Nate Wooley / Gust Burns / Jeffrey Allport trio
I’d seen all three of these musicians before, Nate at the 2007 SIMF and Gust and Jeffery numerous times in various combinations. I really have enjoyed these musicians work and I felt that this trio would be a really good combination.  Nate of course plays trumpet in various styles, but most interestingly in a rather post Axel Dörner/Greg Kelley sound oriented style.  Jeffery Allport is a Vancouver based percussionist who also works in a pared down sound focused style working primarily with a snare and a floor tom used mainly to resonate other objects. Gust Burns plays piano in various styles but again in the contexts I’ve mainly seen him in it is nearly exclusive by rubbing dowels placed betwixt the strings.  For this show though he had constructed a rough wooden box with a certain amount of the guts of a piano recreated within. Like an ultra Lo-Fi DIY version of Andrea Neumann’s instrument sans electronics.

Things settled down and the lights dimmed and the three of them sat there in silence for a moment. Shortly Nate removed the mouthpiece from his trumpet and began softly blowing into it as Jeffery began bowing the metal stays on his floor tom.  Gust had grab a long thin dowel but as the high pitched sounds from Jefferey’s bowing began he switched to a shorter dowel and sticking it into the strings of his contraption he began to generate a low rustling sound. The piece developed forthwith and for a good space of time lost all acoustic elements and sound like this cobbled together sheet metal walking machine shambling down a rock strewn landscape slowing shaking itself apart. Fantastic sounds totally disconnected to their source.  I spent much of this piece not looking at the musicians just letting the sounds come in as a single entity. Things settled down to a near stillness until Nate burbling through his trumpet brought it up to the loudest section of this piece.  Jefferey was bowing metal bowls on his drums with what looked like aluminum pie plates in them for a loud-ish buzzing rattle as Gust thumped his frame and stroked his dowels. Slowly things wound down from this point and as it hit zero activity they concluded.

A quick conferral and they began a second piece.  This one was a bit shorter and had several much less abstract sections which were an interesting contrast. Jeffery began the piece with widely separated single strikes on his floor tom with a mallet.  Nate after a couple of seconds brought up a small sheet of brass in front of his muted trumpet and created some muffled rattles and squeaks. Gust grabbed a long thin dowel and using a downward stroking motion on it generated high pitched purer tones.  This was a nice combination, spaced out by breaths, dowel length and Jefferey’s slow, slow time.  As he beat out this syrupy tattoo he grabbed a cymbal and placed it upon the snare. Soon he added edgy bowed metal to the proceedings and at some point Gust switched back to the dryer more textural sounds.  Nate did a section that was nearly free improv-ish, firer, though not too loud, free sounds on the trumpet, in a tonal range if not strictly melodic.  Jeffery moved to using a rubber ball mallet rubbed across the floor tom with the low moaning sounds that generated.  In the midst of a fairly active section they looked at each and then just stopped. A great sudden ending and a nice contrast to the slow fade out of the first piece.

Nate Wooley compositions for large improvising ensemble
with Jesse Canterbury (clarinets), Greg Sinibaldi (tenor sax), Jeffrey Allport (percussion), Nate Wooley (trumpet), Robert Blatt (acoustic guitar), Gust Burns (piano guts), Chris Stover (trombone), Mara Sedlins (Viola), Marc Collins (double bass), Wilson Shook (sax), Richard Johnson (trombone)

The audience had seemed pretty large for the trio set but at the break the bulk of them got up and got on “stage” as the Large Improvising Ensemble.  They were performing a piece of Nate Wooley’s which seemed to be structured along the following lines:  You have a certain amount to play but you can play it when you want. Sounds are played at a maximal natural length namely breath length.  There seemed to be something on the graphic looking score that could be interpreted as dynamics as several members of the Ensemble chose to play much louder at various times.  Overall the piece had this shifting droney quality as there was almost always these long sounds going on, but typically each player would play for a while and then pause for a while.  This lead to a steady decrease in density as various players concluded their sections.  There was some nice spikier sounds added in by Jefferey in particular but also Gust and Robert playing a lightly prepared guitar and Marc who played his bass with a variety of objects.  There were I thought a few “bad actors” who overly dramatically played their louder bits. One of the trombonists in particular really blasted the room with his tones.

Overall I’d say I found the piece a bit too dense and a bit to monotonous.  It really could have used a wider variety of instruments, more percussion, some electronics say to break up the layers of horns. Some method to insert a bit of space into the proceedings would have been nice, but would have radically changed the nature of the piece. Perhaps if played over the course of an hour instead of the half hour it last it would have naturally spread out.  While there often would be up to a half dozen players laying out that still meant there was another half dozen playing.  With an extended time frame you’d have to have sections of only a few or no players active. Alternatively you could of course have few musicians involved.  For what it was it certainly could have been a lot less interesting and in this fashion I’m glad it wasn’t overly long. It wasn’t the totally mess that most large group things are  and there certainly are possibilities here. It will be interesting to see how Nate further develops these compositions.

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.