Saturday, August 28, 2010

Concert Review: Improvised Music at Gallery 1412, Seattle, Thursday, August 26th, 2010

Gust Burns (homemade instrument), Paul Hoskin (electronics), Jesse Kudler (contrabass clarinet), Chandan Narayan (autoharp), Tyler Wilcox (sax), Mara Sedlins (violin), and Asimina Chremos (dance).

This was a chance to hear Gust’s music in a different setting. The Gallery (a small one-room building with a few half-abstract half-cartoon paintings on the wall and about fifteen chairs set up for a minimal audience) is in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood. It is on street level, a half-block away from a major thoroughfare and three doors down from a yoga place that seemed to have a techno band playing (I could hear it in the street as I walked by). But, oddly, the extraneous noise (which would have overwhelmed any aleatory-improvisatory attempts to play with it) didn’t seem to filter into the studio itself. At first I thought this was just because the MC was playing rap music through the PA system while the musicians were setting up (this is not as incongruous as it might seem!); but as soon as the rap stopped, I realized that there was little other sound.

The musicians, not a “band” per se, played four sets of varying length. First up, Jesse and Paul. Jesse played an electronic contraption that I couldn’t really get a good look at, but seemed to be an old synthesizer extended with microphones and USB plugs for sampled sound; he also used a hand-held radio to produce static sounds. Paul played the contrabass clarinet, an equally arcane (but beautiful) instrument. They began with loud feedback/static (at first I thought they were playing along with the traffic noise, though as I said earlier I soon realized that it wasn’t traffic noise…!) overlaid with screeches from Paul’s clarinet; a second section was mellower with a barely-discernable electronic drone and circular breathing. They played a second, shorter, piece that began with grunts on the clarinet and suddenly made a crescendo into long, strident drones. Interesting to listen to. Perhaps not the best set of the evening, but an effective opener.

The second (longer) set was by Gust, Tyler, and Chandan. The latter played an extended autoharp, highly amplified, with techniques reminiscent of my own “crywire” effect on the piano, Gust’s “dowel” technique on the piano, and Fred Frith’s guitar styling. Gust played a homemade box resonator with a couple of attached piano strings, again amplified, using the “dowel” technique that I’ve commented on many times before. He actually played with his little daughter (age 4?) sitting on his knee – she watched and listened with more attention that I would expect from someone that young. Tyler played the saxophone, a continuation of the sounds Paul had played in the opening set – but there was a twist. One of Chandan’s techniques was to play a metal rod against the body of the autoharp, in the manner of Gust’s dowel, to produce a sound that was almost indistinguishable from the sax. This sound emerged after a couple of minutes of extremely high-pitched plunks and scrapes (on the threshold of pain); after this, they settled into a very beautiful ensemble sound of meditative drones, with overtones and hints of a sitar. The sound slowly approached and receded like waves on the seashore. Tyler played a sudden splatter of louder notes, which introduced a second section of stuttering notes and hiccups of sound.

The third set featured Tyler; Mara on violin (who used a number of “extended” techniques to produce beautiful harmonics, bell-like and bird-like tones, and drones); Jesse (who extended the performance space of the musicians into the audience by placing half-tuned radios and vibrating boxes in various places around the room during the performance); and Asimina, a dancer. She extemporized fluid movements that both added to and commented on the music. At one contrasting point, she went into a bit of butoh intensity – seeming to be spastically locked into a rigid position leaning against a chair, and trying to break out of it back into the flowing dance movements.

The last set was the most beautiful to my ear. Jesse and Chandan played a long set of noise/drones, otherworldly harmonics, and microtonal resonances – in the dark. Thus, the audience experienced the music with no visual distractions. Voices from Jesse’s radio gradually filtered into the music, including a conversation on stem-cell research – then this quickly faded back into static in spontaneous stream-of consciousness. The result was almost like sound-text poetry, and in some ways brought the concert back to the rap (of course, another form of sound-text poetry) that had started it, though transformed into something entirely different.

Gallery 1412 seems to be an exciting venue for new music, at least from this concert and from what I’ve seen on the web when I looked them up, and I’m looking forward to seeing more shows there.

Open Mikes - Tim Noah's Thumbnail Theater

Been busy for the last two weeks, so I didn’t go to a lot of concerts or work on anything for the StormSound Cycle. But I have managed to attend the open mike twice again at Tim Noah’s Thumbnail Theater in Snohomish, though I had to leave early. This venue continues to be (at least for me) the premier open mike north of Seattle, despite being not too close to where I live, and despite them not having the grand piano on the stage any more. Musicians get longer than one song there (usually two, or ten minutes) and there’s a real sense of community. There’s also an actual audience of people who’ve come to listen, not just to play.

Some of my favorites from the last couple of times I’ve been there: 1.) “Joyful Noise”, an acoustic Gospel trio with gritty female vocals reminiscent of Kim Hill; 2.) Hank (don’t remember his last name) who plays blues on a twelve-string guitar with consummate skill and lots of non-bluesy ad-libs that morph the genre into something quite new while still being true to its roots; 3.) Isla playing Swedish fiddle music expressively and starkly on a solo viola; and 4.) Wayne Lovegrove’s guitar music – I would have to classify this as the so-called “new acoustic” that was an offshoot of the new-age music in the 1980’s, but that would do a disservice to Wayne’s music. It’s relaxing, yes, and pretty – but not only that. It’s tightly composed and beautifully played, and he uses unconventional tunings, some of which I’m sure he’s invented himself.

As far as my playing goes, this last time (8-27-10) I just played a couple of rather conventional pieces. The time before (8-13-10) was more interesting to me at least. I played two pieces: “Strange Repeating Bird”, based on a birdcall I heard while living in Japan some years ago, and another improvisation on the rondolin. (The word “rondolin” is probably the result of a high-speed collision between “rondo”, meaning “round”, and “mandolin”, or possibly “violin”.) The first piece I played, “Strange Repeating Bird” (SRB), is based on the repetitive call of the kijibato, known to me as the “repeater pigeon”. It makes its hooting, cooing call with the help of an inflatable throat sack. It is a sound that often gently awoke me in the morning while I was living in Fukushima in the late 1980’s. My music based on this call is in my “popular” style (though the people in Japan didn’t think so back then, minimalism having not gotten there yet) and is usually a big hit at open mikes – though I don’t like to draw a line between my “mainstream” and “experimental” pieces. The rondolin improv was much like the previous one, with Vance playing the djembe. I recorded both pieces, but the recordings were messed up by a mysterious rumbling noise that goes on pretty much continuously through the first half of both pieces (I didn’t hear it while playing).

For those who are interested, the open mikes are on Friday evenings; sign-up begins at 7:00.