Sunday, February 27, 2005

Other Looping Minds

Friday night I volunteered at the Other Minds Festival, the 11th annual, at the Yerba Buena Center in San Francisco. I helped to run the CD table with Blaine, the volunteer coordinator. He told me that last year, the CD table was not in a good location. This year, it was right outside the doors to the theater and people could come right to it as soon as they had finished applauding.
This meant a bit of a rush right before the concert, in the intermission, and after the show. It was fun though to have to move fast and take all that money for the organization and the musicians.

The concert that evening consisted of a piece by Charles Amirkhanian called Son of Metropolis San Francisco; improvised music by Fred Frith and Sudhu Tewari; and a world premiere commission by Maria de Alviar, performed by her, Amelia Cuni, and Joan Jeanrenaud.

Charles' piece was called Son of Metropolis because the original is about an hour long, and the version played that night was only half an hour or thereabouts. It was a soundcape characterization of San Francisco, but of course it didn't incorporate obvious sounds like the cable car or anything. I enjoyed hearing what Charles' conception of San Francisco is. Some of the sounds that were in the piece were a Chinese soap opera, a conversation two guys were having in the Tongan language, water lapping against piers, the elephant seals at Ano Nuevo, and conga drums being played on Ocean Beach. After the performance the signed and numbered CDs of Son of Metropolis sold steadily.

I was excited to hear Fred Frith, of whom I've become a big fan. Of the three performances of the evening, two of them incorporated looping, and his was the first. I am struck by how common looping has become in contemporary music. In the mid-nineties, when I was kind of living under a rock, I heard looping for the first time, and it was Rick Walker who was doing it. Since then I have run across it pretty much everywhere, used by elder statesmen/women of new music as well as newcomers. I kind of feel weird that I've never done it myself.

But back to Fred Frith. He started by dedicating his performance to a musical colleague who had died tragically three days before, and in the time thereafter, he did beautiful things. It's hard to explain other than to cite the fact that often when you go to hear improvised music, there's a significant portion of it that sounds really random and/or out of control. When you hear someone improvise who REALLY knows what he's doing, you realize that there is nothing random about it. No matter what object or implement Fred touches his guitar with, no matter what he does to its tuning, and no matter what he decides to do in the moment, it always makes sense in that moment and it's all musical.

Likewise with the looping, it's so common now that there are plenty of misuses of it occurring. Some players can make it sound really obvious or really lean on it too much but this hasn't been the case anytime I have heard Fred play.

Sudhu Tewari joined him for the second half of the set with his homemade instruments. A lot of them were percussion instruments and some were bowed strings. The two of them meshed well. There was a loud, harsh portion in the middle which kind of challenged my ears but most of the textures I liked.

The final piece was a new trio work by Maria de Alvear. It is about three honorable female trees at the beginning of life on earth. This piece also featured looping, just from cellist Joan Jeanrenaud, and it was used very sparingly. Joan was physically intimidating and reminded me of Linda Hamilton in Terminator II. :) The players' costumes all incorporated white and/or a green/gold iridescence, and even dressed all in white with the lights shining down on her I couldn't help staring at Joan's impressive upper body musculature, which cast very artistic shadows.

I always come to Other Minds with really high expectations and this piece really met and exceeded them. All three performers were technically extremely proficient and the piece seemed well rehearsed and under their control. I love hearing extended techniques that don't even sound extended because they are played so well. This was very much the case with both vocalists and the cello. There were some moments where the tuning was challenging to my ears. The final third of the piece really picked up commanding steam.

I always used to tell my flute students how important it is to be completely prepared because the audience is on your side. They are there because they want you to play beautifully and blow them away, but if they sense you're scared, they will be distracted and they won't hear the music very well. You have to be so prepared and so confident that the audience never worries about you, and then they'll sit back and hear what you have to say.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Voices in the Wilderness

Back in November I was invited to contribute a piece to an anti-Bush/anti-war CD that Pax Recordings is putting out, called Voices in the Wilderness. The label has updated its site and it looks like the CD will come out very soon.

Find out more about it, and see all the artists that are involved, by clicking here! There's going to be a release concert and benefit sometime in April here in the Bay Area. I'll post that to the Events page as soon as I know the date.

The piece I contributed is called "Cold Blood". I feel it's short, sweet, and to the point. I haven't heard the completed compilation yet, and I've been told pieces have been edited together to form a soundscape. There are good musicians behind Pax Recordings and behind this effort whom I trust, so I'm not concerned about how it will sound.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005


Last night was the ImprovGarage benefit for 21 Grand. 21 Grand is a swell venue with superb organizers. Since the building it's currently in is going to be knocked over and made into condos, it's going to move into a new place in April, over at 25th and Broadway in Oakland near God's Gym.

I was one of 16 performers. There were so many pillars of the community in the ensemble, it's a wonder the building wasn't thrown right off its foundation! I really enjoyed performing with all of them.

If I had to pick a favorite piece that we did last night, it would have to be Suggestion #1 by Theresa Wong. She explained to us at rehearsal that it was based on a memory game, where players turn over cards and get to keep them if they match. Each of us was given a card with a picture on it and we were to play when our card came up. The two "players" were Noah Philips and Jacob Lindsay. Each time they entered the texture, it was our signal to move from one part of the piece to another. I liked how Noah & Jacob's entrances made the piece hang together and how the other music was all duos. Mine was with Jon Raskin and I enjoyed it a lot. The texture was quiet enough I could play tongue stops on the bass flute and have them be heard. Jon was sitting behind me and to my right and he said the bass flute was pointed right at him and he could see almost all the way up it. :)

21 Grand is also an art gallery, and one of the pieces was an installation with 3 video screens. One of the screens played a video of somebody picking a scab and letting it bleed. It was hard to watch because you couldn't look at it without feeling it happen to you (which I'm sure is the point). Some of us were standing around at the break kind of squicking over it and Philip Greenlief and I were inspired to pull up our trouser legs and compare our knee surgery scars. It turns out we both had our knee surgeries as high school seniors, and it was not a football injury for either one of us.

Darren Johnston and Matt Davignon shared their bags of chips with me at the break. Matt told me his new album is about to come out on March 29.I said I was one of 16 performers...I'm pretty sure there were only 10 in the audience. This was disappointing. However, Amoeba Records made a $100 donation, and Philip's mom gave $60. All of the players and the audience bought drinks, and the audience paid to get in, so I really hope Darren and Sarah made a useful amount of money from the event.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Pictures from Eugene

Now that I've had a chance to get the film developed -- here's how it looked in Eugene last month.

First of all, here is Jeff Davis laying down the drums for "Ultralite". He painstakingly layered live and MIDI drums. He is also the engineer for the whole project and the studio owner. It is completely fine with me that the drums are HUGE in the mix. :)
Jeff remarked on how the weather warmed up as soon as I arrived. Apparently it had been raining hard in Eugene the whole past week, but when I got there on the 18th, it was clear and 60 degrees F. It was very nice of the local weather spirits to have pity on a poor Californian.

Here is Jim Carr giving the paparazzi the hairy eyeball. He is playing a Lakland five-string bass. Jeff and I kind of herded him into the studio right after his train arrived and work started right then. It worked out great, and he was able to leave 2 days early, but he paid for it in aggravation on his trip back. He tried to fly home instead of taking the train, and security went through every inch of his luggage with such patriotic care that he missed his flight. The flight he was able to get after that allowed him to take the bass guitar as carry-on from Eugene to Las Vegas. When he got on the second flight from Las Vegas to SFO, though, they made him check it! Fortunately, the bass made it home undamaged.

Here I am with the bass flute working on one of the parts. Ultimately, "Ultralite" ended up with bass flute throughout and the other two songs have C flute. Jeff and I had a great time creating the introduction to "Ultralite", which is quiet and atmospheric with bass flute multiphonics and commentary from drums and a shaker. Jeff really liked the shaker I brought. He said it was a really beautiful instrument, and when I told him I found it at Cost Plus, he didn't believe me at first. :)

The album, Not Made of Stone, will be the first ever made by Polly Moller & Company, rather than just Polly Moller, which is what appears on my previous 3 CDs. It is definitely the work of all of us, not just me.

Everything came together so quickly I actually had a day and half left over just to rest. The weather stayed comfortable. I got to have breakfast at the Morning Glory on my last day there, which is truly not to be missed if you are ever in Eugene. It is right by the train station. I also got to visit Sweet Life, which is a dessert and coffee place I fell in love with when we came to play a gig in Eugene about a year and a half ago.