Live Music

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

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

Full program details:

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

Performing the following graphical and textual pieces:

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

as performed by:

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

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

Olivia Block in the Chapel

Olivia Block in the Chapel

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

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

1) Untitled solo piece (~15 min)

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

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

Righthand half of the Chamber group

Righthand half of the Chamber group

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

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

Violin, Viola and Piano

Violin, Viola and Piano

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

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

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

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

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.

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