Sunday, September 25

ErstQuake 2 Day III

Greg Kelley/David Daniell/Sean Meehan

The three musicians form a row in front of the audience, with Daniell
on the left with his laptop, Kelley in the middle with his trumpet and
Meehan on the right with his snare and cymbals. The lights drop and out
of a brief silence come a digital whir from Daniell, which is similar
in sound to his work on Sem. Kelley quickly begins to add quiet
guttural sounds from the trumpet played with the mouthpiece removed as
Meehan layers in his dowel on the cymbal tones. Daniell brings up the
volume and Kelley responds by adding the mute to his trumpet and
playing though that. Then he picks up a small piece of sheet metal and
begins to scrape the edge of his trumpet with it, generating a metallic
rustling sound. Meehan, carefully with great deliberation removes his
large cymbal from the snare and places a slightly smaller on the
surface. After some adjustment of the tension he begins to dowel it
again with a slight difference in tone. Daniell has dropped his more
Sem-esque static and moved on to more sine wave like sounds while
Kelley has now placed the sheet metal over the bell of the trumpet and
is blowing through that. Things increase in intensity with Kelley now
playing through the mute, which falls out at this point clattering on
the floor. He continues to play and there are actual trumpet sounding
tones and notes for a few seconds before he replaces it. The volume
drops and Meehan switches to a very small cymbal. He never plays it
though and the set concludes.

This set was very beautiful, with an excellent mix of sounds
between the laptop, trumpet and percussion. Very deliberate, careful
with clear listening and layering of sounds between the musicians.
Tones were prolonged and allowed to develop and naturally decay. The
sound field was filled, but never trampled upon with the sounds seeming
to hang in the air. One of my very favorite sets from the festival.

Keith Rowe/Mark Wastell

For this set Wastell is playing “amplified textures” which seems to
consist of contact mics, mixer and various objects and effects. Rowe
has his typical setup, with his PowerBook as well. The set opens with
some crackly buzzing, most likely from Wastell. Rowe’s drone soon mixes
in adding a layer of density as the volume rises somewhat. The volume
would increase slowly over the course of the set, dropping only at the
end. Never overly loud, or lacking in subtlety but with a clear
increase in intensity over the course of the set. Rowe added in both
fans, and the Bluetooth interference from his mouse as things got
louder. Wastell manipulated various objects such as steel wool and
bowed objects on his surface including what looked like a small bell.
At the peak of intensity everything drops out to this baseline crackly
hum, which persists for while and then by mutual agreement the set

An absolutely stunning set of a detailed drone with deep textures.
Entrancing, and complex, this set is one of the hardest of all to
describe particulars. Without the visual element (and even with it to
some degree) the two performers merged into a single sound that could
have come from either of them. Very sympathetic and a perfect example
of the ego-less performing that is so oft cited in this music. Another

Taku Unami/Margarida Garcia

Unami has the same set of equipment from the day before with the
addition of a second speaker cone. One of the motors has been taped to
the back of the laptop screen and another taped to the front of the
table. Garcia is playing an electro-acoustic double bass with its
minimal body and amplifier. She begins with a scrabbly bowing at the
bridge and goes from their through a collection of techniques mostly
around the bridge. Unami lays out for a long time, 10 minutes or so but
then adds in a few rare loud pops. Garcia picks up what looks like a
rubber ball on a twisted bit of wire and rubs the back of the bass with
the ball. She lays out for a bit and Unami activates on of his motors
with a gentle whir. Garcia moves to the stings with the rubber ball and
Unami lets loose with an eruption of stones (or shells?) from the
speakers. Garcia returns to the bow, much more muscular this time, as
Unami drops some fresh stones into the speaker cone. Unami stops as
Garcia continues to run through various techniques. During a gap, Unami
slams shut the lid of the PowerBook and Garcia continues to wait. Then
they are done.

This duo absolutely failed to work in my mind. Garcia merely ran
through a series of extended techniques and never created anything that
Unami could really work within. His sounds, as punctuation, emphasis
and interruptions just clashed with her constantly switching
techniques. A lack of duration with her techniques, and a general lack
of space just failed to connect. There were moments like a call and
response where Unami would interject a sound as she paused to change
techniques but it seemed desperate and epiphenomenal. Some of Garcia’s
techniques produced fascinating and interesting sounds and had she
stuck to them and tried to work with Unami’s space and outbursts things
could have developed much further.

Tomas Korber/Julien Ottavi

At the start of this set Ottavi stood up and warned us that it
would be loud and that we should take that into consideration. I took
that announcement as an opportunity to put in earplugs (the only time
of the festival). Things begin with Ottavi physically assaulting the
keyboard generating a blast of sound that caused many in the audience
to physically jump. It got louder from there with wave after wave of
sound washing over us. There was some detail in the wash, from Korber
perhaps, but mostly it was just layers of sound. Ottavi would, chop,
stab and get physical with the laptop, changing slightly the
characteristic of the wash of sound. After some time the volume
stair-stepped down over some minutes. During this ending bit Korber sat
with his chair pushed back from his table, looking a bit disgruntled.
As the volume got lower this metallic grinding, rustling sound could be
heard. This seemed to be from Korber, perhaps rubbing something against
the guitar strings? Eventually Ottavi dropped the sound down to where
we could her the higher pitched drone from his guitar which he then
lowered ending the set.

While quite a striking contrast to the quiet explorations of the
previous three sets, the overly loud washes of sound were pretty
uninteresting. Korber was pretty drowned out most of the time and
Ottavi seemed to have no interest in actually collaborating. The only
part I found interesting was the fadeout at the end with metallic
scrapping sounds.

Toshimaru Nakamura/Mark Wastell/Tim Barnes

After a long break due to the previous set having blown one of the
speakers the final set of the festival begins. Setup in a line toward
the rear of the soundstage with Nakamura in the center and Barnes and
Wastell to his left and right respectively. The light drops and they
are only lit from the small white lights over their equipment. Out of
this darkness Nakamura brings up a buzz of feedback and Barnes, layers
in some texture from the wires of his snare. Nakamura moves toward sine
wave territory and roar of sound rises from Wastell and then is cut
out. This returns briefly but only once and at lesser volume. Barnes
moves to his pedals and all three of the musicians are generating sine
tones that beat against each and entangle themselves in the sound
field. Nakamures feedback generated sine wave is more textural and
denser adding a nice contrast to the pure tones from the others. Things
increase a bit in volume at this point and then slowly fade out over a
long time. As it feels to be ending, Nakamura brings up a brrrt of
static, still gentle but much louder then the nearly faded out others.
Then he drops down and the set ends.

Wonderfully intricate playing in this set but it was somewhat
disconnected as if there were several movements in it. It took a bit to
gel and there was some out of place sounds. But the point from where
all three were playing the higher frequencies was just hypnotizing. The
long fade out and especially the final bit from Nakamura was
beautifully, delicate and yet with some edge. An excellent way to end
to an excellent festival.

Saturday, September 24

ErstQuake 2 Day II

Joe Colley solo

Colley came out from backstage with hands in pockets and stood to the
side of his setup. Quiet chirps and squeals came from his pockets and
the room, that change subtly as his hands squirmed in his pockets. He
crouches down and there are three little green bottles on the ground
that he puts the little noisemakers from his pockets into. He grabs a
mic and mics the bottles. Moving to his chair he settles down for a few
minutes to let the sounds work on their own. Moving to his gear, a wash
of sound build up, punctuated by clicks and jagged cuts. He grabs a
portable tape recorder and seems to mumble into it, recording and
overdubbing a couple of times. This is plugged into his mixer and the
volume and density of sound increases. After a bit he brings it down
and then goes into the audience to retrieve a device (tape player most
likely) from under an audience members seat. Returning to his console
he brings the volume way up, till it rattles ones very bones. After
rippling through various phases of this very high volume assault he
disconnects some of the gear, which partially cuts out then another
manipulation at it stops. He seems a bit disconsolate by this ending,
which at the time as I read as due to the emotion that he had poured
into the set, how much he had opened himself up.

I loved how this set began, it had much more of the subtly and
range of dynamics that I find interesting in this music. As before his
large lanky form, hunching to the console or crouched against the floor
as he generated his sounds added a drama you often do not see. The
eventual rise to extreme volume was inevitable and if there was
anything that I think would have driven this set even further would
have been had he circumvented our expectations in this regard.

Toshimaru Nakamura/Taku Unami/Sean Meehan

This set more then any other requires some description of the
musicians setup. They were in a tight triangle somewhat to the side of
the main performing space. Sean Meehan primarily played a cymbal,
placed flat on a snare drum with a dowel that he would rub to generate
these ghostly tones. Nakamura played his standard No-Input Mixing Board
and was facing the audience, the other two were facing him. Unami was
playing laptop controlled devices – a speaker cone with large shards of
glass in it, two motors with little paddles on them and a third motor
in a shot glass all of which are placed on a chair next to him. The
computer had a custom interface to a MAX like program that Unami was
able to control with a graphic tablet.

The lights dim and there is a bit of silence and then Unami
activates the speaker cone with the glass shards in it. Working with
nearly inaudible frequencies, what occurs is the glass shards rattling
against each other, caused by physical speaker movement generated by
the “sound”. Nakamura responds with a few pops, and Unami’s rattling
becomes a bit more sustained knocking one of the shards out of the
cone. As Unami replaces the glass Nakamura produces some gentle low
volume static and then a sine tone. Unami lets loose with an aggressive
burst with the speaker which rattles both of the glass shards out of
the cone and onto the floor. He replaces it with rocks and shells and
only quiet tones from Nakamura can be heard. At this point Meehan comes
in with the dowel on the cymbal, producing a complementary tone to
Nakamura’s higher pitched feedback. Unami meanwhile begins to use the
motors, which crawl across the desk, creating a scrabbling, whining
drone. This is followed by a burst from the rocks, which jump around,
rattling and colliding, some falling onto the chair. A more piercing
sine from Nakamura to which Sean’s bowed tones gel, creating a gentle
beating tone. Unami kicks the motors into a higher speed and they crawl
across the chair first one and then the other plummeting to the floor.
Meehan lays out and Unami runs just the motor in the shot glass with a
constant tic, tic tic, of the metal against glass. He lets this run for
a while and then stops and the set ends with a whirring static cloud
from Nakamura.

I was stunned by this set at the show, its quiet, delicate nature,
punctuated by the controlled chaos of Unami’s sounds was matched by it
being absolutely entrancing to watch. It was my immediate favorite of
the sets I’d seen so far but at the same time the question of the
impact of the visual element was unavoidable. I said almost immediately
that I would like to hear the recording of that to hear what those
sounds were like without that intensely engaging experience. Of those
queried many who could not see Unami’s setup were not as taken by the

Tomas Korber/Tim Barnes

Korber returns with his table of electronics and flat guitar, while
Barnes has replaced his gong with a mic’d snare drum and a small table
of electronics. Their set begins with amplifier hum and then immediate
washes of sound. Barnes pulls up the snare strap and builds an intense
feedback. Korber responds with increasingly louder, higher pitched
tones and matches the intensity of Barnes’s sound. This volume is
brought down a bit but still mostly a wash of sound with little detail.
With a twist of electronics Barne’s builds it back up, louder still
then before. This persists for some time before it is brought down
again. Barne’s moves back to the snare and manipulates a bell in front
of the mic, even hunching down to sing or hum into the bell. Korber
returns with some higher pitched tones that match this quite nicely.
Returning to electronics the set ends with a wash of white noise.

After the space and delicate nature of the previous set this was an
extreme contrast. For me there, was too little detail, too little
communication for me to get too much out of this set. This was one of a
very few where I was a little impatient with the set, the sounds were
so often just a wash of white noise and there was little depth. The
section with the bell was very nice and was the (all too short)
highlight of the set for me.

nmperign/Jason Lescalleet

A long table, with a Realistic analog synthesizer at one end, an
iBook with controller on one side, and then several cheap sample
keyboards at the other end. Also on the floor is several more of these
cheap sampling keyboards (Casio SK-1, Realistic, etc). Kelley, playing
the Realistic Analog and Rainey playing the iBook begin with single
notes. Lescalleet begins to tear off segments of duct tape that after a
bit of time he uses to tape down keys of the cheap keyboards. A strong
drone of notes is built up, in a kind of early minimalist feel –
delayed Riley, Theater of Eternal Music territory. The slightly out of
tune keyboards, create a slight oscillating effect as the notes off by
a few cents beat against each other. Lescalleet begins to sample the
output of another keyboard and then plays this at different pitches.
This increases the beating effect and as the intensity exceeds what
these cheap keyboards can do the sound begins to degrade which with
continuing sampling led to increased deterioration. They run through
this deterioration for a few minutes and then fade things out.

As a huge fan of drone music I enjoyed this set a lot. It reminded
me of Colecloughs work, but distinguishes itself from it with the decay
element. It was different from anything else over the weekend and it
was a satisfying exploration of the eternal drone.

Keith Rowe/Julien Ottavi

Rowe and Ottavi set up side by side with a table of computers,
radios and on one a guitar. Pre-set Rowe spent a lot of time tuning in
at least three radios, as well as setting up his guitar with the
headphones over the pickups. As the lights dim, both Ottavi and Rowe
begin with a dense static, wash of sound and then begin the radio
grabs. And this is what the performance became, an improvised
Cage-esque, overlapping layers of radio grabs, static and diminishing
mellow feedback. The grabs went across the full spectrum from news
reports on Katrina, commercials, a long bit in French, some dance
music, two very long hip-hop grabs all coming in and out of static and
conflicting radio grabs. During the second of the hip-hop grabs from
Rowe, Ottavi finds a string quartet drifting in and out of the ether.
As he waves the radio around, manipulating the choppiness of the tuning
Rowe, fades out all his radios and what sounds the guitar is still
making. Audibly he says to Ottavi, “Just walk away. Leave it and walk
away”. He gets up and repeats this in Ottavi’s ear and then exits the
performing area. A few moments later Ottavi sets down the radio and
leaves as well. The lights remain off with the classical music,
drifting in and out of tune for long minutes. They come back on to
applause, but the radio kept playing for a long time as people exited
the room.

I thought this set was fantastic, different from the other sets
we’d seen from Rowe and Ottavi so far. The Cage-ian radio manipulation,
so appropriate in NYC where Cage did so much of that part of his work,
was a conflicting contrast to the festival so far. The continuing
Katrina news, highlighting the state of America, cut up by vacuous pop
music and commercials was powerful. The ending classical grab,
especially in context with Rowe’s earlier talk about classical music at
the round table was a perfect and serendipitous ended. Additionally the
controversy that this set created, a deep divide between the audience I
think clearly shows it to be one of the most effecting and powerful of
the festival.

Below is a summary of the Roundtable discussion
from my notes, which were not comprehensive and I mainly focused on
jotting down phrases. So take this with a grain of salt and know that
there are definitely lapses, errors, summaries and so on. All
inaccuracies and mischaracterizations are of course mine. But it was
very interesting and I wish it could have gone on for many more hours.

(I also posted this at JC, which is
not something I typically do, so sorry if you read both, it is the only
one I’m going to do this for)

09.24.05: Afternoon Roundtable

The mid afternoon discussion was fairly sparsely attended but filled
out more as time went on. At the front of the room was Keith Rowe, with
Julien Ottavi, Dion Workman, Jon Abbey and later Barry Weisblat on the
side. Jon introduced the session and the artists and it began with
somewhat of an introduction from the artists. Out of the audience there
was a question asked about the connection between Rowe’s art and the
music he makes. He said that there are direct connections, but that
they are “˜oblique’, the “invisible right angle” that the knight in
chess makes is an important metaphor. Furthermore he went one to stress
that concepts of the hidden and disguise were key elements. He then
went on to explain the encoding of several album covers. The new
“˜cloud’ cover’s yellow cloud represents polluted skies and references a
cloud of mustard gas. He described this in the context of painters
coming to paint the polluted Thames and how this distortion of the
landscape led to impressionism. The grass below the cloud, was supposed
to be perfect, too perfect “Perfect Lynch-ian Grass” he called it. The
façade of suburbia and its denial of the polluted reality. AMM was
influenced by Gurdjieff among others in the beginning, and his notions
of the Tertiary, moving away from duality was an important concept. The
yellow on the covers represents AMM and the three wheels on the van on
the cover of AMMMUSIC represented the members of the group.

At several points there was back and forth between Keith and Julian
especially on found objects which Keith takes a rather liberal view of.
Julian failed to see how a guitar could be a found object when used in
performance where it is inherently a social object. This also led to
further discussion from Dion and Barry regarding a rejection of the art
world and their “interventionist” art. Barry talked about their
guerilla installation piece, “˜ToneField’ which was small light
sensitive tone generators stashed all around Williamsburg. Julian
mentioned that he had come from a working class background and that
after he graduated from art school they literally said “welcome to the
elite”. Barry said at one point that the direct reaction, the thalamic
response was more important to him then ascribed meaning or
philosophical underpinnings to his music.

From the above we returned to Rowe who told a story about the
Scratch Orchestra doing “invisible performances”. He mentioned a
specific case where they would perform in a large rail way station with
100+ people and follow a La Monte Young Fluxus piece where they would
move from point to point and play x in their pockets. This really
struck me as an interest contrast to the “young Turks” in that their so
called interventionist movement had been done. He went on to talk about
how after a while he found performance obscene that it was like
“painting currency”. He said this was something that he had to push
through, that you have to acknowledge that history exists and you “have
to do the thing”. When asked about his relationship to classical music
he talked about how he wasn’t afraid to think of himself in those terms
and about profundity in music and how we may need to re-imagine

Thursday, September 22


Pita at the Tonic

I missed the openers for this show, arriving at the Tonic about 5
minutes before Pita’s set. He was up on the stage with two laptops on a
table. He started off with washes of sound building in volume quickly.
The sounds were typically solo laptop; washes of sounds, hums and
clicks. Never any silence but going more towards pure tones later in
the set. There were some buried samples, voices and sounds but none
recognizable nor overtly engaging. Overall a standard laptop set that
was nice but nothing special.

Friday, September 23

ErstQuake Day I

Mark Wastell/Tim Barnes

Barnes and Wastell were setup with two large gongs facing each
other with an arsenal of percussion items at their side. They started
off quiet with some gentle bowing and tapping but soon building up to
greater volume with both of them pummeling their gongs. They backed off
from this and returned toward quieter territory still primarily working
the gongs. Barnes then brought it up to the loudest volume yet, beating
the gong with two mallets in one hand while he held a metal object
against the gong. Wastell laid out completely during this, which due to
the setup Barnes was ignorant of. Eventually he brought it back down
and began a gentle, jingling sound in which Wastell returned to the
field with rare strikes on a smaller secondary gong. This increased in
sparseness till they ended.

While kicking the festival off with a fanfare I felt that this set was
a mixed bag. The beginning and the first ascension into intensity as
well as the ending were excellent music but the solo gong assault from
Barnes just seemed out of place and rather excessive.

Keith Rowe/Tomas Korber

Two tables, side by side with their respective guitar analogs along
with their supporting electronics and tools replaced the dueling gongs.
The set begins softly with a buzzing static that builds into a louder
feedback as Korber waves his guitar around in the air. This becomes
gentler as he lays down the guitar and begins to manipulate his
electronics. Rowe activates a fan which he hovers over the guitar and
then sets into the tangle of wires at the end of the guitar. He moves
on to manipulating the guitar with files, and bringing the headphones
over the pickups, generating more feedback. During this there was this
infrequent, but repeating whirring sound that was like the beauty of a
far away bird call. I was certain that there were repeated gestures
from Rowe that was generating this, but it continued on as he moved to
another technique, making it clear that it was from Korber. Eventually,
things fade out and becomes a thicker drone as Rowe places first one
and then another fan on the guitar. Much more digital sounding, but
corresponding sounds from Korber. This continues for some time until
Korber lays out and then Rowe looks at him and then stops.

A droney set, with some beautiful moments, but was ultimately not
very challenging. I enjoyed it, but I think it could have benefited
from some clash in the participants.

Julien Ottavi/Dion Workman

With the recent release of Misenlian there was a lot of speculation
as to what this set would bring. It began with silence that brought
into sharp relief, the rustling of the audience, the movement of chairs
and a repetitive knocking from somewhere else. Some digital pops appear
and quickly cease, a wash of white noise is brought up and then faded
out. Slowly a background hum becomes apparent and increases in volume
of the course of long minutes. Added to this is digital static and pops
and clicks. This all fades away into the room noise again.

The nature of this set makes it hard to comment on, more then
almost any other set this is one I’d like to hear a board recording of.
Regardless, I enjoyed this set, which I approached from a Cage-ian
perspective working the external sounds into the performance. The
knocking at the beginning was an item of much discussion as to whether
it was a sample or from next door. When queried Julian claimed it was
an externality.

Joe Colley/Jason Lescalleet

A smaller table toward the front of the room held Colley’s mixer,
mics and small tape recorders, while scattered across the floor are
Lescalleet’s four reel-to-reel’s with their tape stretched out between
them. They begin with Colley’s contact mics dragging across the floor
creating a scrabbling sound, as Lescalleet fires up his loops which
become an intense wash of sound, with loud pops and clicks. The room
feed becomes very loud, very visceral – you can feel it cut right
through you. At this point a stream of dust falls from the ceiling onto
Colley’s gear, startling me at first as I thought it might be water.
Lescalleet’s tape loop breaks and the washes of sound drop out,
revealing intense cuts, clicks and pierce noise from Colley’s setup
Lescalleet repairs his loop and checking up on him Colley moves away
from his station and pats Lescalleet on the head. Lescalleet gets the
loop running again and picks up his mics and tosses one in the audience
and another into the far corner of the room. They back down the volume
and then as suddenly as it began it was over.

This set was one of the loudest and most intense and featured
artists whom I am not very familiar with. It was by far the most
theatrical, with Lescalleet scrabbling around the floor, adjusting
loops and volumes and Colley, who is more than 6 feet tall, hunched
over his table and shaking and swaying to the noise. Musically it is
much harder to qualify, the powerful washes of sound certainly could be
felt and there was a noticable layer of detail to them. Ultimately it’s
lack of subtly worked against it I think, and while it worked as a
piece of entertainment it isn’t something that I necessarily would want
to listen to again.

Keith Rowe/Toshimaru Nakamura

The music on the PA prior to this set was John Cage’s Sonata’s and
Interludes for Prepared Piano as performed by John Tilbury, which kept
playing for a bit as Keith first tested out some sounds and then began
to play. Rowe applied the fan right from the start creating that
guttering hum as pops and bursts from Nakamura found their way in.
Nakamura builds a layer of feedback and a gentle but increasingly
insistent drone develops. Rowe, fiddles with plugs and transformers,
eventually prompting first Barry Weisblat (who was recording) and then
the sound man try to fix the problem. With an announcement of technical
difficulties the sound ceases. Rowe’s transformer had blown and he had
to replace it.

The lights dim again and the resume where they left off, the drone
there but a new dynamic and tension. This builds in intensity and
Nakamura begins to ply sine tones against Rowes ominous wash of sound.
Eventually this heads into this crazy beaten driven radio grab, buried
in the static so that only its rhythmic pounding comes through. Against
this increasing staticy pops from Nakamura and slowly the beats
disappear and things begin to fade out. During this is a brief sample
of the earlier Tilbury piece and then it fades out to just a couple of
pops from Nakamura.

No set at this festival was more anticipated by me and it did not
disappoint. Nakamura seemed more active and upfront while Rowe explored
a wider space and allowed a dominating role for the radio. Both the
segments of this improv were very rewarding and while one would not ask
for the interruption, who can say what would have come without it.
While I do think that there were a couple of more successful sets this
was still a highlight of the weekend.

After the set I and a couple other people talked to Rowe for a bit.
We got into some discussion of the layout of Rowe’s setup and he
mentioned the cubist nature of it. I had spent the day previous at MoMA
and had noticed the large amount of guitars in the Picasso’s and other
Spanish cubist paintings. There was one sculpture of a guitar by
Picasso in particular that made me think of Rowe’s setup at the time of
viewing it.