The 23rd Annual Seattle Improvised Music Festival Day 2

Saturday, February 9th 2008
Chapel Performance Space
Wallingford neighborhood of Seattle WA

The second day of the Seattle Improvised Music Festival was a busy one for me. The Washington State caucus was early that afternoon (conflicting with Gregory Reynolds workshop alas) and I caucused for Obama whom I’m happy to note swept the state. This day also happened to be my birthday and I was meeting friends for an early dinner before the shows. I also managed to get them to come to the shows, which was great – always like to introduce people to new music.  We went out to Araya’s Vegetarian Place a vegan Thai restaurant in the University District. Really tasty food, especially worth noting among the things we had was the fresh rolls, a spicy mango salad and best of all an avocado curry. Recommended. Anyway after dinner it was off to the Chapel for another night of music.

SIMF Day 2

Jeffrey Allport / Tetuzi Akiyama duo

TetuziI was the first to arrive at the Chapel and I secured us seats in the second row so I was a bit closer this night then last.  The Chapel is a really resonant space so you can hear quite well almost anywhere in the room but its nice to have a less obstructed view if you want to watch how the sounds are made.  First up this night was the duo of Jeffery Allport and Tetuzi Akiyama.  I’d seen this pair along with Gust Burns a couple of years ago and they of course put out the fantastic duo record Live at the Western Front on Simple Geometry.  That show and album were Tetuzi playing electric guitar and on this tour he was all acoustic. All of this added up to place this amongst my most anticipated of the fest.

The range of sounds that these two used didn’t vary much from the night before. The placement of these sounds of course was what was unique and created an engaging, kind of dreamy world. Akiyama started off using his slide perhaps in response to Allport bowing the side of his floor tom for nice meshed slippery sound. Akiyama soon moved to the Relator style plucked notes and broken chords. Allport picked things up a bit by simultaneously bowing two upturned bowls on top of his drums coarsening these tones by putting crumpled up tinfoil inside. The set reached a peak of volume when Allport moved to the rubber tipped mallets rubbed vigorously across the drum heads. The arcing moaning sound this generated was matched with violent pull-offs from Akiyama adding a contrasting plucked slapping sound. After this things were brought down a bit, Allport gently running forks and dowels over the surfaces until they reached dead silence.  Akiyama sat head bowed and it seem nearly a natural ending. A quick fractured chord brought things back after this pause and shortly Allport was back in this time dual bowing the metal trusses on the floor tom. These sounds fading away brought the set to a genuine conclusion.

Really a nice set, much less dramatic and varied then when Akiyama is on electric but it fit great in the space and was filled with great overlapping sounds that seemed to hang in the space.

Tetuzi Akiyama / Mark Collins / Jean-Paul Jenkins trio

JPI’d first seen JP play at No West last year and his playing was among my favorites of that festival.  He plays electric and acoustic guitars with various preparations, objects, effects along with some simple electronic devices. Like Tetuzi he was sticking with acoustic guitar for this festival though he amplified it and used electronics along with his panoply of objects.  Mark Collins though was a complete unknown, even to the other musicians. He turned out to be a Seattle area double bass player who played unamplified primarily with the bow or hands. Occasionally he’d use a couple of objects to coax a variety of sounds from his instrument. So pretty much an acoustic string trio for this set.

The musicians for this set seemed to pick an area of sound crafting and then work it thoroughly wringing all the detail, possibilities and variety they could from it. The attention and time spent with each technique gave this set the feel of having three distinct movements. The initial one was the most abstract as if the musicians were feeling out each other and finding a way to communicate. Short, sharp, quiet bowing on the bass from Collins, sparse notes and chords from Akiyama and JP generated a hum and then maybe some feedback as he brought his system up.  At one point during this tentative first movement a radio grab or sample of Aretha Franklin’s R  E  S P E C T came through and was immediately cut off.  Shortly thereafter JP picked up a very long dowel and placing it upon the body of his acoustic guitar began rubbing the dowel create a nice continuous moaning tone. After this was really worked with things transitioned into an acoustic string trio section. Mostly plucking from the three musicians, with sharp snaps and open chords from Akiyama, gentle tapping around the bridge from JP and before he too switched to a low plucking Mark rubbed a ridged dowel against the edge of the bass. After this was explored for a bit JP began slapping tuning forks and then placing them on the guitars body and strings. At this point Akiyama began eking out these near melodies and after a bit of this JP joined in. This increased in sparseness until the set ended.

A real beautiful set, generally very quiet, deliberate and well paced. The all acoustic instrumentation with just the barest wiff of electricity from JP really gelled and provided a riveting experience.

Jason Kahn

KahnJason Kahn, whose installation I had seen just a few days before is an ex-pat American who has lived in Zürich for a number of years now. He runs the Cut label and is a stalwart of the Swiss improvising scene.  There has been a certain degree of homogeneity in that scene that has led to a number of self-similar releases that have rather failed to retain my interest. But I’d never heard Kahn solo and after his talk on working with spaces I was curious as to what he’d do. He had a setup of a mic’d floor tom, a small Doepfer modular synth, and a radio.  He was able to create feedback with the mic and the drum and he manipulated and modulated this with the synth, mainly creating fairly static pure tones that would interact and interfere with the feedback.

I knew this was going to be the loudest set of the night as Jason had mentioned in his talk at the installation that his solo sets trend that way. He said his interest in solo performance was to work with the resonance of spaces and to really bring this out a higher level of volume was required. It never got painfully loud in my opinion, but especially after the delicate nature of the first two sets it was certainly a dramatic contrast. He began by turning on and fading up his radio to create a wash of white noise. This was left to run throughout the duration as a static landscape. He then brought up the mic over the drum till he had a wall of feedback that he could affect and manipulate by interfering in the space between the mic and the drum. He primarily did this by bring a cymbal into that space and moving it around to alter the low wails of feedback. The synth also played its part, he mainly was using purer tones that would interact and change the feedback. He’d do real time patching of this small modular synth and these would change from lower pure tones, to at one point an intriguing fragmented broken tone almost like circuit bent electronics. Primarily he manipulated the cymbal, changed the synth settings and adjusted the feedback volumes but he also tapped on the cymbal, both in the air and laying on the drum and did other more percussive tapping on the drum.

For the most part this was a large wash of layered sounds and while it had a structure imposed from working different aspects it had no dramatic shifts or much variation of the sounds. It was interesting and it sounded good in the space, but I found aspects of it a bit tedious. The initial part where he just worked with the feedback, white noise and the cymbal went on far past my interest. The middle section where he primarily worked with the synth I found a lot more engaging as there was more obvious sounds that added variety and contrast to the ever present static and feedback. The end of the set he used more percussive elements though it again was primarily working with the ever present wash of sound.  This was an interesting set and as I mentioned above a rather nice contrast to the gentle music prior. I think it could have developed in a bit more interesting way with perhaps a bit more variety in sounds.  It rates as one of those things that I’m definitely glad to have experienced but probably once was enough.

So a great second day of the festival and a nice birthday present for me :)  I enjoyed all the sets in varying degrees and the flow of the evening was really quite nice. Definitely looking forward to the rest of the festival. For all of the pictures I’ve taken from SIMF check out my Flickr Set.