Entries tagged with “Improvised Music”.

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

Seattle Improvised Music Festival day 6

February 22nd

12pm: Gallery 1412: Panel Discussion with festival Improvisers

While last week I was the only attendee to the round table, I enjoyed it quite a bit so I decided (fairly late actually – I was pretty burnt out by this point) to o again.  Once again attendance was pretty sparse though all of the visiting musicians except for Zorn and Thompson were there.  We were sitting in a rough circle enjoying fruit and pastries when this older gentleman showed up asking if this was open to the public.  It was we assured him and he came in and joined the group. Not too long after this he launched into this epic spiel about his life history, his current interest in music theory and eventually into a “question” about how the musicians deal with the issue of “tritones” in their improvising. While I can’t really explain what he was really getting at the gist of it was that if multiple musicians are improvising on a particular scale and then one of them modulates to another scale, how do you deal with “inevitable” tritones.  Now tritones are intervals that span three whole tones (to paraphrase the Wikipedia article, to which I submit you read if interested) and are dissonant.  However they are a dissonance that has been address from at least Scheonberg on and I asked the fellow if his music theory study had gotten that far.  He said that he hadn’t really gotten to 20th Century Music Theory yet.  It was also asked of him if he’d attended any of the festival and how he thought the music performed herein related to the music theory he was studying.  He had attended and well he didn’t really answer this, which of course was impossible as none of the music performed was deal with traditional scales. Kai and Michael tried to explain that while they’d start with notated tones they were usually exploring micro-tonalities and were just moving up and down scales.  

This led to some other discussion and then after a bit the gentleman again interrupted asking about Woody Guthrie and effectively if we could talk about these concepts of modern composition and also a folkie like Woody Guthrie, that interest in these two disparate (in his mind) poles was possible.  It was then asserted that modern music listeners don’t hold much truck with notions of “high” and “low” art and that it wasn’t incompatible at all to be a fan of abstract music, Woody Guthrie and (say) Luigi Nono.  He then shifted gears pointing out that (in his mind) merely raising this question had “thrown a tritone” into our conversation.  This went on for a bit until Gust basically called the session done and the old fellow headed out to the Y.  We then ended up chatting a bit more on such topics as “what the hell was that” and later on creating recordings, ad hoc collaborations and the musical interests of the various participants.  All and all a highly entertaining and interesting discussion.

The Japanese Garden in Seattles Arboretum

The Japanese Garden in Seattle's Arboretum


After the panel I went to the Essential Bakery and got a sandwich and green tea to go. I went to the Arboretum and had a picnic lunch followed by spending some time in the Japanese Garden there. The Japanese Garden is a lovely little pocket carved out of the Arboretum that, having been to a number of gardens in Japan, does capture a lot of the feeling those gardens are going for. In winter everything was still and it was mostly empty though it was a fairly nice.  There were faint signs of spring, with cherry trees beginning to bud and a few early plants with hints of green and even some little flowers.  The main entrance of the Garden was being reconstructed in a fashion of little Japanese style houses and shops (similar in matter of fact to those you’d often see at the exit (usually) of many of the temples I visited in Kyoto), which was looking to be a nice addition. It rained while I was there, but in a very spring shower sort of way that I was able to mostly wait out under a wooden shelter. This was a nice relaxing counterpoint to all of the sound and activity of the weekend.

7pm: Gallery 1412, Seattle WA USA                 

  1. Michael Thieke / Jonathan Zorn duo
    Michael Thieke / Jonathan Zorn / Wilson Shook / Tyler Wilcox quartet
  2. Kai Fagaschinski / Rachel Thompson duo
    Kai Fagaschinski / Rachel Thompson / Gust Burns / Mara Sedlins quartet;
  3. Large Ensemble

Jonathan Zorn, Wilson Shook, Tyler Wilcox, Michael Thieke quartet

Jonathan Zorn, Wilson Shook, Tyler Wilcox, Michael Thieke quartet

It was just a few hours later that I was back to the Gallery for the last night of music. I showed up a bit after 7 (nearly all of these shows started around 7:30) and secured a good seat in the second row. The Gallery seemed a bit emptier this week, but for the size of the space it was still a decent crowd. The schema for this night as again different in that the first two sets featured duos of the four remaining guest musicians, who were then joined by two PNW musicians for a quartet. The festival then concludes with the ever popular large group.  

The first duo to go up was Thieke and Zorn on electronics and clarinet irrespectively. Thieke as is his wont utilized longer elements, both sustained tones and whispery breathing, some twisted semi-melodic fragments and short sharp breaths on the keys and mouth of the clarinet.  Zorn focused on playing with samples this set, these were always manipulated out of recognition: slowed down, sped up, reversed, heavily effected and so on.  I wasn’t feeling this at all and felt that there was nothing Thieke could do to cut through the barrage of banality. At one point Zorn was working with a low rumbling tone that he brought up to a fairly high level of intensity as Thieke playing a nice contrasting tone also brought it up to a peak which they both cut off. Basically a perfect ending and Kai who was in front of me pantomimed the start of clapping but alas it was not to be.  Zorn wasn’t done and began making sounds again to which Thieke eventually joined.  This I think typifies what it is I’ve found I don’t really enjoy about Zorn: a lack of sensitivity. Perhaps there is some sort of subverting of expectations or some such but the results just don’t justify it.

Thieke and Zorn were then joined by Wilson Shook and Tyler Wilcox (replacing Mark Collins) on sax and sax respectively.  While I like Shook’s work on the alto quite a bit, especially his extended techniques and I’ve seen several instances where Wilcox’s soprano perfectly complimented the sounds at hand, I felt that these two in this context were not what the group needed.  It was now far too reed oriented and even the extended techniques that these three use are very similar. So this became like a horn section with Zorn as the contrasting element and frankly that is not role I found him much of a candidate for. There was in general a bit too much playing a bit too much reinforced similar sounds and then of course Zorn’s incredibly banal sample based playing. Not a set I enjoyed very much, though as always there were moments here and there.


Kai Fagaschinski, Rachel Thompson duo
Kai Fagaschinski, Rachel Thompson duo

There was then a break afterwards which was the second set beginning with the duo of Thompson and Fagaschinski.  After the previous couple of days I was most anticipating this set out of the three tonight and I have to say that I was not disappointed.  Thompsons semi-random scrapes and jittering clangs, matched very well with Fagaschinski’s longer tones, breath-work and occasional blasts. The set was varied and was filled with odd little clashes and conjunctions of sound. The explored a micro-cosm of limited events and wrapped it up well before it had reached exhaustion. A perfectly strange and gripping little set.

The addition of Gust Burns working his dowels and Mara Sedlins on the violin was a case where addition created something new and even better.  Thompson and Sedlins are so far apart in their usage of their strings that there wasn’t little if any of the sonic overlap that had occurred in the previous horn heavy set.  If anything the dry bowing of Sedlins was more in line with Burn’s dry doweling, but the texture and dynamics of these two techniques are quite distinct. This set began with cracking sounds from Thompson that were much louder then the hushed dry scrapes from Sedlins and the rustling, staccato moans from Burn’s dowel work. Fagaschinski at first added to this with whispery breath-work and later added more tonal parts. What was so gripping in the set to me was the constant shifting between murmuring tones and contrasting elements.  Thompson usually was the one to toss sand into the mesh-work but one stunning segment had Burns pulling dowels out from between his string creating a popping reverberant bell like tone. The density was variable as well but it didn’t follow the predictable arcs of many of the sets we’d seen the night before, no they were more shifting and fleeting themselves more elements to add to the whole then structural features.  One of the more striking of these featured Burns doweling in the lower register of the piano with the most volume I’ve ever heard him generate with this technique. Fagaschinski after the initial breathy bits was working with long hushed tones at the lower end of the clarinets register, but at one point he interjected a longer louder blast that again added to the overall palette without demanding a sustained response. The set ended with him playing in a slightly more melodic fashion, almost in a coda to the proceedings.  This set was fantastic, challenging, unexpected, rich in elements and confounding expectations. One of the very best of the whole festival.


Large Group
Large Group


The final set of the night and the festival was a large group made up of all of the evenings performers.  I’m sad to say that this one lived up more to the reputation of the large group then the exception to the  rule that the very first nights large group proved to be.  While that one set a good tone none of the other large groups lived up to its example and I have to retain my established conclusion that little but excess and mud comes from the large group experience.  All of them had sublime moments and this one was no exception, bits were various members laid out and there was sensitive interactions between the remaining players, but all too infrequent here.  Again as in the first quartet there were “horn section” style group playing that just underscores that cliche when they are all playing one long tone or all breathy sounds.  Again Zorn’s elections were pervasive and uninteresting and as is so oft the case it went on far too long.  Highlights included a section where Fagaschinski placed his clarinets metal cap on the floor, covered it with the bell of the ‘net and then proceeded to rattle it around the floor by moving the clarinet around. Another part I dug was Burns placing a long dowel between strings and then rotating it in a large circle generating metallic pops and grinding sounds. during one of the more spacious sections a crackling, almost electronic whistling emitted from Shook’s muted sax that was spellbinding.  The end was a low density affair that went on and on and on.  It kept seeming to almost end but would just keep going. Fagaschkinski and Thieke had set down their clarinets and were waiting it out but it just kept going. Eventually Fagaschinksi got up and walked to the rear of the Gallery, opened the door and left. The group played for a couple of minutes after that and then wrapped it up.

So there it is; one man’s view of the 2009 Seattle Improvised Music Festival. I had a good time this year and enjoyed fully immersing myself into it. As always I think that Seattle Improvised Music, Nonsequitur and especially Gust Burns did a fantastic job setting up and running it all.  While all the music wasn’t too my taste it would of course be ridiculous to expect it to be so.  In the scale of things there was nothing soul crushingly bad, just things that were better then others and things that weren’t my kind of thing. Yes there were sets that I flat out thought didn’t work or were flawed but I think trying these sorts of experiments do lead to that kind of failure. So I applaud the musicians and organizers and everyone involved and look forward to next years 25th Anniversary affair.

To see all of the pictures I took at this years festival, check out my SIMF 09 set on Flickr.

Seattle Improvised Music Festival day 5

February 21st

12pm: Gallery 1412

Workshops with festival Improvisers

Saturday SIMF offered a workshop at noon that I attended. I had never managed to make it to the workshops and as I was immersing myself into the festival this year I thought I’d make one of these. The workshop feature Andrew Drury and Gust Burns though Gust mostly guided the actions. Gust does a fair amount of improv workshops here and I imagine that this one is an example of how he typically does those. There was nine of us total and Gust broke us into three trios and had each group play for a bit.  I had brought my little BC-16 syth and a little amp and focused primarily on shorting it out which gives it a sort of open circuit/damaged sine wave sort of sound. I was playing with a guy on acoustic guitar who played it with a balloon and other objects and a clarinet player who mostly did short little runs. The other trios were a trumpeter, a double bass player and Gust on piano and Drury, a girl on djemba and a guy playing cymbals on the ground.  For the second exercise Gust asked us to try to play in a way that we typical avoid. For myself I chose to run filter sweeps on the sine an effect that I find overused in the synth world.  We also in between sets talked a bit about the differences in composition and improv in which my compatriots seemed really hooked on the notion that a composer and go back and edit their composition. I pointed out that an improviser needs to self-edit in real time and not just merely react. This was not really grasped and as I hadn’t wanted to dominate the discussion I let it go. Anyway I chose to display this in the second piece and used very few sounds.  I thought our little group sounded a little better this time, though still not very inspiring. In general things sounded pretty amateurish, interesting to contrast with the improvisers playing the festival who are able to make something (even if not that compelling) out of these ad hoc groups.  There was more discussion following the second time playing though mostly people talking about what they were doing.  After this we had a final “large group” jam which was pretty much total rubbish, all excess and little restraint.  Things wrapped up pretty quickly after this and I headed back home to do some chores before the nights activities.

7pm: Chapel Performance Space, Seattle WA USA

  1. Lê Quan Ninh solo
    Michel Doneda / Andrew Drury / Tari Nelson-Zagar trio
  2. Lê Quan Ninh /  Gust Burns / Michael Thieke trio
    Michel Doneda solo
  3. Kai Fagaschinski solo
    Lê Quan Ninh / Michel Doneda / Rachel Thompson / Jonathan Zorn / Kai Fagaschinski / Michael Thieke sextet

Back to the chapel for what was the most packed and longest night of music of the entire festival. Three solos and three groups in three sets, many of which were overlong as well. The older improvisers in particular I think were much more used to performing for a certain amount of time as opposed to the duration that the music required.  Ninh, the first performer of the night, though excels in solo performance.  As I’ve mentioned before his performance is a dance as he moves between his various objects, always generating sound with them. He moved through a rather typical sonic arc, beginning again with stones in a quieter more subtle sound, gradually increasing in density working the edge of a cymbal into his bass drums head. While watching him perform is a wonderful event it reminds me of a statement that John Cage made in the early sixties as he incorporated more and more theater into his music: “The ear is insufficient”. just watching or listening to Ninh isn’t a complete or very rewarding experience rather it is the combination of the two that compels.

After a short pause as they up set up the trio of Michel Doneda, Andrew Drury and Tari Nelson-Zagar launched right into their set.  More then anything this group reminded me of improv that I used to see in the late nineties/early aughts some of it at earlier iterations of this festival.  It was that scittery style of post EFI improv where all of the players moved from sound to sound adding events into a swirling whole.  Drury was particularly ADD, grabbing tool after tool doing something with it then quickly moving on.  Nelson-Sagar, a violinist, mostly utilized quick short strokes on the strings, usually fragmented melodic elements.  Doneda pretty much ran though the same sequence of sounds he had used the night before: hisses, longer tones, short melodic elements, blasts of sound and so on. He held things a bit longer then the other two but still ran through the bulk of his vocabulary.  Frankly I found this set dull; little communication, no tension, little contrast, a wide variety of sounds but never used in a particularly interesting way. There was a big crowd though for this set, the largest of the night. So large I was unable to take any photos from where I was sitting.

After an actual set break we were presented with our next solo, Michel Doneda. After seeing two sets where he played in about the same way I was curious to see if he’d mix it up but I wasn’t rather expecting him to.  My fears were justified as he pretty much ran through the exact same sequence as he had previously. In fact he ran through it twice.  He began soft with hisses and gradually shifted to techniques ’til he was wailing long tones through his ‘net.  He does this thing (every single time he played of course) where he would move the bell of his clarinet though a huge circle as he played and he worked this at length in this solo. Other gestures that were oft repeated was to burble spit against the reed in a rattly, rather loud sound and the generation of overtones by blowing long, loud notes.  After peaking he dropped to a short silence and basically began the whole process over again. The length of the first part was more then sufficient and this solo was way overlong. After running through his typical arc, he began to walk around the stage eventually walking off. He ended up going through the doors to the foyer and played a bit out there ending the set.  During this set I came to that realization that I’ve mentioned before that Michel is basically using an archaic language.  One that he had developed in the mid 80s and while he developed it for a while at this point he pretty much just runs through the vocabulary.  In a way you can look at it as if you dropped in a Paris cafe and witness a scene that hadn’t changed in years, maybe decades, like an insect trapped in amber, perfectly preserved.

Gust Burns, Michael Thieke, Lê Quan Ninh trio
Gust Burns, Michael Thieke, Lê Quan Ninh trio

This was a set that I had been highly anticipating for this evening given how much I enjoy the individual performers. Burns and Thieke are much more akin to my taste, utilizing a lot more restraint, incorporating silences and generally seeking lower density improv.  Ninh, as he has proven throughout this festival, plays along with what the others are doing and thus fit in well in this context. It was always interesting how he’d be doing his thing and then as the others stop, he’d pause in the midst of his dance and wait until activity resumed, continuing on as if he had never stopped. The set was rather episodic, moving through three distinct phases. And honestly I felt only the middle one worked.  Burns was not playing inside the piano in this case, which personally I think would have gelled better.  He was playing the keyboard in that quirky style he has where he works these clusters of notes. Not loud, or overly dense but a large amount of notes are played in a short time and then left to hang there.  This though I thought overly stood out from the small quiet events that Thieke and Ninh were engaged in, in this first “movement”. Ninh was working the dowel end of a mallet into his drum head generating pops and groans and Thieke was blowing into his clarinet in soft whistling fragments. Burns abandoned the clusters and this signaled the next episode, in which he’d play single notes or broken chords and then cut them off with the damper. Thieke moved to longer lower continuous tones and Ninh did various simpatico percussive events – bowing the drum or cymbals.  This middle part was quite engaging – intricate, stimulating sounds colliding and alternately contrasting or enhancing each other.  This wound down and there was a long pause, long enough that Burns and Ninh were furtively looking up to see if they were done.  But Thieke had other ideas and blowing loudly across the keys of his clarinet he fired things back up.  Thus began the third episode and again this one wasn’t quite as engaging as the middle movement.  Thieke moved from blowing on the clarinet to blowing these odd little melodic figures. Burns returned to his clusters but this time almost working them into fragments of melody. This movement wasn’t too long and things came to a real conclusion a few minutes later, almost more of a coda to the middle section. But in my mind the first ending would have been superior.

There was again a break before the next solo and by the time Kai Fagaschinski made his way on stage it was getting on pretty late.  Fagaschinski though delivered one of the best solos of the festival. It neither went on too long, nor reveled in excess. It explored a few areas in depth and it had a real structure to it. Most impressively it contained unexpected moments and genuine surprises.  Fagaschinski began with quiet explorations and slowly moved through a range of sounds that his clarinet can generate. His explorations were spacious yet not just moving from item to item. He’d reference back to earlier bits, perhaps working with a hissing sound that he’d used before.  At one point, the highlight of the set for me, he generated a long, very loud continuous tone that vibrated my inner ear and created truly interesting psycho-acoustic effects.  He didn’t push this too far either, he did it for a time and then back off, returning to quieter sparser events that in themselves interacted with the aftermath of this ear-drum massage.  After that he did a bit with higher pitched perhaps overtone playing that evoked a theremin in my ears and shortly thereafter wrapped it up.  All in all it wasn’t overly long and it was highly engaging, definitely the best set from this evening.

Rachel Thompson, Jonathan Zorn, Kai Fagaschinski , Michel Doneda, Lê Quan Ninh, Michael Thieke
Rachel Thompson,  Jonathan Zorn, Kai Fagaschinski , Michel Doneda, Lê Quan Ninh, and Michael Thieke sextet

I was really tired by this point and had seriously considered skipping out on the sextet and heading home. In retrospect that would have been the better move as I felt this was one of the least successful performances from the festival.  While it had promising start, with quiet, short events coming and going, it followed the predictable pattern of all of Doneda’s performances and became and exercise in excess.  Zorn again never stopped playing and while Thieke and Fagaschinski would often lay out, whenever they did play Doneda would leap right in, giving us a blasting horn section at times.  Ninh was his usual compatible self, but he did seem to stick with less dense sounds, clearly noting the overal amount of sound already being generated. Thompson was playing unamplified and thus was oft buried amidst the throng, so she also laid out quite often.  It was primarily Zorn and Doneda who were always playing and often aggressively so. While there were a couple of moments where Doneda and Zorn happened to be playing quietly and you could hear Thompson scraping her strings (with the violin actually under her chin) with card stock that were nice, overall this set was a brooding, thick mess.

Seattle Improvised Music Festival day 4

February 20th
Chapel Performance Space, Seattle WA USA

  1. International Nothing (Kai Fagaschinski & Michael Thieke) duo
  2. Rachel Thompson / Jonathan Zorn duo
  3. Lê Quan Ninh & Michel Doneda duo
The International Nothing

The International Nothing

Returning to the Chapel for the first night of the second half of this years SIMF, brought new visiting musicians and a new format. The first night would be three established duos from the visiting musicians. The first of these was The International Nothing, who in lieu of an official introduction explained to us that this project was for composed music and that they’d be playing six compositions tonight. Kai expressed some amusement in playing composed music at an Improvised Music festival.  Kai also explained that part of the theory behind the group was to work out pieces in such a way that it the sounds would work together as a whole. The six pieces spanned the entire history of the group, with the first being (I’m fairly certain) the opening track on their album Mainstream. The pieces are usually long held tones that weave in and out from the two clarinets and do create this effect of a single instrument, like a pump organ say, with a key held and then another pressed, then the first released and so on. Really hypnotic and fascinating, though my experience with the album was that the tunes in this vein felt a lot alike.  In this set though only the two oldest tunes had exactly this structure the other four, two of which were quite new and untitled varied in ways from this formula to provide a lot of interest. The second piece worked in a lot of natural gaps, nice incorporating the sounds from in and outside the chapel. A later piece featured “lyrics” in Morse Code, that one of them would create with small short (and long!) events over the sustained tones of the other. Another piece was only a couple of minutes long and was made up of short alternating melodic fragments. The final piece, titled Sleep, was long overlapping stretched out melodic elements that really evoked its name, though it’d be an uneasy sleep. I really enjoyed this set and it was one that I was initially uncertain about as I’d found their album a bit mixed.

Rachel Thompson / Jonathan Zorn duo

Rachel Thompson / Jonathan Zorn duo

The next set was Rachel Thompson and Jonathan Zorn from New York City, whom I’d only heard to date on a couple of CDs.  One of these recordings, ALBERTJZ, features five concerts on an audio DVD, two of which I found quite amazing. I’m probably the most interested in this wave of improvisers right now as the music seems a lot more risky. It doesn’t work possibly most of the time but there is an energy and excitement that I don’t really find as much in the preceding generation. As an aside this evening features the last three waves of improvisers and while I think that the middle wave (Fagaschinski and Thieke) was the most successful it pretty much broke down as I expected. Fagaschinski and Thieke were able to seemingly effortlessly create interesting if rather familiar music, Doneda and Ninh followed predictable patterns that have become rigid and rarely interesting and Thompson and Zorn were unpredictable, energetic and usually unsuccessful. The duo is made up of Thompson on viola with various preparations that she plays in an inherently aleatoric manner.  She seems to utilize purposeful lack of control, or perhaps intentionality as if the sounds that arise are almost incidental to the gestures that she makes. Reminds me a bit of Annette Krebs, especially her older stuff where she seemed as surprised by what her guitar would do as the audience.  Zorn was engaged both in live processing Thompsons sounds as well as generating some of his own.  This was generally the unsuccessful part for me, his overuse of echo effects, stereo panning and the like was frankly cheesy. His own sounds tended toward low rumbles and basic synth sounds, which sometimes work and sometimes seemed a bit hackneyed.  There were a few fantastic moments, one that especially gripped me was when Thompson was bowing a thin piece of sheet metal that she had placed under her strings as Zorn gently transformed it into this alien sound as of metal shearing away from some inexplicable stress. When he kept his processing on her sounds subtle it work this best, but alas that was too infrequent an occurrence. The conclusion of their set was unsure, with them stopping and then Zorn coming back in for a couple of minutes of more minimal synth work.  Ineffective but on the other hand I’ve found the way that most sets in improvised music music rather stereotyped at this point, so definitely some points for not just slowly stopping and looking sidewise at everyone ’til they are sure they are done.

Lê Quan Ninh & Michel Doneda duo

Lê Quan Ninh & Michel Doneda duo

The final duo was percussionist Lê Quan Ninh and soprano saxophonist Michel Doneda from France.  I had seen Ninh solo at the 2005 SIMF and it was an impressive and high enjoyable set.  Doneda I am only familiar with from a couple of recordings, I am far from familiar with his discography.  This is primarily because I was never that into to what I had heard, which was always a bit too predictably structured for my taste.  I was quite curious to see how Ninh worked in collaboration as his solo was so complete, with no wasted movements as he produced a continuous, though varied, set of sounds.  Well it turns out that he plays well with others but in a wholly deferential way. When it’s quiet he is quiet, when its more active he ramps it up, if there is a silence he joins it.  His sounds always fit in perfectly and complimented his compatriots but it rarely drove things forward, created tension or that delicious frisson of uncomplimentary sounds.  Doneda tonight followed a structure that he would use in all of the sets that I was to see him play. He’d began with very quiet delicate sounds, hisses on this occasion, he would slowly morph that into increasingly tonal elements and eventually be up to full on blasts of sound.  The beginning part of this tonight was fantastic with Ninh first playing two stones against each other and then on the drum which worked right in with Doneda’s hisses and breathy tones.  But as things built up more and more the restraint seemed to fall away.  The piece followed a wave format, starting quiet and building up then falling to silence and repeating. Doneda switched to a sopranino sax for one of this and mostly just quietly blew spittle through it as Ninh scrapped pine cones across the floor. Again this was quite engaging but again it just built up in a (now) predictable fashion, with Doneda quickly swapping out the sopranino so he could get some real blasts of volume in.  So while this had some nice moments, its structure was hackneyed and the bulk of the sounds tired and of little interest to me. I’d say if this was the only set that Doneda was playing it would have been different – a varied mix of sounds in a rather tired structure. However the three other sets Doneda played colored this one along with them.

See all of my pictures from this night and the rest of the festival in my SIMF 09 Flickr set.