Entries tagged with “Mara Sedlins”.


This year the Seattle Improvised Music Festival brought in Taku Sugimoto from Japan. Regular readers of this blog will know that I’ve been a long time follower of Sugimoto’s work though certainly have not followed him everywhere he’s gone. Regardless of the end product, the journey has always been fascinating and it’s always been worthwhile to keep up with his current activities.  I’ve managed to see nearly all of the musicians in the small modern improv scene that has dominated my interests over the last decade but Taku Sugimoto has always managed to slip out of my grasp. So I was particularly pleased that SIMF brought him by this year.


Empty Bass

Taku Sugimoto wasn’t the only non-Pacific Northwester that SIMF brought in this year, and they did do sixteen sets over four days all told.  I’ve really moved into a space where I try to not over consume music, both in buying of physical objects but also in how much I hear. I’ve come to find it a lot more valuable to let music that I find really compelling to sink in, to not immediately overwhelm it with another piece. So I only saw nine of those sixteen sets and even that was too much in my mind.  Each night that I went I’d come home and put up a short report onto Google+ of the Sugimoto set from that night. I’m going to collect those here, perhaps slightly expanded and with a couple more photos. I should not that the lighting was low and overall my photos were fairly bad.


Mark Collins, Mara Sedlins, Taku Sugimoto, John Teske

Thursday February 9th, apart from being my birthday, was also the second night of SIMF 2012 and the first of three nights with sets featuring Taku Sugimoto.  On this night we had a world premier Taku Sugimoto composition: Two Contrabasses, Viola and Guitar. The performers were  Mark Collins and John Teske handling the contrabasses, Mara Sedlins playing the viola and Taku Sugimoto handling the guitar. I really enjoyed the piece, it was mostly long bowed tones from the strings and Sugimoto cycling through eBow, muted plucked strings, chords and then open plucked single notes. Dynamics were low throughout and stayed in a single register giving it a kind of Feldman-ish feel. The string players almost always seemed to bow in one direction which I assume was for a particular timing or sound. The slow, soft bowing the the occasionally dry percussive elements of Sugimoto’s playing also made me think of Jacob Ullman’s A Catalog of Sounds. Good piece, afterwards I had to leave without seeing the next two sets as I wanted to let this one settle through me.

Taku Sugimoto and John Teske

Friday February 10th featured a solo performance by Taku Sugimoto. This was of course going to be interesting as Sugimoto solo has gone anywhere from him continuously playing scales, to playing only a handful of notes over the duration.  Tonight though he stuck with his recent practice of sticking to composition and  performed Michael Pisaro’s Melody, Silence. This was a nice piece like most of Pisaro’s compositions. It was made up of single plucked tones that were sometimes allowed to fully decay, other times strung into simple near melodies. These different modes of operation cycled and between then they were interspersed with short segments on the eBow. There wasn’t a ton of silence, the longest sections when he’d pick up the eBow. In that regard it reminded me more of how John Cage would use silences in the number pieces which were mainly short (though still longer than you’d normally find in a “classical” piece) and seem more about allowing each sound to be allowed to breathe. Taku’s touch on the guitar is really quite good, he’d gently pluck the strings giving a rich, full tone that was really compelling in and of itself.  The hollow body guitar he uses has a particularly nice sound for what he does. The piece wasn’t too long, I’d say maybe twenty minutes and it definitely kept me captivated throughout.

Taku Sugimoto performs Michael Pisaro’s Melody, Silence

Saturday February 12th was the final night of the festival and the only night that Taku Sugimoto engaged in improvisation playing in a quartet with Gust Burns, Jeph Jerman and Tyler Wilcox. As they were setting up Taku put stools on either side of the rear stage with (at least on my side) a wine bottle on it. He poured out a glass of this wine into a styrofoam cup. On stage Jeph scatted about his collection of items: a small zither, some mallets, a radio, small speakers, rocks and twigs. Gust opened the lid of the grand piano but had none of his usual dowels (perhaps he is post-dowel now). Tyler simply had a chair and his sopranino sax. Wilson Shook came on stage to announce the group and that the lights would be turned off.

Jeph Jerman, Gust Burns and Tyler Wilcox

The group played in the near darkness with only the exit signs and the light through the chapel stained glass windows coming in. Playing in the darkness seems to always lead to even more hushed music than normal and it was very low dynamics throughout. Jeph rattled things and tapped on the floor, Tyler emitted very quiet mostly short tones and Gust held back for quite a while. Taku wandered around and shined lights on things. At first seemingly just on the crowd but then on a mic stand with his hat on it. Later he had a shoe on the mic stand. Jeph placed an eBow on his zither and let it run for some time, first high, then low then high again. Tyler would match this for brief intervals creating sections of beating tones that was quite nice. Gust began playing single notes, fairly high and usually damped fairly quickly. Taku walked to my side of the stage and place a blinking green light that was shaped like a glow stick into the bottle of wine. At this point a regular beeping sound began, but if this was something of Taku’s or one of Jeph’s little toys I don’t know. It beeped for a while as Taku was behind the rear stage curtain playing with a white light.

Wine bottle, stool

Taku also had a red light in his belt and eventually he made his way to the opposite side of the stage and set it up (presumably also in a bottle). So on either side of the stage a red and green light was blinking away. Jeph finally removed the ebow and seem to focus more on rustling sounds and wobbling rocks. Gust was still just playing the occasional single note, now more mid-range. Tyler was doing a bit more hissing sounds at this point. Taku shined his light on the back of the heads of the audience a bit but then made his way to the back where he returned to the show on the mic stand. He placed his flashlight in another mic stand and proceeded to manipulate the shoe for a bit, slow lowering it and then rotating it. This was cast as a huge shadow on the screen that is behind the stage curtain. This was the climax so to speak and after he cut that light I think he only projected lights once more for a short time. The musicians were slowly winding down as well, though of course it had never gotten more intense then the eBowed zither. At the end they just sat in the dark for a bit making no sounds. Eventually Tyler said thanks and it was done.

Great performance, I really enjoyed it. While the theatrical stuff was really engaging what I think made it completely compelling was that there was great music throughout.

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

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.

Seattle Improvised Music Festival 2009

[Ed: Updated Feb. 13th  now that the final schedules seem to be in place]

This weekend is the first of two weekends for this years SIMF. Once again there is a lot of music packed into the two weekends, even more then normal as this year some sets feature multiple performances.  I’ve covered the festival at length the last few years and once again I do intend to attend the bulk of it.

As usual the festival brings in a number of national and international improvisers and showcases them within their own contexts (solo or their own projects) as well as in various combinations with regional improvisers.  The two halves of the festival feature different groups of guests and locals with some overlap with the locals. The second half seems to still be up in the air; previously there was a number of shows listed with Micheal Thieke, Kai Fagaschinski and Lê Quan Ninh that are now all TBA.  [ed: not TBA at all, see comments for hints to why].

Anyway with the second week still up in the air, lets just focus on the first half of the festival:

February 13th

7pm: Chapel Performance Space

  1. Greg Kelley / Doug Theriault / Kelvin Pittman trio
    Christine Sehnaoui solo
  2. Greg Kelley / Gust Burns / Mara Sedlins / Mark Collins / Wilson Shook quintet
    Andrew Drury solo
  3. Liz Tonne solo
    large ensemble

February 14th

12pm: Gallery 1412

Workshops with festival Improvisers TBD

7pm: Chapel Performance Space

  1. Greg Kelley solo
    Christine Sehnaoui / Liz Tonne duo
  2. Kelvin Pittman solo
    Wally Shoup / Greg Kelley / Andrew Drury trio
  3. Doug Theriault solo
    large ensemble

February 15th

12pm: Gallery 1412

Panel Discussion with festival Improvisers TBD

7pm: Gallery 1412

  1. Kelvin Pittman / Andrew Drury duo
  2. Christine Sehnaoui / Greg Kelley / Doug Theriault / Gust Burns quartet
  3. Large Ensemble

The first half features Greg Kelley, a fantastic trumpeter from the east coast in various combinations with regional players. Kelley, one half of nmperign, plays trumpet in about the most extended manner possible, working in small, spare sounds, sometimes augmented with simple preparations and the occasional electronic effects.  The first performance he is involved with is highly intriguing: a trio with Kelvin Pittman and Doug Theriault.  Pittman is a great sax player from Portland OR, who  is a versatile player that I’ve seen in numerous contexts but have enjoyed the most his abstract work that doesn’t at all remind me of Butcher, or Rives or Wright.  Theriault, I haven’t seen in a long time and am quite curious what he is up to now. A curious mix of guitar and “live electronic music systems” which IIRC are semi-autonomous  software programs he interacts with via his guitar. In this set along with this trio, will be Andrew Drury, a NYC based percussionist, performing solo. I’ve heard Drury in a couple of combo’s, but am not really up on his sound so I’m looking forward to get a chance to become familiar with his work.

The second set features Kelley with the Gust Burns Quartet, whom I’ve seen before and quite enjoy. Kelley’s minimal, sound oriented playing should meld perfectly with this quartet and is definitely a set I’m looking forward to. Performing solo this set, is MA based vocalist Liz Tonne.  I have not enjoyed the work of hers that I have heard in the past, either solo or in combination, but I know she has her fans. You can download a track from her (and also Kelley) from the excellent Music Overheard comp to a preview..

The final set is Christine Sehnaoui solo, apparently a France based Saxophonist whom I’m completely unaware of (always exciting!) and the ubiquitous “large group”, which presumably is all of the nights musicians performing in one large group. Somewhat of a cliche for these types of festivals, but one that SIMF has not indulged in for the last few years. But it is back in force, with each night ending with this. New this year is the solo along with a group for each set. This is interesting I think, especially as these solos tend to be pretty short.  It guarantees a full evening of music and the festival is starting early (7pm) each night to accommodate this.

The next two nights involve various combinations of the players introduced on this first night. Greg Kelley solo is sure to be a highlight and I’m curious about Pittman and Theriault’s solos as well. I’m not sure how the Kelley/Drury/Wally Shoup trio will work out: Wally Shoup is more of the fire music class of the free jazz school and I’m not sure how Kelley will fit in with that.  I’m looking forward to the the Sehnaoui/Kelley/Theriault/Burns quartet curious how Sehnaoui’s “personal language of electronic music on an acoustic instrument” will work out with Kelley’s minimalisms, Theriaults electronics and Gusts dry tones.

It is looking to be another strong year for the SIMF and I’m definitely looking forward to a number of sets and am curious about several more. If you can only make one day, I’d make the Friday that day, but there are great looking sets every day. Additionally there are workshops and roundtables, though no details about those have been released yet.