Saturday, February 25, 2006

Review: LSG New Music Series February 23, 2006

ReviewOutsound Presents: LSG New Music Series @ Luggage Store Gallery, San Francisco

8:00 pmEmily Hay: Flutes, vocalMarcos Fernandes: PercussionRobert Montoya: Computer/softwareBob Marsh: electronically modulated vocal

9:00 pmMarcos Fernandes: PercussionRobert Montoya: Computer/softwareRent Romus: SaxaphonesErnesto Diaz-Infante: acoustic-electric steelstring guitar

Emily Hay, Marcos Fernandes and Robert Montoya traveled up from San Diego to perform with a couple of San Francisco locals for the February 23 2006 implementation of the LSG New Music Series. It made for a wonderful couple of hours of excellent, compelling music.
For the 8:00 show Emily Hay began by blowing her alto flute shakuhachi-like into her microphone. She progressed into including vocalizations with the flute blowing, and later alternating between the flute and vocalizations. Her vocal sounds ranged from english-like phonemes to sounds of laughter, but often coming back to a crystal-clear operetic voice, pitched and carefully articulated. Throughout the first set Emily alternated improvising between her flutes and her voice.

Bob Marsh seemed often to track Emily's vocals, but did so by almost mumbling into a microphone which pitch-shifted and otherwise modulated his voice into pitches that did match, and timbres that almost matched those of Emily. While Emily was working hard to get volume, articulation and pitch, Bob kept up seemingly without effort, through excellent control of his electronics. The two played off each other, with Bob at times creating electronic loops, and Emily sometimes repeating.

Behind Emily and Bob, Marcos Fernandes had percussion instruments set up on and under a table, with a microphone picking up the sounds and feeding them into a Lexicon reverb module. occasionally with prerecorded sounds. The tabletop was recorded hot, with small sounds of rubbing a mallet across the face of a drum being picked up and amplified sometimes into the foreground of the sonic output. Marcos was well balanced between percussion and foley (sound effects) work, using pots, pans, drums, gongs, bells and other instruments and objects obviously chosen for their focused sonic qualities.

Robert Montoya sat in back with his computer, using Ableton Live software to loop a sound sample, select segments of that sample, and modifying its attributes in real time. his sounds were urban, percussive, often sounding like scraping metal, but never muddy.

After the first set, Emily sat down, and Rent Romus joined with three saxaphones, as did Ernesdo Diaz-Infante on guitar. Rent sent out saxaphone sound arcs and blurts, always sent into an opening in the sonic spectrum created by the others.

Ernesdo's guitar strings were tuned down well below normal pitch so that when he struck them they were much more percussive than pitched. His right-hand work (strumming and picking) was his focus and was the most effective, setting up rhythms that provided tempos for the second set.

What struck me about this evenings' music--other than the fact that it was among the most continuously compelling of the evenings I've heard here over the last few months--was that the instrumentalists often played musical roles different from those usually selected for their instruments:

Marcos' percussion rarely provided enough repetition to create a tempo or rhythm. Rather, he delivered individual sounds that were each complex and defined enough to deserve attention on their own.

Ernesto's guitar played no melody, nor did it provide a chordal harmonization. As I stated above, he provided the rhythm and tempo, using the detuned guitar as a percussion instrument, and drumming out a beat for the others to weave around.
Rent's saxaphones provided phrases that rose from the bed of the sounds, arced above them and descended back into the source. Robert's software provided a mostly arhythmic backdrop for the others, but filtered and pitched so that the overall sound was rarely muddy--always a problem for electro-acoustic performances.

Bob marsh's electronically modulated vocalizations often approached the sound of a non-modified voice (though it always had just enough electronic artifacts to keep from sounding like it intended to imitate one). And Emily's flute and vocal work were almost electronic.
What I think made the night for me was that the acoustic elements were so carefully modified toward the electronic, and the electronic was so carefully modulated toward the acoustic, that what was accomplished was a masterful blending of the two. It was not electronic, and it was not acoustic, nor did it alternate between the two: it was sonic. And for me, that worked wonderfully.

I continue to look forward to what the next week brings this series.

CDs Available from these groups: WE ARE on Publiceysore (Emily Hay and Marcos Fernandes)REVERBERATIONS FROM SPRING PAST on Pax Recordings (w/Rent Romus)

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Review: Quiet American/Gal*in_dog: LSG in SF

Quiet American/Gal*in_dog: LSG in SF
Thursday, Feb 2 2006 8:00 PM

This was another performance in OutSound's "LSG New Music Series" held on Thursday evenings in San Francisco. Outsound is a collective that presents performances throughout the SF Bay area. Information on Outsound may be found at

This series is held at the Luggage Store Gallery, 1007 Market Street (near 6th) in San Francisco, and curated by musicians Rent Romus and Matt Davignon. It has been running since 1991, and as such is the longest-standing experimental music series in the Bay Area. Past performers have included Cecil Taylor, Alan Silva, Henry Kaiser, Fred Frith and many others.

On February 2 there were two performances: one by AAron Ximm (Quiet American) and one by Guillermo Galindo (Gal*in_dog).

8pm Quiet American (field recordings/oscillators)

Aaron Ximm's performance on Thursday comprised two sound sources: field recordings he made while traveling, and a battery of sine-wave oscillators.

The field recordings presented sounds that were textural, nonrhythmic, and mostly retained a consistant amplitude, sound spectrum and timbre. There were, I believe, four separate recordings, each of which was played continually for several minutes, with the sum of the four running the length of the piece. In conversation after his piece, Ximm told me that the recordings represented air, earth, fire and water:

air: flapping of tarps in a strong wind, recorded at the Burning Man festival
earth: the sounds of a worker smoothing concrete in a sidewalk or new floor
fire: the sounds of fireworks clusters--also recorded at the Burning Man festival
water: the sound of a pool drain skimming off water overflow

These sounds didn't have a central pitch, but rather each occupied a stabile bandwidth. Ximm mentioned that he recorded each using binaural microphones, with one positioned near each of his ears, in order to pick up spatial references that reconstruct themselves when one listens to them over headphones.

Streaming below, above, and through this bandwidth were the oscillators. Ximm had a bank of about a dozen oscillators. Ximm created a triad, then paired each of the three pitches with the output of another oscillator pitched very near but not exactly at the same frequency, causing beat frequencies in the air. Other oscillators were then introduced throughout the aural spectrum to produce additional aural phenomena, weighting the various spectral areas differently as they were slowly introduced, swept through frequencies, and faded out. I found my awareness of the slowly spectrum moving from one tone to another, as the oscillators moved in and out of my concentration. As with the early phase-shifting work of Steve Reich or the films of Michael Snow, I became conscious of my scanning of the aural seascape, as a sound slowly achieved a level that was noticible. Not everyone is able to provoke an awareness of that relationship between self and stimulus, and Ximm's work, presented in the focused gallery setting, did so quite successfully, for me at least.

9pm Gal*in_dog (electroacoustic soundscapes/21st century composition)

Guillermo Galindo's performance setup contrasted nicely with Ximm's minimalist elements. Central to Ximm's performance was a MAX algorithmic construction running on a laptop.

Sources that fed the program sounds included recorded samples, a crucifix constructed out of rods and coils that made it a giant electromagnetic pickup, and a kalimba/thumb piano with an internal pickup. Galindo's MAX program modulated and repeated the input sounds, with source and output parameters triggered by a number of MIDI tabletop switches, foot switches, and at least one footpedal sending a range of values. The tabletop switches included some custom-made light-sensitive switches paired with two small and focused light sources, between which he moved his hands to shadow and reveal the light sources--thus causing the switch to send a MIDI message back to MAX.

Galindo's performance began with his starting a bed of sounds, then donning a skimask, goggles, and using both hands to pick up his custom crucifix. He brought the mic close to and away from a few electromagnetic sources (including a guitar amplifier, a hand drill, his laptop, and what looked to me to be an electric fan with the blades removed).

The output from the crucifix/mic was fed into MAX and into the speakers, making a kind of sound painting of the electro-magnetic fields radiating from the objects, and extending into the surrounding space, and the audience. It made the existence of the otherwise invisible radiation quite palpable, and crossed the territories between music, sculpture, and painting.

As might be expected from a musician with Galindo's experience and training, the sounds were themselves clear and differentiated, and throughout the evening never became muddied. More often than not, they had a tonal center, and were clean of any trigger sounds and early envelope clipping. I mention this not to denegrate composers who use such sonic attributes as compositional content, but just to note that in addition to Galindo's dramatics, he had a professional's attention to the quality of each sound in itself.

I wasn't able to discern--through listening--a logic in the MAX program used to sequence macro developments through time. Certainly Galindo was paying attention to every moment's sound, and it's switching in and out in his performances' micro-structures. I would have to experience the piece again to become sensitive to any larger developmental structures in the work that may have been there. I'll leave this, then, to the readers of this review, and simply encourage you to attend any future performances by either of these composers. And of course, to attend future Thursday night performances at The Luggage Gallery.

gal*in_dog AKA Guillermo Galindo

Quiet American Aaron Ximm

Information on upcoming Thursday performances: