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:

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