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tag: live performance

Marc Kate Live on the Prophet 12

A performance from the 2019 San Francisco Electronic Music Festival

One highlight of last year’s San Francisco Electronic Music Festival was a disarmingly simple set on the part of local musician Marc Kate. While many participants in the annual festival bring a richly performative aspect to their work, not to mention a range of devices, Kate sat behind a single Prophet 12 synthesizer atop a card table. I reviewed the concert series that year for The Wire, noting that Kate “plays stately, increasingly lacerated chords.” There were a lot of performers in 2019 and only a little room in the review, so that’s all Kate got in the piece. Now he’s uploaded the performance, all 20 minutes, giving it a larger audience than it did that evening. When you listen, and you should, do pay attention around the halfway mark. That’s when the piece, which bears admirable qualities of the Blade Runner score, transitions from gentle atmospherics to threatening ones, from chamber music to something far more orchestral. Early on, the tones are not necessarily comforting, but the drones have a sleepy quality, with hints of the depth of night, the undercurrent of something wicked coming this way. Then the wickedness arrives, and does it ever. The second half is full of climatic (and climactic) tumult, the force and bluster of a raging storm, combined with the anxiety of an alien invasion. It’s a pretty masterful performance.

Track originally posted at More from Kate at

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Feedback Light as a Fjærlett

Feather, that is

This beautiful instrument from Norway feeds back through spring reverb, and then lets the player adjust the audio with a 10-band graphic equalizer. It was created by Kristoffer Gard Osen, who is based in Oslo. The resulting sounds range from ethereal drones to industrial clanging, and the drones have a metallic vibe while the clanging has a rich resonance. Which is to say, this instrument isn’t about either/or; it’s about the varieties of sound in between. The name of the instrument is Fjærlett, which apparently is Norwegian for feather, or feathery. Which is to say, as Osen has noted, “You have to play it as light as a feather.” While this video serves as a product announcement by a small, one-person company, I’m sharing it based on the beauty of the sounds made during the performance. (In a June 30th update, Osen wrote that an audio-input jack will be available as an option.)

Video originally posted at More on the Fjærlett at

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The Sound of One Gallery Clapping

A room tone test from the Fridman in Manhattan

Like so many so-called “non-essential” businesses, art galleries largely sit empty right now. Some have been finding uses for the social distance, maintaining connections — and building new ones — through virtual events. The Fridman Gallery in Manhattan, for example, has been hosting live performances, under the title Solos, starting back on May 14. The gallery’s Vimeo page just yesterday uploaded a 12-minute video titled “SOLOS 04 – Room Noise Test.” Presumably it’s for the event scheduled tomorrow, June 23, at 8pm New York time (5pm here, I say to myself, as I enter it into my calendar). The footage, which is continuous and unedited, opens with actual room tone: near silence against the sheer absence of visible activity, aside from cars passing in the street just outside the distant glass front. Then a voice begins speaking and there is clapping, signals testing out the space’s reverberations (the sound of one gallery clapping, as it were), and the actual reverb on what must be the house sound system. There’s an extended bit of reverb right around 10:30, the echo so long and deep that sounds layer atop each other, spoken statements rendered unintelligible as the syllables cascade into a pile. The video is a strange thing, and a welcome one for someone who is used to spending lots of time in art galleries and who hasn’t been in one since February.

Video originally post at More about the series at

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On Online Concerts (and Music Plus AI)

My latest review for The Wire

If you’re a curious listener to adventurous music, then you’ll likely recognize this typeface. I wrote a concert review that appears in the latest issue of The Wire (437, the one with Tangerine Dream on the cover, or more specifically a Robert Beatty illustration).

This is the first freelance concert review I have ever written on the same device on which I witnessed the concert. That’s because it was a streaming event, fairly early during the pandemic, two months back on April 18. It was a triple bill put on by Indexical, a non-profit promoter based in Santa Cruz, California, and featuring Happy Valley Band, Erin Demastes, and Repairer of Reputations (aka Ryan Page). Indexical isn’t a venue, per se. Indexical is an opinionated concert promoter making use of various venues. These include a gallery and a production studio, and as of the pandemic, the streaming platform Twitch, as well.

The headliner was quite the Happy Valley Band, who, under the guidance of leader David Kant, perform versions of familiar pop songs transcribed from impressions synthesized by artificial intelligence. During the show Karp characterized what they do as “destroying your favorite songs,” which is about right. In the published review I compare Happy Valley Band to a combination of Kenneth Goldsmith and PDQ Bach (cultural plundering in the service of joking forensic dismemberment). In my draft, I pondered what if David Letterman had replaced David Sanborn on the Hal Willner’s Night Music series: They sound like someone threw the notes off the roof of a building to see what happens when they splatter on the ground. Or, remember those old play-along albums called Music Minus One? On them, one part of a popular piece of music would be removed, so you could play along and feel like a member of the ensemble. The Happy Valley Band is more like Music Plus AI: the original version lingering quietly in the background, a halcyon through-line memory of less complicated times, while the machine-processed rendition stomps through the foreground. All of which said, you have to admire the group’s collective and good-humored commitment to the experiment. (There’s more on Demastes, who played a microsonic set that involved close-up live images of the sources of her audio, and Page, whose work involved fictional found footage, in the published review.)

I didn’t spend much of the review considering the then unique circumstances of the virtual event, based on my sense that (1) I didn’t want to repeat what other reviewers in the same issue might say, given the limited space, and (2) by the time the review was published, this sort of thing would be the norm. At the time, what I was thinking about was how venues and technology create new forms of intimacy (it was pretty nice to be able to just put my feet up on my desk) and memory (all three performances are archived on Twitch: Happy Valley, Demastes, and Repairer). Noise pollution is an old problem in concerts, notably from the chattering class that is fellow attendees. Light pollution rose with the advent of the cell phone. As I mention in the review, the main new irritation here was the venue itself, as Twitch, being aimed at gamers and not at people who want to focus on the performer, has a tendency to draw attention to itself, urging you to level up when you really want to just watch and listen. On the flipside, it was pretty cool to run into a friend from another city (someone I hadn’t seen since 2012) in the chat room, and to catch the name of a musician I admire who happened to show up in the audience.

In any case, pick up the latest issue for the review.

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Buddha Machine Variations No. 36 (Glass Tiles)

A series of focused experiments

Been a few days since the previous Buddha Machine Variation. The camera died, after it had stopped playing nice with audio. And I got a new, smaller synthesizer case (from Pulp Logic, who were super helpful with plotting it out). This is the first time I’ve ever used an expression pedal with my synth, thanks to one of the three tiles in the upper left corner of the box. (“Tiles” being a term for the shorter modules seen top and bottom here, above and below the ER-301 module.) Very simple little patch. Just a proof of concept. The tiny foot (well, hand) pedal is triggering the recording of a microloop (400 or so milliseconds) of the choral audio coming from the Philip Glass 80th-birthday edition of the Buddha Machine. The expression pedal is varying how much we’re hearing the inbound Glass loop, and how much we’re hearing the microloop. If you’re wondering where the Buddha Machine is sending its audio into the synth, there are jacks in the side of the case itself.

For further patch-documentation purposes, here are two shots of the synthesizer:

Video originally posted at There’s also a video playlist of the Buddha Machine Variations.

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