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tag: live performance

Transforming the Acoustic

August 8 at the Center for New Music (SF)

I caught all three sets this past Thursday night at the Center for New Music here in San Francisco: two duets and one solo performance, all of them focused on the same underlying interaction, specifically the electronic transformation of acoustic sounds.

Above are the headliners, Ted Moore (electronics) and Tom Weeks (saxophone). Moore was visiting from Chicago. The remaining four fifths of the evening’s performers were all local to the area. Take a moment to note how Weeks is playing his saxophone. A lot of what Moore seemed to be doing was matching and approximating Weeks’ own playing style: the brash tones, the stop’n’start phrasing, the gritty timbres. What was all wind and saliva from Weeks was scratchy, urgent white noise from Moore.

Here is half the opening act, William Winant, who performed on various pieces of percussion (including his own cartoonishly rubbery cheeks), with Chris Brown offstage doing the processing of Winant’s sounds. When the show began, Winant walked from the audience up to his drum kit, carrying a glass of water. It seemed very casual, an impression reinforced by his shorts and sneakers. However, as quickly became clear after he began playing, the water wasn’t for him. It was used to soften up and make squeaky a small hand drum he had as part of his kit. Brown’s efforts felt especially effective when they didn’t merely echo or exaggerate Winant’s playing, but regenerated it in high fidelity, as if in some other, totally imaginary space, a zone larger and more formidable than the small room in which the concert was actually physically occurring. In a way, the fact that Brown was not in view improved the work, creating more of a procedural void (a gap of cause and effect) between what Winant was enacting and what we were hearing.

And here is the middle act, Alexandra Buschman-Román, who provided both the acoustic element (a quite powerful voice, here sublimated into whispers and quickly muttered phrases) and the electronic (a noise table packed with sonic gadgetry). I don’t have a shot of it, but one thing Buschman-Román did was to amplify yet muddy her voice by putting the microphone in the fleshy part of her neck, where it meets her jaw. The result was highly unfamiliar, and highly memorable.

Concert listing at the Center for New Music’s website, centerfornewmusic.com.

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Dave Seidel’s “Black Star Study”

Bleak intensity, plus sewing machine

“Black Star Study” is a dense, lengthy, tumultuous drone, one occasionally fleshed out with jittery synthesizer fluctuations and the stuttered grunts of something more akin to an unloved catalytic converter. Which is to say, in drone/noise terms, it is fantastic. Dave Seidel perpetrates the live performance in full view, his synthesizers narrowing into the distance on his desk, the bleak intensity of the music only slightly undermined by the sewing machine seen toward the rear of the room. As you listen, pay attention to the layers of grit, the mesh of crunchy distortions that makes your speakers vibrate and your imagination soar.

Video originally posted at Seidel’s YouTube channel. More from Seidel, who is based in New Hampshire, at mysterybear.net and mysterybear.bandcamp.com.

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Live: Branciforte, Bleckmann, and Gomberg

A concert from May 15, 2019

Finally got to see Joseph Branciforte perform live last week for the first time, having admired his music for several years now. He is on tour with Theo Bleckmann, supporting their forthcoming collaborative album, LP1, which as the title suggests is the first of something, in this case the first from a new record label, Greyfade, founded by Branciforte. The duo performed on Wednesday, May 15, at the Center for New Music at the edge of San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood, with Billy Gomberg opening up. Branciforte and Bleckmann are based in New York City, and Gomberg moved to San Francisco from New York last year.

Branciforte, an accomplished producer and musician, worked with sounds manipulated by and triggered from his laptop, yielding small percussive motives and gentle washes. Bleckmann has recorded for ECM, Winter & Winter, and other labels, and his past collaborators include Laurie Anderson, Phil Kline, and Meredith Monk. He was very much the focus of the performance, a charismatic singer in a polka-dot shirt who channeled the evident power of his voice into tiny, soft gestures that he looped and transformed with a small battery of devices on an adjacent table. Together they filled the room with often fiercely quiet and delicate material, playing straight through for about 45 minutes.

Gomberg opened the evening with a set on his economically sized modular synthesizer rig. He explained to the audience at the start of the show that the apartment building in which he lives has had renovations going on, and that the work has caused a lot of noise, noise he has in turn been filtering into his own work. In this case that meant the sounds of construction and the muffled conversations, in Spanish, of workers, which he slowly subsumed, the voices giving way over time to modestly scaled melodic pursuits. The transitions were so subtle that you had to think back to recall where your ear had been. There was an introspection to the piece that suggested someone making mental space for themselves amid the persistent cacophony.

More from Bleckmann at theobleckmann.com, Branciforte at josephbranciforte.com, Gomberg at fraufraulein.com, and the Greyfade label at greyfade.com.

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Junto Event in Montréal on June 23

Une Rencontre de Juntos at Cabaret Berlin

More details as it approaches, but there’s a special Disquiet Junto live event taking place in Montréal, Quebec, on Sunday, June 23. Various members of the Junto are meeting up in the city that weekend (several local, others traveling for the event), hanging out, and on Sunday performing at Cabaret Berlin (cabaretberlin.ca). There’s a more detailed entry on Cabaret Berlin’s Facebook page. The participants include: New Tendencies (aka Matt Nish-Lapidus), Electric Kitchen (aka Mark Lentczner), and the duo of Simon Demeule and Maxime Giard. I’m not sure I’m going to be able to make it, but in some ways it’s all the more exciting for me when Junto events occur that I’m not directly involved in. That said, I do hope I can make it.

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Speaker Cone and Seed Pod

Documenting Marcus Fischer's "Multiples" installation

Awhile back I began collating a YouTube playlist of live ambient performances. The assortment, now numbering well over 100, quickly took shape as a collection of videos in which the techniques of the performer were evident to the viewer. The idea was to locate and celebrate instances of the action required by the performer to accomplish the seeming inaction — the stasis, the aesthetic limbo, the attenuated sonic pause — that so much ambient music telegraphs.

In time, the definition of “performance” expanded — well, it didn’t so much “expand” as that the word’s interior features became more detailed. Nothing as the playlist of included videos proceeded contradicted earlier interpretations of “live performance.”

This video, from an installation by Marcus Fischer, pushes the definition further, while staying true to the initial curatorial impulse. The audio is one take, while the video is a collation of elements. In other circumstances, that disconnect might be an issue, but here it makes perfect sense. The installation, titled “Multiples,” was set up at Variform in Portland, Oregon, last month, in a show curated by Patricia Wolf. The core of it is an array of naked speaker cones, each containing fragile little seed pods. The speakers both emanate sound and, as a result of the vibrations resulting from that sound, rattle the seed pods, each a tiny, nature-made maraca. We hear both the melty drone of the music and the waves of percussion that accompany it, and we experience the correlation between the two.

The causality between visual and sonic instance is less necessary here than in other sorts of live performance, because what we’re witnessing is more a system at work than a performance. If you watch a video of a train and hear audio of a train, even if the two weren’t sourced at the same time, you get that they are both simply moments in a much larger system, something that couldn’t be documented in full. Likewise, here we get the high-fidelity rendering of the audio, and the glimpses of the various facets that make it run.

As the video shows, there is still more at work than those speakers, including the reel-to-reel machine on which the audio is unspooling, and at least one additional seedpod hanging midair, still affixed to a branch, not to mention the full geometry of the work, which sets a visual stage for the sounds we are hearing. Above the speaker array is a series of parallel fluorescent bulbs, a grow-room aesthetic suggesting artificial light for artificial life.

This is the latest video I’ve added to my YouTube playlist of recommended live performances of ambient music. Video originally posted at Fischer’s YouTube channel. More from him at mapmap.ch. I’m proud to have worked with Fischer on the sound design and score to the science fiction short Youth. He will be exhibiting in the Whitney Biennial this year, from May 17 through Sept 22.

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