20090801

odds & ends: Dijkstra/Robair/Smith, Wittmer/Knowles, sfSound

Fantastic set from Dijkstra/Robair/Smith. Bold sounds, static and loud, turning on and off. Blaring sax long tones, electronic textures, arco grinding. Intensity and momentum maintained for a 40-minute set broken into 3 pieces. The double bass sounded HUGE in the room, more like I was inside the bass. Hands rubbed on the wooden body ripped through the room, with full body resonance audible, surrounding me. 4-string pizzicato with bows wedged between the strings sounded like the bass was about to be destroyed, but it all held together. Robair was all over the place with Blippoo Box textures, bowed styrofoam, cymbals, cookie tins on the cement floor, vibrators on everything. Dijkstra weaved in and out on alto sax, and added electronic layers with his Lyricon wind synth through effects. Very rich sound, and great pacing. Nice view of and through the windows backing it all up, and the art hanging there was also actually pretty good for a change. Veggie burrito from Cancun was only mildly better than the decrepit super pollo asado I got last time I went to the Luggage Store. The Market Street branch has fallen far, even though it has always been recognized as the worst of the three. Next time I dine at home, or follow Damon's example and hit up Tu Lan.

Last Saturday I made it to the Lab just in time to catch the last set of the night, the duo of Gerritt Wittmer & Paul Knowles. These guys are up to something interesting. Their set was a more developed version of something I saw them perform (for the first time?) at Bay Area 51 in the spring. Two tuning forks conspicuously hung above two vocal mics, suspended by fishing line from the ceiling. They spun on their lines throughout the final preparations. Wittmer & Knowles, dressed alike and looking quite similar, approached their respective mics in unison, and abruptly ripped the tuning forks from the ceiling, humorously usurping everyone's theories of their potential purpose in the set. Expressionless and with economy of movement, the duo alternated striking the forks on their shoes and holding them close to the mics, which were amplified by Gerritt's fancy Mackie PA. After two or three alternations, they turned to face each other and struck the forks together like swords -- the routine becoming more and more evocative of a synchronized dance for a pop stage show. Soon the two starting making hissing and gurgling vocalisations into the mics. Harsh noise mouth music, which sounded quite clear and good through this particular PA. Still expressionless and unmoving, like a pair of golems. Gerritt's laptop was recording these sounds, and soon they started to be re-played and layered on top of each other. The bright lights were replaced by strobes and vocalizations turned to yells and screams. The laptop started spitting out extreme digital noise, which again sounded great through the PA. And it was nice to see this sort of music performed as playback of pre-recorded music, or at least a pre-written computer patch, with live theatrical performance. Amidst the wall of white noise and assaulting strobes, the duo continued to scream. They turned to face each other and continued staring forward. Sexual tension mounted. They turned forward. They turned away from each other, extended their arms into crucifixion position and leaned into each other's bodies. They writhed and screamed. Electrical fault sounds erupted from the speakers, the lights went out, and the pair collapsed on the floor. Wow! The end of the music was more than an abrupt cessation of sound. It was more like the sound of digital or electrical failure. The sound of some equipment blowing up. A more satisfying end than the more typical mixer-power-off.

sfSound's post-intermission program was very strong. Clarinet, saxophone, viola, cello and piano took the stage, saxophonist John Ingle performed a last-minute adjustment on his rickety-looking baritone sax stand, and they were off. They opened with a quintet improvisation (clarinet, saxophones, viola, cello, piano), which showed the strings at their most comfortable, perhaps after taking their last rare dip into the pool of free improv just one week previous at the Skronkathon. Things were moving along quite well, then an amazing moment of drama and psychology occured. As Ingle played his alto saxophone, the baritone sax on its stand slowly, very slowly, began to lean. As it reached the point of no return, the entire audience audibly gasped in unison, and the tension was quite palpable, more emotion evoked by this spectacle than by any music of the night. The musicians, confused by the gasp, slightly halted their sound, allowing a terrific saxophone solo as the large instrument crashed onto the floor. Such a big sound, and with such emotional impact. After that the room was filled with much awkwardness. Nobody knew how to address this incident in the middle of piece. The musicians played a quick fading coda while everyone, including the musicians, sat in tense confusion. Then there was applause, and the musicians cleared the stage.

Lucier's Q (1996) was next, performed by clarinet, trombone, violin, cello, and double bass, accompanied by two sine waves performed by a laptop. With small microphones connecting their instruments to their tuners, the musicians droned with the sine waves, altering their pitches by precise measurements of cents. Micro-harmonies and beating patterns slowly shifted. Strange polyrhythmic patterns emerged from bow turnarounds and breaths. Timbres merged and clashed. Very nice.

The evening ended with Milton Babbitt's All Set (1957), a serialist piece inspired by bebop and written with jazz-like instrumentation. A fun and dynamic piece.

These last two compositions seemed more focused, devoted to a single idea, than the three compositions in the first half of the program, which all had moments I liked, but changed too quickly, too frequently. Matt Ingalls had some nice rhythms passing through the instrumentation, and some nice timbral juxtapositions. Olga Neuwirth's Fondamenta opened with a really fantastic section of unisons and microtones passed back and forth between bass clarinet, baritone sax, and cello. Amazing shifting timbres, beating harmonies, rhythm and tension. With the Lucier piece also on the program, I expected this continue for 15 minutes, which would have been great! Instead, it quickly developed into more dynamic and hyperactive music, which left me fairly cold, then it changed again and again.

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