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Sunday, August 9th: A Story of Rats, Brandon Nickell, sfSound

I biked four miles in the blazing sun to Bay Area 51 in Bayview for an afternoon show. A Story of Rats, from Portland, was performing as I arrived, a solo performer looping layers sampled from a sruti box. There was a fantastic polyrhythm happening between the layers, as the turnaround of the bellows dropped at different points in each loop, very clearly articulated. We were in the back parking lot of a fenced-in house in a fairly industrial neighborhood. Old cars piled up, makeshift canopy hanging over the audience, longhaired musician looking a bit uncomfortable in the excruciatingly bright, hot sunlight. Pleasant sounds from ASOR. Quite different from a minimal organ-based piece I heard him perform on a cold foggy spring day in Seattle, in a house basement with all lights extinguished at the performer's request. I liked that set a little better, but this one was nice too, and it's good to know someone can do more than one thing that sounds good. The polyrhythms of the loops became more obscured as new layers emerged. The loops faded away, leaving only an acoustic sruti drone for the short amount of time it took to squeeze it shut.

Brandon Nickell (formerly known as Aemae) was next. His set sounded like bursts of noise through a granulator followed by slapback delay -- a wall of noise approximated by irregularly fragmented bricks. After a substantial section of this sort of thing, he settled into a quieter section, which sounded great, more nuanced, but very shortly faded out to an ending. A short set, possibly eager to get out of the sunlight himself.

Later that night was a very impressive sfSound concert. Christopher Jones' very nice flute and percussion duo, Intuition, opened the program. I was entranced by the tom-tom, bongos, gongs and woodblocks. Christopher Burns' woodwind trio, Planetary, was next. It began with short notes primitively, emphatically passed around the trio. A bit too simplistically demonstrative of the rotational structure of the piece for my taste, but the single notes soon expanded into layered melodic fragments, flurries, and clusters. Very intricate writing, skillfully performed. Delightful music which anticipated the Braxton piece which was to close the evening. Klaus Huber's Schattenblätter is based around a moody piano solo -- quiet, melancholy, static -- with echoes (shadows) in the bass clarinet and cello parts. A very nice introspective piece. The free improvisation closing the first half of the program was a bit overstaffed with the addition of two of the evening's composers (Burns and Bithell, on laptop and trumpet) joining the core group for a nonet -- a very challenging setting for group improvisation, especially with some of the performers not having as much experience in the form as a few of the regular sfSound players. As was likely, the results were a bit busy and messy.

Stockhausen's Kreuzspiel opened the second half of the program. The driving rhythm of the bongos and the tom-tom accents were very emphatic and loud. Exciting to hear live, but not quite as effective as a more subdued recording I've heard. I liked the performance anyway. David Bithell conducted a very good performance of his sextet, temporary structures. Tonal textures and sound clusters shifted back and forth between winds and strings. Very precise writing, and while it may not have been realized quite perfectly, it sounded great. Anthony Braxton's Composition No. 75, performed by a wind trio, closed the program. Odd-time, odd-tonality unison lines were interspersed with free solos. A very energetic performance from players working in a realm in which they were clearly quite comfortable. Some of the most energetic moments got some chuckles from the audience -- a result of importing this free-jazz piece into a chamber music concert -- there was nothing funny about it. A very enjoyable, very interesting performance. This piece, originally written for Braxton, Roscoe Mitchell and Joseph Jarman, was a perfect choice for Bruckmann, Ingalls and Ingle.

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