Orhima / Pharmakon / R. Jencks

Orhima / Pharmakon / R. Jencks
Hemlock Tavern, San Francisco
Tuesday, August 25, 2009

It had been a long time since I had visited the Hemlock Tavern. It seems that enterprising avant gardists have largely given up on trying to present their music in this particular rock music context; the loud bar atmosphere on the other side of the plastic curtain is only the most obvious obstacle in the way of sensitive music emerging here. But there is no need for politeness tonight; I am here to hear a metal band – a black metal band that a Bay Area noise fan would consider a supergroup. Orhima features members of acoustic grind duo Ettrick, Nerds-fueled tablecore Tralphaz, and microcephalic face-synthesist Bran (...) Pos, respectively on drums, guitar, and vocals. Lit by nought but a single bright lightbulb center stage on the floor, the blackened, bloodied drummer pounds out simple, brutal rhythms, while a dispassionate goth flutter-strums his guitar into a wash of white noise. Barefooted and velvet-cloaked, the weirdo singer wails wild howls of the criminally insane. Their music filled me with joy. Tastefully simple heavy rock music with crazy vocals and creepy background music filling in the space between songs. A variety of tempo changes, both gradual and abrupt, add variety. This is, I believe, only their third show with this finalized line-up. With a bit more experience, they will be a brutal juggernaut. They're off to a solid start.

I hear murmurs of "female power electronics" as Pharmakon, a young New Yorker, sets up. More than a few people are excited to hear her, so I decide to stick around to see how the actuality matches the preceding reputation. The Hemlock has provided this young lady with a large white table with a graffito: "Twat?" O fate! She sets up on the floor. A dark synth line from a Casio SK-5 toy keyboard begins the set; it's nice to see the actual movement of two fingers producing this music, neither pre-recorded nor sequenced. Soon she deploys her special skill: terrified womanish screaming. She is certainly well-practiced in this art; approach her not in a dark alley. Bursts of electronic noise erupt, and a wall of distortion now dominates the sonic atmosphere. Now back to the head; the bass synth line returns, and more bursts of noise conclude the piece. The set is very short, perhaps five minutes, which seems tasteful given the extremely abrasive nature of the music, and her status as an up-and-coming performer rather than a seasoned master.

R. Jencks surprises me with a quick set-up. I'm shooting the breeze at the water cooler when I hear tormented screams bellowing out from behind the shower curtain sealing off the music room. Inside, Mr. Jencks is onstage, wildscreaming into two handheld mics, recordin loops. His rage is palpable. He looks sincerely angry, and in between screams he looks exhausted. For unknown reasons he kicks over a table and throws a mic stand. It feels slightly dangerous. This tension sustains interest in the performance through many minutes of nothing more than primal scream therapy. Eventually I start to perceive subtle pitch shifting affecting the deeper layers of the dense loops: the earliest howls are dropping in pitch. This slow progression has taken so long it seems as if this slight development will be the totality of the set. But now heavily distorted tones, harsh noise, rip out of the speakers. Jencks abruptly cuts the vocal loops, and concentrates on amazing electronic sounds: shredding high-pitched tones, and feedback through delay and distortion. Simple, unchanging sounds, but Jencks is cycling through them quickly, nimbly. His years of experience with this music are evident. A dark, droning synth tone creeps in, underlying everything. It occurs to me that this set contains all the same basic elements as Pharmakon's, and nothing more. Jencks sustains the single synth note a very long time, letting the harsh noise fade away. After ample droning, he quickly recapitulates the whole set. There are more brutal screams followed by more harsh noise, then the synth drone is again left as a solo voice. More onstage furniture is flung. This performance has not been cathartic for Jencks; it has merely fostered, stimulated, his rage and aggression. The looping layers of screams from the beginning of the set return, and the drone is abruptly cut. Fog suddenly starts filling the room. Has this familiar aspect of his set been saved for the conclusion (perhaps forbidden by the club, and executed after it is too late for them to pull the plug on him), or is it cuing the beginning of an entire new section, as did the introduction of the distorted electronics? Synth tones and speech are audible, rising out of the chaotic looping screams. It is starting to feel like a terrible 1980s movie sample will conclude the performance, but then I realize this is the spooky intro (with Vincent-Price-impersonating narrator) to Motley Crue's Shout at the Devil. The album's title track starts playing, and the whole audience is mystified. Some are visibly more excited by this music than by anything else they've heard tonight, but I, on the other hand, have always agreed with Robert Christgau's impression of the album as, "utter dogshit even by heavy metal standards." Vince Neil screams, "Shout at the...," over a snare roll, and the music is cut. What an absurd ending! Inexplicable. Perhaps a nod to the opening metal band, to accompany his genre similarity with Pharmakon.



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.



Aug 6: Wong/Nishi/Lee, Greenlief/Boyce

A last-minute SMS informed me of Theresa Wong, Kanoko Nishi, and Dohee Lee performing at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts last Thursday, August 6. Not publicized through the usual channels, but I was about to leave the house anyway, so I merely changed my destination, and arrived just as the trio was starting. The room, Gallery 1, was quite large, perhaps a perfect 40' cube, but I'm a terrible estimator of size. An enormous full-wall multimedia work adorned each side wall. On the right, a wall of canvas sheets with variously shaped cut-outs and black smudges. On the left, multicolored rivers meandering around the wall and dripping down, frozen in time, flowing through 100 white flags protruding, and mystical metallic symbols (pentagram, swastika, star of David). I first heard insane screaming and whooping while the ticket seller entered all my vital information into her computer, and of course that meant the music had started. The set continued to be very heavy on beautiful vocals from Wong and Lee. Chattery and silly, legato and emotional. The two have a very similar vocal timbre, and their sonorities blended quite well. Nishi, as expected, was unleashing mayhem on her koto, sawing and smashing to typically great effect. But not all loud and physical; a koto solo midway through the set was the quietest and most delicate part of the performance. Wong seamlessly joined in with tasteful cello glissandi, with control exemplary of her playing. Lee had a set of Korean drums with cymbals, bamboo sticks, and many gongs that didn't get used. She exercised much restraint in her percussion playing, always waiting for the most appropriate moment to punctuate the music with her sound. An orchestral style tied to her use of traditional playing techniques and limited timbres. A very nice set from a very nice trio.

I stopped by CELLspace to see some very nice neon Kandinsky paintings by Michelle Guintu. German Expressionism reinterpreted by 21st century San Francisco. Highlight of the show, with honorable mention going out to a 6-piece series of Skoda photos.

Then to the Luggage Store Gallery just in time to hear Phillip Greenlief and David Boyce's tenor sax duo. Their rich sounds filled the room, a perfect space for such a duo. And a like-instrument duo is an ideal group for a saxophone to my ears. The best way for a saxophone to unapologetically exist as saxophone, something a bit harder to do in the Bay Area's heavily textural free improv scene. Greenlief and Boyce were perfectly, mind-bogglingly synced up harmonically and rhythmically. It sounded like they were intermittently referencing tunes and structures in their collective vocabulary, but perhaps they just have an amazing sense for playing together. I think I heard some Sun Ra underlying their encore, but Greenlief chose not to sync up too directly. This was a great setting for this duo, and they played wonderfully. The audience responded very enthusiastically.



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.



last weekend, so much music

I woke up Saturday at noon after two nights in a row of playing really strenuous Ettrick sets at really late-starting, slow-moving, not-home-until-3am rock shows. I immediately grabbed an apple and walked 5 blocks down the street to the Golden TrapperKeeper Lodge for Godwaffle Noise Pancakes. It was only 5 minutes past noon, but My Daddy Ate My Eyes was already playing (as verbally confirmed via Q&A with a pancake-eating in the adjacent kitchen). Really pleasant music for waking up. A constant mechanical metronome pulse underlaid some nice electronic music. I want to say reminiscent of classic tape music, but I can't really remember what it sounded like, other than that I was enjoying it a lot. I was the only person sitting in the room with the musicians (actually right between them) and the speakers (ditto), which is an unfortunate aspect of that performance space, as the music sounded notably better than it did heard from the kitchen. The musician sitting on the floor next to me was playing simple-but-effective sounds on a processed guitar and a drum machine. The guy standing to my left had the metronome standing on a hi hat, and some electronics. Pain for the Party played similarly pleasant music with Max/MSP, accompanied by ASCII/Walt Disney animations. 60s Residue was loud and active noise, very choppy, kind of cartoonish. It went well with the video still being projected. Barry Threw closed the show with some nice laptop ganulator stuff. The set was cut short by some technical problem, which was too bad. The watermelon was great, the pancakes have become thoroughly edible over the years (though the last one or two I ate were too rubbery to cut with my fork), and alas the coffee man didn't show up.

After making my own coffee at home and gathering my belongings, I walked to Civic Center, hopped on BART and made my way to 21 Grand for the Skronkathon. Right after Corpsevapor (Heule/Korber/Dryer) played, an impostor set up his gear and played in place of some folks who had not shown up. Really fucking loud noise generated by a turntable with a carving fork in place of a tone arm, and a circular saw blade in place of a record. I laughed as I retreated to the alley, and laughed even more when Tom Duff revealed that the masked noise musician was crashing the show. Hanuman Zhang played a pretty weird solo set with constant arrhythmic kick drum beats accompanying and punctuating him haphazardly wailing on piles of garbage and playing electronic toys through the PA. I'd like to see this guy at a future Godwaffle or Pharaoh Maybelline's show. Z_Bug had interesting instrumentation: 2 drum sets, 1 guy playing both bass guitar and Moog synth, and 1 guy playing amplified shorts, or anyway a microphone amplified by a small amp in his pocket which was audible primarily when he was making it feedback. RTD3 was very good, as usual. Great sounds, great pacing, etc. You can tell these guys are very comfortable with each other. David Michalak on lap steel sat in on their last piece, and fit in really well, keeping things pretty minimal. John Hanes & Steve Adams played a really nice laptop duo, both using lloopp. The sound was so united it didn't feel much like a duo. Electronic sounds mixed with warped drum samples, speaking, etc. PG13 was a drum/guitar/alto sax rock trio – very energetic, and made a lot of people smile. sfSound played a really nice improvised set. The woodwinds in particular were a very tight unit, and sounded great. Baker/Djll/Hegelin/Stackpole played a really beautiful brass & gong drone set that made me wonder about releasing a bootleg cassette and blowing the minds of the masses of neo-hippy hipsters blissing out to “non-playing motherfuckers” attempting this same sort of thing. They broke out into other sounds as well, but the long drone intro was what really did it for me. The Robair/Neuberg electronics duo was a nice close to the night. Gino in particular was getting a lot of great sounds out of his Blippoo box set-up. I ate a couple great sausages in the alley, and maybe a half dozen ass-kicking brownies.

Brutalsfx Fest #62 at Pharaoh Maybelline's Sound Trough No Toilet was a natural continuation of Saturday's shows, sort of like a hybrid of the two. I arrived as Copy Lake (the guitarist/drum machinist from My Daddy) was soundchecking his watermelon. Hand in a sloppy hole with a contact mic amplifying all sorts of slurpy sounds. I started snacking and opening tightly sealed jars of pickled vegetables. Ninety seconds later, I turned around and the set was over, Copy Lake was covered in fruit juice. I guess I heard the sounds get louder for a half minute, but the set was damn short. Sound check looked and sounded great, blinked and I missed the real show. Gumball Rimpoche did some weird whining vocalizations over electronic percussion. Donald the Nut started his set with a really nice acoustic guitar trio, which didn't have any chance to shine after the singing started. Circuit-bent SK-5 and other electronics by Anti-Ear really brought a lot to the music. I'm glad his tiny amp was pointed straight at me since he was being perhaps a bit overly polite with his volume level according folks listening from the other end of the alley with the masses. Gino Robair started his Blippoo Box bleeping through the mini-PA and started scraping and hitting everything in sight. Highlights included the marimba-like wooden fence, and the USPS mail crate sanded down on the pavement. Shifted more attention to the electronic performance toward the end of the set. Really great stuff. Fred Rinne's art hanging inside was cool too.

Just for the sake of completeness, I'll mention that I checked out the Upset the Rhythm showcase at the Lab later that night. What a weird sounding room.



2008 favorites

excellent/memorable shows by local musicians other than myself at local venues (chronological)
• Fogel/Nishi/Winant, Yasi Perera, Allbee/Baker @ 1510 8th St, Oakland, 1/13
• Jon Raskin Quartet & Quintet (Allbee/Robair/Shiurba/Cremaschi) @ Climate Theatre, SF & 21 Grand, Oakland, 1/15 & 11/6
• Breezy Days Band, KIT, Bay/Oslo Double Trio, High Places @ ATA, SF, 1/23
• Mute Socialite, Ettrick, Little Women @ 21 Grand, Oakland, 1/28
• Peter Evans, James Fei, Damon Smith & Weasel Walter @ Hemlock, SF, 1/31
• Sextet (Aspelin/Davignon/Dryer/Greenlief/Lindsay/Nishi), Sophistifcuffs @ 1510 8th St, Oakland, 3/8
• Allbee/Greenlief/Nakatani, Brzytwa/Fogel/Nishi, Marielle Jakobsons, Pink Canoes @ 21 Grand, Oakland, 3/21
• Joe Colley, RHY Yau, Elf Ass, Sudden Infant @ Terminal, Oakland, 5/9
• Core of the Coalman, Midmight, Trampoline Sequel, Arachnid Arcade, Sudden Infant (Godwaffle Noise Pancakes) @ ArtSF, SF, 5/10
• Kaseki/Nishi, Chan/Evangelista/Vittum, Wiener Kids @ 21 Grand, Oakland, 5/22
• Butcher/Djll/Perkis/Robair/Shiurba @ Hillside Club, Berkeley, 6/5
• sfSound w/ John Butcher & Gino Robair @ ODC, SF, 6/8
• Wolf Eyes, Deathroes, Chronicles of Lemur Mutations, Basshaters @ the Compound, SF, 6/19
• Tony Dryer w/ Pigs in the Ground @ Fort Gallery, Oakland, 6/26, & w/ Allbee/Heule/Shiruba @ 21 Grand, Oakland 12/12
• Core of the Coalman, Bran (...) Pos, Dirty Branchez (Composers Decomposed) @ Heco's, Oakland, 6/28
• Bullshit Detector, Dye Mark, Theremin Barney, Heule+Nishi @ Pharoah Maybelline's Sound Trough, No Toilet, SF, 6/29
• Djll/Perkis, Raskin/Nishi, Shiurba/Rosenberg, Brown/Fei, RTD3, Dijkstra/Greenlief, SL Morse (Skronkathon) @ 21 Grand, Oakland, 7/13
• Neung Phak, Thai Cultural Center Musicians @ Cafe du Nord, SF, 8/6
• Anderson/Brown/Dobson/Mendoza/Schott @ 21 Grand, Oakland, 8/7
• Moe! Staiano, Bubble & Squeak @ Temescal Arts Center, Oakland, 10/7
• Allbee/Josephson/Lindsay/Walter/Winant, Wiggwaum, Death Worth Living @ 21 Grand, Oakland, 11/19

favorite albums
1. Phil Minton, No Doughnuts in Hand [Emanem]
2. Core of the Coalman, AsoltMusket [BOC]
3. Christian Weber, Walcheturm Solo [Cut]
4. Stephan Bodzin, Bremen Ost/Station 72 [Herzblut]
5. various - Living Is Hard: West African Music in Britain, 1927-1929 [Honest Jons]
• Dryer/Heule/Lindsay, Idea of West [Creative Sources]
• Basshaters, Teeth on Concrete [Occidentalize(d)]

top stouts consumed in 2008
1. Nøgne Ø Imperial Stout
2. Raven's Eye Imperial Stout (Eel River)
3. Jopen Extra Stout
4. Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout (North Coast)
5. Old Engine Oil Black Ale (Harviestoun)
6. Central Waters Brewhouse Coffee Stout
7. Stone Bitter Chocolate Oatmeal Stout
8. Lump of Coal Dark Holiday Stout (Ridgeway)
9. Rogue Shakespeare Stout
10. Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout

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Pharoah Maybelline's Sound Trough, No Toilet #5

Sunday June 29
Theremin Barney
Bullshit Detector
Dirty Branchez
@ Pharoah Maybelline's Sound Trough, No Toilet

Incredible show. Dyemark's balloon & PVC bagpipes sounded great and were entertaining to watch in operation. A new three-handled tone gun helped him move his set from science show demonstration to a more cohesive musical experience. The demonstration is a joy in itself, but of course I love music even more. I enjoyed playing with Kanoko Nishi, as always. We ignored all restrictions regarding maximum volume and maximum set length, but did not get in trouble. Perhaps we unintentionally complied. Bullshit Detector delivered his best set to date. A special 2'x4'x2' cabinet loaded with four couch-shaking sub transducers wasconstructed for the occasion, and sent signals from a simple oscillator and Moog analog keyboard (right? I didn't really take a good look). Sub-bass rumbles and plywood rattle harmonics ensued, and it sounded so good. There's a whole world of possibilities for electronic music in foregoing shitty P.A.'s and taking control of your own sound transduction. Dirty Branchez used a related technique, running the preset rhythms of a consumer keyboard out of a Piezo buzzer, which in turn directly resonated the strings of a lap steel into which it was wedged, fed through some tape delay and so on. Lots of great tinkly sounds and light drone. Eventually moved into a seemingly more improvised/exploratory section that was a bit louder and more churning rather than sustaining. A really enjoyable and tight set. All this in a cold and windy back patio/alley in the Mission. A vital series. More info & photos: http://pharoahmaybellinessoundtrough.blogspot.com/



Gerritt to Dweezil

I saw Dweezil Zappa on Monday. Zappa Plays Zappa. Most expensive cover band I've ever seen. They mostly stuck to a portion of Frank's career (the later years) than I'm not too into. They did a set of 60s material (which I love), but weren't quite suited to playing that music in the way it would need to be played -- just a little too slick to pull it off. They were at their best when they played the earliest Zappa material written for an arena rock band; songs like "Cosmic Debris". Hell, they were at their best when they were playing along with videos of Frank playing guitar in live concerts from the 70s and 80s. Of course they chose the best recordings to play along with, but there was an obvious spark of spontaneous creativity in Frank's playing that was largely lacking in Dweezil's band. Dweezil's conducted improvisation likewise lacked the musicality of his father's endeavors in that area. They got into some truly rotten territory during that segment. Weird and long night.

8/14 @ Heco's. Vitamin Piss opened the show with some wicked noise grind. Same sort of thing as Ex-Pets and Cellblock, but this is my new favorite of the bunch. A little tighter while still remaining noisy. Great guest vocalist who really needs to move down from Santa Rosa (?) and join the band full-time. FRLGRND. Tralphaz played an interesting and brutal set like he usually does. The first 3/5ths of the show made me proud to be from the Bay. Halflings made faces like they missed the Shire and screamed through effects. They actually played a set of short pieces, which I think everyone noted as being kind of weird. For that reason alone, it was kind of worthwhile. Pretty good stuff, but it was hard to get stoked after hearing Tralphaz really wail the harsh noise. Cathode Terror Secretion is a harsh noise laptop duo. Something about brutish ape behavior interrupted by clicking on Ableton Live patches doesn't quite sit right with me. The resulting music didn't do much for me either. Heco's DJing was on point as always. Nice night with a slow fade out back to reality.

8/13 on the Bus. Carezza started things of with a really weird and really short set of vocals and boombox noise. I could've listened to a lot more. It was pretty great. Over before I really had much of a chance to start paying attention. Another show soon? Gowns, then I stopped paying very much attention. Twin canceled.

Sunday 8/11. Now that was a good day for music. Started out with Noise Pancakes at ArtSF. Free Agitation was a lot like Big Nurse. Exactly alike? Mostly (entirely?) the same people doing pretty much the same thing, though I guess rocking maybe a little less. Psychy noisy near-rock. Kinda good. Missed Xambuca while moving my car around. Social Junk were another quasi-rock noise band. Earned some points by kicking things off with some serious power chord strumming rock after a short intro. Kept the energy up throughout the set. Cool. Scott Arford had a recording of little toy guitars playing dueling banjos. He got this going on his laptop and processed it into walls of noise. Fun. Chris Brown did some skittery Max MSP shit, doing a little bit of contact mic metal processing. I liked it. The whole show was increasingly good. Nice way to start out a Sunday.

Over in Oakland, nobody was BBQing anything when I got to Terminal. I did. Pod Blotz was first. Best set I've ever seen her/them do. Stripped down solo version. No costume. Very musical and interesting. Nice shit from Gerritt as well. You know what he sounds like. I pumped my fist in the smoky air. I wasn't captivated enough by Flaspar or the repeat sets by Social Junk or Free Agitation (I think maybe it was Big Nurse this time) to really watch them.



2 bbq shows last weekend, some other stuff

Great head-to-head action on the bus last Saturday (7/14). T/R vs Core of the Coalman started out with some incredible-sounding fast viola bowing and guitar picking, swarm of bees style. As they shifted to more electronic sounds the PA (or somebody's mixer or something) started fucking up on them, sounds canceling each other out. T/R would slide up a fader and then there would be no sound from either one of them. Oops. They persevered and kept things going pretty well. A nice marriage of their two individual sounds, combined with obnoxious buzzing and bizarre pauses. The sounds of failure. Tullan Velte played his buzzing TV set. Not as compelling as other performances I've heard from him, but still pretty nice at times. Read it and Weep... Erika from Gowns and Sarah C from 16BP traded off spoken word one-liners, calling out ages for the other to speak about and smashing bottles. Sometimes through distortion pedal, sometimes not. A lot of it was unintelligible, a lot of it was pretty funny and pretty wrong ("Raped for the first time, not the last."). Some more sincere moments might have made this an incredibly disturbing performance, but maybe that's what was happening when the distortion pedal was engaged. None the less, great fun. It's hard to maintain sanity inside the bus, so I watched most of SIXES vs. Tralphaz from the roof. It sounded like a slightly denser Tralphaz set, and looked like one too, with David going nuts and rolling around on the floor among the audience (a precursor) while SIXES calmly stood in the back with his fingers in his box. 16 Bitch Pile-up vs. Ettrick started with a nice bed of sound laid down by the ladies with some high pitch sax work from Ettrick. A few power failures later 16BP decided that if they didn't get to use instruments neither could Ettrick, and they forcibly disassembled the drum sets. The show continued as primarily a sax and trumpet duo between myself and Sarah B, getting rowdy out in the audience. A lot of other stuff was going on, but it was hard enough trying to play high harmonics in a mosh pit and not get my teeth knocked out by my own horn. The set ended with the official performers tackling a couple audience members who had taken to playing the discarded drums. Maybe you could say these were more sounds of failure, but it was more like a response to a degenerating and fucked up situation. There are youtube documents of this performance (here and here), but more than ever I find myself in agreement with the Cornelius Cardew line of thinking: "Improvisation is in the present, its effect may live on in the souls of the participants, both active and passive (ie audience), but in its concrete form it is gone forever from the moment that it occurs... Documents such as tape recordings of improvisation are essentially empty, as they preserve chiefly the form that something took and give at best an indistinct hint as to the feeling and cannot convey any sense of time and place." The sense of time and place in this particular case was so intense that this performance just doesn't make any sense experienced via youtube. Got there at 8, ate borscht and piroshki in the cold beneath the overpass as if we were standing outside a soup kitchen, bus finally got there at 9:30, long set up time, technical failures in house equipment, increasing party atmosphere (this was indeed a going away party first and foremost), more long set up time, etc. By the time Ettrick vs. 16BP played, the performers and much of the audience had been hanging out beneath an overpass for 6 hours (8pm-2am) drinking and listening to brutal noise inside a claustrophobic bus. Whatever craziness/weirdness ensued was a direct response to these conditions and felt pretty perfect at the time. Separated from the context, who knows. Rahdunes vs. Tank Attack closed the show outside the bus. Two drummers and three guitarists, or something like that. It sounded like Rahdunes psych guitar drone with percussion accompaniment. I watched from atop the bus. Finally got out of there around 4am.

After some late night food, insufficient sleep and an exasperating trip to bustling Haight Street to spend $70 to repair the drums broken the previous night (and I literally didn't even touch my drums once during the performance), I made it over to 21 Grand for the Transbay Skronkathon. Actually, I heard a bit of the first set on the live webcast. I remember nice high tone work from Matt Ingalls (clarinet) and Aurora Josephson (voice). Things went silent for a few seconds, then out of nowhere, a pigeon call -- Matt Davignon on turntable. Voice, horns and mutated birds continued. Great. Cornelius Cardew Choir was performing when I arrived in person. Beautiful gentle dissonances held in long tones. Articulations determined by the names of recently deceased musicians being honored by the pieces (Leroy Jenkins, etc.). I was in too much of a frenzy replacing my drum heads to really listen to this, but I liked what I heard a lot. A drummer didn't show up and I got drafted into Matt Davignon's duo at the last minute just when I finally (would have) had a chance to catch my breath. I think it went okay. Blast beat & shrieking guitar noise from Jay Korber and Mikey Yeda. Pretty intense, especially with Korber at the drums (they switched instruments near the end of their short set). Loudest, bloodiest and skronkiest set of the day. I felt good about the Dryer/Heule bass/drums set. Quietest set of the day. Great noise set from Sophisticuffs. Noisy dual guitars and electric upright bass, but my favorite part was the 5 foot tall aluminum cone. That thing sounded great whether it was being hit with a mallet or dragged across the floor. Damon Smith has sure been playing a lot of noise music recently. He told me his parrot head costume is in the works. Incredible set from Mute Socialite. Probably the tightest and most engaging I've seen them, and I've always liked their stuff. One continual set made up of shorter pieces. I had to leave my sausages burning on the grill because I couldn't pull myself away. Dijkstra/Greenlief alto sax duo was really great too. They explored a pretty good range of material in their set. Nice seeing Jorrit play live finally, and Phillip was certainly the best dressed person at the Skronkathon. The Whassuptet, with Robair, Ingalls, Shiurba, Perkis and Djll, ended the day on a high note. Very relaxed set of long tones, very high tones, silences, etc. Nice out-of-place clarinet arpeggio thrown in near the end of the set.

Tuesday 7/17 at Annie's... Someone learned a bad lesson from the bus and the show started super late. Only saw the first two acts before I had to get over to KUSF (and just barely made it). Nice solo set from Erika of Gowns performing as Some Dark Holler. Warm feedback guitar piece plus two songs (one I've heard performed by Gowns before). Treasure Nest was a trio featuring drums, kalimba, sax and vocals. Surprise ending where the drummer stopped playing and started singing, then joined by more vox and alto sax, was my favorite part.

Noise pancakes Saturday 7/21. Some nice harsh noise from UFO as Bacteria and Trepan Vent. Yvonne had an outfit (tight jeans and striped tank top) and dance moves that had me thinking of West Side Story. Vocals run through delay and other processing. Drum stick poked into his own skin and maybe even up his nose, in a way that appeared to be painful, but didn't sound like anything at all. Some pretty good stuff here, especially when it was layers of clean vocals, looped and live. Shrew Forest had a good hardcore guitar rock interpreted through harsh noise thing going for them. I lost interest as the set went on past 20 minutes. Low budget vegan pancake recipe is becoming more and more like real food.

Later that night at 1510 8th Street. Oxtails were on point. Jacob Lindsay cooks as well as he plays clarinet. Drinks flowed freely. Compression of the Chest Cavity Miracle consisted of solo viola playing mostly single long tones and long silences. Occasional quiet long delays were audible through small speakers. Minimal use made it all the more effective. Wailing vocals briefly at the end. Great set and a nice compliment to the Dryer/Heule/Lindsay trio. I felt good about that one too.

Ended up at Orbis Nex later on and handed over my entire $5 profit from the 1510 show at the door. Baboon Torture Division was first. Drum machine beats and bass guitar. A little bit noisy. Costumes a little bit goth. Dancing Ronald McDonald during the last song. I saw these guys in Vancouver last year where they played their full set to a video which really pulled the whole thing together. Unfortunate technical problems, etc. I gotta say I was more entertained by the heckling than the set. Rubber O Cement was next, doing their usual thing. I got clocked in the head by the javelin bass, and the creep ran away before I had a chance to stomp on it. Premature fade out. I missed most of the other acts while I was walking around on the roof, eating Chex mix and watching the fire pit.

John Wiese and Joshua Churchill sounded great in sound check at the Compound. Depressing I missed the show while playing my own show in Oakland. How was it?

Also, Bran Pos kicked ass at 21 Grand way back on Friday the 13th. Seems like he's on fire. No costume but a Pampers t-shirt.



many new experiences

Many new experiences in the last few days. Many new venues and musicians from slightly outside my normal sphere. I started Friday night seeing two solo piano pieces by Frederic Rzewski performed at UC Berkeley's Hertz Hall. The first piece was "The People United Will Never Be Defeated!" performed by Ursula Oppens, a set of 36 variations. The main theme called to mind Western bar room piano, 1970s cocktail lounge piano and the melodrama of Moondog (more or less in that succession). My favorite of the variations were the 10 or so that were totally raucous, with something like a Cecil Taylor or Venetian Snares take on the theme. Stated fairly straightforwardly, but with explosive wrong notes and angular rhythms thrown in. The second piece, "Four Pieces for Piano," was performed by the composer. A lot more textural atonal harmony in this one. Quickly repeated polyrhythmic notes formed shifting chords. This one is a bit harder for me to talk about and I liked it a little bit more.

Afterwards I headed down to the Humboldt House in East Oakland for a birthday/farewell show/party. Opening was Eggs on Legs, the birthday girl's band. Three young ladies playing punk with a lot of dancey no wavey elements. All three sang. A bit sloppy, but it's punk rock and I think it was even their first show. Not the sort of thing I listen to at all, but it sounded pretty good. Party band. The three-part vocals were probably the most impressive element. Pretty intense and a lot better than I expected from a group of this sort. KIT was next. Crazy noisy punk. A bit crazier and noisier, and thus more enjoyable to me, than XBXRX, with whom they share a couple key members. A living room crammed with 50 people is probably the best place to see this band. Cool stuff. Leaving for a UK tour in a few days. There was also a male stripper and some really good-smelling food which I did not eat.

Thursday night I went to the Starry Plough in Berkeley. I walked in as the Jon Raskin Quartet was getting started. A jazzier night for this group -- I've usually seen them perform a lot more abstract music. This time Gino Robair left his analog synth and a lot of his percussion junk at home and primarily focused on more traditional ("actual") drum set playing. One piece even reminded me of a Braxton sort of thing, with Raskin and Allbee playing lines over a pulse track by Cremaschi and Robair. My favorite part of the set was when Cremaschi set down his bass and opened a piece with a noisy electronics solo, soon joined by Robair banging cymbals on the floor of the stage. Dear Liza was next. Trumpet/guitar/bass trio which played very melodically-oriented free jazz. They even played Ayler's "Ghosts", parts of which reminded me, because of the prominent role of the guitar, of Crazy Backwards Alphabet's rendition or even a certain Sonny Sharrock track that always reminded me of that CBA piece. Toward the end of their set guitarist Ava Mendoza opened a piece with a heavily processed guitar solo -- a lot more electronics than guitar. One of the highlights of the set, I guess further revealing my tastes. Go-Go Fightmaster played last. Pretty great high-energy free jazz. Some parts featured the guitar, bass and drums playing something like a less heavy version of doom metal while saxophonist Aaron Bennett blew a wild sax solo over the top. The highlights for me were Vijay Anderson's killer drum solos. Real tight and energetic. The bands became increasingly jazzy as the night progressed, which is the sort of thing I usually stay away from. I'm really glad I heard this stuff though. Pretty amazing playing.

Wednesday was my last night in familiar territory before checking out the three new venues I just mentioned (and Jon Raskin Quartet was the only group I had seen before). I got to G3 pretty late and heard almost nobody except the headliners, Deathroes. Self-described Oakland black noise, fresh back from a month-long US tour. The music was the same sort of harsh white noise stuff I've come to expect from them. The music would've benefited from a lot more volume, but I think they were told to keep it down due to increasing tensions with the neighboring bar. Still sounded good. Their light show was two fairly slow strobes, blinking at a constant rate throughout the performance. Seemed pretty effective compared to some of the other lighting situations I've seen them set up. I'd like to see these guys play in a more suitable venue sometime soon, but this show was pretty good.

Sunday night at the Hemlock I arrived just in time to see Evil Hippie, from Mexico. During their soundcheck/introduction they had a laptop playing pretty harsh noise while a guy talked somewhat unintelligibly in broken English through a Space Echo. It sounded really good, but unfortunately the vocalist sat down at the drum set and a guitarist got onstage. Pretty boring rock after that. Oh well. Sergio Iglesias & the Latin Love Machine didn't make the same mistake of trying to play music.

Earlier that day I saw Jurrassic Park 4, a live musical, performed at ATA. Dancing dinosaurs and co-starring KIT's George Chen as Dr. Ian Malcolm. Pretty funny. Malcolm also later made an appearance buttoning and unbuttoning his jacket as part of the Latin Love Machine.



Hodag, Commode Minstrels, Anti-Ear & Rcomplexx

Great show at G3 last night. Hodag's set was mostly new ideas not used in our previous show. Less-synth heavy, but there were still emulated and actual analog synths involved in a pretty significant way. "you can take the boy outta the extended cab, but you can't take the extended cab outta the boy" & "jacob looks like a guy from a horror film!" are just the sorts of things you should've been thinking. "neanderthal hunks of chopped wood ready for the stove" -- that's right too. We're going to have to play out more often to get used to making things translate in the live situation, but pick up a copy of our new CDR to hear how good things can get in Bayview. Best set I've ever heard from the Commode Minstrels. Perhaps it was the addition of a new fourth member on ukulele. Great range of sounds and approaches. Cheesy keyboard vamps, viola guitar solos, boingy sampler tapping and other assorted goofy noises. Spontaneous set redesigns involving Spanish verbs and abstract art. That violist sure has hot legs. Everything came through very clearly, which was impressive considering the amount of people playing fucked up noise generators through a notoriously muddy PA. Anti-Ear did a modular analog synth set like he's been known to do. Delay pedals and vocals were also involved. Rcomplexx started out with an evil doom bass line growing increasingly harsher. Blasts of noise and tape rewind sounds. Set down the bass and sat down at the typewriter for the second half. Played the writing machine acoustically after initial mic'ing attempts results in huge bursts of feedback. Somehow its clicking keys were quite loud enough to cut through and Rcomplex finished the set unphased. Best night of Exp.Folx I can remember. Thanks to Head Boggle for setting it up. I'd have more to say about Anti-Ear's set and music in general if I wasn't fucking around with my broken camera so much, but at least you can get a visual report of the show as well at http://www.flickr.com/photos/74578389@N00/.



"Tully's XXX Birthday"

Tully's birthday... I ate 5 hot dogs and an unquantifiable amount of other food and drink. The night more or less ended with me getting a 20 gallon garbage can full of cigarette butts and half empty beer bottles dumped onto me while I was trapped beneath a pile of drums. Clearly, it was an amazing event. After consulting my audio and video documentation, I think I've pieced together an accurate account of what occurred. Birthday Indian was the first musical act to try to pull people's attention away from the grill and two-story beer bong. He played on the bus, which had parked out front for use as a second stage. It seemed like not too many people made it inside, but those who did heard another solid set from this guy. Panty Animal kicked things off on the main stage. It sounded a lot like their set at the Lab a week ago – ground hum, buzzes, echoes, etc. -- but instead of being an epic 40-minute set it was an all-too-short 10-minute set (even after acquiescing to demands for an encore). Good stuff. It's all about that 60 cycle hum for me. A mysterious ghost face noise musician played a feedback heavy set in the bus next. It was very relaxed even when the sounds occasionally became punishingly harsh. Tarantism were next up inside. A dronier set... or a “moody” set as they described it. No crazy costumes this time. Just getting down to business. It ended with Tyler making farting noises into a mic while, I think, Angie processed it. Hisseaters (one half of Panty Animal) played solo in the bus next, but I think I was eating my fourth hot dog around this time. Then Red Voice Choir inside. They were a pretty normal rock band who seemed a little out of place at this show. Something more than their name reminded me of the Red Light Sting, though I wouldn't say they sounded very much like that band. Pebbles and Bam Bam played in the bus. Stripped down drum set played through a delay pedal while Pebbles ran a piece of sheet metal, a guitar and a sack of rocks (?) through her 16 bitch processing. I think the sheet metal sounded the most brutal. The audience went pretty crazy during this set, like when the apes discovered you could use bones to bash in people's skulls. Back inside, Shark Attack played some stoner metal stuff that occasionally took on a blacker edge. I missed a lot of this because I was trying to sabotage my own set with more beer and hot dogs. Ettrick was next, and played in the back of the room instead of the bus. Drums fell apart almost immediately, were reassembled while playing, then ultimately got the better of the humans. This is where the garbage shower occurred. Cell Block was threatening a musical battle, but never got past an occasional pensive guitar chord while Ettrick played. After Ettrick had already defeated themselves, Cell Block finally played a brutal four-minute set. One-two punch and the show was over. I don't think it was even 2am yet. Pod Blotz & the East Coasters didn't show up, or maybe they got there at 3 thinking they'd play second.



Badawi / Kode9 / Bob Ostertag

Badawi and Kode9 at the Compound last night. Throughout Kode9's set there was a static projection on the wall that said “hyperdub”. I guess that's what they were up to. It sounded dubby but not hyper. If you want to listen to stuff like this, the Compound is a good place to hear it. They even hauled out one of the dual 18” subs from RML to give the other 8 subs a helping hand. Prior to taking the stage they were projecting Svankmajer's Faust with the audio run through a delay patch in Live or something like that. Highlight of the evening. I think we watched that movie three times through over the course of the night. photos

Jumping back in time... Monday night I heard Bob Ostertag give a talk at SFPALM. He focused on the tension between human bodies and machines, specifically musical instruments, with automated processes, which don't require human operation. He talked about how we have yet to create a electronic music interface that could be considered a real musical instrument, explaining that there still does not exist one that anyone would practice on for a few hours a day for their whole life as is common with other instruments. He believes the theremin is the closest we've ever come and said Clara Rockmore was one of the only virtuoso instrumentalists of electronic music. He added Jimi Hendrix and the Invisibl Skratch Piklz to that list, though he explained that their instruments were actually only amplified acoustic instruments. Interesting talk altogether kind of better than I expected it to be and probably a lot more interesting than I'm making it sound. The Improv:21 series has been pretty good from the ones I've seen. A little expensive, but Ostertag gave away a bunch of CDs for free, explaining that his music is all available for free download on his website anyway.



two nights and three shows in Oakland

I went to 21 Grand last night for Gebbia/Raskin/Powell/Nordesen/Perkins/Robair, but as soon as I parked I discovered I hadn't arrived in Oakland too late to catch Ann Joy Ann at Mama Buzz. AJA is Core of the Coalman in singer/songwriter mode. I walked in during story time about scratching an image of a butt into some glass, perhaps while watering plants at some office building. I didn't really hear enough to piece it together. Then there was a guitar and voice song, Core Ogg's “Snow Lights” performed on viola and voice, and then a guitar and voice hootenanny stomp to close the set. Good stuff. I especially liked hearing the song I recognized, which I had coincidentally played on my radio show about 19 hours earlier to promote the show. I stuck around for the Dead Hippies and missed the 21 Grand show altogether. Dead Hippies opened with some hippy jam stuff – recorders playing through delay pedals, etc. Moved into a trumpet trio. A slow 4/4 drum machine beat found its way in there and all of a sudden the three guys were all singing a pop song. Another song about the MTSU Raiders and they descended back into the delay pedal jam world. I feel like there's a certain sound unifying all of the weirdo bands I've heard from Nashville and vicinity. You can throw Taiwan Deth and Tap Tap Taparoo into that pile with the Dead Hippies, though they're both a little further out. The sound somehow reminds me of Appleton, Wisconsin. I guess it has something to do with delay pedals, concert band instruments and acoustic guitars.

After Mama Buzz I went down the road to the Uptown and arrived well before any music started. Low lighting conditions made me turn even more attention to the operation of my broken camera, and I'm realizing my appreciation of the music suffered. First up was Lemon Bear with Corey Fogel on drums. The main guy played solos on a mini snare drum, an alto sax and a trombone. Corey didn't make many sounds until the end, then he played some heavy broken polyrhythms. Bulbs' set sounded pretty heavy and clear, which is not what I'm used to from them. Sightings was more in a psychedelic vein than I expected from hearing so many of their gritty noise rock albums. Maybe if they would've run the master mix through a distortion pedal it would've sounded more like them. Guitar, bass and drum set (which seemed to have some electronic drums incorporated). I felt like I could never hear the drums even when it looked like he was playing. I'm sure that didn't help my impression of them.

Photos of both of these shows are here.

Tuesday night I checked out the Josephson/Gebbia/Looney/Smith/Winant quintet at 1510 8th St. Winant was busy cooking pasta when I got there, so the group opened up with a quartet piece. Really nice minimal stuff with Gebbia on crackle box and the other musicians matching and playing off the high pitched square waves on their respective instruments. The quartet played a louder piece in a bit more of a free jazz style, then were joined by Winant for a brief and brutal quintet piece before the pasta was served up. Two long quintet pieces after dinner. Great stuff. Winant's percussion was really the best part for me. Timpani, bass drum and cymbals. A lot Le Quan Ninh style fricative playing – cymbals pulled across the rosined bass drum head, rubber mallets rubbed on the doors and walls of the venue, etc. Noisy timbral stuff. Gebbia does some great multiphonic sax stuff, and gets even harsher when he sticks a duck call on his horn instead of the normal sax mouthpiece. Ridiculous distorted square waves blasting out of that thing as if Tralphaz was hiding inside his bell or something. I don't know what kind of duck would come to that summons, but I wouldn't want to meet it unless I was heavily armored. Fantastic night of music. Photos here.



Picking up where I left off...

The Nashville show got moved out to a house in the suburbs on really short notice. Resultingly, nobody showed up, including one band who had a scheduling conflict and another band who was never actually booked for this show. Couldn't have helped that it was a Monday night either. Tap Tap Taparoo Part III showed up and joined the booker and the resident of the house to form an audience of six (the two neighbors stayed in the living room for the whole show, so I'm not counting them). Ettrick squeezed into a sweaty corner of the basement and let loose. The six-member audience was about twice as large as the one the previous night in Kansas City, so we were stoked. Well, we were getting used to it anyway and didn't feel quite so stupid. Tap Tap Taparoo set up their amps in a circle around the perimeter of the small room. Noise that reminded me of Taiwan Deth... it's that Tennessee sound, I guess. An instructional math record was played through a delay pedal throughout the set. Harsh blasts of noise, a couple trombones, etc. Not too shabby. We eventually ate at the fucked up Hermitage Cafe – not quite as bizarre a scene as the last time we were there, but it still pretty much seemed right out of a David Lynch film. I had a poor boy.

Garfield Artworks in Pittsburgh. The guy from the venue showed up ten minutes after show time and informed us, “It's time to rock, gentlemen,” before unlocking the doors. Heroes opened... Sounded kind of like the second wave emo bands that were popular when I was in high school. I might have liked it then. Ettrick was next... finally hitting the groove. Then, the Bronze Age. Contact mics on various objects, guitars, etc. Drones and bashing. Pretty quiet. Pretty good. No delay effects used, which is something I always like to see. Golden Arm Trio closed out the night. They did the soundtrack for A Scanner Darkly, which sounds remarkably similar to the soundtrack to Waking Life, which they did not do. Similar set to the one they played in Oakland a few months back. We got “colossal fish sandwiches” at Primanti Brothers'... an 8-inch slab of fried fish on a 5-inch bun, topped with french fries, cole slaw, etc. Pretty great.

Warehouse Next Door in Washington DC. Apparently this is the only decent venue in town, and apparently it's only got a few months left (so say the locals). Not a warehouse, but a bar with an art gallery upstairs, a live music venue next door (get it?), etc. Ettrick opened, continuing to grow powerful. After the regular set, we were joined by Elliott Levin (a former Cecil Taylor band member whose own website says, “His signature single dread emits musical spores over sidewalks, music halls, and coffeehouses.” Yick.) on 3rd sax, and Scott Verrastro on 3rd drum set. Having just seen Ettrick's self destructive dual drum finale, the guests were all fired up and immediately launched into total balls out playing for the entire short set. Things sounded pretty good, though probably no better than an un-augmented Ettrick line-up. Levin's jazz-schooled approach to sax was the most interesting change. Verrastro and Levin's group, in which they were joined by an acoustic bassist and someone on noisy electronics, was next. Levin threw down some Beat-ish poetry and added flute in this set. The quieter moments, where they got into more timbral playing, were my favorites. The electronics really kept the group from straying too far into a generic free jazz area. Excellent addition. Strangely enough, the Usaisamonster headlined. They seemed a little grittier and noisier than when I last saw them at TT the Bear's in Cambridge. Probably largely because they played on the floor and through a smaller PA than at the last show. Scott brought Ettrick and Elliott to Ben's Chili Bowl after the show. Photos of Bill Cosby, Dave Chappelle and Rerun decorated their wall of fame. I had a fantastic chili half-smoke.

Studio B in Brooklyn. A Polish dance club doing a rock night to accommodate Lightning Bolt's large audience. The staff seemed to not understand or like anything that any of the 7 bands had going on. Oh well. Ettrick opened. High Places were next – kind of a poppier take on the sort of thing Gang Gang Dance does. Pretty sing-songy vocals with folktronic tribal beats. Someone tapped me on the shoulder to point out the front row filled with enraptured young men swooning over the cute singer. Dan Deacon sang along to some electro beats. Reminded me a little of Child Pornography, except in super party mode. Aa consisted of four guys playing pseudo-tribal beats on four drum sets and moaning through delay pedals. This is the sound of Brooklyn... I think. This Heat, ESG sort of thing maybe. XBXRX did their noisy punk thing. Terrible sound, as you would expect in a venue like this. They persevered. Bug Sized Mind reminded me of Yellow Swans, or maybe a happier version of Sixes. Happier meaning less dissonant and harsh. Noise with beats working their way in toward the end. A single (mercifully) short piece. Not terrible or anything, but I don't understand how or why this guy is touring with Lightning Bolt. Lightning Bolt seemed a bit louder and clearer than at their show at LoBot. Having just seen them, I didn't really pay too much attention. No fantastic greasy food tonight.

Avant Gentlemen's Lodge in Philadelphia. I really like the scene this city has going. Just when you think you're in a room of punk rockers, they all start talking about tonal harmony as if they're all music students. Ettrick opened and played the best set of the tour. Locals, Normal Love, were next. Prog rock in the same vein as Zs. Two guitars, bass, violin and drum set playing odd rhythms more or less in unison. These are some of the music school kids I was talking about. One of my favorite bands from this tour... I better give the myspace link: http://myspace.com/normallove. Plotkin/Wyskida were up next. Plotkin played laptop and guitar. Static, repetitive stuff. Sounded pretty nice, but was super laid back. Playing the laptop seemed to involve clicking something every five minutes or so, and playing the guitar consisted of adding a new sound to the loop every five minutes or so. The analog synth-sounding laptop stuff was my favorite part, and he played that for the majority of the set anyway. Tim Wyskida added quiet rumbling rolls on the drum set throughout. Pretty quiet and subdued considering the other projects these guys are involved in. Their “Live WFMU” CDR is pretty good – I think it captured a better performance than the one at AGL. Looking at http://plotkinworks.com, it seems like that disc is a limited-edition, tour-only release. Sorry, suckers. Get it on Soulseek. Ettrick joined Plotkin/Wyskida for the final set of the night. The best elements of their duo retained and injected with some vitality by the “cracked out” (-- Wyskida) style of Ettrick. It seemed very successful to me. I always feel like I should get a cheese steak when I'm in Philly, but I never do. I just ate oatmeal and watched “Night at the Museum” with the Avant Gentlemen inhabiting the Lodge.

After this, we began our return trip, heading west from the Atlantic coast into the heart of the Midwest. To be continued.



Report from the road.

I'm writing from Kansas City. The weather is beautiful. Early summer. San Francisco rarely if ever gets like this... makes me miss the Midwest. We played tonight to almost no people -- maybe four other band people, two of whom have already seen us twice this week, and one or two private citizens. I had trouble feeling inspired, but it was not our worst show of 2007 (a band conference determined the Stork Club gig stills holds that honor).

Expo '70, from KC, opened things up with a spacey drone set. Casiotone and guitars through lots of delay. Chinese gong rolls. Things started out a bit muddy in the fairly live room, but they found the right sound after a few minutes. I liked how Justin wasn't afraid to go for the psychedelic guitar solos on the high frets. Maybe a bit corny, but if you're working that area there's no reason to pull any punches. Moving through lots of different sections, they kept working at the same goal in a continually fresh manner. The duo got into some Sunn-style riffing near the end, then it dissolved into low bass drones which, in my mind at least, had something to do with the Moogerfooger. Somewhat innocuous, but the music sounded very nice (as it did the last time we played with them, in October). I'm thinking about it, and I don't think "innocuous" is insulting to music like this... it's almost the goal.

This Is My Condition is a frenzied one-man punk band. Guitar laying flat across his drum set and fed through a looping pedal. Really energetic and rocking when at its best. A lot like something I've seen Moe Staiano do during his solo sets, but not improvised and a lot straighter in this case. A shorter set would've had more impact, but most people seemed to be into it for the full 30 or so minutes. Mass exodus when he was done, then Ettrick played.

Obviously nobody returned for Clan of the Cave Bear's closing set, though a couple kids wandered in off the street for the last song or two of their shortened set. Clan is a drum and guitar duo playing Orthrelm-style brutal prog. Pretty good. Tonight was my third time seeing them (and playing with them) since last Sunday. So maybe more on them later.

Last night's show in Denver (at Rhinoeropolis) opened with Spellcaster screaming through a mic attached to his face with a gas mask (run through a flanger) and playing punk power chords on a guitar. All done noise style. A contact-mic'ed fan sounded amazing during sound check (Lucier style), but was completely inaudible during the set.

Zoologist is the duo of John Gross (of Page 27) and Novasak. Digital electronic waves (laptop, sampler, etc.) which reminded me of Thomas Dimuzio's stuff. Sounded really nice, but went on a bit too long.

Clan of the Cave Bear was next. Most/best crowd interaction, worst sound. Usual tight and energetic playing.

Nightshark was a drum/guitar/sax/sax quartet that sounded like electric Miles headed in a total noise direction. Slower, funky beats with all of the shit mic'ed up and run through delay and other processing.

Felt good about the Ettrick set, though a few things presented mental and physical obstacles. Audience members strangely kept returning lost and discarded percussion objects to me while I was playing, even when I responded by throwing the objects back at them.

Thomas Kincaid's Youth Brigade closed the proper show. Three guys screaming through feeding back mics. Simple to the point of stupidity, but it sounded pretty good. Things degenerated into beer can throwing and wrestling.

A couple hours later, around 2:30am, Weak Sisters (a solo act) decided to play a set as well. Not unlike the Youth Brigade, this consisted of a guy screaming through a feeding back mic while bashing on a feeding back guitar and thrashing around. Shrieking and screeching. Then something would come unplugged and there would loud buzzing and acoustic screaming until it got plugged back in. Far more alcohol fueled far more violent and destructive crowd participation. Someone started sweeping up mid-set and my mind went to Sergio Iglesias & the Latin Love Machine. Take away the bongos and bananas, and that's pretty much what was going on. This was probably my favorite set of the night. In a way it was totally unmusical and stupid, but some great musicality actually did shine through. Cool stuff. A lot different from Weak Sisters's last set with Ettrick (in October), if memory serves.

Nashville tomorrow. Sleep now.



another thousand shows

Hemlock Tavern, Tuesday night. Hans Grüsel's Krankenkabinet started things off with their usual swirling analog synth madness. Lots of electronic tick-tocking and other clockworkish sounds. Great noisy chaos seemingly originating from Gretel near the end of the set, then Hans knocked on the stump's head to wake him up and they launched into a brutal version of “Don't Pass My By”. Stumpy stomped around and grunted out Ringo's vocals through a pitch shifter. Gretel tap danced around with her bass guitar and Hans controlled the wall of noise and acid lines. It was no “Crimson and Clover”, but it was good. Crank Sturgeon came on next. Completely naked except for a plastic bag loin cloth and large silver fish head worn over his human head. Introductory vocal fanfare on fish eyeballs as cardboard eyes were taped to his head. Jokes about the balls concealed behind the plastic bag. Lots of comedic ranting followed, interspersed with lots of great harsh noise. The noise stuff was good and would have been interesting and enjoyable on its own, but it was taken to a much higher level by the crazy theatrics going on. Contact mics in the fish head, in the mouth, and hanging from a long spring on the top of his head once the fish head flopped off. Switched on and off by switches also hanging down by his loins. Mics swinging everywhere, things going wrong and constant tourrette's narration. I saw him at Terminal on Sunday and was glad to see that although this show had most of the same general sections, they were executed entirely differently at both performances. He played plastic wrap like a blade of grass at both shows, but at the Hemlock he wrapped his whole body in it. Both sets had a backpacker guitar (which I kept thinking of as a “grandpa's guitars”), but he rolled with the Black Sabbath riffing a bit more at the Hemlock. Great stuff. I was really impressed by his performance on the Unmusical Postscript DVD, and the actual live show was even better than what I expected based on that.

My Monday night started out with the 10pm ICP Orchestra show at Yoshi's. This was my first time seeing Han Bennink live after spending so many hours listening to recordings of him. ICP is a bit more of a jazz band than I tend to prefer, but they get crazy enough often enough to keep it pretty interesting. Wolter Wierbos always kept things wild with his noisy trombone flurries. My favorite piece was a really abstract and eerie(?) clarinet/clarinet/piano trio. The best part of the show for me was, of course, Bennink's drumming. He spent the majority of the concert playing relatively simple jazz beats, but the impact he achieved with the occasional well-timed rimshot, and especially the extreme joy he got from it (evident by his boisterous laughter) was pretty amazing. And of course it's great to see a 65-year-old who isn't afraid to throw his sticks around or kick his left foot up onto the snare drum to bend the pitch. The show wrapped up with Misha Mengelberg relating a “macabre” dream he had about people getting their skulls smashed in to the rhythm of an Edvard Grieg piece, followed by a performance of the music inspired by this dream.

After ICP, I headed over to LoBot just in time for Lightning Bolt. I last saw them perform at Club Verdi in 2003 (my 7th favorite show of that year, as related in my last post) where I was rather disappointed in a number of ways. They resolved one of my major complaints at this show by playing with a huge curved mirror behind and above them. Good for turning out of blind driveways and good for seeing excessively popular bands who insist on playing on the floor. Was this LB's mirror or is someone at LoBot a fucking genius? Musically, their sound reflected the influence of black metal way more than the last time I heard them. The drumming was the same fast and wild rock style, but the basslines were more frequently evil metal riffs rather than major scale arpeggios and melodies based on “Frere Jacques”. I was less offended by the circumstances of the show and the sloppiness of the band than I was in 2003, but I've recently realized that I've significantly relaxed my standards on certain issues. The set was pretty epic in length... probably more than an hour... could that be? As in 2003, they were definitely overshadowed by the recent Noxagt show, still it was a pretty cool set. I was glad to hear some classic hits from Ride the Skies, which is honestly the only Lightning Bolt album I've ever really listened to or liked. I even ran up near the mosh pit for “Ride the Sky”. Oh yeah, what happened to that weird fucking disc that had been hanging from the LoBot ceiling for years? Years? It always scared me to stand beneath it.

Sunday was an epic day for noise in the Bay Area and I don't know if I'm up to the task of writing about it... I shall boldly press on. I got to Noise Pancakes/Electronic Puppenhorten at ArtSF just in time to hear Soundtrack to a Dream About Nothing. Pretty good harsh noise. The right way to start my day. Eliyas was next. Pretty different from the sampler CD I heard ahead of time, which seemed to be more of a noise rock thing with a full band. Maybe I wasn't paying good enough attention to the CD or maybe this was the stripped down touring unit. One guy going nuts slapping an array of pedals on the floor. Feedback tones bubbled all around, cutting through the harsh noise. Head Boggle Domo played analog synth stuff somewhat reminiscent of the Grüsels. Loachfillet ran tape loops through delay pedals and other processing. Great terror sounds. I remember starting to get bored as things got really repetitive – groaning swell followed by silence followed by groaning swell – but then my mind flipped inside out and I started enjoying the stasis more than anything he had done so far. Vulcanus 68 was next... They tried a lot of things, some worked better than others. I remember it getting really loud near the end. Seance Orchestra Cosmic Mind Zoo (NKA Rahdunes) set up in the back of the room and filled the place up with smoke, which seemed a bit weird on a sunny spring afternoon. The only thing I could see in the direction of their sound was a mysterious woman flipping pancakes in the fog. By the way, these chocolate chip pancakes were pretty good! Topped with some weird Brazilian fruit spread they were fantastic. Anyway, SOCMZ were playing some heavy Sabbath style riffs back in there somewhere, mixed in with some noise. I liked it a little bit, but I was preoccupied taking refuge from the smoke (alternating with trying to wander into it). As the riffs died out and the smoke dispersed Luz Alibi and Georgio Marauder came stomping out of the bathroom in primitive hill people garb and aardvark faces (with a few anachronistic items such as a trucker hat on Luz), blowing through plastic tubes. They lurched over to their table of equipment and started getting noisy, moving through a series of sections where they would play matching instruments. Small metal objects through delay, long twisty plastic tube whistles, bestial bellowing, etc. Toward the end a Matmos style digital drum beat emerged from a jumble of splashing sounds. I noted how this actually sounded good though it had a high probably of sounding terrible. The duo played some stuff over the top, then marched back to the bathroom as the rain beat faded away. Next, Mitchell Brown played what seemed like a really short set, bowing his little set of metal spokes. Sounded real nice and I wanted to hear more. It was right before or after this that some solo guitar guy played a set over where the SOCMZ thing had happened. There was a lot of great humming and clunking and scraping. Then he was finished setting up and started playing some sensitive melodies that seemed pretty out of place at the Puppenhorten fest. Slujun/Ortega took the stage and heavy electronics followed... I think? I can't say for certain anymore. Sharkiface was next. Good set and totally different from her pretty recent show also at noise pancakes. No Nord Micromodular this time, which was a big part of the sound last time. Instead, a lot more noisy sounds. Dimmer was last. Digital electronics and white-glove-handled tape loops. The best kind of new age. I sat on a couch and was near dozing off in a very pleasant way. A nice landing after a pretty brutal 4 hours of noise, but also one of the best sets of the early afternoon.

Crossed the bridge for the Terminal BBQ and ate a lot of hot dogs as Butthole Surfers and ELO played on the boom box. Eventually Psicologicos Traumas took the stage. Though Loach and Ortega were playing, the set had more of the mellow vibe of Brown and Hammer's earlier sets. More bowed spires and delicate tape loops. I think I reacted in more or less the same way I did to the Dimmer set. Tarantism had both members crammed inside the huge body and huger head of some enormous bald guy. Analog and digital electronics mixed with vocal/verbal comedy from the two performers. The sounds were nice, but everyone was a bit preoccupied by the entertainment of watching the performers try to turn knobs in their awkward costume. Good match/warm up for the upcoming Crank Sturgeon set. One half of the body was screaming to be released, then I closed my eyes to listen to the bleeps. I opened them upon hearing an outburst to see one of the bodies on the other side of the room. Xome delivered his usual excellent harsh noise set. It seemed like there were more varied sounds involved than what I'm used to from him, but it still had his characteristic intensity. I described Crank Sturgeon about 1500 words ago... In this loose party atmosphere, his comedic element was brought way to the forefront. It seemed like at least half the set was him rambling on about stuff. Great. PCRV did a harsh noise thing, which sort of paled in comparison to Xome. Still pretty good. I eventually got home and was surprised to see it was only 1:30 or so. Earliest Terminal show ever. Still pretty late, considering the music was supposed to start at 7... None the less, I was pretty wiped out after a long day of approximately 17 noise sets. BBQs are awesome, especially when combined with noise shows. Please schedule more.

Saturday night was Yumi Hara Cawkwell with the Jon Raskin Quartet at 21 Grand. Cawkwell opened the program with two vocal solos over a bed of field recordings. Relatively straight material based on Japanese melodies. Didn't really interest me. She got a little bit wilder in her short duo with Liz Allbee on conch shell. Making gargling and farting noises through a shell was about as far from the preceding songs as you could get – I welcomed the sharp turn. Then the three males of the group (Raskin, Robair and Cremaschi) did a short improv, followed by a number of pieces (mostly working from Raskin's graphic scores) by the whole quintet. I've seen this group (the proper quartet version) once or twice before and always really liked them. A fantastic merging of acoustic free improv and electronic sounds. Gino Robair was playing energized surfaces (percussion) and analog modular synth. His percussion style is based on techniques like bowing a paint stir stick held against a snare drum, blowing a small horn into a snare drum head and playing a floor while blowing into it to alter the pitch. Also more traditional (!) techniques like cymbal bowing. He also had a volume pedal which he would occasionally use to fade up his analog synth, which would popping, clicking and buzzing away. Cremaschi was his usual ferocious self on the double bass, and sometimes would move over to his table of electronics, which looked and sounded pretty close to a standard harsh noise set up. No attempt to integrate the electronic and acoustic sides of his playing (though he was playing bass through an amp), but that was totally fine with me. A pretty significantly different approach to the added electronics than Robair's, which kept them from being redundant. Raskin and Allbee kept things acoustic on their saxophones and trumpet, respectively. I remember Raskin doing a lot of glissandos/portamentos on his sopranino, and a particularly great moment where he made analog synth sputtering pops on his baritone (to match Robair's synth). Cawkwell mostly reinforced sounds with free jazz wailing a la Patty Waters. Great evening of music. Especially good to see Gino Robair, who doesn't seem to play in the Bay as often as I'd like him to.

Free Jazz Friday at 1510 8th St saw a pretty atypical cast of musicians. It was punk jazz night and performing were Sword & Sandals, Vholtz and Woman's Worth, who are all linked by shared members. Woman's Worth, a trio of alto sax, trumpet and drums, opened. They've really developed a lot over the last year or so that they've been playing – honing in and finding their sound while improving their instrumental abilities. They played three short pieces, all about 3 minutes in length (punk rock style), totally in a free jazz vein. Mostly free, arrhythmic playing, but there was one time when the drummer broke into a metered beat reminiscent of the title track on Out to Lunch. Their simple acoustic set up gave them a good sound. Vholtz was next. The fist time I've seen their newly expanded line-up with two alto saxes, two guitars and drums. They played pretty free and noisy stuff in a scripted out sequence of changing instrumentation. The saxes and drums stayed in the free jazz realm, while one of the guitars played highly amplified scratches and plonks and the other worked primarily with delay pedal noise. As the piece ended (or seemed to) and people applauded, the guitars came back with a Sunn/Earth style noise drone which was really good. I really liked the sounds and energy of the piece, and the changing orchestration really made it work. Sword and Sandals also had an expanded line-up, now with two alto saxes, drums and organ. I really like their attitude toward music. Pretty casual, but still focused. Working fully within the ranges of their abilities while using them to their fullest potential. I've said plenty of things about S&S in the past, so I won't say much here. Toward the end of the set the drummer broke into a sloppy half time shuffle beat which called to mind both Woman's Worth's earlier foray into sloppy rhythm and the explicitly stated punk rock theme of the evening. The organ player was completely inaudible for most of the set (surprising, since he was the only one with an amp), but the little I heard sounded really good. That little bit was a sustained Ligeti style cluster while the acoustic instruments moved into playing quiet sounds for a while. I don't think I've ever seen 1510 so full of people. There was great energy that night.

I made it over to Recombinant Media Labs to catch the last 4 minutes of Morton Subotnick's performance. Really pleasant digital pulsing sounds moving through a vague repeating chord sequence. Wish I would've heard a lot more.

Last Thursday was 21 Grand. A quintet of Mills students opened the night. Alto sax, drum set, double bass, voice and trombone. The best moments came when they got into droney timbral playing. Jordan Glenn on drums really seems at his best in that kind of situation, delicately striking cymbals and rubbing tom heads. Andy Strain really stood out with his fantastic trombone playing. My favorite moment of their set was, as the other players dropped away at the end of the last piece, he just kept on with a great multiphonic fog horn sound repeated over and over until he (and everyone) was satisfied. I expected the Shelton/Allbee/Walter trio to be good, but they were significantly different and significantly better than I expected. Mostly working from obviously effective scores by Aram Shelton, they kept things in a more controlled realm while still covering a lot of ground. It was nice to see Weasel double on bass clarinet for a significant portion of the concert. Great stuff. Bones (Bracken/Gordon) concluded the evening with a performance on amplified cymbals -- bowing, tapping, scraping.

That's the week.



Noxagt, Neung Phak, etc.

Noxagt was fantastic last night. Simple, heavy riff rock that reminded me a lot of Sleep, but with the notes transformed into giant walls of noise by long chains of pedals. You could still hear some notes, but their importance was greatly minimized in favor of hard rhythmic intensity. It sounded kind of like it could've been Tralphaz up there rocking out with his pedals. I was glad to see the guitarist beating on his strings with his fretting hand grabbing the neck at arbitrary positions – he clearly has the right idea of what his sound is all about. I'm also glad that they brought a bunch of Orange (and other) amplification along with them to really make this sound work the way it needed to. The hard-hitting drummer was easily heard over the pile of amps with nothing but a kick drum mic. Certain elements seemed influenced by krautrock, in particular their occasional use of odd rhythms in a relatively simple, but effective, way. I remember really liking these guys a few years ago. I just rediscovered that I rated one of their 2003 SF shows (at Club Verdi?!) as my 7th favorite show of that year. I hadn't listened to them for a long time, and I was a little depressed when I found out their violist had been replaced with a guitarist. In fact, I think I entirely skipped playing their latest album on my radio show throughout its run in KUSF's current releases library. I say all this by way of explaining that I wasn't expecting too much, but(/therefore) they really kind of blew me away. They were probably better than when I liked them so damn much back in 2003. They're taking the Black Sabbath-Sleep continuum a step further in the direction I love.

I felt really good about the Ettrick set. Good treatment and respect from a venue and its staff goes a long fucking way. This is what we get at the Hemlock. That's the final puzzle piece in making a ton of preparation pay off. This guy seemed disappointed by the lack minstrelsy. Perhaps he would've enjoyed our rushed trainwreck set at a disrespectful venue two weeks previous.

Acre delivered his usual heavy low end drone. Sounded typically great, even though I had spent about 14 hours listening to my somewhat similar sounding Damion Romero and Waves bootlegs on Monday and Tuesday. Tour mate Marissa Magic sang little pop ditties or something over 808 beats and such played on a laptop. I couldn't understand the connection to Acre other than their shared origin from the Pacific Northwest region.

Neung Phak was so great on Monday night. I had heard their self-titled album a couple years ago, but was never really interested enough to check them out live. I really liked Sublime Frequencies' Cambodian Cassette Archive (and other compilations), and I guess I thought the American cover band couldn't quite match the originals. Maybe enough time has passed that I have a more receptive attitude, but I also think seeing them live really helped. This is party music and it's great to see a seven-piece band throwing it down on stage. Re-listening to the album after the show, I can't quite understand what I didn't like about it at the time, but that's rather beside the point, especially now that my impression has been forever swayed by the great live show. Interspersed between their weird SE Asian pop music were numerous nightmare/bad trip sequences in which band members pulled US flags out of their pants, barked like dogs and generally behaved quite psychedelically. I really enjoyed the freeform ranting with cued musical accompaniments the first time the bassist set down his instrument and grabbed the mic. I appreciated the hits: “Inside the Program”, “Cheer”, “Tui Tui Tui” and one I had never heard before, “Fucking USA”. I appreciated the drummer's MIDI-triggered synth drum sounds. Quite a production these guys put on. Almost everybody had two instruments with them. It must've taken forever to set up, but it was all very cohesive. Before this gets too boring, let me just reiterate that this set fucking rocked.

OOIOO was a different story. There were some interesting parts, but mostly it was hippy drum circle stuff to my ears. The white robes and fake amulets did nothing to dispel this impression, but they did look pretty good. There were two guitars and a bass, but their lines seemed almost entirely devoid of substance. Nothing to latch onto. Minimalist tonality and slightly polyrhythmic, things I associate with Point by Cornelius. I liked that album, but never cared to delve much deeper into the genre. Unlike OOIOO, Cornelius used many simple yet contrasting lines to build up an interesting gestalt. OOIOO's lines weren't that interesting to begin with and weren't combined in any meaningful ways. I was continually ready to walk out, but every fourth song kept my interested just a little bit. Weirder no wavey parts and other more interesting composition would show up occasionally... far too infrequently.

Sunday already seems like the distant past. Hamez (Ross Hammond and Lisa Mezzacappa) opened the Musician's Union Hall show with double bass and guitar/banjo duets. Fairly innocuous tonal improv. My favorite piece explicitly reworked traditional bluegrass. It seemed perhaps more focused on the area of their music that works the best. The Frank Gratkoski/Charity Chan duet was very good. The duo took the music to a lot of different places over the course of their 50 minute set. They opened with a piece based around inside-the-piano dark ambient stuff (something Chan frequently gets into) with bass clarinet accompaniment, Gratkowski straining to stay on the quiet side. Things got livelier as Gratkowski switched to Bb clarinet, then alto sax. I remember a particularly disjointed, jumpy piece as being particularly good. It was a nice end to a streak of seeing both of these improvisers play a bunch. Interesting to see them stretch out a bit in the absence of Fred Frith constantly fucking things up (though he was fucking things up in the best way, and I enjoyed that show even more).




Earlier today I returned to Maybeck Studio for the Womantis event. Sarah Cathers and Sarah Bernat of 16 Bitch Pile-Up started out the evening up above the audience in powdered wigs and 18th century garb, tattoos showing through, bowing a shitty electric guitar and bass guitar while a cassette of period music played over the PA. After a long period of nearly-silent bowing, the sounds started building up with delay and distortion. It began to approach a 16BP fury, but it seemed like they were holding back a little bit, perhaps due to the non-noise-friendly appearance of the venue. After the music reached its peak and started to recede, Matt Ingalls, down on the floor, began playing a low clarinet drone (circular breathing) along with the noise until he was the only one playing. He began incorporating a short, rhythmically mechanical-sounding ascending motif. Occasionally he would start cycling through this pattern at a very high speed, as if it were a tape loop and someone just hit “fast forward”. More and more multiphonics and searing altissimo notes worked their way in, creating an intense noise clarinet sound. It seemed like it had peaked, but Matt kept escalating things to an unbelievably intense level. My timpanic membranes were creaking and generally freaking out – of course I was loving it. Toward the end he was rapidly trilling between two notes and the room's natural reverb sufficiently blurred the tones so that it sounded like two lines were being played simultaneously. I could more or less discern what was producing the results, but the auditory effect sounded like so much more than that simple explanation suggests. Really incredible. Post-concert conversations confirmed that pretty much everybody was completely blown away by this performance. Why the fuck isn't there an album of this shit? Theresa Wong and Lisa Mezzacappa started up once it was clear that Matt's piece had run it's course, and he accompanied their cello and bass duo for a little while before dropping out. They sounded good, but it would be hard for anybody to follow the preceding set... For the most part they were playing pitch-based music that was not traditionally tonal. Very nice stuff. Ava Mendoza and MaryClare Brzytwa faded in their electronics as this duo wrapped things up. Pretty different from the other electronic set of the evening – much more digital sounding. Cleaner, fuller and more abstract. One of the more interesting aspects was hearing MaryClare's flute acoustically from one part of the room and filtered through her laptop from the PA in another part of the room. Aside from the flute, it was pretty hard to tell who was responsible for which sounds. The music gave way to Kanoko Nishi and Charity Chan's dual piano set. Things stayed inside the pianos for the most part, with Charity playing the strings with ebows and mallets, while Kanoko kept things a little more percussive with plastic and other preparations rattling atop the strings. They actually both did a little of each, though, as well as playing the keyboards. Good communication. This was my second favorite set of the evening. Very enjoyable show all around. Prior to the show I didn't realize everything was going to flow together. This was an interesting element, but I wished I would've chosen a seat that wasn't right on top of the cello. Oh well, maybe it was for the better. Wine and other snacks were provided. I approve. I suppose it was nice that there was a mostly female improv show. If it hadn't been promoted that way, I don't think I would've noticed. The Bay Area is fully capable of supplying eight totally competent female musicians, so it just seemed like a regular good concert. In the last week, 7 of the shows I attended had a least one female musician (Womantis, Li Alin, TrioMetrik, Chan/Rose, sfSoundGroup, Frith/Gratkoskwi/Chan, Sharkiface, Telepathik Friend) while 3 had none. That's pretty good, I think? What's bad is... did I really go to 10 shows in 7 days? What the fuck... Matt Ingalls really held his own tonight as the “token male”. It made me proud to be a man.

Last night I saw Li Alin perform at RML. Karaoke style vocals over pre-produced backing music with live reverb tweaking by Naut Humon. Dark pop. Some was a little industrial, some was pretty dubby. This sort of stuff isn't really my thing. This set was followed by an instrumental duo of Naut Humon and Scott Arford. Naut continued tweaking things in Live while Scott fed him audio from some analog gear in addition to some digital stuff. The set started out with weird tone loops that reminded me of Coil. They kept building a strange tension that was never relieved. Some heavier industrial stuff came in later. Dark bass line from the analog gear with pounding beats. This stuff was sounding alright, but I actually heard similar stuff done much better in the sound check. Drinks were provided. I'm on a hot streak.



Gratkowski, complimentary food, Berkeley

I was at three shows tonight. First was TrioMetrik at RML. The show seemed to be free, and it was even catered. But, “Beware of whores who say they don't want money. The hell they don't. What they mean is that they want more money; much more...” (--WSB). This was a fundraiser for TrioMetrik, which presumably had an invocation for financial assistance later in the evening. Enjoyed complimentary hors d'oeuvre and beer. Couldn't hang with the promotional video and following powerpoint, and was compelled to leave before the music began. I actually heard a few violin notes on the way out, but I had enough of that scene by that point. I'm interested in their ideas about having this computer system respond to the live performance with specialized notation and other elements, but there was just too much to wade through to get there. This grand organization seems like so much a part of this trio that I don't feel too bad talking about it in what is ostensibly a music review.

I needed to be part of something on the opposite end of the organizational spectrum, so I biked over to ATA to catch some LA brutal noise. DIY through and through, and almost no money involved. Pedestrian Deposit and Haircut Mountain Transit (I believe) are both harsh noise acts with primal screaming processed through tabletops full of delay and distortion pedals. The sounds were nice, especially through the full wall hodge podge of amps and speakers, but I couldn't help thinking that this stuff all sort of sounds the same. The same, but good. Punk rock intensity, which is a fun and inspiring thing sometimes. HMT played an extra short set (in the vicinity of 2 minutes), which seems to be typical of many of these LA noise dudes. There's something to be said for keeping things tastefully short, but two-minute sets always seem like a bit like a cop out to me. It would be hard to make those two minutes so awesome that stretching it out would be pointless. Working things further and further brings things to an exponentially higher level, and super short sets don't allow this to happen. Better than long and boring though. Maybe prolonged sets with continual development should be left to the “improvisers”, but I've seen “noise” musicians like Tralphaz really work it just as well as anybody with an acoustic bass or whatever. As soon as Pedestrian Deposit's wall of distortion started up, a bunch of guys started bobbing their heads pretty hard to the music as is typical at an intense show. They were all bobbing at a different tempo, and I couldn't figure out what they were synching up with. That sort of thing always seems weird to me. But not long afterward I found myself doing the same thing, unconsciously nodding away to the harsh drone. Different tempo from everyone else. Rhythmic response to intense audio with rhythm ambiguous enough that no two people relate to it in the same way. Someday perhaps I will figure it out.

Moseyed over to the Hemlock in time to catch about half of Lair of the Minotaur's set. Metal from former members of 7000 Dying Rats, including Weasel Walter on drums. Most of this was fairly sludgy metal with rhythmically barked vocals. Surprisingly a little too close to the kind of metal that would have a “-core” somewhere in its name for my tastes. The vocals were influenced a little too much by rap, and not enough by tortured screams of the damned. A few blast beat sections were the most satisfying to me. Low levels of kick drum in the PA watered down the sound to a somewhat disappointing level. Maybe that made all the difference.

Wednesday at 1510 8th Street, Charity Chan and Simon Rose opened things up with a piano and sax duo. Chan kept things inside the piano with the sustain pedal pressed down. Dark ambient style. Rose was frequently repeating the same group of notes in free time while circular breathing... sort of a raga sort of thing to put it really crudely. A fairly droney/static set. I closed my eyes and relaxed. At one point a sax blast excited sympathetic vibrations from undampened piano strings. Rose milked this for a while in a pretty satisfying way. Gratkowski/Nordeson/Looney/Smith played next. This was my third time seeing Gratkowski in four days, so I was starting to get a little worn out, but more relevantly my listening circumstances were slightly compromised, so it's hard to really say what went down. A lot of fairly intense timbral playing, as you would expect from these guys. Gratkowski was playing the best kind of intense energy music on his horns. Looney had his usual pile of junk rattling around on top of the piano strings. Nordeson worked in some subtle rhythmic patterns on his drum set, notably on his collection of bells. These patterns were just another element floating through the chaos, though, not a unifying rhythm. Despite this music being largely “textural” (a term I can't quite endorse), it had a strong soulful element, especially during the last piece. Something really reminded me of “Lonely Woman”.

The previous night at CNMAT, I saw Gratkowski perform with two different sets of musicians. First was the FPR Trio with Phillip Greenlief and Jon Raskin. I've enjoyed the latter two's playing together at their 2+2 series for the last year or so. I also saw this same trio perform the last time Gratkowski was in town (last September). The two locals are great, and this trio really showcases Gratkowski at his best. Almost all of the pieces they performed tonight (as at their previous show) were compositions by the members, which I think was one of the things that really pushed Gratkowski. As great as his improv is, he's into playing notes and seems to work best working with compositions. Greenlief's two contributions were my favorites of the evening. “No Name” (for György Ligeti) had a lot of Ligeti-like trilly tone clusters as well as some staccato Braxton-style angular attacks. The general idea of the piece seemed to be to play something like one of these ideas, then move on to another specified strategy, etc. “Florence” had some notated tonal material with a lot of room for improv suggested by the mostly graphic score. Whatever the scores specified, they worked really well and brought out the best playing of the evening. The other really memorable composition was an older one by Gratkowski, “Three Vegetables for Double Happiness”. This had a lot of notated material very much in the vein of Braxton's quirky, happy and angular mid-Seventies stuff like Comp. No. 40 O and the like. Proggy and energetic. A repeating motive was a short phrase at the end of a tonal phrase in which a note was repeated with increasing speed, moving through the cycle of eight note, eight note triplet, sixteenth note, sixteenth note quintuplet, etc. (or something like that). This idea played a larger role in the other composition by Gratkowski, which had just been written the previous day. Some great solos in this set. I think it was in Gratkowski's own piece where he played his first solo way up in the altissimo range and a later solo way down in the low notes only he can get out of an alto sax (this shit is really kind of mind boggling and also sounds really great). Anyway, this trio is great -- Gratkowski at his best. Rumor has it there is a CD in the works, which I am excited to hear and remember the live shows. Next Gratkowski played with David Wessel. Wessel made tasteful use of CNMAT's 8-channel sound system – not overdoing it at all, but shifting things around in a subtle and interesting manner rather than the hyperactive approach I frequently hear less experienced people employ. The sounds themselves were a bit corny to me -- a little too much reverb and delay, and the samples were also strange. The jazz band samples used frequently in the first piece sort of indicated a mistaken idea that Gratkowski had something to do with jazz. Doesn't seem like the case to me, and to whatever extent he does have something to do with jazz, it is not helped by chopped up hot jazz samples. Gratkowski was working hard, but seemed to have trouble fully blending in with the electronics. The second and final piece with Wessel was significantly better. They operated in more of a dark ambient realm, which made Wessel's corny reverb sounds entirely forgivable, even appropriate. Dark sustained sounds from Wessel encouraged more subdued timbral playing from Gratkowski rather than the more intense stuff I usually hear him play. It was nice hearing him pulled into this weird sound area. They were also joined by a violist from UC Berkeley who contributed a lot of great creaking sounds, and reinforced Gratkowski enough that the acoustic sounds were able to hold their own and blend in more evenly with the electronics. Both pieces were kept quite short, which was probably for the better.

Monday night was sfSoundGroup at ODC. Similar program to their 3/11 show, which I previously reviewed. Things opened up with an improvisation. Good stuff, as usual -- one of the highlights of the night, actually. They were working in the musical language they have established for themselves, which seems to be rooted in the 20th century compositions they play. The group also showed appropriate restraint for a quintet, with players frequently laying out and letting trios and other grouping run their course. Not as fierce or on point as the great previous show, but no real complaints. Well, my one complaint is that the pianist did a lot of playing with his forearms, but it didn't end up sounding nearly as brutal as it seemed he wanted it to. Maybe he was overthinking it. The improv stretched out pretty long as new ideas kept emerging. It seemed like it was probably longer than they had intended, but each new development made the piece that much more interesting. Matthew Goodheart's “Study No. 6b”, written specifically for this group, was next. The basic idea was that the component tones of a clarinet multiphonic were spread out among the whole ensemble so that the other instruments reinforced these tones while fighting their timbre and such with their own sound. This idea worked really well in a few places, but I felt like the piece didn't have much going for it beyond this harmonic aspect. More interesting rhythm or melody sections might have made it seem more complete to me. Grand Duett by Galina Ustvolskaya closed the first set. Fierce piano and cello duet with intense, incessantly repeated phrases. I found myself wanting much more intensity and thought it would probably work a lot better for me if performed by a rock band like Zs or the Flying Luttenbachers – more volume and thicker, heavier sounds. This really was in the same vein as the stuff those bands normally do anyway. Iannis Xenakis' “Akanthos” opened the second set. It was nice, but seemed to lack the intensity I expected from a Xenakis piece. That seemed to be my complaint about the whole evening, actually. Was it actually the group, or just my mood, or did Fred Frith, Frank Gratkowski and Randy Yau set the intensity bar too high in the preceding days? Two Wadada Leo Smith pieces, the same one performed 3/11, closed the program. Great stuff, but again not quite up to the experience of the previous week. If I seem a little down on this show, it's mostly because the 3/11 show was so fucking good. It would be hard to match that, especially when repeating most of that program. The pieces still sounded very good. “Tawhid”, the first of the two, was my other favorite piece of the evening. After hearing Smith talk about his graphic scores the week before, I really don't understand how or why the group structured these pieces so much. There were definitely recognizable and pre-determined sections happening, and the pieces were easily recognizable as the ones I had previously heard. I'll need to investigate.

Sunday night was the first Gratkowski show in the Bay Area. Here he performed at Maybeck Studio with Fred Frith and Charity Chan. This was my first time at this venue and I kind of alternated between enjoying the very nice setting and being slightly repulsed by it. Overall, it seemed like a pretty cozy and comfortable place to enjoy some music. And the music was sublime. Chan and Gratkowski set up a smooth flow on their piano and sax, while Frith continually disrupted things. Banging and scraping on his electric guitar with an anarchic, haphazard attitude, and seemingly rather detached from, and oblivious to, the other musical stream happening. And turned up a little too loud. This is not a complaint in any way – it worked really well and sounded really great. Fred Frith can make detached offensive noise sound really good, and all the better that the good music was resulting from such a strange approach. Gratkowski was meanwhile fighting to make his contribution and Chan seemed to know enough to lay low and let these two masters steer the ship. Not like Gratkowski ever really fully got that chance. This set was at least as good as the FPR Trio set, but I can't say it was Gratkowski at his best, since he was really just struggling to be present. A pretty interesting thing to witness.

Earlier in the day was noise pancakes at CCA. Sharkiface started things out with Nord tones and other nice sounds. It resonated with me a little better than her 21 Grand set from about two weeks previous, though it was pretty similar. Late Severa Wires played a more abstract set than at their show with Ettrick a week before. For a little while they had an Open City vibe going with minimal free rock on their drums, guitar and bass (augmented by turntables). Later, things heated up a little and Sun Ra records went on the record player. Ended up with a free spazz blowout. Telepathik Friend... I really couldn't get over how intensely influenced by Caroliner these kids are. Similar neon tapestries, amp covers and full-body costumes. Similar falsetto echo vocals and crowd-abusing antics. Music was much more formless, and largely based on feedback and other sounds through delay pedals. But I was scratching my head to much to really pay attention. Mini amp got thrown around a lot by the singer. The most amusing part was when an abused audience took charge by unplugging the amp and kicking it across the room. I would've liked to see that line carried a bit further. RHY Yau closed things out with a typically excellent set. Really fantastic, even though it had its shaky moments. Test oscillator tones, feedback, mangled voices and brutal screams. A really full and intense sound. The sound elements were kept pretty simple, which lent a lot of clarity to the music – same sort of reduced approach as Romero, Wiese, etc. The oscillator was a nice variation on the set I've seen him perform numerous times. Similar set-up and ideas, but implemented/improvised differently each time. Great stuff, as usual.

The two Berkeley venues, Maybeck and CNMAT, were new to me and really improved my impression of that city. I guess there are hidden gems in that place if you can avoid the punks and college students, and cut through to something more unique and intelligent. Also, nearly every show I attended provided food. Pancakes at CCA. Wine, cheese, etc. at Maybeck. Cheese and wine at CNMAT. A whole spread of hors d'oeuvres at 1510, and catered treats at RML. Nice supplement to my diet of rolled oats and rice. Let's keep this going.



Unmusical Postscript Eye Eye

Nice collection of noise vids. I can remember being at about half these shows, but I kind of like the ones I wasn't at a little better. Unfortunate mistakes in my past concert going choices or do the videos pale in comparison to the real experience? Probably both.

RHY Yau's set was a good one. Screaming into his little talk back buddy fed through an array of speakers, as he's prone to do. The video is a good reminder, but it doesn't quite capture the brutality I heard at the time. Most of the weird feedback tones, which were one of the more interesting elements, got swallowed up somewhere before the camera's mic. Man, the audience looks bored. Maybe they collectively ate one too many pancakes, though these were the days when the pancakes made you say mmmmmm instead of uhhhhhhhnnnnnn. (I'm glad to say either.)

Crank Sturgeon's screwball tabletop set is probably my favorite of the bunch. How did I miss that? Some hooligan wearing nothing but a mutant fish head on his own head and a long ribbed tube on his dick, screaming like a fool, ranting about his tube and working the pedals. Nice combination of silly brutality and other parts that are sort of eerie, sort of mellow and possibly more musical. Goofy video effects only add to this already goofy performance. Poor Shannon caught in the vortex between two sturgeons! Goofy, but the music is good enough that his shtick works.

I remember liking the Cotton Museum set a lot at the time, but the recording doesn't do much for me. As Cardew said, “Documents such as tape recordings of improvisation are essentially empty, as they preserve chiefly the form that something took and give at best an indistinct hint as to the feeling and cannot convey any sense of time and place.” Or, more humorously, “News has to travel somehow and tape is probably in the last analysis just as adequate a vehicle as hearsay, and certainly just as inaccurate.” [http://www.ubu.com/papers/cardew_ethics.html] Actually, this set is growing on me after listening to it again while taking the time to look up the exact wording of that quotation... Very nice.

Ettrick at noise pancakes Oct 30, 2005 (same show as the RHYY set). Ah... This was our 7th show, and now we've got around 54 under our belt. How much, and how little, has changed. I've lost 30-40 pounds, for one thing. Hidden in the menus is some secret footage of Ettrick with Weasel Walter about 4.5 months after this show. So much better, in my opinion.

I can't watch Power Circus without thinking that maybe, when I wasn't paying attention, Marilyn Manson started making really good music. Or maybe I'm in an alternate world where he took a left turn sometime before making Antichrist Superstar. The world would be a better place. Harsh noise, terrified screams, ironically cute melodies.

The T-113 set is another I wish I would've caught based on this video. I get the impression that there was a big rocking sound that isn't quite cutting through on the video. Gives me the same sort of feeling as the great Hisseaters set I saw at noise pancakes a few months ago. Best part is the finger countdown to signal the end of the set, and the resulting triumphant celebration.

The Tarpita Fleisch set is the same sort of thing she has done at most of the shows I've heard, but done particularly well on this occasion. Is the video cut into the show recording the thing to which she was performing a live score?

Mummers... Buried beneath the Jawa costumes and yucking it up is some good music. Mournful delay pedal sax lamentation floating under skittery minimal drums. Takes a turn toward dark ambiance. Ends with some sloppy hard bop I could kinda do without. But man, another set I should've seen.

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from Wadada Leo Smith to SIXES


Saw Wadada Leo Smith give a little talk earlier tonight as part of the Improv:21 series. He explained how his graphic scores were to be interpreted -- each performer is to independently prepare an extensive amount of material based on the nearly limitless number of associations able to be derived from the score (this seemed impossibly daunting to me as he described it, and he went on to point out that most musicians are lazy when it comes to preparing for a piece like this). He explained how his music places great importance on non-development and the independence of the musicians so that an idea can be presented as it is without being obscured by elaborations or responses. Musicians are to perform their material independently of the other musicians playing, only listening to them peripherally. He said the primary concern of his music is to make people (musicians and listeners) forget the world for a while and fully concentrate on the musical universe being created at that moment. Funny remarks about west African artists throwing ceremonial stools in the bushes to let ants eat them (so they had an excuse to make new ones), etc. as well as a few (too) short solo trumpet performances demonstrating how he improvises on a single idea, how he plays his graphic scores, etc. Interesting talk, nice music and presented in a great intimate setting. Wish I would've been to some of the earlier talks. I'll definitely return in the future (Ostertag, Winant, etc.).


Last night I heard Le Quan Ninh and Frederic Blondy at the Community Music Center. Two new venues for me in two days. I'm glad that there actually are a few places for improvised music in SF (in addition to the LSG and Musician's Union). Too bad they don't get much use. sfSoundGroup opened with a few great pieces. An improvisation started things off. A “half-baked” graphic score by Matt Ingalls turned out really well. Then two Wadada Leo Smith pieces. The scored pieces allowed for a lot of improvisation, so the all of them were strongly stamped with the group's sound. Lots of fast skittering around and playing the I somehow associate more with composed new music. Forceful bass playing from George Cremaschi sounded really good, especially the opening explosion to the first improvisation. Later in that piece, he broke his A string with a violent blow. John Ingle always impresses me with his ability to play extremely quietly on the alto sax with no breath noise. I think it stands out because it's always applied very well. Really quiet tones on the threshold of perception, rising up at the right times. The first Smith piece was really great, and the second featured a smokin energy free jazz trio section with tenor sax, drums and piano. It was really funny to be seeing sfSound treading this territory, but it sounded great. I wish I would see more of these musicians playing in different settings, especially the cellist, who does really interesting things and whom I've never seen outside of sfSound. Blondy and Ninh took the stage next, Blondy on prepared grand piano and Ninh on a sideways-turned bass drum which primarily served as a surface to scrape with cymbals and such. Really “abstract” sound-based music played with great intensity. Even though I had a pretty good idea of what Ninh was doing, it was hard to believe some of the incredible sounds he was getting out of his simple set-up. It often sounded like noisy buzzing electronics and it was pretty loud too. Pine cones were rubbed on the drum to great screeching effect, etc. The techniques really aren't that important. It sounded great.


Saturday at the Stork Club. Slow Children opened at the usual Stork Club start time of 10-10:30. I was expecting to hear more pop elements based on their published description, but it was mostly free improv. Koto, drums and electronics (processed guitar, vocals, etc.). It sounded pretty good for the most part, especially the koto. I would've liked to have heard them in a more intimate setting, without the PA. The sound turned out a bit weird for the music they were making.

Late Severa Wires played, but I didn't hear much of them.

Mute Socialite was really good. Instrumental math rock sort of stuff with guitar, bass and two drum sets. Hard rockin and interestingly complex in a way that still flowed very well. The Ex definitely comes to mind.

Ettrick went on to a much-diminished crowd and an increasingly anxious bartender at about 1:30am. The furious set was condensed to the bartender-ordered 10 minutes.


Marana Jocund opened the 21 Grand show. A guitar a drum duo featuring Rob of the Flying Luttenbachers on drums (he plays guitar in the FLs) and his Mirthkon bandmate, Wally, on guitar. High energy improvisations. I saw them play a somewhat lackluster show in December and this set was a great improvement (Rob said he had mono back then!). They certainly have the instrumental ability and this set was played with enough intensity and taste that it came together very well. Cellular Chaos was next, featuring Weasel Walter on guitar with Damon Smith on ergo bass and Willy Winant and Mark Smith both on drum sets. Free no wave... really noisy guitar work like the Flying Luttenbachers freed from rhythm and notes, and strangely combined with rock and roll jumping around antics. The dual drumming was probably the best part. Both guys were going at it with significant fury. Mark was holding down more of a shifting rock beat while Willy played primarily free rhythms and timbral stuff to accompany that. The group as a whole seemed to understand what to do significantly better than at their first show a couple months ago. It really sounded great. Flaming Horse played last.


Lindsay/Looney/Smith opened the show at 1510 with a Jimmy Giuffre tribute (more or less in instrumentation only). A solid set. Highlights included Lindsay's furious Ab clarinet playing on one piece, and a well-timed motorcycle revving up right as a contrabass clarinet piece wrapped up. Greenlief/Kaiser/Walter were next. Kaiser played really relaxed, stretched-out guitar lines over Walter's fast-moving and frantic percussion. Greenlief found his place by mimicking Kaiser's playing with his sax, and engaging it in a fairly matched dialog. One of the more extreme instances was some spit gurgling while sustaining a note, mimicking a distorted guitar chord. This approach worked quite well and really brought the trio together.

I headed over to G3 next, where the noise show was postponed until midnight due to a double booking. Tullan Velte started out the noise portion with some great cathode ray based noise. Crunchy drone. First time hearing him, and it was great. The final rock band from the previous show went on next, introducing themselves by saying, “You look like you're all here to see techno! Well, we're a ROCK band,” then launching into some Sublime-style white man reggae with heavy wah pedal (ab)use. They wrapped up the set with a pretty solid version of “Red House” (dead-on guitar intro). They were actually pretty impressive for a bunch of kids, especially the apparently 12-year-old drummer. Crazy freak show next door at Ireland 32. Easy listening with close disharmonious backing vocals, congas, tenor sax solos, etc. The most godawful of all noise heard that evening. Cornucopia took back the night for the noise crew. This sounded good too, but I don't remember much. A lot like Tully, I think. Scott Arford played some bass heavy laptop stuff which often didn't sound too good through G3's PA. Certain bass tones just turned to slime. Later in the set he hit on a two-note bass alternation that reminded me of a great industrial bassline. Then some more really interesting sounds and it was all over. Sixes played a great set to a much reduced audience. I was sick and on the way out the door when he started, and I had to turn around to hear the rest of it. More diversity of sounds than I'm used to from someone who is usually more into heavy drone/wall of noise stuff. Again, the set was marred slightly by weird sound at the venue, but it was definitely an interesting one. Nice to hear him branching out a little, and worth sticking around for.



A bunch of memories of a week's worth of shows

Stopped by the Knockout last night and caught the last 10 minutes of the Weasel Walter Trio. Sounded just like them. Gruntfest on alto sax playing a lot wailing altissimo shit, as usual. I think he's my favorite of the rotating saxophonists that play with the group, but even he has a strong tendency to play notes (listen to Ettrick to hear my preferred alternate approach). I came in pretty late and these guys were pretty much soaked in sweat. Some shit had gone down. They told me the end was the best part, but I would have appreciated it more had I seen the build-up. Damon showed me his oozing poison oak welts but said they didn't affect his playing. Check them out Friday night when Weasel Walter's Cellular Chaos plays with Flaming Horse at 21 Grand.

Tuesday at 21 Grand I saw the Gowns. Their new album, Red State, is pretty fucking great. I think it's probably my most listened-to album of 2007. Pushed Willie Nelson right off the charts. Anyway, it was really cool to see those songs performed live. I enjoyed the addition of live drums spanning the range from scraping and rattling to awkward polyrhythms to hard rocking. One or two songs weren't as dense as the album, but I think that was due to equipment/PA trouble. I'm trying to think of a highlight and all that comes to mind is the intro of one of the songs where Erika played a guitar line, then her looping pedal played it backwards, in which form it fit even better with the rest of the music. They're about to go on tour, so go hear them if you live somewhere other than the Bay Area, and buy their album wherever you may be.

Marnie Stern sounded like a poorly mixed indie rock CD being played too loudly. In fact, that's what it was. Barr was indie rock too... I can't get into that stuff, but evidently a lot of people can. 21 Grand was packed, and it was a damn Tuesday night. Had to leave before Old Time Relijun started, but I heard a second or two of good throat singing in their sound check.

Sergio Iglesias & the 69 Beers, Sunday at the Knockout, was complete stupidity, as usual. I can't say objectively whether it was funny or not. My bootleg recording sounds like a big mess, which I think we can be certain it was. Lots of booing.

Noise Pancakes, earlier that day. All of the sets were pretty middle-of-the-road. Pretty palatable brunch music, but nothing mind-blowing. Horseflesh had a nice drone guitar thing going. Hora Flora had a bunch of speakers laying on objects with vibrations controlled by a sampler. The best sound was a sheet of paper on a little subwoofer. It seemed a little half-baked, but it was already miles ahead ahead of his G3 performance from a month or so ago. Interesting ideas with shaky realization. I'm thinking that this shit might really gel in about 6 months as sampler button pushing because less frantic and more controlled, and knowledge of acoustic properties of resonating objects is solidified. Co(sine) was harsh table pedal noise. Reminded me of some other guy I saw play at ArtSF, but I think that was a night noise. Lots of twisted faces and weird postures. I guess a lot of guys do this, though. I think someone shouted out “Will Ferrell!” at the end of his set. Brizbomb had a weird mad scientist set-up. 6-foot tall rack of gear – space echoes and such. White lab coat, smoke machine, flashing DJ lights. A little corny, but maybe it would have looked less screwy in a darkened room rather than broad daylight. Elise Baldwin laptop stuff. I don't really remember what she did, but I kind of liked it. Maybe my favorite set of the day, but then why don't I remember anything other than the caricature of her that adorned her name tag?

Compound Saturday night. Wow. Big bass tones from Damion Romero shook the fuck out of that room. Speakers were literally falling over and the poor sound guy had to quick draft people to hold the room together. If the “predicted” earthquake really did try to strike, Damion counteracted it, and sent it right back to the earth's core. About half the sounds (probably every sound above 200 Hz) were generated by parts of the room shaking. I'm not sure if I would've liked the clean version better, but the Compound is a pretty nice-sounding building to shake if you're gonna be shaking a building. It might have even sounded better outside. I caught a little bit of the sound check from out there. John Wiese had a brutal white noise attack. Kept me interested for 20 minutes, or whatever it was, but I have trouble describing it. Man, my ears didn't want to hear any more after that set. There was a suitably (probably overly) long intermission and the two played duo as Waves. They pretty much did the same thing as their respective solo sets, Damion covering the low end, and John on the high end white noise. Maybe it was the power of suggestion, but John really seemed to be going for more of a new age ocean sound this time – white noise wave swells. Really great. He dropped out for the last 6 minutes or so while Damion rode out some really fantastic bass tones. I think this was the sound he was trying to discover all night.

16 Bitch Pile-Up on Friday was good. Kind of like a reunion, but it really hasn't been all that long since their last show. They took it a lot of different places, from quiet solo trumpet to full-on walls of noise. That was a long time ago at this point, so don't expect any more talk. They too have a new album which you should listen to. Or just buy the poster and hang it up over your bed.

One more show brings me all the way back to last Thursday. My first time seeing Costes. It seemed really stupid at first. Some French people doing mildly transgressive things while shouting unintelligibly in French to a pre-recorded sound track with lots of dancey tracks. Somehow it maintained my interest for the whole show. Perhaps the escalation of transgressions was perfectly paced. Can't really say I liked it, but I kept an eye on the freak show the whole time. Had to take cover when the fake poo started flying. A nice blob ended up high up on 21 Grand's wall. Before that was Mr. Natural with that SAXOPHONIST WHO PLAYED ON FUN HOUSE guy. Harsh noise with weird sax, I think. I don't think I was into it too much. Omnivorous Sinsillium had their dual analog modular weeding out session. This was the first time it ever made any sense to me, but still I think those guys are on a different wavelength. I liked some of it, then I couldn't figure it out. That almost seems like a good thing – like maybe I'll learn to love it in 3 years. That's optimism, though. Ill hits from Count Loach all night long. Any DJ who wears a cape is okay by me. The outstanding set of the night was Core of the Coalman. Different approach than usual. The majority of the set was a massive viola drone – brutal and melancholy, sentimental and cathartic. Just what I wanted to be hearing. Echoed two days later by the massive walls erected the Compound. Ended up in something like a pedal noise fury. I was still riding high from the drone, so I don't really know much about that part.

The merciless schedule of shows I want to hear and am obligated to play at continues this week. Never had this problem in Wisconsin. It's a bit like how the Amish kids always end up hooked on crack during Rumspringa (see Devil's Playground [2002]... actually, I just told you the only thing worth gleaning from that movie).



pancakes and then some

Great pancake show today. Slusser opened things up with some great ring mod soprano sax delay pedal theremin shit. Best Slusser set I've seen yet. He left the show real quick for a rehearsal or something. Wonder if he saw Elf Ass... Certain noise/sax similarities.

Compression of the Chest Cavity Miracle was next. Lots of awkward fumbling around trying to get unfamiliar equipment set up. Sounded nice though. Sine waves with harsh TRS unplug sounds - hard to fuck that up. Then he gave up and started over. I'm glad he gave it another go because the proper version was fantastic. Heavy breathing sounds morphing into all kinds of scrapes and clunks. A couple sine waves going in the back - analog synth sounds reproduced by laptop. Ezra's great at letting his machine do all the work for him. He knows when to sit there and let the Max patch do its thing. It did a good thing.

Elf Ass.

Thom Blum... My spirit was returning to the mundane world and I was eating pancakes, so I missed out on most of this. It sounded pretty good from outside though. Maybe best from outside. Verbierboten has nice echo chamber effect on the sounds coming out the door.

Crank Ensemble... About 6 dandies cranking simple mechanical things with contact mics on them. Fed through a mixer operated by conductor and mastermind Larnie Fox. With the amount of electronically generated loops in a lot of contemporary music, it is nice to hear some loops so strongly rooted in actual physical things. I sort of feel like they could do a bit more with that idea, but the stuff sounds pretty good anyway. I still wasn't quite back to earth, so I couldn't pay too much attention, but there was a nice range of sounds from music box to grinding terror. Candy striped stockings, fedora, fez. Who knows what the stuff was all about, but it made about as much sense as an insect head.

Marco Eneidi's American Jungle Orchestra played at 21 Grand tonight. I thought it had a lot of the problems you would expect from a group with 10 saxophonists and 4 drummers, but I definitely enjoyed it. With all the problems that come with a huge group of competing personalities, come a lot of fun psychological battles and reactions to observe. My favorite moments came when the whole group of ~22 united in blistering swells, or when certain rabble rousers made explosive music statements (loud and often almost offensive) in attempt to kill the cliche free jazz thing that kept lingering in the atmosphere and/or to snap people out of their noodle trance. Kaiser's guitar solo near the end of set two was such a musical statement, as were the handful of shorter outbursts from Weasel (Weasel's blast beat accompaniment to Josh Allen's solo was one of the most entertaining things to happen during the show).

Back to the pancakes... No Batter H., but this alternate cook is making some progress in his recipe. Some real maple syrup (as opposed to Mrs Butterwhurps, sugar free or otherwise) really went a long way. I consumed my standard 6-8.