Category Archives: review

Beefheart’s Wake and the Cultural API

Attended the Beefheart “symposium” last night. Enjoyed it. As one speaker said “This is really a wake”. Very few young people, mostly old men–except for Robin, who came along. Earlier in the week I’d asked my film students how many had gone to the SF Cinematheque, and no one knew what I was talking about. On the way home last night, out in the world, while passing bright new billboards for the Beatles, I had a sudden “Blade Runner” feeling. I had a kind of flash-backed premonition. Instead of buildings and physical infrastructure left in disrepair, there was a culture with so much of its vitality lost that the present couldn’t be understood, we are left with behavioral habits without knowledge of their cause. The Beatle billboards were the ads in Blade Runner, and Beefheart and Independent Cinema were the missing creators of the unmaintained architecture and infrastructure. Where are the counter-cultural inventors who construct truly new meaning from the new technologies? Who create art that is unsalable not because it is scatological, but because it is so radical in its form that it demands work from the viewer to perceive that it has an aesthetic source. There is absolutely no need for another Beefheart, or Beatles for that matter. But I look for more desperation to invent one’s self even at the cost of losing one’s self.

Or maybe invention maintains the same relation to the underlying culture as it ever did, and we just have less underlying movement to be reflected in new art. That seems hard for me to believe, with all the technological innovations present. And we can see those so clearly reflected in Egypt, as the people there are forced to reinvent themselves as free souls within a world community. Perhaps here we have too little need to reinvent the self as presently imagined by society.

Gary Lucas shared a Beefheart quote last night: “I think of music as primarily an irritant”. There is no understanding this unless you posit a disconnect between the form to which the society requires the artist to con-form, and the need by the artist to produce a form that differs from it. If the self-form that the artist/citizen requires matches the one enjoined by cultural infrastructure (the API calls work in both directions), you don’t get the desperation to reinvent the self. Note this isn’t at the social level (which is analogous to a digital “skin”), but at the cultural level (not directly available to the conscious, but sensed by the conscious as an emotional or physical/synaesthetic malaise). If that malaise isn’t present: no need to create a self reformed so that it can survive without the cultural API communications. The “irritant” is such not because the artist wants someone to feel badly, but because s/he is trying to invent his or her own albumin…one that because of its source and purpose is impermeable to the cultural API…and that creates a mirrored malaise between the albumin and the outside society.

So perhaps it is a good thing that it does not occur to youth to basically reinvent itself: as sign of alignment between the young individual and the surrounding culture. Either that, or there is no sensitivity left: no individual, no name, numb.

A CD Review: Ys by Joanna Newsom

This is a fantastic album. The lyrics are the best I’ve heard since Don Van Vliet. I make the comparison seriously–the rhyme schemes, the way that the word meaning and the word sound support each other, and the choice of words and phrases from localized folk technologies.

“so, with the courage of a clown,
or a curor a kite,
jerking tight at its tetherin her dun-brown gown of fur
and her jerkin’ of swansdown and leather”

Newsom studied harp, compostion and Englsh at Mills College in Oakland, and lived next to the gentle minimalist Terry Riley. She says that when she started her own composing she worked more in a folk tradition than a strictly classical one, and you hear this in her recordings–made of small, modular verses that vary and develop from one to another. The longer song structure reminds me of another older song writer: Robin Williamson from the Incredble String Band. Small songs linked one to the other, without a need for a standard A-A-B-A development.

Against her harp finger picking and chording, and her quirky and expressive voice, there is an intricate orchestration by Van Dyke Parks…Newsom says that they worked on it over a year, and that it took that long is easy to believe. It is astounding to me the amount of orchestral variety Parks uses throughout Ys, it is a course in orchestration techniques, all kick and side lighting providing shape and chiaroscuro to Newsom’s vocal key. Never muddying, he syncopates and counterpoints, while extending the simpler folk chords into expressive vertical harmonic cliffs…just incredible.

Review: LSG New Music Series February 23, 2006

ReviewOutsound Presents: LSG New Music Series @ Luggage Store Gallery, San Francisco

8:00 pmEmily Hay: Flutes, vocalMarcos Fernandes: PercussionRobert Montoya: Computer/softwareBob Marsh: electronically modulated vocal

9:00 pmMarcos Fernandes: PercussionRobert Montoya: Computer/softwareRent Romus: SaxaphonesErnesto Diaz-Infante: acoustic-electric steelstring guitar

Emily Hay, Marcos Fernandes and Robert Montoya traveled up from San Diego to perform with a couple of San Francisco locals for the February 23 2006 implementation of the LSG New Music Series. It made for a wonderful couple of hours of excellent, compelling music.
For the 8:00 show Emily Hay began by blowing her alto flute shakuhachi-like into her microphone. She progressed into including vocalizations with the flute blowing, and later alternating between the flute and vocalizations. Her vocal sounds ranged from english-like phonemes to sounds of laughter, but often coming back to a crystal-clear operetic voice, pitched and carefully articulated. Throughout the first set Emily alternated improvising between her flutes and her voice.

Bob Marsh seemed often to track Emily’s vocals, but did so by almost mumbling into a microphone which pitch-shifted and otherwise modulated his voice into pitches that did match, and timbres that almost matched those of Emily. While Emily was working hard to get volume, articulation and pitch, Bob kept up seemingly without effort, through excellent control of his electronics. The two played off each other, with Bob at times creating electronic loops, and Emily sometimes repeating.

Behind Emily and Bob, Marcos Fernandes had percussion instruments set up on and under a table, with a microphone picking up the sounds and feeding them into a Lexicon reverb module. occasionally with prerecorded sounds. The tabletop was recorded hot, with small sounds of rubbing a mallet across the face of a drum being picked up and amplified sometimes into the foreground of the sonic output. Marcos was well balanced between percussion and foley (sound effects) work, using pots, pans, drums, gongs, bells and other instruments and objects obviously chosen for their focused sonic qualities.

Robert Montoya sat in back with his computer, using Ableton Live software to loop a sound sample, select segments of that sample, and modifying its attributes in real time. his sounds were urban, percussive, often sounding like scraping metal, but never muddy.

After the first set, Emily sat down, and Rent Romus joined with three saxaphones, as did Ernesdo Diaz-Infante on guitar. Rent sent out saxaphone sound arcs and blurts, always sent into an opening in the sonic spectrum created by the others.

Ernesdo’s guitar strings were tuned down well below normal pitch so that when he struck them they were much more percussive than pitched. His right-hand work (strumming and picking) was his focus and was the most effective, setting up rhythms that provided tempos for the second set.

What struck me about this evenings’ music–other than the fact that it was among the most continuously compelling of the evenings I’ve heard here over the last few months–was that the instrumentalists often played musical roles different from those usually selected for their instruments:

Marcos’ percussion rarely provided enough repetition to create a tempo or rhythm. Rather, he delivered individual sounds that were each complex and defined enough to deserve attention on their own.

Ernesto’s guitar played no melody, nor did it provide a chordal harmonization. As I stated above, he provided the rhythm and tempo, using the detuned guitar as a percussion instrument, and drumming out a beat for the others to weave around.
Rent’s saxaphones provided phrases that rose from the bed of the sounds, arced above them and descended back into the source. Robert’s software provided a mostly arhythmic backdrop for the others, but filtered and pitched so that the overall sound was rarely muddy–always a problem for electro-acoustic performances.

Bob marsh’s electronically modulated vocalizations often approached the sound of a non-modified voice (though it always had just enough electronic artifacts to keep from sounding like it intended to imitate one). And Emily’s flute and vocal work were almost electronic.
What I think made the night for me was that the acoustic elements were so carefully modified toward the electronic, and the electronic was so carefully modulated toward the acoustic, that what was accomplished was a masterful blending of the two. It was not electronic, and it was not acoustic, nor did it alternate between the two: it was sonic. And for me, that worked wonderfully.

I continue to look forward to what the next week brings this series.

CDs Available from these groups: WE ARE on Publiceysore (Emily Hay and Marcos Fernandes)REVERBERATIONS FROM SPRING PAST on Pax Recordings (w/Rent Romus)

Review: Quiet American/Gal*in_dog: LSG in SF

Quiet American/Gal*in_dog: LSG in SF
Thursday, Feb 2 2006 8:00 PM

This was another performance in OutSound’s “LSG New Music Series” held on Thursday evenings in San Francisco. Outsound is a collective that presents performances throughout the SF Bay area. Information on Outsound may be found at

This series is held at the Luggage Store Gallery, 1007 Market Street (near 6th) in San Francisco, and curated by musicians Rent Romus and Matt Davignon. It has been running since 1991, and as such is the longest-standing experimental music series in the Bay Area. Past performers have included Cecil Taylor, Alan Silva, Henry Kaiser, Fred Frith and many others.

On February 2 there were two performances: one by AAron Ximm (Quiet American) and one by Guillermo Galindo (Gal*in_dog).

8pm Quiet American (field recordings/oscillators)

Aaron Ximm’s performance on Thursday comprised two sound sources: field recordings he made while traveling, and a battery of sine-wave oscillators.

The field recordings presented sounds that were textural, nonrhythmic, and mostly retained a consistant amplitude, sound spectrum and timbre. There were, I believe, four separate recordings, each of which was played continually for several minutes, with the sum of the four running the length of the piece. In conversation after his piece, Ximm told me that the recordings represented air, earth, fire and water:

air: flapping of tarps in a strong wind, recorded at the Burning Man festival
earth: the sounds of a worker smoothing concrete in a sidewalk or new floor
fire: the sounds of fireworks clusters–also recorded at the Burning Man festival
water: the sound of a pool drain skimming off water overflow

These sounds didn’t have a central pitch, but rather each occupied a stabile bandwidth. Ximm mentioned that he recorded each using binaural microphones, with one positioned near each of his ears, in order to pick up spatial references that reconstruct themselves when one listens to them over headphones.

Streaming below, above, and through this bandwidth were the oscillators. Ximm had a bank of about a dozen oscillators. Ximm created a triad, then paired each of the three pitches with the output of another oscillator pitched very near but not exactly at the same frequency, causing beat frequencies in the air. Other oscillators were then introduced throughout the aural spectrum to produce additional aural phenomena, weighting the various spectral areas differently as they were slowly introduced, swept through frequencies, and faded out. I found my awareness of the slowly spectrum moving from one tone to another, as the oscillators moved in and out of my concentration. As with the early phase-shifting work of Steve Reich or the films of Michael Snow, I became conscious of my scanning of the aural seascape, as a sound slowly achieved a level that was noticible. Not everyone is able to provoke an awareness of that relationship between self and stimulus, and Ximm’s work, presented in the focused gallery setting, did so quite successfully, for me at least.

9pm Gal*in_dog (electroacoustic soundscapes/21st century composition)

Guillermo Galindo’s performance setup contrasted nicely with Ximm’s minimalist elements. Central to Ximm’s performance was a MAX algorithmic construction running on a laptop.

Sources that fed the program sounds included recorded samples, a crucifix constructed out of rods and coils that made it a giant electromagnetic pickup, and a kalimba/thumb piano with an internal pickup. Galindo’s MAX program modulated and repeated the input sounds, with source and output parameters triggered by a number of MIDI tabletop switches, foot switches, and at least one footpedal sending a range of values. The tabletop switches included some custom-made light-sensitive switches paired with two small and focused light sources, between which he moved his hands to shadow and reveal the light sources–thus causing the switch to send a MIDI message back to MAX.

Galindo’s performance began with his starting a bed of sounds, then donning a skimask, goggles, and using both hands to pick up his custom crucifix. He brought the mic close to and away from a few electromagnetic sources (including a guitar amplifier, a hand drill, his laptop, and what looked to me to be an electric fan with the blades removed).

The output from the crucifix/mic was fed into MAX and into the speakers, making a kind of sound painting of the electro-magnetic fields radiating from the objects, and extending into the surrounding space, and the audience. It made the existence of the otherwise invisible radiation quite palpable, and crossed the territories between music, sculpture, and painting.

As might be expected from a musician with Galindo’s experience and training, the sounds were themselves clear and differentiated, and throughout the evening never became muddied. More often than not, they had a tonal center, and were clean of any trigger sounds and early envelope clipping. I mention this not to denegrate composers who use such sonic attributes as compositional content, but just to note that in addition to Galindo’s dramatics, he had a professional’s attention to the quality of each sound in itself.

I wasn’t able to discern–through listening–a logic in the MAX program used to sequence macro developments through time. Certainly Galindo was paying attention to every moment’s sound, and it’s switching in and out in his performances’ micro-structures. I would have to experience the piece again to become sensitive to any larger developmental structures in the work that may have been there. I’ll leave this, then, to the readers of this review, and simply encourage you to attend any future performances by either of these composers. And of course, to attend future Thursday night performances at The Luggage Gallery.

gal*in_dog AKA Guillermo Galindo

Quiet American Aaron Ximm

Information on upcoming Thursday performances:

Concert Review: Elzweig/Perlmutter and Lower Case Curry

This is the third in a series of reviews on the LSG New Music concert
series, held at the Luggage Store Gallery in San Francisco.

The concert was held on January 26, 2006 at 8:00 pm. Following the
standard format of this series, there were two groups performing.
8:00 pm Solos and Duos: Marc Elzweig (bass clarinet) and Michael
Perlmutter (Saxophones). With Liam Staskawicz (trombone) Star Holder
(french horn) and Jesse Olsen (trap set).

This performance comprised a number of short pieces, that were in fact
solos, duets, and a small group including all those above.

I seem incapable of walking into this series on time. As we walked up the
stairs to the gallery, Mr. Perlmutter bent over the railing and greeted
us with a long lunar note from his saxophone. As we made it to the
gallery we saw that the players were distributed around the periphery of
the gallery, playing to the surrounded audience, with all
instrumentalists eyes on Mr. Perlmutter for cues.

Following this introductory hug, Perlmutter and Elzweig played together a
short piece that was based on a Bulgarian folk song–somewhat loosened at
the seams, allowing the tune to move between rhythmic, melodic and almost
ambient delivery. Several of the pieces spanned this range.
The next piece was a solo by Elzweig, slowly presenting the sonic
fullness of the bass clarinet.

The pieces from Elzweig’s solo through the end seemed to focus on
technical strategies to blowing and fingering the instruments that
generated sonic qualities unique to the instruments.

Perlmutter presented a song with the word “Birth” in the title that began
with a full breathiness through the sax, and over the course of a couple
of minutes, led through a growing presence and complexity to a final
pitched note. The gallery is a great place for this kind of piece, as it
is small enough and live enough for the subtleties of such an approach to
be heard well.

The next piece sounded to me to have Klezmer roots, but continued the
breathy blowing of the previous piece. This was followed by another sax
solo with Perlmutter tapping the valves open and closed without blowing,
creating a percussive effect not unlike the sound of a picked electric
bass. This was followed by another sax and bass clarinet duet, and a
final piece performed by all members of the group.

While this group’s music was not electronically generated nor enhanced,
it shared a materialist focus on the product generated by a physical
instrument. Perlmutter stayed away from the more common squeals of an
excited sax and he and Elzweig instead gave highly-magnified views of
what are usually micro-moments: the attack sound of the valve covers
hitting the opening at the beginning of a note, and the usually brief
startup that bridges silence and pitched sound. These, together with the
rich granularity of an extended note’s vibration, were for me the primary
subjects of this first set of the evening.

The second set (9:00 pm) was by a group with my favorite name: “Lower
Case Curry”. Nary an Indian in the group, though. MaryClare Bryzwa on
electric flute and MAX (running on a Mac notebook), Mike Sopko on
electric guitar, and Noah Phillips on prepared electric guitar.

LCC performed twice for their set. There did not appear to be a great
deal of interplay among the musicians, although each undoubtedly was
listening to the overall sound, and deciding what to play as a result of
that consideration.

Sopko sat in the middle of the three and for the most part played as fast
as possible, playing scalar runs of notes of equal length and loudness,
with short pauses from time to time. His delivery seemed self-absorbed,
which I don’t mean as a criticism, just an observation. Like Pollock
delivering paint he ploughed into his single-note riffs and runs,
delivering a consistant sonic texture that seemed to pause when the riff
ran out, as opposed to sonic cues from other members.

Phillips’ sounds were texture- rather than scale-based. He achieved a
remarkable range of timbres and textures using a variety of mechanical
materials (including I believe steel wool, a small egg-beater, and
various rubbing, tapping and bowing tools), as well as maybe a dozen
analog effects pedals.

Bryzwa started the set on flute, singing through it and delivering
breath-long notes, while also generating and modulating tones using MAX.
Her sounds mixed with Phillips’ to create an atmosphere that wrapped
around Sopko’s muted but furious 32nd notes.

The Noodles: Performance at LSG in SF

The Noodles: LSG in SF.

This is the second review on Outsound’s “LSG New Music Series” held on Thursday evenings in San Francisco.

Outsound is a collective of “explorative sound artists” who present performances throughout the SF Bay area. Information on Outsound may be found at

This particular series is being held at the Luggage Store Gallery, 1007 Market Street (near 6th) in San Francisco, and curated by musicians Rent Romus andMatt Davignon. It is the longest-standing experimental music series in the Bay Area, having been operating since 1991. Past performers have included Cecil Taylor, Alan Silva, Henry Kaiser, Fred Frith and many others.

On January 16 there were two performances: one by Daniel Martin-McCormick, and one by The Noodles (Suki O’Kane, Michael Zelner, and Allen Whitman.

I arrived toward the end of Daniel Martin-McCormick’s opening set, so I won’t say too much about it. He was using an amplified electric guitar to produce non-melodic and non-rhythmic sounds, layering them with sounds from CDs, and using a variety of effects modules. I’m sorry I arrived late as I would have liked to have heard more of his music.

The Noodles set up two on the floor and one in a chair, behind his effects rack with wheels. All three musicians switched between instruments and sound-makers. The instrument-shaped sound triggers I noticed were bass and electric guitars and a MIDI breath controller. Other sound generating devices included ipods, radios, a function generator and a button-interfaced sample player Suki O’Kane played with her fingers.

Michael Zelner sent his breath controller MIDI signals through two MIDI sound boxes and to a MIDI signal distributer, through to a number of effects modules. The audio signals from his MIDI modules were passed into a Mackie mixer and sent out into the PA.

Suki O’Kane split her time between rubbing the strings of her electric guitar near the bridge, and using her fingers to send out arhythmic cluster-clouds of short samples from her drum machine. She also tuned a radio receiver in, out, and between stations.

For the first part of the approximately 50-minute set Allen Whitman played samples from ipods or similar devices. For the second part, he picked up a bass and repeated non-obtrusive measures.

The overall soundscape was, like what I heard from Martin-McCormick, without melody or clearly articulated rhythm. The sounds were not new-agey, they were more machine-and-city sounds for that. For my ears they were not ambient either, too loud for that. But they did stay as ground without figure, a shifting, low-lying set of slow-moving textures.I perceived no tonal centers throughout the piece, other than occasional music from (I believe) a radio tuner, that was faded in and out of the mix without further modulation. I understand that The Noodles often modulate sounds picked up from the area they are playing in, but I did not notice that, if it occurred. The music changed but I noticed no sonic or musical structures that implied either direction or temporal modulation. This was an improvisation for the moment.

Information on the Outsound LSG New Music Series may be found at and .

Jon Brumit’s Vendetta Retreat: A Review

A Performance Review:

On January 12, 2006, Jon Brumit and musicians performed in San Francisco’s Luggage Store Gallery. The lineup included:

Jon Brumit – director/drums/guitar
Joe Goldring – baritone guitar
Wayne Grim – baritone guitar
Suki O’Kane – drums/percussion
Lee Montgomery – sampler/electronics/laptop/radio

There was a third drummer, but I didn’t catch his name.

This was the loudest concert I’d been at since Glen Branca. But interesting stuff. There were two sonic strategies that I thought worked well for the group. One consisted of single, enormously loud hits by all drummers together. All three drummers delivered a synchronized hit of kick drum, snare/or tom, and cymbol. Immediately after smashing the cymbol the drummer(s) muted it. In the small loft space, at this volume (also amplified with 15″ PAs) the effect was to send the reverberation of the stacatto hits off the walls, hanging it in the air for several seconds. It wasn’t an echo, but a shimmering blast. I doubt it could be accomplished without the amplitude. I loved it–though I do believe I’ve lost five years of hearing that I was kinda counting on…

The second sonic strategy that worked for me was a sustained attack on guitars, drums and possibly electronics, lasting a couple minutes at a time. No definite pitches, no clear rhythm, but a wall of sustained noise that you could “search” actively listening to different parts of the sonic spectrum.

This second strategy took me back to a vinyl album I’d heard in 1970, of La Monte Young rubbing a gong for about 45 minutes. Again–as I remember–no definite rhythm, so melody, just a full spectrum of sound and resonance–like dark Morris Louis veils. I’m sure La Monte Young’s performance was nowhere near the volume Brumit’s group produced (and it would not have occurred to me to turn up speakers or headphones to that level), but the oceanic quality of the sound was similar for me.

Over the 30 minutes or so of the piece, I noticed maybe 12 or 14 distinct sections, and there were various other quieter and occasionally less minimal strategies played. For me, these two were the most, uh, striking. And like Branca, I don’t think this particular piece would reproduce well as a recording. But in person, within this space, it was fascinating.

Brumit opened with a laptop piece that seemed a bit less raw, but I missed the beginning of the piece, so I can’t really report on it, apologies.

The concert was a CD release event for “Vendetta Retreat”, released on Edgetone Records.