Mar. 3 Toneburst Laptop Ensemble - Wesleyan University - Middletown, Connecticut
Paula Matthusen is a brilliant young composer now teaching at Wesleyan and directing the Toneburst Laptop Ensemble. As its name suggests, Toneburst is dedicated to developing the use of the laptop as a performing instrument in an ensemble context. The 14-person group plays music by its members as well as other compositions adapted for it. In 2009, Paula wrote a comprehensive Max patch to perform “Hammer Anvil Stirrup” with her Florida-based laptop ensemble FLEA. “Hammer Anvil Stirrup” is a simple algorithmic piece that I composed in 1988 for the Avanti String Quartet, a Finnish group. There are core written materials and operations to be performed on the materials. The instrument that Paula created to perform the piece includes sound synthesizers, attack/decay control, a filter, and even a saturation control to generate harmonic distortion. I was sent mp3’s of a rehearsal three weeks in advance to offer feedback that would help focus their realization of the work. The always-inflationary weather service projected a massive winter snow storm for the day of the concert but by Sunday evening it was evident that the storm would miss us. Sean Sonderegger picked me up for the two-hour drive to Middletown and after arrival, I had time to relax and caffeinate before soundcheck/dress rehearsal. The biggest issue for the ensemble with this piece is inherent in the nature of using a laptop. It’s just not physically easy to hit the keys of a laptop in a way to really groove, an important aspect. It might be more ‘natural’ for the instrument at hand to sequence the groove sections of the piece and then use the controls in the patch for timbre, register, pitch-manipulation, filtering et al. Still, the group performed quite well with some of the sections eliciting startlingly beautiful textures or layered disparate sounds. Every piece on the program had a unique approach to the manifestation of music by a laptop ensemble. Daniel Iglesia’s 3D-Lissajous patterns generated from audio synthesis were spectacular. The event was happily free of the deadened air present in so many “laptop concerts”.
Feb. 13 - Artist Gamin - Korean Cultural Service - Manhattan
Gamin and I first met at the ISIM Conference last June and our plans to collaborate in some near future came to fruition with this event. Gamin is a virtuoso on traditional Korean double-reed instruments piri and taepyeongso (also called hojok) as well as on the saeng hwang, a 17-pipe mouth organ derived from the Chinese sho. Waking just after dawn, I was greeted by a total white-out: snow blowing in every direction including up - a beautiful and inspiring sight to accompany my first cup of bean. The twins were disapointed that school remained open. This weather did not necessarily bode badly for the concert as snow often carries an air of fun about it and New Yorkers seem to enjoy that particular meteorological challenge. Rain on the other hand seems to cause most residents of this town to stay hidden in their flats huddled over one kind of screen or other. As the day wore on and the snow changed to freezing rain and ice, the dreaded “winter mix”, our communications indicated low expectations for the concert turnout. Getting up to 57th St. for soundcheck proved to be quite a challenge. One first had to navigate street crossings, with every corner a seemingly bottomless slush-filled pit. Subway service was erratic at best and torturously slow. It took me well over an hour to make a trip that would normally be about 18 minutes. The venue was on the 6th floor of an office building on Park Avenue and though a bit sterile, it was filled with unique art and there was a palpable energy in the space. On arriving, I found that nothing was set up even though the house would be opening in 40 minutes. Rob Friedman was there to record and the two of us set up the simple PA into which I plugged my Sinsonido and Celmo compressor. Gamin did not need amplification nor did the pianist, Hyo-Jee Kang, or percussionist Satoshi Takeishi. To our surprise, the space was filled by the starting time. The first half of the concert began with “Sangryungsan”, a piri solo by Gamin after which “Metamorphose 2014” was performed, a 40-minute movement work with music by pianist Hyo-Jee Kang, choreography by Jee-Yoon Hong, and improvised sounds and movement by Gamin. This abstract narrative had no discernible story but was always engaging, sometimes whimsical, sometimes dark, and impeccably timed, the result of extensive rehearsal. After a short break, Gamin played a solo on saeng hwang. It’s an incredible instrument and her playing was ethereal and compelling. She switched back to piri for our duet, a 10-minute piece that was truly a dialog with interlocking sounds and ideas and a concentrated power throughout. Finally, the trio with Satoshi who was using an incredibly compact kit based on frame drums but with a huge sonic range, Gamin playing the hojok and I adding some saturation and distortion to my sound. If there was a ‘fuzz-guitar’ in Korean traditional music, the hojok would be it. Its’ sound is bright and strident, similar to the Tibetan shawm and the tzourna and its relatives found throughout the Mediterranean. I first heard the hojok as a student of Charles Keil in Buffalo. Chuck was a big fan of the Korean ‘farmers’ dance music’ whose instrumentation consisted of multiple hojoks and drums and he liked to draw the sonic connection between that music and Coltrane’s and Albert Ayler’s. Our trio was raucous though not chaotic. The sounds felt inevitable together and the form was a steady-state unfolding of intensity. Great response by the audience and a chance to say hello to some old friends and new. After, we exited into a solid wall of pouring rain and a mad dash to the subway for a quick ride to Koreatown and a great meal.
Feb. 7 - Mare Undarum - Spectrum - Manhattan
This event was the first of a series, Born Into Flames, organized by composer and multi-instrumentalist John King. Though premiered with the Sirius String Quartet last October, tonight’s set included only violist Ron Lawrence from the quartet. The other musicians were Rachel Golub on violin, Jessica Pavone on viola, and Adam Fisher on cello. I brought the Sinsonido, Double Muff fuzz, and PitchFactor. Joseph Kubera was performing John Cage’s seminal 1951 piano work Music of Changes at 7:30pm so I made it a point to arrive in time to hear it. I’ve known Joe since my Buffalo days and have always been amazed at his virtuosity. He played as a guest with the Janacek Philharmonic for the Ostrava performance of On Corlear’s Hook which will appear on my upcoming CD on Starkland. As always, Joe brings both grace and power as well as incredible musicality to his interpretations. The performance was especially Cage-an given the external environment: Spectrum is on Ludlow near Delancey, both busy streets on the Lower East Side, especially on a Friday night. Somehow the full tessitura of traffic sounds came in most poignantly and amusingly during loaded silences. At one point, an upright walking bass began to be heard from a club on the ground floor of the building. It framed Cage’s music in such a way that the piano began to sound more like a particularly acerbic Monk solo or Cecil Taylor from one of his late ‘50’s Contemporary sides. Swingin’!
Our setup was easy as the string players were all unamplified. I plugged into the house guitar amp with the speaker turned toward the rear of the stage in order to allow my sound to blend more with the acoustic instruments. Mare Undarum is exactly 40 minutes in length and I used a stopwatch to keep track of the time and to cue the players in and out of each of the systems. The music is left open to the players’ interpretation: thus is the nature of a graphic score. The score is completely constructed using sine-wave modulations of the notation images so I did suggest certain strategies that the musicians might use to make corresponding sounds and gestures. The music was of high intensity right from the outset. This is not to say that it was always loud and dense, because it wasn’t - there were sections of great delicacy and transparency. The intensity was in the listening and playing.
Feb. 5 - Benefit for WSB@100 Festival - Bowery Electric - Manhattan
Both a fundraiser and a teaser for April’s festival honoring William Burroughs, this event, on Burroughs’ actual birthday, was organized by bassist James Ilgenfritz. WSB@100 will take place at a number of venues in the city and I’ll take part in a collaboration with actor Steve Buscemi and Bachir Attar of the Master Musicians of Jahjoukah at Issue Project Room. On this evening I arrived in time to catch some wonderful noise from Lea Bertucci on bass clarinet with Leila Bordreuil on cello followed by an interminable and cringeworthy set from Talibam, only leavened by the guest appearance of poet Steve Dalachinsky reading a Burroughs cut-up. Anne Waldman was up next with saxophonist Devin Brahja with three dynamic pieces - Anne riffing on Burroughs texts while Devin provided subtle accompaniment.
We followed: a trio with James and Joe Tomino on drums/electronics. Joe also performs in Dub Trio and as a hired gun for various artists. He has a deep groove and great sense of drama. I brought the Aluminator guitar and the Digitech RP250 processor. The Aluminator has a fast neck plus a unique mid-range sound due to its machined billet-aluminum body which also enhances the visual notion of ‘heavy metal’, a term first used (outside of discussions of the Periodic Table) in Burroughs’ early writings. In his 1962 novel The Soft Machine, WSB introduces “Uranian Willy, the Heavy Metal Kid”. In 1964’s Nova Express, he develops this theme further, with “heavy metal” used as a metaphor for drug addiction. “With their diseases and orgasm drugs and their sexless parasite life forms - Heavy Metal People of Uranus wrapped in cool blue mist of vaporized bank notes - And the Insect People of Minraud with metal music”.
Our set most definitely referenced ‘heavy metal’ but in an oblique and cut-up way with angular rhythms building up then shattering. The patches I programmed in the RP250 allowed me to sweep delays for unpredictable effects plus generate saturated tones on the verge of runaway feedback. After, David Grubbs performed an enthralling solo on electric guitar followed by a sonically intense and theatrical set by Aaron Dilloway of Wolf Eyes.
Jan. 11 - Orchestra Carbon performs Quarks Swim Free - Winter Jazzfest - Manhattan
We were scheduled for a late hit, 11:45pm in the lounge of the NYU Law School. I had grave reservations about the space as the last time I performed in this multi-venue festival, my concert was in a gym: pale green fluorescent lights, horrendous acoustics, and the smell of legions of male armpits: not exactly conducive to the making of music. This spot proved to be much more civilized with a décor of Oriental carpets, leather furniture, and vintage oil portraits of distinguished white men in suits: a suitable place for spawning future corporate shills, prevaricators, leeches, and litigators (and perhaps a scant few public-minded and -spirited rogues). Still, the acoustics were quite decent and I thought the Orch would sound good. Our plan was to use little amplification: nothing for the trombones or percussion but mics on the two violas, the acoustic bassists through amps, one mic on the piano, and one for my tenor sax. I had just been cleared by my surgeon to play horn again but had already started practicing very softly to regain some embouchure in advance of the gig. I used a lighter setup: an old Meyer 7 rubber mouthpiece with a medium reed, much less burly than my normal metal Brilhardt Levelaire and medium-hard reed. I couldn’t really blow full force yet without feeling some excess pressure so I knew I’d need the help from the PA. We had a brief ensemble meeting out in the lobby to review the conduction commands and to discuss a new one to introduce looping. No soundcheck, just some quick levels and we hit. Good intensity and focus throughout the set and some transcendent moments with brilliant playing from everyone. The group included pianist Jenny Lin, Judith Insell and Jessica Pavone on violas, Terry Greene and Steve Swell on trombones, Reuben Radding and Kevin Ray on basses, and Danny Tunick on percussion and vibraphone.
Jan. 11 - Gibbs/McKenzie/E# Trio - Brooklyn Music School Benefit - Brooklyn
Don McKenzie with the help of Carla Nassy did a fantastic job organizing this event to raise money for a community music school located in his Fort Greene neighborhood
The extremely eclectic program included Vanessa Bley, Mr. Complex, Cookies, Melvin Gibbs, Kelsey from Pillow Theory, DJ Logic, Evan Patrick, Emanuel Ruffler, Sewer Rats ft. CX KiDTRONiK, Snowflake, Mandingo, and Don himself. I had been working at Studio zOaR all day and at 4:30 noticed the sky darkening ominously so thought I’d better get home to prepare for the evening’s activities. Grabbed my tenor and headed into the wind on Avenue C as droplets of rain began to fall. No taxis, no buses so I started to walk. Within 30 seconds a cab came by and just after I got in the sky opened up in a major downpour. Lucky. Home for dinner with the nuc, quick change of clothing, and to grab the Sinsonido plus tenor then out the door for a pickup by Carla with Logic (Jason) in the car. Rain not too bad as we crossed on the Manhattan Bridge and entered the school. The school director, Faruz, was extremely welcoming and the scene downstairs “backstage” was quite hospitable. As it began to fill up with musicians, a party atmosphere emerged. Don, Melvin, and I hit the stage at 8:15 and commenced our set with my brief solo. We clicked in pretty quickly to a sound both funky and psychedelic. I brought only the Double Muff pedal and was digging the thick sweet fuzz it provided, a nice contrast to the bright woody sound of the unprocessed Sinsonido. The room, with seating for about 150, has wonderful acoustics. We used no PA, just amps for Melvin and I, nothing on the drums. A pleasure to play on a stage where the sound is full, rich, and transparent. Back downstairs, a big surprise to see the maestro himself, Cecil Taylor, holding court. We joined him in some Verve Clicquot and were regaled with pithy, hilarious, and sometimes oblique commentaries on current and historial issues and various musicians - quite an thrill. The time flew by as various performers stopped in to pay respects and soon it was necessary to get a car and head into Manhattan for my hit with Orchestra Carbon at Winter Jazzfest.
Jan. 1 - St. Mark’s Poetry Project Benefit - Manhattan
Always a good way to begin the year, this event is also a fine opportunity to meet up with rarely-seen friends. Tracie Morris asked me to accompany her on the Willie Dixon/Howlin’ Wolf classic “Smokestack Lightning”. I played the Sinsonido DI into the PA and maintained the groove even as we stretched it way out with Tracie’s ululations making the big room ring. After that hit, great to speak with bassist Ernie Brooks about his young days in Boston and Cambridge seeing the Wolf and Paul Butterfield among many others at Club 47 and attending Newport Folk Festival concerts in ‘63 & ‘64 including the notorious Dylan electric set. Coincidentally, the day before I had just finished reading Eric von Schmidt’s enlightening and entertaining history of the Cambridge folk scene of the 50’s and ‘60’s, “Baby Let Me Follow You Down”. Later in the evening, for my own set, I performed an instrumental slide version of Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning”. The twins ate pizza and before we headed home, we let them burn off steam in the historic churchyard.
Dec. 23 - Downtown Music Gallery Benefit - Bowery Electric - Manhattan
It’s a sad sign of the times when the artists need to get out the picks and shovels (and guitars) to help maintain one of the last of the great Manhattan record stores, one that has worked hardest over the years to promote our output. So many factors have contributed to this current state of things: the rise of the internet combined with easy digitalization and the general devaluation of recorded music. The result is that except for corporate mega-products, the sale of “hard” music media such as CD’s is not enough to maintain the small specialty shops, especially in expensive real-estate markets like New York City. (We won’t even begin to write at this time and place about how all of the arts here have been transformed by real-estate, and not for the better.) Some record shops have managed to transform themselves into multi-use cafes/boutiques/music distribution centers. It seems to me the only viable strategy. I miss going to record stores to hear and see the latest but also to meet and hook up with like-minded people. Back in the day, many bands and personal relationships started in record stores over a bin of obscure vinyl! This event is a combination of holiday party and fundraiser. Great to have it in the comfortable Bowery Electric, near the site of the old CBGB. Backline and sound-system and house acoustics are all fine and as an added bonus, the incredibly talented singer/songwriter Michelle Casillas was bartending! Check out her band Ursa Minor: https://www.facebook.com/URSAMINORNYC. The evening commenced with drummer Dee Pop in duo with singer/guitarist Val Opielski doing a Beat/noise/punk set made even better at the end with the addition of Nels Cline on guitar and a full-on No-Wave attack. Melvin, Don, and I quickly set up for our set. I brought the SG which sounded super-sweet on this occasion with the gain set so that I was always on the edge of feedback (or over - that was fine, too). We played a 35-minute piece then another for 10 or so - the first one a long flowing abstract gesture with sudden breakdowns and shifts - very melodic - and the second in a dark minor key with a bubbling chattering bass solo from Melvin and a touch of dubbed out country blues to finish. The twins accompanied J to the show and watched in front for a bit before retiring to the bar where they could view the performance on the big screen. Guitarists Raoul Bjorkenheim and Anders Nilsson continued the evening with drummer Tim Keiper and Shanir Blumenkranz sounding fine on electric bass for a jazzy and flowing set. Nels finished the evening with bassist Devin Hoff, drummer Michael TA Thompson, and trumpeter Michael Leonhardt in a hypnotic set running the Miles-ian voodoo down and gleefully punking out. A great evening of music and camaraderie that made us sexagenarians a bit nostalgic for the “good old days”. An excerpt from the beginning of our set may be viewed here:
(photo by Nels!)
Dec. 15 - L’Age de L’Eau/ In The Pelagic Zone - Porgy & Bess - Wien
We arrived late in Wien so our small-group rehearsal on Saturday was scheduled for the late-afternoon at a studio near the Prater amusement park. L’Age de L’Eau is a set of notated gestures, each a few bars long. Some are more melodic, some textural, some rhythmic. Interpretation is open to the players. The select group of players from Studio Dan included Daniel Riegler on trombone, Clemens Salesny on reeds, Clemens Wenger on keyboard, Bernd Satzinger on electric bass, and drummer Matthias. I had played both tenor sax and guitar during the 2011 gigs but I’m still not recovered enough for the big horn so only used guitar. We all felt our performances of the piece two years previously were a tad unfocussed and so I had a strong desire to hone the essences and cut down on the noodling. Our first run-through in rehearsal had a little too much pasta but our second was breathtakingly perfect. Nothing to do then but stop and head as a group to a revered pizzeria in the 2nd district for dinner. When I arrived at the Porgy on Sunday afternoon, Studio Dan was already set up and going through sounds. I assembled my rig and we did a quick check and rehearsal before breaking for a bite. The evening’s program began with the small group performing a compact and powerful version of L’Age de L’Eau, burning and well-shaped overall. After the intermission, In The Pelagic Zone was played and reached new heights. On The Beach rocked hard and Daniel gave me the space for a long and wild guitar solo. We all felt a little stunned at the end from the intensity of the performance. After a thick silence, the audience responded with long, loud, and gleeful applause. Lots of greets after the show then I returned to the hotel to pack and catch two hours of sleep before heading to the airport for my flight to Brussels and from there on to NYC. The night was cold and foggy and we underwent a thorough de-icing before take-off, a dramatic process.
More about Studio Dan here: http://studiodan.weblog.mur.at/en/
Dec. 13 - In The Pelagic Zone/Momentum Anomaly - InterPenetration Festival - Graz
After the workshop, I was able to enjoy Thursday off in Graz, a welcome chance to read, write, and work on some drum tracks that had been sitting unfinished on the hard drive. On Friday at 6, Studio Dan trombonist Philip Yeager picked me up at the hotel and brought me to the Forum StadtPark, the venue for this small festival of new music. The Forum is a historic site in Graz, scene in the 1960’s of presentations of experimental literature and theater. Over the years, the programming expanded to include dance and music. When I arrived, Studio Dan, fourteen strong, had already set up and was completing sound check. I quickly plugged in my pedals into a silverface Fender Bassman head with a Marshall speaker cabinet. It sounded fine. We first rehearsed the section in which I’d play, On The Beach, and then conductor Daniel Riegler went over other modules. They had rehearsed in the days before in Wien and the ensemble sounded incredibly tight and powerful. The promoters were preparing food for us but unfortunately the plans and the reality did not exactly mesh. The concert was supposed to begin at 9pm but as of 8:45, dinner was still not ready. There were a series of slides projected on the wall instructing those present not to complain to the cooks about timing but to be patient, to not criticize the food, to not foster bad vibes in the cooks, and about the philosophy of feeding many people with a small budget. All well and good, I suppose, though the attitude was unnecessarily condescending plus there was still the reality of having to play a concert either hungry or digesting - neither a good alternative. (I prefer to perform a little hungry but was told there would not be any food available after the concert. We also had a three-hour bus ride to Wien awaiting us when we finished the performance.) I gobbled some soup and bread and hit the stage for a 20-minute Momentum Anomaly. Studio Dan then performed In The Pelagic Zone in its entirety. I hadn’t heard the piece since Daniel and I mastered the recording in the summer of 2011 at Studio zOaR and was very pleased. I felt that Daniel added new intensity to his interpretation and conduction. Audience response was strong. We had only a little time for post-gig greetings before piling all of the equipment and ourselves into a large bus for the drive to Wien over the foggy mountain autobahn.