Centuries ago I purchased tickets for last night’s sold-out Yeasayer show at Webster Hall. For those unfamiliar with the Brooklyn-based band, their popularity and acclaim exploded with the release of their 2007 album All Hour Cymbals. All Hour Cymbals features a unique and refreshing mix of world rhythms, folk sensibilities, vocal harmonies, and electronic textures, at times evoking David Byrne or Peter Gabriel. It was weird enough to stand out, and a successfull, well-received album tour only heightened the band’s visibility. Earlier this year they released their second and hugely anticipated album, Odd Blood. The new album is in many ways a step away from their previous sound, heavier on noticeably artificial timbres and more reliant on driving, harder-hitting rhythms, a dance-inspired approach likely resulting from the touring experience.
Last night they appeared with a polished and visually enhanced live show, starting with Odd Blood opener “The Children” and making their way through reworked versions of most of their material. Their latest album is in many ways a product of the studio, and it was interesting to see how they distributed sound-generating duties among the band. Probably the most traditional role-player was the percussionist (there were two) who sat at a standard rock kit. Everyone else may have tended toward rock band roles, but ultimately found themselves performing with multiple instruments. One of the more exciting elements of their sound generation was the work of bassist Ira Wolf Tuton, who at times ran his bass through effects that allowed him to play along with songs in non-basso voices.
I expected programming All Hour Cymbals songs with Odd Blood songs to present a greater challenge than it did. Although they’re certainly rock-oriented, Yeasayer are more than anything postmodern pop artists. The trick to their success is the way their eclecticism combines into an inviting, affective sound, rather than parade as pastiche, nostalgia, or fruitless oddity, although I know some would disagree with this assessment of the band. The real — and I suppose conservative/unfortunate — power of today’s post-postmodern is its ability to absorb and integrate outside elements into a cohesive flow. I might hear and recognize Middle Eastern rhythms, 80s synth sequences, and doo-wop harmonizing, but they’re beyond the point of presenting themselves as such.
Yeasayer rendered some of their songs in a rock-heavier vein than their recordings, which better suited the live environment. Although the songs sounded wonderfully new in this live context, there seemed to be little room for improvisation or risk, aside from a few very safe guitar parts. They also performed no unknown material. Yeasayer certainly delivered for fans of their music, with popular hits “O.N.E.,” “Ambling Alp,” and encore selection “Sunrise” generating the most excitement, but I hope they use their next tour to open their sequences an allow things to get a little looser.
While Yeasayer succeeded to sponge a world of influence, Brooklyn-based duo Sleigh Bells played to lesser effect. Heavy, distorted guitar and lackluster drum machine beats provided a background for singer Alexis Krauss to scream, shout, and jump around. The duo has been gaining popularity, may have unique pop potential, and did show (Alexis, anyway) more energy and on-stage personality than anyone else that night, but I found no connection or productive confrontation with their music.
Opener Seagull provided a distorted and at times minimal noise set that I won’t remember long, but it enjoyably flexed Webster Hall’s bass cabinets. They also played in the center of the venue with the disco ball lowered just above their heads, immediately transforming the space into something more interesting than the standard stage-based hall it normally is. Having an opener completely different from the headliner, rather than a poorer version of the same, was a smart way to start the show.
Brooklyn noise artist Carlos Giffoni made his way to Brooklyn from Venezuela via Miami and has spent the last decade building up a catalogue of experimental sound excursions using both digital and analog production techniques. He created and operates Brooklyn’s annual No Fun Fest (funded yearly on credit cards, I’ve read), as well as the label No Fun Productions, which put out my favorite release of 2009. His latest album, Severance on Hospital Productions passes on noise aggression and takes a more inviting, dynamic approach to sound, allowing for minimal and concentrated development. His recent work as No Fun Acid explodes genres outside his usual sound with a free, noisy perspective.
In a couple of weeks he’ll be performing for Bunker in their three-week runofuntouchable lineups [note: this last show included Shed when this was written]. I had a chance to ask him a few questions about his work.
Here’s a live set of his from Vimeo:
Bijan: How has your approach to music production and performance changed over the past decade?
Carlos Giffoni: I think as far as live performance I have more of a solid structure now, there is still some improvisation within the overall structure, but I spend more time getting ready for each live show and try to make it something unique while adding familiar elements here and there for people that have my recordings.
Production hasn’t changed much, I have much better equipment and recording setup that I had 10 years ago, but for the most part I am still recording the same way, creating layers and parts live instead of overdubbing, things just end up sounding much more alive to me that way.
I also have a much easier time now throwing stuff out that I am not happy with and starting from scratch and even delaying projects if necessary. No reason to try to put everything out there, better to spend longer and finishing with something you can get behind 100%.
B: Describe your current recording process.
CG: It changes from track to track, but a lot of the time a track starts from a structural idea in my head, then finding the right combination within my gear to make it happen and experimenting and adding to that until it feels ready. Once I have the whole thing worked out as a full piece, and only then, do I hit record. This means one piece might take several days or even weeks to setup, but the actual recording is in real time, I might do a few takes and pick the best one but that’s about it.
B: What’s the No Fun Acid project all about? Have you been playing live for noise-oriented crowds? Dance-oriented crowds?
CG: Is a project inspired by parties in South America/Miami I used to go to when younger, using a classic Acid synth line approach but expanding that in many directions. Some sets have been more noisy, some sets have been straight explorations/revaluations of the early acid techno/house style.
Have been playing it in all contexts I can play it in.
B: What unique perspective/approach do you bring to this music?
CG: New approaches due to my involvement in experimental music, mixing things up with some noisy and psychedelic elements, layering some extra synths along with the 303 for example, and adding elements that are dissonant here and there.
On the other hand, for someone that is a fan of the genre there is a good chance they might really hate ‘no fun acid’ since I don’t have a deep knowledge of it and I am all over the place when it comes to ‘acid standards’, especially with the beats I use, they have nothing to do with whats normally expected in Acid. I think I might have offended some purists here and there.
B: You’re booked to play a Bunker show with Byetone and Aoki Takamasa in a few weeks. Are you going to be playing No Fun Acid material? How does your performance change depending on the context?
CG: I think I am going to something in between my solo performance and no fun acid for the Bunker show. I’ll be bringing some modular synths and keeping it mixed. Yes my performance always changes depending on venue, context and weather I am on tour promoting something or is a one off where I am freer to try things and equipment out.
B: Can you tell us (beyond the message on the site) why there’s no No Fun Fest this year? Will there be one for 2011?
CG: There is not much more to tell, the festival has grown beyond what I can handle at the moment unless I was running it like a business which was never my intention. I have other projects/ideas/jobs to take care of and I decided it was time for a break, think about re-conceptualizing the whole thing.
I will announce any decisions for 2011 once I make them. nothing new I can say on that front yet.
B: Does the title of your latest album, Severance, relate to the break in the festival?
CG: The title Severance refers to many and every break in my life, any points where I have had to make a decision to let go of something that was previously meaningful. I think as people grow older is normal to realize that instead of doing as much as possible in as many places as possible is better to narrow things down and do a really good job in the few aspects of life you really consider valuable, what other people think you should do only matters as reference point.
B: Are you able to generate money through the No Fun label?
CG: A little bit, it goes in peaks and valleys depending on the releases I have out at the moment. I have a label office that I also use a studio, and spaces in New York are not cheap so that pretty much takes all the label income.
B: New York City seems like a hotbed for noise, improv, and experimentation — any ideas why?
CG: This city always has had Amazing energy, additionally everyone plays here when on tour so you are constantly bombarded with ideas and perspectives from all over the world, and because is so easy to see live music and be exposed to art, you really get to see whats out there if you want and see where you can add something. This leads to lots of experimentation as people thrive to create something different and original while having a wide perspective of whats going on available to them.
B: Do you have any favorite NYC venues?
CG: I have always liked Glasslands in Williamsburg. The staff there is always on the ball and the owners are cool people. I’ve seen the place grow since its beginning and its constantly being improved.
I think the situation for medium size shows is pretty bad right now, however. Is getting tougher and tougher to find a place that has a professional approach and equipment and that supports far out music and that schedules lots of events. Unless somehow you can put together a bill for a large venues, a lot of the places where people are doing shows just feel like they were thrown together last minute.
We all miss having Tonic around, that was probably the greatest venue I got to play in in the 10 years I been here. Didn’t really realize it until it was gone.
B: Noise/experimental music is in many ways about exploration and discovery, but do you see any elements of stagnation in the scene?
CG: I see elements of stagnation only on people that get close minded about it and believe that experimental music should be limited to being one thing or the other. People sometimes think they are so open minded for liking ‘weird sounding’ music,noise,etc. But they don’t realize they are just being as close minded as it gets by limiting the options of what they will accept as viable or valuable.
B: What are you working on now?
CG: I am working on a new No Fun Acid track or two. I also recently finished and LP under my name that will come out on Editions Mego later this year. As well as a split LP with Oren Ambarchi that will come out on No Fun Productions.
I am also recording new synth pieces on my Buchla and Serge for a new recording project I haven’t fully shaped yet.
On Saturday, Sonic Groove celebrated its 20-year anniversary.
The lasting names of Sonic Groove are Heather Heart, Adam X, and his brother Frankie Bones, often called “the godfather of rave culture.” Bones had successful releases as early as 1988, but it’s really in the culture of the music and its dissemination where Sonic Groove made its most significant mark. Their Sonic Groove record shop (1990-2004) and STORMRave events set the standards for a movement that would outlive its once overshadowing style. Today the name lives on as a record label, run by Adam X out of Berlin.
Although I anticipated a big Brooklyn warehouse, the show actually took place at the West Side Jewish Center, the synagogue with a heart… in the heart of the city. I expected an overwhelming sound system to commemorate the occasion, but I was met with something less impressive (though it sounded just fine). With the crowd and DJs in the right frame of mind, the downstairs space becomes whatever it needs to be, and that’s what happened on Saturday.
Frankie Bones’ 2am celebratory hype had the greatest effect on the crowd, but the two women on the lineup had the most memorable sets. Heather Heart started the night with out-of-fashion throwbacks and aggressive, shuffle-less acid. The all-vinyl set was a celebration of the legacy she and her partners had crafted, and Heather exuded an infectious joy as she mixed.
Unlike Heather Heart, European visitor Dasha Rush betrayed little emotion during her performance, but she delivered the strongest set of the night. Dasha played a focused, controlled set of inorganic, electronic rhythms, minimal in the formal sense, “trance music” in the tradition of American minimalists and having nothing to do with the dance genre of the same name. Simultaneously cerebral and visceral, controlled releases of nameless sounds allowed a choice between close, deliberative listening to a kind of ecstatic unconsciousness, an other-worldly state beyond shuffling and nodding.
I conducted an email interview with Dasha Rush, winner of the prestigious Set of the Night Award. You can listen to one of her tracks while you read.
Bijan: What type of music do you make? Dasha Rush: I make electronic music in various styles. Not really into defining it. But if I were to simplify, I would say techno, experimental, ambient and so on… It’s hard to describe your own sound. I think the listener can do it better. But I would say my sound describes a part of me and how I see through my “filter,” and how I react, in a way, to what surrounds me emotionally/intellectually…
B: How did you get into this music? DR: I always loved music, since I was small. My way of coming to actually composing electronic music was that when I was a child I always wanted to play piano, so my parents brought me to music school. After approximately two months, they were splitting instruments among the kids. Piano was saturated with demands, and as my parents did not have close relations to school administrations, as the way it worked in Soviet times, I did not get a chance to play piano. So I got “Dombra,” a three string instrument which did not really inspire me. On the contrary I was shocked from the esthetic view of a little girl. So I ran away from that school. My Dad said that music’s not serious, that my grandma played piano, and it was useless in the end. So I did gymnastics and dance instead, but was listening to vinyl my parents had and dreaming with sounds and about sounds. One of the vinyl was particularly interesting, a band called “Zodiac.” It was electronic instrumental music, and the electronic part of it was intriguing me. I was very curious — where are those sounds coming from? Then my adolescent time came. It was the same time as techno/rave culture was coming up in Russia. Spent lots of time there. So I discovered an enormous world of different sounds, and of course was caught by it. Started digging more, learning how it was made, then began to DJ. And from my little frustration I think, it was a sort of revenge at bad luck with classical education, I started trying to make my own electronic sounds. It took some years before I found my way and got to where I am now.
B: Tell us about Fullpanda. DR: Fullpanda it’s my small record label, going forward with me and people who are working with me. I created it when I was living in Japan. The name came from personal jokes with my friends. They use to call me panda, they found I looked like one. So far, Fullpanda is a techno label, and we say: “All you need is ears,” meaning that if you want to know more, the music speaks better. It’s a label among the others, but our point in it is not business, it’s passion first.
B: Describe your live setup and process from Saturday night. What was the blue box? DR: Haha , My setup was pretty minimal , for reasons of long travel and customer service. In detail, I use Reaktor 5 standalone , 2 FLP studios running at the same time, couple of vsts. A Kaoss pad for external Fx , and my little baby “Blue box” that I built/soldered myself in a workshop in “Schneider’s Buero,” created by Manuel Richter from leaf-audio and Matthias, creator of Curetronic modular synth.
B: Your set exhibited a formal minimalism that stood apart from the other sets of the night. How do you restrain yourself to keep the pace and let elements out slowly? DR: Ow, that’s a difficult question. Well, I don’t really analyze things when I am playing live. It’s more of a feeling and emotion which I want to transmit. I don’t know if it’s minimalism, that’s the way you perceived it.
B: You’re really quite serious-looking up there, not that the music is any less serious. Are you just focused, or what’s going on? DR: Yes, it’s simply technical concentration. So many buttons to touch. Also, if I may say so, mostly I’m into head music more than fully body music, so my corporal or facial expression is sometimes disconnected, but trust me there’s a lot going on in the head and heart.
B: Any thoughts on the West Side Jewish Center? DR: Well, I found it funny, the choice of the location. In a way it’s interesting because,if you think about it it’s two elements of completely different culture indirectly coming together for a night.
B: What’s your relationship with Sonic Groove? How did you end up playing this show? DR: Musically, my relation to Sonic Groove is that I just released an EP on SG. Also personally, I and Adam X are friends and colleagues who share the same passion for music. We have already shared together, and enjoy each other’s production.
B: How did the show go for you? How did you feel about your set? Any sets in particular that stood out to you? DR: I enjoyed playing and sharing those moments with people I don’t even know, really. About my set, well, we always critique ourselves. There were moments that I could do better, but that’s the thing — when you play live, you can be surprised in a good or bad way. About the other artists, I enjoyed the music, because most of the artists played old school records that I know, so it brings memories. I liked Abe very much, as well as Frankie, and Adam — and some artists upstairs as well. I have no particular highlight.
B: How was the New York crowd for you? DR: New York crowd rocks. But seriously, New York, Berlin, Rome, London are slightly different in certain aspects, but people are people — with energy and beautiful and ugly moments. People are basically the same everywhere — they want to enjoy, dream, and so on.
B: Where else in the US have you performed? DR: USA is pretty unknown for me, I have played Mexico so far…
B: People who have been away from electronic dance music for awhile might hear your set and say “This sounds like music I was listening to in the 90s.” How has techno in fact changed since then? DR: Change in the music. Mmmm, well electronic music progresses, evolves, morphs all the time. There are always sounds coming back, like particular Detroit sounds, acid house, I could go on. It’s hard to invent something completely new, so old waves combine with new elements due to technology but not only that. An important element of it is the personal emotional memories attached to it. It’s very subjective. For some people they could hear one sound that reminds them of the time when they dreamed, were impressed in some way, touched in some way, and they associate those sounds with a certain period in time. So it’s relative, and not only in electronic music.
B: Your sound is particularly tough, somewhat of a resurgence of previous strains of techno that were more popular. Do you think that there’s a resurgence of this sound, or are you on your own thing? DR: I think I am doing my own way, but others may hear it different and I don’t mind. I have several projects, not only pure techno, so I think I am just going my own way experimenting, discovering, learning, and making sounds based on what I feel now. As simple as that.
B: Do you make music with a particular sort of listener in mind? How would you characterize that listener (even if it’s just yourself)? DR: Too much analyzing music or thinking about the listener is not how music has to be experienced, that’s what I think. Music, you feel it or don’t — [it] does not matter if it’s coming from the past or future, underground or out from space. It’s sensible matter; it has a minimum of logic and is more sincere expression.
B: What are you working on now? DR: I am working on my third album, have not many words about it now. Alongside that are several EPs, remixes for different labels, as well as on Fullpanda and Hunger to create my other experimental label.
B: Anything else to add… DR: A big smile…and much love.
Dutch superstar composer Louis Andriessen currently holds the Carnegie Hall Composer’s Chair, and a celebration of his music is taking place at the Stern Auditorium through May 10. I had a chance to check out two of these events, the first of which was the New York premier of Andriessen’s new opera (in concert form), “La Commedia.”
“La Commedia” is a five-part, multilingual retelling of the Italian classic. The libretto pulls from Dante and adds splashes of Dutch poetry, the Bible, and other textual sources. More than half the story takes place in the Inferno, which allows the lighter musical passages through purgatory and heaven to contrast more strongly.
The work showcases eclecticism all around: the text sources, the sung languages, the backgrounds and on-stage manner of the vocalists, the musicians (Asko | Schoenberg ensemble, Brooklyn Children’s Choir, Synergy Vocals), the fact that singers play multiple parts and parts are played by multiple singers, and most importantly the music itself.
“La Commedia” incorporates recorded electronic sounds and some distinct instrumentation including sonically fantastic moments shared between a contrabass clarinet and contrabassoon. Also present are Andriessen’s well-known stylistic excursions, particularly during the fourth section, The Garden of Earthly Delights. The section starts up with electric bass riffs and later includes explicit jazz/rock moments with a seemingly typical drum kit, of course atypical on the orchestral stage.
In the pre-performance conversation, Andriessen spoke of his his appreciation for dialectic/ironic tendencies, and I suppose these genre flashes are meant to fall in with this disposition. Although they do stand out enough to carry an out-of-place quality, these moments play more like safe, mastered tourism than profanations. Well before the postmodern dissolution of everything, Adorno wrote rather extremely that “after the Magic Flute it was never again possible to force serious and light music together,” the point being that by 2010 the advertisement folks and artists themselves have done enough circular colonization for me to question the seriousness of this challenge. Are these playful ironies multi-dimensional ruptures or more fluid postmodern mix?
The work even has “romantic” passages that are as beautiful and un-sentimental as the composer intends. The libretto alone exhibits a depth warranting further exploration and is probably itself a showcase of meaningful contradictions. The wide variety does make for a fresh and fascinating 100 minutes.
A trailer for the full video production is below.
– – – – – –
Last night, Le Poisson Rouge brought out its tables and chairs to host another Andriessen event.
The evening began with Eric Huebner performing a selection of Andriessen’s piano compositions, like a lesson in 20th century compositional history with atonalities, silences, clusters, and of course minimalism. Before the concert, Andriessen spoke with Robert Hurwitz of Nonesuch about the influence of Cage and Feldman, which showed clearly in the more contemplative pieces.
The centerpiece of the night was a return to programmatic music with live accompaniment to Peter Greenaway’s fabulous “M is for Man, Music, Mozart,” (1991) which I had wanted to see ever since hearing him describe it in a seminar after showing his much earlier work “H is for House.”
The very cool group of New York voices known as the American Contemporary Music Ensemble (ACME) played Andriessen’s glorious score as the film was projected on two screens behind them. This production reveled in the disruptive irony that Andriessen discussed the day before, and his music was a perfect match to Greenaway’s gratuitous smelter of rich cinematography, dance, typography, graphic design, bodies, and absurdity.
It’s great that Carnegie Hall agreed to this downtown engagement, as Le Poisson Rouge proved a perfect setting for enjoying this work.
Next: Sonic Groove 20-Year Anniversary + Interview with Dasha Rush
Quentin Tolimieri, Devin Maxwell, Isabel Martin, Jonathan Marmor, and Michael Pisaro at Listen/Space, Brooklyn - February 3, 2008
On Saturday night I made it to the Ontological-Hysteric Theater at St. Mark’s Church for a new piece of music by computer-aided algorithmic composer Jonathan Marmor. Marmor conducted 10 human beings through a deceivingly lovely alien song cycle. Without the romantic flourishes typical of our pledge-time heroes, the piece used shifting sound combinations patterned with long silences to warp the temporal experience.
To learn more about the composer and his unique piece, which is streamed below, I had Jonathan Marmor answer a few questions:
Bjian: What’s the name of the piece, and when did you write it?
Jonathan Marmor: The piece doesn’t have a name. You’re the first person to ask. I wrote it between December and a week before the concert. However both the construction of the piece and the software used to make it are just the latest variation in a string of related pieces.
B: How did you get into making computer music?
JM: Since I was a teenager I’ve been writing ‘algorithmic’ music, in which all or most of the events are governed by some simple systematic process. My musical training from age 14 was in North Indian Classical music, which frequently uses very clear logical patterns to construct phrases and forms. As a foreigner I didn’t have an intuitive understanding of the musical structures, learning process, or folk tunes that make up Hindustani music, so I think I had a tendency to over-emphasize the importance of systematic processes. I started writing music that consisted of one simple process. I’d set up some process just to hear what all the different combinations sounded like. The interesting part of listening to these experiments was hearing the unexpected results that came from uncommon combinations or sequences of otherwise pretty standard material. One liberating aspect of experimental music in the tradition of John Cage is that it encourages you to appreciate music by simply observing its unique shape. A common practice to make some music to observe is to make decisions about the content of a piece using some procedure with random results, such as flipping a coin. So when I started studying the music of John Cage, and the generations of musicians who were influenced by his music and ideas, I had a realization about my experience listening to algorithmic music: I didn’t need a clear logical process to get to the unusual combinations of material I was interested in, I could just use randomness. The next several pieces I wrote employed increasingly complex webs of decisions made with a random number generator. Following the advice of my brother, I started using the Python programming language to generate huge lists of all the possible combinations and permutations of little patterns of musical material. I was still making one decision at a time, making choices from the lists of options, then notating the music manually. A couple years ago I was asked to write some music for some friends coming to town to play a concert. Using this process I managed to generate the data for a piece that was about ten times bigger than I could notate before the concert. I missed my deadline and was totally embarrassed. So I decided I needed to build two tools: 1.) a standardized representation or model of a piece of music in Python data structures that could be customized to create a new piece, and 2.) a wrapper for the popular notation typesetting library Lilypond that could take my Python representation of a piece and automatically make beautiful sheet music. The piece performed last Saturday was the second piece I’ve written using these tools.
There is another path I took to electronic music. In 1997 I downloaded a free trial copy of Noteworthy Composer, music notation software that appeared to be written by people who had a very strange and seemingly faulty conception of how music behaves. It could be used as a sequencer triggering the amazing Roland Sound Canvas GM/GS Sound Set that came built in as a part of Windows (think pan flutes and steel pans). Noteworthy Composer had some unusual capabilities, which I exploited: the tempo could be set to dotted half note equals 750 beats per minute, you could write 128th notes, and you could change the tempo at any point abruptly or gradually; the pitch of each track could be tuned to 8192 divisions of a half step and could be changed on the fly; individual tracks could contain loops of any duration that did not affect the other tracks and loops could be nested. I made roughly 1000 little studies using this tool between 1997 and 2003, in the spirit of Conlon Nancarrow’s player piano studies. Check out track three of my old experimental pop album for a sample: http://www.archive.org/details/JonathanMarmor_FantasticDischarge.
B: Describe the creative process for this piece.
JM: It’s possible to think of musical genre as a set of rules and tendencies that govern how musical material is organized. The rules are defined by the sum of the genre’s body of work. Most genres are the accumulated contributions of hundreds or thousands of diverse musicians spanning decades or centuries. This has led most genres to obey a handful of nearly universal rules, such as pitch class equivalence at the octave (middle C is the same note as C in any other octave), or the idea that some element of the music must repeat. In all my recent music I have tried to create an original set of rules and tendencies based on a skewed or faulty conception of the nature of music. It embraces some collection of traditional or made up rules and relentlessly sticks to them. Other common rules are completely ignored. The hope is that this results in an internally consistent piece which is only related to other music by coincidence.
What’s the longest silence (length)?
Only about 2 and a half minutes. Surprising, right?
[note: I’m amazed. I would have guessed 10 minutes.]
One of the purposes of putting periods of silence in a piece of music is to let the listener’s mind wander. However, the first 50 or so times a normal listener goes to a concert with a lot of silence in it, his mind is going to wander to rage! He’ll be really uncomfortable, trying not to breathe. He’ll be self conscious. He won’t know what he’s supposed to be doing or thinking or listening to. He might think he’s doing something wrong. He’ll certainly think that silence isn’t music, that there isn’t music happening during the silence, that the composer is a self-righteous idiot, and that the concert is bad. Some of the time, however, this is not the case. If the you are open to listening carefully and letting your mind wander, you may find all sorts of nice things to enjoy.
B: Tell me about the lyrics.
JM: I wrote a little program that makes nonsense poetry. You give it any arbitrary pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables and a rhyme scheme and it will grab random individual words from lyrics of Bob Dylan, Steely Dan, The Eagles, Elvis Costello, Billy Joel, The Band, Tom Waits, and Rufus Wainwright that match the meter and rhyme scheme.
For example, just now I gave it a rhyme scheme of AABBA and this
pattern of unstressed (u) and stressed (S) syllables:
and it spit out this limerick:
The Wrongfully Showdown Y’all Sounding
Reporters The Reading In Bounding
Ayatollah’s A Slot
A Callin’ Coincidence Pounding
It uses the Carnegie Mellon Pronouncing Dictionary to match rhymes and syllable stresses. It always ends up sounding like total nonsense but follows the meter and rhyme scheme very strictly. It doesn’t use any kind of natural language processing to make the order of words similar to English. For this piece, I made it tend to pick words with more syllables first then fill in the gaps with shorter words which gives it a certain sound.
In this piece, after a melody’s rhythm is selected a corresponding poem is made to match. Because the melody rhythms were written with no consideration for the lyrics rhythm the meter and rhyme scheme of the lyrics aren’t really apparent. I’ll probably write another vocal piece in the future that more deliberately exploits this tool.
B: One of the most unique things about your instrumentation was the weak sound coming out of the keyboards. What were those sounds?
JM: I love the sounds that come with consumer keyboards. They’re beautiful and funny. The choice to use layered synthesizer sounds along with an otherwise acoustic ensemble was made purely because I like how it sounds.
B: Did you know early on what your instruments would be, did the computer determine this, or did you decide after you had a composition?
JM: Picking the instruments was a back and forth between an idea I had for a sound and figuring out which of my very talented musician friends were available. The specific sounds used by the synthesizers were chosen randomly from a list that I ranked intuitively.
B: Describe the process of working with the musicians. Were there any challenges?
JM: We only had four rehearsals and never had the whole group together until the first note of the concert was played. It’s an hour and 20 minutes of pretty non-idiomatic music. I was very happy with the way the concert came out, but there were a few trainwrecks.
How did the performance end up at the ontologic-hysteric theater?
JM: Composer Travis Just curates a monthly experimental music series at the Ontological Theater. He is familiar with my music from the period when we were both graduate students at CalArts in Los Angeles.
Here’s a link to a recording of the performance [the same that’s streamed above]:
“Straight ahead jazz, no fusion or con-fusion” promised Lou Donaldson on Friday night at the Village Vanguard. Donaldson kept good on his promise, starting with his 50s classic “Blues Walk” and running through a set of the hard bop and soul jazz for which he’s famous.
As the nominal head of his quartet, Donaldson was the show’s star personality, working through a set of tunes and jokes (Viagra, 50 Cent, “when Miles still played jazz”) that the internet tells me has seen little change in years. Donaldson’s playing is a joy to hear, but at this point he sits back (literally) to let the younger musicians come forward. Though he certainly keeps up on his sax, at 83 years old Donaldson’s in more of a torch-passing role than a trailblazing one.
The younger players’ technical prowess shined on speedy jams like “Fast & Freaky” and “The Alligator Bogaloo,” which were broken up by slower songs “What a Wonderful World” or the plodding blues of “Whiskey Drinking Woman.”
The show was far from unpredictable. Reviews show that Donaldson tours with a limited set list, and every song had the same format — Donaldson intro, guitar solo, organ solo, Donaldson with drum fills (maybe a solo), ensemble to close. Structure and timbre were relatively static, with the exception of an extended drum solo by Fukushi Tainaka. “You can tell by his name he’s from Alabama.” This music was all about rhythmic and melodic dynamism.
While Lou Donaldson took the lead, Tainaka expanded the music’s sonic horizons, and guitarist Randy Johnston wowed the crowd with his blazing runs, it was probably organist Pat Bianchi who brought the most unique element to the group.
Bianchi performed behind a mysterious Hammond with an alien Leslie rotor amp, complete with exposed tubes that I watched heat up before the show. It was a great sound to hear live, and Bianchi is an intense and soulful player, beginning his solos with a few way-finding stabs and ramping into nonsensically virtuosic bop grooves.
Although I don’t share Donaldson’s disdain for “fusion and con-fusion” and prefer jazz that he might deny is even part of the genre, it was good to get a break from the usual madness and hear a few traditional virtuosos do their thing.
As much as anything else I was exploring in undergrad, it was a 2001 CD release on Improvised Music from Japan that led by extreme example and a year later changed the way I would think about, enjoy, and make music. I’m not sure how I came to know about it — it might have been a review or reference in Wire – but downloading this 10-CD set threw me deep into a world of sound that trampled my familiar musical conventions.
This is where I first heard Toshimaru Nakamura. The release gives 35 minutes to Nakamura, now known for his work on the “no-input mixing board” (NIMB), basically a mixer with no external sound generators running through its inputs. Line noise, feedback, and electricity itself generate the audio.
Nakamura brought his NIMB kit to Brooklyn’s Issue Project Room last night for a 45 minute set in the dark. It’s hard to describe the music — pops, highest-pitch drones, bassy beat frequencies, split-second white explosions. Unlike the music of other noise artists with such an “electric” sound palette, there was something unaggressive and at times even soothing about this music. Long drones, near silence, and exclamatory screeches formed their own vocabulary for tension and release.
With no verbal references or melodic phrases and few timbral motifs, the music was very physical — heightening awareness of the audio’s interaction with the space and one’s body. High pitches tickled the ears, clicks resonated in the back of the neck, and sheets of bass bubbled between the walls.
Music like this may require some primer or familiarity. I once saw Nakamura at REDCAT in Los Angeles, and after my cousin’s girlfriend left because of a “headache,” two guys stood and profaned the performance with shouted curses (which most of the audience seemed to enjoy). This time the two friends who were with me enjoyed the show.
This weekend I was in Los Angeles for the Paid Dues hip-hop festival, but I also managed to catch a set from techno champions Acid Circus on Friday night.
Their performance followed headliner Tiefschwarz at Avalon, right in the club epicenter of Hollywood & Vine. This intersection is a strange late night spot, and I’ve yet to find something like it in New York. I’ve definitely passed by some clubs on Houston and on other streets with Hollywood-like crowds, but not the same strange mix of cultures, ages, and crazy automobiles. There’s something extra special about the “club scene” that makes me dread going to Hollywood. Maybe I can find an NYC crowd like this at Pacha or Cielo (haven’t been)? Somewhere else?
Despite my aversion to the particular scene, one thing it can offer is serious sound, and Avalon is a pretty good example. Although I prefer the system at Love in Greenwich Village, I’m yet to hear an installed dance-oriented system in New York as BIG as Avalon’s. Acid Circus did their thing and got to sound great doing it.
These guys haven’t been brought to New York since I moved here, which I suppose I find surprising. To put them in New York terms, they have the personality / vibe / stage energy of Trouble & Bass, the (computer-based) mixing bravado of someone like Bunker‘s Detroit transplant Derek Plaslaiko (who has played their events in LA), and a contemporary, but history-infused dance aesthetic somewhere near Levon Vincent (whose tracks they’ve been playing out in recent sets – catch his “Late Night Jam” 28 minutes into the mix). Circus finished sometime near 5am, and I had to head home to get sleep for Paid Dues the next day.
I actually went to LA for Paid Dues, which was on Saturday. The lineup was worth a flight from New York, and I doubt we’ll see much of the same size and quality from hip-hop this year. There is of course Rock the Bells, the LA-based parent festival that makes its way to New York, but I’m curious to see how it manages to top this past weekend.
Murs & 9th Wonder
12 hours of quality hip-hop + an engaged audience + smartly-EQed systems that actually allowed the lyrics to be heard = worth the trip. I’ll avoid a gushing laundry list and pull out a few highlights. Afro Classics (Scarub + Very) jumped on the smaller stage early with an ultra-energetic set of fast rhymes and coordinated tradeoffs. Underground stalwarts Freestyle Fellowship closed the same stage with a similar energy, matched with impossible coordination and speed and a truly unique style. Myka 9 is a beast. The highlight for me was possibly festival organizer Murs, who performed with producer 9th Wonder an exciting set of favorites and material off his upcoming album Fornever, which I was able to buy from his mother at the merchandise booth. The album is another set of strong tracks from the duo and worth checking out, despite one embarrassing song.
The festival was on point with a tight schedule, strong showmanship, quality rhymes, and a supportive crowd. Hopefully Guerilla Union has something just as special to offer when they send Rock the Bells to Governors Island this summer.
On Wednesday night, Norwegian ECM pianist Tord Gustavsen led an ensemble of five musicians through a sublime program of European jazz.
The players here were Tore Brunborg on tenor and soprano sax, vocalist Kristin Asbjornsen, Mats Eilersten on bass, Jarle Vespestad on drums, and Tord Gustavsen on piano.
The group’s musical base lay in a cool, Bill Evans-related zone, but with an epic, tidal dynamic and flowing stylistic palette, incorporating folk melodies, bluesy orientations, cavernous textures, and sung poetry.
I’m usually not the biggest fan of jazz vocals, so I came to the show slightly apprehensive, but Kristin Asbjornsen’s gorgeous contributions raised the music to new heights of meaning and human emotion. Although there were a few effective moments of bluesey, American-style jazz singing, most of her work lent an ethereal feel, with evocative lyrics (such as W.H. Auden’s “Lullaby,”) and wordless passages of reverb-drenched vocal atmospheres.
Tore Brunborg’s tiny saxes lent the ensemble an airy, ethereal haze missing from Gustavsen’s outstanding trio recordings, and Mats Eilersten played inventive bass lines including a surprising solo song transition.
Drummer Jarle Vespestad of Supersilent showcased his supremely delicate touch, letting tiny cymbal gestures build into rich sonic textures.
Tord Gustavsen was, of course, the backbone, and the only performer to play on every song (the program featured various combinations of these players). He elegantly slid from the seductive, contemplative lines of “Being There” to syncopated stabs of improv ecstasy. Gustavsen played with a devoted emotion that led his group to do the same.
The ensemble sounded full and beautiful in the hall. Their current album title track “Restored, Returned,” which I questioned on the recording (and now enjoy most), was simply fabulous live, an immense, anthemic crescendo of everything the group had to offer.
My personal experience and connection with the music may mean more than any comments I can offer about the individual musicians.
The concert led me through a range of strong emotions, the clearest of which was simply joy. I’ll definitely check out Gustavsen’s group the next opportunity I get and recommend that anybody who loves this music do the same.
The first time I saw Nosaj Thing perform was in 2007, and I was supposed to be doing visuals for the night. I showed up with my gear at Cinespace in Hollywood to learn that the A/V tech was out sick that day. His replacement knew nothing about the video system and how I might connect my computer, and he wouldn’t let me into the control room. The only thing he knew how to do, my only option, was to play a DVD that would appear on the screens in the club. Since the only DVD I had in my car was R. Kelly’s Trapped in the Closet, parts 1 – 12, I played that. It worked perfectly.
You might think this says something about Nosaj Thing’s music, but Trapped in the Closet on 15 screens can’t avoid perfection.
You can actually hear his set from that night here, although his sound has evolved in the time since.
So Nosaj Thing was first up at Le Poisson Rouge last night, and he started right on time to a sold-out, attentive house. As you can hear in the MP3 above, Nosaj plays electronic dance music within a hip-hop beat framework — an appropriate opener for Flying Lotus. Los Angeles is the unrivaled leader in this arena (with Glasgow making its own moves), and Nosaj’s live set has evolved into an undeniable representation of the typical Low End Theory sound. His hard and heavy beats worked well on the audience (while exposing the limits of LPR’s bass). Mastery over live tweaking and pads, along with an energetic stage presence made for an exciting presentation. Unfortunately the effects became a bit familiar and predictable as he worked through somewhat transparent Ableton sequences. Nosaj was smart to save the best for last and let shine his developed album cuts, which feature compositional elements beyond the usual chopped beats and remixes.
Next up was Kode9 (Hyperdub head), who played a diverse set of dubstep, UK house, and international vocal cuts. This was definitely a change of pace, and the crowd only seemed interested when he would drop massive hits like “Poison Dart” or “Pon de Floor.” A sold-out LPR is an uncomfortably packed space. By the time Kode9 went on there was no room to stand, let alone dance, so being packed in for this music was awkward (though not atypical here in NYC).
Around 1:30 Flying Lotus appeared to much fanfare and proceeded to deliver a set of his well-known releases, bootleg remixes, and upcoming material.
Flying Lotus has two strong weapons in his live performance arsenal. The first is that he’s worshipped. He makes great music that a lot of people respond to, and he receives a lot of love for it. When he points, the crowd goes wild. When he smiles, the crowd goes wild. A hype crowd and confident performer go a long way.
What actually makes his performance special is the music for which he’s received the attention. Flying Lotus’ sound transcends the genres to which it’s related. It sounds like it’s from LA, but it doesn’t sound like he’s following The Glitch Mob, Madlib, Daedelus, or anyone else. This comes through clearly in the live setting, as he takes a multi-dimensional approach to the same software that everyone else is using. The music is unmistakably his own, but familiar enough to alienate few listeners.
The most unique aspect of his set is an organic movement from rhythm to rhythm. Instead of locking himself into a constant BPM and occasionally derivating, he lets the beats fall apart and reconstruct over passages of ambiance or noise.
It wasn’t really that long ago that I saw Flying Lotus play on a single monitor for about 15 people in the middle of the day. Now he appears on magazine covers and sells out shows worldwide. It’s an explosion well-deserved.