Reflecting upon Saturday and Sunday's shows, the one thing that strikes me is how long I've played within the two groups that I was with. Ear Spray, five and one half years; Crow Crash Radio, seven. It helps that neither of them rehearse too much. They definitely stay interesting that way. I used to love rehearsals, but as I age they get harder and harder to retain any interesting factors. Man, that sounds jaded! Urgh. OK, let's be enthusiastic about said shows, shall we?
Ear Spray-Noisebridge Hackerspace, San Francisco; 12/8/18
I very nearly didn't even make it to this show. Weirdness on BART found me sitting on a stopped train for a long time, several minutes away from 16th/Mission station. Thankfully, I made it to Noisebridge a bit before 12PM, the sharp start time for Godwaffle Noisepancakes events, simultaneously bumping into Carlos, who had also been delayed. Turns out that there were other delays as well (is Mercury still retrograde?), so I was able to hook up my very simple rig of one cymbal, contact mic'd, to Carlos's mixing board in plenty of time to do our set. The set started out with Ann on solo electric cello, an instrument that she's getting quite adept at coaxing Noise out of. Carlos and I joined in after what seemed like a good amount of time. We had planned out a 20 minute set, made up of four movements, each five minutes long, that would arc to a crescendo and then stop, with a small sound leading to the next movement. This plan went pretty well until we we reminded that our set had to be truncated to make up lost time in light of a hard 2PM stop time. Our set came to kind of a stumbling, jumbled halt, which felt kind of lame. The rough recording shows us interacting what seems like an effective way, with plenty of silences along with some nice, jarring noise, especially from the electronics and lone cymbal. Hopefully we'll have this one up at Bandcamp soon, because it seems worth sharing. Sorry that we went a bit long, Grux.
Below: such a simple rig; Carlos setting up in a rush
Below: Ear Spray video, by and courtesy of Ann! Thanks Ann!
Crow Crash Radio-Free Oakland UP!, Oakland; 12/9/18
No delays presented themselves for Crow Crash Radio's Sunday afternoon gig at Free Oakland Utopian Project. Indeed, I got there really early and found some good Samba LP's in the free bin. How does one say "SCORE!" in Portuguese? We set up the afternoon's proceedings so that Angel Archer and Crow Crash would alternate short sets, and this plan worked beautifully. Brian Lucas and Sheila Bosco cooked up some really great Psychedelic Ambient pieces that were quite inspiring to play after. Crow Crash presented one new tune, Uncle Sleep, which seemed to go over well, in a first set of longer, droning numbers. It's got a fun groove to try. Our second set had Brian Strang playing his resonator guitar as we went for a bit more of a Country feel. I enjoyed using brushes throughout both, save for some mallet work to begin the first one. At the end of the afternoon, Angel Archer and Crow Crash Radio combined to play a freaky 20 minute jam that reminded me of early Hawkwind, not a bad result at all. Upon leaving, I asked Free Oakland UP's Jocelyn Maggait how she did with the day's fundraising activities. She replied that did alright, so the day was a double win for me.
Below: my old faithful Ludwigs at Free Oakland UP!
To get back to my initial thoughts, it's tough to believe that I've played with Crow Crash Radio and Ear Spray for so long. Both of these humble projects soldier on, in the face of pretty much blanket indifference and non-recognition. I don't really mind, as they continue to prove themselves to be fun and fulfilling, even on a "weekend warrior" type of schedule. We'll see where they end up playing in 2019 I hope.
Initially, M-KAT Ensemble was supposed to provide music for a Contact Improvisation Jam set up by Kevin Dockery and Rosemary Hannon. We had had a private rehearsal with them, and they graciously asked us if we'd like to participate. Andrew could not join us, so we had to put a new configuration together. Thankfully, John Vaughn made himself available when asked. M-KAT without Andrew would not be M-KAT, hence the new (K)name!
Kersti, Thomas, John, and myself managed to fight our ways through Saturday night Berkeley traffic and score parking spots at and around Finnish Hall. Promptly at 8PM, we started playing. A few dancers joined us in the main hall portion of the building to start. It was amazing to watch new dancers arrive from downstairs or outside and begin their improvisational moves together and solo. About thirty minutes in, the floor was pulsing with energy from the synergy of the music and the dancers. Improvised Music and Contact Improvisation: perfect for one and other! Knames ended up playing for two hours straight, going through many changes of mood and mode; at the end, we all agreed that we were inspired and moved by the dancing people that were in front and around us. At one point, the group reminded me of the motion of flocks of birds with their seemingly random, yet clearly not random at all, patterns.
Another one of those gigs wherein the vibe made me extremely happy and fulfilled.
Many thanks to Rosemary and Kevin for asking us to participate in such a great event.
Below: Knames setting up; Thomas Harrison Jr. with his great new bass
It's always kind of slog to drive into downtown San Francisco for Thursday night Luggage Store Gallery shows, but I am always satisfied with the end result. Inevitably, there are good conversations with valued friends and co-conspirators along with music that I like. Such was the case last Thursday. After a great set by the wonderfully named Runcible Spoon Fight, John Vaughn and I ventured forth for the first time as a duo. Neither of us are really interested in having any project go by our names. We figured that Bamboo Skin Duo would work. It was Brandon Evan's phrase, used in September for a quartet which featured all of us, along with Tim Orr. Thanks, Brandon! Our set, made up of four pieces, paired my drums with John's flute, soprano, and theremin, all mic'c and fed into a looping device. John got some great, thick loops going, over which I had the freedom to pretty much play as freely as I wished. I had fun using brushes, mallets, sticks, and metal rods to coax textures from my kit. It seems as though John's only demand on other players is that they pay attention and play what they truly want to play; what a great paradigm! Over forty or so minutes, the sounds felt very connected and in sync. We got into some pretty interesting spaces, sometimes quite quiet, sometimes a bit more bombastic; everything felt right, either way. One of those sets during which I could close my eyes and feel every striking implement touching drums and cymbals in just the right place and just the right way. Bliss! Hopefully this duo can continue for a while.
Below: duo gear
Above: Bamboo Skin Duo with a few friends (photo by and courtesy of Tom Djill, thanks Tom!)
John Vaughn and I will be playing a duet concert this Thursday at the Luggage Store in SF!
Luggage Store Gallery
1007 Market St.
Runciple Spoon Fight
$8-15 sliding scale
Today Aural Monsoon played at this really neat old Victorian house in the Haight Ashbury district of San Francisco, the same one in which we played late last summer. Will Alexander, Andrew Joron, an myself were joined by bassist Shawn Miller. We played for about an hour and a half of freely improvised music. It seemed as though we hit some rather frenetic spaces at times, which all felt good. Definitely a trance-ed out of heaviness. Absolutely fun! Hopefully we can do it again.....
Below: candid snaps of Will Alexander and me by Andrew Joron, thanks Andrew!
A good year and a half had passed since our last PureFinder gig before last Monday's Studio Grand performance. As such, I was certainly ready to delve into our brand of Electro-Acoustic blending. In rehearsal, Andrew and I had decided to whittle our respective rigs down to quite minimal proportions. I simply brought my wind gong, with two contact mics; Andrew brought a couple of modular units and a mixer. Signals from the gong were sent into the electronics and processed, and we got into what I felt were some pretty thickened territories. Sounds that were scraped and knocked from the gong turned into any and all manner of burping, whirring, buzzing electronic tones. Our roughly twenty five minute set felt nicely varied to me as it made its way out into the the Studio Grand space with its freshly white painted walls. It seemed as though Andrew and I had really good concentration and focus, and the music reflected that. A very satisfying evening of Industrial-like moves from the newly arising PureFinder!
A couple of things about the Luggage Store Gallery that musicians will always have to contend with: they'll never know which part of the building they'll be playing in, and, further, what type of art may or may not be playing among or even behind. Case in point: in order for Cartoon Justice to set up for our 9/20/18 gig there, Mika had to position himself behind a sculpture that, combined with its plinth, effectively blocked his sight line toward the rest of the band. Kind of a bummer, but unpredictability is pretty much guaranteed there. One has to learn to roll with it! Aside from that glitch, things went pretty well for us. We played a determined 38 plus or minus minute set, consisting of three sketches that had been rehearsed: one that started really sparse, lead by Mika's Mac-generated algorithms, another based very loosely on our Spirit Aligned Truth piece, and a last one inspired by Monk's classic Well You Needn't. The set had, for me, a really oozy rhythmic feel, with our quintet interacting really nicely. Lenny Gonzalez guested again on electric cello, and added cool weirdness with his pedaled-up axe. Eli and I mixed things up really well, I felt, and Kersti and Mika freaked out above it all. I'm never sure how people will respond to Cartoon Justice, but there were some folks in attendance, and they seemed to enjoy our set. For me, it was a satisfying Electro-Acoustic blend, and showed evident strides made as a unit. I felt like we played as a tight band, and I had a ton of fun within the music. Music can give such an uplifting, freeing feeling, and that was definitely my experience at the Luggage Store. This year has been good for Cartoon Justice, and this gig felt like a true reflection of that.
Below: Cartoon Justice set up around a sculpture; big red drum set
Above: Cartoon Justice at the end of a fun evening. Lenny did double duty, playing with How Are You Doing? after our set.
After a sleepy morning BART ride from Richmond to SF, I found myself at the great independent Bird & Beckett Books, Mika already there and set up. A few to get my small rig out and playable, and we were off.
This show was essentially a reprise of a gig last year at Adobe Books. That one was pretty tragic on account of a bum cable. Not so this time: we got clear signals from my mic'd waterphone (first set) and electric m'bira (second set). These sound sources were fed into Mika's "Slicer-Dicer" program, an algorithm that he's been developing for some time, and them pumped through the store's high quality speaker system. This being a set of Ambient music, we focused on slow, quieter, and very definitely well-spaced moves. I really enjoyed the challenge of playing with tons of space and getting it from just a few items. At one point, I was scraping a long screw across the head of the mic. It sounded really neat when shot back out from Mika's Mac! People drifted into the store, wandered around, looked at books; no one seemed that bothered by our sounds, so I figured it was a win.
A fine late morning/early afternoon of focused listening and interaction with my valued comrade Mika!
Many thanks to Andre Custodio and Bird & Beckett Books.
I will be making Ambient sounds with Mika Pontecorvo this Saturday, as part of Andre Custodio's Audible Method series!
Bird & Beckett Books
653 Chenery St.
11AM to 1PM
Bamboo Skin 4-tet came together almost as a lark. John Vaughn mentioned to me in passing last July that he'd booked an evening at the Luggage Store and was interested in setting something up with me and possibly others. I immediately got Brandon Evans and Tim Orr on board; pretty awesome the way that those two responded so enthusiastically! Brandon and I were really stoked on our recent recording, on which I'd focused on small percussion and "little sounds", a la Art Ensemble and other AACM greats. Tim and John were equally enthused about this approach, so we went with it. Tim brought a floor tom, a snare, and several small cymbals, gongs, shakers and so forth. I brought a timbale set, a few gongs, some shakers, and other small stuff. John and Brandon brought alto, sopranino, and tenor saxes.
For our roughly forty minute set, we did three numbers from charts that John has written and one free improvisation. Right off the bat, I was a bit disconcerted with a pretty unfamiliar percussion set up. This feeling pretty much stayed with me throughout. Playing in the boom-ey upstairs portion of the Luggage Store added a bit of trepidation, as the sounds just careen around that big room. Tim and I's clattering, busy percussion seemed to lay down a busy bed upon which Brandon and John wailed in tandem and solo. Those guys sounded great, and I was just happy to be sharing the space with them. Brandon really shined on the free piece, getting into his extensive bag of extended technique. He loves playing his Chinese made tenor sax, and one can hear that clearly. John's really brave writing technique gave us all lots of room in which to play. These days, I'm quite enamored of it. A very cool mixture of simplicity and complex thought. The last tune, L.I.S. (Long Island Sucks) is his Punk Rock/Free Improvisation mix! Tough to play Punk without a bass drum, but, hey, I tried!
A fun, funky, musically challenging evening at a favorite haunt. If only the parking were easier at 6th St. and Market!
Below: stripped down kits; three of Bamboo Skin 4-tet get ready
It's been a week since the first of a three show mid-August run for me. I'm still a bit tired, what with work and all, hence the delay in my usually quick missives. Have I forgotten my public? Hahahaha.....
Crow Crash Radio-111 Minna Gallery, SF CA; 8/17/18
As the members of Crow Crash Radio loaded in to 111 Minna Gallery for a Friday night happy hour show, we all noticed the demographic: Tech. To the max. I have nothing against them, but, as far as relating to them, it can be tough. Not much in common really. As Crow Crash began to play, we quickly realized that our sounds, emanating from a small corner of the bar area into which we had been stuffed, would be for the most part unheard by the chattering end of week drinking crowd. This can be fine, and we really used the experience to stretch out some improvised ideas, along with playing some tunes from our recently released LP. I had a tough time hearing Brian's amp, as it was placed with Brian in between it and myself. Kind of frustrating, but it felt like that kind of night. One of those dues paying type of sets really. 111 Minna's growth is truly impressive. I remember it as being a tiny little gallery in what was a sleepy part of downtown San Francisco in the early 1990's. The place, along with the area, has changed so much! On the drive home, Andrew, Brian, and me talked about the Brogrammer culture. Again, I have no affinity for it, as it clearly ain't got for me. They seem to be in many ways pretty close minded; who knows, maybe it's just a question of being hyper-focused. I'll stay focused on music, thank you very much. It's just sad to see SF get so bland.
Below: Crow drums and a great shot of Brian Strang
Moe Staiano Ensemble Plays Death of a Piano (plus Hogwind push-in surprise!)-First Church of the Buzzard, Oakland CA; 8/18/18
After the completely not-relatable vibes of Friday night's venue, it was real nice to drive into West Oakland's Adeline St. for the first performance of Moe Staiano's Death of a Piano in eleven years. Oakland is not quite the yuppie haven that 'Frisco is, but I guess there's work being done on that, dammit. Back to Death of a Piano: I sort of lucked into this gig, being a late addition to the roster of 49 or so musicians. Moe's music is always fun and challenging, and I'm always stoked to play it in any form. Seriously, dude's a very bright light, musically and personally, and I'm happy to support his vision. After a quick run through of one last rehearsal for the piece, most of the musicians beat it to grab dinner elsewhere. I hung around First Church of the Buzzard and struck up a conversation with Grux, whose great new band Hogwind, a group that basically murders Classic Rock songs, was also on the bill. Grux asked me if I'd like to play air drums with them, and, having seen them in action, I agreed but quick. Total madness ensued. I have to admit that my more exhibitionist side emerged during the Hogwind set. I had a blast thinking of creative moves while occasionally beating a few drums, along with getting a ton of laughs as I watched theremin player Rachel Thoele as she laughed, too. So much fun! Staiano's ensemble was up next. Again, my admiration for Moe grows as I gain familiarity with his writing, and it was great to be a part of this huge ensemble. The piece, made up of three movements, moved from sparse string sections that went up and then down the scale, to clicking rim shots from four drum sets, to crazed free improvisation from everyone. Stillness to cacophony and back! It all ended with Moe smashing a piano up with a sledgehammer as everyone soloed wildly. Great times! Much fun in Oakland.
Below: Moe conducting, with me and my drums there in front (apparently I got hit by debris)
Below: video evidence of my Hogwind push-in!
Below: snippet of Death of a Piano finale!
Above: Death of a Piano gear: eye protection, ear protection, and a plastic whistle
Pikuva Sielu-Musicians Union Hall Local 6, SF CA; 8/19/18
The Local 6 hall is probably less than one mile away from 111 Minna, but it may as well be in another country. The SOMA area of 9th St., off of which this institution is deeply dug in, retains an atmosphere that I am more familiar with, at least as regards San Francisco. There is a ton of poverty and addiction on display; I want neither of these for any person. Therein lies the rub. Does positive, productive change from those traits have to entail people becoming whitewashed yuppies? Pikuva Sielu used to be called the John Vaughn Trio, but John was adamant that this group, also featuring great electric bassist Robert Kuhlmann, find a new name. We cooked up a plan of playing about four compositions, and we stuck with it. Two written by reed man Vaughn, one by me, and one improvisation. We got into what I felt were some pretty good, earthy jams, very loose and free and flowing. Bluesy, in a way. The interactions felt charged right on a balance point between tight and loose. This can be a scary feeling if you're performing, but it most definitely seems to be a point in Jazz or Jazz-based musical work. I was especially pleased to be playing a short riff that I worked up, called CT Wave. I desire to write more music for this group, that's for sure. It was a fun, low key way to end a quite manic weekend, playing among a few friends (one of whom I haven't seen in years, hi Ward!) and comrades in this musical endeavor.