Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Die Tote Stadt, San Francisco Opera

Tuesday September 23, 2008.

I've waiting a long time to see this.  I had very high expectations.

Korngold's score is filled with clever orchestral moments, peppered like bon mots throughout the score.  Yes, it's very Strauss, very 19th Century, and indeed a direct predecessor to Hollywood film music in its "golden age."  

The story did not grab me.  I was not taken by any of the characters or the situation, and the symbolism of the drama failed to impress me.  Paul is just pathetic; pining for the unattainable, he reminded me a bit of Aschenbach in Britten's Death in Venice, except Paul is even less fun.  The revised "oh it was just a dream" ending is just tired and obviously tacked on.  Not much happens; Paul's struggle is largely internal. The opera is permeated by a continual, low level tension throughout, which fails to provide any real dramatic structure, and hence becomes wearisome.  Upbeat moments with Marietta's dancer friends seem deliberately concocted and thrown in out of necessity.  The moral of the story is "get over yourself Mary."

So yeah, I was diasppointed.

Classical Revolution Cafe

Sunday September 21, 2008.  

Oh yeah baby.  Fun fun.  Packed.  Brahms Sextets 1 & 2. Serrano Pizza.  Don't block the sidewalk.  Oh hey we went to school together!  Highly recommended.  Crowded.

Grosse Abfahrt at Trinity Chamber Concerts

Saturday September 20, 2008.  

Berkeley is so weird.  It's this strange mélange of old hippy, west coast academia, greek system kids, granola, money, seediness, sixties idealism, pizza shops, clothing stores.  Just going to Berkeley, I have to visit Yogurt Park, because I regard that as the city's premiere cultural institution.  And yet I have to make some excuses, it does have this giant University, which never seems like the West Coast Ivory Tower it supposes to be, given the students you have running around there.   I brave all this to attend Trinity Concert Series presentation of Grosse Abfahrt.  Light audience.  Berkeley kids no, Conservatory kids no, Mills kids?  Yes, of course.  It seems they are the only young folk with enthusiasm for this sort of thing.  Mysterious older types come out of hilltop redwood homes to park on Durant in biodiesel Mercedes conversions and bask in the intellectual glow in the small church.  

Grosse Abfahrt is Tom Djll trumpets n electronics, Chris Brown piano, Jen Baker Trombone, Fred Frith Guitar, Matt Ingalls clarinet and fiddle, Tim Perkis, electronics, Gino Robair, percussion, Doepfer modules, and John Shirurba, guitar.  

So you have eight people doing free improv.  With eight people performing freely structured improv brings some curious results.  The main issue is that the performers can hear and respond to the mass in general and the performers most closely next to them; but because of seating and monitoring arrangements, performers could clearly not hear or be fully aware of what people seated away from them were doing.  I don't think Tom Djll and Fred Frith had any line of sight or ability to really hear the more subtle things they were doing, as they had three other performers right between them.  Maybe complete sight lines are not necessary; but the group ends up jiving player-to-mass as opposed to player-to-player.  

Without any conductor or imposed structure, another issue was the way the improvisations were constructed.  Players seemed too restless to "lay out" for extended periods, so with eight of them, there were few really effective call-and-response passages, duets, solos, or trios.  These usually occurred at the beginning of an improvisation, or as things were winding down.  

The players all made great sounds and there were many surprises.  Tom Djill used a CD as a mute, and played a strange little mini trumpet, and was fascinating to watch.  Fred Frith, guitarist extraordinare on the scene for decades, dropped metal chains onto his pickups making astounding noises.  Gino Robair, Clubfoot Alumnus, made wonder happen in percussion land.  All the players are fine musicians.  It would have been great if there had been more solo and true duet moments.  Slow down.  Breathe deeply.  Let music happen.  As John Cage would advise, pay attention to the rests, pay attention to where you do not play.  How can you analyze the rests in your composition or improvisation?

I must commend Diane Grubbe and the Trinity Chamber Concert Series for booking and presenting new, adventurous, electro acoustic music.  It is truly wonderful, new, vibrant, and exciting, and it's a great programmer and curator who will include it on an equal footing in their chamber music series.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

SFEMF 2008: Szelag, Rutro, Buzzarté

Saturday, September 6, 2008.  San Francisco Electronic Music Festival.  Theatre Artaud.

Tonight had a thinner crowd.  I'm not sure how the audience accurately chooses the most engaging evenings, but I wish I were more in the loop.  (Pun intended.  *cough*)  Still, it was a good show of solid performances.  

Local Agnes Szelag, who performed in Myrmyr on Friday night, did a pleasant piece on her own.  Then an ensemble of other local performers billed as "Rutro & The Logs" explored injecting humor into the electronic music performance medium.  Rutro explored the liminal space between introduction and performance, beginning with a speaker who extended Matt Davignon's opening remarks and kept requesting the "feedback" (sic) on the mic to be turned down (referring to the reverb).  The tongue-in-cheek silliness continued with a video component of cut log bits rolling up and down a hill.

Monique Buzzarté finished the evening with three pieces which blended seamlessly into one performance for trombone, conch shell, and electronics, in particular, lots of looping.  The opening "Elegy" (2006) nicely stacked layers of trombone into a warm, rich sound.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Do 5% Good

I was surprised to see this ad on  I am not making this up.  This is a for real, genuine Target ad.

So, basically, every time you shop at Target, 95% of your money leaves your community.  Gee thanks.  I'd like to think that if you shop at a local business, ideally, 100% of your money stays in your local community.  Maybe Target means to say they are donating 5% of their gross receivables to local charities... but that is not what the ad states.  I'd take it at face value.  While this is not a political blog and my academic background is not in economics...  you can probably guess what I think of this.  And the irony of the headline, "Do 5% Good," well, what's the other 95% doing every time you shop at Target?  I thought I'd screen capture this ad and post it before someone at Target wakes up and has it taken down.  

SFEMF 2008: Richard Teitelbaum, Myrmyr

Friday, Sept 5, 2008.  Theatre Artaud, San Francisco Electronic Music Festival.

So glad to be here.  Audience even larger and more vibrant than Thursday night.  Lots of Mills kidz and grads.  Lots of hippy academes.  Great "west coast" vibe.  

Richard Teitelbaum (b. 1939), professor of composition and electronic music at Bard, demonstrates you don't have to be young to be über hip!  And nicely done, he has positioned himself toward the front of the stage facing sideways, so you can see a bit more of the laptop action.  Nearly motionless, his fingers still move on the trackpad, giving a slight sense of performance.  The big problem with tablecore, of course is, are you performing, or checking email?  It seems like a good instrument for Teitelbaum.  "Serenissima" for two winds and computer (premiere) made for interesting processing of the acoustic instruments.  And contrabass clarinet?  Nice.  That's an instrument I'd like to see more on subway platforms and street fairs.  

Myrmyr brought their fresh outta Mills n friends vibe to the evening with a largely improvised composition.  I am told they also play Hotel Utah and do things that fit into the pop music format; I can't imagine what they did at SFEMF going down well at Hotel Utah!  But you never know.  I enjoy the cross pollination and it is all music to me.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

SFEMF 2008: Campion, Buckner, Sweeten

Thursday, September 4, 2008. Theatre Artaud. San Francisco Electronic Music Festival. 

Whee! So glad to be here. First up, Ray Sweeten. Really amazing, great piece, very powerful, very LOUD. Began with a throbbing bass, which built to very loud. I know that it takes a great deal more electrical energy (RMS signal voltage) to make a loud low end signal, so that I feared what would happen when any high end would be introduced. But the initial low end was awesome to bask in, vibrating the benches and the high risers and your body, and making random vibrations throughout the building, so that you feared a light might fall and drop on your head. However, once the highs were introduced, people were plugging their ears. I was surprised that such a hoity-toity electronic music festival would so quickly exceed OSHA standards. The music was accompanied by an oscilloscope style animation. Goodness knows I spent enough time staring at a lissajou pattern when I worked in recording studios aligning analog tape decks. (24 tracks in oh about 45 minutes when you do it everyday, several times a day, for a few years.) This video was much more compelling than a simple XY pattern and matched the sonic composition well, which climaxed with some rather tonal major chords and some suspensions or beat-like throbbing. Mr. Sweeten was pretty far back on the stage on a laptop. Don't chew gum when you take your bows. It minimizes our effort to have electronic music taken seriously as concert performance. Did they teach you to do that at Oberlin? I hope not. The other issue is that, without a mirror showing what you are doing, you might just be running a videopod and playing World of Warcraft on your laptop; if you chew gum onstage, why would the audience expect anything else?

Next up, baritone Thomas Buckner performing a piece by Edmund Campion (Professor of Music Composition at UC Berkeley) with text by brother John Campion. The backing track and vocal effects had lots of high end but the singer's amplified direct sound didn't, which made it a little difficult to decipher the lyrics at times. The lyrics were not printed in the program, which would have been nice, and traditional for the setting of an artsong. Oh well. The piece still came across very strong, and Buckner's performance was very dramatic. I did not quite understand everything that was going on with that hula-hoop though, or some of the little props on stage. Maybe better program notes in the future. "The form, technical infrastructure, and architecture of the work embody the content." Okay... "The large-scale form for ME mirrors, in its fun-house way, the classic seven yoga steps." We go to different yoga classes I think. I'm missing the reference. I think it's very compelling that electronic music is tackling serious artsong. It's a great way to go. And I could tell there was humor, sincerity, and terrific talent involved. I just wish I had caught all the details.

Last, Tujiko Noriko did her JPop thing. It should not have been the last thing on the program. It was kind of hello kitty, quiet is the new loud, boring is the new interesting, Kahimie Karie, Dominique A, Jpop kind of thing, and didn't quite fit the bill as new contemporary music. It might have been a pleasant opener. That's kind of mean, but, if you lessen my hyperbole a bit, you get the gist of what it was like. And of course, Mssrs. Sweeten and Buckner are hard acts to follow.

Pamela Z humbly MC'd and manned the pamphlets table, which was very nice. I remember ten years ago when she began to parlay crooning through a one rack unit digital delay into arts grant money and recognition. Way to go Pamela. It's great to see you still supporting other artists after so many years!