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!

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