Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Winsome Griffles at the Fillmore Poster Room

Monday October 27, 2008.  My Fillmore debut, with my band The Winsome Griffles, in the Poster Room.

You can see the famous posters in the background.  And our new banner!  

We only had a teeny riser, so we made Larry sit in front!  

Brad is playing a Cajon percussion box.  We are really packed in tight.  Brad also brought his cutest, teeniest little splash cymbals.

Mason Bates, Mark Applebaum, Adorno Ensemble at Knuth

Thursday October 23, 2008.

"Elektro/Acoustik" (sic) Works by Mark Applebaum & Mason Bates, Presented by The Adorno Ensemble, New Music Ensemble-in-Residence at SF State. Knuth Hall.

Here's Mason Bates with a piece of gear!  Ah, new music.  Well I asked him to pose.  So, partially my fault.  "Mason Bates at Winter NAMM!"   He deserves a better picture.

His website spash page says "Choose one: Electronica / Classical."  Ah the irony.  Do we need to choose?  Mason has been, as a composer, a proponent of combining electronica and classical forms.  He has been fortunate to have found a great number of artistic directors to program and commission his classical pieces which incorporate electronics.  While classical pieces with tape have been around for decades (Morton Subotnick, Milton Babbitt, Vladimir Ussachevsky and so on), Mason and his contemporaries like Nico Muhly from the joint Columbia/Juilliard program have been enjoying newly-hip success and academic encouragement with the live instruments/prerecorded-electronic sounds combo.  Mason's upcoming performances include Chanticleer, Winston-Salem Symphony, The California Symphony, even MTT and the San Francisco Symphony.  And he's still young and fluffy.  Am I jealous?  Yes.  As near as I can tell, the joint Columbia/Juilliard program and composition faculty offer an entrée into a world of opportunity unlike anything else in this country.  He's also won both the Rome Prize and the American Academy in Berlin Prize.  Mason's upcoming performance schedule blows away that of composition professors twice his age.

Not quite twice his age, but on the composition faculty at Stanford, is Mark Applebaum.  While not really young and fluffy, he does have big hair, and colorful homemade gear!
Um, is that a toilet float?
Here he is bowing the Mousketier.

Oh yes and a loop station.

Mason performed three "interludes" on his laptop and controller gizmo throughout the program.  His "White Lies for Lomax" was a tender, intriguing piece for solo piano beautifully executed by Keisuke Nakagoshi.  Keisuke and I were both Composition majors at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM) at the same time.  He now works there as an accompanist.  He is a gifted, brilliant pianist.

Mark Applebaum's "Theme in Search of Variations II" for violin, clarinet, cello, piano, and percussion began in a conventional "new music" style.  Applebaum was a protégé in San Diego of "new complexity" composer Brian Ferneyhough, who subsequently brought him to Stanford. (Check out this photo of the pair from Applebaum's website!)  Pleasantly, this piece redeemed itself, ending twinkly and celestial.

Applebaum's "Mousketier Praxis" was an improvisation by the composer/instrument builder on his Mousketier.  Its clever sounds spoke of terminal hippie wanting a light show.  Here multimedia would have been to the benefit of all involved, appropriate, and not merely tacked on.  Mark's Mousketier proved to be its own popular petting zoo after the concert as well.

Mason Bate's "Red River" for violin, clarinet, piano, cello, and electronics (prerecorded) closed the show.  I really liked this piece.  It was captivating and restful and I may have nodded off through part of it but I awoke very slowly and I found it quite transportational and beautiful.

Following the concert was a reception in the grandest manner of SF State, which the composers did not attend, although they were plenty approachable and chatty as they packed up their gear in the concert hall.  The reception afforded something of a little SFCM Class Reunion!  For me, it's great and exciting to see SFCM alumni involved with new music in San Francisco.

Left to right, Cellist and IDM Conoisseur Alex Keitel, Composer-Author-Blogger Jack Curtis Dubowsky, Pianist and SFCM Poster Model Keisuke Nakagoshi.
Wonderful violist Michi Aceret!
In closing, I'd like to harp on the fact that to me, this was a choice event.  This is one of the nation's top up-and-coming composers, wonderful performers, all for free.  You'd expect it to be packed to the gills.  Nah.  Perhaps when it has the imprimatur of MTT and The SF Symphony, they'll buy tickets.  It also reminds me of the old adage I coined myself summer 2001 at Aspen:  "Beethoven, $60.  New Music, Free."  People will pay for the old classics, but you can't give away new original art music.  Mark Applebaum could pull in more gawkers with the Mousketier at an arts and crafts fair in Mill Valley than at Knuth Hall.  Mason Bates could get more people dancing at 111 Minna.  And by the same token, they're not handing out Rome Prizes or American Academy Music Awards on the street.  So why is the concert hall empty?  Isn't this San Francisco, great cosmopolitan center for the arts?  

"Such a Nice Brisket" World Premiere by LGCSF

October 17 & 18, 2008.

On the 18th, I attended LGCSF Eats Out: A Classical Concert About Food, featuring the world premiere of my "Such a Nice Brisket" for mixed chorus.

This was right in Kanbar Hall, where the chorus rehearses, so they're very comfortable, and the room sounds great too.  

I'm told they are going to memorize the piece and perform it on upcoming outreach concerts in Modesto and at the holiday concert with SFGMC in the Castro Theatre.  That's Wednesday December 24th, the 9pm performance, at the Castro Theatre.

Friday, October 24, 2008

MBA & Venture Capitalist Night at SF Opera

I got this email.  I am not making this up.

Now, why they would mistake me for an MBA Venture Capitalist is beyond me.
(If they sent it to their whole database, that's even more baffling.)

Again - imagine getting this only days after my Chelsea on the Rocks post - this speaks to trends in the arts, population, and economy in San Francisco.  

Remember opera in the park? 
Remember Lotfi's making "opera for everyone?"
Remember commissioning opera based on popular Hollywood films?

Well, hey, is that really going to work in today's economy?  Let's just market opera as a networking opportunity for MBAs and Venture Capitalists!

The message I am feeling from SF Opera is, We know the economy's bad!  We know the lower income folks are leaving!  So we'll return to marketing opera as an elitist art form!  And we'll send it to everyone, whether they can afford a subscription or not, because if they live here, well, they're just as likely as not to be hob-nobbing with people who have so much money they can throw it at any crazy tech idea that comes their way!

Look, I know you need butts in seats.  And yeah, I haven't bought as many tickets as I could afford in previous years.  But I think there's something about sending me this email that smells of poor taste.  If you're going to reach out to MBAs and Venture Capitalists, don't you think you could buy a mailing list from Stanford or some appropriate source and do it more discreetly?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Chelsea on the Rocks at Doc Fest

Friday October 17, 2008.  Opening night of Doc Fest.  

Abel Ferrara's Chelsea on the Rocks made a wonderful selection for opening night film, very timely and apropos for San Francisco.  This quirky, semi-vérité, semi-docudrama, multiple-format documentary film really stokes the fires of bitterness as corporate greed and management consume and destroy the living, beating heart of a building which has housed artists, writers, and musicians for over one hundred years.  Like the post-ordinateur San Francisco, why suffer an indigenous population of struggling artists to live in units which can be rented for $250-900 a night?  

The appearances of many famous artists, writers, and musicians are disguised by not having introductory subtitles.  As a result, you're not bombarded by résumés, but allowed to appreciate idiosyncratic artists for their own eccentricities.  

You know, if you go to Paris, great artists and writers are no longer to be found at Café de Flore either.  It is just for tourists.  It is a bygone era.

You can preserve a building.  Sadly it is more difficult to preserve the human element, especially those on the fringes of an urban society increasingly interested in war and money, and not trifling things like art and culture.

Ironically this film is sure to increase interest in a night's stay at the Chelsea, for those who can afford it.  Come and meet the artists you're pushing out.  Then again, maybe it will keep you in Manhattan and out of Bushwick for a while.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Jack Curtis Dubowsky Ensemble at Luggage Store Gallery New Music Series

Thursday October 16, 2008.

We play a show at the Luggage Store Gallery New Music series, curated by Rent Romus and Matt Davignon.  

Well the front door was kinda busted giving a "Through the Looking Glass" vibe to the whole show.  Made loading in a real adventure too.  Through the rabbit hole, up the stairs!  The show must go on!

After load in, we went to Tu Lan to drink Vietnamese Ice Coffee and eat pork, rice, and Imperial Rolls.  Returning from Tu Lan, we saw this sign on the busted door.

The door is stuck!  Just duck inside!  And so people did.  We arrived midway through Amar Chaudhary's set.  He had some nice stuffed animals with sounds in them.  And a Kaos Pad. mmmm Kaos Pad.

The JCDE show had Erika Johnson on Drums/Percussion, Hall Goff on Trombone/Electronics, and myself on Jupiter 6, Bass, Ocarina, Shaker, and Finger Cymbals.  It was also the debut of our multimedia presentation, a longform DVD of overlapping imagery from the JCDE video shoots projected on a blank wall behind us.

Busted door and all, we had a great time playing this show, and the venue is a lot of fun.  There are more concerts in the series coming up, check them out here.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Eden Log at French Cinema Now Festival

October 11, Clay Theatre, French Cinema Now, presented by the San Francisco Film Society.  

Warning:  Contains spoilers.

A rare opportunity to catch an amazing new French sci-fi thriller, narratively structured after video games.  First time director Franck Vestiel creates a dystopian environment in muted monochromatic tones of gray sludge.  Eden Log owes a great deal to Fritz Lang's Metropolis in its above ground / underground dichotomy.  Unlike Metropolis, Eden Log only slowly begins to make sense, and takes place nearly entirely below the surface.  What is refreshing is the revolution in narrative structure.  Vestiel abandons Hollywood three or four act narrative conventions and adheres to video game structure, replete with levels of Eden Log being clearly labeled as we ascend, and even a defeat-the-boss climax.  Frequent blackouts, first introduced in a jarring opening sequence, frame the structure clearly.  Fade to black is used consistently as a way to advance the narrative.  Once we "come to," we may either be on a new level, or have escaped some danger, or landed in a new predicament.  This keeps the story moving and allows a great sense of unpredictability.

Another interesting facet of the film is original music by Seppuku Paradigm, a series of ambient electronic atmospheres, textures, and washes.  (Not like the obvious music in the trailer below.)  It's a welcome break in the expected horror score genre.  The look and sound of the film has garnered Vestiel comparisons to Aronofsky.  And despite the intensely stylized look, there's a more than a hint of low budget in its tiny, claustrophobic sets, chain-link fences, loose plastic tubes, and gray slather.   The film does not rely heavily on digital effects, and given the story concept, they are scarcely needed, again a pleasant break from today's sci-fi filmmaking. 

Eden Log, especially on the big screen, gives the excitement of having seen something really new.  It is now on DVD.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

"Quiet Emperor" Video

This is a video for "Quiet Emperor" from the Jack Curtis Dubowsky Ensemble I CD. "Quiet Emperor" was recorded live in the studio without overdubs. This is only two people, Fred Morgan and I, playing together live!

Our music is now on Pandora, so you can make a JCDE station!  It plays cool stuff.  You can also read how the Music Genome Project has described and cataloged our music.  Here's how they analyze "Quiet Emperor":  

IDM influences
electronica roots
downtempo influences
use of modal harmonies
minimalist arrangements
synth tweaking
mellow sounds
thin orchestration
subtle use of noise effects
trippy soundscapes

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Eisenhower Farewell Address: World Premiere Oct 5, 2008

I can't really blog my own premiere.  
Here's what Paul Hertelendy wrote on artssf.com:

MEANWHILE, ACROSS THE BAY--- Very few community orchestras essay world premieres. Undaunted, the Castro Valley (CA) Adult School Chamber Orchestra performed Jack Curtis Dubowsky’s half-hour-long “Eisenhower Farewell Address,” setting to music and narration that president’s earnest-but-not-lyrical swan song delivered in 1961, with surprising parallels to today, decrying the “military-industrial complex,” and lamenting the elusiveness of peace as well as the hefty spending required by both. It was just as though President Eisenhower had a crystal ball to peer a half-century into the future.
All such musico-political efforts will inevitably be measured against the benchmark of Copland’s “A Lincoln Portrait,” in which the latter had manipulated the presidential texts to provide effective refrains (which Dubowsky, a 43-year-old San Franciscan, did not). Furthermore the new work collapsed into fragments, like an orange, without a true narration-to-music binding agent. Dubowsky however built a neat opening brass chorale on the president’s initial (D.D.E.), and later portrayed forcefully the busy machinery of military technology that Eisenhower had warned against.
The piece narrated on Oct. 5 by Scott Budman and led by Joshua Cohen should get another hearing, and more evaluation in depth, performed by some more experienced ensemble than this fearless, but not flawless, adult-school community orchestra.

Here's Scott Budman and I at the reception after the performance:

Scott did a terrific job.  He has quite the voice.
Lunettes par Alain Mikli.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Saturday Oct 4

My posse and I started the day with Samantha Robichaud at the Porch Stage.  The Porch is my favorite stage at Hardly Strictly.  It's the smallest, least crowded, most intimate, with a nicely sloped hill from which you can see the stage well.  And it was sunny on the hill.  Samantha is a wonderfully talented fiddle player with an engaging personality.  She is only 20 according to the guide, but looked much older, wearing lots of makeup; really, when you're only 20, you will look much better without it.  You're already young and beautiful.  I've always been baffled by this phenomena of irony of young women wearing too much makeup.  Makeup, historically speaking, has been used to imitate the flush of youth.  In any case, she had a vibrancy and a fluency on her instrument which was quite captivating.  

Next, we stopped in at the Arrow Stage for some of the Bad Livers.  "Austin punk-rock" ?  Hardly.  Not quite what we expected from the program.  It was nice enough though.  No drums, "but they have tattoos" said one of my posse.

Next, Richard Thompson on the Star Stage.  We were far back.  He was a tiny speck on the stage.  We could hear him very well though, and his singing and guitar playing was beautiful.  Some comments about doing shanties and the difficulty of updating a shanty in the age of cruise ships were quite amusing.  He is a real talent.  

We stopped by Nick Lowe at the Rooster Stage but were not sufficiently engaged to brave the crowd.  

Fleeing Rooster we went back to Arrow to catch the tail end of the Gourds, billed as "alternative country."  They did not make a huge impression either way, but we'd had a lot of sun by then.  We were at Arrow really to see Jerry Jeff Walker, as one of our posse is a huge fan of Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings and Jerry Jeff was billed as a similar "outlaw" country performer.  It was good, but didn't really measure up to a Willie Nelson or Waylon Jennings show.  Then again, you know, the sound is different, it's in a park, it's a different vibe.

Last, we went to the Banjo stage to hear Odetta.  She was quite good, but we were pretty beat by then, and left ahead of the mass exodus which was sure to shortly ensue.

What a crowd.  It's exciting being there among all the people and performers in Golden Gate Park.  It seemed even less bluegrass than last year, but maybe that's because of the acts we happened to catch.  We didn't really plan it carefully, and wandered around off the cuff a bit, which I think is a fair way to do the festival.  It really is one of the coolest free things around San Francisco.