Pamela Z’s fascinating avant-chamber ROOM Series takes place at Royce Gallery, a wonderful black box performance gallery on the border between San Francisco’s Mission and Potrero Hill districts with gorgeous acoustics and beautiful lighting. For many years Pamela Z Arts has presented 3-5 incomparably eclectic shows a year in this special series to an enthusiastic experimental music and performance audience, often uniting performers from wildly different musical worlds, or mixing musicians and other performance artists for a wild, but always beautiful exploration of the unique, the unexpected, and the unforgettable.
These evenings feature a variety of virtuosic, solo artists and chamber groups playing cutting-edge new music. The series has included a wide range of artists including Joëlle Léandre, Carl Stone, JHNO, Zoë Keating, Beth Custer, Amy X Neuburg, Moe! Staiano, Miya Masaoka (正岡みや), Suki O’Kane, and many more. A ROOM series evening often includes up to four extremely varied artists of a certain instrument family or curated around a specific theme, who each play solo works and then join together with the other artists for an ensemble improvisation or scored work.
A wonderful restored vintage-era upright piano (in a former life, also a player piano…) has just come available in the space and will make its debut at this show, an event I’m very happy to take part in, not only with vocal and electronics diva Pamela Z, but also with two of the most inspiring pianists and musicians of the Bay Area (or anywhere), Sarah Cahill and Luciano Chessa.
Time & Place: 8pm, Thu 10 Jul at the Royce Gallery, 2901 Mariposa Street (between Harrison & Alabama) San Francisco (map).
In the first part of this post, I’ll talk about the fantastic musicians who will be on the program, and in the second part I’ll discuss what I’m doing in this show (jump to Joe Lasqo program description).
Although the focus in this show is on the 3 pianists, their polyamorous relationships with The Upright, and the additional electro-acoustic instruments & entities they bring into the mix, I must first say a bit about our wonderful curatorial hostess, who’ll also contribute a solo piece and join us in the concluding tutti improv….
◉ Pamela Z is a San Francisco-based composer/performer and media artist who works primarily with voice, live electronic processing, sampling technology, and video.
A pioneer of live digital looping techniques, she processes her voice in real time to create dense, complex sonic layers. Her solo works combine experimental extended vocal techniques, operatic bel canto, found objects, text, and sampled concrète sounds. She uses Max/MSP and Isadora software along with custom MIDI controllers that allow her to manipulate sound and image with physical gestures. In addition to her performance work, she has a growing body of inter-media gallery works including multi-channel sound and video installations.
Pamela has toured extensively throughout the US, Europe, and Japan – performing in international festivals including Bang on a Can at Lincoln Center (New York); la Biennale di Venezia (Italy); the Interlink Festival (Japan); Other Minds (San Francisco); and Pina Bausch Tanztheater’s 25 Jahre Fest (Wuppertal, Germany). She has composed, recorded and performed original scores for choreographers and for film/video artists, and has done vocal work for other composers (including Charles Amirkhanian, Vijay Iyer, and Henry Brant). Her large-scale, multi-media performance works, Parts of Speech, Gaijin (外人), Voci, and Baggage Allowance have been presented at the Kitchen in New York, Theater Artaud & ODC Theater in San Francisco, the Museum of Contemporary Art Theatre in Chicago, as well as in Washington D.C. & Budapest. Her one-act opera Wunderkabinet inspired by the Museum of Jurassic Technology (co-composed with Matthew Brubeck) premiered at The LAB in San Francisco, and was presented at REDCAT in Los Angeles and Open Ears Festival in Canada. She’s shown media works in exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art (New York); Erzbischöfliches Diözesanmuseum (Köln); the Tang Museum (Saratoga Springs NY); the Dakar Biennale (Sénégal); Krannert Art Museum (IL), and the Kitchen (NY).
Pamela has had chamber commissions from Kronos Quartet, Bang On A Can Allstars, ETHEL, California E.A.R. Unit, Left Coast Chamber Ensemble, Empyrean Ensemble, and St. Luke’s Chamber Orchestra. As well as curating and producing the ROOM Series, she’s collaborated with a wide range of artists including Miya Masaoka (正岡みや), Joan Jeanrenaud, Brenda Way (ODC Dance), Jeanne Finley + John Muse, Shinichi Iova-Koga (シンイチ・イオヴァ・コガ), Christina McPhee, Leigh Evans, and Jo Kreiter. Pamela has participated in several New Music Theatre (now renamed Zakros Interarts) events, including the famous original Fort Mason John Cage festivals, and has performed with The San Francisco Contemporary Music Players. Her interactive web-based work Baggage Allowance was officially launched in summer of 2011 at baggageallowance.tv where it remains permanently available.
Special mention must be made of Pamela’s recent masterwork, Carbon Song Cycle, with video collaborator Christina McPhee and master musicians Dana Jessen, Charith Premawardhana (චරිත ප්රේමවර්ධන), Theresa Wong (黃天欣), and Suki O’Kane. Inspired by ongoing changes and upheavals in the earth’s ecosystem, and by the carbon cycle — the process through which carbon is exchanged between all terrestrial life forms and domains — it’s scored for a chamber ensemble of voice & electronics, viola, cello, bassoon, and percussion, plus immersive, multi-screen video projections.
To compose the music, Pamela wove together melodic motifs inspired by scientific data about the carbon cycle and texts referencing environmental balance and imbalance, playing on the idea of the natural exchange of elements by passing sonic material between the players, as well as exploring audio elements related to the imagery shot at petroleum fields, natural gas locations, and geothermal sites around back-country California, along with carbon-inspired drawings and images of processes involving intense heat and chemical transformations.
Carbon Song Cycle premiered at the Berkeley Art Museum / Pacific Film Archive and has toured to Roulette in NYC. If you want to experience something of this alarming and beautiful piece yourself, a video of the BAM/PFA performance can be found above.
◉ Sarah Cahill, recently called “fiercely gifted” by the New York Times and “as tenacious and committed an advocate as any composer could dream of” by the San Francisco Chronicle, has commissioned, premiered, and recorded numerous compositions for solo piano. Composers who have dedicated works to her include John Adams, Terry Riley, Frederic Rzewski, Pauline Oliveros, Annea Lockwood, and Evan Ziporyn, and she’s also premiered pieces by Lou Harrison, Julia Wolfe, Ingram Marshall, Toshi Ichiyanagi (一柳慧), George Lewis, Leo Ornstein (Лев Орнштейн), and many others. I find her renditions of Kyle Gann’s works particularly mesmerizing; they’ve seemed to me a pinnacle of sensitivity and virtuosity since initially hearing her perform Gann’s Time Does Not Exist at the Other Minds festival a few years ago.
Sarah has researched and recorded the music by the important early 20th-century American modernists Henry Cowell and Ruth Crawford, and has commissioned a number of new pieces in tribute to their enduring influence. She enjoys working closely with composers, musicologists, and scholars to prepare scores for performance. Recent appearances include Spoleto Festival USA, Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts, the Portland Piano Festival, and the Mendocino Music Festival. She was recently the soloist with the La Jolla Symphony conducted by Steven Schick for Lou Harrison’s Piano Concerto, and she’s performed chamber music with the New Century Chamber Orchestra, the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble, and many other chamber groups.
Sarah’s most recent project, A Sweeter Music, premiered in the Cal Performances series in Berkeley in 2009 and continued to New Sounds Live at Merkin Hall, Rothko Chapel, the North Dakota Museum of Art, Le Poisson Rouge, and venues around the country, with newly commissioned works on the theme of peace by Terry Riley, Meredith Monk, Yōko Ono (小野洋子), Frederic Rzewski, Phil Kline, and many others. The San Francisco Chronicle wrote that “the music, helped along by the impassioned force of Cahill’s playing, amounted to a persuasive and varied investigation of the subject,” and London’s Financial Times called it “a unique commissioning programme that unites artistic aspirations with moral philosophy.” Her next project, Utopia/Dystopia, will feature new works by young composers envisioning the future of the planet.
Most of Sarah’s albums are on the New Albion label. She has also recorded for the CRI, New World, Other Minds, Tzadik, Albany, Cold Blue, and Artifact labels. Her album A Sweeter Music was released by Other Minds, and she’s currently preparing a CD of Patterns of Plants by Mamoru Fujieda (藤枝守). Her radio show, Revolutions Per Minute, can be heard every Sunday evening from 8 to 10 pm on KALW, 91.7 FM in San Francisco. She’s on the faculty of the San Francisco Conservatory, hosts a new music series at the Exploratorium, and curates a monthly series of new music concerts at the Berkeley Art Museum.
◉ As a composer, conductor, and soloist on instruments as varied as piano, musical saw, Vietnamese đàn bầu, & megaphone distortion/feedback, Luciano Chessa has been active in Europe, the US, Australia, and South America.
His compositions include a piano & percussion duet after Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Petrolio, written for Sarah Cahill and Chris Froh and presented at the American Academy in Rome, Il pedone dell’aria for orchestra and double children choir, premiered in Torino, and 2 works in collaboration with artist Terry Berlier: Louganis for piano & TV/VCR-combo, and Inkless Imagination IV for viola, mini-bass musical saw, turntables, piano, percussion, FM radios, blimp and video projection.
Recent premieres include a large orchestral work for the Orchestra Filarmonica di Torino titled Ragazzi incoscienti scarabocchiano sulla porta di un negozio fallito an.1902; Movements, a multimedia work for 16mm film, đàn bầu and amplified film projectors produced in collaboration with filmmaker Rick Bahto; Come un’infanzia, a guitar + string quartet piece for the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble…
… A Heavenly Act, an opera commissioned by SFMOMA for Nicole Paiement and Opera Parallèle, with a libretto by Gertrude Stein and video by Kalup Linzy; LIGHTEST, an SFMOMA commission presented last year at the SF Columbarium; and Set and Setting, for San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, premiered in Feb at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.
Luciano has been performing Futurist sound poetry for well over 10 years, based on a Dada typography which the futurists called parole in libertà, (“words in freedom”), including his reading of Italian Futurist sound poetry to accompany a performance of the Grammy Award Nominated New Century Chamber Orchestra…
… and he’s given the modern premiere of Francesco Cangiullo’s explosive Futurist sound poems Piedigrotta and Serata in onore di Yvonne to critical acclaim.
As a musicologist, his areas of research include 20th-century, experimental, late fourteenth-century music (Ars Subtilior), and Italian 1990′s hip-hop. Luciano received a Ph.D. in musicology from UC Davis; at the Conservatorio di Musica, Bologna he earned a DMA. in piano and a MA in composition. His research focuses on 20th-century & experimental music and can be found in Musica e Storia (Levi Foundation, Venice).
Luciano’s also the author of Luigi Russolo, Futurist: Noise, Visual Arts, and the Occult, showing for the first time the occult relationship between Futurist painter and sound artist Luigi Russolo’s intonarumori and Leonardo da Vinci’s mechanical noisemakers
Luciano’s Futurist expertise resulted in a commission by New York City’s Biennial PERFORMA to direct the first reconstruction of Luigi Russolo’s intonarumori orchestra by master instrument builder Keith Cary, and to curate and conduct concerts which received a “Best of 2009″ mention in the New York Times, featuring, among many other compostions, his L’acoustique ivresse, for bassvoice & intonarumori ensemble, and the modern premiere of Russolo’s Risveglio di una città.
As can be seen in this photo, these intonarumori were astonishing early 20th-century synthesizer instruments which were not merely analog, but mechanical (we are talking about crank-driven here, look at Ugo Piatti to the right…).
Luciano’s intonarumori orchestra went on to gather new commissions and play at the MART in Rovereto, Italy, as part of the Festival Transart, following with a sold-out intonarumori concert for Berliner Festspiele-MaerzMusik Festival; for Art Basel Miami Beach, he conducted this ensemble with the New World Symphony with Lee Ranaldo in the premiere of Ranaldo’s It All Begins Now! and continued to the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires.
Luciano brought the ensemble back to the Bay Area last year in an inspired concert at BAM/PFA, and a double LP dedicated to the Orchestra of Futurist Noise Intoners and documenting the first phase of this project appeared on the label Sub Rosa and promptly sold out.
A video with interviews of Luciano and showing the intonarumori in action can be seen below:
Luciano teaches at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, serves in the Advisory Board of TACET, the international research publication dedicated to Experimental Music of the Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, and collaborates with San Francisco’s Istituto Italiano di Cultura. His music is published by RAI TRADE, the Italian National Broadcast Channels’ music publishing company and Edizioni Carrara.
◉ Maxxareddu is my AI improvising agent associate, formally premiered at the computer music night which I curated for Outsound New Music Summit 2013 (link, scroll down to Set 2), and who also slips sometimes unannounced into a number of my laptop-based performances
He’s a past member, along with Ritwik Banerji (ঋত্বিক ব্যানার্জী) and Ritwik’s improvising agent, Maxine, in the ensemble, Half-Human Quartet (we’ll both miss Ritwik and Maxine, who are shortly off to Berlin… Gute Reise!).
Maxxareddu uses a variety of techniques ranging from blackboard architectures and, especially, computational event-grammars, from my past work in expert systems development and natural language processing, to listen to, analyze, and improvise with both human and non-human partners.
I am truly privileged to join these eminent colleagues for what I’m sure will be a rare night of musical beauty.
I don’t have detailed advance info about the solo segments which Pamela Z, Sarah Cahill and Luciano Chessa intend to present in this show, but, turning to my part of the program, here is some info below (or jump to series description & bios of Pamela, Sarah and Luciano above).
◉ Chōshi électro-acoustique (電子音響の調子)
Based on a “chōshi” (a “tuning prélude”) which is associated with one of the oldest shakuhachi pieces, Hon Shirabe (本調べ), this is a “other-timed” music, organized into phrases controlled by breath-time.
It’s been my privilege to work with some of the great shakuhachi players of the Bay Area like Nancy Beckman, Cornelius Shinzen (深禅) Boots, and Karl Young who have taught me a lot about riding and letting “breath” into my instruments (piano, laptop, percussion) — instruments which ordinarily could almost be described as “anti-breath”. The practice of chōshi has been a good place to apply these insights.
I’ve recorded an earlier, purely piano version of this piece on my CD, Turquoise Sessions. In this second chōshi piece, I add laptop-based MSP synthesis as well.
Many of the wind techniques of the shakuhachi (e.g. overblowing) aren’t available on the piano, so I’ve developed a toolbox of effect-substitution strategies which sometimes use a quite different sound or technique than the original (including at times markéd distortions to the original pitches or modality) — and all the more so for the digital electronics.
Also I generally held the structure over the flame a bit to see which way it would melt…
The result is a sequence where each phrase has a different flavor like one sound-color shifting into another.
◉ Cyber Renga-kai [Q] (サイバー連歌会 ～ 急)
As is well known, John Cage was heavily influenced by Zen Buddhism and Japanese culture in general. This led to a fascinating series of “renga pieces” based on the Japanese collaborative improv poetry form, renga (連歌).
With beginnings in the time of the Man’yōshū (万葉集), c. 760 A.D., renga evolved into a very sophisticated game played by connoisseurs who used its 5-line stanzas in an interplay of group-improvised linked verses, exchanged among the members of a (usually sake-soaked) poetry party.
Japanese poetry fiends took renga to remarkable heights of sophistication, defining an elaborate aesthetic of seasonal symbolism, pivot-stanzas referring to moon and cherry blossoms, and special gold-and-silver dusted papers of different shapes, sizes and colors to brush their poems onto whilst sipping from cups of sake brought to them sushi-boat-style by garden streams specially constructed for this purpose.
Renga-kai (連歌会) is a new form extending rules based on some of the “renga pieces” of John Cage, and their unique transformations — not only of Japanese verse forms for alcohol-soaked group poetry improv, based on structures of 5 + 7 + 5 + 7 + 7 — but also of fundamental concepts like “duet”, “listening” and “time”.
It generates a game that, like go (碁), is rich in strategy despite relatively simple rules.
Expanding on game-like rules Cage developed for his luminous and serene “renga-pieces”, we use the 36-stanza kasen (歌仙) form of renga, re-imagining each 5-line stanza as a duet in 5-line musical units, each filled with 5 or 7 sound-events which replace the 5 or 7 syllables of the original poetic form.
Our renga-rules allow the players to create an interlinked joint control of fluid time, creating meditative, ever-shifting ripples in highly-focused 31-event sound-poems which will be uniquely different in each performance.
And we’ll honor the renga tradition of alcohol-assisted creativity, by demarcating these sections with ceremonial libations (which may lead to some interesting musical results…).
In the past, I’ve presented Renga-kai with human duet partners in the ensemble; in this show I’ll perform the form for the first time with a non-human duet partner, Maxxareddu.
◉ Sa-Z Chissà? in rāga Mandāri (ராகம் மந்தாரி)
A relatively traditional Indo-Modernist composition of mine in the 3-part South Indian form rāgam-tānam-pallavi (well, not SO traditional… it’s on the piano with harmonies…. and for this show, it will be concentrated into a brief piece from a more usual performance time of 40-50 min).
The term rāgam-tānam-pallavi refers to the 3 sections of this form:
(1) rāgam (ராகம்) – slow intro in unmetered time to establish the rāga
(2) tānam (தானம்) – a section of rhythmic play which is faster and involves using more complex rhythmic phrases
(3) pallavi (பல்லவி) – a presentation of the melody in metered time, faster
If you’ve listened to either North or South Indian classical music, you’ll find this form not unfamiliar, and it is my hope that you’ll appreciate the wonderful potential of the piano as a nontraditional instrument for the grand and vital Karnatic tradition of South India.
The rāga for this program, Mandāri (ராகம் மந்தாரி), has become an obsession for me of late. Its complex emotional flavor — warm and yet mysterious, fully feeling the world’s tragic nature and yet witty and strong — is a result of its rich intervallic structures, which geometrically recur in yin and yang positions.
In addition to the above, I’ll also join the other players for free improv. Who knows what’ll happen when our musical worlds intersect…?
In lesser hands, the turbo-eclectisicm of this group of musicians might spin out of control; under the wearable-controller baton of Pamela Z, it will become a night-blooming sonic flower of rare alien beauty.
A flower that will bloom only once… hold it with your mind and come vibrate with us….