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Active Music Festival posterThe San Francisco Bay Area has long been a friendly and nurturing environment for musicians “without a home” – operating between and outside of genres.  For those shut out of the concert halls and jazz clubs, it’s been a haven where non-traditional musicians build non-traditional alliances, and run non-traditional music venues and concert series where they can take risks and create uncompromising work.  Over decades of community-building and creative ferment, this lack of formal boundaries has defined the sound and feel of the scene, interweaving free improvisation with elements of noise, minimalism, rock, jazz, drone, chamber music, electronica, and other more slippery sounds which resist categorization.

The scene’s relentless DIY approach has led to the establishment of numerous artist-run concert series and festivals, of which the Outsound New Music Summit, the Tom’s Place house concert series in Berkeley, the SIMM Series at the Musicians’ Union Hall, the Wednesday and Sunday series at the Berkeley Arts Festival Space, and the San Francisco Electronic Music Festival are just a few examples.  This month they’ll be joined by a brand-new one, the Active Music Festival, covering February 20-22 in downtown Oakland. Read the rest of this entry »

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Christina Stanley a violinist and vocalist who received her MFA in Music Performance and Literature from Mills College, and her Bachelor of Music degree from San Francisco State University where she received a full performance scholarship and studied violin with Daniel Kobialka, Jassen Toderov and the  Alexander String Quartet. She is an active performing violinist, working as as a soloist as well as an ensemble.   The composer along with the other members of the Skadi Quartet will perform two new graphic scores to open The Composer’s Muse, the second night of the11th Annual Outsound New Music Summit.  Both scores are 40 x 40 oil and charcoal on canvas.  One will be played by the full quartet, and the other as a violin and cello duet.

The Composer’s Muse concert will take place onThursday, July 19th at 8:00 p.m.  All four nights of the festival will take place at the San Francisco Community Music Center,544 Capp Street, San Francisco.  Tickets are available at the door, or online through Brown Paper Tickets.  With the festival fast approaching, I was happy Christina had a moment to answer some of my questions.

S21:   Your alma mater, Mills College, is well known for creating composer/performers.  I’m wondering if in your student years before coming to Mills, if you ever felt pressure to become exclusively a composer, or exclusively a performer?

CS:  Yes, I did feel pressure to be exclusively a performer, though I’m not sure it was anyone’s fault other than my own. I wanted to achieve as much as I possibly could as a classical violinist, and learn all the standard repertoire, and as much of the 20th century as I could before moving into the 21st. However, I could never quite shake  that I had all this desire inside me to create, and I sometimes wondered If I’d chosen the wrong path, despite the fact that I loved playing violin so intensely and completely. After I finished my undergraduate degree, I moved to new York and was trying to figure out what to do with myself creatively. I was still writing songs, but at that time I also began recording myself playing violin and cello, improvising and relishing the dissonances and harmonies.  I was completely thrilled at the possibilities, and knew I would continue composing, though I didn’t know how.

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John Shiurba is a composer and guitarist based in Oakland, California whose artistry embraces improvisation, art-rock, composition and noise.  In his composer capacity, he’s headlining the second night of the 11th Annual Outsound New Music Summit, an evening entitled The Composer’s Muse.  The concert will take place on Thursday, July 19th at 8:00 p.m. at the San Francisco Community Music Center, 544 Capp Street, San Francisco.  Tickets are available at the door, or online through Brown Paper Tickets.

Shiurba’s world premiere work for large ensemble, 9:9, is a suite of nine pieces written to be interpreted by nine players with a conductor.  (Any reader who is familiar with his work will recall his affinity for numbered concepts, in past works such as Triplicate and 5 x 5.)  The score will explore the demise of the print medium through nine different types of notation, all of which are derived from newspapers. The nine players will be called upon to interpret standard music notation along with graphic, textual and pictorial notation, allowing the ensemble some creative input in the interpretation. The form of the suite will be open, allowing the conductor and the players to spontaneously shape the way the music develops in real time.  Shiurba will serve as conductor of his own piece next Thursday night.  He was also kind enough to take time out to answer some of my questions.

S21:  Sequenza21 readers have read about you before in your role as a guitarist in SF Bay Area improvising ensembles.  How does your guitar playing inform (or not inform) your compositions?

JS:  My experience as an improvising guitarist perhaps affects my compositions mostly by way of contrast. When I seek to interject something composed into an improvising ensemble, I tend toward something that the ensemble wouldn’t otherwise do. So usually I choose pitched tight rhythmic phrases that contrast wildly with the mostly arhythmic timbral material that typifies my improvising. Whether or not my approach to the guitar actually affects the music that I write probably depends largely on what music I’m writing. In the case of one of my more rock oriented projects, where I’m writing actual guitar music, undoubtedly my own guitar language (and my limitations) will factor significantly in what I write. When I’m writing for other instruments, then probably not so much. I’m not much interested in creating ways of notating the things that I (and others) do in an improvised situation– I’m happy to just let that happen as it will, and write something to contrast it.

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Composers and sound artists have only got a few days – until May 31st – to answer the annual Vox Novus call for 60-second recorded works for the 60×60 Project.  What started as a gleam in the eye of composer and impresario Robert Voisey is now celebrating its tenth season of providing international exposure and multiple performances to composers of any nationality, age, or career stage.

60×60 was designed to showcase the diversity of the contemporary music scene by getting as many composers as possible before the largest possible audience.  And it’s succeeded — 2000 composers have had their works heard in more than 250 performances in over 30 countries to audiences in the tens of thousands.  Over the years 60×60 mixes have been presented in concert halls, theaters, museums, art galleries, public atriums, bars, nightclubs, building facades, and storefront windows in New York City; not to mention on the radio, TV and netcasts around the world.  Each 60×60 “mix” is one hour long, made up of 60 pre-recorded pieces a minute long or less, by 60 different composers.  During concerts each of the 60 pieces selected begins precisely at the beginning of the appropriate minute.  Works that are less than 60 seconds long are “padded” with silence either before, after, or surrounding the composition.

In addition to the traditional 60×60 International Mix, Vox Novus is planning to create at least 10 mixes to celebrate 60×60’s tenth call for works. Planned mixes include the Canada Mix, Athena Mix, UnTwelve Mix, Northeast Mix, Europe Mix, Presenters Mix, and more.

 The call is open to composers of any nationality, age, or career stage and the deadline for submissions is, once again, May 31, 2012.  There is no application fee. Audio submissions must be in either FLAC, AIFF or WAV file format.  For full details, visit www.60×60.com/calls , and with any questions email support at voxnovus dot com .

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The San Francisco Bay Area’s underground music scene will come together this coming July in an annual celebration of its tremendous range of styles, its love of improvisation, and its collective obsession with new and unusual timbres and techniques.  It’s the 11th Annual Outsound New Music Summit!  All events will take place at the San Francisco Community Music Center at 544 Capp Street near 20th Street in the Mission District, and tickets can be ordered online from Brown Paper Tickets or purchased at the door.

The ever-popular Touch the Gear Expo kicks off the Summit on Sunday July 15, 7-10 pm.  It’s designed especially for anyone who’s longed for a closer look at an experimental musician’s gear on stage, and for the opportunity to mess with it.  25-30 sound artists will be there to demonstrate everything from oscillators to planks of wood with strings attached and answer questions.  Visitors of all ages have free rein to make sound and experience how these set-ups work, and best of all, it’s free.

The second Summit night is also free, and this time the composers take over.  In the Tuesday night Composers’ Symposium (July 17, 7-10 pm), John Shiurba, Christina Stanley, Benjamin Ethan Tinker, and Matthew Goodheart will all discuss how they navigate modern compositional techniques, while combining them with improvisation and their own individual forms of experimentation. The public is invited to talk freely with the composers and ask them questions.

Performances begin at 8:00 pm on Wednesday, July 18th with the first of four themed concerts – Sonic Poetry.  This night is curated by Outsound Board members Amar Chaudhary and Robert Anbian, who’ve recruited three leading poets to collaborate with Bay Area improvising musicians to create new word and sound compositions.  Words are by Ronald Sauer, rAmu Aki, and Carla Harryman, with music by Jacob Felix Heule, Jordan Glenn, Karl Evangelista, Jon Raskin, and Gino Robair.

The Tuesday night Composers’ Symposium prepares everyone for the second performance evening on Thursday, July 19th – The Composer’s Muse.  Christina Stanley, Matthew Goodheart, and John Shiurba will all premiere new works running the gamut from graphic scores for string quartet, to prepared piano with sonified metal percussion, to a major work for large ensemble celebrating the newspaper.

Thwack, Bome, Chime on Friday night, July 20th, curated by Outsound Board member Pete Martin, will feature the world of percussion in all its coloristic and dynamic glory.  David Douglas will combine percussion instruments with custom-built delays, loopers, samplers, and other effects to create The Walls Are White With Flame, a series of highly spatialized sound sculptures.  In Seems An Eternity, Benjamin Ethan Tinker will assemble three percussion trios of metal and skin percussion to explore the same musical material in canon.  And finally the San Francisco percussion ensemble Falkortet will show off its versatility combining traditional percussion, hand drums, and electronics with influences from Indonesian music, Brazilian music, Jazz, minimalism, and rock.

The final day of the Outsound Summit, July 21st, will be a big one starting with a 2-4 pm Harmolodics workshop led by Dave Bryant.  Dave will share material from his years of Harmolodic Theory performance and study with Ornette Coleman, plus his own compositional and improvisational techniques developed on his own and with his ensembles.  The 8 pm final concert, Fire and Energy, curated by Outsound founder Rent Romus, will feature Dave Bryant with his Trio, along with Jack Wright, the Vinny Golia Sextet, and Tony Passarell’s Thin Air Orchestra.

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San Francisco Bay Area composer/performer  Kanoko Nishi wraps up our series of interviews with composers who are premiering new works at the 10th Annual Outsound New Music Summit in San Francisco on Friday, July 22nd.  The Friday night concert, entitled The Art of Composition, starts at 8 pm at the Community Music Center, 544 Capp Street, San Francisco. Tickets are available online from Brown Paper Tickets, and you can also buy them at the door.  Listeners who don’t want to wait that long can get up close and personal with the composers, and learn about their creative process, at a free Monday night panel discussion at 7 pm on July 18th.

Kanoko is classically trained on piano and received a BA in music performance from Mills College in 2006.  Her recent interest has primarily been in performing 20th century and contemporary music on piano and koto, and free improvisation in a variety of contexts. SF Bay Area contrabassist Tony Dryer and guitarist IOIOI, visiting from Italy, will perform Kanoko’s graphic scores as a duo.

S21: How has your classical piano training prepared you – or not prepared you – for improvisation and composition?

I think that one very important element that is particular to musical improvisation as opposed to improvisation in other fields is the role of the musical instruments one performs and interacts with, and classical training for me was just a very deep way of building a relationship with my instruments. What has been helpful is not so much the technique, vocabulary or repertoire, but the time, energy and thoughts spent in the process of acquiring these more concrete skills and knowledge. For me, every improvisation I do is like a battle with the instrument I’m playing, in my case, either the piano or koto, and though I cannot really practice improvising by its definition, it’s only by practicing regularly that I feel I can enrich myself as a person, build my stamina and confidence enough to be a suitable match for my instrument to bring out its full potential. Read the rest of this entry »

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Krys Bobrowski is up next in our series of interviews with composers who are premiering new works at the 10th Annual Outsound New Music Summit in San Francisco on Friday, July 22nd.  The Friday night concert, entitled The Art of Composition, starts at 8 pm at the Community Music Center, 544 Capp Street, San Francisco. Tickets are available online from Brown Paper Tickets, and you can also buy them at the door.  Listeners who don’t want to wait that long can get up close and personal with the composers, and learn about their creative process, at a free Monday night panel discussion at 7 pm on July 18th.

Krys is a sound artist, composer and musician living in Oakland, California. In addition to French horn she plays acoustic and electronic instruments of her own design. Her collection of original instruments includes prepared amplified rocking chairs, bull kelp horns, Leaf Speakers, Gliss Glass (pictured at left) and the Harmonic Slide.  Krys received her M.F.A. in Electronic Music and Recording Media from Mills College and her B.A. in Computers and Music from Dartmouth College.  In addition to performing her own work, Bobrowski plays with the Bay Area-based improvisation ensemble Vorticella.

Her new work, Lift, Loft, Lull, is a series of short pieces exploring the sonic properties of metal pipes and plates and the use of balloons as resonators, performed by the composer and Gino Robair. The compositions have their origins in Bobrowski’s recent instrument prototyping work for the Exploratorium.

S21: Do your pipes, metal plates, and balloons come with any sound-generating history? Is there any “tradition” behind their use in music?

During my artist residency at the Exploratorium, I began experimenting with alternative resonators for musical instruments. I wanted to create an experience that would allow the listener to hear the ‘sonic bloom,’ the moment a resonator comes in tune and couples to a vibrating object.

As part of this project I started researching resonators in traditional and experimental instruments. I came across an interesting photo from the 1950s of someone playing an instrument made of glass rods attached to a series of inflated plastic cushions. The cushions were acting as the resonators for the glass. Later, I learned that the Baschet brothers, Francois and Bernard Baschet, invented this instrument along with dozens of other beautiful sound sculptures, including an inflatable guitar!

This started my exploration of using balloons as resonators, mostly for instruments made out of various kinds of metal: plates, pipes, bars, odd-shaped scraps. I also came across references to Tom Nunn’s and Prent Rodgers’ work with balloons and balloon resonators in a book by Bart Hopkin, ‘Musical Instrument Design.’ This led me to make a version of the ‘balloon gong’ instrument shown in the book.

The results of my sonic explorations and the ‘balloon gong’ will be featured in my composition, Lift Loft Lull. Read the rest of this entry »

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Here’s the first in a series of interviews with composers who are premiering new works at the 10th Annual Outsound New Music Summit in San Francisco on Friday, July 22nd.  The Friday night concert, entitled The Art of Composition, starts at 8 pm at the Community Music Center, 544 Capp Street, San Francisco. Tickets are available online from Brown Paper Tickets, and you can also buy them at the door.  Listeners who don’t want to wait that long can get up close and personal with the composers, and learn about their creative process, at a free Monday night panel discussion at 7 pm on July 18th.

Andrew Raffo Dewar (b.1975 Rosario, Argentina) is an Assistant Professor in New College at the University of Alabama.  He’s a composer, improviser, soprano saxophonist and ethnomusicologist. He’s studied and/or performed with Steve Lacy, Anthony Braxton, Bill Dixon, Alvin Lucier, and Milo Fine. He has also had a long involvement with Indonesian traditional and experimental music. His work has been performed by the Flux Quartet, the Koto Phase ensemble and Sekar Anu. As an improviser and performer Andrew has shared the stage with a plethora of musicians worldwide, both the celebrated and the little-known.

As a member of his own Interactions Quartet, Andrew will premiere “Strata” (2011), dedicated to Eduardo Serón and inspired by the Argentine artist’s 2008 series of paintings, “La Libertad Es Redonda” (“Freedom is Round”).  His description tells us that “Through a combination of improvisation and notation, performers negotiate several “layers” of written material, mixing and matching components that are eventually assembled into nested counterpoint.”

S21:  You’re traveling quite a distance to premiere your piece at the Outsound Summit but it’s certainly not the first time you’ve been here.  How did you become associated with the San Francisco Bay Area new music community?

I lived in Oakland for roughly two years (2000-2002) before heading off to graduate school at Wesleyan University in Connecticut to study with people like Anthony Braxton and Alvin Lucier. My first exposure to the Bay Area community was, if I remember correctly, a two-day workshop with legendary bassist/composer Alan Silva organized by Damon Smith at pianist Scott Looney’s performance space in West Oakland in 2000, which was an excellent experience.  After that, I worked regularly — I think it was weekly — in a “guided improvisation” workshop ensemble at Looney’s organized by clarinetist Jacob Lindsay and guitarist Ernesto Diaz-Infante, and separate improvisation sessions with violist/composer Jorge Boehringer, which were both situations where I had the opportunity to play with many great Bay Area folks, like trumpeter Liz Albee and many others, which was wonderful. Around that time I was walking by guitarist/composer John Shiurba’s house with my horn, and he happened to be outside watering his garden. He asked me what kind of music I played, and I think the combination of the perplexed look on my face and my inability to answer his question easily is why we connected that day — he invited me in to chat, and when I saw a framed photo of Anthony Braxton on his mantle (whose work I’ve appreciated since my late teens, and who I’ve had the great opportunity to study and perform with) I knew I was “home.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Once upon a time in 2000, there was a brand-new underground music collective in the San Francisco Bay Area, presenting a monthly concert series named “Static Illusion/Methodical Madness”.  The SIMM series is still going strong today, and its parent organization, Outsound Presents, now additionally puts on the weekly Luggage Store Gallery concert series and the Outsound New Music Summit.

Outsound acquired a Board of Directors and incorporated its bad self in 2009.  Now with a 501(c)(3) IRS determination in hand, it’s a stalwart provider of experimental music, sound art, found sounds, improvisation, noise, musique concrete, minimalism, and any other kind of sound that is too weird for a mainstream gig in the Bay Area.

The upcoming 2011 Outsound New Music Summit is the 10th annual, running from July 17-23, 2011. All events will take place at the San Francisco Community Music Center, 344 Capp Street, San Francisco. Eager listeners can purchase advance tickets online.

Sunday July 17: Touch the Gear Exposition
Outsound’s free opening event allows the public to roam among the Summit’s musicians and sound artists and their sonic inventions, asking questions, making noise and learning how these darn things work.

Monday July 18: Discussion Panel: Elements of non-idiomatic compositional strategies
Another free public event in which composers Krys Bobrowski, Andrew Raffo Dewar, Kanoko Nishi and Gino Robair will discuss the joys and pains of creating new works some of which to be premiered in The Art of Composition.  The public is invited to participate in a Q&A session.

Wednesday July 20: FACE MUSIC
This concert is devoted to the voice, the world’s oldest instrument, and artists who expand its horizons: Theresa Wong, Joseph Rosenzweig, Aurora Josephson, and Bran…(POS).

Thursday July 21: The Freedom of Sound
A night of operatic free expression, and power of spontaneous sound from Tri-Cornered Tent Show featuring guest vocalist Dina Emerson, Oluyemi and Ijeoma Thomas’ Positive Knowledge, and Tom Djll’s “lowercase big band”, Grosse Abfahrt with special guest Alfred Harth (A23H).

Friday July 22: The Art of Composition
Gino Robair
premieres his Aguascalientes suite based on scenes captured by Jose Guadalupe Posada, Andrew Raffo Dewar’s Interactions Quartet performs Strata (2011) dedicated to Eduardo Serón, Kanoko Nishi premieres her graphic scores along with bassist Tony Dryer, and Krys Bobrowski offers Lift, Loft and Lull, a series of short pieces exploring the sonic properties of metal pipes and plates and the use of balloons as resonators.

Saturday July 23: Sonic Foundry Too!
In a sequel to the first Sonic Foundry performance in 2006, 10 musical instrument inventors are paired up in 5 collaborations: Tom Nunn, Steven Baker, Bob Marsh, Dan Ake, Sung Kim, Walter Funk, Brenda Hutchinson, Sasha Leitman, Bart Hopkins, and Terry Berlier.

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The San Francisco Bay Area is home to a sizable community of sound artists, instrument inventors, and intonation innovators who spend all their time developing original and never-before-heard ways of relating to music and sound.  The local scene got a big national nod in 2008 when Walter Kitundu got the mysterious and exhilarating phone call and windfall that is the MacArthur Fellowship.

With such a lively local pool of talent, it’s natural that it has its own festival – Music for People and Thingamajigs — celebrating its 14th year from September 22nd to 25th, 2011. Edward Schocker and Dylan Bolles started it at Mills College in 1997, and it’s grown up to include a non-profit parent organization, Thingamajigs, and a profusion of programs including performances and arts education.

The festival Call for Proposals just went out this week.  Artists and composers working with invented instruments and/or alternate tuning systems, and performing ensembles featuring either one or both, are invited to submit proposals.  The deadline is June 15, 2011, although proposals which come in on or before May 15, 2011 will be included in festival grant proposals “and will have a greater chance of receiving outside funding,” says founder Schocker.

Proposals should include a bio of the artist/performer/composer(s), a specific description of the work or performance to be considered, and documentation of the submitted work (CD or link to a website).  Thingamajigs prefers electronically submitted proposals, sent to people@thingamajigs.org, but will accept hard copies at  Thingamajigs.org, 5000 MarcArthur Blvd PMB 9826, Oakland, CA, 94613, USA.

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