San Francisco: Standing Room Only

Roddy Schrock
Roddy Schrock
Photo by Hideki Kubota

The San Francisco Electronic Music Festival’s Friday night event was packed. Two consecutively empty seats in the whole SomArts center couldn’t be found, forcing us to stand for the whole event. If an evening of experimental electronic music could draw this many people on a Friday night then there may be future for this type of uncompromising and nearly unmarketable music.

First on the bill was Victoria Jordanova, an American composer born in the former Yugoslavia, tonight presenting the premiere of her piece Suspended, for amplified pedal harp, live electronics, and something called a futuristic Fukuoku glove with five “vibes” embedded in the fingertips. At first I thought it must be some kind of musical device she made herself while in residency in the city of Fukuoka, Japan, maybe just misspelling the town’s name by one letter. Or possibly she has an affinity for Japanese electronic music, building the instrument from the country’s inspiration. It seems that is not quite the case. The glove does have five “vibes” but they’re more commonly used in non-musical applications. I doubt that promoting its effectiveness in amplified harp performance would do much to increase sales. I wonder if anyone has found a musical use for the Fukuoku Power Pack yet?

Back to the music, Suspended was a lovely piece presented through a delicate and subtle performance. Jordanova beautifully captured a mood that she is known for, a kind of contemplative, simple, and powerful aural motif combining minimal harp sounds and pitch-shifted percussive noise. It’s all suggestive of a kind of sound blueprint for a structure yet to be built. She has a tightly controlled focus to her work, a singularity of vision. I must admit however, I am quite glad that I did not read the program notes until after her performance was finished, at which time I found out that she was trying to sonically conjure the ideas of Hindi mystics through her sounds. Why it would require a Fukuoku glove and an amplified harp to create a mystically Hindu experience is beyond me. But the results, true to their spiritual origins or not, were lovely.

gal*in_dog
gal*in_dog performing Cruise 4ide
Photo by Peter B. Kaars

Next was Guillermo Galindo performing under the pseudonym gal*in_dog, presumably a partial anagram of his surname. He gave a performance that was comprised of approximately three sonic timbres: low industrial rumble, high industrial whine, and a kind of purely electronic gray noise. In addition he was wearing a space helmet and was using a modified crucifix to manipulate and control the sound. By modified, I mean it looked like a cross, about a foot high and 6″ wide, but it was made of metal and had wires attached. So while performing he could, for example, move the sound from a low industrial rumble noise to a gray noise by physically moving the cross closer to or further away from a seemingly random metal object, in this case they were an old fan and some power tools. The breadth of the piece was limited to about that, three different types of noise, one at a time, seemingly without purpose or precision, depending on how close he was to a metal object. It is possible that everyone in the audience got the aural and visual joke or even found deeply significant insights in Galindo’s piece Cruise 4ide. As far as I was concerned, it was during this long piece that I began to just wish I had found a comfortable seat.

Next, Subotnick was joined onstage by Miguel Frasconi, the duo performing Until Spring Revisited, diffused through a four loudspeaker arrangement. The original Until Spring was composed, as Subotnick explains “about 10 years after Silver Apples…I had evolved a whole concept and a technique, but I had gone as far as I could go with it. I could do everything I wanted to do, but I couldn’t do it in real time. So I actually stopped after that and gave all my equipment to Vladimir Ussachevsky.” With the advent of portable digital technology in laptop computers Subotnick was able to, as it were, revisit his earlier work adapting it for live performance. The piece controlled by the performers using finger and voice gestures, input through the computer keyboard and a microphone respectively, to control the slope and timing of the rhythms and timbres. The performative impact was evocative, both musicians seemingly speaking aggressively into their microphones, the audience unable to hear their live voice and never quite sure if they were being sampled for sounds later heard in the music. The resulting textures leaned a bit toward the academic side of the spectrum but were a welcome reprieve from the aggressively obtuse nature of Cruise 4ide.

The evening’s wide range of eclecticism presented a telling glimpse into the current state of electronic music in California. The event showcased the rich ecosystem of electronic sound arts in this area and posited a future that was not clearly in focus. In fact the evening seemed to be a resounding confirmation that the future of this genre is an exciting one and still completely up for grabs. And if the audience this evening was any indication, there may even be people listening.

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Roddy Schrock is a sound artist who digitally mines everyday sound for the profound and canvasses the glitzy, rough edges of pop for its articulate immediacy. He has lived and worked in Tokyo, The Hague, New York, and San Francisco, with performances in the Czech Republic, Holland, Japan, and North America. He is also an educator, currently teaching at De Anza College (California) and will be giving a summer workshop on Supercollider software at STEIM (Netherlands).

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