Last night the Center for New Music (C4NM) presented the second sfSoundSalonSeries concert of the month, curated by Kyle Bruckmann. The title of the program was Not Electronic Music; and it involved four solo performances of free improvisations, all making extensive used of electronic gear. The last of these featured a visit from Lisbon, the first time in sixteen years, by Rafael Toral. The first three performers were American and probably local. What all four performances had in common is that they were all heavily action-based, almost suggesting that the act of making music could be viewed as an act of choreography. The result was that each set involved a different spatial relationship between the performer and his gear.
The first set was taken by Horaflora, the performing name for Raub Roy, based in the East Bay. He worked from a moderately small table whose surface was filled with equipment, as was the floor space directly below that surface. With this layout he could engage both hands and both feet in performing, which he did at a non-stop manic pace that did not let up until his set had concluded. Indeed, his energy level was so high that he managed to keep things going while, at the same time, trying to reestablish the connection of one of his foot controllers. This meant that many of his actions served to initiate processes that would then proceed autonomously. The result was an exhilarating outpouring of sustained energy that always seemed to be teetering on the brink of pure entropy.
Horaflora was followed by Eric Glick Rieman, whose instrument was a modified Rhodes electric piano. This also occupied the surface of a small table with pedal controls on the floor. His entire performance involved the use of his hands, but through a wide diversity of actions, ranging from finger control of individual notes to fist-pounding and karate chops. For all that physicality, however, there was more of a sense of individual events in his music than there had been in Horaflora’s outpouring of energy. The only real disadvantage was that Reiman’s table was at the rear of the stage, making it difficult to see what he was actually doing in the course of performance. However, his particular interest in resonant sonorities made for a welcome contrast to Horaflora’s wild ride.
Angst Hase Pfeffer Nase (the performing name for Chris Cooper, according to the C4NM event page) played from the floor, sitting in front of a rectangular array of his equipment. Within closest reach was an electric guitar, whose strings were subjected to a variety of vibration techniques, some of which involved physical oscillators. This was another high-energy performance of intense activity that only rarely subsided in its pace. However, while Horaflora’s set tended to arise through the works of elaborate digital logic, one could better appreciate the physical causality of Cooper’s performance; and, in many respects, it came off as the one in which attention to choreography had the greatest impact for both the performer and the listener.
Finally, Toral took the stage. In his case equipment was minimal and physical motion was primary. He worked with relatively simple gear that seemed to take different approaches to capturing and processing feedback. Feedback, of course, is a product of proximity between a sound source and a sound receiver. It also tends to exhibit a hysteresis response curve (little response for a long time followed by an abrupt and intense change). As a result, much of Toral’s performance took place in silence as he basically tried to coax different feedback responses by changing the distances between a loudspeaker and a microphone. Depending on the disposition of the listener, his performance had qualities of either monotony (long periods of silence with occasional intrusions of sound) or Zen meditation. In the context of his predecessors, however, Toral never rose above the level of anticlimax, regardless of listener attitude.