peteg's blog - noise - music

Fareed Ayaz and Abu Muhammad Qawwal & Brothers at Logan Center for the Arts.

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It was a perfect day for cycling, so I figured I'd ride down to University of Chicago along the Lakeshore Trail for this gig. Had lunch at the Chicago Curry House, which was OK for a buffet, a snooze in the park near 39th Street Beach, and a coffee at the Bridgeport Coffeehouse in Hyde Park. There's more to that place than I realised. I got some takeaway dinner at Siam Thai on 55th and hightailed it over to the Logan Center for the Arts. I was a bit surprised that I'm fit enough to do bike rides of this length without too much discomfort. Well, at least when there are no headwinds.

The place (same as for Ishiguro) was packed for the first act: Aziz Sahmaoui & University of Gnawa. The City of Chicago World Music Festival blurb:

Aziz Sahmaoui sets out once more with his magical group, conjuring up sonorous dreams and intoxicating trance states. On this new journey, in which heady refrains are coupled with a divinely undulating groove, the Moroccan poet-singer has achieved a glorious harmony between Maghreb rock, jazz and gnawa music. With the full fire of his spellbinding voice, the cofounder of the Orchestre National de Barbès and former associate of Joe Zawinul, he confirms his reputation as one of the foremost singer-songwriters of contemporary world fusion music, a reputation that reaches across Europe and beyond to the Middle East and the United States. They will be touring the US in Fall 2015 fresh off their latest, critically-acclaimed release, Mazal.

Yeah, north African dance music, high energy and happy stuff. After intermission the Pakistanis set up, with almost no English, and about a third of the crowd departed, as if they hadn't known what they had signed up for, after a couple of songs. I somewhat concur as the first two-thirds was not especially inspired call-and-response. As they loosened up, and responded from some good natured heckling from those in the crowd who spoke Punjabi and so forth, things got more free-form and electric. They closed with Kangna and another piece of a similar style. A bit muted, but still awesome, and let's not bother with a denouement. There's not a lot to look at, though I'm sure there's a fairly rigid hierarchy at work within the ensemble.

The City of Chicago World Music Festival blurb:

Fareed Ayaz, Abu Muhammad Qawwal and Brothers are masters of Qawwali Sufi music as well as classical genres such as tarana, thumri and khayal. They learned the art of Qawwali from their father, the late Ustad Raziuddin Ahmed of the Delhi Gharana, a music school founded in the 14th century that can be traced back over 700 years to its original founders, Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia and Hazrat Amir Khusra. The group sings in multiple languages including Urdu, Punjabi, Sindhi, Hindi, Farsi, Arabic, Bengali, and Purbi. Weaving together devotional and secular traditions, Ayaz and company have been bringing Qawwali music to international audiences for over thirty years.

Country of Origin/Based: Pakistan
Genre: Qawalli

I took the Green line back to Lake-at-Morgan, and cycled home from there. I'm told that things get a little sketchy after dark between Hyde Park and the City, and anyway I was tired.

The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center: The Emerson Quartet.

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Goldstar ticket: $22.50 + $5.50 service fee = $28.00, bought 2015-05-18. As usual with these last-gasp ticket purchases, I should have stayed home. There's no doubt these guys are tight, but the tunes tonight were not to my taste: Liebermann: New Work for String Quartet (CMS Co-Commission, NY premiere), Mozart: Quintet in E-flat major, and Tchaikovsky: Souvenir de Florence. Uncomfortably cold too, at least in just a tshirt. Pizza at Giordarno's with Christian beforehand.

The Scrapes: discography to date at Bandcamp.

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I heard that these guys from Brisbane have a gig at an underground venue in Sydney in May, and as I won't be there the best I could do is buy their entire back catalogue. Their new album has slipped its promised deadline by at least a day. I like their mix of doom-drone, Dirty Three knockoffs and the odd atmospheric original so far. Kali Yuga Sunrise sounds like a mix of the Dirty Three's Indian Love Song with Valgeir Sigurðsson's World Without Ground from Architecture of Loss, and perhaps Lungs, for Merrilee off Ekvílibrium, with a dash of Ben Frost.

Acid Mothers Temple and the Melting Paraiso U.F.O., but not really.

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$12.00 + $3.36 service fee + $2.50 delivery fee = $17.86, bought 2015-01-30. The thing with buying tickets with such lead times is that you never know how things are going to be when the gig rolls around. I was pretty tired, a little sick, and certainly not up for a superlate night listening to loud, repetitive psychedelic rock an hour's walk from home. But what the heck, I went anyway. This was my first time at the Empty Bottle, past the hospital on Division. I'm guessing it was at about a third of capacity. I had a couple of Left Hand Milk Stouts to ease the passing of time: arrived there at 8.45pm, somewhat enjoyed the support (ST 37, I think, from Austin, Texas; one guy had a "free shrugs" t-shirt) from 9.30pm, and tried to get into the Japanese guys around 10.30pm. I bailed at 11pm as the last 70 bus down division had gone and it was a school night.

The Church at Double Door.

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$30.00 + Ticket Fee $6.50 = $36.50. Bought January 30. Apparently sold out. Still crook, coughing and spluttering, getting messy; would've preferred not to go, but maybe the last chance to see these dinosaur psychedelic pop rockers, for me at least. Caught the 70 bus down Division, walked up Milwaukee to North in the last of the sub-zero weather for the right now. First time at Double Door. It's direct opposite the Damen blue-line station, and is something like a mildly scaled-up Hopetoun Hotel: on the affirmative, 550 capacity, bar running down the side, standing-room only, small stage, painted black. And for the negative, it's ugly with a poor beer menu. I got there around 8.20pm. There was a small queue at the door.

While waiting around I got talking to a bloke who'd flown up from Kansas City, with a far better idea of what to expect than I had. The warm up band played a short set: The Sharp Things from NYC, who couldn't help themselves but poke fun at the amiable mid-west crowd. Small break, and without too much fanfare, The Church. Kilbey played it somewhat mystical, wearing a third-eye t-shirt, gathering himself before particular songs, like they meant a lot to him, getting quite twitchy at times; he looked like a rock god etched from heroin. The acoustics were so-so, but he did sound English and from the wiki I see I'm not wrong. Ian Haug looked like the music wasn't taxing him. As always I got lost in the bass, and a lack of familiarity with their material made it difficult for me to get into it.

LAMPO: Jennifer Walshe and Tony Conrad as Ma La Pert

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A Liz Fraser-alike b-boxing, or scatting ala Megan from The Herd? The place was packed, possibly due to a glowing preview in the Chicago Reader. To me it sounded like mild audience abuse with an Irish lilt, a cello, and a violin plugged into some analog electronics; chopping this stuff up doesn't make it more inventive. The walk over was in sleet. I was sleepy all day after taking the train back from West Lafayette.

Jennifer Walshe and Tony Conrad will perform together as Ma La Pert, an improvisational collaboration that blends a variety of traditional and non-traditional instruments such as violins, autoharps, drums, vocalizations, found objects, and costumes to generate unique sounds during their live performances.

Jennifer Walshe is a London-based vocalist, composer, and conceptual artist who often works under various identities individually as Grupat, and also with different collaborators across Europe and the US, including Ma La Pert with Tony Conrad and with Tomomi Adachi on the People’s United Telepathic Improvisational Front. Walshe’s work has been exhibited in New York, Dublin, London, and Toronto.

Tony Conrad is an experimental filmmaker, artist, composer and musician based between Brooklyn and Buffalo, NY. He is known for his early pioneering drone-based minimalist music, as well as his involvement in the Theatre of Eternal Music (The Dream Syndicate) and collaborations with numerous filmmakers, artists, and musicians such as John Cale, La Monte Young, Mike Kelley, Marian Zazeela, Jim O’Rourke, Lou Reed, and Walter De Maria. In addition to experimental filmmaking, Conrad has composed numerous audio works for amplified strings, and has more recently focused on examining traditions in Western music and geometry from Pythogoras to the present.

LAMPO: Arnold Dreyblatt.

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The first piece was a piano-stringed bass fitted with some electronics. He played it by banging it with a bow, which yielded some kind of dance music that evoked the opening of Félix Lajkó's Remény. It had its moments; the preview on iTunes is far more vanilla. The second was all laptop and often verged on audience abuse, and took the artist a few solid belts of vodka (I think) to get through. The bloke on my left was Facebooking the whole time, and the bloke on my right was swigging sake (I think). Both far older than I.

Their blurb:

The Graham Foundation and Lampo are pleased to welcome American media artist and composer Arnold Dreyblatt who will perform two works: Turntable History / Spin Ensemble (2011), a multi-channel sound composition derived from Dreyblatt's own recordings of a Magnetic Resonance Imaging Scanner, and Nodal Excitation, a 1979 work for amplified "excited strings" bass, strung with piano wire. Arnold Dreyblatt is a composer, performer, and visual artist. He studied music with Pauline Oliveros, La Monte Young, and Alvin Lucier, and has been based in Berlin, Germany since 1984. Among the second generation of New York minimal composers, Dreyblatt developed a unique approach to composition and music performance. As he began his music career in the late 1970s in New York, he invented a set of new and original instruments and performance techniques, as well as a just intonation tuning system. He has formed and led numerous ensembles, working under the name "The Orchestra of Excited Strings." In 2007, he was elected to the German Academy of Art (Akademie der Künste, Berlin).

The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center: Drumming at Harris Theater.

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Goldstar ticket: $20.00 + $5.25 service fee = $25.25 on 2015-01-23. I figured I'd pay a bit more and see if the seating improved. I was a fair way back but had a great view, which is something when the drummers are this skillful. Before the gig I had a Chicago-style lasagna-pizza at Giordano's near the Harris Theater.

They started with three surrounding a kettle drum with some auxiliary percussion in between for Nebojsa Jovan Živković's Meccanico from Trio per uno for Percussion Trio, Op. 27 (1995, 1999), which, being exhilarating, set a high bar the later pieces struggled to meet. Conlon Nancarrow's Piece for Tape arranged for Percussion (arranged by Dominic Murcott) (1950s) was unmemorable. Thierry de Mey's Musique de tables for Percussion Trio (1987) was some kooky wax-on wax-off stuff that evoked my last trip to Campbelltown. I don't clearly remember John Cage's In a Landscape for Marimba (transcribed by Ian David Rosenbaum) (1948), nor Toru Takemitsu's Rain Tree for Percussion Trio (1981), both of which drew me to this concert in the first place. Grr. Steve Reich's Drumming: Part 1 for Percussion Quartet (1970-71) exhibited the skill of all four drummers. Bartók's Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion (1937) was difficult to stomach.

I took the Red Line home due to it being damn cold, a little windy, and my being toasted.

Sounds of the South Loop: Metropolis Quartet.

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Goldstar ticket: $7.50 + $3.00 service fee = $10.50. The 6pm start was a bit awkward. I took a bus down State and grabbed a very quick and quite servicable pad thai at Opart Thai. 2nd Presbyterian Church is quite elegant with great acoustics. I was the youngest in the crowd by at least a decade. The instruments were an oboe, a cello, a viola and a violin, and were all well-played. There was no program so I have no record of the pieces; one was a composition by the Sounds of the South Loop artistic director Kim Diehnelt (I think). I enjoyed the lot.

Realising I had just enough time, I forsake an evening in Chinatown and instead took the Red Line back to Division so I could extract The Moon of Hoa Binh from the Near North branch of the Chicago Public Library. It's on a three-week interlibrary loan. 1700 pages. More on that later.

New stuff from Félix Lajkó.

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It's been a while since I've looked this guy up. He's revamped his website, had a shave and got a haircut, but fortunately not a real job. He's distributing his new stuff via iTunes, which makes it twice as expensive as before. My $US28 got me:

  • Mező / Field, zither and cello. Some awesome stuff.
  • Jelszó, violin, piano and more.
  • Végtelen, with orchestra, but not in the Metallica way. Some familiar tunes from years ago, some with very American-cartoon-music twists. Amusingly the band plays his music even while he doesn't.

LAMPO: Tristan Perich: Noise Patterns at the Logan Center for the Arts

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After lunch at the local downmarket Chinese (Empire Restaurant on Division, precisely what you'd expect; their Singapore noodles was solid), I took the red line down to Garfield and schlepped across to the University of Chicago. There is much urban blight and a sense of emptiness on that route; Hyde Park is a gentrified pocket in an undeveloped / boarded-up area. Turns out it was winter (exam?) break and almost entirely closed; I stumbled over some performance thing for parents and children while searching for the feted Hallowed Grounds. I ended up at the Plein Air Cafe, near the Oriental museum. Electricity, decent coffee, croissant, no wifi. A place to take your children for a snack if you're an early-career academic. Later on I grabbed a cheap and quick Pad Thai from Noodles etc., nearby.

The Logan Center for the Arts is a swank building on the edge of a swank campus, which reminded me most of Washington University in St. Louis. It is predictably huge, especially given that Google claims only about 15,000 students study there. Perich's "1-Bit" branding underplays the complexity of his mechanism: in the after talk he threw around probability distributions, duty cycles, and more in a general geek-out. I enjoyed some of his sound, but found it overly harsh for the most part; it is of the sort that people have been getting from their microchip projects on initial startup since 1974. I grant that he's put a lot of effort into composition, though it still felt like a formless, centreless kind of work that is far more alienating than Ben Frost's modulated noise. I was half hoping that he'd momentarily break into something mindblowingly coherent. Perich seemed to understand this as he introduced a solid beat somewhere after the midpoint. The whole thing went for an hour and I didn't find it was something to relax to, in contrast to most improv; perhaps the view out of the 9th floor windows was too captivating. I'm certainly keen to head back.

Their blurb:

The great Tristan Perich returns to Lampo to present "Noise Patterns," his new composition for sequenced 1-bit patterns of white noise, programmed for and performed by microchip. The work expands on his "1-Bit Symphony" and tonal pieces for electronic circuits and acoustic instruments.

N.B. the code in "Noise Patterns" outputs random sequences of 1s and 0s. The "notes" of his "score" are then varying probabilities of randomness, ranging from the sound of white noise to sporadic, instantaneous pops, which Perich composes into rhythmic patterns. In a wave of 1-bit noise, the music is an investigation into the foundational limits of computation.

Artist and composer Tristan Perich (b. 1982, New York, N.Y.) is inspired by the aesthetic simplicity of math, physics and code. Best known for his constructions that explore the physicality of sound and the polyphonic potential of 1-bit audio, his "1-Bit Music" (2004-05) and "1-Bit Symphony" (2010) celebrate the virtuosity of electricity. Neither release is a traditional recording. Instead, each is a music-generating circuit, housed in a CD jewel case with a headphone jack. Perich also has composed several works for musicians with 1-bit music accompaniment, and is in the music group the Loud Objects (with Kunal Gupta and Katie Shima), which performs by soldering its own noise-making circuits live in front of the audience. His award winning work coupling 1-bit electronics with traditional forms in both music ("Active Field," "Observations") and visual art ("Machine Drawings," "Microtonal Wall)" has been presented around the world, from Sonar and Ars Electronica to the Whitney Museum and Museum of Modern Art.

Tristan Perich first appeared at Lampo in October 2010, performing his "1-Bit Symphony."

Presented in partnership with the Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago.

LAMPO: Lucky Dragons

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I missed the last LAMPO for not-particularly-good reasons; lethargy, weather, I forget. This one had them queuing out the front from 7pm, when I got here, after a rather expensive dinner at Big Bowl (good ingredients, mediocre penang sauce, decent brown ale sold as a stout). The light show on Michigan confused the route. As it turned out there was at least one empty seat; full but not packed, I'd say. At some point the organisers unlocked the doors but did not invite us in. They're a weird mob.

So this gig was closer to the improv I'm used to, but with many laptops and only a few instruments (a drum kit, xylophones, oboe (?)). They put some visuals on the roof, but nothing too exciting. The schtick was to play the same piece (in some sense) through twice, with the second influenced by an audience interaction / bikeshedding session in the middle. One guy opined "isn't chance the opposite of concensus?" which made me scratch my head about as much as the suggested mechanisms for terminating the chance movement. Anyway. I found it relaxing. Their blurb:

Los Angeles-based collaborative duo Lucky Dragons premiere "RSVP Partita," a new performance for Lampo that treats Lawrence and Anna Halprin's late 60's workshop-based approach to creative processes as a musical form -- folding score, performance and evaluation together into an iterative suite for instrumentalists, software and group conversation.

A collaboration between artists Sarah Rara (b. 1983, Livingston, N.J.) and Luke Fischbeck (b. 1978, San Francisco, Calif.), Lucky Dragons have been exploring the nuances of sound as a participatory medium for close to 14 years through recordings, performance, software design, workshops, and installations. Their work has been presented in a wide variety of contexts, including the Whitney Museum of American Art (as part of the 2008 Whitney Biennial), the Centre Georges Pompidou, the Walker Art Center, London's Institute for Contemporary Art, MOMA/PS1 and the Kitchen in New York, REDCAT, LACMA and the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, MOCA Los Angeles, the 54th Venice Biennale, and the Smithsonian's Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, among others. The name "Lucky Dragons" is borrowed from a fishing vessel caught in the fallout from H-bomb tests in the mid-1950s; an incident which sparked international outcry, spontaneously generating the worldwide anti-nuclear movement.

Presented in partnership with the Graham Foundation, in conjunction the Graham’s current exhibition, Experiments in Environment: The Halprin Workshops, 1966-1971.

The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center: Dvorák, Chausson, and Schubert at the Harris Theater.

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Somehow I managed to get free tickets to this from the 芝加哥中国文化 院 Chicago Chinese Cultural Institute, Inc. The bloke sitting next to me with the phablet may have been there for the intended purpose, whatever that was.

Today was bloody cold. I walked up from work, grabbing a Thai from Siam on Washington and a hot chocolate from the Intelligentsia on Randolph, unfondly, for old times' sake. I enjoyed the Dvorák (Selections from Cypresses (Echo of Songs) for Two Violins, Viola, and Cello, B. 152, and Nocturne in B Major for Two Violins, Viola, Cello, and Bass, Op. 40 (1870, rev. 1882)) and parts of the Chausson (Trio in G minor for Piano, Viilin, and Cello, Op. 3 (1881)). Schubert's bucolic left me cold. The musicians were solid; I get the impression they are based in New York. The Harris Theater is conveniently almost connected to the Metra station at the top of Millennium Park, but I had to walk back to Wabash to get the green line out to Ashland.

Constellation: Cleared and Ben Frost.

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I paid $21.79 = $18 + $3.79 in fees to TicketWeb. I could have paid $22 at the door, and would have if I hadn't expected it to sell out. Hosted by Empty Bottle, though I heard about it from the Constellation's regular mailout. That and the freebie track Venter on Frost's bandcamp page provoked me to buy his album A U R O R A off iTunes, and a ticket to this gig.

I left work a bit early on this Halloween quasi-holiday as no-one else was left, and my brain had exploded. It had been snowing and/or sleeting the whole day — apparently more than a tenth of an inch settled at O'Hare, which marks the threshold for measurability, and this was the first such Halloween ever. I note that Sydney was and perhaps is experiencing a heatwave. The problem with my woollen jacket is that the snow sticks to it and melts in place, i.e., it gets quite wet as I go in and out of heated spaces. In any case, getting to Constellation without a bicycle is challenging: I took the Brown Line to Belmont, and with careful timing, schlepped down that street via Osmium (for a hot chocolate, very Intelligentsia hipster), and to the House of Sushi and Noodles, where the made-up-for-the-day girls ably fleeced me with their all-you-don't-want-to-eat sushi menu. I saw no evidence of the noodles that I was dreaming of. It's a strange place, like it's in a subway. The walk kept me outside for about half an hour.

I got there stupidly early, at 7pm, as the doors were supposed to open at 8.30pm, which eventually became 9.45pm. In that time I had a couple of beers, and the barmaid was right: the Founders stout is superior to their porter. Ben Frost stopped off, and got told by a pair of droll groupies that the 312 on the beer he was drinking is the area code. The other room had a dance performance thing on with the bloke-to-girl ratio outsize in the opposite direction. I got talking to an alpha music geek just before they unpenned us, and so ended up sitting near him at the front right speaker for the warmup act. He talked labels. I couldn't keep up.

Cleared are a pair of presumably-local kids with some guitars and a drumkit, and a violin bow, and too much electronics. They started with washed out ambient before launching into massive, free-standing cliff-like power chord things towards the end. It's hard to appreciate what is standing between you and what you came to hear, especially when it invariantly lacked something to focus on.

At the break I ducked out for another stout, and on my return parked myself close to the front left speaker. A modern Prometheus was trying to light something with his phone. Frost played on the floor, not the stage, and was quickly surrounded by the curious. Near as I could tell nobody was dancing, but it still got hotter; his music mainlines the metabolism, perhaps. Things ground to a halt after a few tracks, and ultimately it felt like half a gig, perhaps because the house music came on at sudden power failure number two, or that some people left at the first cut-out. God knows what they were expecting. The third signalled the real end, I think. There was no audience abuse, apart, perhaps, from the strobe that provided the entirety of the lighting where he was working.

Frost evokes for me the 1990s dance anthems without the Es, and soundtrack snippets looking for a movie ala Barry Adamson. All of it put me in that sound-of-the-future mood evoked by Vangelis and Jean Michel Jarre in times past. Of course their futures never came, and Frost's probably won't either; just as well, for then I would probably have to interpret things that I can presently relax to. None of it is excessively counter-intuitive, and he is gifted to be able to put a centre to this much noise. Some of it nags at me, like emotions mislabelled for a lifetime, especially when the shorter-in-one-leg mountain goat rhythms get going. These are not mammalian heartbeats.

I walked home afterwards, as the night had morphed into a clear, crisp windless thing that brought out many young Halloweenies. Some were deluded enough to think that the more outré the costume, the more peril there'd be to their virginity. I got back at 1.30am.

The Reader has two goes at summarizing Frost's style on A U R O R A. The blokes at Pitchfork loved it, making it the worst of the 50 best albums of 2014.

Spektral Quartet at Constellation

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I trekked back up to Constellation with some ill-formed idea that an avant-garde string quartet would be something to listen to on a Saturday night. I guess I was hoping for something electric, like Fourplay, but instead got something more like the Brodsky Quartet with an American poet and an American punk subbed in for Elvis Costello. It was packed, I think with music students and faculty from the Uni of Chicago. The initial Stravinsky (Concertino) went over OK, after two Founders stouts that the barmaid preferred to their porter. The interstitial Glass (Quartet No. 2 "Company") was missing its accompanying Beckett. Dave Reminick is the punk, and his The Ancestral Mousetrap (bringing a dead man back to life and oh my god, I'll never get home by Russell Edson bringing the words) was solidly in the Brodsky Quartet mode. Their assorted mobile miniatures were micro compositions by various American composers on the order of 1-40s for mobile phone events (ringtones, etc.). Most were twee, by which I mean that they necessarily traded on musical cliché. I think I enjoyed Dvořák's Quartet F major, op. 96, "American" (ii. lento) the most. They closed with Beethoven's Quartet in A minor, Op. 132 v. allegro appassionato-presto, after what they said was their customary shot.

I had dinner at Lee's Chow Mein at Western and Diversey beforehand. They got the ambience right, I'll give them that much.

LAMPO: Rene Hell (Jeff Witscher): Bifurcating a Resounding No!

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I signed up to the LAMPO list a while back, and finally their season has commenced. Unfortunately it is very short, at only four widely-spaced gigs. The The Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts is some fantastical anachronistic outfit that believes that art can be advanced, perhaps even systematically, by hosting things like this. They've got a beautiful old building in an upscale part of town that was packed to the gills and beyond with cool trendy types. While waiting to get in I got talking to Kyle, from Indianapolis, who was himself waiting for a friend who had also driven up for the day. We pondered why they didn't charge for what seemed to be an incredibly popular performance.

This is the type of music that NOW now showcases: here they call it "electroacoustic" but really it's samples from all over the map, or man-plays-laptop if you prefer. Some of it was coherent, but never for long, and I could have sworn there were some chip tunes in the middle. Rene Hell showcases some of his paranoia on his bandcamp page.

Here's the blurb:

You say yes; Rene Hell premieres "Bifurcating a Resounding No!" The latest project from Rene née Jeff draws from years of recorded sounds (acoustic instruments, field recordings and voice), collected in cities across the U.S. and shaped with various digital techniques, to make one new weird work.

There was no lightshow so all I could do was space out to the calm between the mild bouts of audience abuse. I enjoyed it, and I'm certainly going to the rest.

Steve Nieve at the City Winery.

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"Premier seating", according to Goldstar, who asked for $11 + $3.75, for this gig featuring the sometime, all time, Elvis Costello pianist. The City Winery is a faux upscale wine bar that presses, or maybe just ages, or maybe just serves, its own wine. I got sat at the end of a series of tables with a decent view of Nieve's back, which was totally OK. The real problem was that it was right next to the door to the kitchen, from which excited Spanish regularly issued, glasses clinked, and so forth. Those sitting two or more seats down the tables did not suffer from this. Also paying at the end is farcical: I had two beers — a Founders Michigan Porter and a Triple Alpha hopped-up Indiana thing, for what is now old-time's sake — and had to wait ten minutes for my change. The ploy is, of course, to get you to walk away and leave an outsize tip. As my liberty was being infringed either way, I waited with teeth gritted.

So the whole vibe was American dinnertime, with the plea to respect the other audience members and the artist by remaining quiet. It was instead a time to catch up with old friends, graze, network. I guess American exceptionalism extends upwards, downwards and in every direction. The French vocalist was not great and the songs tended to blancmange without the rest of the band and the snappy lyrics. Did Steve play Bowie's Is there life on Mars? on the fifth Steinway when they were choosing pianos for North? Were these flyover songs for flyover states? As many people would observe of me, if any of that's going to give me the shits then I should stay home. Steve, on the other hand, did prove that necrophilia can go stale.

David Bowie cover band Sons of the Silent Age at the Daley Plaza.

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... ably displacing any protesters who might wish to observe that Rahm Emmanuel is not doing a stellar job, however impeccable his taste, just for one day. The band's name is a song off Heroes, and they pretty much stuck to the Bowie of then: Ashes to Ashes, Is there life on Mars?, that sort of thing. Gail Ann Dorsey has set the standard for Under Pressure covers; no-one attempts the Freddie-all-over-the-map original. They closed with Heroes, which made me realise that they had a keyboard player (see far left in the picture). The band was tight but the mix was occasionally crap. Oh yes, the band: Chris Connelly ex-Ministry on vocals, Matt Walker ex-local-boys Smashing Pumpkins on drums, Shirley Manson ex-Garbage on Under Pressure co-vocals. I last saw her in 1996 at the Hordern, also for free. Time flies.

Of course it was just shameless marketing for the Bowie Is exhibition; shameless but still they went through the motions. A lady in front of me had a new-ish Thailand tour t-shirt that showed pre-1975 North and South Vietnam, with the border near Hue. News sure does travel slowly near the Cambodian border.

It struck me that Bowie coverbands do it tough: if they were ripping into the Beatles back catalogue they could aspire to be the next Oasis. Here the best they can do is keep up, even now.

Chicago Wandelweiser Festival (day 2): R. Andrew Lee

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Grégoire gestured at the Constellation as some sort of home to experimental / marginal music, so I figured it'd be worth a shot. $11.85 ahead of time from Ticketfly; could have gotten in for $10 at the door as it turned out. I had a beer at their bar beforehand, which is somewhat cosy despite the unpadded wooden furnishings. I think there are a few spaces there; the one with the minimalist piano works was quite large with seating on three sides. Two of the composers were present: Eva-Maria Houben and Jürg Frey. The setlist:

  • December (2002) by Craig Shepard, which was genre drone music, impressively played by Lee.
  • Go and Stop (2002) by Eva-Marie Houben.
  • Distance (1) (1996) by Michael Pisaro.
  • pianist, alone (2) (2013) by Jürg Frey.

The crowd was small-ish (40-50 people) and very appreciative. Some of it got noir-ish like Barry Adamson, back in his heyday, but without the backing noise; just the slicing, the pauses, the sometime paranoia.

Old Sennheiser CX300-IIs almost die, replaced by Shure SE215-CLs, news at 12.

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The cable on my never-great Sennheiser CX300-IIs was getting decidedly dodgy, and I guess I'd been pining for my dear old e2cs from my Hồ Chí Minh City days, so I gave Amazon their entirely-plausible asking price of $96.99 and waited a week for a pair of these. They sound a little muddy, perhaps a bit bass heavy, and are neither super comfortable nor particularly uncomfortable. The cable is less stiff than my previous Shures, and can be detached from the drivers. I'm now wondering if I should have plonked for the next ones up in the range. The case is much larger than the old one.