Saturday, October 01, 2005

San Francisco Electronic Music Festival 2005


I like travelling to see new sights, taste new foods, hear new sounds and to basically get away from everyday life. A particularly nice aspect of travelling is having the opportunity to see and hear some new music, as we did on our recent world jaunt.

The first show we saw was the sixth annual San Francisco Electronic Music Festival at the SomArts Cultural Center.

We caught the third night of the festival, which showcased three electronic and experimental artists:-

Matt Heckert played one of his amazing, self constructed, sound machines. The sound machine for this performance featured two hollow wooden platforms, each approximately 3 meters wide and a meter tall, consisting of three “steps” along which metal chain links of different width and weight were strung, with two lengths of chain on each platform. These metal chains were connected at one end to a heavy metal spring, and at the other to an arm connected to a motor which, when the arm was rotated, caused the metal chains to rattle gently and bang heavily against the wooden steps, dependent upon the speed of the motor. At the rear of the stage were two tall poles, each with motors at their base which caused the poles to rotate, with varying speed and direction, clanging the chains attached to the top, initially against large heavy plastic bins which were sitting atop of the poles, until these were flung off, and then the metal chain lengths were rattling and banging against each of the poles.

Heckert controlled these machines via his laptop and created a rhythmic installation which grew from a relative tinkle to a stampede, as metal and wood caressed and collided. The performance was deafening, entertaining and bizarrely entrancing.

Patrice Scanlon initially sat at her laptop, generating a wash of gentle squelches which occasionally morphed into standard night club beats. She was joined by two dancers and even joined them in their choreographed interpretation of the music. Not really my thing. I prefer to see a musical performance, not something which has been pre-programmed.

The Hub is a computer network ensemble of six composers/performers who formed in 1984 and who connect their separate computer-controlled music synthesizers (laptops) into a network (the hub after which they are named). The band approaches the computer network as a large, interactive musical instrument where, as the machines respond to each other, the players input changes as well, producing music that is noisy, surprising, often unpredictable, and "more than the sum of its parts".

The group sat facing each other, with their computer generated sounds slowly growing in volume and complexity as they were slowly manipulated, more blips and bleeps, with often humorous captions projected on the screen behind them, such as ""What is this clicky stuff?". But the performance seemed to just continue until the band thought they'd had enough, or had run out of time, rather than the music reaching any conclusion in it's own right. It was entertaining enough though, as much for what the band have achieved already and the field they are playing in as much for what they actually did on the night.

Matt Heckert - Munich Samba

Check out more of Matt Heckert's soundscapes here


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