A couple of weeks ago, Surplus 1980 joined the Fred Frith Trio at the Brick and Mortar in San Francisco from a night of energetic avant-rock and jazz. It was a show we have all been looking forward to for quite a while.
Surplus 1980 went on first, with a set that combined songs from our recent album Arterial Ends Here with older selections. In addition to Moe! Staiano and myself, the band includes Bill Wolter and Melne Murphy on guitar, Thomas Scandura on drums, and Steve Lew on bass.
For this set, we expanded our Fred Frith cover “Cap the Knife” into a full medley featuring excerpts for some of his other songs. In a brief exchange back stage, it sounded like he appreciated the gesture, and even suggested that his group perform a “Moe! Staiano medley”, which would have been fun. But overall, it was our strongest performance as a band to date, with rhythms and phrasing much tighter as well as more sophisticated use of all parts.
After Surplus 1980 was done, Fred Frith took the stage with his trio that included Jordan Glenn on drums and Jason Hoopes on bass.
It was quite a contrast, going from post-punk to avant-jazz. The trio played through longer pieces that moved between fast intricate sections and more familiar idioms with ease. The polyphonic sections were certainly impressive, but I do find when technically strong musicians play in unison or at least synchronous rhythms, it leaves a more memorable impression. Frith deftly filled up the otherwise sparse texture of the music, but not so much that one would get lost or overwhelmed.
Overall, it was a successful show, with a good turnout. Surplus 1980 is now looking forward to our next show in December, but I hope we get to play with the Fred Frith trio again.
Last Friday, a large portion of the Bay Area new-music community gathered at Berkeley Arts in an evening of large-ensemble improvisation and to raise money to help fellow local musician Jay Korber. Korber had been seriously injured recently when he was struck by a street sweeper truck in San Francisco, and this concert was a benefit to raise funds and support his recovery.
The first half of the concert featured a specially convened Moe!kestra conducted by Moe! Staiano. The ensemble consisted of woodwind, percussion and electric-guitar sections. I managed to incorporate myself into the “guitar” section with an iPad and amplifier. Moe!’s conducting consisted of a series of simple gestures aimed at individuals or groups of performers that led to both an expressive and varied performance and entertaining conducting.
In the above photo, Moe! is actually giving a “V” sign to some of the guitarists, and not giving them “the finger”, although that gesture was used by both conductors during the course of the evening. You can hear our first piece from the performance here (recording courtesy of friend and fellow participant Neal Trembath):
The second half of the concert featured an ensemble conducted by Gino Robair:
This group was heavier on horns, and overall had a jazzier feel to it. While the majority of the set consisted of large-scale free-jazz improvisation with dynamic runs, hits, and responses, the final piece was based on a Miles Davis riff that was initially repeated and then deconstructed. It was a bit of a musical in-joke, but I for one like having familiar idioms alongside experimentation.
In all, it was a fun night of music and fellowship, and the event raised quite a bit of money for Jay Korber. We wish him a full and speedy recovery.
Today we look back at the December 5 show featuring Surplus 1980 with Satya Sena and Electric Chair Repair Company at Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco. It was a “post punk” affair, a night of loud, intense, and creative rock music. It was also my first time playing on stage with Surplus 1980.
[Photo by Polly Moller.]
I am somewhere there in the “back line” along with Thomas Scandura on drums and Steve Lew on bass. With guitarists Melne Murphy, Moe! Staiano and Bill Wolter in front. We were loud and aggressive with a lot of percussive pounding on otherwise tonal instruments, but there was also just the right amount of complexity with metric changes and chromatic riffs. Things were also deliberately out of tune, which when combined with ring modulation and other effects made it challenging to follow in a traditional melodic sort of way. But that would not have been the point. And the audience got that, enjoying moving along with our noisy percussive lines. It was also fun to play the vintage toy piano for our improvised piece and our finale Ed Saad (though I wish the contact mic had not fallen off halfway through it).
The evening opened with a performance by Electric Chair Repair Company, a self-described “post-punk noise trio.”
They lived up to their description with their instrumental performance, a bit more of the traditional sound that one would expect with loud driving chords and drums and switching between fast and slow tempos. During the set. they also joined forces with guests from “The Girlfriend Experience”, who were quite entertaining.
Electric Chair Repair Company was followed by Satya Sena, a duo of Jason Hoopes on bass and Peijman Kouretchian on drums. They also had a huge column of amplifiers.
Satya Sena was impressive to say the least. Their music was full of complex and intricate rhythms and they had a full dense sound that one wouldn’t necessarily expect from just bass and drums. I found myself watching Kouretchian’s frenetic drum playing through much of the set. It was almost impossible to capture a moment where he wasn’t in motion like this:
Hoopes of course was technically strong as well, and was interesting to see him performing in a different context like this.
Overall it was a fun night of good music. Our audience (on a Wednesday night in San Francisco) was not particularly large but was certainly appreciative, and I look forward to more performances with Surplus 1980 next year.
I am excited to be part of not one but two upcoming recording releases. In addition to Reconnaissance Fly, I will be appearing on the next release of Moe! Staiano’s Surplus 1980 project. This is also my first recording that will be released on vinyl .
Surplus 1980 is a post-punk band of a rotating line up of some fine musicians, many extending from great bands to be heard on this project including members from the Ex, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, and Faun Fables, among others, including Mute Socialite…Musicians, besides Moe! Staiano (drums, percussion, guitar, bass, piano, vocals), on this release will include guitarist Bill Wolter and Melne Murphy, Bassists Alee Karim and Vicky Grossi (also doubling on violin), percussionist Jordan Glenn, keyboardist Amar Chaudhary, alto clarinetist Aaron Novik, and on oboe, Kyle Bruckmann. Possible vocal guest from G.W. Sok, formerly of the Ex (and currently with the French band Cannibales & Vahinés).
You can find out more at our Kickstarter page, and please consider supporting us so we can make this release happen!
Today we look back at ReCardiacs Fly’s show at the Hemlock Tavern in San Francisco last month. It was a great show of music in prog and post-punk styles together with experimental/avant-rock groups PG13 and Surplus 1980.
The evening opened with PG13, the “power trio” of Phillip Greenlief (saxophone), John Shiurba (guitar), and Thomas Scandura (drums). I had originally heard them a few years back at the Skronkathon. They did have the loud-rock-trio thing down at the time, but in the intervening time they have become more finessed and detailed without losing that original intensity.
They opened with driving syncopated rhythm and power chords. The rhythmic textures brought all three instruments (saxophone, guitar and drums) together. This was undeniably rock – held together by Scandura’s drums – but later sections did have a more jazz-like quality, which I thought worked when done with sudden changes in volume and texture. I of course did like that one of their songs (composed by Greenlief) was The Totally Unbelieable but Absolutely True Adventures of George Cleaver the Cat. Loud music with complex rhythms about cats works for me any day.
After PG13, it was time for us to take the stage. For those who have not read the previous ReCardiacs Fly articles, we are (possibly the only) tribute group for the UK avant-prog band Cardiacs. We model our line-up after the original band, and don suits and creepy theatrical makeup reminiscent of their appearance in the 1980s. This music is complex and intense, and challenging to play, but a lot of fun for us and for the audience when we pull it off. A few songs came out quite well at the Hemlock, in particular “Burn Your House Brown”, which you can see in this video:
“In a City Lining” also came out quite well. On a technical level, the sound was the best we have had for any ReCardiacs Fly show, with the mix between the amps, speakers and acoustic space balanced so that we could hear everyone even in the loud parts. And we were quite loud, appropriately so.
As always, the performance was full of energy, and we got a great response from the modestly sized but enthusiastic audience. The full lineup of the band features Polly Moller on lead vocals, Masc Laspina on guitar, Chris Broderick on saxophone, Tim Walters on bass, Amar Chaudhary on keyboard, Moe! Staiano on drums, and Suki O’kane on percussion.
The final set features Surplus 1980, a post-punk project led by Moe! Staiano with a rotating cast of band members. This evening features Moe! together with Bill Wolter and Melne Murphy on guitars, with Thomas Scandura returning on drums and Jason Hoopes on bass.
The band was incredibly tight rhythmically and harmonically, as if they had been playing these songs together for years. In particular, there is the challenge of getting all three guitars to be in sync, which they were able to do, will Bill Wolter front and center. And the group’s lyrics were often quite funny (this in the context of our just completed Cardiacs’ set). It’s difficult to recall any particular line at this point, but they definitely worked at the time. Most of the musical techniques were standard but with complex rhythms and phrases, but Wolter did have quite an array of effects pedals, and during one of the final songs Moe! pulled out a vinyl record which he proceeded to use on his guitar like a pick and destroyed in the process (the record, not the guitar).
Overall, it was fun night of loud rock music from friends and colleagues whom I usually here in more overtly experimental contexts. I hope our bands will get a chance to play together again sometime.
After our first ReCardiacs Fly performance this past spring, we were hoping for an opportunity to perform again. That opportunity came (and went) at the beginning of December as part of an energetic night of music at the Starry Plough in Berkeley that also featured Wiener Kids and Dominique Leone.
ReCardiacs Fly is the coming together of several members of Reconnaissance Fly (Polly Moller, Amar Chaudhary, Tim Walters, Chris Broderick) with Moe! Staiano, Marc Laspina and Suki O’kane as a tribute to the UK band Cardiacs. We performed a full set of Cardiacs songs – the four from the previous show as well as several new ones – with as much authenticity and energy as we could. Much of the work in learning these songs involves mastering the complex meter and rhythm changes that can often be quite unpredictable, and we spent a lot of time practicing in preparation for the show. And the work paid off. I thought R.E.S. in particular came out well, but you can hear for yourself in this video:
[Videography by Marjorie Sturm.]
I am still not sure what R.E.S. stands for.
I also thought Wooden Fish on Wheels came out well – it’s not as hard musically as R.E.S. and some of the others, as it stays in a relatively steady 4/4 ska-like rhythm. I would like take another shot at getting Burn Your House Brown and In A City Lining (both of which I quite like) up to the same level. Overall, however, it was a great performance, and we had a very enthusiastic response from the large crowd at the Starry Plough.
[Photo by Tom Djll.]
As one can see from the above photo, Polly was definitely getting into the character of lead singer Tim Smith. Most of our digital cameras cannot keep up.
The evening opened with Wiener Kids (Jordan Glenn, Aram Shelton and Cory Wright). They are one of the more unusual trios, with Glenn on drums and Shelton and Wright on reeds. As a result, their music has a very sparse texture, which they use to great effect for complex rhythms and lines. I found myself caught up in the patterns with lots of syncopations and unisons and empty space. Every so often they would come together into one jazz-like idiom or another before spreading out again with their unique texture.
Wiener Kids were followed by Dominique Leone together with Ava Mendoza, Aaron Novik and Jordan Glenn pulling double-duty by appearing in two out of three bands. And they were quite a contrast, with thick textures and rich harmony and a more song-like quality, but equally tight in terms of rhythm and phrasing. I found myself particularly interested in Aaron Novik’s use of bass clarinet as the equivalent of a bass guitar, complete with electronic effects.
This won’t be the last ReCardiacs Fly show, as we already have one planned for March in San Francisco. But until then, it’s back to some of the other musical projects. We conclude with an image of some flowers that fulfilled their deranged-rock destiny that evening.
The Parts Room is located in Classic Cars West in Oakland, a venue that, as the name implies, primarily deals in classic cars. Many of these cars are themselves works of art.
In the above picture, we see two of the cars in display with large-scale artworks by GETBIZI. I thought his pieces would particularly well in conjunction with the cars, sharing the brought colors, clean lines, and including California-style landscape that is synonymous with car culture. I also found the pieces by Optimist, which featured a combination of industrial elements such as shipping contains with modern Asian signage and imagery, fit well with the environment and with my own work.
The overall show in the main gallery was titled “Mechanic Arts”, with many of the artist relating to the “mechanical” or “industrial” theme in different ways. Mark Schroeder’s sculptures combined new and old technologies with wood, metal and light generators were sprinkled throughout the main room, sometimes on top of old barrels. Similarly, Nicole Bommarito’s constructions with Polaroid emulsions combine various vintage technologies. John Paul Marcelo and MoE were also featured with painting and large installations, respectively. The work of these artists shared a weathered look of older industrial products and processes, which fit well with the space but were in sharp contrast to clean and streamlined quality of the cars, and of the large panels from GETBIZI.
The Parts Room itself is a long and narrow space, which made for great opportunities to display both the large pieces as well as some of my iPhone Hipstamatic prints.
[click images to enlarge]
We actually spent quite a bit of time meticulously lining everything up to make use of the space. In addition to just getting everything straight, I wanted to emphasize the lines, geometry and industrial elements on the pieces, as well as the prominence in one color in several of the pieces.
[click images to enlarge]
Overall, the response to the show was quite positive, and it was great to see so many people come through and show an interest, particularly on the Oakland Art Murmur night.
Overall, this was undoubtedly my best visual art show to date. It was well attended, and I received lots of positive feedback. It was great to have such support from Rebecca Kerlin to make this show happen, and to have the time and space to put in the effort to make it come out well. I also learned a lot about how to be precise in hanging and presenting work – something which I plan to bring forward with me in future shows.
It was sad to have to dismantle the show after only a couple of weeks, but I needed many of them for Open Studios. I did try and re-create the triptych of the red, blue and yellow pieces, although with less space. We will see how it goes.
In this video, you can see Polly channeling Tim Smith, along with Chris Broderick and Marc Laspina getting into their respective rolls:
[Videography by Josh Wolfer.]
The keyboard and marimba parts didn’t come out so strongly in the videos, but you can hear a bit of my attempt to get the original sounds in “Hello Mister Sparrow.”:
[Videography by Josh Wolfer.]
We did receive a great audience reception, undoubtedly some from Cardiacs fans who were familiar with the songs and performance style but perhaps from people hearing for the first time as well and taken in by the intensity of the performance.
We did get a little worried early in the evening as attendance was sparse. But by the time we got on stage and looked out, there was a full and enthusiastic house – when you see and feel something like that, it always makes it easier to get through a set, even something as complex and intense as Cardiacs covers.
Over all, it was a great experience, and we hope to perform again sometime soon!
ReCardiacsFly consisted of members of Rennaissance Fly (myself, Polly Moller, and Tim Walters) together with Moe! Staiano, Chris Broderick, Marc Laspina and Suki O’Kane. Although we were the unofficially dubbed “tribute band” for the evening for our accurate musical renditions and costumes and makeup, all the bands performed Cardiacs covers, each in their own way.
Amy X Neuburg opened the evening with arrangements infused with her trademark “avant cabaret” style. In a humorous gesture, she invited the audience to “sing along” to Tim Smith’s often difficult-to-follow lyrics.
Before Weiner Kids came on stage, there was an arrangement that I described on twitter as a “cool riff with four on the floor bass drum and household metal items. Very danceable by #Cardiacs standards.” Even in the midst of a prog-and-punk-rock night, I am still drawn to my particular musical roots.
Weiner Kids (with Jordan Glenn, Cory Wright, Aram Shelton) performed an arrangement for percussion and saxophones that made the often odd rhythms and meters of Cardiacs music very transparent. This is both the fun part and the biggest challenge of playing this music.
Grex, a duo of Karl Evangelista on guitar and Rei Scampavia on keyboard, performed purely instrumental arrangements. The interpretations were much freer, and in particular gave Karl the opportunity to apply his virtuosic guitar style to the music.
Inner Ear Brigade (featuring frequent collaborator Bill Wolter with Chris Lauf, Stevo Wright, Ivor Holloway, Melody Ferris, and David Shaff) also performed their own meticulous arrangements with their own personal stamp – their music tends is often itself an intense and energetic blend of jazz, experimental and art-rock influences. It was sometimes hard to tell where the Cardiacs’ influence ended and Inner Ear Brigade’s own style began, which I think made this performance all the more successful.
[Inner Ear Brigade.]
The concert concluded with Dominque Leone and his ensemble for the evening performing an “epic” arrangement of a Cardiacs song, building up towards a final climax that seemed almost religious in nature, with a full chorus of voices and loud frenetic keyboard and guitar (from Leone and Ava Mendoza) – this is one song that you can tell is the final song of the evening even before it ends!
So what is next? We are certainly hoping to do more performances as ReCardiacsFly, and welcome suggestions for Bay Area venues and programs that would be appropriate. And we would like to send “Healing wishes from everyone to Tim Smith and love and respect to all past, present, and future members and fans of Cardiacs.”
I have been busily preparing for the next show, coming up this weekend:
Members of Rennaissance Fly (myself, Polly Moller, and Tim Walters) are teaming up with Moe! Staiano, Chris Broderick, Marc Laspina and Suki O’Kane as “ReCardiacs Fly”, a tribute cover of the UK band Cardiacs.
It is been a bit of a challenge to learn our four pieces, approximately note for note and also capture the energy of the originals.
One fun bit to re-create was the synthesizer line from “Hello Mr. Sparrow.” We found this video on YouTube, featuring a Mellotron and Sequential Circuits Pro One:
Well, I don’t have either of those devices, but I can approximate the Pro One with the Dave Smith Evolver (it is essentially the successor to the Sequential Circuits instruments):
The most challenging song we are doing is R.E.S., you can get an idea of what we are up against in this Cardiacs’ video:
Sunday, May 8. 6PM-10:30PM
Cafe Du Nord
2170 Market Street
San Francisco, CA
$10 donation at the door
This is a benefit for Tim Smith, leader and founder of the UK band Cardiacs. From Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cardiacs):
Cardiacs are an English alternative rock/psychedelic pop band formed in 1977 and led by Smith. Noted for their complex, varied and intense compositional style and for their eccentric, theatrical stage shows, they have been hailed as an influence by bands as diverse as Blur, Faith No More and Radiohead.
In 2008, Smith suffered a stroke, and has not been able to perform or finish the new Cardiacs record. From the official website (http://www.cardiacs.com/):
Since the accident Tim Smith’s body has become his enemy. He is in a great deal of pain and is experiencing difficulty with the finer points of control with regard to his extremities so obviously perfected prior to the unhappy event, but Tim Smith, his family and those so called friends, (with whom he keeps counsel), all assert that his mind, however, has been sharpened by the episode. THE ALPHABET BUSINESS CONCERN can confirm that no part of YOUR favourite pop star’s intellect or personality has been found to be absent WHATSOEVER.
Last year, a tribute CD Leader of the Starry Skies was released (http://www.thegenepool.co.uk/items/597.htm), with all proceeds going directly to Smith. Our plan is for the May 8 concert to have all funds go to Tim. Our friend Kavus Torabi is the lead guitarist in Cardiacs, and he is our contact for making sure the funds reach Smith.
Performing will be Dominique Leone, Wiener Kids, Inner Ear Brigade, Grex, Amy X Neuburg, ReCardiac Fly, performing the music of Cardiacs/Tim Smith.
Two weeks ago, I participated in the 2010 edition of the Droneshift at the Luggage Store Gallery here in San Francisco.
The Droneshift has become an annual event, though this year it was part of the Full-Moon Concert Series, approximately coincident with the Long Nights Moon.
Droneshift is a collaborative concert of improvised drone music. Between 15 and 25 musicians will gather to contribute to a continuous 2 hour drone, each adding their acoustic or electronic instruments here and there, and weaving their sounds together to create gradually shifting tapestries of music. The performance will most likely shift back and forth from completely acoustic music to electric ambiance and post-industrial noise.
Basically, the two hour performance is one continuous ever-changing sound. No individual notes, rests, phrases, breaks, etc. That doesn’t mean it is at all monotonous – there are continuous changes in timbre, dynamics and expression, both within individual parts as various musicians enter and exit the sound.
There were actually close to (if not more than) 30 performers participating this year. The performers were arranged along periphery of the gallery with the audience situated in the middle looking outward. So between the audience and musicians, things got quite crowded. I was able to stake out some chair space for myself my minimalist setup:
I just had the iPad and an amplifier, and I was primarily running the Smule Magic Fiddle throughout my allotted time. It is a good instrument for droning, as one can linger on the strings pretty much forever, and play subtle pitch and dynamic changes. It’s easy to gradually fade out, and then fade in very slowly another pitch, which will change the overall sound of the performance without causing a distinct note break.
Because the nature of overall drone sound and the large number of participants, it was often difficult to focus on what any one other musician was playing. I mostly shifted between focusing on my own part and getting lost in the overall sound, which was quite meditative at times. I was able to take in some details, such as Matt Davignon’s distinctive glass-vase performance:
I was sitting across from Adam Fong on upright bass. There were moments when I took cues from him and other string players to re-enter the mix on Magic Fiddle. I was also trying to take cues from purely electronic musicians, such as Kristen Miltner on laptop or Andrew Joron’s theremin:
Overall, the instrumentation was quite varied and there was a balance between winds, strings, percussion and electronic, although there were a few moments were it seemed some low-frequency analog electronics were overpowering everything else. It was interesting to hear how the textures and orchestration evolved. Sometimes similar instruments (e.g., strings) would cluster together, sometimes the texture became more scratchy and granular with lots of noise elements – something which is pushing the boundaries of what might be considered a continuous “drone” sound. At times, traditional harmonies emerged, e.g., minor or diminished chords, while at other times the timbres themselves were purely inharmonic. There were very sparse sections with only one or two participants, and others that seemed to include much of the ensemble. All of these elements just happen organically, based on how the musicians hear one another and are inspired to layer on their own parts.
You can listen to a ten-minute excerpt of the full performance in this video, courtesy of Matt Davignon:
As one can hear, the emergency vehicles that inevitably come down Market Street with sirens blaring during Luggage Store Gallery shows became part of the overall tapestry in this performance.
My personal sense of the performance as being meditative, perhaps even more so than previous Droneshifts, was echoed by members of the audience with whom I had spoken.
In addition to reflecting on the music, I would like to call out the photography of Peter B Kaars, which is featured in this article Those who have followed my own interest in photography know I tend to like very sharp, high-contrast black-and-white images. Additionally the monochrome fits with the full-moon theme and overall quality of the music they document. I wish I had space for more, or to call out more individual musicians. A full list of performers appears below:
Tom Bickley – wind controller
CJ Borosque – trumpet
Bob Boster – processed voice
Amar Chaudhary – iThings
Matt Davignon – wine glasses/vessels
Tony Dryer – bass
Adam Fong – bass
Phillip Greenlief – sax/clarinet
Ron Heglin – trombone/trumpet
Jeff Hobbs – bass, clarinet or violin
Travis Johns – electronics
Andrew Joron – theremin
Aurora Josephson – voice
Sebastian Krawczuk – bass
David Leikam – Moog rogue synthesizer
Cheryl Leonard – viola
Brian Lucas – electric bass / tapes
Melissa Margolis – accordion
Bob Marsh – voice
Marianne McDonald – didgeridoo
Chad McKinney – supercollider/guitar
Joe McMahon – didgeridoo
David Michalak – Omnichord
Kristin Miltner – laptop
Ann O’Rourke – bowed cymbal
Ferrara Brain Pan – sopranino saxophone
Rent Romus – sax/tapes
Ellery Royston – harp w/effects
Lx Rudis – electronics
Mark Soden – trumpet
Moe! Staiano – guitar
Errol Stewart – guitar
Lena Strayhorn – tsaaj plaim / wind wand
Zachary Watkins – electronics
Rachel Wood-Rome – french horn
Michael Zelner – analog monophonic synthesizer, iPod Touch